A Moral Majority
Nicole answered the door in beige Capri pants and a tight, black t-shirt. “Pastor Hornung,” she said, “imagine this.”
The preacher had sweat through the coat of his fine brown suit.
Nicole stepped aside to let him in. “What’s going on?”
“You have something to drink?” Harold paced the small, one room apartment. He stopped at the king-sized bed, looked at it funny, as though he had never been in it, and then continued until he came back to the bed and stared at it once more. “Good grief, Nikki,” he finally said. “This place is a mess.”
She ignored him.
Harold noticed a full bottle of whiskey on one of two oak-stained dressers. “Are you going to offer me something to drink?”
“You see that fifth of Jack Daniels.”
The preacher grabbed the bottle, spun the cap off and drained half a pint from it. Whiskey ran down his chin. “She’s done it,” he said, then again, “she’s done it, Nikki, she’s done it.”
Nicole leaned her back against the door. She pulled a Lucky Strike from a pack she had rolled up in her sleeve. As she walked over to one of the dressers to find some matches, she asked, “Who’s done what, Harold?
“Connie Moore. She let herself get pregnant. Says it’s mine.”
“Wally Moore’s daughter?”
Nicole’s face twisted so much her mouth and her nose threatened to trade places. She found a box of matches and lit her cigarette. “She ain’t but fourteen.”
Harold stopped moving. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Nicole laughed. “I s’pose them boys from the lodge who burn crosses out front is right. You Protestant folks is way superior to us Catholics.”
Harold put the bottle back on the dresser and balled up his fists. “Nikki, I’ve got a situation and you’re the only in Haggard who’d know how to sweep it under the proverbial rug.” He calmed down and opened his hands. “No offense.”
Nicole rolled her eyes and spit when she exhaled. “None took, Pastor.”
“So what’s your thinking on this? What would you do, you know, if you got pregnant from one of your clients?”
“I’d do what I always do. A doctor in Chicago’ll reach in, grab that little monster and yank it while it’s still cooking.”
“Good grief.” The preacher scratched his head. “Are you talking about an abortion?”
“Pastor, please,” said Nicole. “You gon’ try an’ tell me you never had a girl scraped out?”
“It’s not legal, Nikki. What would I say if my flock found out?”
“Well,” she said, “you can sit around and wait for the girl to give birth normal-wise.”
Connie Moore climbed out of her bedroom window and raced across the lawn in front of her family’s tiny house on County Road 55. She was wearing her blue dress with big yellow roses on the shoulders, the same one she wore to church every Sunday.
She ran to Harold’s Buick, ripped the passenger door open and jumped in. She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek and squeezed his hand. “Thought I wouldn’t ever see you again,” she said. “I mean private like, like this, after what I told you.”
The preacher pushed her away. “You weren’t lying to me, were you?”
Connie shook her head. “Ain’t bled in three months.”
“OK,” said Harold. “We’ll take care of that problem tonight.”
Connie looked confused.
“We’re going to Chicago. There’s a doctor there who will deliver the baby ahead of schedule.”
Connie’s lower lip shook. All she could say was, “Chicago?” Harold suggested she find something to listen to on the radio. She tuned it to a station out of West Lafayette playing music Harold assumed had been recorded by the devil. He asked her who the singer was and she told him, “Pat Boone.”
“Let’s try something else,” said the pastor. He pushed the dial to a gospel channel broadcasting from Crown Point. Hank Williams sang “When God Came and Gathered His Jewels.” Harold smiled.
Connie looked out her window. She twirled her dusty-blonde hair with one hand and pulled at the bubble gum she was working on with the other. Once, she actually told Harold she wanted to be an astronaut. It seemed crazy to him that she would entertain such a thought, even as a joke. He glanced over at Connie and saw that she was fighting tears. “What are you sniffling about?”
She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I thought God was showing me how much you loved me. Like He showed Mary.”
“Mary was a virgin.”
“So was I.”
“Look, I’m not God. You‘re not Mary.”
The preacher put his right arm around her. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You’re going to meet a nice, young man someday and he’ll make you honest and you’ll forget all about our time.”
Connie buried her nose into the side of his shirt. Harold patted her gently, like a small animal.
They passed Gary and East Chicago. The radio drifted into static. They cruised up the Dan Ryan Expressway. Harold turned off on 35th Street and idled near Comisky Park. He looked at the piece of paper with directions to the doctor Nicole had recommended. As he studied them, Connie sat up.
“Baby’s making my boobs bigger,” she said. She peaked down the top of her dress.
The preacher followed her gaze. “I see that, sweetheart.” He put the instructions away and pulled into traffic. “We’re almost there, now.”
They wove through neighborhoods that folks back in Indiana would describe as “bad.” The houses had broken windows repaired with pieces of cardboard. The grass in the gardens out front grew as tall as the rusted fences surrounding them. Music coming from passing cars sounded foreign to Harold. While sitting at a stoplight, he asked Connie if she recognized the singer blasting out of a polished Cadillac next to them.
“Sam Cooke,” she told him.
Harold turned onto Michigan Avenue and found the building he was looking for. He parked across the street. The doctor’s office was at the top of a three-story building. Nicole told him to have Connie climb the wooden steps on the side facing the alley. He pulled an envelop from his coat pocket. It was stuffed with cash he had taken from the collection box. After explaining to her where she was to go, he handed her the money. “Knock twice,” he said. “When the doctor answers the door, ask him what seven times seven is.”
“That’s simple,” said Connie. “Forty-nine.”
The preacher kept his cool. “Sweetheart,” he said, “it’s the password. It’s how he knows you’re not the police.”
Connie got out of the car. Her shoulders jerked up and down as she walked. Harold assumed she was crying again. He felt bad for her. I can’t have any bastard babies, he remembered. In order to distract himself from his conscience, he tuned the radio, looking for another gospel station.
Harold fell asleep. A commotion coming from across the street woke him up. An orange AMC Rebel pulled into the alley. A woman in a skirt and thick sweater got out and ran up the stairs. When she reached the top, a man waiting there loaded her arms with two huge boxes. He shooed at her quickly and she walked back down and put the boxes on the ground while she opened the gate to the station wagon.
The man from the top of the steps produced two more boxes from inside the office and hustled to the car without even shutting the door. Harold wondered if that was the doctor. He also wondered where Connie was. He watched the man get into the station wagon. The woman was driving and nearly tore the pavement up as she peeled out.
Then the night was quiet, save Bill Monroe, on the radio, singing through a crackling, barely audible signal. Harold waited to see if Connie would follow them out the door. The office was dark. He finally said to himself, “That’s odd.” He killed the engine and got out.
Harold climbed the old staircase. The wood was rotted and it creaked under his weight. He held tight to the railing. He got to the top and reached for the door. Then he stopped himself, thinking that touching anything would be a bad idea. He slipped inside the office and saw that it was just a small apartment with a kitchen and bathroom near the back. Aside from a table and three metal carts, the place was empty.
Connie was on the table, her upper-half covered with a blanket, her legs and midsection, bare. A streetlamp just beyond the window provided enough light for Harold to make out a pile of bloody fragments taken, he assumed, from inside of Connie, dripping down the edge of the table to the floor. Her thighs were covered in blood.
“Connie?” he whispered.
He walked carefully to the other end of the table. He wrapped his sleeve over his hand and removed the white sheet hiding Connie’s face. Her eyes were open. Frozen.
“Good grief,” he said.
He left the apartment. Quickly, carefully, he walked down the steps, constantly looking around to make sure nobody was there to see him.
Once he was on I-65, back in Indiana, he allowed himself to feel bad for Connie. She had been nothing more than a pretty girl who sat near the front in church and had introduced herself at an Easter mixer the year before.
Harold Hornung was asked to conduct the funeral service for Connie Moore. The doctor who killed her had been caught in St. Louis, trying to get to Mexico. He told the police the girl had shown up all by herself. Harold spoke at the church, before the town put Connie’s body in the ground, reading a sermon prepared by his wife:
“I can’t explain what this world is coming to; While our young men sacrifice themselves in Vietnam for the freedoms that make this country the greatest on the Earth, their peers at home sit down in streets and universities, frying their brains with the devil’s weed, claiming they know better than the president of the United States what is and is not moral.”
He wiped sweat from his forehead.
“I can tell you what’s moral, brothers and sisters. Preserving the sanctity of life, both the lives of those who walk the Earth on their own and those carried in the wombs of God’s most delicate creation, woman. And when a woman denies that sanctity to herself and to the seed growing inside her, I do believe we have reached the saddest stage in the human adventure.”
Wally Moore and his wife Elizabeth stared at the preacher with disgust. He ignored them.
“Connie Moore was possessed, at some point, to engage in activities reserved for a grown man and woman united in the bonds of matrimony.” He looked at a group of fourteen-year-old boys, classmates of Connie’s. “I don’t know who it was that planted the seed in Connie,” he said. “What I do know is that she felt the father was not worthy of seeing his own child open its precious eyes. While I’m sure Connie will be forgiven by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I’m also sure she will be spending eternity with her child in heaven where, I pray, she can explain to the poor soul why she chose to engage in such a brutal act of matricide.”
He paused once more to scan the flock and wipe his forehead. “Let this be a lesson to us,” he said at last. “Murder will always be punished by God.”
The Wednesday after Connie’s funeral, Harold paid his weekly visit to Nicole O’Brien. When she opened the door for him, she scowled. He asked her what her problem was. “Nothing,” she said. She walked to the bed, pulling her skirt down along the way.
“We’re not going to talk a little?”
She slapped her left cheek and said, “Let’s go, preacher.”
He stepped in and closed the door. “Don’t you want to finish your cigarette?”
Nicole laughed. “You got two seconds to get your tiny pecker over here.”
Harold unzipped his pants and moved in to position behind her. Nothing happened. “Good grief, Nikki,” he said. “You’ve got me distracted now.” He closed his pants and sat on the bed.
Nicole pulled her skirt up and plopped down in a wooden chair by the only window in the room. She smoked her cigarette and looked out at the concrete mixing plant across the street. “Klan torched another cross on the lawn tonight.”
“This country ain’t ever gonna’ accept us, is it?”
The pastor asked her what she meant.
“Catholics. Me. Hell, anybody who ain’t Protestant and willing to lie straight through his teeth.”
Harold laughed. “Well, Nikki, truth be told, this really isn’t your country. We tolerate you, and when we don’t need the entertainment you provide, we send you back home or lay you down with the worms.”
“But the kids is gon’ change all that.”
Harold Hornung smiled. “It won’t even take us ten years to turn this equal rights malarkey into an unpleasant memory.”
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