Gray is the New Black
Guerrilla Grannies – Mission One
by Jo Michaels
© 2019 Jo Michaels
All Rights Reserved
“Pearl, your husband just died. You could use some cheering up. We should do this.” Ethel put her forearms on the table, her hands clasped and her eyebrows wiggling, a smile on her face so big it turned her crow’s feet into eagle talons.
“He was such a good man.” Pearl’s heart constricted, and she dabbed at her eyes with the tissue again, trying to ignore the growing desire for action and adventure tickling the back of her mind. We could, but I’m not sure we should. We’re too damned old…
“It’s really warm in here. Why don’t you take off that hat, honey?”
That question snapped her out of her thoughts. She’d considered removing the thing several times earlier in the day, but she wasn’t sure how her friends were going to react to her new hairdo. Sighing, she relented, pulling the black, wide-brimmed cap off and closing her eyes, preparing herself for the onslaught.
Opal giggled behind her hand.
“You look like a couple of blue Easter eggs got busy on your head. What the hell did you do?” Ethel’s mouth was hanging open.
Indignation rose inside Pearl, and she squared her shoulders. “Like you have any room to talk. Your damned lavender streaks look like a grape-eating bird shit on your head.”
“Maybe, but that’s what I was going for.”
“Ladies. Calm down,” Alma said, patting their hands. “It’s not that bad.”
“The hell it isn’t,” Ethel muttered. “Makes her look like a school marm. An old one.”
Pearl stuck out her tongue.
“Hush, you two. You’re ruining my reminiscing.” Misty-eyed, Opal gazed around the diner, a soft smile on her lips. “I missed this place. Memories of our teen years came flouncing back through my head immediately with the smell of the coffee, the creaminess of the cheesecake, and even the waitresses shouting orders. I know we’ve been here several times since I moved back, but it never gets old. We didn’t have anything like this in Japan. Over there, it was mostly tea houses.”
“We remember.” Minerva pressed her lips together.
“Oh, yeah. I try to block that period out.” The smile disappeared.
“You always were an old softy.” Taking a long drink of her coffee and closing her eyes, Minerva reached out to pat Opal’s hand, seeming keen on changing the subject before she lost control of her emotions completely. “But I know what you mean. There was nothing that compared to this in Florida, either.”
Ethel ignored them and went back to her nagging, stabbing the front page of the newspaper for emphasis. “We have the skills, ladies. It’s not like it would be a difficult case to crack. Look at this loser.” She held up the paper and pointed at the man’s grainy security-footage photo.
He had a scruffy beard and a terrible haircut. Not an incredibly nefarious-looking fellow, but not very welcoming, either.
It was tempting, and Pearl was on the verge of saying yes when Alma butted in again.
“No. Noooo. Absolutely not, Ethel. You want us to go running all over the great state of Georgia trying to find a man that only made off with”—she squinted at the print and gulped—“half a million dollars?”
“There’s no such thing as only half a million dollars, sweetie. And yes, I do. Not only will it cheer Pearl up, but it’ll give our rusty educations some badly needed workouts.” Gently, Ethel lifted her cup and took a dainty sip of the strong brew. She sighed and put it back down. “I like my coffee like I like my men: sweet and white. Damn. This is good. Best coffee in Georgia!”
“Move your wrinkled old ass so I can go to the bathroom. This stuff’s going right through me.” Opal shoved, trying to get out of the booth.
With both feet planted firmly on the floor, Ethel pulled one side of her mouth into her cheek and lowered her eyelids halfway. “Or maybe I just want to sit here and see how long it is before you piss yourself.”
“You’re such a grouchy old bitch.” Minerva winked over her cup. “I love it.”
“Come on, Ethel. Let Opal out before she has to change her diaper.” Alma chuckled.
“Fine, fine.” Ethel scooted to the end of the bench and stood as she rolled her eyes. “Ow!”
“That’s what you get!” Opal retorted as she sprinted for the ladies’ room.
“What’d she do?” Minerva asked.
“Pinched me on the ass. Hard.”
One of the waiters came over and asked if anyone needed anything.
Ethel leaned forward, her elbows on the table, coffee cup between her raised hands, and ticked her head at him, indicating that he should lean closer.
Pearl watched in earnest as the young man leaned down and put his ear close to Ethel’s mouth. Her lips moved, and her eyes sparkled.
His eyes widened, his face turning bright red as his jaw dropped.
When he straightened again, she winked at him, and he mumbled something under his breath before rushing away. She chortled, sipping her coffee, a look on her face like she was the cat that got the cream. “Where were we?”
“What was that about?” Minerva asked. “What did you say to that poor boy?”
“I don’t tease and tell.”
“Ethel, really; he’s half your age!” Alma turned bright red.
“Yes. Yes, he is. I figure, if I can grab ‘em young, they won’t keel over like my husband did.”
“You really have to let yourself off the hook about Leo, sweetie.” Minerva put her hand on Ethel’s. “He just had a bad ticker.”
“Yeah, right. He was only thirty-five and fit as a fiddle. Not really enough time to develop heart problems.”
Gazing at the other women, Pearl gave thanks they were back in her life. It was rare to find so many amazing women, and she loved having all of them around again after so many years apart. Her heart filled with the love of friendship and comradery they’d forged, and she stabbed her chocolate cheesecake gently, putting it in her mouth, the flavor bringing back so many memories.
“Can I get back in, or is your replacement hip not high-tech enough to get you to your feet again?” Opal crossed her arms over her bosom and cocked her head to one side.
In a huff, Ethel scooted out again and got to her feet. “My hips are all mine, thank you very much. Not a single shred of titanium in my…” Her face turned red, and she sat back down.
Opal, Minerva, and Alma knit their brows.
Pearl could barely breathe she was laughing so hard, but she forced an inhale so she could speak. “You almost lied!”
When the questioning looks of the others landed on her, she held up one finger and pulled herself back together. “Just think about it.”
A collective gasp went up.
“When?” Opal asked.
“How?” Minerva added.
“Did it hurt?” Alma’s face was so red it was bordering on purple.
Ethel grimaced. “About two years ago. You don’t want to know. Yes. A lot.” Slapping the newspaper again, she caught Pearl’s gaze. “Please? If not for me, do it for them.” Gesturing at the other three, Ethel stuck out her bottom lip. “Look how old and decrepit they’re getting. This will give them new life.”
Alma pressed her lips together and shook her head a tiny bit from side to side as she gave that look she was best known for. They were going to get into trouble if they went along with it, and Ethel would be the ringleader, as she always was.
A war broke out inside Pearl. She wanted to do it, but she knew they really shouldn’t. Nothing good ever came of Ethel’s ideas—well, rarely.
As though she could read their thoughts, she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Y’all are no fun anymore. It’s not like we don’t have the skills. I was an upstanding officer of the law until a few years ago.”
“Seven, if you’re counting.” Alma smirked.
She got a look from Ethel that would’ve melted a car. “Fine. Seven, but Pearly is a chemical engineer! She could make us some knockout gas or something.” Turning, she continued as she pointed at each lady in turn. “You’ve knocked down whole buildings in huge cities without a single hiccup, you’re a freaking ninja, and there’s no one on the planet better with a blade than Minerva.”
“Gotta know how to use them if you’re gonna make them.” Minerva winked.
“I’m not a ninja,” Opal muttered into her coffee cup.
“Okay, martial arts master.” A laugh burst out of Ethel. “And a master of disguise, am I right?”
“That was way back in the eighties. I’m not even sure how to use all the newfangled stuff on the market.”
“So you’ll brush up on your skills!” She turned back to Pearl. “Please?”
“I’m afraid we simply can’t right now. We’re all too old, anyway.”
“Why can’t we, moneybags? Did Mansfield not leave you enough cash? And like hell we’re old. Gray is the new black, bitches.”
No one said a word for a long time, as though they were all sharing Pearl’s thoughts. It was an interesting idea, and she didn’t want to go home and sit in her newly empty house without Manny. There were too many crushing memories contained in those walls. Construction was nearly complete on the new house in Manny’s most recent development, Shady Pines, and she wondered if it would be better to occupy herself with something else until everything was done. Nearly all the houses were built already, there were only about ten to go, so she wouldn’t be busy with an agent on site yet. It had been Manny’s dream to build a whole neighborhood before letting anyone see it.
Her fingernails tapped the tabletop. Finally, she inhaled, but her pending speech was cut off by Alma once again.
“Ethel, you’re crazy as a Bessie bug. Forget it. No way. If I have to be the voice of reason, then so be it. We’re absolutely not doing this.”
“But, Alma, wh—”
She held up a hand and shook her head. “We don’t know what kind of criminal that man is. He might be a murderer or one of those crazy, panty-sniffing, rapist guys. When it comes down to it, we’re just five old women. Flesh versus gun, the firearm always wins—as you well know.”
Ethel’s hand moved to her shoulder, rubbing the place she’d been shot in the line of duty.
A phone ringing brought the conversation to a halt. Heart beating too fast, Pearl dug through her bag and pulled out the offending device, flipping it open and putting it to her ear. Her daughter, Katarina, was on the other end.
“Hey, Mom. Any idea when you’ll be home?”
“In a few minutes. Alma and I were just about to leave.”
“Okay. Do you want me to cook dinner?”
“No thanks, baby girl. I just had cheesecake. I’m all set.”
Katarina laughed. “You and that cheesecake. Be safe driving. I’ll see you soon.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
After flipping the phone closed, Pearl threw a twenty on the table, put her hat back on, and bumped Alma’s hip. “We need to leave. Katarina called.”
“That girl. You’d swear you were ninety the way she checks up on you all the damned time.” Ethel rolled her eyes.
Nothing would’ve given Pearl more satisfaction in that moment than smacking the shit out of something, but she held her temper. “She just cares.”
“Yeah, cares about losing her free babysitter.”
“Stop it! I love my grandchildren!”
“I never said you didn’t, but you’re in too deep. Your daughter and her husband can afford daycare.”
“Not today; okay, Ethel? Not today.”
Lines around Ethel’s face softened. “Okay. Sorry.”
“Y’all get up and give me and Alma hugs!”
Everyone squeezed Pearl extra tightly and told her to be safe.
Alma led the way to the car and got in on the passenger’s side, putting her seatbelt on right away.
She’d always been the levelheaded, law-abiding, church-going one. Any time there was trouble worth getting into, she’d shut Ethel right down with a snarky remark or soundbite of wisdom from dear old Daddy. What made Alma even more insufferable was, they’d avoided a lot of bad situations because of her naysaying. Her daddy had been a Baptist preacher, and he’d always threatened her with the wrath of God if she misbehaved. Though, if she ever wanted something badly enough, she always did it. Pearl knew that, and she planned to use it to her advantage.
Solving a local bank robbery was becoming more tempting by the minute. She was positive her crew of misfits could pull it off without a hitch. Everyone but Alma got excited when it was first brought up, and their eyes took on that gleam like when they were younger and were about to do something they’d never forget.
Pearl started the Caddy and put it in reverse after clipping her own seatbelt into place to avoid getting yet another speech about proper vehicle safety. As she backed up, she plotted a way to make Alma agree to take on the bank robbery case.
They were well on the road to home when Pearl started talking again, deciding the best way to get what she wanted was to use the new widow angle and a little fast talking. “You know, I’m not sure I want to be in that big old house by myself all day every day.” She glanced to the right. “Without Manny there, it’ll sure feel empty.”
“I can stay with you a couple of days if you want.”
Damn. “No, no. Kat will be there today and tomorrow with her family. I just meant when they leave.”
“Won’t you still have the kids every day?”
Damn! She’d forgotten about that. “I was thinking I’d ask if they can start daycare.”
“Mmhm. Ethel’s right. I deserve to have a proper retirement from raising kids.”
“You just have the one, like me. Not like it was that hard.” Alma smirked.
“I’m not saying it was hard, just that I’m tired of babysitting. Plus, it’s all I can do to lift that baby anymore.” Even as the words left Pearl’s mouth, she regretted them. Elizabeth was the sweetest baby ever, even more so than her mother had been.
“Pearl, I know what you’re doing.”
Alarm bells rang in Pearl’s head, and she sat up straighter behind the wheel. Trying to sound like she had no idea what was going on, she asked, “Oh? What’s that?”
After a deep sigh, Alma shook her head and closed her eyes. “Fine. If you want to do the bank robber thing, I’m in.”
“Yes, but just so you know, this isn’t a good idea, and it’ll probably end badly, but I’ll do it. For you. We really could use some flexing of our skills. I know I’m itching to blow something up.”
Pearl wanted so badly to squeal like a schoolgirl in that moment, but she kept her face as stoic as possible. “Well, if you insist. Wouldn’t want you blowing up things without supervision.”
“That’s not what I said!”
“Oh, look. You’re home!” She put the car in park and grinned. “Love you! I’ll call Ethel and tell her! Meet at my house at ten tomorrow morning! I’ll have Enrich make us brunch!”
Alma closed the door, and Pearl sped away, her cellphone already in her hand.
“Ethel? Alma’s in.”
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