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Black Water Hattie

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Night fell and since it was a very small town, the sidewalks rolled up about dark. Nothing was open except the hotel, which was noisy with all the big city folk who had descended on this rural hamlet.

Miranda had freed Emily from her duties right after she had introduced Douglas to Nigel. She had told Emily that she was going to bed and would see her in the morning. Other than that, she was not to be disturbed.

As she left the diner she saw Serena watching Emily from across the restaurant with hungry eyes. Miranda wondered when her assistant would get a clue about how the magnificent Brazilian goddess that worked as an editor in the Accessories department felt about the red-headed English woman. Miranda shook her head. It would never work between the two of them, she thought. Serena was fiery, passionate and spontaneous, unpredictable. Emily was a stereotypical Englishwoman—staid, a planner with everything thought out to the nth degree before undertaking the simplest of tasks. They'd likely kill each other within a week of starting a relationship. She walked back to her room and fortified herself with a large scotch while she waited for the appointed hour to meet Mr. Kagel.


Nigel, a number of models, some of the Runway staff, and part of the photographer's crew sat around the darkened front of the hotel listening to Doug play his guitar. Doug was in heaven as these city-folk had accepted him unconditionally. They treated him not as a freak, but as if he were one of them. They applauded his music and encouraged him to perform. Nigel sat close by and had actually possessively chased another man off, a member of the photographer's crew if Doug wasn't mistaken, when he'd made a pass at Doug. Doug knew who he was going home with tonight, relishing how Nigel fondled his leg. Doug saw Jebidiah Kagel walk toward the dock and, feeling invincible, decided to take a shot. He changed the tune he had been playing to the new one he was still working on—the one he had sung a stanza of to Miranda Priestly earlier this evening. He raised his voice and sang out at the man stalking through the darkness:

Ocher Poacher, what 'cha doin' tonight?
Goin' out huntin' with a gun and a flashlight?
Why you shoot a ‘gator when you know he's such a sight?
He said, 'I never met a handbag I didn't like."

“Watch your mouth, faggot! You remember me and my brothers know where you live!” shouted the man moving away through the darkness.

“Rude!” shouted one of the beautiful models.

“And ugly! Doug, play for us some more? Please?” said another.

Doug sat there, among people he'd only just met, and for the first time in his memory, other than when he was with Lily at the flower shop, he felt at home.

Nigel leaned over and kissed him on the lips gently. “Yes, please play for us some more,” the bald man said softly.

Doug began to play again and wondered at his sudden good fortune.


Miranda had been in the shallow boat for more than an hour and a half as it slowly made its way deeper into the swamp. In the close confines of the small craft she realized that not only were Jebidiah Kagel's clothes dirty but the man himself smelled bad. She sat as far as she could from him in the boat, but it wasn't far enough. Their encounter at the dock had been brief. Kagel had made her show him the one hundred and fifty dollars and then quickly had herded her into the small vessel, apparently in a hurry to be off. He'd again reiterated not wanting to be seen, as the people of Slippery Bottom would be angry with him for taking her to the Orchid Pool. No one had seen their departure and now, out in the wilderness, Miranda Priestly, normally so sure of herself and in charge of everything around her, began to doubt the wisdom of her choice to allow this man to take her through the swamp.

Kagel cut the small engine and nosed the craft up onto a small island. He got out of the boat and looked at Miranda. “Well, come on,” he said.

Miranda looked around. There was no way this very small island could house the Orchid Pool. She looked at him from where she sat. “The pool isn't here,” she said softly.

“No, it ain't,” the man agreed, his yellow teeth reflecting the cast-off light from the big flashlight in his hand. “Here's where I get the other half of my payment. Now get yo' ass out of that boat and get yo' skirt off. I've always wanted to try me one of you big city gals. Y'all think yourselves so smart, but it was easy enough ta get you out here. Now iffin ya don't want ta end up ‘gator bait, you'll do as I say. And ya best be real good and real grateful or I'll just leave ya out here ta die.”

Miranda, for the first time in a very long time, was afraid. “You intend to rape me?” she asked, shocked to the core at the very notion.

“By God I told you, yous city gals was smart.” He casually shifted the rifle he had carried across his lap for most of the trip and pointed it down at the ground but in her direction. “Now get yo' ass out of that boat, and get to undressin'. I wanna see ya before I fuck ya.”

Miranda looked at him uncertainly. She had been played for a fool. She had given her word in a business deal, so she had told no one that she was coming out here with him. He had a gun, and he spoke as if he would either kill her or leave her here to die if she did not do exactly as he said. The idea of him touching her was repugnant in the extreme, but she could see no other alternative except to let him have his way with her. Perhaps she could convince him she wouldn't tell anyone if he'd only let her live. She had to survive. She had to see her children again. She rose slowly from the boat and stepped onto the small island.

He directed the wide-beamed flashlight on her. “Now strip!” he ordered harshly.

She was grateful that she couldn't see him as she fumbled taking off her blouse and the slacks she'd chosen as appropriate attire for a boat ride into the swamp. Her fashionable clothing had, of course, not been at all appropriate for the rigors of the trip. Soon she stood shivering in the hot, humid night in matching La Perla bra and panties, the bright beam of the flashlight spotlighting her shame.

“Well, I'll be God damned!” he exclaimed. “I tol' my brothers I'd tear a piece offen one of you city gals, and I got me the highest and the mightiest of you bitches. I hear you big city sluts know all kinds of tricks. An’ I'm gonna make sure you show me all of yours. Now get them drawers off, and show me some sugar. Make it quick, or I'm gonna come over there and whup on ya some.”

Miranda closed her eyes and felt tears burning behind them. She had to survive. She had to live for her daughters. Biting her lips, she reached behind her for the clasp of her bra and began to undo it when she heard what sounded like an unripe melon hitting the ground, reminiscent of when Cassidy had tossed one from a shopping cart at the supermarket. She opened her eyes and saw the flashlight lying on the ground beside the crumpled form of her would be rapist. Behind him stood the spectral apparition of a pale, young woman in a tattered, white wedding dress, dirty with grass and mud stains. The apparition dropped a broken log as thick as Miranda’s shins and calmly picked up the rifle where it lay, tossing it into the water where it sank out of sight with a splash. “I done tol' you Kagel boys 'bout huntin' 'gator back here!,” the specter proclaimed angrily, violently kicking the downed figure and then hawking and spitting on Kagel's head. It looked up at Miranda, and in the rays of the flashlight she could see the most fascinating doe-brown eyes. The ghostly figure stared at her. “Y'all should be gettin' dressed or the bugs 'll eat ya alive,” it said in a sweet, feminine voice laced with the Southern drawl of the region. “Best ya should hurry, too. Where there's one of the Kagel boys, there's like to be more 'en one sooner than later.” The apparition knelt down and turned Kagel's body over.

Miranda moved up across from her unexpected savior as she struggled back into her clothes. “Is he dead?” she whispered, surprising herself with just how fiercely she wished it to be so.

The ghostly figure shook her head. “He ain't mine ta kill,” she answered quietly. “That's for Ol' Lucius to do, when he decides the time is right.” She took a straight pin from the bodice of her dress and scratched a complex design into the downed man's forehead deep enough to draw blood. As she worked, she chanted softly under her breath. When she was done, she stood again. “He ain't mine ta kill, but nothin' says I can't make his life hell. He won't be puttin' it to no woman ever again. His pecker won't go up.” She chuckled and turned. “Come on, quick now, I'll get ya someplace safe where your people 'll be able to find ya.” She strode a few paces to the edge of the island and picked up a bundle wrapped in what looked like an old blanket, looking back shyly at Miranda before leading the way.


The journey back through the swamp was surreal. The young woman in the wedding dress traveled quickly on foot through shallow waters and over hummocks rising out of the swamp, creating islands. She was sure-footed, knowing exactly where to step and careful to point out to Miranda where hazards and deeper pools of water were. Miranda's heels, however, were not realistic for traveling in this environment. After the third or fourth time she had stumbled, nearly falling in to the water, her traveling companion sat her down on an island and knelt before her, taking her Manolo Blahniks off her feet. Then the girl took her own shoes, which looked like a battered pair of army surplus boots, and gently placed them on Miranda's feet. The shoes were too large for Miranda, but with the laces tied tightly and the extra lace wrapped a couple of times around the neck of the boot at the ankle, she was able to walk in them. Miranda was amazed at the gentle kindness of the act as the girl’s deft fingers arranged and tied the laces. “What about your feet?” Miranda asked, surprised at the level of genuine concern she felt for this stranger's welfare.

The ghost-girl laughed, the rich, vibrant sound tingling down Miranda's spine as the woman carefully placed Miranda's likely ruined shoes in the bundle she carried. “M' feet'll be okay. I grew up walking barefoot hereabouts.”

“Who are you?” Miranda asked quietly, feeling herself slipping under the spell this young woman seemed to weave simply by her presence.

“Folks here'bouts call me Hattie,” the girl replied offhandedly, rising up and offering her arm to help Miranda up.


They continued their journey during the long hours of true dark, Hattie patiently helping Miranda along. This girl was part of the swamp. She had no fear of the snakes hanging in the trees or the alligators hiding in the pools of the swamp. Some of the gators she even called out to in passing, naming them. “Ol' Toothless was the biggest of them”, she’d confided to Miranda after the beast's sudden movement taught Miranda that harmless looking logs floating in the water in a Florida swamp were not necessarily inanimate.

Come the first rays of the dawn the girl broke the cover of vegetation, and Miranda could see what appeared to be a beautiful day dawning. Hattie pointed to a stump of a cut down Cyprus tree. “That's my stump. You wait here and somebody'll be by for ya afore too long.” At the foot of the stump she carefully laid the blanket down and, unfolding it, she laid out a large bunch of freshly cut exotic flowers, some unlike any Miranda had ever seen before. In this light, Miranda could see the woman called Hattie was a pale-skinned brunette beauty, taller than she was, perhaps a size four.

Her savior turned to her and fidgeted, looking abashed. “Don't mean to be no Indian-giver, but I'm gonna need m' boots back. They're the only pair I got.”

“The only pair of boots?” Miranda asked, shocked at the idea of the poverty this young woman likely lived in.

“The only pair of shoes,” the girl answered without pretense, as if such were simply the normal order of things.

Miranda nodded and, using the stump for support, quickly unlaced the boots. As she took them from her feet she mused on the differences in their relative stations: she, who likely had three-hundred and fifty pairs of shoes in her closet, and her companion, who had one pair of army surplus boots that had seen better days. As she lost herself in thought her eyes came to rest on the beautiful young woman pulling the boots on to bare feet. Miranda felt something she had long thought dead stir inside herself. She was attracted to this wood nymph that had risen out of the swamp to rescue her from being raped and possibly murdered.

The girl called Hattie stood when she'd finished tying her boots, and suddenly Miranda discovered that they were very close together. Brown eyes found Miranda's blue ones, and the girl/woman blushed. “You're about the prettiest thing I ever did see,” the now not ghostly figure whispered, gently touching Miranda's face. She pulled her hand away as quickly as she'd placed it there and turned, gathering up several items arrayed on the other side of the stump where she'd placed the flowers. Miranda noted a can of lantern fuel, some candles, several different kinds of canned food, a box of waterproof matches, and she especially noted the pleased sound that Hattie made when a couple of candy bars were discovered among the items waiting for her there. Hattie carefully wrapped everything up in the blanket, creating another bundle she could sling over her shoulder. She turned and looked at Miranda. “You stay here,” she said forcefully. “Don't go nowhere. You get lost out here, what'll find ya is likely ta eat ya.” She glanced out over the water. “Miss Lily is already on her way. She'll see ya safely back ta town. And you stay away from them Kagel boys. They's nothin' but trouble.” With that she and her bundle quickly began to disappear into the darkness of the vegetation covering the swamp.

“Wait!” Miranda called out after the retreating figure. “When will I see you again?”

The figure stopped in the dawn's rising light and turned back uncertainly. “Would ya want ta?” Miranda's companion asked, and Miranda could feel the desire couched in the question.

“Yes,” Miranda answered, letting her own feeling show in her tone. “Very much.”

The woman called Hattie nodded. A smile to rival the beautiful sunrise occurring over the water split her face. “Then I'll be seein' ya!” she replied. She stopped suddenly and held her head as if she were sniffing the air. “Miss Lily is almost here. I hav' ta go now.” And with that she melted into the dense vegetation, quickly disappearing from sight.

Moments later Miranda saw the young black woman from Lily's Blossoms poling a small, flat-bottomed punt. The woman, Hattie's “Miss Lily” Miranda assumed, nosed the boat up onto the little beach and used a rope to moor the small craft. Stepping out she moved directly to where the cut flowers lay. She had started gathering them up before the sound of Miranda clearing her throat startled her so badly she dropped the bunch of flowers she had in hand. Wide-eyed the young woman demanded, “What are you doing here!?” of the muddy, wet, and exhausted Icon.

“I need to see the local police immediately,” Miranda answered. “Could you take me to them?”

Lily looked at Miranda with concern. “Maybe you better tell me what happened first. You're on the wrong side of the water from town, and I don't see no boat. Only way to get here is by water or the roundabout way through the swamp.”

Miranda stiffened. She didn't want to publicize her stupidity by announcing to the world at large that she'd very nearly gotten assaulted by putting herself in a dangerous position with a man she didn't know. However, she also realized that she was desperately in need of Lily's help. She raised her chin and, head erect, answered directly. “I paid a man named Jebidiah Kagel to take me to the Orchid Pool. Instead he attempted to assault me. I want him arrested.”

Lily's eyes went guarded. “Local Sheriff won't do you no good. He's afraid of the Kagel boys. Everybody round here is afraid of the Kagel boys.” She cocked her head, almost bird-like, and looked at Miranda. “You said he tried to assault ya. Ya mean rape? How'd ya get away?”

Miranda watched the woman carefully as she nodded and answered, “Hattie saved me.”

If Lily's eyes had been shocked before at the discovery of Miranda at Lily's and Hattie's rendezvous point, they were even more shocked now, and Miranda detected terror in Lily's body language.

Lily's eyes searched their surroundings as if expecting something bad to come rushing out of the swampy forest.

“You obviously have some kind of relationship with Hattie. Why are you so afraid?” Miranda asked the frightened woman softly.

Lily looked at Miranda and then, looking down, started gathering up the flowers again. “My Granddaddy fishes in the swamp. He was saved from a snakebite by Hattie forty years ago. Five years ago he got a glance of her, and she hadn't aged a day. People round here know her power. They get potions, curses, and cures from her, but nobody ever sees her,” she answered softly, as if the swamp witch she was so fearful of might hear her.

Miranda nodded. “But your relationship with her is different,” she stated confidently, her sharp mind linking things she'd seen and making her feel sure of her assumption.

Lily shook her head violently in negation. “Not really,” she insisted a bit too emphatically. “When I opened the store, things didn't go well. No business. Nobody buyin' flowers from me. I finally landed a big wedding in the next town over, but I didn't have no money to buy the flowers for the arrangements. So I did something stupid. I figured I'd go inta the swamp. Cut the flowers I needed and not have ta pay anything for 'em. I left really early in the morning without tellin’ no one. Got myself good and lost back there. Was gone long enough that I was really hungry and afraid that I'd have ta spend the night. I was so afraid when she found me. She took me back to her place. Fed me, washed me clean...” She hung her head, her demeanor ashamed. “Then she kissed me...”

Miranda leaned in and listened intently, her powerful focus completely on the story she was being told and adding it to what she had observed about the fascinating young woman she had met in the swamp.

“It was obvious she wanted more,” Lily continued, her voice small. “I could tell cause o' the way she touched me as she bathed me. But even with her savin' me, I couldn't give her what she wanted. Two women together...It's a sin the way I was raised...” She shook her head again and sighed. “She brought me out of the swamp the next mornin'. I figured that I was done. Wasn't gonna be able to fulfill my contract fer th' weddin'. Was gonna lose the store. I went inta the shop the next morning, and it was full o' flowers. Nobody had seen her come inta town. Nobody saw her leave. The thing I could never figure is how she knew what it was I needed. I never told her why I was in the swamp. She just seemed ta know. Now she brings me flowers here. I sell ‘em to a big flower dealer for real money ‘cause you can't find what she brings me just anywhere. At first it was enough ta keep my head above water until people got ta know what I could do. Now I make a pretty good livin'. I try ta be fair, though. I bring things here that I figure she might need or be able to use.”

Miranda smiled, “She appreciated the candy bars especially,” she said softly, moving to help Lily gather the flowers. “Will you allow me to ride with you back to town?”

“Of course,” Lily answered watching the woman cautiously. “What's your story? How did she treat you?”

Miranda continued to pick up flowers and didn't look at Lily as she answered. “I'm not sure yet. I'll let you know after I see her again.”


Emily had been concerned when Miranda had not appeared for a breakfast planning meeting and quickly went to Miranda's hotel room to make sure her employer was all right. Letting herself into Miranda's room with the duplicate key she had, she was shocked to find Miranda's bed not slept in. Rushing back downstairs into the lobby of the hotel, she was flabbergasted to see Miranda, muddy, wet, and limping slightly on a pair of ruined Manolo Blahniks, one with a broken heel, coming into the building. She stood staring, her mouth frozen in an “O” as the Icon resolutely approached her.

“Emily,” Miranda snapped in her commanding, quiet voice, “stop gawping. Get everyone scheduled to attend the meeting this morning to be in the diner in thirty minutes. The agenda will remain the same as previously planned: deciding how to proceed.” Miranda didn't wait for a response as she continued on up the stairs toward her room. Emily shook her head and turned to enact her employer's directives. She decided almost immediately that she hadn't seen what she'd seen. Miranda Priestly had never looked like that. It just didn't happen.


Miranda opened the door to her small hotel room, looking forward to a warm shower and clean clothes. Almost immediately she stopped in her tracks as she spied the piece of yellowed parchment lying on her bed. She moved closer to where she could see what was inscribed on its surface. It was a crude map. At one end was a childlike drawing of the town. At the other, a stylized representation of a pool surrounded by flowers. A chill ran down Miranda's back. Lily’s words came back to haunt her. Lily hadn't told Hattie why she had been in the swamp, yet the next morning her shop had been full of the flowers she’d needed. Miranda hadn't mentioned her need to find the Orchid Pool, yet here was a map showing her the way. She looked nervously around at the walls of her small hotel room and wondered if the swamp witch did indeed somehow hear everything that was said.

She undressed and turned to the shower. At least now when she met with the senior members of her staff, the models’ managers, and the principals of the photography crew, she knew without a doubt how to proceed. By this afternoon they would be at the Orchid Pool and would commence the photo shoot.


Arranging the logistics to get all the necessary equipment and personnel to the Orchid Pool had been a challenge even for someone with Miranda's capabilities and drive. She had found it necessary to have her people deal with many of the townspeople on an individual basis while attempting to rent virtually anything that would float. Even with the means finally in hand, no local was willing to guide them to where the map led. Having to deal with each difficulty as it arose, the morning and early afternoon slipped away. A violent afternoon thunderstorm ended any possibility of traveling to the location that day. Miranda chose to deal with the delay by sending one of the vans to the nearest large town with the mission of gathering equipment that would make the models more comfortable at the shoot site. A number of large pavilion tents would act as dressing room, make-up area, shelter for the photographic equipment, and a lounge where people could escape the sun’s heat. Miranda also instructed her agents to obtain catered food for the crew to ease dealing with the rigors of the location shoot.

In the late afternoon Miranda stood on the portico of the hotel looking out into the heavy rain as Nigel ran across the street, holding his jacket over his head and trying to keep from getting drenched. He came up beside her and shook some water off his clothes. Then he took his glasses from his face and wiped them with his handkerchief. He glanced at her and then back out into the storm. “I talked with Doug. He's scared, but he's willing take us into the swamp.”

Miranda nodded, only half hearing her art director, her attention focused on ”out there” and wondering how and where “her” Hattie was weathering the downpour. It then struck her that she had just thought of the woman as hers. She hadn't felt so attracted to anyone since she had been a young woman and certainly not to any of her three husbands. She turned her head and looked at her long-time friend and her right-hand at Runway. “And how did it go with you and Douglas last night, Nigel?” she teased.

Nigel smiled ruefully . “I'm going to take him with me when we leave here, Miranda,” he answered quietly. “There's nothing for him here. And he's quite talented.”

Miranda chuckled as she refocused on the rain. “Is that what they're calling it these days?”

Nigel laughed and shook his head. “No, I mean he's really talented. I know a few contacts in the music industry. I think he has the potential to make it. I'm going to take him to New York and make introductions. I don't know if the people I know can help him, country music being his passion. If it becomes necessary, though, I'll make arrangements to send him on to Nashville.”

Miranda turned her head once more and looked at Nigel speculatively. “Nigel,” she began curiously. “Are you falling in love?”

Nigel flushed. “Don't laugh at me, Miranda,” he answered crossly. “I haven't felt this way in forever. It might not last, but while it does, I'm going to enjoy it.”

Miranda's eyes returned to the edge of the swamp in the distance. “I'm not laughing at you, Nigel,” she answered softly. “I'm experiencing something very similar. There's something about this place...”

Emily came out of the lobby of the hotel. “Miranda, Irv is on the phone for you. He's demanding to speak with you immediately.” Her tone telegraphed Irv's mood on the other end of the line.

Miranda took the proffered cell phone from Emily's outstretched hand with a sigh and roll of the eyes.


Night fell on the small town of Slippery Bottom. Miranda had managed to choke down some of the nearly inedible food the diner had served, and now she stood among many of the models and crew under the hotel portico, sheltered from the rain as she nursed her second scotch. Irv had been livid. He had discovered that she had willfully disobeyed him and arranged this unauthorized expenditure, putting her considerably over budget for the month. He had already run to the Board of Directors and had informed her that when she returned there would be consequences. It was more important than ever now that this shoot be something that would be talked about for the next few years. Everything depended on tomorrow and the Orchid Pool.

Miranda took another long pull from her scotch and noticed Serena sitting alone, eyes sadly on where Emily stood talking with some of the models. Miranda shook her head and sighed. Was she as foolish as Serena? Was she suddenly chasing a pipe-dream? What did she know about this strange girl/woman that lived in the swamp somewhere? She then glanced to where Douglas sat softly playing his guitar with Nigel close to his side. How she longed for that kind of connection. She had never had it. Not even with her first husband. She sighed, and feeling as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders, she went inside and up to her room.

Opening the door, a thrill went through her when she found the blossom awaiting her on her bed. It was large and exotic, unusual and beautiful. Its subtle fragrance filled the room, and suddenly Miranda felt her worries slip away. She'd been here. Her Hattie had left it for her. Miranda felt now that she could lie down and sleep, and in the morning she'd do what she’d come here to do. Irv hadn't beaten her yet, and she wouldn't let him. She was Miranda Priestly. She dictated what happened, what Runway was. Not a corporate worm like him.