When most folks encounter a swarm of wasps, they know to either leave it alone or to walk away in the opposite direction. Francie, however, rode her bicycle directly to one and walked in the front door, greatly agitated about a hateful billboard atop the Gillivray and Gillery Feed ‘n Seed store in Littafuchee.
“Who put up that billboard about my dad?” Francie shouted the second she stepped inside the Feed ‘n Seed.
“Not enny ‘o these fellas,” said Buddy while he applied tobacco to Jimbo’s face, swollen and red from multiple wasp stings.
Francie turned to Opalee who was snickering behind the cash register as she applied an icepack to her father’s arms and neck where multiple wasps had gotten to him with their painful stings.
“Did you, Opalee?” Francie demanded.
“I know you told the ladies at the Sheer Success that Dad had stolen money from the group trying to incorporate. They told their husbands,” Francie said indignantly.
“They simply opened a bank account to pay bills for things needed,” said Francie.
“Like a kid’s sl-i-d-e, I heard,” chimed in Opalee.
“Like a playground, pencil brain.”
“Someone said that someone else said that tha other nite at tha meeting someone gave someone money to buy tha huntin’ camp property, too.”
“Shure seems to describe your pa, Franc-i-e,” retorted Opalee.
“You are evil, Opalee,” said Francie. She turned to Joe Gillery, “Mr. Joe, did you put up that sign?”
“Naw, young ‘un,” he said.
Kimberlee and her grandfather, Houston, wandered in from the rear loading area with new boxes of goods purchased in Birmingham’s wholesale district. The two walked into the middle of the condensed soup of crazy heating up.
“What’s going on here?” Houston asked, setting down a box of coffee and creamers on his counter.
“Mr. Houston, did you put up that billboard? The one claiming my dad is a murderer and a drug dealer?” asked Francie.
He looked puzzled…. “A billboard? Our billboard?”
Houston stepped out the front door and down the steps. He strained to see against the afternoon sun’s glare. Out loud, he read the amateur signage covering the small billboard:
THE DEVIL WILL GIT YOU IF YOU SIGN RORY KIRWIN’S PETITION.
YOU ARE BEING TRICKED BY A LIAR.
HONK IF YOU ARE AGAINST INCORPORATION.
“Damn it!” the old storeowner said. He spat on the pavement.
“Who’s responsible for that crap of a sign?” he huffed out loud as he reentered the store. “Joe, did you?”
“Meybe,” Mr. Joe replied insolently.
“Opalee wrote it. We just put it up for her,” said Bucky.
Mr. Joe pushed his daughter forward to offer her up as the scapegoat.
He said, “Opalee’s got a powerful hate for the Kirwins. She swears to go to her grave before Littafuchee incorporates, bringing in darkies and Asians and druggie riff-raft. Ya know, she can convince these fellas to do anything. She’s got ways. I don’t have to say nutin’.”
Opalee continued forward until she was within reach of Francie. She went for her face with her fingernails. In doing so, she jerked off Francie’s new glasses. She laughed manically as she twisted and folded the frames until they broke.
“Aw-w-w!” screamed Francie.
She drew her fist back and punched Opalee in the nose with such force it made a cracking sound. Blood gushed out. Infuriated, Francie punched her nemesis in the ribs which crippled the woman with sharp searing pain.
Kimberlee grabbed Francie’s arm and pulled her toward the front of the store.
She begged, “Oh, Fran-c-i-e! Don’t hurt Opalee. You’re both supposed to be bri-des-maids at my wed-din’ one day-uh.”
“Kimberlee!!! Is there anything in your brain? She has slandered my father. Think. She put these idiots up to a cruel trick that has consequences. And she broke my prescription glasses,” Francie said adamantly. Taking in a deep breath, she seethed, “I’ve never hated anyone so much.”
“Oh, Fran-c-i-e! We’ll git that sign do-w-n, hon-e-e,” said Kimberlee while hugging her best friend. “And I can git Pap to buy you m-o-r-a gla-s-ses.”
Opalee, with equal hate and venom in her eyes, grabbed the cast iron poker beside the cold pot belly stove in the middle of the store. She snuck up behind them and swung the poker around with as strong a hit as she could manage with broken ribs. She hit Francie’s left shoulder, causing her to spin and fall into one of Houston’s minnow vats, turning it over, spilling forty gallons of dank water out onto the store’s wooden floor. Francie went crashing down, too.
Houston grabbed Opalee and pulled her away. He shoved her toward Joe.
He said, “Here’s your lunatic daughter. Lock her up before she kills someone.”
“You’re the devil,” Joe yelled at his brother.
They began an out-of-shape version of fisticuffs which was mostly shoving, grabbing, and missed swings.
“You egotistical, arrogant s.o.b.,” Joe yelled.
“You secretive, pathetic s-l-o-b,” Houston retorted.
Protectively, Kimberlee and Francie stepped in front of Mr. Houston.
Francie said firmly, “You leave him alone. Your porch patrol gang did as they were told by you. They are nothing but ignorant, hollow men without your directives, not Opalee’s. And nobody uses the n-word anymore, Mr. Joe. Have some respect because one day ‘rednecks’ will be the minority.”
With little effort, the four elbow boys restrained both girls and Mr. Houston.
Mr. Joe, wearing an eerily similar expression as Opalee, said, “That’s right, boys, get these gals. Do whatever you want with them.”
Then he grabbed Bubba’s revolver out of its belted holster and held it under Kimberlee’s chin.
He warned, “I’ve got a notion to blow your granddaughter’s pretty brains out, Houston. What you say ‘bout that, huh? Bro?”
“Joe,” Houston said, trying to speak in a calm voice.