Crystal River Witch|
Copyrightę2006 by Ed Howdershelt
The woman 'manning' the campground's gate waved Ed Cade through after a glance at his event pass. He parked his bronze '84 Olds Eighty-eight where the shade of an oak tree would be during most of the afternoon and sat looking around the campground for a few moments.
There were about fifty tents of all sizes set up among the trees and about half that many cars in the zone roped off for parking. Another couple of cars entered the campground as he sipped the last of his coffee from his mug.
Although it was the first day of a three-day pagan festival, Cade didn't expect to see really large numbers of people until later in the afternoon and evening, when those who couldn't take Friday off would arrive.
The campground was part of a nudist resort, so as the day progressed, some of the attendees would bother with clothes and some wouldn't. Because such events were the only times a lot of them got naked or nearly so, many would wind up seeking relief from sunburns in sensitive regions.
Saturday would be like a '60's hippie-convention, replete with longhairs and bright, flowing clothing when any clothing was worn at all, lots of beads and odd and gaudy jewelry, and bare feet or sandals.
A few tents had been erected over some of the spaces along 'dealer's row'. Some of the tents still glistened with early morning dew, indicating that they'd been put up the night before. Other tents and fly-tarps were going up as he watched.
Two women -- one blonde, one brunette -- were arranging items on a folding table in the second 'booth' from the beginning of the row. Both were wearing cutoff jeans, but while the brunette wore a tee-shirt, the blonde wore what looked to be a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled above her elbows.
The brunette said something, pointed at a section of table, and picked up two apparently empty boxes, then carried them to a brown Dodge van in the row of spaces behind Cade's car.
Oops. He'd been fooled by long hair and distance. The brunette now appeared to be a skinny little guy, but something was wrong with the overall picture.
Hm. No hair on his arms or legs, thin-line eyebrows, and he didn't walk with a confident stride; he took quick little steps and hip-slipped around the post that marked the end of the parking lot, waving effeminately and smiling at Cade as he moved toward one of the cars.
Nodding in return, Cade let his eyes return to the blonde, who had continued setting up the display. She straightened, stood with hands on hips, scanned the table thoughtfully, and nodded slightly as if satisfied.
She then stretched -- rather gloriously, Cade thought -- and looked around the encampment and the parking lot. Hm, again. The blonde was undeniably female, judging by the way she filled the upper front of her shirt.
Unless, of course, she wasn't, Cade amended.
That was always a possibility in these days of gender confusion and silicone implants, and her little friend was pretty obviously gay.
Cade had once met a guy with store-bought boobs. A car had died in the middle of a downtown Tampa street at rush hour. Cade had parked his car and gone to help push the disabled car out of traffic.
As Cade approached, he saw that the driver was a slim brunette woman and he was more than a little surprised to see her get out to push against the driver's door, steering the car toward the curb while traffic was stopped for a red light.
He added his strength to hers by pushing against the trunk and the surprised woman turned to look back briefly and say, "Thanks!" as the car surged forward at a quicker pace.
She wore a frilly blouse and way too much makeup. He'd seen her dark skirt and low-heeled pumps as he'd approached; her outfit kind of reminded Cade of the woman who managed his bank.
When the car finally stopped on a side street, the woman pantingly slumped into the front seat and muttered something profane about her luck as she brushed off her skirt, then she reached for a cell phone and dialed.
After resting a moment to catch his breath, Cade had walked around the car to see if she had some kind of plan to deal with her situation.
She'd loosened her blouse so she could pat herself dry with a wad of kleenex, and Cade could see her hefty boobs bobbling back and forth as she alternated between dialing and patting.
Before Cade could speak, the woman fluttered a ten-dollar bill at him and chattered, "Oh, thank you so much! I was so afraid one of those damned fools out there would run into me!"
The voice -- although deliberately softened -- belonged to a man, as did the adam's apple that bobbed as 'she' spoke. Cade stopped by the rear passenger door and peered at the driver for a moment.
Yeah, he'd been right. Heavy makeup. Very heavy. A fluffy hairdo. Frilly blouse above a sedate skirt. Too much chin, just a hint of beard stubble, and an effing adam's apple. A tranny.
Oh, well. A tranny with a dead car is no better off than anyone else with a dead car.
Cade shrugged mentally and asked, "You have Triple-A?"
Smiling and again holding the ten toward Cade, the guy said in a less agitated tone, "No, but I have a friend who can take me to work. I can come back for this piece of junk later."
He thumbed the reset button on the cell phone and redialed, then added, "If I can find him, that is. He's supposed to be home, but he isn't answering."
Waving away the ten, Cade asked, "Did the car just die out there? What happened when it quit?"
Pointing and gesturing with the hand that held the money, the guy said, "It just quit running at the light and I couldn't get it started again."
Hm. The gas gauge read half-full. Cade told the guy to turn the key. He heard the fuel pump whine, then the engine cranked, but it wouldn't start. Cade smelled raw gasoline and reached for the hood release.
Opening the hood, Cade glanced around the engine. It was carbureted, not fuel injected. It seemed awfully hot, but it was a four cylinder and they normally ran around two hundred.
Then he spotted the empty radiator reservoir. Using one of his paper-towel handkerchiefs to protect his hand, Cade squeezed the upper radiator hose. Empty.
Pulling out his belt knife, he rapped the brass butt of it on the side of the radiator and heard the hollowness within it. The car had run out of coolant and overheated, that's all. Well, most likely, anyway.
Cade bent the copper gas line a bit farther away from the engine and checked the oil. The stick came up dry. Down two quarts, at least. Yeah, that would do it in a little engine.
The guy was having no luck reaching anybody by phone and swore as he bitched about being late for work.
Letting the hood down, Cade said, "Your radiator's empty and your oil's way low. Overheating can make a bubble in the fuel line and then pumping it probably flooded it..."
Looking completely baffled and somewhat irritated, the guy shrugged and asked, "So why are you telling me about it? I don't know squat about cars. If I did, I'd be trying to fix it instead of trying to find a ride."
Cade said nothing for a moment, then pointed up the street and said, "If you're up to it, I'll help you push it to the end of the block. At the convenience store we can put some oil and water in it, let it cool down some, and it'll probably start."
Looking up from dialing his cell phone, the guy asked, "And what if it doesn't? Then we'll have pushed it another whole block for nothing."
"Nothing? Hardly. It'll be in front of a convenience store instead of in a no-parking zone."
The guy got out and looked at the red curb, swore, and almost kicked the left front tire. Only almost. He caught himself just in time and turned the kick into a hop to kill the momentum.
Apparently gathering himself for a moment, he sighed deeply, let the cell phone fall to the car seat, then put a hand on the steering wheel and a shoulder to the car door as he rather resignedly said, "Okay. Ready when you are."
At the store, Cade had the guy buy a jug of anti-freeze, two quarts of oil, and a can of lighter fluid, then he used a handful of paper towels as a shield when he popped the tab on the radiator cap.
After the initial hiss and a tiny bit of steam, he removed the cap. A whole jug of anti-freeze and half a jug of water filled the radiator. Both cans of oil nearly filled the crankcase properly, but there was still some room on the dipstick's gauge-zone.
Cade opened the carburetor and squirted in some lighter fluid, then told the guy to try again to start the car without giving it any gas. It started, faltered, and then the engine smoothed out.
The guy with the boobs was overjoyed. He got out of the car grinning like an idiot and stood bouncing up and down and clapping his hands like a game-show contestant.
Cade managed to avoid an enthusiastic hug by looking for radiator and hose leaks, then he closed the hood and very obviously wiped black engine muck off his hands to keep the guy at a distance.
"All set," said Cade. "This wasn't the car's fault, y'know. Check your oil, water, and transmission fluid once a week. Do it or you'll be pushing it again someday soon."
The guy nodded happily, then dashed around the open door to lean into the car. Cade headed for the store doors to get out of the Florida sun and get a cold Dr Pepper.
"Wait! Wait!" yelled the guy.
He came dashing around the car waving a couple of bills and joyously stuck them in Cade's shirt pocket.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" he prattled, then he hurried to hop in his car and get underway again.
Taking the two bills out of his pocket, Cade saw that one was a ten and the other was a twenty. It seemed a bit much for sharing some car knowledge and a push, but the guy was already gunning it out of the store's parking lot. Cade shrugged and went inside the store.
Breaking his remembrance of meeting the boob-guy, the booth-blonde's sweeping gaze met Cade's across the sixty feet or so of newly-mown field in which the event was being held.
After a moment, she nodded and smiled at him. He returned the nod and added a slight wave by raising his right hand in a two-fingered salute.
She had to duck to step out of the tent as she walked a few paces into the aisleway to stand by a trash barrel and turn to look at her booth display.
As she reached up to shade her eyes a bit against the rising Florida sun, Cade noted her height. A 55-gallon drum is about four feet tall. The blonde was almost half again as tall as the drum; possibly close to six feet. Wowsers.
Unlike many tall women, she wasn't particularly thin. Her legs below the cutoffs were well-shaped, and even at that distance, Cade could see her thigh and calf muscles stand out as she cocked a leg and gave the display some more thought.
Cade guessed she might weigh between one-forty and one-fifty-five; he couldn't begin to guess her waist size under that baggy shirt. Another note; unless she was somehow padding her cutoffs, her curves were real.
A spot of light flickered around the interior of the car. Cade glanced up at his rearview mirror to see the skinny little guy walk behind the Olds, his shiny pendant again reflecting a spot of sunlight around the interior. The guy moved to stand between Cade's car and the one on his left.
Returning his gaze to the blonde, Cade watched her put her hands on her hips and step back another few paces to check the booth display again, then she raised both hands to sweep her hair back as she returned to the booth with several long, graceful strides.
As if talking to himself, Cade said aloud, "Well, damn. I've only been here five minutes and I may already have seen a real, live pagan goddess."
Reaching across the seat for his coffee mug, Cade opened the door and swung a leg out, then froze as if he hadn't known the guy was there. The guy looked at him with amusement.
"So you think she's a real, live goddess, huh?" he asked.
Cade finished getting out of the car and stood up, then gestured at the distance between the booth and his car and added, "At this range she is. Have to get closer to be sure."
Holding up his mug and trying hard to ignore the skinny guy's severely plucked eyebrows, Cade asked, "Does anyone on this side of the lake have any coffee, or will I have to walk all the way around to the clubhouse?"
Ignoring Cade's question about coffee, the guy eyed him another moment, then stuck out his hand and said, "I'm James. Jamie to friends."
It was a blatantly obvious test of acceptance.
What the hell; Cade didn't care about James's sexual prefs any more than he cared about his politics.
Shaking hands with him, Cade said, "I guess that makes you Jamie, then. I'm Ed. I saw you come out of that booth. What kind of stuff do you sell?"
Jamie continued studying Cade for a moment before he shrugged and said, "Oh, this and that. You know; the kind of stuff everybody sells at these events. It's easier to show you than tell you." He pointed at Cade's mug and smiled as he said, "And we may even have some coffee left. Helen lives on the stuff. C'mon."
As Jamie pivoted and started toward the booth, Cade asked, "Helen's the blonde?"
With a fat grin, Jamie said, "Yeah. Your pagan goddess's name is Helen. I'm going to tell her you said that, you know."
Cade shrugged, grinned back, and said, "If I don't beat you to it, feel free. I'm not real shy."
Jamie gave a rather ladylike snort of laughter that turned into a soft chuckle and said, "Yeah, right. We'll see how shy you aren't. She scares the hell out of most guys."
"That's probably because they're insecure to start with."
Another quick laugh escaped Jamie.
"And you don't have any insecurities?"
"Not many, and damned few of them have anything to do with other people. Besides, for the time being, this meeting is about coffee and maybe watching each others' booths later."
Stopping in startlement, Jamie asked, "You have a booth?"
Nodding, Cade said, "Yup. One space away from yours. It isn't really mine, though. A friend set things up last night, then took a friend of hers to the emergency room early this morning. She called me around five a.m. to ask me to set her stuff up and handle things until she gets here."
"Your friend's a her?"
"Yeah. She has a shop in New Port Richey and wholesales my stoneware stuff. Hm. Make that 'our' stoneware stuff. I have a partner who actually makes it. I just design it, handle email orders, and make pages for the website."
Apparently truly surprised, Jamie asked, "The website? You can make websites?"
Nodding again, Cade said, "I scan stuff, make pages, send 'em up to a server, all that."
Jamie seemed thoughtful as he led off again. As they approached the tent, Cade looked up and saw a stained wood plaque with the words 'Helen's Emporium' painted in gold.
The stereo in the next booth was softly playing new age music; that is, the music itself was soft-toned, with a muted drumbeat and gentle chorals interspersed with the tinkle of what sounded like wind chimes. It was dull, droning stuff, but exactly what people expected to hear in an incense booth.
As they rounded the edge of the tent and entered past the display table, Cade saw Helen standing by the open rear of the tent. She was facing the lake, sipping from a big stoneware mug, and moving in a muted sort of dance to music from her radio headphones.
Yup. Damned near six feet tall. Thirty? Not quite thirty? Well-muscled under a masking veneer of soft-looking skin. Hair below her shoulders, flowing freely except where it was anchored by the headphones.
The campground was still fairly quiet and Cade could very faintly hear her music -- 'She's Got the Look,' a Prince tune from the eighties -- from more than ten feet away as Jamie moved ahead to make introductions.
Cade looked at the stuff on their display table. Crystals and handmade wands, wire jewelry, some hefty chunks of quartz in various colors, and some enameled copper pendants. It was nice stuff, thoughtfully made. Intricate designs, too.
Jamie moved into Helen's range of view and waved his hands in a classic 'Earth to Helen!' sort of gesture, then thumbed back toward Cade.
Helen swiveled slightly in her dance and continued dancing as she sipped her coffee and regarded Cade in an apparently thoughtful manner.
Cade gave her another of his little two-finger salutes and grinned, then joined Jamie at the coffee pot that sat atop a hibachi-style grill a little to one side of things.
"She likes the eighties stuff, huh?"
Looking up from pouring coffee, Jamie asked, "How the hell did you know that?"
"She was listening to Prince's 'She's Got the Look'."
"You can hear what she's listening to?"
"Yup. Now it's 'Rock of Ages'. Def Leppard. Must be one-oh-one-point-five. They play a lot of eighties stuff."
In apparent amazement, Jamie handed the coffee pot to Cade and went to stand next to Helen, where he listened intently as she gave him a quizzical, grinning gaze without interrupting her dancing.
Returning to the hibachi, Jamie said, "I can't believe you can hear that from all the way over here."
Shrugging, Cade added some cold water to his coffee and sipped it. A bit hot, but another shot of cold water fixed it. He turned to watch Helen dance and danced with her a little as he softly sang along with the chorus and a couple of lines he vaguely remembered.
Helen grinned hugely and eyed Cade as she sipped her coffee -- during which Cade noted with a measure of relief that she had no adam's apple -- then she pointed to the lawn chairs and headed for them, still dancing.
Settling into a chair, she gestured to the one next to it. Cade nodded and went to sit down as she took off her earphones and turned off the radio.
Extending a hand, Cade said, "Hi, I'm Ed."
She took his hand and firmly matched his gentle grip as she said in a rich contralto, "I'm Helen. How's the coffee? If it's good, I made it. If it's bad, he made it."
"You made it, then."
Jamie was still fussing with his coffee as he said, "Helen, he could hear what you were listening to all the way over here."
"Not everybody's deaf, sweetie," said Helen. "And it could be he's just more aware of things." Turning back to Cade she gave him a raised eyebrow and grinningly asked, "Is that it? You're just more aware of things?"
"Maybe so. For some blonde reason I just happened to be looking in the right direction, too. That helps, you know."
Her grin widened and she peered squintingly at Cade as she asked, "Was that a... rather subdued... compliment?"
Nodding, Cade said, "Yup. Very definitely. Would you like one that's considerably less subdued?"
"Oh, sure!" she said brightly, going through the motions of pretending to brace herself in the lawnchair. "Okay. I think I'm ready now. Shoot."
"Jamie," said Cade, "Tell her what I said at the car."
Jamie looked startled for a moment, then grinned and said, "Okay. I quote, 'Well, damn. I've only been here five minutes and I may already have seen a real, live pagan goddess.'"
Looking at Cade with surprise, then with apparent doubt, Helen asked, "Did you really say that, or did you guys just cook this up to tease me?"
"No joke, milady," said Cade. "He pretty much nailed it. I think that's almost exactly what I said."
Her peering gaze fixed on Jamie, who shrugged and gave her an innocent look as he said, "Really! That's what he said!"
"Who was he talking to? You?"
"No. He was just talking to himself in the car. While he was staring at you, you know?"
"And you just happened to be close enough to hear him?"
Trying to look and sound unjustly accused, Jamie said, "Well, I was kind of standing behind his car. I mean, well, beside it, really. Sort of. Close enough to hear him, anyway."
"Uh, huh. He doesn't look particularly gay, Jamie. Why were you standing beside his car?"
Jamie sighed loudly and exasperatedly and sounded like a valley girl as he said, "Well, duuhh? How was I supposed to know anything about him until I met him?"
Helen snickered, then turned back to study Cade before she asked, "Well? Does Jamie stand a chance in hell with you?"
Cade gave her a slight shake of his head. "Nope."
With a grin, Helen said, "I kind of didn't think so."
For some moments Helen and Cade sat sipping coffee and studying each other.
Jamie became agitated and came over to unfold another lawn chair and sit near Helen as he said, "He's got the booth on the other side of Raven's."
One of Helen's eyebrows went up as she regarded Cade, but when she said nothing, neither did Cade. Fidgeting for another couple of moments, Jamie spoke again.
"Helen, he says he does webpages."
Helen's eyebrow stayed up and her head tilted slightly as she looked at Cade, then she turned to Jamie to say, "We've talked about that already, Jamie. Too expensive for now."
"How expensive?" asked Cade. "Prices can vary. A lot."
Facing him, Helen said, "Seventy to register a name, fifteen a month for a place to put the pages -- a host, I think it's called -- and the cost of having the pages made. The lowest bidder so far wanted eight hundred for making them."
Shaking his head as he reached in a shirt pocket, Cade said, "Damn. Yeah, that's expensive, all right. I like my solution better. I bought a book about HTML back in 1993, made some pages, registered the name 'WiccaWorks.com', and put the pages on the space that came with our ISP account. I also put a copy of them on a free website so I'd have an extra twenty megs of space for pictures and writings."
Jamie incredulously asked, "A free website?!"
"Yup. Free. But they put a little banner ad at the top of each page. It might be an ad for clothes or Coke or Chevy or anybody else who can afford it. No porn, though. The ads are no biggie; they scroll up and out of view."
Jamie switched his excited gaze to Helen.
She ignored him and her eyes narrowed as she peered at Cade and asked, "You're saying that since you were online anyway, all you actually paid for is your name registration?"
Nodding, Cade said, "Yup. The main sales site is small enough to fit on the space that comes with the ISP account and there are no banner ads or pop-ups there. Extra stuff -- clip art and other freebies -- go on the free site. I'll show you my setup on my laptop later, if you want."
Grinning hugely, Jamie exclaimed, "We want! We want!"
Helen smiled at his outburst, then said, "Yes. We'd like to see what you've done." Turning to Jamie, she added, "But there's still the cost of the pages."
"Well, actually," said Cade, "They could wind up being pretty cheap. If you have pictures of your stuff and you like what you see of my site, I can clone my pages and change the words and pictures, then set you up with a free site. You can register your dot-com name and have it link to your free site, and if you don't want banner ads or pop-ups, give the ISP five bucks a month and you won't have them."
As if they'd been let in on the secrets of the universe, Jamie excitedly grabbed Helen's arm and hissingly squeaked, "Helen! We can use the pictures we used in the catalog! We gotta do this Helen! Holy shit! We can be on-line in a week!"
"Sooner," said Cade. "By tomorrow, probably. But the name registration would take a couple of days."
Putting a hand on his, Helen sharply regarded Cade and asked, "There's no catch? That's really all there is to it?"
Nodding, Cade said, "Yup. That's really all there is to it. I can give you a copy of the software I use for page-making, too. Legally, that is. Here's one of my business cards."
She looked at the card he handed her as she asked, "How much would you charge to make the pages?"
"Well, since I'm not having to design things from scratch, twenty bucks a page. Or less. It depends on how many pictures I'll have to scan and how much typing is involved. Fact is; if you can type, I'll just show you where to type in what you want about your stuff, then format it for you when it's ready. If we do it that way, fifteen a page. Or less."
Rolling her eyes with a grin, Helen said, "You keep saying 'or less'. Why would you charge less than fifteen a page?"
Shrugging, Cade said, "You have a big tent and I have a sleeping bag in my trunk. Work with me on page construction. Feed me twice a day and save me from having to drive to and from Spring Hill tonight and tomorrow night. I'd do up to twenty pages or so for ten bucks each."
Jumping up, Jamie squeaked, "Oh, wow! Ten bucks a page, Helen! We gotta do this!"
Helen chewed her lip as she eyed Jamie's starry-eyed enthusiasm, then she turned to Cade and said, "I'd like to see your pages before we call this a deal."
Getting to his feet, Cade said, "I'll get my laptop and scanner, then. We have an hour or so before things officially open. Mind if I borrow Jamie to carry some folding chairs?"
Jamie stepped forward, snapped to attention, and produced a quick, if not very perfect, salute.
Grinning at him, Helen said, "Oh, yeah. I think I can spare him for a few minutes."
At his car, Cade grabbed his backpack and a box containing his old flatbed scanner and a small, folding TV table, then he handed four folding chairs out of the trunk to Jamie.
"I thought you were kidding," said Jamie.
"About what? Making you carry folding chairs?"
Rolling his eyes, Jamie said, "No, about not having insecurities. I can't believe you just up and asked her to let you stay in our tent. Helen doesn't even let people into the tent to visit during events."
"Well, I didn't know that and I won't really be visiting. I'll be sleeping there. Besides, the deal isn't done, yet. She could have second thoughts before we get back. You really want this website thing, don't you?"
"Oh, hell, yes!" exclaimed Jamie. "I've been bugging her about getting one for almost a year!"
As they headed back to the tent, Cade asked, "So how come you didn't scout around for a place to put one and just do it? That info about free sites isn't exactly a state secret, y'know."
Shaking his head, Jamie said, "I don't know how to make pages and do that kind of stuff. I just do email and surf around other peoples' sites. Do you lug that scanner around all the time? Is the laptop in the box with it?"
"Nope. The laptop's in my backpack. I brought the scanner because every other time I've been out here, someone's had something to scan. This isn't the first time I've put together somebody's website in the middle of an event."
Nodding up the row of dealer tents, Cade said, "The guy with the drums. I made his site during the Spring festival. While I was working on his, two other shops signed up to get their sites made."
After a few more steps, Jamie quietly said, "Uhm... This website thing, and you crashing in our tent, and all that. Are you thinking about trying to, uh... get into Helen's pants?"
Grinning at Jamie, Cade said, "I'm not taking anything for granted. No offense, Jamie, but she's hanging out with you, so I can't be sure she's into men at all. Helen didn't seem like the shy type, though. I figure if she's interested, she'll let me know. If she's not interested, I'm pretty sure she'll let me know that, too. Besides, I'm almost twice her age and there'll be a lot of younger stuff running around here this weekend. Unless she shows some interest in me, this is just about websites and not having to drive to and from Spring Hill."
Shrugging, Jamie said, "I just wondered, that's all. I saw the way you looked at her. You really liked what you saw."
With a chuckle, Cade said, "Damned right I did. She's big, bright, bold, beautiful, and buff. What's not to like?"
Giggling, Jamie grinned up at Cade and laughed as he repeated, "'Big, bright, bold, beautiful, and buff.' I like that. I'm gonna keep it and use it."
"No problem. Just send me a dime every time you do or my lawyers will track you down."
When they walked past Helen's booth, the tent flaps were closed, but not secured. Cade glimpsed Helen kneeling by the hibachi and stopped to see what she was doing.
Helen's eyes were closed and her clasped hands were suspended perhaps six inches above the uncovered hibachi. A tiny bright bolt of energy lanced downward from her hands and flames leaped up within the hibachi.
Unclasping her hands and taking a deep breath, Helen glanced around somewhat furtively and saw Cade standing beyond the slightly-separated tent flaps. She froze with a 'deer in the headlights' expression for a moment. Cade gave her a nod and continued to his own booth.
He considered what he'd seen as he walked. It had been a cute trick, for sure. He'd seen nothing in her hands that would have caused that bolt of... hm... It hadn't quite seemed like lightning. Some other form of energy?
He was sure that a stage magician could rig up some hidden electrical method of sparking up a fire in a hibachi. Maybe she'd intended for him to see her do it? To impress him for some reason? Or not. The tent flap had been closed, after all.
As he put the scanner box down on one of the folding chairs Jamie opened, footsteps behind him caused Cade to turn around. Helen slowed from a quick march to a walk as she neared the booth and stopped just outside it.
Jamie realized by her tense demeanor that something was on her mind. He glanced at Cade as he opened the last chair, then he went to Helen and, with a concerned expression, put a hand on her arm. Helen shook her head and patted his hand, never taking her eyes off Cade.
"Jamie," said Cade, "Do me a favor and watch my stuff for a minute. I think Helen wants to talk to me."
When Jamie's glance went from Cade to Helen, she nodded and said, "Yes. I do. Give us a minute, sweetie?"
Again glancing between them, Jamie nodded. Helen started walking back toward her tent. Cade followed and caught up to her by the entrance.
Helen glanced at Cade, then let him precede her into her booth and closed the tent flap before heading to the lawn chairs. She sat down in one of them and handed Cade his coffee mug as she studied him rather intently as Cade glanced at the hibachi.
"Ed," said Helen
Raising a hand, he said, "Yo. Here. Present, ma'am. Accounted for, too."
"Um... Did you... um... see anything... um...?"
In a flat tone, Cade said, "I saw you start a fire in the hibachi." He sipped coffee and added, "Haven't figured out how you did it, though."
After a moment, she asked, "Do I have to ask you not to talk about it?"
Cade said, "Nope," and sipped his coffee again, then added, "But whether it was a stage trick or not, now I'm not sure I want you handling my laptop."
Her left eyebrow went up above a wry grin and she sat straight in the chair before she said, "I promise not to hurt your laptop. You think it was a stage trick?"
"Could have been. A bit of lighter fluid or alcohol and a static spark could have accomplished the same thing."
Nodding slightly, she leaned back and asked, "So you don't believe in magic? Doesn't that put you somewhat at odds with most everyone else at these events?"
Sipping his coffee again, Cade put it down on the little table between the chairs and also leaned back, folding his hands in his lap as he looked at Helen. Damn, she was a fine-looking woman. Seemed to have a working brain, too. After meeting her gaze for a moment, he spoke.
"No. It doesn't put me at odds with them because I don't tell them. Most of these people would love to believe in magic and some of them actually do, but theirs isn't the kind of magic I can believe in conveniently."
Helen's grin widened. "Conveniently? What kind of magic do you believe in, then? The inconvenient kind?"
Sharing her grin, Cade said, "Yeah, you could say that."
"Care to give me an example?"
"Would you settle for an explanation?"
She nodded. "Sure. An explanation would be nice."
Cade nodded and thought a moment, then said, "Okay, say that magic is a form of energy that people have always suspected might exist. They've been trying to get a handle on it with candles and rituals and rhyming special words and all that since the cave days."
He shrugged and added with a grin, "Obviously, those aren't the ways to direct it. If they were, by now everybody could take a course or two and use magic to do the dishes, mow the lawn, or light the house. They'd probably teach it in public schools along with English and math."
Picking up his coffee, he sipped it to give Helen a chance to say anything that might be on her mind. She kept silent.
"Now," said Cade, "Say that we've been using the word 'magic' to describe energy that comes from within us on an individual basis. Jane can do stuff but Joanie can't. Joanie goes through all of Jane's motions and says all the same words, etcetera, but nothing happens. Why? Joanie doesn't have a handle on how to either generate or direct the energy. Jane's words and motions are just focal devices."
"Focal devices," Helen repeated flatly.
"Yup. They're just her ways of focusing her mind to gather or generate the juice, then make use of it. Like a runner at the end of the race who pulls another few dozen strides out of aching, wobbly legs to get across the finish line, Jane can reach inside herself for that bit of extra power. Not only that, but she can direct it outside herself to accomplish something." Giving Helen a grin, Cade said, "And I'd say that most people just flatly can't do that."
"Most people? You think some people can do that?"
Shrugging, Cade said, "Oh, probably, milady. Too many people have been savants of one sort or another who could move things without touching them or cause fires or shock people. A lot of them have ended up in asylums or been labeled as fakes -- and some of them were undoubtedly just that -- but there have been too many who could do things that the scientists couldn't explain."
Biting her inner lip in a thoughtful manner, Helen asked, "Okay, then, suppose what you think you saw me do was real? How would you handle it?"
Cade shrugged again and grinned as he said, "Oh, pretty well. I don't get fuzzed up too easily, Helen."
She gave him a skeptical look and chuckled as she replied, "You don't think so, huh?"
He picked up a stick of firewood and held it out to her. As she reached for it, he pulled it back a bit and Helen looked at him rather quizzically.
"I'll hold it," he said. "You reach out and zap it in some manner, but first let me see that your hands are truly empty."
Helen's hands had flown to her lap at his request to see them, but Cade didn't think she was concealing anything. More likely she was regretting having left herself open to challenge.
"This," Cade said quietly, "Is that kind of point people sometimes reach when they can either become fearful of each other or become friends."
Tossing the stick back on the little wood pile, he said, "Regardless of what I saw, you haven't quite claimed that you can zap up a fire, and you don't need to prove anything to me. I, on the other hand, said that I could produce some cheap web pages for you, so I do have something to prove."
He got to his feet and topped up his coffee mug, then turned to face Helen and said, "And something else, milady; I thought you were pretty special before you poofed up that fire. Still do. Now I'd better go relieve the guard and set up that booth before opening time. Good luck with sales today."
Before Cade reached the tent flap, Helen said, "Thanks. Good luck to you, too, Ed."
Cade gave her a smile before he pushed through the flap and headed for his booth. Jamie was talking to a man and woman in their twenties as he approached. Both of them were wearing only sarongs wrapped around their waists. The girl had red hair, rather nice breasts that didn't see sunshine between outdoor pagan events, and was attractive in general.
The conversation cut short and Jamie said, "That's him," as he pointed at Cade.
"I didn't do it," said Cade. "I was in Cleveland that night."
It got a bit of laughter. Good enough for a one-liner. The guy introduced himself as Sunbear Silverthorn and his lady as Ariadne Starshine. Shades of the sixties... Cade remembered a blonde who'd called herself Ariadne Cornflower back in 1967.
"Hi," said Cade, "I'm Ed."
Sunbear rather delicately asked, "Uhm... Might we have heard your 'craft' name among the circles?"
He was hinting that they wanted to know the name Cade went by at pagan gatherings and rituals.
Shrugging, Cade said, "Doubt it. Sorry to disappoint, but that's all I go by."
As if Cade had uttered a sort of heresy, Sunbear glanced askance at Ariadne, who said, "We're friends of Moonflower's. Uhm... Angie's. We heard about her friend this morning. Is she going to be okay?"
"No idea, milady. I received marching orders at five a.m. All I did was clean up and saddle up to come down here and set up. Since I didn't know what else to expect, I brought my sleeping bag and a change of clothes, too."
Glancing around the booth, Ariadne said, "I see. She must trust you very much to put you in charge of her booth."
"Could be, I guess. She may just have wanted someone who knows how to count money and haul and pack stoneware. My shop made about half the stuff in all these boxes."
With a wiggle and a small grin, Ariadne asked, "Oooo... You make things? What kind of things?"
Smiling back, Cade said, "Come back by after I've set things up, milady. Maybe we can find something that will go with those gorgeous green goddess eyes of yours."
She blushed slightly, grinningly bit her lip, and smiled up at her boyfriend, who matched her smile with one of his own, then they took their leave of the booth.
Cade thanked Jamie for minding the booth and began unpacking goblets, altar tiles, and jewelry for display.
"You made that?" Jamie asked as Cade unpacked and placed an emerald-green chalice on the table.
"Yup. Pretty much all the other stoneware in here, too. Angie's sister made a few pieces in the other box; some cups and plates with runes on them. Nice stuff in a different style."
Jamie went looking for the other pieces, found them, and brought them to the table, where Cade gave them their own display space as he heard someone turn on the water faucet behind the next tent and fill a container.
"Are you always like that with women?" asked Jamie.
Pulling his awareness back into the tent, Cade asked, "Always like what?"
"You know what I mean. She was blushing like a virgin."
With a sidelong glance, Cade said, "I guess I won't ask how much -- or what else -- you might know about virgins."
"Oh, very cute. Are you like that with all women?"
"Yup. Pretty much, I guess. I pick out something nice about them and say something nice about it. It's a habit."
Looking after the couple, Jamie replied, "Yeah, well, it seems to work real well, doesn't it?"
"Yup. That's why I do it. Some women like it and some don't, so it weeds out the unfriendlies real quick."
Laughing, Jamie asked, "What are you going to pick out about Helen? Or have you already picked something?"
Putting the empty boxes behind the folding chairs, Cade opened two more as he said, "Well, that's kind of tough, Jamie. She's wonderfully tall, beautifully constructed, has a lovely face and striking blue eyes, and her voice just sort of slithers into my ears and ends up tickling my balls, you know?"
Jamie looked as if he was about to go into shock, his mouth and eyes wide open as he goggled at Cade's last words.
Cade added, "And on top of all that, she's smart. That's what makes it really tough. Whatever I say can't sound like some kind of a pickup line. She has to feel it, not just hear it. So I haven't decided yet."
In a whispering shriek, Jamie hissed, "I can't-fucking-believe you just said that!"
Standing straight and eyeing the layout on the table, Cade said, "Uh, huh. Right. You're gay, but you know what I'm talking about. Some voices do that. Margaux Hemingway had that kind of a voice for me. So did Toni Tenille. It used to make me feel good just to listen to her. So did my first wife. Her voice just seemed to flow like warm honey. I'd call her at work just to hear her say 'hello'. She even sounded beautiful when she bitched at me about calling her at work."
Straightening to look at Jamie, Cade said, "Go ahead. Tell me you don't know what I'm talking about."
Sighing deeply, Jamie flumped into a chair and said, "No, I know exactly what you're talking about. I just can't believe you said that about Helen."
Cade grinned and said, "Then try harder, young'un. It gave me a big, fat tingle when Helen spoke to me while the breeze blew her scent at me. I'll bet you know how that is, too. I'd even bet you can even put someone's name to it, can't you?"
Turning cherry red, Jamie fluttered a hand, covered his eyes, and said, "Oh, puh-leeze! You can stop now!"
"Thought so," said Cade. "Long time gone or still around?"
With a shake of his head, Jamie muttered, "Gone."
"The only one ever, or just the first time it happened?"
Looking up, Jamie snapped, "You ask a hell of a lot of questions. He was the first one who ever... who ever had that effect on me, okay? Not the only one, just the first one, okay?"
Raising his hands protestingly, Cade said, "Relax. I just wanted to be sure you understood, Jamie. I didn't want you to think I was being at all trite about Helen. I've only known her for an hour or so and I already think she's pretty special."
Somewhat sullenly, Jamie asked, "You do, huh?"
"Oh, hell, yes. Tall and beautiful can come without any real impact or meaning, like it does with skinny fashion models. Lollipop women. They're all painted faces on stick figures and they're perfectly interchangeable; just clothing display dummies. For a woman to have any serious, lasting impact on men, she has to have obvious strength of personality and character to create that impact and make it stick."
Pausing to sip his coffee and give Jamie a solid gaze, Cade said, "Helen has those qualities. She's the kind you damned well want to salute before you ask her for a kiss."
Jamie giggled girlishly and said, "Yeah, she is, isn't she? I've seen so many guys zero in on her, then back away fast." In a confidential tone, he added, "Sometimes it's hilarious, you know? Some Mr. Macho type comes buzzing up to her and two minutes later he's frantically looking for a way out."
Grinning, Cade said, "Yeah, I'll bet. Pity the guy who pops a Barbie joke on her. Whoo, damn."
Jamie laughingly agreed wholeheartedly.
"That happened!" he said. "It really did! Some dumbass at Mikey's Halloween party yelled, '...and heeeerrre's Barbie!' Helen stopped in the doorway and..."
He froze in horror as a shadow fell across the display table and Cade turned to see Helen looking over the goblets.
"Hi," said Cade. "We were just talking about you, milady."
Briefly eyeing Jamie, Helen said coolly, "So I heard. That Barbie incident is one of Jamie's favorite anecdotes."
She picked up the emerald goblet and studied it for a time, then put it back and said, "I like that color. A lot, in fact."
Nodding, Cade said, "I can't give you that one 'cause it isn't mine to give, but if I wind up doing your web pages, I'll make you one and deliver it in person. How's that?"
Helen smiled and said, "I wouldn't dream of turning it down. Thanks. How are you fixed for coffee?"
"About half a mug left, I think."
Giving Cade a rather penetrating gaze, she said, "Well, I just refilled the coffee pot, so there'll be more in about five minutes. Don't let yourself run dry."
"Roger that, milady. Thanks."
Turning to walk away, Helen shot a piercing glance at Jamie before she passed beyond the tent wall. Jamie still seemed in a state of shock as he stared up at Cade.
"What?" asked Cade. "Relax. We lived through it, right?"
Jamie's eyes flicked to the back wall of the tent, then back to Cade's, and he sucked in a deep breath before he hissingly whispered, "She heard us! Everything we said!"
Shrugging, Cade said, "She seemed to take it well."
Standing up on shaky knees, Jamie seemed to think that Cade had somehow missed a very important point.
He whispered, "But-she-heard-us, damn it!"
Sighing, Cade said, "Okay, so she heard us. We've pretty much established that, so now what? Do we panic and stampede like cattle? Run screaming into the woods? Dash over there and beg her forgiveness? Or maybe just accept the fact that she took the whole thing as a long-winded compliment? I vote for the last, by the way."
Facing Jamie directly and meeting his gaze, Cade said, "But, hell. At the very worst, she now knows that I think she's gorgeous and smart. She also knows that I respect her. I'm having trouble spotting a problem with that, and if you'll relax and think a minute, you will, too."
Jamie's knees seemed to give out and he settled ungracefully into the folding chair, covering his face with his hands and shaking his head.
"Jamie," said Cade, placing another tile on the table.
Without looking up, Jamie responded, "What?"
"Don't be all hunkered up like that when the customers get here. They'll think I smushed your little feelings or something. It'll be bad for business, y'know?"
Cade heard a snicker, then a soft laugh. Jamie sighed, sat up grinning, and shook his head slowly, as if he thought that Cade still didn't get the big picture.
"Just pretend you don't know what she heard," said Cade. Shrugging, he added, "Unless she brings it up, of course. Then you can confess or commit hara-kiri or whatever."
Jamie's eyes got big and he whispered, "Oh, Gawd..! I can't go back to the tent right now."
"Sure you can. Stiffen up, there. Shoulders back, chest out, stomach in, and all that. March, don't walk. We said nice things about her, so you're probably in no real danger. Right?"
"Oh, Gawd..." Jamie bit his lip and waffled.
"Right?" insisted Cade. "What woman is going to kill you over a compliment? Well, I guess there are some who probably would, but they're all man-hating lesbians, right?"
Jamie snickered again and said, "Not all of them. I know some straight women who'd de-ball a man for what you said."
"Yeah, I've met some of those, too. Lettum try. But think about this particular woman. Is she going to mistreat you?"
After a pause, Jamie said, "Well, no."
"Then why are you so fuzzed up about this? Just go in there with a business-as-usual attitude and handle things. Muddle through, and like that. Bet you get through it without even one broken bone. Bet you won't lose even a whole pint of blood."
Laughing nervously, Jamie nodded.
"Yeah. Okay. You're right." He sighed. "I guess I have to go back over there sometime."
"Now's better than later and I still have stuff to put out. Once I'm finished, I'll holler and you can come watch the booth again while I get a refill."
Nodding, Jamie sighed again and started for the front of the tent. He turned once to look at Cade and glanced meaningfully in the direction of Helen's booth, then sighed again and set forth at a trudging pace, as if to his execution.
Not long after Jamie left, people started showing up to browse and talk, and by the nine o'clock registrations check, Cade's coffee refill still hadn't been accomplished.
Being the first day of the weekend festival, business in small stuff was fairly brisk, but people were holding onto most of their money until they'd seen everything being offered at least once or twice.
More than half of those who passed the booth were either nude or nearly nude. They mostly carried their essentials in Crown Royal bags or other types of cloth or leather string-tie bags that could be slung around the waist or over a shoulder.
Cade wondered whether Helen would also shuck her clothes as the morning progressed, but a little after ten she chased a small carved wooden ball that had escaped her display table and Cade saw that she still wore her shirt and cut-offs.
With a mild sense of disappointment that was well buffered by the sight of her loping after the ball and bending to pick it up, Cade waved and smiled at her as she headed back into her booth. She grinned and tossed the little ball up and caught it.
Maybe five minutes later he saw her again. This time she had the little coffee pot and was heading his way.
She entered Cade's booth and flicked the lid off his coffee mug, filled the mug, snapped the lid back on it, and said, "All fixed. I didn't forget you; I'd have been here sooner, but we got kind of busy."
"Same here. Thanks. I was just about dry."
Helen flashed him a grin and turned to leave.
"Is Jamie feeling better?" asked Cade.
Turning slightly to look over her shoulder with a smile and a peering gaze, Helen said, "He'll probably survive. He's been more embarrassed about less a few times. How about you?"
Shaking his head thoughtfully, Cade said, "Well, let's see; you didn't hear anything that I wouldn't have said to your face eventually, anyway, and all of it was good, so yeah, I guess I'll survive, too, milady."
Her smile widened and she said, "See that you do. Jamie's just about convinced me that we need a website."
Snapping his fingers, Cade said, "Ah! Thanks for reminding me. I need to hook the lappie up to recharge it."
Nodding, Helen left the tent. Cade handled a couple of small purchases, then dug out his extension cord and plugged it into the outlet on the pole behind his tent. After another couple of customers, he hooked up the laptop and restocked the display table.
Just before noon, Jamie came to the booth to ask if Cade wanted anything from the burger place on US-41. Cade gave it some thought and settled for a no-catsup, no-mayo, extra-everything-else burger with fries and a dr pepper.
As he reached for his money clip, Jamie firmly said, "No. I've got it. You did me a favor this morning. A big one," then he turned and hurried back toward Helen's booth.
A favor? Hm. Had the scarecrow wanted a heart? Or was it the lion? Probably the lion. Not sure. The tin man wanted... what? Oil? Whatever. Helen made one helluva Dorothy.
Angela Nicks, the booth owner, showed up a little after one with a couple of boxes and asked how things had been going. Cade invited her to have a look in the receipt book.
Angie plopped herself rather tiredly into one of the folding chairs and took the receipt book Cade offered.
"We may need another one today," said Cade.
"Oh, my Goddess!" said Angie, flipping through the book and losing her weary demeanor. "You sold all this?"
"Too much, too soon? It's mostly small stuff, but I could slow down some, I guess."
Grinning at him, Angie said, "Oh, no! That won't be necessary at all, Ed! I'm just glad I thought to bring some more pendants. They're in the trunk of my car."
"I'll get them. You'll be meeting a couple of people later, if not sooner. Helen and Jamie, from the first booth. I'll probably be making her a website this evening."
"You mean the blonde? She's a big girl, isn't she?"
"She's a goddess, ma'am. I'm tempted to leave you for her."
Shrugging, Angie grinningly said, "Well, then, have fun, by all means, and thanks so much for helping this morning."
"No problem. Back in a minute."
Leaving the booth with Angie's keys, Cade stopped at Helen's booth and said, "Angie finally got here. I'm going to her car for more stuff. How'd you do this morning?"
"Good. Better than I'd expected, really. Just a minute and I'll go with you. I need to get out of here for a few minutes."
She turned the booth over to Jamie and came around the table to walk with Cade toward the parking lot, then detoured toward the porta-potties. That seemed like a good idea to Cade, as well, having just finished a super-sized dr pepper.
As they got underway again a few minutes later, the guy and girl who'd stopped by Cade's booth early in the morning were approaching. Cade grinned and very firmly met the girl's eyes and she blushed again as she returned his smile.
Once they were past, Helen lightly swatted Cade's shoulder and said, "Hey, you're with me, remember? Who was that? She turned pinker than her sunburn when she saw you."
Cade told her about his comment about the girl's eyes.
"Hm," said Helen. "No wonder she pinked out. I saw how you looked at her."
Making a 'drat' gesture, Cade said, "Damn. Oh, well. I met her eyes like that so she'd remember exactly what I said and hear it again in her head. It made her feel all warm and fuzzy again. Gave her a quick tingle."
"You thought she needed a tingle?" Helen shrugged and said, "I don't know; she looked happy enough to me."
Giving her a droll look, Cade said, "She's with him and they're here and she's having a grand time flashing her boobs -- something she can't do outside -- so of course she's happy. I just wanted her to have a little tingle to top it all off."
Helen snickered and said, "You're so thoughtful, sir."
"I'd do as much for you, too, ma'am," said Cade, then he softly sang, "'Girl, anytime--yer feelin' down--just come around--to my part of town--I won't treat you wrong--I won't treat you mean--I'll be the lovin'est man--you've ever seen.'"
Grinning hugely, Helen said, "Oooo! I like that! It had a special cadence, but it didn't sound like a marching song. Where did that come from?"
"Pounding spikes into railroad ties. That's why there's that little up-note at the end of each segment. It's when the hammer's supposed to land."
"Huh? Yeah, I heard that, but I don't understand."
"It's a gandy dancer song. The guys who patch railroad tracks by hand sing to set the rhythm. Four guys swing long-handled hammers, one right after the other; bam, bam, bam, bam. Eight hits, so every song has eight verses. A caller does the singing. By the time a song is finished, a new spike is set. Want to hear another one?"
"Yeah! Do another one!"
"You got it, milady. Just envision one of four hammers slamming the top of a spike during each verse."
Cade sang, "'If you wanna get to heaven--lemme tell ya how to do it--you grease your feet--with a little mutton suet--you stand right out--on the devil's hand--and you slide right over--to the promised land.' An old black guy named Washington called the tunes for our group. He had hundreds of 'em rattling around in his head."
Looking quizzical, Helen asked, "What's mutton suet?"
"Hard, fatty stuff they used to use in cooking and making candles because nobody would eat it. They used it in black powder guns, too, to keep the powder dry. Some of the gandy songs date back to the beginning of railroads."
Grinning like a child, Helen said, "Another one! Do another one? Pleeeze?"
"Yes, ma'am. Anything for you, ma'am. 'Huntin' eggs in the henhouse--down on my knees--well, I thought I heard--a rooster sneeze--but it was only the rooster--sayin' his prayers--and callin' out hymns--for the hens upstairs.'"
Cade added, "He used to cap that one with, 'ain't country livin' just grand?' while we moved to the next spike. And you have to realize that most of the guys on the track gangs were hard-core Baptists. Any non-Christians among them were smart to keep their mouths shut."
Peering at him, Helen asked, "Gangs? You weren't on some kind of a chain gang, were you?"
Shaking his head, Cade said, "Nope. I was a track-patcher for a few months one summer. One crew rolled ahead looking for loose track, marked it and left new spikes. The other crew followed to tack it back down and mark it done."
As they reached Angela's car and Cade opened the trunk, Helen peered at him and asked, "They still have people doing that? I thought machines had been doing stuff like that since about 1940 or so."
Lifting out a box of pendants, Cade said, "Well, jeez, lady, I'm not quite that old. There were still a few track patchers around back in the late sixties and early seventies."
Helen snickered and leaned to kiss Cade's cheek as she murmured, "There, there, now. I wasn't calling you old, sir, and I happen to respect a little gray in the hair."
"Gee, thanks, milady. You respect a little gray, huh? Why? I've found that old people can be just as silly as young people. About different things, usually, but just as silly."
Hefting the box to his shoulder, Cade led off to head them back to Angie's booth. As they passed the porta-potties a rather too-slender -- scrawny, really -- blonde woman heading for the parking lot made Helen stop and stare momentarily.
She wore a bright yellow thong bathing suit bottom, had a delicate gold chain wrapped twice around her waist, wore spiked heels -- possibly the reason she was returning to her car -- and had a truly massive set of boobs that stood stiffly out in front of her like battering rams.
"Do you see that?" whispered Helen. "Do you believe it?"
"Wowsers," said Cade. "Bookshelf Barbie. And I'll bet she's paying for wearing those heels out here."
Even as he spoke, the woman's right high heel sank deeply into the grass by the trail. As she lurched and caught herself, her boobs didn't seem to flex an inch, stiffly pointing ahead of her at any angle as she nearly toppled onto them.
Giggling, Helen said, "They're as tight as drums! She must have gone for the biggest bags of silicone they had."
Remembering the time he'd had bandages taped to his back, pulling the skin tightly closed, Cade said, "It's a wonder she can breathe with those things."
Cade turned away from the comic tragedy of the blonde's overblown chest and poor choice of footwear and continued walking. As Helen caught up, she laughed softly again.
"I guess her type doesn't appeal to you, huh?"
"Nope. Skin and bone and silicone. Paint and packaging. No thrill. The gold chain and the heels probably mean she's a day tripper from the ritzy nudist place just down highway forty-one. They like to dress up a bit there."
His words seemed to cap something for Helen. She laughed aloud and looked to see if he realized what he'd said, then laughed some more when he gave her a smug little smile.
When Cade introduced Helen to Angie, Angie stole a glance at Helen's sandaled feet as they shook hands, then her eyes returned to Helen's, which were nearly a foot above Angie's.
Glancing at Cade, Angie grinningly said, "You'd better behave yourself with this one. I think she could take you."
Returning her grin, Cade drawled, "Oh, ah done figgered that out, ma'am, but thanks a bunch for all your concern."
He gathered some WiccaWorks wholesale catalogs and his mug and stood waiting until the ladies finished meeting and greeting, then Helen joined him outside the booth and they walked up dealer's row, browsing the merchandise and leaving catalogs with potential customers.
Somebody's five-year-old managed to slip free of his management and ran joyously screaming toward the seagulls milling about at the end of the lake's short pier. His mother shouted after him, but to no avail.
Cade thrust the remaining catalogs and his coffee mug at Helen and powered after the kid, leaping down the slope to slide upright onto the pier and catch the little bugger just before he could reach the now-birdless end of the pier.
He slung the protesting kid under an arm and started back to the tents. A smattering of applause greeted him as he passed the kid to his mother. Somebody grinningly addressed him as "Flash". Cade tossed everybody an abbreviated salute and returned to Helen, who was grinning at him.
As she handed him the catalogs and his coffee mug, she said, "That was a great catch. You're pretty quick."
Sipping his coffee, Cade said, "I was the closest one to him. No biggie."
"You're being unnecessarily modest. A couple of other guys started to run, too, but you were already halfway there, surfing your way down the hill."
"Guess they got late starts."
Sighing, Helen said, "Okay. I get the hint. No fuss. But now I'm curious; what do you do to stay in shape?"
"Not much. I mow my own lawn and sometimes do pushups or knee bends in front of the TV or while I'm sending and receiving files on the computer. I walk a lot and now and then I run when it's cool."
"That's it. It doesn't really take much to stay toned." He glanced up and down Helen's front and added, "You should know. What you've got is natural. You don't have the look of someone who works out in a gym. No patterns."
Looking where Cade was looking at her legs, then meeting Cade's eyes, Helen asked, "Patterns?"
Nodding, he said, "Patterns. Repetitive motions on machines train muscles and create patterns of strength. You can tell which machines are a gym rat's favorites by looking at him. Or her. Not by the muscles themselves, so much, but by the ligaments, where the muscles meet bones at joints."
Helen seemed skeptical. Cade spotted a solid-looking woman walking with a guy by a drum maker's tent and steered Helen that way. Bowflex? Maybe. Nautilus, probably.
"Ask her if she works out on a Nautilus," whispered Cade. "It'll either be that or a Bowflex."
"You ask her!" Helen whispered back. "This is your idea."
Shrugging, Cade said aloud, "Excuse me. Got a question."
When the woman looked up from the drums, Cade asked, "You work out on a Nautilus, don't you?"
She gave Cade a startled, studious look and glanced at her friend, then at Helen, who rolled her eyes as if to say 'this wasn't my idea'.
Looking back at Cade, the woman said, "Yes. I've got one in my garage."
With a nod, Cade said, "Thanks. I was just curious."
As they walked away, Helen whispered, "I can't believe you just did that."
"Try never to leave a point unproven," said Cade. "It enhances your credibility."
"What if you'd been wrong, smart guy?"
"Then I guess I'd have had to re-evaluate my methods of evaluation. Never hurts to do that now and then, especially if they turn out to be wrong."
Helen's low chuckle preceded, "We're out of dealers on both sides. What now?"
Pointing ahead, Cade traced the curve of the lake until his finger aimed at the clubhouse and pool, swept onward until it stopped at the hot tub, then he dropped his arm and shrugged as he looked at Helen.
"Those are the club activity choices, unless there's a seminar you want to check out. There's one about herbs at four that I'd like to visit, and I could start to work on your webpages pretty much anytime, but otherwise, I'm open to suggestions. You're the one with a booth to run."
Nodding, she said, "Yeah, and I've left Jamie alone with it for over an hour. Guess I'd better get back there."
They started back toward the beginning of the row.
"In that case," said Cade, "I'll go with you and get the pictures, then start scanning them. This evening, when I show you my website and what I've done about yours, you can decide what you want to do. I'll save the picture scans to a floppy for you if you decide not to do it."
Shaking her head, Helen said, "No. You could go to a lot of trouble for nothing. Jamie can wait another few minutes, I think. Let's have a look at your pages now. If I like them, you've got the job."
And so it was. At Angie's booth, Cade fired up the laptop and let Helen browse the WiccaWorks pages on the hard drive. At one point she picked up one of the pendants and held it next to the picture on the screen, then noddingly put it back.
Some five minutes later, she stood up, stretched, and extended a hand as she said to Cade, "Okay. I'll do it."
Nodding, Cade took her hand and said, "Thanks. If I scan the pictures here, I can be on hand to let Angie take a break."
"Okay. Jamie will bring them over in a few minutes. Send him back if he asks too many questions or starts to bug you."
"No sweat. I'll put him to work numbering the backs of the pictures or something. Maybe teach him how to scan stuff."
Helen stepped out of the booth and left. Angie turned to give Cade a long, studious look, but said nothing.
Jamie arrived some minutes later with a photo album and a business card. After gathering info such as which email address to use in setting up an account for handling credit card sales and how they wanted to handle shipping, Cade began by cloning his WiccaWorks pages to a new folder for modification.
Once the pages had been retitled according to the lines of merchandise to be sold, Cade adjusted the page headers to match the business card's info and changed the links on the index page to call up the new product categories.
Throughout all this, Jamie seemed to think he was watching a wizard at work, and his attitude began to wear on Cade a bit.
"Jamie, I'm just rewriting bits of info on the pages. It really ain't all that big a deal, dude."
"It is if you don't know how to do it."
"You want to learn? No sweat; I'll show you."
Shaking his head almost frantically, Jamie said, "Uh... maybe later. I'm dying to see our new website and I'd hate to screw anything up."
Shrugging, Cade asked, "Got all the pix numbered?"
Jamie handed Cade a stack of photos and Cade arranged four of them on the scanner, then closed the lid. Calling up his art program, he told it to scan and then split the resulting single picture into four parts, each titled and numbered.
After creating a quick-loading miniature of each picture, he typed in the links needed to call up the miniatures and make them clickable to bring up the full-sized pictures.
"Take a look," said Cade, and Jamie craned to see the laptop's screen as the first of Helen's web pages appeared.
Clicking the mini-pic to bring up the full-sized picture, Cade said, "All we have to do now is pick a background graphic and put the descriptions with the product pictures."
Openmouthed, Jamie stared at the screen and murmured, "Wow! That's our stuff! On a webpage!"
Cade laughed and said, "You're too easily impressed, Jamie. It's all pretty easy, really. Just tedious as hell sometimes."
He sipped the last of his coffee and set the mug down. Jamie grabbed it and said he'd be right back with more, then nearly scampered out of the booth.
"Don't be too hard on him," said Angie, "I was like that, too, when you did mine."
"Yeah, but you're kinda cute. He isn't."
Grinning, Angie shook her head despairingly and said, "You're cruel, Ed. Just plain cruel."
"Them's the breaks, ma'am. Life ain't fair and I ain't gay. Poor little Jamie, and all that. Now get back to work, there. I wanna see some sweat, lady."
"I'll bounce one of these tiles off your head, mister. You want to see sweat, you can make some of your own."
"Can't," said Cade. "This stuff is just too easy for me."
Angie turned to help a customer and Cade had zapped another eight pages into being before Helen said, "Knock, knock. Jamie said you had some results already?"
"Yup. Stand by while I finish this file and I'll show you what's done. I started with the big stuff, but we can arrange the pages to show your goodies in any order you want."
Clicking up the pages he'd finished, Cade let her see the pages in a browser, then showed her where text would be added, overwriting his WiccaWorks information.
Helen took a chair and studied matters for a moment, then she asked, "Is it really this easy?"
"Yup. But there will be a lot of page adjustments because some of your pictures are fairly large. I can't put more than two on some of the pages without making the download times too long, so you may wind up with twenty-one pages, plus an index page. Sorry you made the deal?"
Shaking her head, Helen said, "No. Getting it done right the first time is always the way to go, and however easy it may be for you, it wouldn't have been for us. Besides, you're still a lot cheaper than the other guy."
"Good 'nuff. I should have all the pictures mounted on pages soon. We can use your catalog blurbs and we'll probably have this thing tweaked and tuned by tomorrow. What's on your agenda tonight, milady? Do your after-dinner plans include the pool or the hot tub?"
"Both, after I pack and cover things for the night."
Cade nodded and said, "Good. Hunkering over this laptop is going to show up in my neck and shoulders later and the hot water will help. I should have brought another folding table. As soon as I finish all the scanning, I'll use the one the scanner's on to put the rest of the pages together. Any questions or suggestions before I dive back into this?"
Laughing softly, Helen said, "Me? Suggestions? Well, just one, I guess. Keep it simple. If you aren't around later, we'll have to make any adjustments ourselves or hire someone."
Grinning up at her, Cade said, "As it happens, I had the same thoughts in mind when I designed the WiccaWorks site. If anything happened to me, Sharon would have to learn HTML in a hurry or hire someone, too."
"The woman who makes all that stuff on display. She's the real guts of WiccaWorks."
Gazing intently at Cade, Helen said, "Tell me a little about her."
"Okay. She's sixty-four, raised five kids -- one of whom was an adoptee -- and prefers running her own business to working for someone else. Oh, yeah, and she's sort of a relative; a cousin by marriage at one point, in fact. We turned her hobby into a manufacturing business when I visited in 1980 and put it on-line in 1994." Pausing for a moment, Cade added, "And we currently share three cats."
Angie chuckled, and when Helen looked at her, she said, "Ed sometimes boils things down too much. My business wouldn't have survived 1999 if Sharon and WiccaWorks hadn't come along in the nick of time, and WiccaWorks wouldn't exist if Ed hadn't invented it."
"It was just an idea that worked," said Cade. "And it wouldn't have worked without everybody involved. And talking about it isn't getting these pages done."
"Oh, he's so shy," said Angie, her grin widening.
"Yeah, and he's about to take a walk," said Cade. "I'll come back when you two have finished talking about me."
Helen blocked his path and said, "No, don't run off. I'll go back to my booth and leave you in peace now." She turned to Angie and added, "But I'll be back, if you don't mind."
"Oh, no, not at all," said Angie. "We'll get together when he's not around."
Laughing softly, Helen nodded and left the booth. Cade tapped the mouse to bring up the next page to edit and added two picture links, then went to the next one.
Angie chuckled and asked, "Aren't you curious about what Helen and I may have to talk about?"
Shaking his head, Cade said, "You mean 'am I worried about what you'll say about me?' Nope."
Snickering, Angie said, "I find that somewhat unusual, Ed."
Cade grinned up at her and said, "I prefer to worry about things I can control. Besides, neither of you have ever had me, so you'll both be guessing every step of the way."
"Oh, ho! Guessing? Not me. I knew Monica, don't forget. She still visits the store now and then."
Copying an entry from the directory to the page he was editing, Cade asked, "She does, huh? That's a long haul from Sarasota or wherever. Did she tell you about our weekends at the Pinecrest house she was selling?"
Stepping around behind the laptop to gaze down at Cade, Angie's grin grew huge as she said, "Uh, huh. Oh, yeah. She sure did."
Looking up, Cade smiled smugly and said, "Then I have nothing to worry about."
By three-thirty, all the pages and pictures came up when clicked and Cade had installed an index page with categories as listed in the 'Helen's Emporium' catalog.
A woman he knew from another booth stopped to ask if he was going to the herb lecture.
"Did they decide what herbs she'd cover?" asked Cade.
Nodding, the woman pulled a sheet of paper from her bag and read off a list composed of various types of tea.
"Guess not, then," said Cade. "The original list had some good stuff on it, but this tea info is going to come straight off photocopied pages from somebody's book. Someone probably warned Claire against talking about medicinal uses, so now she's going to take the safe, easy route to fill the hour."
"Yup. More than likely the event organizers, worrying about lawsuits. Guess I'll just look up what I want to know."
He felt someone else approaching and looked up as Helen came around the side of the booth.
"Hi," she said, "Did you remember your seminar?"
"Yes, but Leslie just told me it'll be about teas. The original list had better stuff on it. Helen, this is Leslie. Leslie, Helen."
Getting up from the folding chair as they shook hands, Cade stretched and said, "Your webpages are ready for some product blurbs, milady. I've been working my little fingers to the bone for you. Want to run through the pages and see if everything's popping up when and how it should?"
"Sure!" Helen stepped into the booth and sat down in front of the laptop, then seemed to hesitate. "What do I do?"
"Just click on the file named 'index-dot-htm' and the browser will come up for you."
She moused the icon and murmured, "Oh, cooool..." when her splash page appeared with a trio of her necklaces. As she paged through the site, similar purrings were heard.
Leslie grinned at Cade and asked, "Another satisfied customer, huh?"
"Not yet. We still have to add the text."
"Oooo. I hated that part when we did mine. Too much typing, and I got my ring-chain caught under a Shift-key. Well, later, all. I'm off to learn all about tea."
Once they'd made their goodbyes and Leslie had headed toward the pool deck to find the seminar, Helen said, "Jamie's found a couple of his friends from Tampa. He'll be going to some restaurant with them later. What do you want to do about food?"
"I've heard about the buffet since I included being fed in our deal," said Cade. "No thrill. It's mostly pasta and they didn't toss any serious money at feeding the masses. I think I'd like to dine elsewhere, too, but don't worry about feeding me."
Helen looked up and thumbed at the laptop.
"A deal's a deal, Ed," she said firmly. "You get fed. Where do you want to eat?"
Shrugging, Cade said, "Ryan's would do. Or Golden Corral. Or anyplace with a buffet full of real food."
"There's a Ryan's on fifty-two. When do you want to go?"
"That's up to you, milady. I don't have a schedule."
Nodding firmly, Helen said, "Let's go around five-thirty, then. It'll be getting dark around six and I don't want twenty people inviting me to the big ritual circle."
That earned her a questioning look from Angie.
"No offense," said Helen, "I just don't enjoy rituals much, so I avoid them."
Shaking her head, Angie said, "I wasn't offended. I don't go to them, either. I'm just not used to hearing anyone so outspoken about avoiding them." She grinned as she said, "I usually just hide for a while when the announcements are being made, then go dance by the fire later."
Returning her smile, Helen said, "Me, too. I'm not really in this for the religious side of things."
Again shaking her head, Angie said, "Same here. Some of the ceremonies and rituals they dream up are ridiculous."
Helen turned to Cade and asked, "How about you, Ed? Are you into the religious side of these events?"
Opening WordPad on the laptop as Angie let out a bark of laughter, Cade said, "No, not even a little. I usually just wander around all day and hang out at the pool or soak in the hot tub at night. I like the kinds of people you find at these events. No hassles, no hurries."
Angie asked, "Why didn't you just scan in the text, too?"
"It would make the pictures larger and take longer to load, and some of the text wouldn't have scanned very well. I'd have had to correct so much that it's easier to bang it in this way."
He began reading from the catalog and typing in the blurbs according to stock numbers. Helen came to stand behind him for a few moments in silence, then stepped to one side.
"You can type, too," she stated.
Nodding, Cade said, "Yup. Took a class in high school. Figured I might need it someday. It kept me out of a lot of crappy work details in the Army, too."
"What did you do in the Army?"
"I was a medic." He looked up and said, "Or a door gunner, or an ambulance driver or a rifleman." Indicating the screen, he added, "Or a typist. Or a radioman. Whatever was needed."
"He's still like that," said Angie. "Whatever is needed, I mean. He always seems able to come up with a solution."
Cade glanced up at her, then turned the catalog page and added another blurb, pretending he didn't see Angie gesture at Helen and lead her a short distance away.
He also pretended not to hear Angie's whispered, "He doesn't take praise very well, though."
"I've noticed that. It seems to... well... annoy him."
"I hear he's going to be staying in your tent tonight."
"Is that a problem?"
"No, no. I was just wondering... Well, I mean... I hope you don't get too attached to him."
"Attached?" She chuckled and asked, "You mean emotionally involved?"
In the LCD screen, Cade saw Angie nod.
"He's kind of like a cat," she said. "He's always up for playing and he can be very friendly, but I know at least three women who've tried and failed to put a collar on him in the last couple of years."
Helen's reflection in the screen glanced at him and formed a small smile, then turned back to Angie and said, "I don't have a problem with that, Angie. I'm not looking for a husband. I don't even like that word. It usually ends up meaning 'management of the woman', and that's something else I'm not looking for. What were you wondering that you didn't quite come right out and say, Angie?"
Angie's reflection fidgeted briefly, then whispered, "Well, I mean... He's fifty-three and you're what? Twenty-five?"
"Twenty-nine, and thanks. You think he's too old for me?"
"Ah, well, uh, I guess not, if you don't."
Sighing, Helen said, "I really haven't decided yet. He's kind of cute, but he has a stony side like my dad had. Nothing got to my dad or surprised him very much. Come to think of it, my dad didn't handle compliments well, either. He just sort of nodded along, then disappeared at the first opportunity."
Nodding, Angie said, "Yeah. That's Ed Cade. No fussing over him allowed. He'd do just about anything for his friends -- and I've seen him do things for total strangers -- but doesn't care much for hearing about it afterward."
As if to call a halt to the whispering session, Helen said, "I'll remember that. Guess I'd better be getting back now."
Raising her voice a bit, she said, "Ed, I'll be at my booth if you need me, okay?"
"Good enough, milady. I'll wrap this up in a little while."
They waved goodbye to each other as Angie re-entered the booth. Cade looked up and met her gaze for a moment and she seemed to stiffen a bit.
"He's kind of like a cat," said Cade.
Angie froze at that and asked, "You heard? All of it?"
Cade nodded as he typed in another product blurb.
"Sorry," said Angie. "I wouldn't blame you if you told me to mind my own damned business."
Nodding, Cade said, "Consider it said, then, but I don't think you did me any harm. Helen wouldn't be interested in me if she were looking for a husband. She prefers toys."
Squinting at Cade, Angie asked, "Uh, you mean... like battery-operated toys?"
"Nope. I mean toys like me. Real, live toys. Toys who will explore her thoroughly and thank her for the privilege as they work their butts off to please her. But toys, nonetheless. She doesn't want to be chained down, either."
Sitting in one of the folding chairs, Angie regarded Cade for a few moments, then asked, "You're so sure about that?"
"Sure, I'm sure. Jamie's her buffer. Her foil. A guy has to have self-confidence enough to get past her affiliation with Jamie and his blatant gayness, then the guy has to interest her in some manner. She's a very intelligent and self-contained person who doesn't impress too easily, so interesting her won't be easy for most guys. Any standard lines and ploys will fall flat. She'd laugh them out of Dodge in a heartbeat."
"Uh, huh. So you're using a non-standard ploy, then?"
Looking up from the laptop, Cade said, "I don't use ploys, Angie. Ploys either don't work at all or blow up in your face later. I'm just being me. Whether I wind up in Helen's sleeping bag this weekend -- or ever -- is entirely up to her. Either way I'll have made a friend and a few bucks on her web pages."
Nodding, Angie said, "I see," then she shook her head and amended, "Well, no, Ed. I don't see. You've been with five different women in the last two years that I know of for certain, and you obviously think Helen's some kind of a goddess, yet you're saying you won't make an overt effort to sleep with her? What's wrong with that picture?"
Shrugging, Cade said, "I'll be sleeping with her tonight. That may be all, too, if she decides not to play with me. Helen sets her own boundaries, Angie, and trying to influence her decisions and judgment is likely the best way to make her anchor them in concrete."
At Angie's peering look, he sighed and said, "Helen's kind of like a cat, too, Angie. If you reach for a cat who doesn't know you, she'll likely draw back from you. It's better to let her find her way to you in her own time and on her own terms."
Angie met his gaze for some moments, then said, "I see," and rose to busy herself arranging the display table as Cade finished page eight and opened number nine.
"Angie," said Cade, "When we met, you were going through hell with a divorce and you were nearly broke. If I were into using ploys, I'd have tried one on you back then. Here we are, almost four years later, and I have yet to try to bed you. Want to know why? Without tossing in your own speculations?"
There was a long pause before she said, "Yes, Ed. I think I'd like to know why."
Sipping his coffee, Cade said, "It wasn't because you aren't attractive, ma'am. Just about any time during the first year, you'd have thought I was trying to take advantage of you. You were bitter as hell and suspicious of my offer to help. You were still wary later in the year, even as you let me lend you the materials to put your first efforts together. During the second year you apparently gave up waiting for the other shoe to drop; a number of your attitudes changed noticeably. But by then I was involved with Donna. Later there were others."
Angie sat down, saying, "Okay, but, what about the last two months? You and Monica broke up in late September."
"These last two months -- almost three -- have been private time for me, Angie. I've gotten a lot done that didn't get done while I was cavorting with Monica."
Shrugging again, he said, "Besides, you've never once given me the impression you'd be receptive, and I didn't particularly want to rock the boat by having a non-business relationship with one of our retailers. Things just seemed to settle into a comfortable routine between us."
Cocking her head slightly, Angie sighed and said, "Yes, they did, didn't they? And then there was Carl. I guess you wouldn't have propositioned me most of last year because of him."
"You got it. Why did that end, by the way? He seemed to be pretty taken with you."
"He started pushing me to marry him. It went from being an idea to being a suggestion, then to a demand. He changed, Ed. Those last few months he wanted to know exactly where I was all the time. Who I was talking to and about what, and all that. Possessive as hell. One day he spied on me for two hours from that little restaurant across from my shop. Our argument that night was our last one. I ended it."
Lining up the text for page ten and marking the top and bottom of the blurb with pendant packets, Cade said, "Good move. Those things only get worse."
Angie watched him type for a moment, then asked, "You don't really want to hear about it, do you?"
"I'm just working while we talk. Besides, ol' Carl's history, isn't he?" Looking up, Cade said, "And if he isn't, do you want me to have a word with him..?"
"No," Angie interjected quickly. "No. He hasn't been a problem. I think he more or less got over things; when he came in the store with some friends two weeks ago, he just bought a few things and left. He was pleasant enough."
Cade nodded, said, "Okay," and typed in the rest of the blurb. Angie fiddled with some packaged pendants for a time, then cleared her throat.
"Do you really think I'm attractive?" she asked softly, "I'm nowhere near as tall as any of your last... five... women."
Snickering at the tone of her 'last five women' comment, Cade said, "Yes'm, I think you're attractive. Likeable and lickable. Do I have to prove it, or will you take my word?"
Angie reddened a bit as she chuckled and said, "I'm almost tempted to make you prove it, you jerk."
"Have I ever lied to you about anything else?"
"This isn't like anything else. It's altogether different."
"Uh, huh. Well, then, if Helen decides not to play, I'll spend a night in your bed just to prove you're attractive, ma'am."
Rolling her eyes and looking vastly skeptical, Angie asked, "Oh, golly gee! Oh, how generous of you! Only one night?"
Switching to page eleven, Cade grinningly said, "Don't know yet. That would depend on how things go. You wouldn't get all clingy and possessive afterwards, would you?"
Flipping a packaged pendant at him, Angie firmly said, "Up yours, Cade! I could never let myself become like Carl."
Page eleven needed only two short paragraphs; Cade did them and turned to twelve as he said, "Glad to hear it, ma'am. Happy, in fact. Where are you going to be sleeping tonight? Here, or at home? Would I have to commute?"
"You can be such a putz, Cade. I'll be here, in the green tent behind the first-aid tent. Near the showers. That's if you're actually serious about this, of course."
"No challenge required, Miz Nicks. If Helen changes her mind about me crashing in her hooch, I'll be looking for another sanctuary."
He chuckled and added, "And if you take me in, I won't try to fight off your lascivious advances or struggle. Not too much, anyway. Just enough so I won't look too easy."
Grinning hugely, Angie stood as if stunned with shock.
"Easy? You? Oh, hey, you know her first name, don't you? What's easy about that?"
Tapping up page thirteen while trying to look disappointed, Cade said, "Ah, sure, now I hear sarcasm. I expected so much better of you, you know. And I do just happen to know her last name, ma'am. It's Carvel. And since we have each others' business cards, she may even know mine by now."
Angie rolled her eyes and shook her head as she fussed with the table display. Cade took advantage of her silence to type in catalog copy for page thirteen and brought up page fourteen, then adjusted the markers on the paper catalog.
After some moments, Angie asked, "Ed, were you serious?"
"About what in particular?"
With an exasperated sigh, Angie said, "What we talked about, damn it. Coming to my tent. All that."
"Well, if I find myself out in the cold tonight, yes, but I think she'll honor our deal about sleeping arrangements."
Parking her butt on the corner of the table, Angie asked, "If she won't... play... with you, does it matter where you sleep? I mean, if all you'd be doing is sleeping, anyway..."
Looking up, Cade said, "Put yourself in her place, Angie. I'd be saying 'Look, lady, if you aren't gonna put out, I'll go where I can get laid tonight'. Would Helen want me as a friend after I said -- or did -- something like that? Doubtful. Would she have anything nice to say about me? Also doubtful. Would you?"
Sighing, Angie said, "Yeah, yeah. You're right, I'd think you were a creep if you did that to me. I wasn't thinking. Sorry."
Grinning, Cade said, "No sweat, milady. It happens to men all the time. All the blood rushes south, y'know, and..."
Leaning close, Angie whisperingly enunciated, "Oh-fuck-you, Mr. Cade! Women don't have that problem."
Meeting her gaze and whispering in return, Cade firmly said, "Yeah, right. The hell they don't. Been there, seen that. How many times have I heard a woman say 'Fuck me harder! Faster! Come with meeee!'?"
He chuckled and added, "Go ahead, Angie. Look me right in the eye and just try to believably tell me it isn't so. Women can get the hots worse than men. It just isn't quite so obvious because it's more... internalized."
Blushing deeply, Angie straightened and gazed narrowly at Cade for some moments, then started to say something and didn't. She again took a breath as if to say something else, then moved around the display table.
In a very cool tone, she said, "I'll be back in a while, Ed. Don't worry, I won't say anything to Helen. I wouldn't dream of ruining your chances."
As Angie quick-marched away in the opposite direction from Helen's booth, Cade said, "Thank you, milady."
Resting a fist on her butt, Angie didn't look around as she shot him the finger. Cade grinned and went back to work.
When Jamie stopped at the booth some fifteen minutes later, Cade was able to type in the last few lines and declare the website suitable for hanging.
"You'll think of changes along the line," said Cade, "But it'll fly as it is. Now all we have to do is get you signed up with for some free webspace and fix you up with a way to take credit cards as well as printed-out order forms and checks."
Jamie sat down at the computer and moused unbelievingly through the web pages in complete silence, then very softly stated, "Ho-ly shit! I gotta go tell Helen!"
"Sounds good. Something else to consider: this will only use about five percent of the available space. Do either of you have any poetry or artwork we can put up as extra visitor-bait? Or do your friends make things that you could include on your site? Maybe handicraft stuff you could sell for them on some kind of commission basis?"
Looking up from the screen with wide eyes, Jamie grinned and said, "Yeah! Yeah, we do! Oh, this is so cool! I'll be right back!" and hurried out of the booth.
A few minutes later, Helen appeared. Cade confirmed that the site was ready enough to go on-line and showed her the pages he'd made. After making one adjustment of wording concerning the jewelry in the paper catalog's blurb, she asked Cade to change it on the website, as well, which he did.
Grinning hugely, Helen tore her eyes from the screen and quietly asked, "Would you like your check now?"
Putting a blank floppy in the laptop, Cade said, "Suits me, but we haven't signed you up for space and credit card services yet. I'm making you a disk of the site basics, but I'll need to make you a software CD, too. I'll have to do that at home."
Nodding, she said, "Okay. How soon will you be ready to go to dinner?"
"I'll pack this hardware and wash up. Fifteen minutes."
Rising from the chair, Helen said, "You know where to find me. Don't get sidetracked. I'm starving."
She leaned to kiss him on the cheek and strode out of the booth. Cade turned off the laptop and packed everything into the trunk of his car, then stopped at the outdoor sinks to freshen up a bit, briefly admiring a blonde woman who was showering a few yards away.
The woman noticed Cade's glance as he washed his hands and face. She turned to face him with a smile and began generally re-washing herself. Cade chuckled, dried his hands and face, and gave her a grinning little salute before he headed back to Helen's booth.
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