Emil insisted they park the car, take a little walk around the town of Harrison, perhaps find a place for lunch, and then seek out the local Walmart where, according to Gharith, Alicia’s assailant was most likely employed. Alicia wasn’t too keen on that. She’d done some research on Harrison, watched videos of interviews with locals about their feelings toward blacks, Jews, and gays. The rhetoric was always the same: if black folks take pride in their race, so should whites, what was wrong with that?
As for Jews, they didn’t seem any more welcome in Harrison than blacks or gays. She’d seen a video of a perfectly nice-looking white guy in his sixties who claimed that, according to the Bible, Jews should be killed. ???? But in view of the fact that Harrison was home to one of the leaders of the KKK, the message was understandable. Emil convinced Alicia (in the name of research) to get out of the car and wander around. They went into a gift shop, a clothing store, an antiques shop, and finally a coffee shop where they sat at the counter.
“Where are you folks from?” the guy behind the counter asked, pouring them coffee.
“Texas,” Emil said amiably. It had been his idea to sit at the counter to get a good sense of local color.
“Oh yeah?” The guy (who turned out to be the owner) studied them carefully. “I would’ve said you were from the East Coast. What brings you here?”
“Just driving through,” Emil said with a smile. “Sure is a pretty town.”
“We think so,” the guy said. “It’s our aim to keep it that way.” He peered at Emil. “You know, you look familiar. I always remember a face. I pride myself on that, and I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before.”
On the stool next to Emil, Alicia wanted to cringe. She felt as if she had the word JEW stamped on her forehead in scarlet letters. She bit down on her lip, but then suddenly her normal, gutsy, take-no-prisoner attitude shot to the surface. The guy in front of her was skinny, balding, with a pronounced Adam’s apple, and a smug look on his face. His white apron had gravy spots on it.
“You’ve probably seen him on TV,” she said. “Oprah Winfrey. He’s a psychotherapist who’s written books on adolescent behavior.”
“A psychotherapist, huh? Don’t hold much with that.” He continued to stare at Emil. “But that’s right. I remember I saw you being interviewed on a show. You’re a very smart guy – what’s your name again?”
“Shusterman. Dr. Emil Shusterman.”
“Uh huh, that’s it. Don’t get many people like you around here.”
You mean celebrities or Jews, Alicia wanted to ask, but held herself back.
“No, I don’t expect you do,” Emil said, smiling. He removed a pen from his shirt pocket and autographed his napkin. “Here, this is for you,” he said. “If I had one of my books with me I’d give you that instead, but –” he scrunched his shoulders apologetically. “You ever have trouble with a teenager in your family, just look me up.”
To be continued…