washing' machine. The screen in the front door was slashed in at least three places, and through it I could see the light emitted by a huge TV set. Some silly game show was in progress. I think the woman who spun the wheel was called Vanity White.
Since there was only the loose end of a wire where the doorbell should have been, I knocked. Even that was tricky. The screen door had neither a spring nor a hook, and when I knocked, it swung open in front of me, bidding me to fall in after it. I grabbed the much-gouged lintel. "Hello?" I called.
I didn't exactly just walk in then, but, still holding on to the lintel, I leaned in as far as I could. "Hello? Anybody home?"
Slowly, like Lazarus might have risen from the dead, somebody sat up on the inside sofa. In the dim light and cigarette haze, it was hard to make out any details. "Whatcha want?" said a gravelly voice.
"I'd like to speak to Mr. or Mrs. Biddle, please."
"My name is Magdalena Yoder. I own the Penn- Dutch Inn, where the movie is being filmed."
The figure on the couch stood up and shuffled to the door. It was only when it was about ten feet from me that I realized it was a woman. She was wearing purple stirrup pants, pink bunny slippers, and a black and yellow striped polyester tank top. Her hair was set in huge, lethal-looking rollers the size of orange juice cans. If the loose doorbell wire ever came in contact with one of those, the wearer would have a permanent that was indeed permanent.
"What's it about? My daughters okay?"
I had no way of knowing. The Biddle sisters weren't even scheduled that day, and they certainly hadn't shown up at the PennDutch to my knowledge. "As far as I know, they're just fine. It's not them I wanted to see, but you and your husband."
"Red's in the tank, down in Bedford."
"Does he clean aquariums?"
She looked at me like Susannah does when I say something dumb. "Red's sleeping off a drunk. Speaking of which, you wanna drink?"
I am ashamed to confess this, but I was sorely tempted. Except for the snakebite remedy Papa used to hide in the basement, these lips have never tasted alcohol. Just once I'd like to take a swig-make that several swigs of the real stuff and see what all the hoopla's about. Of course, I would really never do such a thing, because my body is the living temple of the Lord. That's what I teach to my students in Sunday school. And besides, Mama said that if you drink alcohol, it shows up in your veins somehow, and people in the know can take one look at you and see that you're a sinner. Mama also said that people could tell if you'd lost your virginity or not, but I never did notice when Susannah lost hers.
"No thanks," I said ruefully.
"Well, you wanna come in and sit down at least? You're letting the flies in."
I glanced at the ripped and flapping screen, but curbed my tongue. "Sure, that'd be fine."
I was fascinated by her decor. I wouldn't have thought it possible to dent, scratch, or otherwise mar the furniture and walls so thoroughly. As for the floor, the bits of this and that that had accumulated on it through the years made it look like a ticker-tape parade had passed through.
"Here, you can sit here," she said. She swiped a couple of pounds of crushed chips, stray rollers, and used cotton balls onto the floor. There might have been a couple of used emery boards in there too.
I sat down, but didn't put all my weight on my buttocks until my knees finally gave out.
"So, what's this all about? What do you wanna see me and Red for?"
This necessary lie had been well prepared, and I was able to spit it out quickly and smoothly. "Well, I've been hired as chief personal liaison between Reels and Runs Productions and its short-term employees. My job is to ascertain whether or not a harmonious and mutually beneficial