After the three way Kathy could not sleep. The comforter made her sweat, but when she pushed it off her naked body she became chilled. She wiped the moisture from her breasts with both thick hands. The wetness also covered her abdomen and her palms swiped away the slickness. Finally her fingers rested on either side of her sex as she contemplated what she had committed to that night.
Te’ Walakuma, her business partner, had arranged the three way. It was the last opportunity for them to be with Fu before he went to Ecuador for two weeks.
Kathy felt superfluous as Te’ and Fu flirted with each other on the conference call. They ignored her presence until it came down to business. Both of them wanted her to say yes. It was the money that had made her resistant.
“Then we are paying for the advertising?” Kathy asked.
“Yes,” Fu said.
“Anything else?” Kathy began taking notes. When it came to cash flow she was vigilant.
“Air fare, food and lodgings.”
Te’ jumped in and said, “You won’t need a hotel, Fu. You’ll be staying with me.”
“I’m looking forward to that, Te'.”
“Oh, me, too.” Her sexy voice irritated Kathy.
“Let’s get back to the money,” Kathy said. “We’re paying for the advertising and for your expenses?”
“And you get a generous sixty percent of the seminar sales and your normal profits off the retail sales of books, the DVD and other materials,” he reminded her.
“I haven’t done the math. I don't know what additional materials we'll sell. And I don't even know if this will bring in any profit.”
“The split is standard, Kathy. I’ll have my office email you the agreement if you prefer. But I thought we could do this on our word.”
“I’d have to figure out how many people must attend to pay for the advertising.”
“Are you running ads for the bookstore now?”
“Very little,” Kathy answered, and suspected she was being sold.
“Then you’re not increasing your budget.”
“My staff will send you ad slicks and copy for the radio, but live spots have always worked best.”
“We don’t have a radio budget. We’re just a small bookstore.”
“Kathy,” Te’ interjected, “think of all the publicity Nirvana Books will get. And the additional store traffic and sales and there is the prestige of bringing in an international author.”
Kathy was still uncertain about their obligation and asked for more clarification, “Okay, so, you’re going to teach a sex education class?”
“Sacred Sexuality,” Fu politely corrected her.
“In Saint Louis?” she asked.
“That’s where you’re located.”
“I don’t think that has ever been done here successfully.”
“Then we’ll be the first.” Te’s boisterous voice made the speaker phone beside Kathy’s bed crackle.
“This is Saint Louis,” Kathy reminded her business partner. “The conservative heartland.”
“You’ll be opening up Saint Louis to a new way of loving and of living,” Fu explained.
“We sell books, Fu,” Kathy said and became more irritated. “We’re a bookstore.”
“We do classes and seminars all the time.” Te’ continued to be upbeat. “And we have book readings.”
“And Tarot readings, but that doesn’t mean we make any money from it.”
“It is a service to our customers,” Te' said.
“So Fu is going to service them?”
“Only after private sessions,” Fu said and chuckled.
“I can’t wait for mine,” Te’ said, followed by a throaty sigh.
“I have to go back to sleep,” Kathy said. She yawned, and wanted to postpone the decision. “Send us the material and we’ll think about it.”
“Kathy,” Fu spoke rapidly, “I’ve reserved the time in Saint Louis before my engagements in San Francisco. I need your answer now.”
There was a moment of silence. Kathy heard rustling noises and the short excited breath of Te’.
“We’ll do it,” Te’ blurted out.
“Thanks, Te',” Fu said. “Kathy, you seem reticent. As partners, I want both of you committed to the seminars.”
“This is more controversial than poetry or palm readings.”
“I assure you, I conduct these seminars professionally.”
“Come on, Kathy,” Te’ urged her partner, “let’s do it.”
Kathy listened to the sounds of Fu and Te’ breathing as they waited for her answer. The silence was unbearable. She knew if she spoke first she would be the loser. Kathy hated these negotiations so she decided to ask for a bigger split.
“Only sixty percent?” Kathy asked.
“Kathy, because you and Te' are my friends, I could give you seventy percent.”
“And Fu will stay with me. So all we have to buy is the plane ticket.”
“And the advertising,” Kathy added. She realized it was hopeless to change Te’s mind.
“How many people do you have on your mailing list?” Fu asked.
Kathy thought about the list on the laptop and said, “I don’t know. It’s an email list.”
“Perfect. Then it won’t cost you anything to email.”
“Kathy,” Te’ persisted, “I don’t want you to do this if you don’t want to do it, but I really want us to do it so let’s do it.”
Kathy thought about people having sex on the second floor of Nirvana Books.
“Do the students remain clothed?”
“Believe me, this will be conducted with complete propriety.”
Kathy was reluctant but acquiesced. “What the hell, okay.”
“Yes,” Te’ said, letting the last syllable hiss between her teeth.
“Congratulations,” Fu said and could be heard clapping his hands.
“Te’, I’ll see you at the bookstore, and we’ll go over things.” Kathy rolled over to turn out the light.
“You won’t regret this decision,” Fu said.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” Kathy mumbled. “It just makes me worry.”
She remained anxious because now it was too late.
Nirvana Books was at the epicenter of the sexual quake that was about to shake the Central West End of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Central West End was not a legally incorporated entity, like the many small townships that surrounded St. Louis and contained the city's growth. The Central West End (CWE) was simply a neighborhood. From one street to the next the residences could vary from half a million dollar homes to urban dilapidation. The rich lived on private streets that prevented through traffic and the poor lived on streets that provided drug traffic. To say it was a microcosm of twenty-first century America would be incorrect. It contained no malls. How could it be a microcosm of America without a mall?
The CWE did have merchants and restaurateurs, over one hundred of them along Euclid Avenue. All these businesses were vying for the trade of the students, office workers and, certainly, the rich. (The poor bused tables and washed dishes at the restaurants.) It was a trendy place to meet for a Martini or grab a burger and a brew. There were overpriced antiques stores with snobby decorating consultants and an abundance of boutiques, with cheap trinkets, and slender young tattooed clerks. There were galleries and gift shops, health food and junk food, condo renovations and vacant storefronts.
People walked the streets most of the day and late into the evening. Parking spots were scarce on the street and when one was found it was claimed by the driver for the remainder of their stay in the CWE. Where street parking was allowed, a meter was waiting like the homeless for spare change. Automobiles crept along the uneven cobblestone road surface and paused at the frequent stop signs and eventually parked several blocks away or paid an attendant to park on a lot. The neighborhoods to the east looked scary and inhabitants of neglected brick tenement buildings spied upon the parked cars. They watched and waited. Some fools refused to pay the parking lot fee and risked the shabby neighborhoods. Many regretted it.
There were churches, from ostentatious high-tech shrines catering to the very right and white to storefront ministries evangelizing winos and crack whores.
Nirvana Books was in the center of the Central West End, or perhaps more accurately, left of center. The bookstore was located on two floors of an office and retail building at 328 Euclid Avenue. As the pedestrians walked by the storefront they could peer through the picture window and see the first floor packed tight with varnished pine bookracks. The view was partially obstructed by the staircase leading to the second floor. It was Te’ Walakuma’s idea to hang posters of obscure black poets and politicians in the window.
“Couldn’t we put up some pictures of white people once in a while?” Kathy suggested.
“Whom did you have in mind?” Te’ asked her white partner.
“Harry Potter sells lots of books.”
“Harry Potter is a fictional character.”
“The sales are real,” Kathy reminded her.
They compromised and put up a poster of Richard Spencer, which advertised his best seller, Don’t Sweat On My Small Cheese.
The first floor bookracks were stocked with various topics from African-American to Zen-American, from Astrology to Zurvanism. There were the usual “studies” on sexuality, psychology, women, gays and lesbians, but Te’ would not allow a “black studies” section because she preferred to categorize everything relating to her racial heritage as simply African Studies. She boasted of having the biggest supply of books on the topic of African Studies in St. Louis. The African-American community that bordered the Central West End had this fine collection available to them and her passion for educating African-Americans made it possible. These books had become a rare books collection. Rare because they rarely sold.
Te’ did not care about the lack of sales. She taught black men and women to read and speak articulately in order to improve their lot and empower their lives. After they were literate, she reasoned with Kathy, they would purchase books in the African Studies section. Adult reading classes were held every Thursday evening on the second floor. They were free. Te' conducted the classes until she got bored with the tedious recitations. She searched for a volunteer to teach the class. She decided to volunteer her partner.
“Kathy, you have a teaching degree, don’t you?” Te' smiled broadly at her. She had to look up at Kathy, who was six foot two. Te' barely made five feet in heels. Te' continued to smile while she waited for Kathy to answer.
“Yes, why?” Kathy was suspicious. She had seen that charming expression on Te's ebony face before.
“You’d be perfect to teach the remedial reading class,” Te’ suggested.
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“It was your idea. You teach it.”
“But you’re more qualified.”
“I’m running a bookstore. Let social services teach them to read.”
Te’ stomped her foot. “You just don’t get it.”
“I think you’re right,” Kathy agreed.
“You have to give to get,” Te’ explained.
“Great. You give.”
Te’ called her mother, a professor at St. Louis University. Her mother arranged for SLU students to teach the remedial reading class. Te’ continued to brag about the wonderful service Nirvana Books was providing people in the African-American community. It was perfect because she did not have to do anything.
In the center of the first floor was a small counter with a cash register and the hub of the phone system. Kathy had reasoned with Te’ that placing the cash register in the center of the room would keep them “centered” on why they were in business, and yet be surrounded by the intellections of their commitment. Te’ wondered if it passed the Feng Shui test but could not remember which corner of the room was the money corner. She shrugged at the use of the word “intellections” and agreed with her business partner.
Kathy sighed every time she walked up the steps to the second floor. The upper level only had bookracks along the perimeter of the room. The rest of the space remained open for classes, lectures, Tarot readings and book signings. Sometimes a local yoga instructor conducted classes and large floor pillows were positioned in rows upon the carpet. At other times folding chairs were set up in a formal classroom style that gave it a vague academic look. It was a space that Te’ used to host an audience for small events. Her greatest pleasure was when it was used as a venue for authors to speak. Poetry readings were on Monday. Local novelists could read a chapter of their unpublished work every other Tuesday.
Kathy thought it was a waste of space that would have made more money if it stocked more books that could be retailed. The appearance of authors did not always facilitate the sale of books and it made the second floor inaccessible to patrons during the lengthy elocutions. Writers should write, Kathy concluded, and not blab.
“How can you say that?” Te’ asked. “What about freedom of expression?”
“It has nothing to do with freedom, but it has everything to do with business. You can’t sell blab,” Kathy argued, but continued to lose the use of the second floor to less profitable ventures.
They compromised, again. When classes or lectures were not scheduled, Kathy would set up large folding tables and stuff them with books. Unfortunately, Te’ usually had something booked in the space for the weekend, the busiest retail time.
In the next few days a sexual revolution and subsequent sexual revulsion was about to occur on the second floor, the first floor and the sidewalk, in the media and from one pulpit in particular.
It began with a simple promotional email.
Sally Meredith was appalled by the email. She immediately minimized the attachment and glanced around her office. No one was watching her. Sally opened the window again and stared at the headline: “Sacred Sexuality.” Below the bold type was a picture of a naked couple embracing. “Learn to live in bliss!”
As President of the Singles Society of the First Word of the Last Days, Sally was responsible for finding events that would be of interest to the church's single members. But this was outrageous. She could not imagine how this type of smut had found its way to her. Most of the announcements she received were about square dances, trips to the St. Louis Zoo or vacations in the Ozarks. This advertisement had been forwarded to her from Seth Snyder. Snyder was a member of the Singles Society. He was an obnoxious man and none of the women liked him.
The text was all about sex: sexual energy, multiple orgasms, becoming a nymphomaniac goddess and sustaining erections. It combined sex and spirit into one. Blasphemous. She did not understand but was fascinated. She was repulsed but read every word.
She minimized the attachment when someone walked by her workspace but opened it as soon as they were out of sight. After reading it through a third time she realized she must call Reverend Proctor about Nirvana Books.
Sally called the church office and got the secretary.
“First Word of the Last Days,” Doris answered the phone with efficient boredom.
“Doris,” Sally whispered, “I have to speak to Reverend Proctor.”
“May I say who is calling?”
“Doris, it’s me, Sally. Sally Meredith.”
“Oh, are you ill?”
“You sound like you have laryngitis.”
“I’m at work.”
“You have to whisper at work?”
“Then speak up. I can barely hear you.”
Sally glanced around at the other cubicles and raised her voice slightly, “Would you please put me through.”
“Could I tell him what this is regarding?”
“Doris, I can’t talk about this now. I’m at work.”
“If you can’t talk why did you call to speak to Reverend Proctor?”
Sally huffed and raised her voice into a strained susurration, “To tell him something.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t talk.”
“To set up a meeting,” Sally said loudly.
“Is that your message?”
“What is your message?”
“There is something going on he should be aware of,” Sally said distinctly.
Sally whispered again, “I can’t say.”
Doris whispered mockingly, “What can you say?”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Of course not,” Doris continued to speak in a hushed tone.
“Please ask him to call me.”
“Should he call you at work where you can’t talk?”
“Have him call me at home.”
“What’s that number?”
“He has my number.”
“I’m sure he does,” Doris said and snorted as she hung up.