“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”
PART 2 – The Shelby Belle
LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . The two officers walked away from the station, desperately trying to resist the urge to rub their painful backsides. “Why in the hell do they have to stick those damn needles there?” Rafe grumbled. “Haven’t they ever heard of the arm?”
Danny glanced warily at this friend. He recognized that disgruntled voice anywhere. It was a sign of Rafe’s bad mood. And Danny suspected that the older man’s present mood had nothing to do with the shots they had just received.
“Okay Rafe, what’s your beef?” Danny demanded. “And don’t tell me that it’s the shots. You were already pissed before you received yours.”
Rafe responded with a glare. “Oh really? And what exactly am I pissed about?”
“Her name was Mary Jo, Danny!” Rafe retorted. “Not Mary Ann! Godalmighty! Did you dislike her so much that you can’t even remember her name?”
Danny took a deep breath. Amazing. Nearly fourteen years had passed and Rafe still bore a grudge. “Dammit Rafe! I was almost ten years old at the time! I didn’t know any better and I was feeling insecure about the whole thing. Besides, you didn’t have to dump her.”
A heavy sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “I guess you’re right.” Both he and Danny stepped into the line for the next station. Ahead, a youthful-looking nurse with blonde hair, wrapped a black blood pressure band around a soldier’s arm. Rafe continued, “I guess I shouldn’t have abandoned Mary Jo like that. But I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t turned on me, like that.” Brief hostility flared in his dark brown eyes.
“I know.” Danny hung his head low. “I’m sorry I did it, Rafe. It’s just that . . .”
Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. I reckon I was jealous.”
Rafe took a step forward in line. So did Danny. The former heaved another sigh. “It sure took you a hell of a long time to admit it. Oh well. I guess Mary Jo and I weren’t meant to be, after all. Especially, after her family moved, later that summer.”
Danny remained silent. He decided that the less said about Mary Jo Burnett, the better.
“Besides, Mary Jo ain’t the only one you stopped me from seeing,” Rafe continued. “Remember Lila Hopkins?”
Memories of lilac perfume, a bedroom, decorated in canary yellow, and a voluptuous chestnut-haired woman in a creamy yellow silk robe, flooded Danny’s thoughts. Oh yes. Lila Deakins. He doubt there was a young man around his age in all of Shelby County, who would not be able to remember the Shelby Belle.
“Yeah, I remember Lila,” Danny replied. “And if you expect me to feel guilty for what I did, you might as well hold your breath. Because I don’t. You were out of control, Rafe. Remember?”
* * * *
SHELBY, TENNESSEE; JULY-SEPTEMBER 1931 . . . Strains of “I’m Through With Love” poured from the two-story frame house, situated in a hollow, off Shelby Road. Two adolescent boys, one fifteen years-old and the other, fourteen, stared at the house from behind an Oldsmobile, parked several yards away.
“That’s it,” Rafe said with breathless anticipation. “The Shelby House. C’mon.” He stepped from behind the Oldsmobile and started toward the house. Seconds passed before he realized that Danny had not moved an inch. “Hey Danny! C’mon!”
Anxiety flared in his best friend’s brown eyes. “I don’t know, Rafe. I’m not sure about this.”
Rafe heaved an exasperated sigh and grabbed Danny’s arm. “C’mon scairdey-cat! She ain’t gonna bite you.”
“How do you know?” Danny demanded. “You haven’t been here, before.”
Which was the truth. Rafe had first heard about the Shelby House, two months ago – when he had spotted a woman leaving the local bank in town. It took one glance at her heart-shaped face – just once glance – for the fifteen year-old to fall in love. Well, perhaps fascination would be the best word . . .
Rafe heard his mother’s disdainful sniff at the young woman. “So, that’s the Shelby Belle,” Brewton McCawley declared in a disapproving tone. “Looks more like trash to me.” Her eyes brimmed with hellfire and righteousness. A look Rafe had never seen in his mother’s eyes. “Rafe, I hope you never have anything to do with women like that. They’re nothing but trouble.”
The wrong words for anyone to say to a curious and lovesick fifteen year-old. Mrs. McCawley’s warning had only increased Rafe’s interest in the beautiful woman. And his determination to meet her. To learn the true identity of the “Shelby Belle”, he asked several men around the county. Men who would never say a word to his parents. Or hesitate to answer. He received his answer from a local mechanic named Farley Bates.
“Ah, the Shelby Belle!” the stocky man had declared in a wistful tone. “You must be talking about Lila Deakins.”
An impatient Rafe demanded, “Who is she?”
Farley gave the fifteen year-old boy a knowing look. “Probably the most infamous whore in this here parts. The most beautiful . . . and the most expensive. ‘Course, after one gander at your pretty face, Lila just might give you a discount. Or let you stick your carrot in for free.”
“You think so?” Rafe bit back his tongue, when he realized how hopeful he sounded.
A smile creased Farley’s grimy face. “Boy, you are really smitten over that gal. Tell you what.” He dug into the pockets of his overalls and retrieved a handful of bills. “Here. Why don’t you use this money for a visit to the Shelby House. There’s enough for your friend, Danny. You two are practically brothers.” After Jake Walker’s fatal heart attack, three years ago, Danny had moved in with the McCawley family.
“Hey, thanks Farley! I really appreciate it!” Rafe had beamed at the mechanic, before stuffing the bills into his pockets . . .
Danny said, “You mean it was Farley who gave you the money for this? What if your daddy finds out? After all, Farley does fix his airplane.”
“C’mon Danny! What do you think Farley is gonna do? Confess? Not if he wants Daddy to continue hiring him.” Rafe grabbed his friend’s arm. “Now, c’mon! You act like we’re going to a hanging.”
The two boys slowly approached the house. A tall, black woman, holding a broom, stepped onto the porch and peered at the new arrivals. “What are you two boys doing here?” she demanded.
Feeling more nervous than he looked, Rafe cleared his throat. “We’re here to see the Shelby Belle,” he declared. Did his voice crack?
The woman scrutinized the two boys with world-weary eyes. “Uh huh. Ain’t you boys a little young to be coming to a place like this?” Before Rafe or Danny could respond, she added, “Never mind. Miz Lila likes ’em young, anyway. C’mon in.” She stepped aside, while the pair entered the house.
Nice place, Rafe thought. His eyes drank in the old-fashioned furnishings and well-stocked bar at the other end of the parlor. Aside from the bar, the interior of the Shelby House reminded him of the McCawley residence.
The housekeeper set aside the broom and started toward the staircase. “Have a seat. And I’ll let Miz Lila know that she has company.” As she started upstairs, Rafe and Danny nervously sat down on the nearest sofa.
A minute later, two scantily clad young women entered the parlor. Both Rafe and Danny stared at the abundance of flesh that stood before them. Giggling, they approached the two boys. “And who might you be?” asked a leggy blonde with bright blue eyes and heavy make-up. Still staring, neither boy seemed able to respond.
A throaty voice said, “They . . . are my customers.” All eyes riveted upon a shapely woman, whose heart-shaped face not only possessed delicate features and hazel-green eyes, but was also framed by wavy auburn hair that bobbed near her chin. She wore a yellow Oriental gown over a pale-green full slip and stockings held up by green garters. Yet, none could hide the curves that made the other two women resemble schoolgirls.
“If you two girls don’t mind,” the Shelby Belle continued, “I suggest you scram! I assume you have other things to do.” The two women scowled at their colleague and left the parlor. Hazel-green eyes focused on Rafe and Danny. “Now, who’s first?”
Rafe shot up from the sofa like a bullet. “Me!” he crowed.
The Shelby Belle gave him a sultry smile and indicated the staircase.
* * * *
“First time, young man?”
“Huh?” Inside the yellow-and-white bedroom, Rafe sat on a large bed and gawked at the prostitute. Who was in the process of removing her robe.
The Shelby Belle smiled and stepped forward. Grabbing one arm, she gently forced Rafe to his feet and began to unfasten his shirt buttons. “I said, is this your first time?”
Rafe nodded, “Yes ma’am.”
“Oh honey, you don’t have to call me that. Makes me feel like an old spinster. My name is Lila. What’s yours?” She slowly removed his shirt, following his undershirt.
Trembling, Rafe remained rooted to the floor. “My name is Rafe. Rafe . . .”
“That’s okay, honey. No need for last names.” Lila slid the green slip off her body. The fifteen year-old Rafe found himself staring at the prostitute in all her naked glory. His entire body grew immediately hard.
Rafe gulped. Aloud. “Did you say something, honey?” Lila asked.
“No ma . . .” Rafe paused and took a deep breath. “I mean, no. No, I didn’t.”
Lila slowly walked toward Rafe and gently shoved him on the bed. “Well Rafe. Let’s see about getting you out of those pants. Shall we?” Slender hands reached for the fastener to Rafe’s trousers.
* * * *
Rafe knew that for as long as he lived, he would never forget those first thirty minutes with Lila Deakins. She had introduced him to a world of sensuality and passion he had never thought possible. He almost had to fight a surge of jealousy when time for Danny’s minutes with the Shelby Belle arrived.
Twenty minutes had passed when Danny finally returned downstairs to the parlor. Only a blind man would not have noticed the dazed expression on the fourteen year-old boy’s face.
“Well?” Rafe demanded. “How was it?”
Danny took a deep breath. “It was . . . I, uh . . . Gee! I’ve never been through anything like that before,” he finally declared.
Rafe grinned and threw an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “Thought you might feel that way. Hell, I feel as if I just had the best day of my life! I’m gonna come back here, if it takes me a year.”
* * * *
It took Rafe, exactly two weeks to pay a second visit to the Shelby House. Reluctant to ask Farley for extra funds, he saved enough from the money he had earned from his paper route.
Much to his delight, Lila greeted him like an old friend and proceeded to teach him more on the joys of sex. “Oh honey, you seemed to be real good at this!” Lila declared breathlessly, after their bout between the sheets. “For a youngster, you sure do put many of my other customers to shame.” She drew a long fingernail along the middle of Rafe’s bare chest. “I’d like to see you again.”
Rafe let out a heartfelt sigh. “I wish I could, Lila, but . . .”
“I, uh . . . I probably won’t be able to see you for a while.”
Lila’s voice oozed with disappointment. “And why not?”
Rafe replied in a low voice, “Money. I . . . I won’t be able to afford to see you for at least a month or two.”
“Hmmm.” Lila pressed her soft, warm body against Rafe’s. “Tell you what. I usually don’t start work until two o’clock in the afternoon. If you can make it over here before then, maybe we can spend some time together – free. How do you like that?” She gave his left thigh a squeeze.
It took all of Rafe’s self-control not to throw himself on Lila’s body and plant it with a thousand kisses. Instead, he cried out in delight, “Hey, that’s swell of you, Lila! Thanks!” He kissed one of her cheeks.
A pink flush crept up the prostitute’s face. “My pleasure, honey,” she warmly replied.
* * * *
Rafe could not wait to tell Danny, after leaving the Shelby House. He had meant to convince his friend to join him for his second visit, but the latter had a doctor’s appointment in nearby Memphis. Rafe had to wait until after his mother and Danny’s return, to reveal Lila’s delightful proposal.
“You think that’s wise, Rafe?” Danny’s voice expressed concern. The two friends sat on their beds, inside the bedroom they shared. “I mean . . . I reckon it’s okay for that one visit. But every day?”
Rafe could not believe his friend’s attitude. “It won’t be everyday,” he protested. Just once in a while. Hell, how many fellas can claim they’ve been with the Shelby Belle that many times?”
“Anyone with enough money,” Danny calmly replied. “Like Carl Jordan’s daddy.”
A snort escaped Rafe’s mouth. “Lance Jordan couldn’t buy six minutes with Lila! At least, not anymore. Especially since he lost all his money after the stock market crash, nearly two years ago.”
“Well, there are other men with . . .”
Exasperated by what Rafe saw was his friend’s stubbornness, he cried out, “Good Lord, Danny! What are you getting at?”
Danny sighed. “What I’m trying to say is that Lila Deakins isn’t the type of gal you should waste your time with. Dammit Rafe, it ain’t healthy being involved with a whore like that!”
“She ain’t no whore!” Fearful that his parents may have overheard his outburst, Rafe added in a lower voice, “Lila happens to be a lady.”
Danny shrugged. “Maybe she is to you. But she ain’t to other men. And if you keep seeing her, maybe you’ll catch something. Like the crabs.”
“Lila makes sure that both of us are clean before we . . . well, you know.”
To Rafe’s surprise, Danny’s face turned red. Even after a trip to a whorehouse, his friend managed to remain shy about sex. “Okay, what about this?” Danny continued. “What if someone who knows your folks, sees you there? I reckon there are a few of your daddy’s friends who drop by the Shelby House, every once in a while.”
Rafe barely heard Danny’s words. “Maybe,” he murmured. “Then again, maybe not. Lila wants me to visit before she starts work around two. I reckon no one would see me, if I do that.”
“Rafe . . .”
Mrs. McCawley’s voice rang from the hallway. “Rafe! Danny! Time for supper!”
“Yes ma’am!” Rafe shouted back. He shot his friend a reassuring grin. “Don’t worry, Danny. Everything will turn out fine. You’ll see.”
* * * *
Rafe and Lila only had another six weeks together. Whenever the opportunity arose, Rafe usually found himself at the Shelby House, anywhere between eleven and two o’clock. The housekeeper, Velma, would allow Rafe to enter the house through the back door and from there, he would make his way to Lila’s bedroom. The back door was the only impediment to Rafe’s otherwise perfect month. Lila had insisted that he use it – in case of a close call with an unexpected visitor.
That close call eventually happened, one afternoon in early September. After Velma allowed Rafe through the back door of the Shelby House, he immediately sprinted upstairs. He made his way along the second floor hallway, when the door to Lila’s bedroom swung open. Rafe immediately assumed it was the love of his life. He started toward the open door, when the sight of a familiar figure stopped him in his tracks. The figure turned out to be one of his father’s poker friends – Mr. Bateman. Rafe quickly darted into an empty room nearby and waited for the man to head downstairs. Later that evening, Rafe told Danny about his close call. Two days later, his relationship with Lila screeched to a halt.
* * * *
He stared at the auburn-haired woman with disbelieving eyes. “Say that again?” he demanded.
Inside her bedroom, a scantily clad Lila heaved an impatient sigh. She retrieved a cigarette from a tin box on her dresser and stuck it between her teeth. “You heard me, Rafe. It’s over. I don’t want you here, anymore.”
Hands on hips, Lila glared at him. “Because it’s over. Dammit boy! Are you deaf? It was fun for a while, but not anymore. I need to be with someone new.” She struck a match and lit her cigarette.
“Like that fella who was here, two days ago?” Rafe demanded.
Hazel-green eyes rolled upward in disgust. “Good Lord! He was right! You really are too young for me.”
“He?” Rafe’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Who’s ‘he’?”
Lila took a puff on her cigarette. “No one in particular. Just forget it.”
“Does that mean I can . . .?”
“No!” Lila’s harsh response came as a slap across the face. Rafe blinked. “No, that doesn’t mean you can come back. I don’t want you here, anymore! Period! How many damn times do I have to tell you?”
Lila retorted, “Because you’re too young for me! And I don’t want to go to jail for messing around with fifteen year-old boys!”
Rafe’s eyes widened in shock. “I never told you I was fifteen years old,” he murmured. “How did you . . .?”
“Never mind on how I found out,” Lila shot back. She paced back and forth across the room like an angry tigress, puffing on her cigarette. “All that matters is that you stay the hell away from this place, until you’re old enough. Maybe you can come back in another two or three years from now. I suggest you stick to girls around your own age. Miz Enid and the rest of us don’t need a spell behind bars for statutory rape. Now get out of here!” Lila pointed an angry finger at the door.
His head hung low, a defeated Rafe dragged his feet toward the door. All sorts of thoughts and emotions whirled within him. How could Lila throw him out like that? And who exactly was this ‘he’? Certainly not his daddy’s friend. Mr. Lammers had not even seen him. And who told Lila that he was fifte . . .
An ugly suspicion immediately formed in Rafe’s mind. A suspicion that projected in the image of his best friend. “Danny!” Rafe paused and confronted Lila. “It was Danny who told you I was fifteen! When did he talk to you?”
A guilty expression flitted across Lila’s face, before the latter hardened. “It doesn’t matter who I talked with!” she snarled. “Just get the hell out! You’re bad for business!”
“And you’re bad for me, lady!” Rafe retorted. “If a fella can call you one!” Filled with anger, he marched out of Lila’s room, slamming the door shut. It would be his last visit to the Shelby House.
END OF PART 2
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