Sanderson comes to Farnham
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
There’s a lot of empty space in America. When they built the Interstate system, the highways often went through miles and miles of nowhere. In the middle of one of those nowheres, one of the great east-west Interstates crossed River Ford Road, an old highway that didn’t go much of anywhere and hadn’t been paved since the 1930s. But the Feds, they built an interchange there all the same.
Well, that interchange really was a long ways from anything, so someone decided to build a gas station there. The gas station got bigger, began catering to truckers and tourists. They added a convenience store, and then a fast food place. Someone else noticed that the truckers were staying there overnight, and the next thing you know, the place got a bar and a motel. Then the state decided to stick a power generation plant there, and a petroleum depot got built there, too. Because the interchange was too far away from anywhere else, the people who worked there had to live there. A lot of cheap housing went up. And to support those employees, a proper restaurant and a supermarket went in. A real business district gradually developed along River Ford Road, which was renamed Sunrise Highway to sound better.
Up to then, the place had no name. They say some state politician who represented the area asked the U.S. Geological Survey, which maps the country, to give the place a name. Apparently the guy they asked was a fan of knights and nobility, because he picked the name of some English castle. And so the unnamed place became Farnham, and the Post Office was the first building to bear the name. The jail was the second.
Farnham had become a real place, barely. It wasn’t the sort of place you wanted to stay in, though. Most people, truckers and tourists, just passed through for gas and a bite to eat, maybe a place to sleep. Most of the locals stayed long enough to make enough money to leave, and that was it.
So why did I end up in Farnham? I was stupid and lucky.
The stupid part is easy to explain. I’d dropped out of college after only one semester. Poor grades had a lot to do with it, though tossing one of the university’s star football players through a window didn’t help. (I’m 5’6” and the jock outweighed me by 100 pounds; no one could figure out how I did it.) I’d gone off with my then-boyfriend on a trip across the country, not caring much where we went. Hey, I was in love.
Maybe he had been in love with me, but it must have worn off. We stopped in Farnham for gas, and I went into the convenience store that was part of the gas station to take a pee and pick up a snack. When I came out, my now ex-boyfriend and his car were gone, and my suitcase was sitting on the pavement. I called the bastard on my cell phone, shrieked at him, and then broke down in tears.
After a cry, I looked at what I had. I had the clothes on my back, my suitcase with one or two more changes of clothes, $8.13 in my wallet, and a credit card I didn’t dare use. And Farnham, let’s face it, is no one’s idea of a place to settle down. So I started walking toward the on ramp of the Interstate, figuring I’d hitch a ride.
I had just made it there when a cop car pulled up. There really wasn’t anyplace to run, at least not and keep my suitcase, so I just stood there. The cop got out of his car. Big guy, maybe six feet, stocky, khaki uniform and tin star on his chest. He comes over to me, looks me up and down. He says to me, “I got a complaint that you were disturbing the peace, and it’s illegal to hitchhike on the Interstate. So I’m going to have to take you in.”
Believe it or not, this was the lucky part of my day, but I didn’t know it yet. I looked him in the eye, gave him my impatient look. “Look, officer, I’m havin’ a bad day. I’m leaving your wonderful town as soon as I can. Can’t you just leave it at that?”
He shook his head. “Sorry, ma’am, but you either get in the car voluntarily or I’m going to have to cuff you. Take your pick.”
Bastard. “What do I do with my suitcase?” I complained.
He replied, “I’ll put it in the trunk for now. When we get to the jail, you’ll get a formal receipt for it and its contents. No one’s going to steal nothing from you.”
Defeated, I shrugged and got into the passenger seat. He put away my suitcase, came around and sat in the driver’s seat. I decided to antagonize him, and said, “Shouldn’t I be sitting in the back so I don’t try to mug you?”
He laughed at that. “Are you in the habit of mugging people, miss?”
“I might start up.”
He laughed at that, too. “I’ll take my chances.”
We drove over to a house. The cop pulled into the driveway, came to a stop and said, “First stop, medical examination. Have to make sure you’re not sick before going to jail, or if you are, that you get proper medical care. County doesn’t like it when people die in custody. Doc Helen will give you a once-over.”
I thought it was odd, but what could I say? “Doc Helen” turned out to be a fairly young woman with expensive scotch whiskey on her breath who had me change into a hospital gown and gave me a fairly thorough once-over. The one thing I wouldn’t do for her was take off my gloves. I wear gloves without fingers on both hands, all the time, except in private, and even then don’t take them off often. She didn’t like it, but didn’t want to force the issue.
Anyhow, I got changed back and got back into the car with the cop. He’d been smiling away the whole time, and once we got into the car, he said to me, “Well, Ms. Sanderson, you’re not obviously on drugs and you don’t have a record for prostitution, or anything else for that matter. I don’t see any further point in holding you. So you’ve got a choice. I can take you back to the Interstate, and you can try to hitch a ride out of here. Probably some trucker will give you a ride, but he’ll probably expect you to have sex with him in return. Or, you can come with me to the only decent restaurant in this town, have a meal on the county, and we can talk about finding you a better way to get out of here.”
I gave the cop a suspicious look. “And why am I being so honored? And how the hell do you know my name?”
Couldn’t get him to stop smiling. “As for your name, I looked through your wallet, did some checking of my own while Doc Helen was working on you. As for being honored, you were heard by the help at the store screaming at someone over your cell phone for leaving you behind. So I figured you didn’t plan to stay here, but got stuck. You sure don’t have enough money on you for a decent meal, let alone a place to stay. I spend most of my time, miss, trying to keep bad people from misbehaving. Sometimes I like to help good people who are just down on their luck. So, you up for some chow?”
I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but the cop was right, I didn’t have enough money, and I wasn’t looking forward to hitchhiking. So I nodded, and off we went. We pulled up at “MacNaughten’s Family Restaurant and Sports Bar.” Got out, went in.
The girl at reception was dressed in a very short skirt and a blouse unbuttoned to show a fair amount of cleavage. Looked like she was wearing a push-up bra, if you asked me. She greeted us with a big smile. “Mac! How ya doin’?”
The cop smiled back. “Two for lunch, Julie.”
We sat down, she dropped menus in front of us, and headed back to the front. I looked around, realized all the waitresses were wearing the same uniform, and remarked to the cop, “I see why you come here: nice scenery if you’re into boobs.”
Couldn’t shake the cop’s smile. He said, “Nah, if it was female flesh on exhibit I wanted, we’d be over at Louie’s. That’s a strip club. No, we’re here for the food, which is the best in town. Order whatever you want, the county’s picking up the tab.”
The waitress came over, a different girl. “Hi, Mac, how ya doin’? Can I start you off with a beer?”
The cop said, “Sure, my usual.” He looks over to me. “You want anything?”
Now I was still 18, and couldn’t legally drink. Presumably the cop knew it. But I figured, what the hell, and said, “I’ll have a golden dream.”
The waitress looked at me dubiously, then turned to Mac. “She old enough to drink, Mac?”
Mac replied, “She’s had a rough day, Michelle. Boyfriend dumped her. We’ll let it ride this time.”
Michelle gave me a pitying glance. “Well, if you’re old enough to have a guy dump you, I guess you’re old enough to drink.” And she walked away.
The cop stuck his hand across the table. “By the way, I’m Sheriff Jason MacGregor. Most everyone calls me Mac.”
The guy wasn’t being a total dick. So I took his hand, shook it. “And I’m Sanderson.”
“You got a lot of names piled up before that one, Sanderson. Don’t like them, or are they reserved for friends?”
At least he asked. “Don’t like them. Too much of a problem when I was growing up.”
He laughed at that, too. “I was debating which one you’d prefer as the least awkward. My guess was ‘none of the above.’”
The waitress, Michelle, came back with Mac’s beer. “The bartender doesn’t know how to make a golden dream.”
I should have known. I let out a sigh of annoyance, said, “Make it a beer, then.”
Mac interjected, “Wait a second. Sanderson, do you know how to make this golden dream of yours?”
I shrugged, said, “Yeah.”
Mac stood up. “Well, then, I said you could have what you wanted. Let’s go over to the bar and see you make one.”
I was surprised, but got up and went to the bar. Mac chased the bartender aside, let me loose behind the bar. I made myself up a golden dream. Michelle, who apparently didn’t have anyone else to wait on, remarked that it looked like a dessert drink to her. Mac laughed at that. He seemed to laugh at everything. We went back to our table, ordered our food, and we toasted each other with our drinks.
Mac got down to business. “Seems to me what you need, Sanderson, is enough money to get a bus ticket to get out of here to wherever you want to go. There’s some honest work in town, if you’re willing to put your back into it for a few days.”
I thought about it. I definitely needed money. A place to go, well, I didn’t really have one. Home was not an option. So I said, “Maybe. I’d need a place to stay, and I doubt I can afford a motel room just yet.”
Mac leaned back, thought a moment. “Well, I do know someone who has an apartment she’d rent out cheap, nothing in advance, if I asked her.” He saw my look of incredulity, because he added, “It’s a small town, Sanderson. I pretty much know everyone in it and they know me. Mind you, there is a catch to the apartment.”
“And what’s that?”
“It’s the other half of the house Doc Helen lives in. You have to share a bathroom, kitchen, and dining room with her. Doc’s OK, most of the time. But you probably noticed she had some whiskey on her breath today. She drinks, sometimes more than she should. The good part about it is that she’s not a mean drunk.”
I considered. Doc Helen hadn’t been too bad a sort. I’d not care for her inquiring much into my gloves, but apart from that, OK. Had to wonder if free medical care might be an informal benefit. So I took the next step. “And you also have a job handy, Mac?”
He nodded. “They’re short waitresses here.” He saw me look disgusted, and added, “So what’s the problem?”
“I am not wearing what they’re wearing.”
I finally got him to drop his smile. “Look, Sanderson, most of the customers here are guys, truckers and workers at the plant. The waitresses have to have uniforms like that to bring in customers. Especially when the alternative is Louie’s. But I enforce the law here. You ask any of these girls whether the customers get away with being too free with their hands. Go ahead and ask.”
I did. I talked with Michelle. I talked with two or three other waitresses. And by the end of the day, I was working at McNaughten’s and staying in the other half of Doc Helen’s house.
I didn’t wear the uniform for very long. It was nothing but trouble for me.
My problems started right at the beginning. You see, I had to fill out an application form. And it asked for my name. Well, I wasn’t going to use all of it, but I knew I wasn’t going to get by on initials. So I wrote “Persephone Sanderson.” So far, so good. But the waitresses wear name tags, and Harry, the shift manager taking the application, looked at the form and said, “Persephone Sanderson. You go by Persephone?”
I answered, “I go by Sanderson.”
He gave me an annoyed look. “That won’t do here, honey. Gal’s got to have a first name. You got any other names?”
I shook my head. Almost immediately, Mac coughed. I took the hint. I said, “Yeah, three of them: Désirée Arabia Nightfeather.”
Harry looked up in disbelief.
“That’s my name, Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson. Now you know why I go by Sanderson.”
Harry contemplated me a bit. “Hmm, Désirée would do.”
I leaned forward on the desk he was sitting behind, until my face was inches from his. “Over my dead body.” I stood up again. “Besides, you couldn’t get the accent marks right.”
Harry looked displeased, then smiled to himself. “OK, your name is Sanderson.”
When I reported for work the next day, I got a name tag from Harry. It read “Sandy.” He didn’t wait for me to explode. He said, “This is a nice family place where the girls answer to nice names.”
“What about the sports bar?” I asked.
Harry laughed. “There you’re supposed to be untouchable sluts. But Désirée would have been a little too much. So you get to be Sandy to protect your virtue. Got it, Sandy?”
“The name is Sanderson,” I replied. But I put on the name tag anyhow.
Despite this sort of nonsense and the uniform, Harry and Nick, the two shift managers, were pretty careful to clamp down on any guys who harassed us waitresses. And if they couldn’t handle the guys, they called Mac in, and Mac put the fear of God into them. Still, we got enough verbal suggestions, and occasional wandering hands, from customers who didn’t know better. Sherry, who had, um, surgically enhanced breasts, I guess you can call them, got it the worst. Grace, who was simply stunning, was so good at playing the ice princess that she got the least, though the ones she did get tended to be real psychos. Me, I was about average, maybe a little less. I had good legs, but even a push-up bra didn’t turn me into a bombshell. And I was darker-skinned than most of the other waitresses, except Ella, who was black, so I was sometimes mistaken for Hispanic. The guys who went for me apparently were looking for the girl next door, which they interpreted as the slut next door.
The other girls would report anything untoward to the shift manager who would handle it. Not me. I retaliated directly. A few beers poured over the heads of rude customers, a good slap in the face to the grabby ones, and most took the hint. But it gave me a reputation as a “fiery chick,” and wouldn’t you know there were guys who just had to see how fiery I could get.
Meanwhile, I was establishing myself as the most knowledgeable waitress around on drinks. I’d had a rich roommate my one semester in college who liked to try everything in the way of booze, and I’d helped, so I started off with a fair bit of knowledge. And I steadily added to it. My objective was to get behind the bar, where I’d be out of reach of grabby customers. Problem was that all of the guys behind the bar were in fact guys. They were expected to help break up fights in the sports bar, and neither Harry nor Nick would consider a woman capable of breaking up a fight. I know. I asked, repeatedly.
It was a simple drunk who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall who ended my regular waitressing days. I was doing a table in the sports bar for their fourth or fifth round, when the guy to my rear just stood up and grabbed me from the rear. One hand decided to explore the interior of my bra, while the other was fumbling around under my skirt, trying to get into my panties. I was furious. But he was a big guy. I couldn’t get away from him. And then he managed to get into my panties and began trying to get his fingers into me.
I got into a holy rage at that point. And the guy ended up with two broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken arm, and a whole slew of cuts on that arm, his chest, and his face. Doc Helen had to patch him up and send him to the nearest hospital.
Mac had a little conference with Harry and Nick after that. The next day, I was told I was on bartending duty. I showed up in black slacks, a white blouse buttoned up to my throat, and no name tag. Nick took one look at me, started to say something, and backed off when I glared at him.
Thereafter, I was Sanderson, period. The grapevine told me Harry and Nick weren’t entirely happy with the situation at first. They would only assign me to the bar in the restaurant, where fights were infrequent. But after I waded into a fight in the sports bar and gave a good accounting of myself, they decided to live with the situation. Oh, and incidentally give me a pay raise so I was making the same amount as the other bartenders.
For more about Sanderson, read Nightfeather: Ghosts.