Installment 16 – Soup du Jour in Benvenue is Murder

Out on the roof of the veranda, it occurred to Motsie that Cousin Garnet was more directly acquainted with murder than Motsie was, mainly because murder in Benvenue was the soup du jour. Cousin Garnet prattled on about Nevada Taint killing her husband, Donnie, the night before, while Motsie distracted herself from her hideous deer-hitting experience with a few bong hits and some careful consideration of how Benvenue was turning her younger cousin into a psychopath.

Generally speaking, the way they handled murders in Benvenue was that, as long as the dead entity was recognized as a person who needed killing, the only thing for the live entity to show a jury was whether or not the right person had done it.  Whenever that detail was clear to two out of the three Benvenue police officers, no charges were brought up before any jury, and as long as all three cops could be fairly certain based either on their personal knowledge or convincing accounts by neighbors, no report was written.  At least that was what Motsie could garner from her cousin’s stories of killings there.

You may think an outsider would have supposed Benvenue was rife with villains due to the relative impunity with which murders were met, however that was far from true.  Motsie reasoned this in her mind whie Garnet blathered on about things Motsie had not known until then. An outsider, it turns out, would have known nothing of this impunity since most people in Benvenue held outsiders in low enough regard not to air personal matters around them.  Besides, most anybody in town with a three digit IQ and no serious addictions behaved well enough to avoid becoming the dead object of a community service.  The end result was a quiet little eastern North Carolina town who successfully culled out infiltrators and other uncouth undesirables.  Motsie totally wished she had grown up there.

Cousin Garnet had just gotten the braces off her legs, she said, about the time Dr. Bunn, Benvenue’s only “lady-doctor,” was discovered to have left his earthly embodiment along with several pints of blood under the scuppernong arbor behind a stone and brick house that had once belonged to Huhu.  This macabre discovery capped a legendary mystery that had started when Garnet was only a baby, and heard the grown-ups mention behind the doctor’s back.  Apparently, Caleb Cobb, sweet as molasses and just as dark, had beat the doctor down with his family Bible back in the 60s, in the presence of several Cobb relatives and neighbors.  This occurred during a house-call to the ramshackle tenant farm Caleb worked with his Lumbee Indian wife, Malinda Blue, right after the doctor delivered the Cobbs’ second daughter.  No charges were filed against Caleb, curiously enough, as Dr. Bunn generously explained Caleb’s behavior away as “overcome with emotion over a second daughter, pretty and pale as pickled pine.”

After that came generalized speculation around Benvenue about why on earth Dr. Bunn purchased Huhu’s former home, directly behind his own home, for the entire Cobb family to occupy right in the midst of a bunch of glow-stick baptists who were none too certain how to reconcile themselves with a freshly blended neighborhood.

Cousin Garnet explained to Motsie that  Cobb daughters went to a private Christian academy in the adjacent county, and their daddy drove them there and back daily in the blue Chrysler New Yorker that had previously belonged to Mrs. Bunn.  About once a week Cousin Garnet saw them pull up to the doctor’s office across the street from her house in Benvenue, trot inside for about five minutes, and then flounceback out to the Chrysler grinning perfect orthodontic smiles that inspired Cousin Garnet’s utmost envy.

During Dr. Bunn’s recent wake, according to Cousin Garnet, who attended with her parents and great aunt Huhu, the doctor’s widow remarked several times what a coincidence it was that her husband’s throat had been “rather clumsily slit, slit I tell you, s-l-i-t! in such close proximity to Caleb Cobb,” the very man who had once beaten her husband in the head with the word of the Lord.  The word “slit” was screeched had been screeched like a  rusty hinge, accompanied by that illustrative hand-across-throat gesture with each repitition.  Meanwhile, Caleb and his wife wept unconsolably and abundantly audibly, in separate rooms of Huhu’s former house on the other side of the block, having been banned by the widow from attending the doctor’s wake and funeral.

If the widow shed a tear over her husband’s death it must have been on her way to the bank, nevertheless, there was no autopsy, no embalming, no open coffin, official cause of death on the certificate was “natural,” and that case was considered cold before the body was.   The Benvenue police went around to check on the Cobbs, but couldn’t find anything to indicate any of them had had a hand in the killing.  Just one of those things, they concluded.  People in Benvenue had a pretty good idea of what might have happened that night, though, including Cousin Garnet.

Within a month of Dr. Bunn’s unfortunate trouble, a Fuller Brush salesman from Passaic, N.J. was strangled with Luther Lowrie’s leather belt after a lively game of Yahtzee at the Community Center went deadly.   No emergency calls were made at all, and the press was not alerted.  The other players simply chucked the oily body into an open Northern Pacific boxcar and sprinkled some kitty litter and hay over him, figuring he’d get all the coverage he needed once the train got him back up north; six feet of it, they all laughed.

The summer of ’75 had found a smelly series of emaciated dead folks with unfamiliar black faces scattered around on the Brantley and Bissette properties, then two more on the Bass farm.  The one detail these three farms had in common was that they shared a crew of migrant Haitians headed up by one Jean Luc Derriere, who contracted migrant labor jobs for work on the trail from Homestead to Bangor, and had a full set of gold teeth.  Jean Luc sold balogna sandwiches and Pixie cups of tap water to his workers every day on credit , and he housed them in the same school bus that carried them from state to state.  Then he charged them enough with interest for these commodities that they all ended up owing him more money than they could possibly earn in a lifetime of picking Florida’s cumquats, Georgia’s peaches, South Carolina’s indigo, and cropping North Carolina’a tobacco.  Jean Luc somehow became strung up on the Bass place from a tree near enough to the hog pen that it seemed more expedient for the Benvenue police to just cut him loose and let the hogs go wild than to try to determine whether the the Haitians had risen up against Jean-Luc-Baby-Doc for his comp’ny-sto’ enslavement of them, or whether the three local farmers had grown tired of having their pre-paid manpower drop dead in the fields before their cropping was complete.

Just this past spring, 1976, there was a so-called mule-thief from Lizard Lick who died under somewhat curious circumstances.  Well, they called him a mule-thief after he showed back up dead, but what he had really stolen was Mr. Privette’s John Deere tractor.  It was brand new at the time.  The thief’s name was Bobby Taint, first cousin to the one killed on August 19, ’76 with that Winchester Cousin Garnet had brought over for Motsie to hang onto.  Besides Mr. Privette’s John Deere tractor, Bobby Taint also apparently stole more chain than he knew how to swim with, further argument supporting the famous Taint stupidity, although he did manage to avoid prosecution by sneakily drowning, wrapped in his stolen goods.  Taint’s were certainly a devious lot, Cousin Garnet repeated the general Benvenue consensus.

Bobby Taint’s cousin, Donny, got perforated by his wife, Nevada, not so much for preferring to raid the treasure chests of their trashy daughters, Tennessee and Kentucky, to raiding hers,  as for using the last bit of toilet paper.  It was such an awful feelin for Nevada to be there needing the paper, and there not being any left, and she knew she’d put some in stolen from the Texaco station, and that Donny’d been the last one in the bathroom.  He wouldn’t bring her any either, so she came out with her pants around her calves and grabbed one of his wife-beaters off the bare linoleum floor to wipe herself.  That was when some arguing started, and Garnet was somewhat undecided as to whether she should go on home or watch the fun.  Of course she stayed.

Clearly Nevada Taint needed none of Cousin Garnet’s help knocking scrawny little Donny’s drunken ass down and snatching the locked and loaded Winchester she kept under the bed.  Practice makes perfect, and Donny was not the first husband she’d shot dead.  It was that practice that caused her to fear the possibility of having that beautiful modified Winchester 1892 confiscated, so she had Garnet hide it for a while, and got Donny’s  K-Mart made-in-China gun out of the closet and blasted him a few extra rounds to make it convincing for the police.  Motsie raised the gun up and aimed at the stop light on the next corner, lined it up in the sights.  It was a very nice gun.  Who knew how soon she’d be legally forbidden ever to own or possess such an item?  Nobody did yet, but it was going to be really soon.

Cousin Garnet said that Tennessee and Kentucky were glad their daddy was dead.  Motsie stared at her wondering at her cavalier attitude, wondering when it had started, wondering what ever happened to that crippled little red-haired girl who used to sit on the feather bed sharing a bowl of Cheetos and listen to Motsie make up lie after lie for entertainment, wondering what would ever become of a girl like her if she ever got out of Benvenue, and what would ever become of her if she never did.  The kicker was that it wasn’t going to be very long at all before Motsie found the answers to all of those wonderings about Cousin Garnet, too.

It occurred to Motsie that if she ever were to live up to her senior superlative of “most likely to commit murder,”  Benvenue would be the best place to pull it off with impunity.

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Posted in Humor, Southern Gothic, Southern literature, Southern short story | 6 Comments

Installment 15 – Motsie Finds Her Tipping Point

You just haven’t driven through the countryside in North Carolina very much until you’ve had some experience with somebody or other wrestling over some fresh roadkill.  The Sunday Lindsey escaped from gay-camp, Vincent avoided frog-killing rock interment, and Martin got abducted by lady-men, Motsie joined the upper echelons of experienced NC countryside driving.  It left its impact on her.

She’d left Martin home around 1:00 after their morning trip to Raleigh, and laughed about his brief kidnapping with the more compassionate Vincent.  She was still snickering with her brother, Mason, about Vincent’s story of the frog-killin’ rock of Cottondale when Cousin Garnet called with a problem.  Garnet always had fabulous problems, and problems were, in Motsie’s opinion, among the highest possible forms of entertainment, right next to gossip and lying.  She was on it!

Garnet was going to get her daddy’s truck and Motsie was going to throw a few things in a grocery bag, and they’d meet in Greenville, in the haunted house on Dickinson Avenue, next door to the Stop-n-Go on the corner of Wade.  Well, that was Motsie’s plan, and would have worked well had it not been for the intervention of a stupid white-tail deer who must have thought it’d be really cute to leap out onto hwy 13 between Snow Hill and Farmville in an instant that played in the theater of Motsie’s brain like a full-length feature film.

Opening scene was the open road ahead and Foghat’s Slow ride playing at full volume on the AM radio, minutes away from Greenville, the haunted house and Cousin Garnet’s arrival with plenty of Cousin Henderson’s weed and whatever juicy problem that was going to solve.

Enter the initial conflict:  a streak of tan from the right, frozen in space, three feet off the ground directly ahead of Motsie, in complete contempt of any known laws of gravity, momentum, and other mysteriously unenforceable laws of physics.  The music slowed to a Charlie Brownish womp womp womp, as though overcranked, captured at a rate much faster than it was now being played.  The deer hung in mid-air and turned its head, made eye contact, and in one nanosecond, Motsie and the deer both knew one thing, and knew it together, and knew that each other also knew:  death was now eminent.

The dialog began between Motsie and the deer, subliminal and direct.

Motsie:  I am about to kill you, Dasher.

Dasher:  Yes.  You are.  I never dreamed that you would be the last person I was going to see.  I also never knew my name was Dasher.

Motsie:  I made that up.  I had plans, and you weren’t in them.  Why me?

Dasher:  It’s always all about you, isn’t it?  Pretty much of a shocker over here, too, by the way, speaking as the one about to, you know, actually, uh, DIE!

Motsie:  Nice whiskers.  They look soft.

Dasher:  Back atcha, Killer.

Motsie:  Don’t call me that.  This wasn’t my idea, you know.  This is, after all, a road for cars.  You’re the one leaping out.  Hey, You have teeth! I never thought about deer having teeth.

Dasher:  You’re all teeth and eyeballs, yourself, Killer.  Did you not see the deer crossing sign back there?  I’m going to haunt you, you know.  I sure will do that.  You wait.

Motsie:  What?

Dasher:  Yes, I’ll be back.  You’ll be seeing more of me.

Motsie:  But it isn’t my idea to kill you.  That was not on my agenda for today, Dasher.

Dasher:  I don’t care.  I’m just a dumb animal.  It’s my nature.

Motsie:  Dumb, but not mute.  Look at you scream.

Dasher:  You’re the one screaming.

Motsie:  Why don’t you move over and avoid my car?

Dasher:  I already told you I am dumb.  I don’t hear the music any more.  Crank it back up, Killer.  Foghat totally rocks.

Chorus: a long, high-pitched eeeeeee, as time resumed.

As the action part of the movie approached its crescendo, Motsie held firm to the wheel while laying tread on the asphalt, never veered off the bridge.  She stopped the car in the center if the bridge, half in Green County and half in Pitt, the deer’s cold nose in her right ear, and its hot tongue on her cheek. The finale was his last breath.  He shared it with her.  Chlorophyl and onion grass.  She’d smelled worse.

Getting out of the car involved some arm-wrestling with a limp and gangly hoof in order to unfasten her seat belt. The cameraman in Motsie’s head had slowed down to one frame per second, then played the scene back at what felt to her like hyperspeed.  It took much longer to get from the car to the side of the road than it had taken to go from staring into suspended animation Dasher’s fuzzy face to inhaling his breath while necking with him, but to motsie, everything whirred and spun.  The movie ended with her leaning over the bridge rails, spilling her cookies into the Swamp Marsh Creek that separates the Holloman farm from the Arch Flannagan property.   Slow Ride continued to belch through the tinny dashboard speaker as the credits rolled up and the curtain dropped.

A black pickup truck sowed down and a man with a lip full of Red Man asked Motsie if she was going to keep that deer.  She didn’t want it.

“Hell to the no!”  She answered.

“Mind if I take it?”

“I could care less.”

“Will you gut it for me?”

“GUT it for you?  What the hell you been smokin’?”  She followed his eyes to the thigh.  “Here, you go right ahead.”  She handed over the Bowie knife.

Chewbackie got on his CB and soon there was another black pick-up truck and patrol cars from both Pitt and Green Counties.  Deputies argued over who had jurisdiction, who could come up with a roadkill permit quickest, and who should tow the car.  Pitt had a Fish and Wildlife officer on patrol, so Green County got to tow the car and Pitt took care of the roadkill transport permit.

Chewbacky and the other guy who was probably his cousin, Bubba Ray, were helping each other pull Dasher out through Motsie’s windshield before the tow-truck hitched the crippled Pinto up to go to Snow Hill.  Dasher suddenly got a second wind, and started kicking and flailing.  He cut that Bubba Ray’s arm and cheek up pretty well with his pointy hooves.  Motsie turned away and met the deputy’s stare.

He had her wait in his patrol car while he rushed back over to subdue Dasher.  Motsie felt a little bit like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance while the deputies shot Dasher up with their stun guns.  Chewbacky sought revenge on the deer with Motsie’s Bowie knife, an excellent conductor of electricity.  Dasher was screaming and flopping around with Chewbacky all over the northbound lane of highway 13 like a teenage trailer park whore with her beau on prom night.

Meanwhile, Bubba Ray bled a circuler little path in the southbound lane, hat in his right hand, rubbing his head with the bloody left, wailing, “I knowed it was a dumb-ass move o’ his, callin’ the damn law!  Damn, y’all!  Unelectrocute my cousin right now, y’all.  Don’t I’m ‘on call the mayor at ‘is house.  Y’all hear me?”

Then Bubba Ray jumped the Pitt County Deputy.  The tow truck driver had to take Bubba Ray down, and the deputies had to take the tow truck driver down.  Pretty soon there was no room for Motsie in any of the patrol cars.

Bubba Ray was hauled off to Pitt County.  The tow truck driver got taken in to Snow Hill.  Chewbacky received a ride in an ambulance that had probably been summoned originally for her, Motsie never found out where he was hauled off to, but figured Pitt Memorial was the closest hospital.  Motsie might have ridden along with him, but the Fish and Wildlife officer had to pass right by the haunted house on Dickinson and Wade anyway, so she accepted his chivalry.  He even stopped at Golden Dragon on the corner of Memorial and Dickinson where the short cut now is.  Motsie asked for wine, and he got her some.  He probably thought he was going to get some himself.  Hope springs eternal.

Motsie asked to be let off at the corner of Wade and Dickinson at the Stop-N-Go, crossed the little side street where Cousin Garnet’s daddy’s truck was under the shed, and Garnet was already on the tin roof of the veranda with two or three kitties and a Kool cigarette.

In fact, Cousin Garnet’s problem was far juicier than Motsie’s; she had a rifle in her daddy’s truck outside that had been used just the night before to kill Tennessee Taint’s sorry daddy right out in their yard.  Cousin Garnet had been over there at the time of Mr. Taint’s “trouble,” and was only too happy to take the gun and hide it for a while, sure that her Cousin Motsie would be of great assistance.

“The old drunken lecher deserved to die,” Garnet affirmed, and “I sincerely doubt anything will ever come of the entire affair, since everbody knows what a no-count sumbitch he was, anyway.”

Motsie didn’t say so, but was pretty sure the fairest reason for nothing ever to come of it was that nobody in Benvenue was liable to miss the low-down old coot, much less care.  Hell, she figured, if he’d been a neighbor in Five Points, the Garden Club ladies would most likely have offered some sort of prize to anyone who got rid of him.

What she did say was, “no, it’s probably not a great idea to leave a rifle like Lucas McCain’s modified Winchester 1892 out in the bed of your daddy’s little Toyota truck for God and everybody to find, what with there being people of every imaginable persuasion living in the row of shacks out back.  Best bring it on in, in case of any problem with deer ghosts.”

“You wanna shoot it?  I got all the boxes of ammo they had, so’s to leave no evidence. She showed me how.  You wanta learn how?  I could teach you.”

“Well, ahm, maybe not.  Not tonight, anyway.  Let’s just bring it up here for safety.  I mean, we should load it and all, just to be safe.  People never accidentally shoot themselves with guns that they know are loaded, of course.  We wouldn’t want to have an accident.  I’ll go get it.”

Motsie got the gun for her cousin, and learned how to load it.  All would have been fine if they hadn’t gotten all stoned, and then played with the Ouija board trying to find out if the deer ghost was going to haunt Motsie, and then eaten a pile of raw cookie dough from the Stop-n-Go, and then laid around by candlelight on the hardwood floor with kitties all over the place, and then petted one that hissed really different from usual and turned out to be a damn possum.

All in all, that last possumy part was Motsie’s tipping point .  That allowed her to go right ahead and have that long overdue nervous breakdown, and spend a few months in the psyche unit at Pitt Memorial instead of going back to class.

The guy from Fish and Wildlife visited her there on the lock-down hall almost every day.  He always brought her a thermos of scuppernong wine.  Cousin Garnet brought Kools, and taught Motsie all the subtle rules about the right way to smoke them.    These were hobbies that would accompany Motsie for decades after both Garnet and the Fish and Wildlife officer had long been dead before their time.

Posted in Humor, Southern Gothic, Southern literature, Southern short story | 3 Comments

Installment 14 – When Martin Got Abducted by the Lady-Men of Nascar

The Pink Palace was the place anyone and everyone wanted to live at NC State; immense, decadent,  crisscrossed with impromptu add-ons and catwalks, filled with all the right hash-heads, in view of the English department and bell tower, and within sound and smell of Two Guys and Sadlaks.   At 50.00/month for a private room, or half that if you shared, it was every weed-smoking liberal arts major’s 1976 dream pad.  Martin had been lucky enough to be one of the first to call the number in the Sunday want-ads that morning, and thrilled that Motsie was still in Five Points with a car to drive him.

They made it into Raleigh on 64, swung up Western Boulevard as they’d come for years to visit Dix Hill, missed Pullen entirely, but made the left at the Ashe Avenue Kwik-Pick just as steam gushed through the air-vents between the hood and wipers of Motsie’s Pinto.  Martin was in favor of driving it the rest of the way with steam billowing up from the front, But Motsie was worried about bursting into flames.  She rolled to a stop right above the tracks on Ashe Avenue. They managed to push the car into the weeds alongside a house that shimmered like Emerald City in the August heat. Martin rolled his eyes in desperation, and noticed the sun’s vibration in the south window of the widow’s walk overlooking the double row of tracks in the ditch below them.  Must have been his head’s movement that gave the impression of an SOS signal in the reflection, he thought.  No one could be inside, glitter or not, the house was in shambles.

Although Motsie was all for going up to the house for assistance, Martin had no time today for her morbid curiosity.  He quickly offered to trot back to the Kwik-Pick for a jug of water and a quick phone call begging the Pink Palace to hold his room.

“How weird this house looks in bright light.  Sparkly.  I bet it’s that battleship paint like on the USS North Carolina,” Motsie speculated.

“Maybe.   No cars in the yard, though.  No point in going to the door, Motsie.  come down to the Kwik-Pick with me?”

“Uhmmmm, how ’bout I check if somebody’s home or not?  Might save you a trip down and back.”  She was determined.

“Know what?  I’ll just go by myself.”  He was pissed.

“Fine.  Then do.  I’ll check this house by my own self, too, an’ I bet my car is already fixed and rarin’ to go before you make it back, Scooby-Snack.”

Scooby-Snack? Martin pivoted on his heel and headed over the tracks.  At least it was edible.  Halfway across the bridge, there arose the stench of carrion, and he called back to Motsie, “I’m not sayin’ I dealt it, but I sure smelt it!”  Motsie didn’t answer him, though; she was probably peeking in the windows and trying the knob.  Nut.  It would be just like her to break on into that house and snoop through the pantry and every closet just for the hell of it.  All he knew was that if she wasn’t by the car when he got back, he’d drive the rest of the way himself; he had pocketed her keys.  “Heh-heh.”

Barely over the bridge, a white ’70 Camaro with wide red racing stripes from front to back lurched into the grass beside the blind school entrance.  The driver, whose left eye wandered independently like a crab’s, was the better looking one of the pair.  The shot-gun rider’s buck teeth all forced their way through her chapped lips like a bouquet of ten-penny nails.  She had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  They stared each other down for a meaningful second.

Buck-teeth swung her dented door open and lumbered to her feet.  “Where you goin’?”

Her manly growl startled Martin.

“To the Kwik-Pick? Ma’am?  Sir?  Ma’am?”  He actually yodeled a little.

“Git in!”  She growled.

“Oh, uh, it’s okay.  It’s right down the hill. I-I-I can walk.”  He felt like he could run it in ten seconds, and started to make a break for it, but Wall-eye was getting out now, and he sized her up to see if she looked like a sprinter.  She did have a sporty look to her, and he started backing up.  Maybe there was a path down through that kudzu to the tracks.  He wished he’d looked harder while he was sniffing out that skunky stink.  Even more, he wished he’d stayed with Motsie.

“We’re givin’ you a ride, boy.  Git in the car, I told ya!”

The ladies were edging closer, and Martin was pretty sure he couldn’t cross back over the bridge to Motsie’s Pinto without them catching him.  Maybe they’d throw him over onto the tracks.  Possibly, he could skim around to the left or the right of them, and run like hell to the Kwik-Pick, or into the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, but if they caught up with him, there would be no one able to witness his abduction.  Maybe he could dash into Pullen Park, but if they caught up with him there, there was enough shrubbery for them to have their wicked way with him, and no one would ever be the wiser.  Maybe he’d do best to act dumb, then jump out at a light.

“Well, okay ladies.  It would be nice to get out of this heat for a minute.  Thank you so much for offering.”  Behave and act friendly, polite, and win their trust.  He hated himself for tucking his tail between his legs and slouching to the passenger door in slowmo, then scooted right into the front seat.

“Git in the back,”  Bucky snarled.

Martin was a fast thinker.  “I’ll get carsick unless I have front by the window,” he lied, a little shrill.

Wall-eye had gotten back at the wheel and pushed Martin out the door where Bucky grabbed his shoulder with one beefy paw and flipped the seat up with the other, tossing him headlong into the cramped rear quarters.  The car kicked up a noisy load of gravel behind it as they scratched off the rough and back over the bridge past Motsie’s car.  Martin didn’t even get a chance to peer out the window and wave for help from his prone position across the back seat.

Damn if those lady-men didn’t know how to drive, thought Martin as the car drifted into Hillsborough Street at the IHOP.  Steer left to go right, he remembered from the autocross at the Visitation County dirt track where Motsie took him a time or two when she first got her license.  He was up now, saw the burnt oil smoke billowing out the back end and zigzag tread marks that only straightened themselves in time for another right in front of Farnum’s waterbed store.  It looked as though they might careen right into the back of Central Prison, but Wall-eye made another bold swerve around the Martin Street curve, coolly occupying every lane of traffic for the next two blocks.

“Bat turn!”  Hollered Bucky, and Wall-eye yanked the hand break and wheel simultaneously, tossing them all onto Boylan Avenue by Sherwin Williams, and they peeled off from there like Dave Marcus at the Talladega 500 a few weeks earlier.

“Wooo-eeee!  Yer shor in the catbird seat now, Christina!”  Whooped Bucky.  So Wall-eye was a woman, who would have ever guessed?  “Just like passin’ Buddy Baker in the pit gittin’ gas with not but three laps left; WOOOOOO-EEEE!”

Martin looked up the tracks as they raced over the Boylan Avenue bridge, and thought he saw a black man in a dashiki with a ‘fro wider than his shoulders, running like a man possessed toward the other bridge, but only for a second.  He checked the dash and saw the tach redlined and the speedometer reaching 60 in time for another drift onto Cabarrus Street heading west toward Western Boulevard past the front of the prison.  This time he decided he was safer lying in the floor as the car accelerated to something Martin believed in his heart must be warp speed.

Wall-eye screeched to a skidding diagonal halt at the Kwik-Pick, only narrowly missing the gas pump and stopping within a stingy inch of the picture window.

“You spewin’ in my car, Bo?”  Wall-eye popped the door open and swung her seat forward.

“No sir, ma’am.”  Martin still had his hands over his face.

“We’re goin’ shoppin’, a’ight?  Here ya go, hop to, chop chop, look alive.”  Damn if she didn’t sound exactly like Satchmo.

Martin stumbled to the phone booth and deposited his dime.  While he spoke breathlessly to the girl at the Pink Palace, he saw Wall-eye up near the cashier, apparently engaged in a titillating colloquy about Wrigley’s gum, several varieties spread on the counter, using both pointers alternately as though she might be having trouble with an all-important decision.

Martin rushed through an explanation of the car overheating only blocks away, but please do hold the room, he’d be up there in no time flat with cash, when his eye fell to the refrigerator section directly in front of the phone booth. There was Bucky stuffing beer after beer after beer down the front of her dubious charms.  He squatted onto the phone booth seat and peered at her over the bare edge of the window-sill.

They were cold cans of Busch, and she probably had at least a six-pack in there already, reaching for more with her right hand, tucking her sweaty plaid shirt into her leather belt with the other.  She glanced over toward Martin, her mouthful of teeth freakishly akimbo in a grueling smile that seemed to say, “Damn I’m stupid, and wooo, these beers is cold.”

A blue and white from RPD pulled in, and Martin hurried to end the call and run around back to hide.  Wall-eye saw him dodge around the corner, and ran out behind Bucky,  Bucky heading to the car and Wall-eye after Martin.  She snagged him by the back of the shirt and dragged him back to the car, hurriedly tossing him into the back seat again, and then peeled out of the lot and up the hill.

“Pretty slick, Yvonne.  Ima let you do the stealin more often, girl!”  So that was Bucky’s name.

The lady-men of Nascar pulled over nicely at Motsie’s Pinto and let Martn out, offering beers to one and all, and three for the radiator.  That’s what they were doing when the police showed up and blocked the Camaro between their patrol car and the Pinto.  There was Motsie, chatting it up with the dashiki-clad guy with the fabulous Afro, and he was writhing to and fro, wringing his hands, looking like he’d just seen a ghost, not the sort who looked accustomed to be glad at cops’ arrival, yet thrilled to see police right then.

As Christine and Yvonne were cuffed and placed into the back, cop-hands carefully protecting their scruffy heads from any sort of bump against the door-frame, Dashiki-dude begged them to come down the tracks with him.  Motsie told Martin all about Dashiki-dude’s adventure on the way to Pink Palace; Martin was in too much of a rush to stick around and hear it all first hand.

There were more than a dozen people on the porch of the Pink Palace, money in hand, when Martin bounded up the stairs, two by two.  Long story short, Martin got a huge room in the back of the second floor, with some tie-dye sheets separating his corner from somebody else’s who wasn’t there at the moment, but who later turned out to be the Dashiki dude.

Martin enthralled everyone in the house that day with his abduction by the Pukes of Hazard.  He made sure to emphasize the hideousness of the women, their manly voices, wandering eye and Goofy-dog teeth.  He didn’t leave out the thievery from the Kwik-Pick, much less their sweaty body odor, and even threw in the bonus detail that he believed he might have seen them eat a booger or two.

From amid all the reeling laughter, came one appalled wail, “Oh Lord have mercy!  That’s my mama!”

“And you know there was no reason for anybody to admit it, even if they knew it was true,” Motsie laughed as they crossed the tracks on the Pullen bridge going home.  “Dumbass.”  Far down the tracks to the left, Motsie and Martin both saw a crowd of blue uniforms milling around between the other two bridges.

Martin didn’t give them a second thought, nor did he care if the theiving hell rider’s stupid daughter had a single digit i.q. and a forehead like Spy v. Spy.  The girl was going to be sleeping under the same roof with him in a week, and didn’t wear a bra.  He thought he’d died and gone to nookie heaven.

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Installment 13 – Aristarchus’ Daddy’s Trouble

“I was just bein’ nice to ‘im ’cause his mama let me help ‘er with the laundry while I waited for somebody to show up over at Lindsey’s.  I thought it’d be okay to ask ‘im if maybe he knew anything about where she is. He drooled when he laughed, spit when he talked, an’ had the gappiest teeth you ever saw, an’ way-too-red swollen gums.  I just wanted to vomit, Motsie, but I couldn’t be rude, especially in front o’ ‘is mama.  He didn’t know anything about where Lindsey might have gone anyway, or maybe he thought I asked ‘im what’s the weirdest shit he ever did.  He started tellin’ me some really weird junk about his very special rock in his yard.  It’s a big flat thing all splattered up with blood.  It’s a miracle I didn’t pass out.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure Aristarchus Jenkins is mildly retarded.”

Miz Velma Jenkins took in laundry from Five Points, washed it in a pink Speed Queen she’d roll onto the back stoop from the kitchen and fill up with the garden hose.   When Vincent wasn’t helping her wring out the wet laundry and dragging the baskets full to hang on knotted cords strung from loblolly to pin-oak and poplar to birch all across the back yard, he was sitting on the stair at her feet, craning his neck to see through the sheet maze whatever sign might come from Lindsey’s across the bent and rusted wire fence that separated the Jenkins’ yard from the Pearces’.  He really wanted to find out whatever had become of his friend.

Anistarchus kept busy hunting for Vincent’s worst enemy: frogs.  Vincent really hoped Aristarchus would not find any frogs while he was there; once he’d been plucking rocks out of his mother’s flower bed with a heavy duty rake, and inadvertently skewered a semi-frozen hibernating frog, just like the plum on Jack Horner’s thumb, and he’d instantaneously thrown up and then fainted.

“What would you ever want to do with frogs anyway?”  Vincent would soon regret asking.  Aristarchus leaned his shaved black head over one shoulder and guffawed his gummy gap-toothed cackle that Vincent found much less attractive than the the “Un-Cola” guy’s hearty, sexy laugh.  There was a man!

“I th’ow ’em down on my rock!  I th’ow ’em hard!”  He illustrated with a violent downward sweep of his arm toward the stained meter or so of flat granite, extending the word “hard” as though it had several more vowels, and then he howled right into Vincent’s face with his hammy breath.

Vincent flinched and his upper lip curled involuntarily for a second.  He cast his eyes over to Miz Velma to beg for protection, but she was busy filling up the Speed Queen and patting hose water on her face and neck to stave off the awful heat.

“What for?  Do you eat their legs?”  This explanation seemed logical to him in a mainly black town since he was pretty sure black folks and French folks ate the same nasty stuff that Vincent wouldn’t necessarily ever classify as food.

“Eat they legs?  Frogses’ legs?”  Aristarchus must have thought that idea was hysterical, because he wallowed all over the ground laughing.  The words rabid and hyena crossed Vincent’s mind, but he wouldn’t mention it until he called Motsie that night.

“You git up off that ground ‘fore I take a switch after your bohunkus, Aristarchus S. Jenkins!  You ruin that shirt an’ you’ll go to church nekked ‘fore I git chance at our own washin’, less you take care o’ what you got on you!”

“Yes’m,” Aristarchus popped straight up and brushed off like a humble child, well over six feet tall. Vincent snickered quietly, and Aristarchus took that as encouragement to keep telling his story, because he upped the ante with “Sometimes I gits tired o’ th’owin’ ’em down, so i th’ow ’em up as high as I can, higher’n a tree!”  The word “tree” stayed frozen on his mouth as something of a grimace, waiting for the lie to become fact.  Instead, Vincent sat still and nauseous for what he thought was an appropriate enough string of seconds to count as respectful before leaping up to help Miz Velma, whether she needed him yet or not.  Aristarchus followed right after him, embellishing, “they guts come out they beaks n’ butts on the rock, n’ ‘en I buries ’em,” until his mother finally broke into his tale.

“Aristarchus, you can go check the mail, baby.” It was Sunday, and the hottest one so far in the summer of 1976.  Miz Velma walked a few steps out of the way and spit on that special rock of Aristarchus’.  Then she leaned in to Vincent over a willow basket full of wrung linens and whispered, “he fell in the creek when his daddy took ‘im out giggin’.” She ground the spit into the stone with a flip-flop.  “That was in 1956 when Aristarchus won’t but two years old, and cute as a bug. Baby-boy near drownt, an’ ‘en he never was right after. Broke ‘is daddy’s heart.  Broke mines worse.  Praise Jesus an’ mama, though, ’cause what the Lord hadn’t time to fix, mama always do.  M-hmm.  I do.”

As repulsive a proposition as frog gigging was, it was the idea of any Mister Jenkins that most stumped Vincent.  He’d never even thought about there being one at all, but now he wondered what kind of grown man takes a tiny baby out to any creek.  With a frog gig.  Planning to stab big old nasty frogs and eat their legs.  That man must have been just about as dumb as Aristarchus, he thought.  And here Miz Velma was talking about it like all that was as normal as anything.

Vincent and Miz Velma took out a sheet together and strung it over the cord so it wouldn’t touch ground, and then each of them grabbed a clothespin and secured it at opposite ends in case any wind that might happen to start up in this dead summer heat wouldn’t carry it off.  She went on to tell him how bad Mr. Jenkins had felt about letting her baby almost drown, and how he’d had no call to continue living after that.  They pushed the willow basket along , and reached for another sheet together.  Vincent shot another gander over at Lindsey’s, but still there wasn’t a stir.

Evidently, Mr. Jenkins, whom Miz Velma never refered to by any other name, no Archie, no Jolacola, no James, just Mr. Jenkins, had “got plum off his feed,” as Miz Velma stated it.  Vincent figured that meant he’d probably stood up from sitting on bags of corn to go pick some fruit.  He couldn’t just ask.  That might be impolite.  He waited attentively to hear the context, hoping to learn some secret insider black info.  Mr. Jenkins had just about stopped eating, she said, blamed himself for Aristarchus’ accident, and just wanted to fling himself in the river and drown.  He was scared of the river, though, and the creek wasn’t near deep enough to drown a grown man the size of Mr. Jenkins.

When he got back from the empty mailbox, Miz Velma sent Aristarchus in to change out of his nice shirt and find an undershirt to play in.  She told Vincent she’d married Mr. Jenkins on a promise to always help him, good times or bad,  she kept her promise.  She was honest.  Everybody knew that about Miz Velma.

“You threw him in the river?”  Vincent gasped.

“Oh, no, honey, that’d be a sin.  An’ Mr. Jenkins was a large man.  He was plannin’ to drink hisself to death.  An’ he did wanta go.  Now, that ain’t crazy, it’s only jus’ heartbroke’s all.  But then he got to where he was convinced them big creek frogs were demon spirits who’d pulled my baby in the water to git even wi’ him for giggin’ ’em and eatin’ they legs, an’ then he give up eat’n legs an’ all other game meat. Not long ’til he wouldn’t et store-boughten meat, neither, an’ that’s why I knew he’d went crazy.  ”

Oh, so he turned vegetarian?  That’s cool, ’cause I’m a vegetarian, too.  Nothing wrong with that, Miz Velma.  That’s not crazy.”

“Wasn’t but one thing left in this world he’d et that didn’t say Ripple on the label, an’ that was my molasses cookies.  M-hmm.  Molasses cookies with my special recipe.  We ain’t got but two more sheets left in this basket, and I’ll fix us a nice batch in the gas stove.  You like molasses cookies, sugar?”

“Oh, yes ma’am, I have them every August at my friend, Motsie’s, family reunion.  Her granny, Huhu, always makes them!”  Vincent left off the part about how great they were for the munchies, in case Miz Velma disapproved of that sort of activity, and he definitely left out the entire part about the annual Dead Family Reunion in the Benvenue cemetery, where he, Motsie and her crippled cousin, Garnet, would smoke on top of their ancestors’ graves.  “Would you let me help you cook ’em so I can learn how, too?”

“Sure, sugar.  Now where was I?  Oh, bring that tote bag o’ clothespins from yonder, and I’ll finish up ’bout Mr. Jenkins’ trouble.”

Vincent brought the bag, and thought how much he’d have to tell Motsie on the phone later.  These people in Cottondale sure were superstitious!  He could already imagine Motsie laughing about the evil frog spirits pulling the baby under the creek, and that bein’ the only reason not to eat frog legs, rather than just because they’re disgusting.

Vincent was fairly ready to leave as soon as Miz Velma confided to him in the kitchen that she’d added a pinch of ant poison to her husband’s cookies every day for months before he “finally croaked,” as she chuckled, musing afterwards as she gazed out the window.  Vincent followed her gaze to Aristarchus’ special rock. Her spit smear was still distinguishable from the frog blood stains.  Suddenly, a prickle like a thousand pins ran from his forehead, over his scalp and down his spine to his vestigial tail as he connected the dots.  Manners-be-damned, he felt like he should leave right away before she told him so much she’d have no choice but put him under that rock with her husband to make sure he never narked her out.

Motsie answered on the first ring, as usual.  Vincent told about helping Miz Velma while he spied on Lindsey’s house, where nobody ever had shown up.  Seven Sundays in a row, Vincent had helped Miz Velma do laundry in the back yard, but he doubted he would make it eight.

“Did you bring back some o’ those cookies?  I could think of a few people who might like some!”  Motsie thought it was hilarious.

“Oh hell no!   Don’t you think it’s weird, though, Motsie, how Lindsey disappeared of the face of the earth right after Martin’s dad passed?”

“I wasn’t gonna waste a lot o’ brain cells on it, but I bet that dried up chicken bone dust from Dix Hill is still in the stump hole out back, Vincent, if you want it.  Anyway, let’s not start a contest out o’ whatever we did today because, unless you can trump gettin’ kidnapped by trucker-lookin’ ladies in a Camaro to shoplift beer in their boobs, for sure Martin’s gonna win!  “

Posted in Humor, Southern Gothic, Southern literature, Southern short story | 4 Comments

Installment 12 – Lindsey, the Ex-Gay Camper

Pastor Little John Gautier his own nasty way with his lady campers, poking the gayness right out of them with his little friend, “the Lord,” to set them straight. He had his nasty way with Lindsey in 1976, but she sneaked off on an inner-tube down the New River to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, where she crawled ashore under the highway 58 bridge, and then hitched a ride east to Suffolk.

It had been the most hideous summer of Lindsey’s 20 year existence! On Friday evenings, Paster Little John liked to blindfold the initiates who had enjoyed a recent intervention in a motel room at their parents’ expense, as Lindsey had.  He shepherded them down from the barn where they slept to a small pasture by the river, aided by those who had been in the program for several months or longer without backsliding.

“But I’m not gay, I tell you.  It was all just a rumor my friend started!”  Lindsey insisted, over and over.

“You’re in denial,” Pastor Little John would loudly decare in his aerificial accent.  “You’re intractable.”

Voices of the old-timers chanted Bible verses, louder and louder, until some of those inside the circle began to sob and beg forgiveness for their sin.  Lindsey refused to crack, and only hollered back at them, “I go to Atlantic Christian College, I tell you.  I’m a Baptist, for the love o’ God!”

When the chanting and hollering grew to a cacophonous crescendo, and at least three or four initiates had caved, the blindfolds were removed.  All of the chanters were naked, encouraging the newcomers to join their nakedness, something Lindsey refused.

Pastor Little John passed around a gourd of holy straightening agent made of river water and ipecac, that the naked campers were to drink deeply in order to vomit their abominable abdominal gaydom into a communal communion bucket.  After the purge, the new nudes followed the elders’ testimonials about how straight they were compared to how queer they’d been before camping with Pastor Little John.

Lindsey wouldn’t give a testimonial, but wouldn’t keep her mouth shut either.

“Is that all you’ve got?”  She’d mouth off.  “I’ve heard more convincing testimonials of straightness in the Paddock Club, and that was at the Miss Drag Queen USA run-off!”  It was the same sort of lip that got her ass whooped in Cottondale, but she wouldn’t shut up.

“Is that all you got?  You queers all hit like girls!  Pansies!”  They beat her ass for that.  Just like high school.  Even a bug would have learned faster.

On Sunday mornings, everyone put on cheap white robes, probably sewn by local Girl Scouts working on that seamstress badge, and filed down to the river for total immersion baptism.  Lindsey watched from the shore, but returned dry and unwilling to renounce and repent.  While the smarter inmates then dried off and dressed, she did laundry or KP.

Each person slept locked in a separate little stall, and Pastor Little John Gautier made his rounds to each of them.  To pray.  Lindsey wasn’t sure what he really did in everyone else’s stall, but the walls were only boards, and she knew she had no use for him in hers.  She was glad he only around to her twice a week.

The first time he made his prayer advances, she snatched his toupee and threw it under her cot,.  She tried to rush out the door, but there were two disciples just outside who stopped her.  When next he came, she pretended to be asleep, but he brought the disciples in and they performed “the laying on of hands.”  Lindsey laid a hand on Pastor Little John’s scrotum, and squeezed until he took the name of the Lord seriously in vain, so henceforth he had her brought to his room in the house.  She bit him a few times, but he seemed to like that so she then resorted to thinking of other things for about four minutes.  That’s all it took.  Unless she moved around, and then it was less.  Amen.

Lindsey mulled all this in her mind as she floated down the New River.  She thought that maybe she could have killed that bastard.  She could have saved the knife from KP duty, and stabbed him all to bits.  She’d have liked that, she thought.  That’s probably what Motsie would have done, chopped him into bouillon cubes and left a big pot of Gautier soup for all the ex-gay campers.  But she had done the best she could with ground mothballs in his sugar bowl and Visine in his creamer, and now she was enough river curves from Straight to the Lord that she could stop looking over her shoulder expecting his john boat to come trolling after her.

She savored the moment she’d thought to lie a good enough confession and let the son of a bitch take her down to the river after “another cup of coffee, honey?  I mean Pastor?”  She relished how she’d pretended not to know how to swim and begged him tearfully to have a floatation device handy just in case, and then hemmed and hawed while waiting for the Visine to kick in.  She cherished the moment he’d tried to dawn-play what she knew were intestinal cramps and she’d kicked that inner-tube out into the water.  But her laughter echoed between the mountains left and right of her when she recalled his rush to get the baptism done, and when he put her under, she’d lifted her feet off the bottom and thrown him off balance.

Maybe he sharted himself battling the choice between running back to his fancy bathroom or fishing around for her as she darted downstream below the surface to catch up with that inner-tube.  She hoped he had. The disciples had come after her at first, but Gautier began to puke and called to them for assistance.  The last Lindsey saw, they had him on the shore, stumbling uphill.

Lindsey didn’t see any good place or reason to leave the river for nearly a day, and her thoughts drifted to scuba diving for sunken pirate treasure in the Caribbean, defending herself from sharks with a harpoon.  She thought she might be delirious, but then, if she actually were delirious, she knew she wouldn’t realize it.  She’d come back for Gautier with a damn harpoon, she thought.  Someday she really would.

Posted in Humor, Southern Flash Fiction, Southern Gothic, Southern literature, Southern short story | 5 Comments

Installment 11 – Pedro’s Reality Ride

Practically a dwarf at barely five feet tall, Pod saw eye to eye with his customers only when stamping around on his Pepsi crates platform behind the pharmacy counter.  His hoof-like shoes, almost hemispherical, had spawned his nick-name, and his sideline sales of misappropriated Quaaludes made him iconic to a select group of eighth and ninth graders, until he was caught and had to make do peddling kitchen quality LSD.  But that was later.  In 1971 he was still clomping around on his platform in the Five Points Pharmacy.
After Cousin Garnet had told Motsie and Vincent about grinding graveyard bones into powder to make people sleep, Vincent had told Martin and his new friend, Lindsey, about it.  The idea turned into conversational fodder, fantasies became ill-thought-out plans, and the day came that fall when a plan waxed real.  A Saturday night right before Hallowe’en, bone powder in Motsie’s stash pouch, she, Martin, and Vincent headed by the Whackers’, where Lindsey sneaked out the back door to join them.  They would go over to Pod’s old farmhouse beyond the Bolton’s, and knock him out with a blow-full so Martin could raid Pod’s stash of stolen Quaaludes.  
They came through the woods, stopping off first at the Bolton’s old Teardrop to smoke some of Vincent’s homegrown, and then approached Pod’s place from the back.  All the lights were off but the blue flicker of a t.v. set in the back bedroom.  The window was open just a crack.  They crept up to the shrubs and could hear Pod praying, but the shrubbery was too wide for them to blow any bone dust into the window.  It seemed they had no choice but to sneak into the house and blow the powder right through the bedroom doorway, so they slid through the screen door onto the screened-in porch.  Lindsey was elected to squirm through the doggie-door since she was skinniest.  She let the others in, and they all tippy-toed through the dark kitchen in a clump, whispering about which one should go blow the dust into Pod’s bedroom.
        “I already suffered enough today, Motsie was touching me on the neck with a dead finger bone in the car while that pervo had his hand in my crotch all the way from Raleigh to Five Points, so don’t y’all be lookin’ at me!”  Cried Vincent in a stage whisper that had the others loudly shushing him all at once.
         “I already went through the doggie-door for y’all, so don’t look at me, either!”  Lindsey was fierce next to Vincent and clearly directing her words to Motsie and Martin.
          “Okay, people, remain calm,” Martin began in a very quiet whisper. “Let’s not alert the press.  I don’t mind slipping through his room to the bathroom by myself and steal the ‘ludes, but I think somebody else should go blow Motsie’s stuff to knock Pod out first. Motsie did the biggest part already, getting the dead guy’s hand bones from a coffin and then grinding them up on my porch, which I also helped, so I’m voting for you, Vincent.  If the pervo had squeezed your nuts in a bad way, you’d ha’ said so, so it musta not been all that bed.  You go…”
            Vincent saw everyone looking at him so against his own wishes and better judgement, he reluctantly accepted the velvet pouch and inched to the partially open bedroom door where he lingered for a few seconds and hurried back to the kitchen in a panic.
          “Pod was choking some lady out, y’all!   We should all rush in together and save her before he has her buried in a whiskey keg under the house!”
          Sure enough, now they all heard it.  A woman’s voice was in there praying for her life, and getting pretty loud.  Pod’s geriatric beagle hopped down from the sofa and trotted to the kitchen, probably thinking that Vincent was somebody he knew, and Lindsey leaned over to pat his velvety head.  
          “If y’all aren’t gonna help me save that poor lady, then we might wanta think about gettin’ outa here before our fingerprints become associated with the scene of a murder.”  Pod’s dog was sniffing the bag Vincent had dangling by it’s thong, and made a try for it.  Vincent snatched it out of his semi-toothless mouth and bolted for the back door  That spooked dog, who began to bay his beagle bark-howl. Lindsey tried to shush him until the living room light went on and she followed Vincent, with Motsie and Martin right behind.  The unmistakable schlack of a Winchester chambering a round shifted all their gears into overdrive.
        “Damn!” Vincent managed to comment. “Who knew that little club-foot effer could get around so fast?  Like a pony!”
The closest cover was a shed in the far corner of the yard. Pod used it as a garage.  That’s where they headed, but the boom that followed the schlack sprayed the shed wall and some of the trees beyond.  A few bits of bird shot found Martin’s hind side before he reached cover, but Motsie helped him into the pitch dark shed, and put him into the floor of the car.  Everyone piled on top of him and Vincent pulled the lap-blanket over them all.  No one breathed for the longest time.  Just when Martin whispered that his butt was stinging and he couldn’t breathe, Vlincent and Lindsey shushed him saying they heard somebody coming.  Motsie couldn’t hear a thing with her face pressed into Martin’s hair and Lindsey breathing in her ear, pressed down by Vincent on top of her, and a blanket over all of them.  
  Once they felt pavement under the tires, the radio turned on, and Martin begged Motsie to beg the ones on top of her to move off his rear a little, but the word came back to stay still as stones until the car got someplace where they could jump out.  It didn’t go far, luckily, and when the somebody had been out of the car for more than a minute, Vincent poked his head over the back seat like a meerkat to make sure the coast was clear.
        “Man, this is soo weird, y’all!”  Vincent struggled with the dilemma of whether to let everyone in on where they were.  “Why in the world was my mother’s car in Pod’s shed?”
        Lindsey complained that Vincent was now squashing her legs too much, and poor Martin was crying at the bottom of the pile.  Vincent got out and stood looking at his house while one light after another was turned on.  He just could not put all this together.  Everyone walked around the corner to the McCrary’s, half-carrying Martin, who had to be taken to the Saint Mary’s ER to pick out the bird shot.  He refused to tell how and where the gunshot had occurred even though it was considered a reportable offense.  The police came and questioned all the kids, but no one was about to tell that they’d broken into a house to steal drugs. 
        Fortunately, the break-in had not been reported yet by Pod, either. After the police left, Lindsey pointed out that Pod would be better off not reporting anything that could bring police investigators snooping inside his house if he had illegal drugs for them to find.  She wanted to know about why Vincent and his friends had waited so late to come by the Whackers’ since she’d been outside babysitting all afternoon hoping they could go down to the Bamboo in the municipal garden. When she heard all the details of how the bones had been gotten, she was just disgusted.
“Even if Vincent had blown that dust in there, it wasn’t gonna work without the stump-hole powers!  Over in Cottondale, everybody knows about stump-hole, where you people been hiding?”  Inside, she was consumed with envy that she hadn’t been in on the adventure with Vincent and his other friends that day. She was jealous that Vincent let Motsie lead him thither and yon like he had a ring in his nose for her to pull, and most of all, it made her sick that any girl could be as bold as Motsie.  She thought Motsie was just about like a man.  “Not even just a normal man,” she thought inside herself, “some kind of wild, bohemian man!”
Motsie had taken to the idea of hitch-hiking that previous summer.   Since Martin and Vincent were keen for adventure outside Five Points, they made good company for Saturday-trips during the school year to Chapel Hill, to Dillon, S.C., or to Raleigh.  Vincent was now growing his own in the sun room since his dad had left and his mom was around less and less, so if Motsie didn’t have the good stuff from her cousins in Benvenue, Vincent would stingily share a little something from home.  
In Chapel Hill, they took turns at being a blind harmonica player on the wall until they panhandled enough spare change for lunch across Franklin Street at Hector’s.  In Dillon, they did the same thing at South of the Border until they had enough for a strip of photobooth snapshots that Motsie mailed to her Cousin Garnet along with a postcard to substantiate the lie about her and Martin having gotten married there in the Summer of Love when they’d been 13. At Dix Hill, they visited a compulsive car-thief friend who was locked up in the creepy Spruill Forensic building, roamed the oak grove, walked the tracks, and followed up on Cousin Garnet’s idea about getting some bones from a graveyard.  Potters Field at the insane asylum had declined due to erosion, vandalism and the elements of time.  The adjacent city dump had garbage trucks driving over the edges so that some of the coffins had slid down hill and were slightly exposed. This made it easy.
“The cafeteria ladies are poking around the edge of the dump with little dinner forks,” Vincent laughed breathlessly as he leapt over the tracks and climbed through the kudzu to Martin and Motsie.  “They don’t look like they like it too much. They were mostly cussin’ and sayin’ they were gonna quit if they found any bodies.” 
“I dare Motsie to go find some bones!”  Martin chirped to Vincent’s obvious horror.
“I’ll do it, y’all,’  Motsie grinned mischievously.  “But y’all come with me as far as those benches by the Kirby building and act like we’re just visiting Potter’s field to see relatives’ graves.  Then I’ll slip away down the hill by the dump and see if I can blend in with those colored ladies and offer to help poke around.  And by ‘help,’ of course, I mean get some bones.”
“I bet any of ’em ‘d be glad to give you all their forks and head straight to the bus stop.  But I doubt you’ll find any bones with a fork,” Vincent was quick to add.”  
“Well, I have my KA-BAR,”  Motsie lifted her skirt to show most of her thigh and the leather sheath.  
        Motsie left Martin and Vincent smoking another joint on the benches, and she headed across the field and down the hill to the edge of the dump where the action was.  It seemed to take an awfully long time, but Vincent each lay on a bench after the joint, and looked up at the oak leaves and the clouds swimming east behind them, talking about stained glass and aquariums, and other stuff stoned boys think of when there’s nothing better to do than look up.  Motsie eventually came back looking triumphant, the velvet pouch raised up in one hand showing several pointy angles, and laughed at them for laying there like hobos on park benches.
Hitching back to Five Points, some swarthy foreigner in a hideous avocado green 2-door Opel Kadett insisted that Vincent be the one to ride up front.  Motsie and Vincent were fine with that, and crawled to the back seat to enjoy the free ride home.  Motsie thought the reason Vincent kept turning around to glare was him recoiling with disgust as she repeatedly touched his neck with a finger bone to make Martin giggle, but as soon as they got out by Martin’s house he told her that the foreign man had been groping his crotch all the way.  
“Gross, man!” Martin laughed and snatched one of Batboy’s pretend gravestones from behind the kitchen for Motsie to use as a grinder.  She smashed at the bones on the concrete stoop behind Martin’s kitchen, making splinters more than dust, and two or three of the knuckles just shot off to the side yard like rocks from a sling shot.  A neighbor’s cat got to one of them before they could retrieve it, and ran off to enjoy her snack. 
Then they had gone to look for Lindsey at the Whacker’s where she babysat during the day every weekend, and had gone over to do the magic on Pod that landed them in the ER with Martin in the middle of the night.  Motsie at least was going to be able to call her parents with a good excuse for missing curfew, being there in the emergency room, and Lindsey could use the same one on the Whackers.  Martin’s parents had driven everybody over to the ER when they showed up, but even though Martin had some explaining to do, he was keeping his lips buttoned.  Vincent just went home with Motsie. 
        They put the bone dust in a stump hole right before mass the next morning.  In church, Motsie told Vincent the truth about the bones.  She’d gone down the hill where the cafeteria ladies were poking around, and talked to a couple of them.  
        “They weren’t trying one bit hard to find those coffins!  They were deliberately poking around as far between the obvious graves as possible.  One said I was crazy, and nobody had any business in a graveyard at all unless they were either burying somebody or getting buried.  About then I noticed a faded old bucket of Colonel Sanders right there in the dump.  I just got some desiccated drumstick and wing bones out of it.  They were handy.  They looked convincing. I wouldn’t ha’ touched you on the neck with a real people bone, Vincent; I’s just playin’.”
Vincent was immensely relieved, and even laughed about the trick.  
        “Maybe the stump hole powers’ll end up makin’ ’em as effective as human bones for some future trick!”  Vincent could usually find the practical solution to fit most circumstances.  
        When he finally did go home that evening, there was an extra car in the driveway, and Mrs. Beeching explained that a friend of hers had had a break-in and didn’t felt safe at home, so would be staying with them for awhile.  The friend was taking a shower in the master bath just then, but when Vincent was helping his mother set the dinner table in the fancy dining room, not the kitchenette, he heard the clopping of Pod’s hoof-like shoes down the hall. 
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Installment 10 – What happens in the Bamboo

“Lucky for Cousin Garnet she’s crippled, so they can’t whip ‘er and they never make ‘er do a single chore. She said she left Thumbelina-the-whore lookin’ like a baby-doll after some youngun’s done playin’ with it, an’ she went around like that all week, like ‘a mouse after it chews it’s hand off to get out o’ your trap, an’ then sits between you an’ the t.v. showin’ you ‘is bloody little stump like you’re gonna feel sorry for ‘im. Cousin Garnet was thoroughly disgusted.”

Motsie had hopped out of some random car she’d hitched a ride from, and caught up with Vincent and Martin a block before secret place they called the Bamboo. The boys were walking their bikes and had a new girl with them who brought a little tow-headed harelip boy. Motsie didn’t shut up for a whole minute put together while they all headed around the curve to the path down into the garden.

‘So, they’d ha’ been in Cousin Garnet’s room, gettin’ Thumbellina-the-whore all stoned on Henderson’s closet stash, which she brought me some today, by he way, and they had some saltines and peanut butter ready in advance for munchies. One o’ those Taint girls kinda accidentally on purpose smeared a peanut butter cracker on Thumbellina’s hair, knowin’ she’d wouldn’t dare bathe in that claw foot tub with a drowned ghost. They had put the supposed dry shampoo and pretend leave-in conditioner right on the dressin’ table.”

The path down the hill was unplanned, like a deer-path, and cut through rhododendron on a steep bank with no other stairs than jutting roots. Lindsey, the new girl Vincent had invited, made sure the little hair-lip didn’t trip or get a branch-slap in his pitiful face. Vincent came last while Motsie led the line and Martin stayed right behind her to hear all this juicy story.

“Were they all gonna sleep together? All those girls? In the same bed? Or with sleepin’ bags like scout camp?” Martin was very detail oriented.

“Let’s not talk about scout camp, Martin. Y’know?” Vincent began to sound nervous.

“What, Vincent? What’s wrong with scout camp?” Lindsey was still naive.

“Oh, nothing, we were working on that outdoor survival merit badge, and,” Martin redirected towards a near taunt, “Vincent had a nasty poison ivy experience.”

“Lay off it, Martin, or I’ll tell about that contest you won.” Vincent’s face turned red, probably with anger.

Martin whipped around and glared at Vincent, “At least I didn’t have to be taken home.”

“You got poison ivy that bad? Lindsey tried to appear solicitous.

“We had to pull a bunch up where we were pitchin’ our tents. Martin, I’m gonna kill you.”

“Everybody else’s was limited to their hands, but Vincent….”

Vincent interrupted Martin “That’s it. Martin’s tent buddies all had a race to see who could…”

Martin interrupted Vincent, “So Motsie, you were tellin’ about your cousin’s bedroom, go on, go on!”

The path opened into the garden by a horse-shoe shaped gazebo covered in climbing roses, and at the center was a big fountain in a pool of goldfish and pennies. Motsie led the way to the edge and stepped into the water while Martin took his shoes off and did the same thing.

“Oh, yeah!” Motsie found her place and went on. “So on top o’ havin’ eight chimneys full o’ bats, their house is even haunted. It’s on the list of haunted houses in Benvenue an’ everything. Cousin Henderson sleeps at the top o’ the staircase, and he says he hears footsteps comin’ up every night, eighteen steps, and a couple o’ times he peeked out ‘is door an’ saw this red-haired lady comin’ up completely nekked, an’ followed ‘er all the way to the bathroom door. Sometimes if they go in the bathroom at night, she’s layin’ there in the tub full o’ water, with her hair floatin’ all around her face. Anybody’d love to have a slumber partty there, but still, I mean, there were Taints involved, for Pete’s sake.

“Huhu always said never associate with a Taint, ’cause it’d be like committin’ social suicide, and these girls are pure tea Taints through ‘n through! So all’s I can say is, Thumbellina-the-whore must be some real trash to take up any invitation from a Taint, is all I can say.”

“Just sayin’,” Martin said, smiling.

“They really were the grossest two little girls I’ve ever seen” was Vincent’s opinion. “Motsie’s cousin said they hafta share a toothbrush, but they don’t want to mess it up by usin’ it too much ’cause their dad might beat up if he has to spend ‘is likker money on a new one.”

“Gee, Vincent, I bet you were wishin’ you’d let Mr. Whacker drive you down to Cottondale when he drove me home, instead o’ havin’ to be around that, right?” Lindsey’s desperate attempt was lost only on Vincent, and Martin stayed Motsie’s hand from pulling the bowie knife from under her skirt.

“Oh I’d love to go see Cottondale, Lindsey, but we had an exciting time in the cemetery up there with Motsie’s Cousin Garnet. They tell each other the biggest lies, like Garnet actually believes that Motsie and Martin went down to…”

Now it was Motsie’s turn to interrupt, “went down to the Cow and got Thunderbird wine when we were only nine, haha, big deal. So anyway, Cousin Garnet said they all fell asleep on her featherbed, and along about sunrise Thumbellina scared the wits outa them screamin’, ’cause they’d sorta forgotten about it while they were sleepin’ like innocent little angels. Some o’ her hair was still attached, but it looked all gummy, and most of it was stuck to the pillow, and half o’ Thumbellina’s face was peeled off, raw.”

Motsie had opened a velvet pouch that hung from a thong around her neck, pulled out an EZ Wider and a hairy red bud without seeds. She had everyone’s undivided attention as she twisted up a fatty one-handed and stuck it all the way in her mouth to seal the deal.

“Let’s head into the Bamboo, y’all.” And with that, she nudged Martin’s foot out of the fountain with hers, and he led the parade back up the bank into a thick swarm of healthy green bamboo, impenetrable from the road above where they’d all met up.

“I can’t believe the girl didn’t at least cut the long part to match the short part. Aren’t there any beauty shops in Benvenue?” Vincent was incredulous.

“Well,” Motsie finished up just before entering the clearing, “Cousin Garnet said she went around like that all week, but on Sunday she was singin’ her damn solo at the First Baptist, wearin’ her mama’s big ol’ Eva Gabor beehive wig.”

“Wow, Cousin Motsie!” Martin was clearly impressed. “I sure wouldn’t mind goin’ up to that reunion sometime, or at least to Benvenue, and get a look at some o’ those people.”

“Well, that’s not gonna happen, Martin. Your branch o’ the tree has been severed.”

“Oh, maybe somebody back there on your side chewed it off to escape, Martin” And that was the surprise quip out of Lindsey’s mouth!

Everybody except Motsie had a good laugh, and then Martin halted in his tracks, turned on the ball of his muddy foot, ran right by Motsie and the others in a pale panic. Motsie was next to reach the clearing, and abruptly did the same, followed by Lindsey and the hair-lip boy. Some guy had been squatting in the back of the bamboo clearing with one arm drawn across the lower half of his face like the masked marauder, pants down around his ankles and his other hand jerking on his business. Only Vincent dawdled at the edge of the clearing, and called to them over his shoulder, “What? I mean wait!” But it took him a minute to reach the rose beds where the others were sitting, bent over laughing into the fountain.

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