A lonely recluse has plans for the Lily Scouts on their annual fundraising drive.
|Gerald Cates swiped his damp palms across his hips before placing a hand on either side of the door and squeezing an eye to the peephole. Yeah, they were out there all right. He checked his wrist where his Timex ticked away the seconds, the leather strap pressed into his flesh like a strained rubber band. Nine-thirty, right on time. If there was one thing they taught the Lily Scouts of Troop 187, it was punctuality.
He watched as the young girls milled about the street, passing out clipboards and pens, laughing and smiling as one by one, they strolled up the sidewalk or disappeared around the corner. Soon, there was only the little blonde girl standing in the street. Like all her friends, she wore a bright blue pinafore with white sleeves. A bright red sash hung from one shoulder with rows of stitched badges filling every open space.
In eager anticipation, he watched as she studied her clipboard, then raised her eyes to scan the addresses along the street. When her gaze seemed to meet his, she double checked her clipboard, then tucked it beneath an arm and marched across his lawn.
Gerald Cates waddled back to his recliner and dropped in with a groan.
Why am I sitting down? He thought. It’s not like she can see me watching her. Nervous energy thrummed through his body at the prospect of what he had planned. He’d spent years lurking in the shadows of the dark web, plucking luscious images of children, never brave enough to plop down the money for a porn membership, but never strong enough to refuse a tantalizing peek.
He fought against the bulk of his gut and rocked onto the edge of his seat in preparation to rise. What was taking so long? Where was she? Despite his years as a loyal customer, maybe they deleted his address from the database. Maybe she decided to go next door instead. Just as he was preparing to check the peephole, the doorbell chimed in the hall. Ah, she’s here. Pushing to his feet, he shuffled across the living room and swung open the front door.
Gerald Cates lived in a modest home in a neighborhood whose prime had long since passed. Although his weight made it difficult for him to get around, he kept the place clean, running a broom across the hardwoods and dusting the couch, dining room table and his small desk every other day. Once a month, he paid the old Hispanic woman next door to come in and scrub the bathroom and kitchen and fold his laundry. In anticipation of the Lily Scouts visit, he’d had her pick up the place a week early.
“Well, good afternoon, young lady,” Gerald Cates held up a hand to guard his eyes and blinked against the morning glare. Standing on his front stoop was the little blonde girl, her clipboard held tight against her chest. “I see the Lily Scouts are right on time for their fall sales crusade.” He clapped his hands together with a meaty pop. “What do we have on the menu this year?”
The girl glanced up nervously at the bulk of Gerald Cates’ apparently taken aback by his energetic greeting.
Calm down, boy. Gerald Cates told himself. This needs to go as planned or everything will be for naught.
“I’m sorry,” Gerald Cates said. “I get a little …excited when you ladies come by with your cookies, snacks, and meats.” He waved a hand to her tightly clutched clipboard. “Please, I know you have a sales pitch prepared. I’d love to hear it.”
Encouraged by Gerald Cates’ apology, a timid smile crossed the young girl's lips. Clearing her throat, she stared down at her clipboard and in a practiced monotone read:
“Good morning or afternoon, sir.” She glanced up, the color rising in her cheeks. “I mean, good morning, sir. My name is Isabella and once again it’s time for Lily Scouts fundraising drive. My goal is to sell 2,000 units of our fine selection of cookies, snacks, and meats.” She looked up giving Gerald Cates a bashful smile before her eyes dropped once more to the clipboard. “This year we’ve added to our selection of top quality bacon and sausage by introducing honey baked ham. The perfect addition to any holiday meal. Our wide selection of cookies has also expanded with the return of our ever popular peanut-butter tangos.” With an audible sigh, she looked up and cocked her pen on the clipboard ready to write. “So how many peanut-butter tangoes would you like?”
Gerald Cates smiled, admiring the fine texture of the girl’s porcelain skin, the gentle curve of her fingers as they gripped the pen.
“Well now, why don’t you come in and we’ll discuss what you’ve got to offer.”
Gerald Cates scanned the front yard not seeing an adult who might be watching the girl. He’d noticed the same pattern the last five years the Lily Scouts had come by. They’d sent out emails announcing when the girls would be making the rounds then dropped them off, apparently without supervision. Fortunately, for Gerald Cates, their trusting attitude would play right into his hands.
“I don’t know,” the girl said. She glanced over her shoulder as if gauging whether she should step in or move on. “We’re really not supposed to.”
“Oh, come now,” Gerald Cates said patting his wide belly. “Not only am I twice as fat as Santa, I’m twice as nice.” He took three steps back and dropped into his recliner. Then, with a crook of his finger, Gerald Cates beckoned the girl over. “So tell me, Dear, do you still have the Lemon-Snips and Choco-Thunders?”
The girl took one last nervous look over her shoulder before stepping in and closing the door behind her. “Yes, we’ve got both.”
“Excellent,” Gerald Cates said. “Put me down for a dozen.”
“You want six each?” the girl asked.
“No, no,” Gerald Cates laughed. “A dozen of each.”
Reading from one of the menus the girl had clipped onto her board and provided to Gerald Cates upon request, his order of cookies, bacon, sausage and even one of the honey baked hams made their way onto the order form.
Finally, leaning forward and pushing to his feet, Gerald Cates said. “I think that should just about do it. What’s the damage?”
Isabella looked up from her spot on the couch where she sat to take the order. “The damage?” Her brows knit in a look of bewilderment.
“A confusing turn of phrase, I know,” Gerald Cates laughed. “It means, how much will all that cost?”
The girl bent over in focused concentration, her pen scritch-scratching across the paper as she added up the order. As she did, Gerald Cates lumbered into the kitchen and prepared two glasses of lemonade.
“You’ve certainly got a lot of merit badges,” Gerald Cates said. “Is that what they call’em? Merit Badges?”
Isabella ran a hand across her sash. “Yes, Sir. We call ‘em merit badges. I’ve almost got enough to graduate to Petunia.”
“Petunia, eh,” Gerald Cates said. “Is that a rank?”
“Uh, huh. It’s the second from the top,” Isabella said. “I’m working on my Butcher, Baker, Candlestick maker badge. We learn about jobs our families do all around the city. Miss Betty say's it's the most important badge of all ‘cause it shows what the real world's like.” She crinkled her nose and shivered. “It’s a really gross one too. Anyway,” she glanced down at her pad. “Your total comes to 217 dollars and fifty-two cents. We’ll be back on…” she paused to consult her clipboard, “November seventh to deliver all your stuff. That’s three weeks from today.” She looked up, a wide smile on her innocent face.
Gerald Cates set a glass of lemonade beside Isabella and eased back in his chair. “I think this will be your biggest sale of the day,” he said. “Sit back and have a drink. You’ve earned it.”
The girl picked up the glass, sipping at it uncertainly before rising from her seat and meandering to the fireplace. She pulled a photo from the mantle and examined it closely.
“Is this you?” she asked turning the picture so he could see. In the image, a much younger and relatively slimmer Gerald Cates stood beside an equally hefty woman. The woman’s cheeks were red as roses, her hair a faded gray, but the smile on her face gave her the appearance of beneficent kindness.
“That’s Mother and I,” Gerald Cates said. “Taken on our last trip together in 2009. You see there in the background? That’s the skyline of New York City.”
The girl set the picture down and moved along the edges of the room, stopping at the bookshelves to examine the knick-knacks or pausing at a photo hung on the wall.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” she asked.
My but you’re a nosy thing, Gerald Cates thought. But if she’s asking questions, that means she’s getting comfortable. Gerald Cates heart trembled at the next step in his plan. One which could land him in hot water if not prison.
“I don’t,” he said. “I’m an only child. In fact, I grew up in this very house with my mother.” He met her eyes and smiled. “I was only a little younger than you when we moved in.” Gerald Cates swallowed against the hammering of his heart and took the first dangerous step in his lustful plan for satisfaction. “Do you live in the neighborhood, Isabella?”
The girl poked her head into the kitchen, the blonde curls bobbing on her shoulders as she looked this way and that. “Yup, I live on Seventh Street,” she said. Satisfied with her examination of the kitchen, she continued her exploration of the room. “Just four blocks from here.”
Gerald Cates laughed. “You’re a very smart young lady. Do you know that? And a very pretty one as well.” He scrubbed at his chin looking thoughtfully towards the ceiling. “You know, I just had a wonderful idea.”
She froze, a wedding picture of Gerald Cates’ mother and father clutched in one hand. “Yeah? What kinda idea?”
Gerald Cates shook his head and sagged back in his chair. “Naw, you’re probably too young for something like this.”
Isabella set the frame carefully back on the shelf and stomped across the floor, her steps echoing hollowly through the quiet room. “I am not too young!” She crossed her arms angrily, her rosebud lips pressed into a scowl.
“Are you sure?” Gerald Cates asked.
“Yes,” Isabella said forcefully.
“Okay then.” Gerald Cates rose from his seat and made his way to his desk. This is it. He thought. No turning back now. With shaking hands, he pulled a camera from the top drawer and set it on the desk.
The girl eyed it cautiously. “A camera?”
“A camera,” Gerald Cates confirmed. “Don’t you think the girl with the biggest sale should have some advertising to go with it?” The desk chair scraped noisily across the floor as he dragged it out and sat down. “You understand advertising, don’t you, Isabella?”
She nodded and took a step closer.
“Great. Then how about you come back next week and I’ll take some pictures of you in your uniform. Then when my order comes in, we’ll take some more. You can use the pictures for the newspaper or Facebook or anything you want. Once people see how successful and beautiful you are, you’ll be selling cookies and bacon like crazy.”
Gerald Cates held up a single chubby finger.
“But you can’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Why not?” Isabella asked.
“If you do, then everyone will want to put their pictures out there. Then you’ll be like everyone else. You want to be special don’t you.” Gerald Cates leaned closer. “You want to be the first?”
Gerald Cates leaned back and clapped his hands with glee. “Then it’ll be our little secret.”
Isabella stared at her feet, scraping the toe of one shoe across the floor. “I guess I could come back next week,” she said. She looked around the house one last time; her eyes coming to rest on Gerald Cates face. “And you live here by yourself?”
Gerald Cates nodded. “I certainly do, honey. All by my lonesome.”
The days to the agreed-upon meeting flew by for Gerald Cates. His sessions on the dark web and time spent alone in the bathroom multiplied as he fantasized about his time with little Isabella. With any luck, he’d trick her out of the pinafore for a few pics; with exceptional luck, maybe a bit more.
As accurate as a German clock, Isabella’s knock came precisely at ten a.m one week later. Gerald Cates’ heart thundered as he trundled across the room and swung open the door. To his great delight, there she was; her blonde hair shimmering in the morning sun, cheeks radiant with youthful glow. It even appeared she’d put on glitter lip gloss for the occasion. He felt an erection stir as he placed a moist palm on her shoulder and ushered her in.
“Well now, aren’t you looking sultry this morning,” Gerald Cates said, guiding her towards the couch. “If you’ll give me just a moment, we’ll get started.”
Isabella’s eyes shifted nervously as Gerald Cates shuffled to his desk. “May I use the bathroom first?”
Gerald Cates was so busy adjusting the camera tripod that he barely heard the question. “Sure, sure.” He waved a hand to the far end of the room. “It’s just down the hall, next to the garage.”
If this goes off as planned, thought Gerald Cates, I’ll be able to trade for pics on the web. He paused for a moment, making sure he had plenty of battery power for his camera. If I get something really good, I might even make some money. He chuckled, fantasizing about the profit to be made, the fantasies to be had.
“We’re ready,” a small voice said behind him.
When he turned, Gerald Cates didn’t see one Lily Scout, but three. Isabella, her pigtails bobbing as she bounced nervously on her toes stood alongside two others, a petite redhead and a taller black girl with skin the color of mocha. Two more strolled down the hall and joined them, followed by a fourth and a fifth. In the span of seconds, twelve little girls stood around him in the room.
Then a woman rounded the hallway and stepped up beside them. She was tall, older than Gerald Cates, maybe fifty if he had to guess. Her thin white legs protruded like a pair of sticks from her faded khaki shorts. A bright blue polo, the same shade as the pinafores, hung loosely from her gaunt frame. Her eyes were bird bright as she considered Gerald Cates over her hawkish nose.
“Were you ladies delivering my bacon, ham, and cookies?” Gerald Cates asked nervously. He closed up the tripod and laid it on the couch hoping it wouldn’t be noticed.
“Oh, we’re not delivering orders yet,” the woman said. “We’re still putting together everything we need, and we Lily Scouts are quite…hands on.” Her eyes left Gerald Cates and darted among the girls. “Ladies, do we all have our tools?”
“Yes, Miss Betty,” they chimed.
One by one, gleaming blades appeared in their tiny hands, glinting like quicksilver in the room’s dim glow.
“All right then, my Lilies,” the bird woman said, a ragged smile forming on her lips as she met Gerald Cates' eyes. “What's the first lesson we learned about butchering a pig?”
“A long cut is a clean cut, Miss Betty.” The circle closed, smiles of eager anticipation on the girl's cherubic faces.
“That’s right girls. A long cut is a clean cut.”