Sophie Dempsey didn’t like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her ’86 Civic, broke her sister’s sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.
Half an hour earlier, Sophie’s sister Amy had been happily driving too fast down Highway 32, her bright hair ruffling in the wind as she sang “In the Middle of Nowhere” with Dusty Springfield on the tape deck. Maple trees had waved cheerfully in the warm breeze, cotton clouds had bounced across the blue, blue sky, and the late August sun had blasted everything in sight.
And Sophie had felt a chill, courtesy, she was sure, of the sixth sense that had kept generations of Dempseys out of jail most of the time.
“Slow down,” she told Amy. “There’s no need to rush.” She stared out the window as she twisted the silver rings on her middle fingers. More riotously happy southern Ohio landscape. That couldn’t be good.
“Oh, relax.” Amy peered at Sophie over the top of her pink cats-eye sunglasses. “It’s a video shoot, not a bank heist. What could go wrong?”
“Don’t say that.” Sophie sank lower in her seat. “Anytime anybody in a movie says, ‘What could go wrong?’ something goes wrong.”
A green sign that read Temptation 1/4 Mile loomed ahead, and Sophie reviewed her situation for the eleventh time that hour. She was going to a small town to make an unscripted video for a washed-up actress she didn’t trust. There were going to be problems. They’d show up at any minute, like bats, dive bombing them from out of nowhere. A strand of her dark curly hair blew across her eyes, and she jammed it back into the knot on top of her head with one finger. “Bats,” she said out loud, and Amy said, “What?”
Sophie let her head fall back against the seat. “‘We can’t stop here. This is bat country.'”
“Johnny Depp,” Amy said. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Stop quoting. There’s nothing to be nervous about, you’re just over-reacting.” She turned off the highway and onto the old road that led into Temptation. The exit was marked by a shiny new gas station and a less shiny but still plastic Larry’s Motel.
“Colorful,” Amy said.
“Trouble,” Sophie said.
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes,” Amy said. “It’s not the Bates Motel.”
“You have no idea how dangerous small towns are.” Sophie scowled out the window. “You were only ten when we moved to the city. You can’t remember what hell all those little places we lived in were.”
“And it’s not as if we have a plan.” Sophie stared with deep suspicion as they passed a blackened log-built bar that sported a rusting neon sign: Temptation Tavern. Beer. Music. “It’s all very well for Clea to say, ‘We’ll improvise,’ but even if this is just an audition video, I need more of a script than ‘Clea goes back to her creepy home town and meets her long lost love, Fred.'”
“Frank.” Amy slumped back against the seat. “I don’t believe you. We’re finally filming something besides a wedding, and all you can say is ‘Trouble ahead’ and ‘Why can’t we stay in Cincinnati?’ and ‘I don’t trust Clea.’ Face it, the only reason you don’t like Clea is because she dumped Davy to marry a TV anchorman. That’s very sisterly of you, but it’s time to get over it.”
“That’s not it,” Sophie said. “I don’t know what it is, it’s just–”
“Come on, Sophie. This is good for you, too. It gets you away from Brandon.”
Oh, yeah, sure this is good for me, Sophie thought, but Amy couldn’t help it. It was second nature for her to make people want to do what she wanted, in her blood to turn everything into a con.
“Why you’re dating your therapist is beyond me,” Amy was saying. “Your health insurance covered his fees.”
“My ex-therapist.” Sophie squinted at the deserted tree-lined road before them. Ominous. “It saved a lot of time. You don’t know what a relief it was not to have to explain the family to him.”
“You know, sometimes I think it’s just our destiny to be bad.” Amy took her eyes off the road to smile at Sophie. “What do you say we quit making wedding videos and fall like the rest of the Dempseys?”
“No,” Sophie said. “The fall will kill us.”
She waited for an argument, but Amy was already distracted. “Oh, wow.” She leaned forward and slowed the car. “Gotta love these road signs.”
Sophie read the battered white and black signs: “Temptation Rotary Club,” “First Lutheran Church of Temptation,” Temptation Ladies Club,” “Temptation Nighttime Theatre.” The last one was a corroded green and cream metal sign that said, “Welcome to Temptation.” Under it was a smaller sign in the same rusted antique green that said, “Phineas T. Tucker, Mayor.” And under that a newer but still battered sign said, “We Believe in Family Values.”
“Get me out of here,” Sophie said.
“Can you imagine how old Phineas T. must be if the sign is that rusted?” Amy said. “Older than God. Hasn’t had sex since the Bicentennial. Do you think the Church of Temptation is like the Church of Baseball?”
“Not if it’s Lutheran,” Sophie said.
Then they crested the hill and there was Temptation.
“Pleasantville,” Amy said, taking off her sunglasses.
“Amityville,” Sophie said.
The town proper was on the other side of a muddy river that streamed sullenly under a gunmetal bridge at the bottom of the hill. Beyond the bridge, the land rose up green and lush behind smug little brick and frame houses, and as the hills rose, the houses got bigger, much bigger. Sophie knew the kind of people who lived in houses like that. Not Her Kind. “‘It’s quiet,'” she told Amy as they started down the hill. “‘Too quiet.'” But Amy was gaping at something in the distance.
“Oh, my God!” Amy pulled off the road. “Look at that water tower!”
“What?” Sophie leaned forward to look.
The flesh-colored, bullet-shaped tower thrust through the trees at the top of the hill, so aggressively phallic that Sophie forgot to fidget with her rings as she stared at it. “Hello. Do you suppose they did that on purpose? I mean, you couldn’t accidentally paint it to look like that, could you?”
“Maybe Phineas T. is compensating. I don’t care. I love this town.” Amy handed Sophie her sunglasses, yanked her orange tube top into place, and reached between the seats to get her camera. “My God, the visual opportunities. Change places with me.”
“Why?” Sophie said, but she climbed over the stick shift and into the driver’s seat as Amy got out of the car. “Okay, the water tower is cute, but ‘I bet the Chinese food here is terrible.'” When Amy gave her a dirty look, she said, “I’m not whining, it’s a line. My Cousin Vinny.” Sophie squinted out at the road. “I will bet they don’t have a decent pool table. Probably outlawed them. Where are we going now?”
“Back to the beginning.” Amy got in the passenger side door. “I have to get all of this. The Church of Temptation, Phineas T. Tucker, and that big hard-on of a water tower. This is our opening credit crawl.”
“Can we film in public without a permit?” Sophie put on Amy’s sunglasses with only a brief thought as to how pink plastic and rhinestones would look with her plain white blouse and khaki shorts. She double-checked the road and then pulled out and made a U-turn. “Because breaking the law is out.”
“They’ll never know,” Amy said, sounding way too much like their father. She braced the camera on the window and added, “I’ll keep watch this way and you keep an eye on the rearview in case somebody comes up behind us. Go about five miles an hour. I want to get all of this.”
Sophie drove back to where the signs started and turned around, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror as she did. All they needed was to get rear-ended by some irate Citizen of Temptation–
Then as they reached the crest of the hill, the beige Caddy zoomed out of a side road that Sophie hadn’t even seen and smashed into their front fender.
Sophie hit the brakes as she felt the impact, and the sound of crunching metal tore through her head at the same time Amy’s sunglasses flew off her nose and hit the dashboard. She tasted blood as she bit her lip, gagged once as the seatbelt cut into her stomach, and then it was over, and they were sitting in the wrong lane with Dusty singing “I’ll Try Anything” as if nothing had happened. There was no one coming the other way, so Sophie breathed deep, licked her bleeding lip, let go of the steering wheel, and turned to deal with the situation.
Amy was bent over, her head at a funny angle under the dashboard.
Sophie went cold. “Amy!”
Amy straightened, holding the video camera. “It’s okay. I dropped it but it’s fine.” She scowled at the dash and picked up her glasses, and the broken lenses fell out. “But my sunglasses are history, damn it.”
Sophie swallowed her panic and tried to stop shaking. “Oh. Good. Good. The camera’s okay. Good. Sorry about the glasses.” She turned Dusty off in the middle of “Playing it safe is just for fools,” and said, “How are you?”
“Me?” Amy scowled out the window. “I’m pissed as hell at the asshole who hit us.”
Sophie peered through the window at the asshole. A bulky, white-haired, fifty-something Pillar of the Community stalked around their right front fender, thick with righteousness. “Oh, no, I hate these guys. He’s going to try to make this our fault.” She fumbled in her purse for her insurance card, thanking God it wasn’t their fault since Amy’s previous disregard for the laws of the road had already hiked their premiums. “You keep quiet. I’ll get us out of here, and the insurance people can handle everyth–”
“Well, actually, it is our fault.” Amy dropped her sunglasses back on the dash. “We sort of ran a stop sign.”
Sophie froze, clutching her insurance card. “We did what?”
“If I’d told you, you would have stopped,” Amy said reasonably. “I was panning.”
“Terrific.” Sophie took a deep breath as the Pillar showed up at her window. She got out, making him step back as she did so.
“That was extremely reckless driving, young lady.” The Pillar drew himself up to his full blue-suited, stern-jawed height which, since Sophie met him eye-to-eye, was about five seven. “You were speeding. Do you have insurance?” His hands were shaking, Sophie noticed, but before she could ask if he was all right, Amy stuck her head out Sophie’s window.
“No way in hell were we speeding. We weren’t going any faster than five miles an hour tops. This is your fault, Grandpa.”
“Shut up, Amy,” Sophie said, thrusting the insurance card at her. “Copy that information down and do not say anything else.” Then she turned back to the Pillar, determined to escape without giving him anything. “I’m so sorry,” she said to him, flashing her family’s stock-in-trade gotta-love-me-give-me-what-I-want smile.
The Pillar stopped glaring at Amy and turned back to Sophie. Amy said, “Hey–” but shut up when Sophie held up one finger behind her back. One: Make the mark smile.
“Someday my sister’s brain will catch up with her mouth,” Sophie said, “but until then I apologize for her.” She deepened her smile and looked at the Pillar through her lashes.
“Well, I don’t know,” the Pillar said, and his scowl faded a little.
Sophie held up two fingers behind her back, and Amy sighed. Two: Get the mark to agree with you. “We’re new here so we don’t know the roads,” Sophie went on. “You know how confusing it can be driving in a new place.”
“Well, yes,” the Pillar said. “But that doesn’t–”
Three fingers. Make the mark feel superior. “Of course, you’re probably never confused,” Sophie smiled up at him, no mean trick since they were the same height.. She widened her eyes. “I bet you always know where you’re going.”
“Well, of course,” the Pillar said, relaxing now. “However–”
“And now we’ve stopped you in the middle of all this heat,” Sophie went on, apology thick in her voice. She nodded to the Pillar’s trembling hands. “And we’ve upset you.” Four: Give the mark something. “We really should let you go on. Standing here waiting for the police isn’t going to do any of us any good.” She smiled at the Pillar again, who began to smile back, looking a little confused.
“Well, that’s true,” he said. “It could be hours before Wes or Duane come by.”
Great. He knew the cops by their first names. Sophie kept her smile in place. Five: Get what you want and get out. “Amy, do you have the insurance information?”
The Pillar looked past her to Amy, and his face darkened again. “What is that?”
Sophie turned around to see Amy checking the camera.
“That’s a video camera,” the Pillar said, sputtering. “What are you doing?”
“Making a movie, obviously.” Amy looked at him with patent scorn. “And I’m telling you, you better have insurance because this is a classic car and it’s not gonna be cheap to restore.”
The Pillar flushed in fury, and Sophie thought, Oh, thanks, Ame. She moved to block Amy and sidetrack any debate over the classic status of an ’86 Civic. “So we’ll just–”
“This is outrageous.” The Pillar expanded as he blustered. “You ran a stop sign. My wife is very upset. What kind of movie are you making? You can’t do that here.”
“Your wife?” Sophie abandoned the con for the time being and looked past him to see a faded blonde woman leaning against the back fender of the other car, her chubby face a pasty white. “What are you doing over here if she looks like that?” Sophie turned her back on him and pointed her finger at Amy. “Do not talk to this man. Hand him the information, roll up that window, get the car off the road, and wait for me.”
“Your lip’s bleeding,” Amy said, and handed her a Kleenex.
Sophie took it and blotted her lip as she walked around the still protesting Pillar and crossed the road. The poor woman had made her way to the Caddy’s passenger door, and Sophie bent to look in her eyes. “Are you hurt?”
“Oh.” The woman seemed dazed, her pale blue eyes blinking up at Sophie in the sun as she plucked at the collar of her Pepto-Bismol pink suit, but her pupils looked all right. And there wasn’t a hair on her head out of place, although that might have been the hair spray.
Sophie took her arm anyway. “You’d better sit down.” She opened the passenger door, and the woman got in obediently. “Put your head between your knees.” Sophie blotted her lip again. “Take some deep breaths.”
The woman put her forehead on her plump knees, which she kept clamped together, and began to gasp.
“Not that deep,” Sophie said before she hyperventilated. “If you spread your knees apart, you can get your head lower.”
“Virginia, what are you doing?”
Virginia straightened with a jerk, and Sophie turned on the Pillar in exasperation. “She’s trying to get some blood back to her head.” If I was married to you, I’d keep my knees together, too. “Did my sister give you the insurance information?” she asked and then saw the paper trembling in his hand. “Fine. I understand that you want to get your wife home and that’s no problem for us.” He started to protest, and she added, “We’ll be at the Whipple farm until Sunday. After that we’ll be back in Cincinnati.”
“Your insurance agent–” the Pillar began, but this time his wife interrupted him.
“Are you friends of Clea Whipple’s?” Virginia said from the front seat, her color returning. “Is she home again? Oh, Stephen, did you hear that? We haven’t seen Clea for over twenty years. Except in the movies, of course.”
Movie, Sophie wanted to say, since Clea had only made one, but the last thing she wanted was more conversation with the Pillars. She began to back away. “She’s home, but only until Sunday. Now please, don’t let me keep you.”
“Well, that’s so exciting.” Virginia trilled. “Is she still married to that handsome Zane Black? We watch him every night on the news.” Sophie turned to make her escape, and Virginia raised her voice to compensate. “You tell her Virginia Garvey said hi!”
“They’ve got movie equipment,” Stephen bellowed. “And they’re filming on public land which is clearly illegal.”
“A movie?” Virginia’s face lit up and her voice rose to a shout. “Oh, wait, tell me–”
Sophie reached the other side of the road, pretending not to hear. Ahead of her, a torn and faded campaign poster fluttered on a tree: Tucker for Mayor: More of the Same.
“Dear God, I hope not,” she said under her breath. She got in the car and maneuvered it back on the road while Stephen Garvey glared at her and Virginia fluttered her hand. The front fender scraped against the tire as she started searching for the lane to the farm, touching her lip with the Kleenex to see if the bleeding had stopped.
“What a butthead that guy was,” Amy said. “Are you all right?”
“No.” Sophie looked for the Whipple mailbox. “I’ve got a smashed car, a moving violation, a sister who screws up my getaway, and a dead white male telling the whole damn town we’re making a movie.” She slowed as the bridge loomed ahead and scowled over the steering wheel. “And we must have missed the turn-off for the farm because we’re almost in town now.”
“No, there’s the mailbox.” Amy pointed with her broken sunglasses. “Turn left.”
Sophie turned down the farm lane Clea had promised them was a good half mile long. “This place gives me the creep. . .” Her voice trailed off as the dusty yard of a derelict farm house came into view. “Didn’t Clea say the farmhouse was a long way off the road?”
“Maybe they moved the road,” Amy said as they pulled up in front of the house. “It’s been twenty-four years since she’s been back.” She peered through the windshield at the farmhouse. “Understandably.”
Sophie tried to be fair as she turned off the ignition. The paint was peeling in dingy white strips from the side of the clapboards, and the gutter hung loose across the front of the peaked roof, but the house wasn’t a complete loss. There was a wide front porch across the entire front with a swing. And there was . . .
Sophie looked around the dusty barren yard. Nope, the porch was about it. “Great place to film. Yeah, we can trust Clea. I smell trouble.”
Amy sniffed the air. “That’s dead fish. Must be the river.”
She opened her car door as the screen door banged, and Clea Whipple came out onto her porch, her lush body straining at her bright blue sundress, her white-blonde hair almost incandescent in the sun. She shaded her cameo perfect face with her hand and called, “You’re late.”
“And hello to you, too,” Sophie said, and got out of the car to unload their supplies, starting with their cooler. It was full of lemonade and Dove Bars, Dempsey life essentials, and she was in need of essential comfort.
Amy went toward the house with the camera. “Isn’t this going to be wonderful?”
Sophie looked at Clea, the most self-absorbed woman in the universe, staring blankly back at her from the derelict front porch. “Oh, yeah,” she said as she hauled the cooler out of the car.
Nothing but good times ahead.
Eight miles up the road in Temptation’s marble City Hall, Mayor Phineas T. Tucker wondered not for the first time why he was cursed with a council made up of a blowhard, a doormat, a high school English teacher, the town coroner, an amateur actor, and his mother. The combination was depressing to contemplate even with the blowhard and the doormat missing, so while Hildy Mallow waxed poetic over the aesthetic benefits of reproduction vintage streetlights, Phin leaned back from the oak table to distract himself with his council secretary’s legs.
Rachel Garvey had excellent legs. Of course, with only twenty years on them, they were too young for him no matter what his mother and hers thought, but they were still fine to look at.
” . . . and since their beauty would discourage vandalism, the extra cost will pay for itself over time,” Hildy finished, confusing Phin until he remembered that Hildy was talking about streetlights and not Rachel’s legs.
“That may be a little optimistic.” Liz Tucker’s voice was as cool as her champagne-tinted hair. “Of course, our alternative is those horrible modern lights that would clash with the nineteenth century architecture.”
Phin winced. The only nineteenth century architecture in Temptation was in the wealthy part of town. Grateful that only a few citizens were sitting in the front row listening to his mother forget the little people once again, Phin sat up to head her off before she could offer them cake.
“Yeah, but the good streetlights would go everywhere, right?” Frank Lutz said before Phin could intervene.
“Right,” Phin said.
“Okay.” Frank sat back and ran his hand over his matinee-idol hair, clearly relieved that the new development he’d built on the west side of town would have class lighting, too. “I’m for it. Let’s vote.”
“Can we do that without Stephen and Virginia?” Liz said, and Hildy straightened her cardigan and said, “Certainly. If we all agree, we’ll have a majority no matter how they voted. And we all agree, right?”
She stared pointedly at the fourth member of the council, Dr. Ed Yarnell, who gazed back, unfazed, armored with thirty years of council experience. If Phin thought about Ed too much, it depressed him, knowing that thirty years down the line he could be Ed: bald, sixty-something, and still staring at the same WPA mural of Justice Meeting Mercy. It was not how he wanted to spend his sixties. Hell, it wasn’t how he wanted to spend his thirties. He glanced guiltily at the sepia-toned photos of three of the four previous mayors–Phineas T. Tucker, his father; Phineas T. Tucker, his grandfather; and Phineas T. Tucker, his great-grandfather–all staring down their high-bridged noses with cold eyes at their latest and laziest incarnation.
“Then we’ll vote,” Hildy said.
“Call the roll, Rachel,” Phin said, and Rachel called Lutz, Mallow, Tucker, and Yarnell and got four yes’s. “Motion passed. What’s next?”
“The water tower,” Liz said, and Hildy said, “I don’t see why–” and then the double doors from the marble hall opened and the Garveys came in.
“There was an accident.” Virginia plopped herself down in her chair, looking like a wad of bubble gum with big hair. “Hello, baby,” she said to Rachel, reaching across to pat her daughter’s hand. “This car came out of nowhere and didn’t stop. Two women, a snippy little redhead, Stephen says, and a nice brunette who was sweet to me. Curly hair. Low class. They’re staying at the Whipple farm. And they’re making a movie. . .”
Liz drew back a little, wincing at the “low class,” probably because it was such a low class thing to say. “I’ll never understand why Stephen married one of his counter clerks,” he’d heard her tell his father once. “His mother must be revolving in her grave.”
“Enough,” Stephen said now. “We’ve held up this meeting by coming late, let’s not waste more time with gossip.”
“Are you all right?” Liz asked, and Virginia nodded.
“Wait a minute, they’re making a movie?” Hildy said, and Virginia transferred her nod to her.
“The water tower is on the table, ” Phin said, deep-sixing his own interest in the news so he could get the meeting over with. If somebody really was making a movie, the whole town would have the details by nightfall anyway. “Stephen, you put it on the agenda.”
“I certainly did.” Stephen collected himself. “That water tower is a disgrace.”
“Well, white looks so drab a few weeks after we paint it–” Hildy began.
“I have an appointment at four-thirty at the Whipple farm and a rehearsal at six,” Frank told Phin under his breath as Hildy elaborated on the “drab” problem. “Carousel. I’m the lead.” Phin nodded as he spoke, trying not to picture forty-two-year-old Frank walking through a storm with his head held high.
“–and so I thought it would look better in peach,” Hildy finished.
Stephen said, “Hell, Hildy, it’s not your laundry. It’s a water tower, it’s supposed to be white, all water towers are white.”
Hildy sniffed. “The water tower in Groveport is blue.”
“Well, my God, Groveport.” Keeping one eye on the four constituents in the front row, Stephen turned back to Phin. “A competent, concerned mayor would do his civic duty here. We have family values to protect.”
Here we go again, Phin thought. There had been a time when Stephen’s blatant pandering had enraged him, but after nine mindnumbing years as mayor, nothing made him lose his temper any more. He let Stephen wind down, and then he said, “Hildy, I agree that only people with dirty minds would think it looks like anything but a water tower, but there appear to be a lot of people with dirty minds. We’re going to have an accident any day now, what with all the people pulling off the highway with their Polaroids. It’s a safety issue.” Phin tried to look sympathetically into Hildy’s eyes.
Hildy looked at him as if he were a Republican.
“This is a disgrace,” Stephen said. “You call this leadership?”
“I’ve got an appointment and then rehearsal,” Frank announced. “I’m playing Billy Bigelow. Carousel. I can’t be late.”
For this I spent six years in college, Phin thought. “Let’s vote.”
“You gotta have a motion,” Rachel said, still bent over her pad.
“I move we repaint the water tower back to the old red and white we always had,” Stephen said. “School colors. That’s what it should have been all–”
Phin sighed. “Just move we repaint the water tower, Stephen.”
“I move we repaint the water tower red and white,” Stephen said.
“I second,” Virginia said from beside him, pleased with herself.
The vote went three to three with Stephen, Virginia, and Liz voting for the new paint job, and Hildy, Ed, and Frank–“I’m putting a sign out there for the theater, good advertising”–voting to keep the peach.
“Did you ever think about being anything but a yes-woman?” Hildy snapped at Virginia, who straightened and fussed with her jacket.
“Virginia votes her conscience, Hildy,” Stephen said piously.
“The motion is tied,” Rachel said over Hildy’s snort. “The vote goes to the mayor. Tucker.”
“Yes,” Phin said. “Sorry, Hildy.”
“Motion passes four to three,” Rachel said, and Hildy smacked her notebook down on the table, and said, “So now I have to do this all over again.”
“Just tell the Coreys to charge the new paint at Stephen’s,” Phin told her. “They know what to do.”
“Funny how Garvey’s Hardware is getting twice as much business because of this.” Hildy sat back and crossed her arms. “Clear conflict of interest, if you ask me. He shouldn’t have been voting.”
“That’s a good point,” Frank said, visibly struck by the argument. Whenever Frank had a thought, it was visible. “Why didn’t you refuse to sell her the peach paint?” he asked Stephen.
“I sold Hildy the paint,” Rachel said as her father began to sputter with indignation. “It was, like, all my fault.”
Five different council members fell all over themselves telling Rachel it certainly wasn’t her fault, while Ed sat silent and smiling at her, and Phin marveled at the way big blue eyes and taffy blonde hair could snow the hell out of people.
“Well, it doesn’t matter now, anyway,” Rachel said. “I got the vote recorded.”
“If there’s no new business–” Phin began, but Stephen said, “Wait. We need to talk about this movie.”
“Well, Stephen, I tried to talk about it–” Virginia began, and Stephen spoke over her.
“Not gossip. We need to consider the impact on the town. The pitfalls. He looked slyly at Phin from the corner of his eyes, and Phin thought, What are you up to now? “The dangers,” Stephen went on. “We’re a town that believes in family values, and after all, you remember Clea.”
Phin definitely remembered Clea. The last time he’d seen her in the flesh, he’d been twelve and she’d leaned over to give him the money on his paper route. He’d looked down her blouse and fallen off his bike and ended up with nine stitches in his chin, but it had been worth it. He was fairly sure she’d jump-started his puberty.
“I don’t see any dangers. ” Frank stood up to go. “And I have to leave. I’m late.”
“Sit down,” Stephen said. “Some of us think of other things besides acting.” He sent a dismissive glance at Phin. “Or playing pool.”
“Yeah, like painting the water tower twice to double your profit,” Frank said.
“There is that,” Hildy said.
“Could you forget that so we can speak to the issues?” Stephen said.
“I think that making double your profit at the expense of the tax payers is an issue,” Frank said.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, I’ll give you the damn paint!” Stephen said, and Phin said, “Thank you, Stephen, we accept. Now if there’s nothing else–”
“This movie.” Stephen put his hands on the table. “Clea made that one movie, remember? We don’t want that kind of movie made here.”
“Always Tomorrow.” Virginia nodded. “But I really think the nudity in that was for artistic purposes, and it wasn’t very much. And she died in the end so she was punished.”
Phin spared a brief thought as to what it must like to be married to Virginia if she thought nudity was punishable by death, but then Stephen caught his attention again.
“No, not Always Tomorrow,” Stephen was saying, and Frank said, “Oh,” and sat down again.
Virginia looked mystified, Rachel looked intrigued, Liz and Hildy looked at the ceiling, and Phin remembered Coming Clean, a plotless straight-to-video movie set in a car wash that Clea undoubtedly did not have on her resume since she’d been billed as Candy Suds. . He didn’t know how Stephen had gotten hold of it; Phin had only seen it because Ed had it in his extensive pornography collection.
“Stephen, I doubt she’s shooting porn here,” Phin said, and Rachel said, “Clea Whipple made a dirty movie? Fabulous.”
Stephen nodded, satisfied his point was made. “There. See? That’s what I’m talking about. Family values. We let Clea make this kind of movie here, and our children will think it’s all right because we approved of it. And those women with the camera looked loose.”
Excellent, Phin thought. At last, some good news.
His mother shot him a sharp look.
“We should have a policy on this,” Stephen went on. “We won’t give a filming permit to anyone unless they sign a no-nudity clause.”
“How many movies do you think Temptation is going to get?” Phin said, but Frank said, “Hey, it could happen. Although with a no-nudity clause–” He shook his head. “That’s too strict, Stephen. We don’t want to stifle the film industry here.”
Stephen zeroed in on Phin. “Responsible leadership demands responsible legislation. It’s our civic duty–”
The problem, Phin thought, not for the first time, as Stephen ranted on, wasn’t that Stephen was a fathead and Virginia was a gossip, it was that Stephen was a driven fathead with a large conservative following and Virginia talked to everybody. Phin could hear her now: “Well, of course, Phin’s a lovely boy, but he was actually for pornography, can you imagine?” Yeah, that would get out the votes in November.
On the other hand, there were some things that Phin was willing to fight for. “I’m against censorship, Stephen,” he said, interrupting the older man in mid-tirade. “It comes with owning a bookstore. No banned books.”
“How about a pornography clause?” Virginia said. “That’s not nudity, and it’s not censorship because pornography is bad. We have to protect our children.” She gave Rachel her usual obsessively loving smile, including Phin in it, too, as her future son-in-law. Such a nice couple, her smile said. What lovely grandchildren they’ll give me. And they’ll live right next door.
Phin’s answering smile said, Not a chance in hell, while Rachel gazed at Justice and Mercy, pretending she’d never heard of pornography or sex or Phin, for that matter.
Phin said, “And how would we define pornography?”
“Everybody knows pornography when they see it,” Stephen said.
“There’s some difference of opinion on that,” Phin said. “I don’t think we should make law on ‘Everybody knows.'”
“Stephen may be right, ” Liz said, and Phin thought, Oh, hell, Mom, shut up. “We have an obligation to the citizens of Temptation.” She cast a calculating look at the four citizens in the audience, undoubtedly sizing the situation up in terms of getting her son re-elected in November. “We could pass a no-pornography ordinance, and stipulate that pornography is to be defined by the council.”
“I think that’s unconstitutional,” Phin said. “You can’t make a law that gets defined later. People have to know what they’re breaking.”
“It’s not a law,” Stephen said. “It’s an ordinance. I move that Temptation adopt an anti-pornography ordinance.”
“No,” Phin said. “I’m not going to have you going through the bookstore and throwing out Lady Chatterley .”
“I move that Temptation adopt an anti-pornographic movie ordinance,” Virginia said, and Stephen said, “I second it.”
Phin looked at his council and thought, Why do I put up with this? It was a stupid ordinance, and probably unconstitutional, and definitely a waste of time. On the other hand, talking the council out of it would take another hour which would cut into the semi-regular late-afternoon pool game he played with Temptation’s police chief. And, since it was highly unlikely that anybody but Clea Whipple would ever want to make a movie in Temptation, and in fact highly unlikely that Clea Whipple did want to make a movie in Temptation, he’d be fighting for a principle that was never going to be tested. “Call the roll, Rachel.”
The vote went four in favor of establishing the ordinance to two against, with Frank voting no to defend the infant Temptation film industry and Ed dissenting without comment. Hildy should have voted against it as an anti-censorship English teacher, but the look she shot Phin as she voted made it clear that this was payback time.
Stephen said, “I’ll draft the ordinance tonight and we’ll call a special meeting to pass it.”
“No, we won’t,” Phin said. “We’ll vote on it next Wednesday, same time, same place. And now if there are no objections, I move we close this meeting.”
“Second.” Frank stood up to go. “And by the way, Stephen, we voted to buy the fancy streetlights while you were gone.”
“You what?” Stephen’s roar was outraged.
“You’re late for your appointment, Frank.” Phin stood up. “This meeting is dismissed.” When Stephen drew breath to protest, he added, “Everybody leave.”
Rachel snickered and closed her notebook.
“We shouldn’t wait on the ordinance,” Stephen said as the others left, and Phin said, “Sure we should. Legislate in haste, repent at leisure. Next week is fine.”
“Well, then, we’re going to reconsider those streetlights next week, too.” Stephen shook his head, clearly disgusted with the state of politics in Temptation.
Phin smiled at Rachel as he headed for the door. “Thank you, Rachel, for taking the blame for the paint. That was very noble.”
Rachel grinned at him, and Phin saw his mother waiting for him by the door, relaxing into a half smile as she watched the future daughter-in-law of her choice. Fat chance, he wanted to tell her, but that was another argument he didn’t want to have. He’d already told his mother that it was out of the question–Rachel said “like” a lot, she didn’t read, and she played lousy pool–but Liz Tucker hadn’t gotten to be First Lady of Temptation by taking no for an answer.
“Wait a moment,” she said to her son now as he went past her, and he shook his head.
“Can’t stay. I’ll talk to you at dinner.” He escaped into the marble hall only to find himself waylaid by Ed Yarnell, who looked at him with naked contempt.
“Interesting council meeting you missed just now, Phineas,” Ed said. “You just sit there staring into space with your thumb up your butt while Stephen rams through a censorship law.”
“Thanks, Ed,” Phin said, trying to move away. “Can’t stay–”
“You’re getting to be too much like your old man, rolling over for Stephen.”
Phin felt his temper rise and repressed it from long practice. “Dad never rolled over, he was just careful. This is politics, Ed.”
“This is crap,” Ed said. “I thought it was a good thing you’d cooled your jets some over the years, considering what a reckless dumbass you used to be, but now I don’t know. It’s been a good long time since I’ve seen you get riled up over anything.”
Phin clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, thanks for the advice, Ed. Have a nice evening.”
Ed shook his head as Phin escaped again, this time through the wide-arched door of the little courthouse. An architectural gem, a tourist had once told him. “Well, we like it,” Phin had said, but it was hard to be impartial since he’d grown up in the place. Generations of Tucker mayors had run the courthouse and Temptation, except for those two dark Garvey years when Stephen’s father had wrested the office from Phin’s father over the New Bridge controversy.
That was what Stephen was looking for now, Phin knew as he went down the marble steps to the old-fashioned store fronts of Temptation’s Main Street. Some controversy that he could exploit the same way his father had exploited the New Bridge. The water tower had been small potatoes, and Stephen wasn’t getting anywhere on his anti-new-streetlight campaign, but the way he’d jumped on the porn thing, he might be thinking that was his ticket. Which only went to show how desperate Stephen was.
Of course having your Cadillac hit by loose, low class women could rattle a man.
Phin reached the pale green Victorian that housed Tucker Books, climbed the wide wooden steps to the porch, and flipped over the sign that said “Back at 4:30” in childishly skewed, crayoned printing. Then he sat down in one of the cushioned porch chairs and thought of the upcoming election with fatalistic distaste. He didn’t care if he won, it was losing that would make him crazy. Tuckers didn’t lose. Especially since losing would carry with it the extra burden of watching Stephen Garvey run Temptation into the ground with his nutso family values. God forbid there should be another Garvey Reign of Error. So he had to pay attention to Stephen. Phin was still sitting there half an hour later, lost in thoughts of street lights, water towers, and porn permits, when Temptation’s police chief pulled up in front.
“Stephen stopped by,” Wes Mazur said as he came up the steps looking as unconcerned as ever behind his heavy black glasses.
“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Phin said. “Stephen wants me arrested for un-mayor-like conduct. Dereliction of civic duty.”
“Close. He wants me to go out to the Whipple farm and investigate some women that ran into him.”
Phin nodded. “He mentioned them. They’re loose women. And possible pornographers.”
“Really?” Wes looked encouraged as he sat down. “And we know this how? No, wait, I’ve got it. The Whipple Farm. Clea Whipple. Coming Clean.”
“There you go.” Phin put his feet on the porch rail and leaned back in his chair. “The keen mind of the law at work.”
“So Clea’s coming here to make a movie.” Wes looked almost enthusiastic. Then reality set in. “Why?”
“Excellent question. If only Stephen would ask it occasionally.”
“He can’t. It would slow down the leaps he makes to get to his conclusions.” Wes frowned out at the street. “You know, I was considering just letting the insurance agents handle the accident, but now I think I better go out there, make sure everything’s okay.”
“Check out Clea in the flesh.”
“My civic duty.”
“Not to mention the loose women.”
“That, also.” Wes checked his watch. “It’s five. You want to close up and come with me?”
“Oh, yeah.” Phin nodded. “My civic duty, too.”
“We live to serve,” Wes said.
“I just want another look at Clea,” Phin said.
Sophie unpacked their supplies and organized the dingy kitchen while ignoring the truly ugly cherry wallpaper on one wall, and Clea talked to her the entire time, not helping at all. “Frank’s going to be here any minute,” she kept saying, sounding almost excited which was unlike her; she’d been beautifully bored for the five years Sophie had known her.
After half an hour, Sophie had heard enough about Frank the football star, Frank the high school theater leading man, Frank the wealthy developer, Frank the generally magnificent. “Interesting wallpaper,” she said, trying to change the conversation.
Clea looked at the wall and shrugged. “My mom put it up. She got that one wall done and my father saw it and made her take the rest of the wallpaper back. He was a tight old bastard.”
Sophie looked at the huge ugly bluish cherries again. “Maybe he just had good taste.”
“No.” Clea turned her back on the cherries. “He was just a bastard. He was lousy at taking care of us, but he was a real pro at saying no.” She seemed bored at the change of subject and drifted out the door, leaving Sophie to scrub the sink.
When Sophie finished the kitchen, she put her suitcase in a sweltering room that included a hideous blue china dolphin lamp, and then she cleaned the bathroom, although she couldn’t manage to unclog the shower head or find a replacement for the pink-and-blue-fish-covered, mildew-encrusted shower curtain. Finally she went back to the kitchen, put Dusty in Memphis on their CD player, and made ham and cheese sandwiches to “Just a Little Lovin’.”
“The plumbing works, sort of,” Sophie told Amy when she came in. She rinsed out a glass in the kitchen sink and then watched the water seep down the drain. “Although showers will be a problem. I haven’t checked the electricity–the basement looks like the pit of hell–but the refrigerator is on again and we’re leaving Sunday. We can stand anything for five days.”
“You haven’t met our leading man.” Amy picked up a ham sandwich and bit into it. “A charter member in Buttheads Anonymous.”
“This would be Frank?”
“This would be Frank. He got here half an hour ago, and already I want him dead.” Amy dropped into one of the dingy white wooden kitchen chairs in front of the mutant berry wallpaper. “He looks like Kurt Russell did in Used Cars, I mean, he’s wearing a green suit, for heaven’s sake, and he’s drooling into Clea’s cleavage.”
“The police and the mayor are here,” Clea said from the archway, making Amy choke on her sandwich. “Frank says he’ll handle it.”
“Oh, no, he won’t,” Sophie said.
When she went out on the porch, tensed for battled, a guy in a green suit was talking with a cop in uniform, but they looked manageable. It was the third man leaning bored against the passenger side of the squad car who sent every instinct she had into overdrive.
He had broad shoulders, mirror sunglasses, and no smile, and Sophie could hear ominous music on the sound track in her head as her heart started to pound. His fair hair shone in the late afternoon sun, his profile was classic and beautiful, the sleeves of his tailored white shirt were rolled precisely to his elbows, and his khaki slacks were immaculate and pressed. He looked like every glossy frat boy in every nerd movie ever made, like every popular town boy who’d ever looked right through her in high school, like every rotten rich kid who’d ever belonged where she hadn’t.
My mama warned me about guys like you.
He turned to her as if he’d heard her and took off his sunglasses, and she went down the steps to meet him, wiping her sweaty palms on her dust-smeared khaki shorts. “Hi, I’m Sophie Dempsey,” she said, flashing the Dempsey gotta-love-me grin as she held out her hot, grimy hand, and after a moment he took it.
His hand was clean and cool and dry, and her heart pounded harder as she looked into his remote, gray eyes.
“Hello, Sophie Dempsey,” her worst nightmare said. “Welcome to Temptation.”