By A.H. Watson
Chapter I - The Emancipation
The fire had burned to glowing embers. Its dying warmth matched the glow from the evening's cocktails, which filled Henny's body. The warmth was further banked by the enduring warmth these men felt for each other and filled the crevasses worn deep in each mans soul.
Nothing teaches like survival. Little endures that is not won on the field of battle or in the trenches of hard labor. To these men knowledge, trust - even love - was built on their common experience. Both failure and success each had known, individually and together. Indeed it is the glue that binds each to another...to a view of life and how it should be lived
Just as Henny believed in the commonality of mountain and Charleston men, the varied lives that these men had lived drew, in Henrys belief, from a common well. As such, the three of them reacted similarly to many different stimuli. Each man had been tested in his loyalty to the institution or the group. None had come up wanting. Had they been found wanting, they would have also been found jailed.
Several years ago, when they all still believed that a little more freedom would bring so-called justice to the Negro community, when they felt that just a few more years of equal education would help them over the hump - they had faced a challenge that almost destroyed them. One that, if not in the end left to that trust, could have destroyed Henny and even the Judge.
By 1985 the country had made great strides in making room for Negro in American society. No nation has ever done more; from today looking back, perhaps too much, with too little asked in return.
They had not been at the cabin on the stream that trip but at the house on the lake. Henny's home place, the farm his great grandfather had left from for the city, and hopefully a better life for his family. No family could attest to the value of education more than that of the Mayor's. As the Judge had often pointed out, Henny had moved from mountain poverty to government imposed poverty, all in four generations. The farm remained as it had been established, but with one glaring exception. The most valuable asset, the thirty acres of lowland, rich in nutrients washed from the surrounding hills had been converted into a lake. The creek traversing its center was dammed, destroying for future generations the sight and source of the blinding sweat and grubbing nature of mountain farming.
Little did the locals or the Mayor realize that the lake would, in the future, soon become an asset that the arriving stock mongers, asset managers, and e-mail wranglers would refer to as God Sent" as in ;" why Mr. Penny this lake is just a" God send" isn't it?" Those words only brought to Henry's thoughts the extreme guilt he felt for having destroyed the land that his kin had carved from nature or the left hand of God", as the local preacher often said. Several thousand stumps were hand dug and pulled from the ground, the largest burned in place by series of fires set over the two years taken to clear the land. It was all there in the family bible for any that cared to read. But so few did in this age of reason. With computers who needed to read any longer, it sufficed to merely point and click.
Henny loved his lake, and the many friends that joined him in its enjoyment. When he sat in the evening he looked upon its beauty, the circular ripples moving apart, caused by some unseen critter practicing Darwin's plan, or perhaps an evening swallow dipping its last drink. The low call of the whippoorwill that, unlike like the many children's tales, actually lived in the hollow besides the house and called every evening.
Owl, deer, bobcats and bear all converged on this place at their appointed times. Henny saw them all.
It brought him peace.
Even with this, Henny told the assembled crowd one evening while in his cups. "We sit here day after day looking at the water, fishing its depths. I hope you see what is screaming at you my fat and complacent friends. The lake is a metaphor for the differences in the generations. The thing that separate us from our past .their work is our play. Our work would be of no consequence to them.....considered mere child's play, not worthy of an adults time or thoughts. We call our selves men, while we are but simple children in the sight of our past. Actors upon a stage feinting and braying, hoping that no one will notice the paleness of our souls, the shallowness of our plans".
Everyone soon retired for the evening - guilt is a taskmaster that offers little solace.
Chapter II - Visitors
The Judge and I had arrived the day before, which was often the case when others had been invited. The house needed a good cleaning and the beds required their coat of sheets before the weekend. He and I enjoyed the evenings before the visitors came, discussing our friends and the coming events as we had often done in the past. I emphasize weekend as most were still hard at work and had only those days to devote to pleasure. It is strange that here were the Judge and I, footloose so to speak, not counting the impediment or fortunes of marriage, depending upon ones view of things at this stage of life.
We shaped our pleasure to the structures of the week.
Isn't this the way of the human animal though? One spends a lifetime wishing and waiting for the freedoms from five or six-day week, only to find that without thinking most enjoyable plans are centered around the weekend. As Orwell said, All pigs are equal, some are just more equal than others."
And so it must be with days of the week, Saturday and Sunday blocked out for rest, with Friday the day looked forward to with the zeal of a young lover seeking more. Thumbing back through my day calendar I notice that almost all movements were made on Fridays and Sundays, with a few Thursdays, such as this week, pushing the curve. Man was indeed tied to his experiences, and seldom ventured far from them. I believed that .at least until this weekend had unfolded and slipped into the mist of theJudge and my shared history.
"What time did they say they would come?" ask the Judge slowly building a case of indignity he could use upon Dick's and Earls eventual arrival.
Earl Robinson was a friend of our childhood. A talented man known throughout the country for his knowledge of the world of water, where it should go where it shouldn't, and most beneficial of all, how to keep it where you wanted it!
As with Earl, Dick too was a man of our youth, known from the day he moved to Hennyville when he was around nine. What is it the Catholics say? "Give me a child until he is eight, then you may have him the remainder of his life." Well, they should have had a shot at Dick, it would have not hurt. But come to think on it for a moment, I don't believe the Catholics advertise that statement any longer....least not since the Mother Church, like all the rest, has come to believe in relative goodness.
I have hesitated to pronounce on Dick. He is a member of the group in good standing and accepted by all as one of the crowd. That is he is accepted, but with some deep and lasting reservations about his track in life.
Like The Judge and myself at one time, Dick is a lawyer. But there the semblance ends. Dick practices with some white shoe firm in Atlanta and is powerfully successful. Yet Dick has never been able to explain to many exactly what he does to earn his chop each month. Most of the old time white, Caucasian only" firms in the city have changed.
They said it was social justice and responsibility that drove them.
The Judge and myself, knowing many of them, believe that it was that Atlanta had slipped away, had become a black city - headed the way of Washington D.C. - a town run by the incompetent for the useless and utterly clueless.
Dick was a leader of that pack.
In lieu of blackness, which not even Dick could do - though like a lizard I had seen him close his eyes and squeeze as though he were trying to change color he gave cover and advancing fire to the troops of blacks rapidly looting the city far worse than Sherman and his misbegotten gangs of hired hands had ever done.
Dick threw himself into the fight to destroy any and everything white people had built, not just in Atlanta but the country at large. Coupled with Morris Dilbert, from a so-called civil rights law firm, and a few others funded not only by the city coffers but by the federal taxpayer as well, Dick and Morris had succeeded far beyond where their limited imagination carried them.
After one such battle, I believe it was to change the name of the Birch Street School" to Fumhe Moo Me Interdisciplinary Educational Institution", Doc Mel remarked Shit Henny, if those little tykes can write the name of their school they won't need a year end test."
Dick had told me one night right after the school board had indicated their willingness to make the change," Jesus Hen, just think of the power to make change that I have. Would you have every thought society would have stood still for this kind of act." As I remember my answer had been a simple," No, Dick I wouldn't, but then I would not have expected you to feel so good about it." His last word that night as I rounded the corner for bed," well, Henny you and the Judge are just jealous of the power and responsibility I have."
Earl is the salt, the most reliable man I know; quiet, awkward at public speech, yet sure of his abilities and unwilling to show you up in public or in private. When they arrived, some two hours late, as Dick had a meeting that he just could not escape and kept Earl outside for some two hours.
Earl had white spots around his mouth, those that knew him took warning as it meant he may blow, at best a semi-annual occurrence and one that could be brought about only by something big. The Judge, who had been ready to pounce the minute they arrived, took one look at Earl and headed instead for the bar.
Hurrying into the house, Dick had tried to hug me while explaining his lateness as being required by the necessity of solving all of the problems of Atlanta before they left town for the day.
Keeping Dick at bay with my out thrust hand, he accepted a shake as I looked over his shoulder at Earl whose eyes stared upward at the rafters as he shook his head. "God Damn it Dick! You can tell them all later. I have had to listen to your shit for 125 miles, and believe me that is 124 too many.....just shut the fuck up."
Dick turned as if struck, Well, buddy boy, next time catch your own ride, some of us have real jobs."
Earl, who had accomplished more that morning that Dick had since the Doctor whacked on his foreskin, said nothing, but turned and followed The Judge to the bar, where they embraced and began to talk about the trout both had hooked, but neither had landed. The yellow-rock trout they called it. Each time the story became more unbelievable.
If the fish became any larger in telling, somebody was going to have to re-size the stream.
"You know Hen, you really should have done something with your legal abilities, you should get out of Hennyville and live. Look at me, did you ever imagine that life could be this way. If you hold your tongue a bit, I'll bet Morris would use you to help on some of our cas..."
"That was when I hit him, your Honor," I thought to my self, as I looked at this man standing here lecturing me on life.
Has life become this fucked up? Are these people really in charge of the asylum? Well yes, but surely not forever and assuredly not in here in my house. And that is when I did hit him - hard, and on the nose. Remembering what Daddy had always said - "What worth doing, is worth doing well."
Chapter III - The Cup Reneth Over
Dick didn't appear for dinner. The Judge started some crap about hitting being the child's solution to problem solving and was starting to recommend anger concealing when he finally broke down and laughed.
Earl, as was his nature, said he felt responsible. He mentioned that He should have hit the bastard earlier, but that after all he was driving, and the mountains were curvy. "Henny, you know its funny really, there was once in the car when I actually visualized MY driving, Dick sitting in the right hand seat, and my leaning over and punching him right smack in the proboscis."
"You reckon I have that what'cha'ma call it?"
"You mean you think it was a case of Déjà vu?"
"Pre-cognition," the Judge snapped."
"God damn it Earl, it don't take no mind reader to predict Dick getting hit in the nose. Good Lord man, half the state of Georgia would pay for the opportunity and here Hen goes and does it for nothing. Do either of you realize what we could have auctioned off that pop in the kisser for?""
For those of you that don't keep up with the Judge and Henny, the Judge was referring to an opportunity to get funds for a small tax-free company they managed. The motto of which is Do good by doing great!"
"Earl, when you fly off all over hells half-acre, do you actually use words like curvy in your speeches? .No, it doesn't matter, just wondering .Why? I'll tell you why. It makes you sound like all engineers are candidates for hair dressers school....that's why, you big oaf."
Henny was still keyed up or' jammed' as the younger crowd might say and spoiling for a fight. Earl, who had missed the Olympics his sophomore year in High School in the 20' rope climb by .00010 of a second , and some NCAA politics, was not a victim of choice - it only showed that Henny's juices still ran warm.
Turning to the Judge, Earl spoke.
"All the way up here Judge, the prick talked about all the things he had been able to do to upset the balance of power and even the practice religion and education in Atlanta. He was boasting that Christmas would never be the same, that crime would never be punished in the same way, or even that some things such as dope or simple theft would even be handled as crimes in the future.
That is if he and Morris Dilbert had their way.
Is that right Judge? Can one man change all the laws in the nation just because he declares them not to be the ones he likes?"
"It would seem so Earl. It started with property rights, the right of an agency of the government to make its own law; to change 200 years of rules and regulations to meet their own view of today. Once America gave up the Constitution as designed by the fathers of this country, it was bound to happen. They had seen it happen before, that is why they were here in America. One of them even said, we have given you a republic, if you can keep it." We didn't son, we simple gave up to the Dilberts and the Hesters of the world."
The Judge shook his white hair and moved to the bar.
When the three looked up from small fire, Dick had entered the room and stood next to the Judge at the bar, fixing a stiff drink. Across the lake a blue light glanced from the surface and skidded into the living room of the house changing everyone's skin color to that of an impressionist painting. Colors not seen in day bathed the faces in the room, each with a different highlight, depending upon the angle and closeness to the glass doors overlooking the lake. Dick a wan purple, moved to the door as we all heard the light rumble of tires on the gravel road across the lake.
Soon it was apparent the car, a Sheriffs no doubt from the flashing strobe light, was coming here to the cabin. Sheriff Hall never arrived in such splendor, reckon Dick called him and he was coming to the complaint of assault? I hit him hard enough, but if this is to be the result, it should have been with a little more authority. Henny looked at Dick but his face, still a light purple- his forehead marked with red, seemed as confused as were the Judge and Earl's standing beside him.
It was two cars in fact, the Sheriff's and that of a Deputy Sailor, an old mountain name not always attached to the better angels of the local community.
In fact it was well known that his being a Deputy was no more than a political plum paid for favors rendered. For the past two years Hooter" had been forced to ride herd on the fellow. His gun was much too large for the mind and nature that controlled it. Deputy Sailor was both a coward and a bully; the most dangerous mix in a society that allows its law enforcement to normally be given the benefit of doubt, and assumed to be right in those cases where words were in conflict or down right at cross-purpose.
"Evening Hoot, little late for social calls, isn't it?
Henny smiled at his old friend. "How about a cold one, or did you come to arrest me?"
"Not all in all a bad idea Mr. Mayor, the arrest I mean. As for the drink, I would love it, but can't, not with this little shit with me." He nodded at Deputy Sailor, hand on his gun, standing at a distance, astride the walkway to the house.
"It's not a social call I'm making, came to warn you that there has been a break out at the work camp over the river, well hell, you know where it is."
Before the Sheriff could elaborate on the situation, Deputy Sailor added his opinion with out being asked." Don't you never mind Mr. Penny, I know these fellas and never seen a nigger yet that would cross a river on even a bus, if'n he could help it. Just y'all go on drinking your liquor and telling tales, those boys long gone South of here. We are just wasting our time, but the Sheriff here thinks you girls need protecting, being citified and all."
The Sheriff turned to say something to the Deputy, but felt my restraining hand and relaxed. " "Thanks Jr." I said, ""we need all the looking after we can get. Some of this crowd was shooting 'Cong out of trees at night; while the best part of you, was running down your Daddy's leg. Get off my fucking property and don't ever come back unless you have a warrant. And if you do, you best bring someone that can enforce it.""
Turning to the Sheriff, "Hooter, "I'm sorry, I just hate that word nigger". I use it from time to time, yes, and I don't like myself much better when I do .but I am not going to have it used by trash standing in my yard.""
Sailor stared at me with the pure hate, the hate only the classless can muster.
"Well Sailor, see you made another friend. I told you that you just had a way of endearing yourself to the customer. Go over to the # 64 bridge and set up surveillance."
"You have given me all the help I need here."
Swaggering, again as only white trash can do...remember how Clinton walked?
Sailor left the lake...but not our minds.
When he had backed out, Hooter looked at me and shook his head.
"I know Henny, but you don't need an enemy like that. You have just given me something else to do. Now not only do I have to worry about the election and the breakout, but covering your sorry butt."" He went on to tell us the peculiarities about the escape and the serious nature of at least one of the missing men. They had killed a workman at the prison, seemingly needlessly, and not been missed till lock down at 10 pm.
Chapter IV - The Last Drop
I cannot ever remember these men being this quiet before. Each lost in their own thoughts, it was minutes before anyone spoke.
Dick broke the silence.
"Well, they were being mistreated; we have all heard about the horrible conditions at these camps. Just last month Morris and I started a task force on prison cruelty. He seems to think there are millions to be won in suits against county prison farms just like the one the Sheriff runs. Think I will get my briefcase and make some notes, my pistol might make some of you feel better as well."
"You do that Dick, I know it will make me feel better knowing you are carrying a gun", The Judge called after him.
Henny looking at Earl said, "well, it won't hurt to get out the shotgun, I expect they did go south toward Atlanta, there isn't much up this way to entice them. Did you hear what Hooter said? The one black wasn't suppose to be there. He was far too dangerous, a stone killer I believe he said, with a long record of violence in prison as well. His papers were delayed and he was put up over night at the farm. Ain't that always the way, no matter what. A train accident, boats running into each other. All this mayhem and most of it caused by two mistakes colliding with each other. You know Earl, sometimes I wonder how in the hell we ever got to the moon."
"Henny, my wonder has always been, how in the hell did they get off. Ninety-nine percent of America can't back into a parking space, and that cool bastard backed down a jet of hot gasses, slowly reducing the power until he touched the moon. Then he said, "I believe we have touch down Houston".
Earl was interrupted by the Judge, highly unusual for him.
"Earl's right Henny, by God that was the defining moment in the history of man. From my perspective it has been all down-hill since. That pilot, and that what he was, a flyer, should have said."Houston by God I did it! - this piece of fucking tin, put together by the cheapest goddamn contractors you could find, is on the ground by God,.....'old terra moona'. Pay up you motherfuckers! I know your control group had a 'pool' on our ever making a radio call from the surface fo the moon. Call in that prick that pays us our 30k a year and let's negotiate a deal to get this crate back. Talk to my agent, and my tax attorney."
Hey Ma, look at me, I am on top of the world."
Henny looked up from wiping down the shotgun, the shells arrayed in front of him."That's the way it would be in 2001, now that we have crossed Clintons bridge. But let me suggest also that if it had been today with all the forced hiring, demanded equality of outcome, the dependency on lies and cover up for obvious mistakes and sins of commission and omission, the poor bastards would have never made orbit, much less the surface."
"And you know Dick would say that's all right, as long as at least one that died was a Negro, and a Mexican." the Judge added frowning up at the door.
Dick had returned with his pistol, but it was pointed at his head, and held by, excuse me, the biggest nigger any of them had ever seen. There is simply no other way to describe him in a way you would understand or feel in your bones and gut. The man was massive, muscled to the point of awe, and black as Clinton's soul. There was, even among hardened vets, never a thought that this man could be rushed or taken by surprise.
It seemed death could come easy at the hands of this man and was not a stranger to him. Calm as the man on the moon ship, no panic, no hurry.
The black turned immediately to Henny."I heard what you said in the yard, we was in the trees near that Deputy. other wise you'd be dead, killing don't mean nutt'in to me. Its all the same now. They gonna kill me if'in they catch me, an' I suppose they will....soon enough. But they gonna kill my boy hea' cause he be wit me, and all dis fancy nigger ever done wuz to git cross wise wit that damn deputy."
For the first time the other intruder was put in frame. The dominance of the big black had been so complete none had noticed the other colored fella standing there, looking rather nonplus.
I thought considering the situation. and considering that if something wasn't done,four friends could become four corpse rather quickly.
"And who are you may I ask", looking at the slight young man standing just inside the door. The man, around 22 years, looked at Henny, then the Judge and smiled, "That there is John Henry, I'm Willard Howard of Atlanta." I came into this County yesterday morning a college student. I stand here now a man wanted for murder....evidently."
"Murder is not a charge one smiles about," the Judge saw fit to interject, some how feeling that he was back in his court room in Hennyville.
I know that mister, but being jailed and charged with resisting arrest is not a smiling offense either, that is precisely what that damn Deputy Sailor did to me. He grabbed me out of the car and said no nigger in this county ever drove a Corvette he didn't steal."
When he found out it was registered to me he changed the ticket to resisting arrest, and said well I wouldn't own it for long; they would repossess the car before I got off the work gang.
Daddy told me that if I drove a car above my station, something bad was liable to happen."
For one second, fleeting though it was considering our plight, I found my self more in tune with this slight, coffee colored, student than the man directly across the table from me now.
Dick who had been pushed into the chair across from me by the giant John Henry, looked up at the the large man as said, I think I can help you, I spend my time helping the poor and unfortunate of your race. There is no reason I can't be of service to you - my name is not unknown in legal circles. Yes I am convinced I can help."
"Me too, the black slowly agreed.
Dick smiling for the first time looked at me with a vindicated look. The giant went on,"if I hold your scrawny ass....just so" - with that he reached one hand around Dicks neck and actually held him at arms length above the chair. "If you wus thicker you could stop more bullets but I guess this will just have to do."
With that he dropped Dick.
He hit the chair and sprawled helpless under the table. Neither moved in the few moments I had available to watch.
I heard what that pussy," nodding at Dick, didn't say out there in the dark as well." John Henry announced, seemingly to the room at large, then spitting toward the prostrate figure of the man.....
A man suddenly...not as well know in legal circles.
"Willie, get that gun the fellow is so love'nly stroking. I'm gonna find a drink."
With that the big man moved to the kitchen and begin opening cabinets searching for a bottle.
Looking down, I noticed that in all the imploding madness, I had never stopped slowly rubbing the gun stock. The shells awaited Willard's seemingly hesitant hand. Listening to Henry destroy the kitchen, searching for drink, Willard had moved to the bar standing open at the end of the room, lifted several bottles inspected their label and poured a stiff three fingers....in the proper glass.
With a slight smile, he tipped the glass to me and watched me over it's rim as the liquor disappeared down his 'au lait" colored throat.
Funny what one will think at stressful times. I remember being pleased that he had picked the single-malt in the eighty-dollar bottle. It would have been my choice also.
Grabbing a quart of Wild Turkey, Willard then headed toward the kitchen, calling out is this what you are looking for big'un?"
I could see the Judge bristle in the semi dark - and again funny what you will think at the time - but thinking, the Judge is pissed that he didn't take him the Early Times.
It had been the big man's intention to kill us all, steal the cars, and make a break. The key to a criminals, success as well as their many failures, is the straight line thinking employed.
Girl....sex - money....sex - Car....sex.
Their success is in their willingness to just take what they want. Their failure is to plan events far enough in advance as to avoid situations such as this.
Henry did not want to kills us....he did not want not to kill us .Henry had no fuckingopinion on the matter.....
We of course did.
They did know that daylight was going to bring a killing field. If they could not break out of the rings thrown around the county and roads leading out....they were done, and by extension, and my certain belief in Henrys word, so were we.
Willard guilty only of speeding, landed more in our court, as he knew that Henry wouldwaste no thought on saving him at his own expense. In fact he was here only because Henry forced him to come not wishing to leave him behind to raise the alarm.
Henry explained the death of the construction worker as a necessity as he had seen them once-over the fence, and he to could not be trusted to keep it quiet. Willard said he had spoken quite eloquently in his own behalf, just before Henry had broken his neck.
Searching his face, it seemed that this was a warning to us all; even himself.
While Henry drank, Willard and myself plotted a trip that could break the bounds of the county net and give Henry and him a chance to reach freedom. Road maps were consulted and a possible route established that would give the maximum opportunity to reach freedom.
Henry was not a happy sort of escapee. Drink had helped, and sullied his more murderous intentions, but the thought of leaving anyone alive was a pill he was having a hard time swallowing.
When all was set and as time worked against us all, Henry was willing to leave me here; based he said, on what he had heard me say to the Deputy not an hour before. But the fact that he would have my friends under siege and gun, was the final nail.
Henry believed that the ability to kill was the greatest of powers, and who could argue.
Earl was to drive, Dick to ride shotgun. He had been told that if stopped they were to floor-board it or Dick was to be the first to be listed in the morning headlines.
Dick believed it.
The Judge was to ride in the trunk with them; the opening from the trunk to the back seat all but closed. If they were stopped say they were going home, Sheriffs orders.
Dick would throw a legal fit if they were to try to search. If all that failed, they were to hit the gas, and hope for the best.
No one liked the plan - what was to like - but Henrys had, while being less complex, been weighed and found wanting by the group.
Even Dick knew if he were the one to be left behind, it would be dead, and protested not one whit.
The Judge had looked at me deeply, said nothing, though he knew I had put him in the most dangerous of places, in the trunk with John Henry and he then moved to the rear of the caddy.
Moving to the front of the car, I told Earl, drive normal. If you are stopped you will have to play it by ear, but remember John, hell, remember both of them.
Walking in front of the car, there was no tell tail list to the Caddy giving things away. I went to the right hand window and told Dick that I was sorry I had hit him, that friendship was deeper than that and that I really was counting on what he could do to help this work out. I think he mumbled back that I could count on him, but to remember this was not his idea that he would not take the blame.
Earl fired up Patsy Cline on the tape and they moved off to an uncertain future, but with my hopes for their safety foremost in my mind.
The telephone line having been cut, the car disabled and a 10 mile walk to the road to be considered .the bar seemed inviting.
Chapter V - The Cup Breaks
Earl knew he had been picked to drive because he drove in the back woods often. His job with the Corps of Engineers required his driving under just such conditions - well, almost these conditions, a trunk full of angry and dangerous Negroes was not in the Federal Manual.
Thinking on this line for a moment, He could not help but smile at the thought of some Federal Employee some where in the future, telling all the Negroes to pile in the back of the car because they needed to practice their defensive driving skills.
Dick noticing the faint smile and said that he saw no reason for levity. A sound mind and a plan was required at the moment, not some stupid belief that things turned always for the best.
The roads around the lake and streams of the area were familiar to Earl. But this one, the one that led over the mountain, was rough and unused now that the logs had been cut and snaked slowly to the trimming mill set up in a near-by valley some years ago.
Looking at Dick, Earl wondered if he actually thought a plan was even of use in this case, in all his years Earl had never seen a situation as hopeless and as immune to planning as this. Dick's words had been those of a fool or a very scared man. Looking again sideways, Earl changed his mind.
Dick looked both.
This road had not been on the map, as actually it was a logging trail, considered unable to sustain traffic. Only those familiar with the area, locals, law enforcement, federal game and park employees were aware of its existence. Even the locals would be limited to those that hunted and fished or perhaps made liquor for a living deep in these mountains.
Neither Henny or the rest of us had thought the meandering path to be covered by the local police. Their ranks would never be swelled enough to cover this trail. The bad point had been our being unsure that we could actually drive its entire length with out some misfortune.
Two hours and 14 miles north of the cabin the Caddy emerged into relative civilization; a black top that carried a four digit county number # 1066. Left on this road would take the car and its occupants some eight miles back to the intersections with highway # 64 about half way between Murphy and Hayesville N.C. Right would, in a few miles, cross the bridge at the county line and be in sight of a road intersection that offered several options for the now weary travelers.
Earl had taken the right turn and slowed at a highway rest stop just short of the river. He pulled in, the rough gravel sounding like random shots in the night as caught by the tires it peppered the undercarriage. As the car stopped Earl turned to Dick to suggest that they tell the passengers that a decision was needed as to what to do at this point. Dick sitting quietly was in an instant flooded with light. The wood surrounding the parked care seemed alive with light, but actually it was only the headlights from two patrol cars, doors open, the black silhouettes much like birds of prey awaiting their meal.
Dick bolted from the car shouting, don't shoot, the niggers are in the trunk. They made us bring them don't shoot me....please".
I sat tongue tied as usual, though Dicks words were one of a smarmy, gutless soul .they echoed my sentiments unspoken but burning in my brain. Not now .not over this .Dear Lord.
The voice from the glare behind the lights wrote in cold fingers on my soul, "Well bless me if 'n it aint the high flaluten city boys from the Lake....You take'in your nigger buddies for a spin or was you double dating or some'thn? Lookie here Harold, we done caught us som nigger loving , city-bred, race mongers and the Sheriff ain't here to make excuses for them."
Dick through out this had been pointing to the trunk of the car like a damn bird dog setting the biggest covey in history....an maybe it was. "So that's where they be",Sailor said winking at the other Deputy.
"How about you niggers stepping on out, might be careful if I was you. There are about a hundred guns trained on the car and your sorry black asses." Pulling his own gun a 9mm Glock model 17, the Deputy casually shot the tire of the Caddy and the left tail light and fender." Get the keys Harold, and open that thing"
With out waiting I reached through the window and pulled the keys from the ignition, taking time to whisper. God damn it y'all stay down till its open. Don't give them no excuse to shoot anybody!" I tossed the keys to Harold, he caught them in his gun hand, amazingly with out shooting anyone. With his other he tossed his cigarette, and leaned over the trunk.
I didn't see any flames at first. It was a large whump! .more a feeling of air pressure than heat.... but that changed rapidly. Around the Deputy, the fall leaves begin to curl and shrivel, the grass in the ditch seemed to melt and the car color begin to change for shinny black, to gray and then rust. There was another whump! and the back window blew and the heat begin to take on a color orange, then black, then gray, and orange again. All the time twisting and turning as if in a rage and hurry to take the life of my friend and the men that had helped kill him.
I would like to say that I threw myself on the flames, that I sustained fourth degree burns trying to open the trunk. but sadly that is not true, it was too fast, too fierce. The car was there and then it wasn't. But one look at Dick and I knew.....that he knew.....his life would never be the same.
Shakespeare said it all speaking in Julius Caesar and those lines came to me at that moment looking at Dick.
Cowards die many times before their death, the brave but only once." Dick had read History at Davidson, I could but wonder what great philosopher he could find to sustain him in this.....his defining moment.
There was no actual hurry to open the trunk. Waiting for it to cool, Deputy Sailor had ordered Harold to place Dick and my self under arrest. We were in the back of the patrol car, Harold had not thought to cuff us, and I pledged to myself that I would not be hand cuffed and placed in the Car Sailor was driving.
Sailor was a study in paranoia. One moment slapping his fist together and even saying "Yes" the next mumbling about the bad break in the fire and how It was Harold's fault for being a smoker. I was determined to explain to Harold just who was going to foot the blame for the three death should something happen to us, but Sailor never left us alone, not for a moment.
Finally, Sailor had Harold pry the trunk up. there were what looked from our position like bodies and even parts of bones shining in the light from the car. Sailor poked around for a moment, grabbed Harold and yelled for him to get us in jail and keep quiet. And with that Deputy Sailor roared off into the night.
Chapter VI - The Sheriff
Samuel Hooter" Hall had been born in the bowels of the earth in Hall County. His father, Smithy, a farmer, mule-trader and sometime preacher had been a taciturn and serious man, as most mountain men were. All forms of life - as he once said - lived too close to extinction, on these cold windy mountain sides, to hold much to frivolity and unkempt ways. Even the bear knew when to give up for the winter and await a better more propitious time.
Samuel had learned much for this hard but fair man. His education had been sparse, but like men the world over, those that have the will will find the way. Like any good mind he learned from the mistakes of others, and boosted his knowledge in those areas he felt necessary to move ahead in this limited world.
In his late teens, regular school far behind him, Samuel spent the winter evenings for several years at the home of those he felt could give him the knowledge he needed. He read, much seemed of little practical value, but he read on and found himself caught up in the stories that look him far from these Appalachian valleys. The war in Asia had swept him up and given him the travel he had long dreamed. Unlike many who returned, Sam had no bad feelings. His war had been rough, but not much rougher that holding on to the chilly side of Harper Mountain. As for being trashed or spit upon it had only happened once in the bus station in Atlanta on his return. he had left two young students from Morehouse college, broken and in real pain in the commodious urinal that served the traveling public.
At six foot three, and two hundred and twenty pounds, It look a daddy bear to tree this boy that had grown into a fine man, even while at war. On the bus to Clayton Sam had smiled at the name the two colored boys had called him,"baby killer".
If they had known .if it had just been babies.
But war is the great leveler and it had taken all - babies, mothers and young men.
Lord the young men that had fallen, trying to save a people that evidently didn't want to be saved. It was like his 'Lootenant' had said one day in a fire fight."Sam, I know why I am here, you know why you are here, you reckon any of these other fuckers shooting at us will ever know or care? Hell, will anyone ever care? Sam if we could just turn loose the tigers tail, we could get out of this muddy, flea filled land. You and me buddy, we will go see Paris, get drunk like my old man did and piss in the Seine."
The next time Sam saw the 'Lootenant' he was picking him off of his jacket, gristle and hair, strangely very little blood. Blood just doesn't travel well at high speed, it atomizes and has no carry.
Why am I thinking of the 'Lootenant' now, crawling into bed, Hooter thought.
Is it the impending day, or is it that damn Henny? God how many times had he wanted to face off Sailor. Hen took it right up his tailpipe, didn't waste a word. But now he would have to watch Sailors every move. Mountain trash hated long and hard. Henny should know that by now, but unless you saw it every day no man could believe what even a small slight could build.
Henny's was no small slight, he had called the man what he was and for the moment made him like it. But that wouldnt last. He hoped Henny knew it. With all that in mind, Sheriff Hall reached for the phone to call the office. Deputy Harold didn't know what to do, the phone rang but he didn't answer. What could he say, that he was holding two men on the orders of deputy Sailor who had told him that he would be the one blamed for the fire and the deaths of all those people. He knew Sailor well enough to know that he would damn well try. But the Sheriff knew Sailor too and he wouldn't believe him if the city fellows vouched for him. But then while he studied on the facts, he heard his name on the base radio. It was Sailor asking that he bring the detainees", as he called them, out to the lake.
Chapter VII- Back At The Ranch
Dawn would break in a little over two hours Henny thought, as he staggered back down the trail that led to the cabin on the lake. What the fuck had really happened? Feeling the large fiery lump at the back of his skull, Henny tried to re-assemble the last several hours.
As he and The Judge had planned, with the car barely out of sight, the two convicts shouldered the Mayors light-weight canoe and started the thousand yards that separated the cabin and the lake from the valley and the fast flowing Hiawasssee River. People coming to the lake rarely realized its closeness to the river, having crossed the river several miles back, in their travel to the lake. In fact, Henny himself had only approached the river this way a few times in his own time on the lake.
The trail, a path really, rose abruptly from behind the cabin some several hundreds of feet to a narrow ridge where someday Henny hoped to build another group of cabins for sale to an ever-clamoring public.
This ridge would need to be approached from several miles north as this present grade was too steep to ever be graded into serviceable road. The top of the ridge lay an equal distance from the river and the cabin, a thousand yards or so but straight up. It was twelve steps across, then a steep fall down to the river.
Convincing the big convict to leave the judge here at the cabin, and alive, had not been as difficult as it might seem. The black man had personally cut the phone and destroyed the car as to immediate use. His fellow convict had suggested that this was the right thing, and if I was to be of use to him, he knew that killing the Judge would not aid in that effort. Then, there was of course the judge himself with his gold cane and slight limp. A limp, I might add, that had increased greatly since the black giant had arrived. I could not help but think of the acts of a brooding sage hen or other protective animal trying to distract the prey from a nest of young. Yet, in this case the beneficiary seemed to be singularly the Judge himself, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the every vigilant Henny..
There were no other cabins on this part of the river, nor was there accesses to the river except by a trek through brambles and wilderness for far greater distances than those we had just traveled.
Once on the river and headed down stream, the escapees faced no crossing bridge or road for approximately 12 miles. I assumed this distance would be beyond the perimeter, given the number of men, available to the Sheriff until morning.
All of this led to the urgency of purpose, and the unifying reason the large black could not escape, even in his own mistrust, when it came to agreeing with my plan. I in turn was not at all afraid of turning these two loose on an unsuspecting public. For one, I was not at all sure they could keep the canoe upright and afloat; if they didn't, the steep mountains and rough land offered poor prospects for their eventual escape. Secondly, I knew the Sheriff would be back early tomorrow. He seldom missed a breakfast while we were at the cabin. Further I felt that he had been off put by something and would find his natural inquisitive nature bringing him back. I was sure that he picked up on me offering him a drink in front of his employee, and with his quick mind would hurry back to ask the right questions, as he must have know that I would never perform such a profoundly ungracious act.
The last reason was the most serious of all. Should Hooter return, his car would be heard long before he arrived and the murderous Henry would be waiting .waiting with no love lost for a man of the law, and no reason to be taken alive. I feared for my friend....I feared for us all.
Chapter VIII - Blood of the Lamb
Reaching the edge of the river,and after a short rest, I gave them some basic ideas as to how to proceed from there, as well as a tip or two on how to stay dry. If they followed my instructions both would be floundering in the water, well before dawn most likely, at the first fast water some two miles down stream.
Raising Dicks gun, Henry told the young Negro to "git the shovel", a small folding affair I had brought myself to make it look as though I thought they had a chance. One they could us to bury their old clothes when they reached the road. Instead, I had been carrying my own tool of destruction.
At that moment I knew I was going to die.
Read all you wish, plan in your mind what you might do In circumstances such as this. I wish you well. Maybe your mind, your internal workings are such that in that moment you can salvage victory from defeat, I pray that they are. However, may I suggest that your plans also contain counter measures for potential bowel difficulties.
An athlete from youth, a man of some measured intelligence, I might as well have been a cow being led to slaughter.
He shoved me roughly toward a flat spot back from the stream edge, and pushing my face against a large poplar tree that grow rapidly in these dark spots - hurrying to reach the sunlight.
His grip lightened and my shoulders scrunched together in reflex.
How many times, I ask again, have you told yourself that you would never "go down with out a fight"? Don't believe it for a moment.
Bravery and reasoned decision have no part in being killed. The mind closes down. Reflexes are not those you anticipate. In fact they operate in a way that is the antithesis of those needed to fight. Could a mind and body learn to operate differently? Yes, I have seen it.
Men exposed daily to the threat of death in battle, even Henry standing now behind me, in the constant fear one must feel in prison, have in a way already died. At least that is what they have told me, that their bodies continue to function normally. Their minds,however, have ceased to work, to notice the danger or the never failing horror.
The men you see running from pill box to pill box, pulling the pins of grenades and taking no prisoners, are for the most part men in which no feelings remain, if present they would be shitting along the way.
I heard no shot. I felt the brush of air and Henrys's grip on my neck loosen....then nothing, just like the day I had my tonsils out I remember thinking.
One of us awoke, it was me. The best I could tell the only difference was I was alive, Henry was dead.
Don't let the poets fool you death diminishes one, not true.
Henry was still one very large Negro, vertical or horizontal. The best I could tell, that which explained Henry's and my different approach to life was that he had been hit with the edge of the steel shovel, lucky me only with the folded flat portion.
Stopping to refit my shoe, it had been some how pulled from my foot....one evidently develops this battle field syndrome quite readily as I noticed upon rising that I had used unfortunate Henry as a stool.
I don't think that could have occurred at say .4 pm.
Cold, damp and hurting all over, the last hundred yards to the cabin were excruciating. My right arm had begun to throb, not a good sign for someone recently shoveled in the head. Speaking of which, I could imagine no aspirin of sufficient size to remove my pain.
Scotch, lots of it.... that's the ticket! Then I remembered Willards gift to me, a shovelin the head and a bottle remaining half full to relieve it. All in all, not a bad trade.
Turning the corner of the cabin and into the light from the flood for the first time, I heard a distinctly nasal voice. One that, minus the slap on the head, I would never have forgotten. "Well, if it ain't the cute one. Seems I got me here a wanted felonresisting arrest." Raising his rifle there in the shadow of the large white pine atthe front corner of the driveway, was Deputy Sailor "where is that cripfriend of your'n, he needs to be in on this " said Sailor as he tightened hisfinger on the stock and trigger. " You don't seem so brave right now, cat gotyor' tongue boy? Never mind no pleading, yor' citified ass is dead"
This time I swear, I was moving, he would have to hit a dashing Henny.
A red spot appeared near the center of Sailors under slung chin.
"Right here you miserable fuck."
This time I heard the shot as it rang down the small valley. "I'm standing right here you shit, but your miserable hate blinded you ".
If the Judge had been wearing his cape, if the wind had just been blowing thatdamn cape....
But hell, its still a beautiful picture that I will never forget. The Judge standing at the back corner of the cabin in the half light .the Marlin 30 cal. still bleeding smoke from its barrel.
The Judge and I talked it over, examined all the options that seemed available and opted for the one that seemed to meet the most needs.
Dumping Sailor in the boat, we motored to the dam and wrapped in a shower curtain, slid him down the bank, along the old log railway right of way and slipped him into the river. His rifle was left down stream a ways and the 30-30, centered in the lake when we returned.
We didn't try for perfection, that no longer exist in crime - or even cover-up of legal acts. But we did not go out of our way to look stupid either. The dirt at the white pine was removed to the lake and pine needles spread. Sailors patrol car was nowhere to be found.
The boat was returned to its locked and upside down position some yards from the lake and the electric motor returned to the basement. Could have the two escapees have been brought to the water this way? Of course, but I knew if the access to the riverhad seemed too unguarded, getting them to use the canoe would have been problematical.
I kept watching the Judge fearing his eventual reaction to the life he had been force to take in order to save mine. The man kept his own council, and showed surprising strength when it had been called for.
But why had that surprised me? He always had.
In the end we could only hope that he brought no other deputy or conferred with others. But if you believed most lawmen honest, his act precluded that, he would want no witnesses.
We returned to the cabin and made coffee.
Chapter IX - The Scarlet Leter
We had talked until daylight, worrying about our friends. We had thought to call, but should they have not been stopped, it would have only ended with more questions....questions for which we had no clear answers. We tried to remember just what Sailor had said, but between us we were not sure that he had not merely asked about the state of our mothers health.
Even the judge said that with all his jury testimony, he had never been aware just how unreliable eyewitness accounts could evidently be. That he would never feel the same about such evidence. I am sure that there are other memories about which he will never feel the same as well, but we left those for happier times.
I guess we both dozed, for when I was fully awake hot coffee was in the pot.
Hooter and the boys were sipping their coffee and staring at the two of us. Sam was wearing his normal sheriffs pants, but on his feet were some L.L. Bean moccasins, given him years ago by a friend.
His demeanor, dour to disgusted.
"Well, yor buddies here have had a night of it, seems they were on their way back to Atlanta, but managed to burn up their car and kill three sets of nice golf clubs on the way. They say my Deputy Sailor stopped them and did all sorts of mayhem to their car. My other Deputy cannot decide exactly what he saw, and keeps asking me to ask deputy Sailor what happened. Seems Deputy Sailor has gone missing with the car. But all is not lost."
"In my own bumbling way," Hooter said, looking at me and frowning, "I have made some progress. For those that didn't already know it, the most dangerous of the escapees has been found."
Pausing to see if any one had anything to add, and when everyone looked blankly at him, the sheriff then continued ."I am a simple country man, and that's why I am here alone this morning and not with the damn state police, the GBI and NCSP, FBI, and all other sundry outfits that hope to make their bones by breaking mine today. I have known most of you since your pecker developed its own soul. I break bread with you and and for some of you, feel like a brother. But I swear to God, if you try to run with the rabbits on this one, I will shoot you myself. You won't have to worry about any "big black motherfucker" as my man said this horses ass kept saying early this morning while attending the golf club barbecue," pointing at Dick as he spoke.
"As if you didn't know it," looking then toward the Judge and myself, not realizing that we had bigger and deeper secrets to hide. "The black, Henry Delamaine, is dead, dropped like road kill, below your dam on the river.
Looked like some Indian had taken after him with a tomahawk. Jesus, now that is all we really need,a damn Indian uprising. But I guess none of you know anything about that? Do you?"
"I thought not."
With disgust Hooter kicked the screen door open and said,"Henny out here."
"Henny I'm gonna talk, I don't want to even hear from you unless I ask. No need to tell the others right now. I found Sailors body early this morning down stream. His car if you didn't know, is in the cut below the dam near the path up to the cabin. He had been shot by a pretty good shot, or a lucky one I perhaps. That lets you out on both cases I expect, I just don't know if you could pull down on someone. I'm gonna have to study on that for a spell.
By the way, didn't see that old Indian canoe you keep out back.
While we are at it, the jon boat out front, strange, but its got dew under the boat. Don't see that much in these parts, dew falling under boats. I know, you and the Judge got so worried about the boys.... you went fishing, about four I reckon....No, don't bother answering, can't make a case on dew, even if I wanted. Upstream, at the body of Henry and even down stream a bit near the dam, there are a lot of foot prints.
You just can't get them all in the dark, can you?
To an old mountain man it was plain, Henry was standing behind some one just before he was killed, less one of them had their shoes on backwards. Up stream the same prints, I went to the car and got mine Henny, just like the ones you have on now. The ones you gave me five years ago, the Moccasins."
"Well, what would that TV lawyer that wears the frilly jacket say?", I ask Hoots, "they must make ten thousand of those shoes a year."
"True Henny, but I had to cut a slice in mine to even get them close to looking like yours."
"Get these guys packed up and y'all get out of here by noon. My Deputy has larger things to worry about that some citified ass standing around a burning car yelling "nigger." Sailor for all his failings knew a citified ass when he saw one. But what Dick is isn't a crime .least wise not yet, anyway."
"Sam," Henny started, but Hoot waived him off.
"Later Henny, we will have a long drink you, the Judge, Earl and I and thresh this out. But tell the Judge, I know it had to be done and I think I know why. We will chew on that when we have more time.
By the way, in your hurry, one of you, I expect it was you Hen, can't see the Judge lifting the thing, hooked the battery to the charger backwards.
Better change it before you leave.
With that .Sam 'Hooter' Hall, Sheriff of the county of Hall, placed his large rough hand on my shoulder briefly, and was gone. His blue light flashing the urgent message that help was on the way.
Chapter X - Rememberances of Things Past
Most things were left in place, food not used was frozen or thrown away, the water cut off at the pump and fishing tackle hung from hooks along the wall. There besides the rods, hung two horse shoes welded in to a gun rack. Standing empty for the world to see, screaming seemingly of guilt, pleading for their recent occupant.
Hooter had been staring at the wall when he yelled at me to follow him out side.
Had he known all along?
Had he seen as well, his friends committing murder and then like practiced hit men, deconstruct the scene; only implicating themselves further in the eyes of any called mountain jury?
Did we give the Sheriff no choice but violate every principal he held.....in order to protect us?
The trip to Atlanta, was short. The conversations muted once Earl and Dick had provided entirely different descriptions of the past evening and early morning activity. Both the Judge and Dick became quiet. The Judge lost in what ever thoughts a man must feel after killing another. Dick was another case .Before our very eyes, we were later to agree,
Dick had started his journey .to hell.
Dick's physical being began to take on the cast of his soul. He seemed shriveled and small. The few words he spoke were muttered as though they had no rite of passage in the world of men of honor. Perhaps they didn't, but we added nothing to Dicks own grief and punishment. It seems mean and perhaps petty to say, but we had known Dick most of his life and in discussing it later, none of us were surprised by his acts.
It was as though his life had prepared us for them. As such we were willing to forgive. Other than practically signing the Judges death warrant with his callow cries, cries that led only to the death of my golf clubs, Dicks act affected himself, and himself alone.
Dicks one saving grace, one you no longer see in the young......was shame.
A deep and abiding shame that never left him.
His practice faded. Most work like his depends on bullshit and the ability to fool ones self into believing acid is ice water.
Dick could no longer do this - Lord knows he tried for a while.
But even to him, I guess especially to him, the evening news cut through him showing a man naked to the weakness of his position and beliefs. His black buddies soon found others to do the heavy lifting of racist turmoil, and Dick was left with little legal business.
I find myself often using our recent President as an example of the differences between a failure of character, and the absence of character and honor. No example is more glaring that Dicks fall from grace and the penalty it imposes on a man raised right, but failing in duty. A duty he knew .a shame he could never erase.
Shame comes from the acknowledgment of a duty not borne....an admittance of poor behavior.
Is there one person you know....an honest person, one you feel comfortable with and honor as a friend....just one, that believes for even a moment that the trash that occupied the highest position in this land....ever once .felt shame or remorse of the quality the preachers mean when they speak of redemption?
I would be surprised, totally surprised, if your answer was yes.
Dick no longer came to the lake in Hennyville, calls went unanswered.
When finally cornered he would mumble that he tried to call back, but that business prevented it.
Dick drank, hell we all in our crowd drank more than what was good for us. But Dick now drank with a purpose, but nothing could drown the searing image of standing out side the car and shouting 'kill that nigger' while believing his friend inside, in danger.
Fear comes to us all. and we like to think we will overcome it when it does.
In the safety of my den, I can think of perhaps five things I could have done to improve my chance at life there on the river. If not my life perhaps I could have saved another by when and how I died.
But there I stood like some Jew in the cold black rain of Poland long years ago. More willing to die than trying to live.
The seeds of that fear lurk in us all
Time alone will judge, we can only be ready for the call.
I have not written of the young man that escaped. He saved my life, that is all I know.
Later that month Sam called and I returned to the mountains. Driving to the bridge Sam said little. There we took a trail that led to the water.
Some ways down the trail there was a hole. A little further up against the bank, its nose shoved under a log and filled with good sized rocks, was my canoe - about two feet under the surface.
Sam, sitting on his heels, as I can't do but everyone in these hills can, looked at me and smiled. "Hen, pretty good work for a city black, don't you think?" If Foo May Foo is teaching survival skills like this, none of us white guys got much of a chance, you reckon? We didn't find this, a fisherman found both yesterday.
You knew we had your cabin covered and that we thought the canoe just a dodge.
Why didn't you tell me Hen?"
"You didn't ask me Sam, If you had I would have never lied to you, you know that. Don't you? I didn't know what the fellow did, he killed the man that was about to kill me then slapped me up side the head with that shovel. What the hell did I know?"
"What damn difference does it make, you worried about some damn trophy on the wall?"
The minute the words were loose, I regretted them.
"Sam, I didn't mean that."
But I was talking to his back as he had immediately turned and headed back up the trail.
"Sam, I meant all he did was speed, not that you were looking to put him away forever."
"I know what you meant you little pain in the ass", Hooter said over his shoulder.
If I hadn't jumped into the car, I have no doubt that he would have left me twelve miles down that lonely road.
Before Christmas, before the snow had started falling, the poets would say. Dick killed himself.
The town was mystified, the coffee shop buzzed with speculation, all the standard guesses. None even came close to the truth shared by the three of us.
Dick had committed what he thought was an act of bravery, others might argue the opposite. But none could argue that he had found redemption in the only act he knew for sure would bring it.
It was in truth, really his apology to us, his friends.
Those long months before, as Dick had stood in the door way, the blue light flashing, it had seemed a small red letter danced across his forehead, and disappeared. Later, as I saw him briefly across the street or in his car, it seemed to have returned.....brighter to my eye.
But at the funeral none was there.
I asked the others...but they seemed only puzzled by my question.
Mist Upon The Mountains - The Judge And I
By A.H. Watson
We were beating up the road, the Judge and I, fleeing Charleston as many do, tired, confused, shop worn and even a little miffed at our own awareness of a sense of unworthiness.
Is this possible in this world today?
One in which the barber or yardman feels no compulsion to avoid using your Christian name. It is one thing to be called Henny" by ones yard man, it gives....what? A seeming sense of fairness, a oneness with humanity. Yet when the yard man continues with criticism of your latest stock purchase or choice of fly rod, the communal life may have drifted to new unexplored areas; Such it was with the Judge and Charleston.
Charlestonians are a wonderful, arrogant, oft times diffident people. Though wealthy again for the most part, many of the old and best families lived for years, as was said in Savannah on their looks". The loss of income due to war, insect, and changes in markets, by the early 1900s had brought many of the families to the brink of disaster. While some met this fate with full face and fact, many others like Charlotte" drew the drapes close about their shoulder and danced on, into the night, their heads hearing only the music. Many a Charlestonian ran foxes in the day, yet was forced to eat with the dogs at night.
The Judge though he disliked that particular breed of Charleston man found instead, despite his best intentions, that he admired their cool, singular ability to overcome adversity or apparent failure that would choke another man. He was wont to say that if a Charleston man fell into a open outhouse, as he sunk he would, with a deep bow, doff his hat to any and all passing ladies .if of the evening"....all the better.
Yesterday, after the hospital event, we were invited to Dicks home on the Sound for dinner. The Judge, usually the big pig, was out of his element. The house was filled with Doctors, high-ranking members of the staff and some of the better looking nurses. Dicks wife Hulda, an ex-OR head nurse, feared neither man nor beast. Hulda had married Dick early in his practice and hence iced all competition. She was tall, red headed, smart as a whip, and would melt an igloo by merely sitting in it and letting her motor idle. Hulda, if you didnt follow me, is one hell of a woman.
I dont know just when it was that the Judge made a run at Hulda. Hell, everyone has at one time or another. I guess it was when she gave him the note and told him to meet her at the pool house. Boy I wish he hadnt done that...It was bad enough me looking at all the sweet young women knowing that I was just a dirty old man to them, not even on their screen. For all you women looking for pay back, getting old....for men at least. is the bullet that kills. You know its over, but the thought of never turning a head or having yours turned, is a sad time in a mans life. Especially so because you dont feel that your life is over, yet you know that relationships that dont contain either money or power are lost.
I never thought I would say this, but it is even worse than loosing a good dog.
As we sped north heading for the wayward trout - as I believe Sir Issac Walton called them, the Judge told me what had happened last night before I found him in the pool house.
I dont know about your town, or you for that matter, but in Hennyville sex is just sex....pretty much. Most marriages last a lifetime, though I doubt if there is much less hanky panky in Hennyville than in other similar towns. I really dont know what it is exactly, but the women for the most part have never thought that they were sitting on the mother load or the kingdom of perfect happiness. I guess the attitude of many in town would be echoed by the statement of Mrs. Henderson upon finding that her husband, the school principle was having a heave ho" with the new, young, not particularly bright kindergarten teacher.
Now written large in the minds of all Hennyvillian men is the womans definitive statement on hearing of her husbands infidelity The are, are they? My heart goes out to the poor thing. Just think how lonely she must be. to put up with Henrys bad breath, poor technique, and missionary zeal. I must do something for that child....to be so desperate!"
You dont need for me to tell you the end of this affair, do you? I will note, however, that over at the drug store it was remarked that they had never sold as much mouthwash as they have since her announcement.
Henny", the Judge said looking at me for the first time since last night, I just will never understand women". I didnt say anything, I could think of no way to decrease the Judges embarrassment and sense of low esteem. It would do no good to tell him that last night people were operating on different planes....at the same time, in many cases. The Judge if I read him as usual, had mentioned to Hulda that he really wou
ld like to jump her bones that she was a mighty fine looking woman and deserved better that that little dried up, lime coated, butcher. Hulda it seems (all I have is conjecture at this point) then whispered to John telling him to meet her in the pool house in thirty minutes .to be ready and waiting. Some hour later, as I was looking for the Judge, Hulda smiled gaily and told me she had just called him and he was in the pool house, that he seemed a little out of sorts....then laughing with other guest disappeared toward the bar. It was dark when I entered the pool house; a screened gazebo really. In the ample light from the three quarter moon, there sat the Judge. The light filtering through the screen showed two thin tracks from the edge of Johns steel blue eyes, tracking down his fine featured face to disappear below his cheek.
You all right?"
No, god damn it, you know what Hulda just told me?" His anguished face looking up. She called, laughed, and said she couldnt come, but if she ever wanted to fuck a fool she would give me a call".
Hulda would never hurt the Judge as some deliberate means to a joke or to even over his remarks about her husband. She had assumed the Judge to be semi-joking and her remarks, I imagine, were similarly meant to tease an old friend. I had sensed that something was amiss even before I reached the pool house, as Hulda seemed to have noticed that the Judge had not understood. Her laugh as I remembered was too light, too gay, too fragile.
Sex, even taken lightly, can be a powerful weapon. The Judge in playing so lightly and kidding Hulda....Had never considered that someone else could play the same game, or that they would with him. Oh, how the mighty fall....and the Judges was complete and for a short time devastating. In the end there are no free dances whether you dance to the tune of either love or just a simple sports fuck.
In the end we all must pay.
As we sped toward the mountains of North Carolina I thought of the Judges ultimate humiliation, one that only the two of us shared, thank god. One I knew I could never bring to bear in any argument. The Judge, like Little Giffin of Tennessee - Out of focal and foremost fire...out of hospitals walls as dire" needed time to heal and chasing trout is the greater force - as no time remains to think of other things, other times - other foolish mistakes.
My last words in the pool house had been, Hey big fellow, get your clothes back on and lets travel, we got places to be".
Trout 1 Judge 0
I have owned a home in these mountains for close to forty years. Will I ever be one of these people?
No, the times were too hard, and the fight too fierce.
The families that established themselves in these hills came to America with nothing. They had been moved along to these beautiful, but hard scrabble lands, by a population that had arrived earlier on the fallow plains of the eastern seaboard. Unable to buy, and too late to homestead these lower lands, the new-comers were pushed to the marginal and unfriendly lands of the mountain frontier. Up the hollows of Towns County and those of Hall and Habersham you could, on this afternoon of June, year of our Lord 2001, still find English spoken much as it was in the day of Dickens and Melville. Blood runs deep, family, then kin, then friends, little love or understanding is reserved for the outsider. Little from the outside has been given, over the years, to these wonderful, persnickety, cautious clans.
Friends for life and enemies unto death.
In so many words, much like Hennyville or many other southern towns, the mountain people remember those that have been their friends and even better remember those that have not. Unencumbered by too much activity or yearly change, these slights fester spread and wait. Wait the new season, the New Year, the new venture, the next visit to town.
We have arrived. Helen Georgia, a town removed by light years from the activity, bustle and richness of Charleston. Yet, to the eye of a man familiar with both, the towns could be sisters, populated by men that have seen tough days, hard times - men that would find more in common than historians or their own women would suspect.
We are not at the lake house, but rather at a small cabin in a high meadow at the fringe of a small trout stream. The porch overlooks a bend in the stream. Standing you can see into the middle of the creek. Looking up to your left at ten oclock you can see straight up the stream for a quarter of a mile. Looking straight over the creek there are a series of open fields working their way into the distant tree line. That tree line is the bank of the creek as it moves from the left to cross the pasture in the distant mist. Behind all of this is the mountain that provided the headwaters of the stream babbling at our feet, a mountain that had once almost caused my death; its remoteness belying the activity that took place there.
At my insistence, John, the Judge no longer in command of all he surveyed, limbered a fly rod and left to attack the stream and its inhabitants. No fool I, steaks awaited in the refrigerator. The stream was barren water it seemed to me. The last few years had brought prosperity of a sorts to the area. With such bringing came the locust, the pest, the interloper from the flat lands that stretched toward Atlanta and south to the swelling and sweltering state of Florida. Many of these people had found the hills and valleys of the mountain counties to be a God send", as they phrased it time after time to the local movers and shakers. Puzzled by such remarks, locals began to refer to the, hither to miserable, winter months in the coves and niches of the mountain, a time when all Jewish realtors, box manufacturers and computer salesman returned to all points north of Miami, as a God send".
The stream was not devoid of fish, but ten years of the God-sent" rambling up and down the middle of the creek, with untold millions of dollars of fishing equipment, had left the fish both bruised and battered. I am even certain that like many of the locals, some fish had simply opted for the hook, rather than suffer the continual abuse.
I sat on the porch testing the liquids to be served later to the Judge. I watched as he worked his way slowly down stream toward the cabin. The stream, a little dirty, the Judge had elected to fish a double wet rig. One a stone fly, the other an emerging caddis. They were being fished down stream - the proper way. As I have said before, trout fishing precludes other thoughts. It is simply not possible to fish, walk the stream, and live to tell about it, if your thoughts are elsewhere.
Climbing the bank in front of the cabin, the Judge bellowed over the sound of the brook, My man , I stand before you a humble empty handed fisherman. Would it be possible for me to have one of those things in your hand?" - nodding toward the drink.
Hand .handy .wha?"
Well, my empty headed frien, the creek must be hurting your hearing" the Judge interrupted.
Well, whatever, but I am not through testing this one, if you wish to take the risk you may fix your own." I said smiling. Looking hurt beyond all measure, the Judge stripped his waders and felt covered boots and stomped into the house.
Thats better! I thought to myself, he is now worried more by being abused by me and the fish than Hulda. The poets are right I guess, Love hurts" .but just not for as long as they say.
The Ice Man Cometh
We sat on the porch, the Judge and I, speaking of many things in our life. The things that had drawn us together and those things that at times seemed to drive us apart. We did not speak of Hulda or current events. This was usually the case between us. It is not that we feared the confrontation, we knew and trusted each other too much for that. The Judge just needed time to get his arms around what had happened. In the end he would look as squarely and as dispassionately at the events as I, and draw conclusions similar to mine, of this I was sure.
Just as the evening turned to dark - that time you could no longer distinguish colors - there was noise and a small light in the stream in front of the cabin. Who is out there?" the Judge inquired, but never moved. I arose from the chair, moved to the stream and encountered a young man seemingly in his twenties standing near the bank. Are you lost?" I inquired . Not sos you could tell it, Im just on my way home from fishing" the voice called over the short distance. Well, come on up and lets see you and your catch," I called smiling to my self thinking of the empty pools we always encountered on this stretch of stream. Well, just sos you would know Id be fishing," he allowed. I moved to the bank to help the young man up, but before I could reach the bank, he had deftly jumped from rock to rock and was advancing up the path toward me. Striding easily the young man climbed the porch and stood in the faint light from the kitchen.
His equipment was rudimentary and not geared for trout but rather for throwing plugs perhaps at a fat dumb Bass. It consisted of a cheap Zebco reel, you have seen them, a stainless steel cone with a small hole in the middle and a crank on the side . The rod. plastic, non descript and approximately four feet long, dangling from the end a simple bream hook and small sinker. The total outfit at Wall-Mart, brand new, perhaps twelve dollars.
The faint light showed my apparent mistake, the young man, a boy really, had decreased some ten years for my earlier estimate and was 12 to 15 years of age. Yet, his gaunt and seriousness of nature had clouded his age, as it does many in these hills. You are the Joabe boy, Sams youngest, arent you? I questioned, not sure of my guess. I be a Joabe all right, and I best be getting home Well thats a long way by stream to the top of the mountain, I think I best take you .did you have any luck ?"
A few," the young man said, standing there in overalls, no shirt and barefooted as the day he was born, I caught a few". Removing his old army gas bag cover, now used as a fish creel, he dumped it on the table. A profusion of fish tumbled and slid over each other and the snacks arranged there. Mostly Rainbows, some few Browns and three rare Brookies caught near the home place at the top of the brook. Some twenty five in total, most small, 7 to 10 inches; one nearly 14 inches and two around 11 inches.
Though separated by some fifty years, a lifetime of experience and education he would never see; the three of us bonded. A taciturn young man, never prone to boast, or make promises he could not fulfill, for one moment in his eyes I saw the pride of accomplishment, the knowledge that he was a better fisherman . That he saw our efforts as a joke, a futile effort at playing provider. That with equipment like ours he would run even larger rings around us. All of this in a look, a quick appraisal of these two old men and their toys. Dumping those fish on the table was something he would never do again; never have the occasion to measure meatso to speak, with men such as the Judge and myself. Pride can be found in all men, at all times, and at all occasions.....just ask the Judge.
I arranged with John Joabe to purchase some of his fish for our breakfast and even swapped for some bacon. When I left to take him home I gave him ten pounds of flour, butter, sugar and several other bulk items we had bought that day. When he protested, I told him that for years we had an arrangement with his mother that she would return the favor by baking some biscuits and a black berry cobbler for the Judge and myself.
When I returned the Judge had fixed me a drink, and was pointing at the porch floor now stained with water dripped from Joabes overalls. Amid that stain was another, one of blood, blood that had flowed from an open cut on the boys toe. A toe most likely jammed between two rocks as he had jumped from rock to rock at my request. I can tell you how much it hurts having done it so many times myself, but I cannot tell you how he stood for twenty minutes and never complained or mentioned it
We spent the morning in town. There were a few business calls, to pay the yearly insurance, taxes and a special trip to the town square. All summer for the past few years, a open market is held on Saturday at the square. Farmers bring garden vegetables, the women sell baked goods and hand made dolls and other things carved or sewn over the long winter.
In the cold, dark coves of the southern Appalachians, winters were not wasted with dreams or reveries. Crops were canned or dried, farming gear and the accoutrements of farm labor, horses harnesses oiled, hoes sharpened and fences - both physical and mental - mended and reshaped for the coming spring.
As the Judge and I stood among the summer throng, we could not help but think back upon another time. There were days not far past when such a mingling of Summer people" and the inhabitants of this tight community would have been impossible. Nothing in 1976 could have pried these mountain folk from their hills and hollows to the town square of Hayseville. Yet here, some twenty-five years later, they mixed and mingled with the alligator and loafer" crowd from the cities of the south. Is it the result of the common leveling of the television or an opportunity to separate the fool from his money, before the snows come again? I like to think it is the latter.
One day several years ago, I read in the local paper that a Juabe child had found a pocket book on the side of the road. In due course the pocket book had been returned to the owner. Intact and unopened in the purse was a bank envelope containing some four hundred dollars and several rings and other womans jewelry worth in the gross, some five thousand dollars.
I need not point out that such money was more than that family would have at their instant disposal in a normal lifetime, as most did not take or expect welfare.
When I ask my friend and fishing companion, the Deputy Sheriff about the affair and just how they could be that honest in the world in which we now live. He said several things you might ponder, as I have from time to time when I hear that certain people"just cant help what they do cause it is not their fault".
He said Henny, one, these people dont live in the world you live in. thank God. Two, I would doubt that they even looked in the pocket book other than to get the name of the owner simply because it was not their property" Hooter then looked at me and said , is it so hard for you to credit others with your own worthiness? You are a good man Henny, but I swear, there ARE other people that know how to do the right thing". But for the record old friend, I will tell you what Sam Juabe told me when I ask how he raised his chillen to be so all fired honest".
Deputy, the boys aint that all fired honest I dont reckon. Its just they have to, living on top of the mountain, walk so damn far to steal something thats worth anything and then bring it all the way home .I guess they is just more lazy than honest."
That afternoon when we returned to the cabin, on the back porch were two coffee tins covered with pasty and the deep purple stain of butter and berries that had bubbled from the cobblers center. Along side was a loaf of fresh made bread, crusted with black walnuts lovenly and meticulously picked from the unforgiving hulls that littered the road to the cabin. But aside, separate from the rest, was an oil-skin wrapper tightly covering four small trout, gutted and filled with sweet mint and grass. The damp tracks and beads of water upon the fish signaled their recent arrival.
Deep In The Mountains
John had smiled at me the other night when I gave the Joabe boy most of our ready food. After I had returned the Judge ask me straight out. Does he really believe all that about the pies and such?"
Judge I dont know that he actually believes it, in fact, I suspect that he doesnt. That small lie will allow him to accept the gift, not for himself perhaps, but for his mom. It gives him a reason to take it home."
Well Hen, when he gets there surely his mother will tell him I isnt true. Then where will you be?" The Judge, had then picked up my empty glass and disappeared into the kitchen.
He returned soon with a full glass and continued his thoughts. She wont tell him its a lie will she? For the same reason, pride. She will not lie to her boy, she just wont say anything,will she?
Hell, fellow I dont know. I just went with what was available at the time", I told him, somewhat at odds with his dead on thinking on the matter. This was so unlike the Judge, to follow acts with reasoned thought. I wasnt sure I liked his new-found involvement in life. A selfish, self-centered Judge was my lifes burden. I was not at all sure I could take this change late in life. But having him actually get up and fix someone else a drink could become a habit I could well abide.
It is said that the biggest Christian of all is a recent drunk, converted and saved .all in the same day. His fervor and commitment are unrelenting and loud.
I thought the Judge was going to burst into tears when he saw the cobbler and bread. The fish? I swear, he could have blessed them and fed thousands, should the need have arose. Those damn trout did bring him to tears.
I had made the mistake of pointing out, to the self-serving prick when he mentioned that the boy had kept the bigger fish for himself last night, that the boy had not, like the judge, been sports fishing that day, but rather for food to feed his family....most likely that very day.
Later, as the evening moved into those hours where one is hard pressed not to deal with old shadows, old thoughts. A point is reached where a friend is required to help sort the reality from that which is only imagined, yet held as truth. My near death and disappearance on this very mountain, is one of those points.
I arose to get one last nightcap before sorting the mental pictures I still held of the afternoon the Joabe boys uncle planned to kill me. Henny while you are up would you freshen this for me?" Sure Judge, you sticking with scotch?"
What I have neglected to tell you about the converted Christian is it is usually over about the same time the hangover ends; the way the Judges new found humility and agape seem to have to have ended. Hulda had called John to apologize for her joke", that may have been it.
With any luck, the old goat will never see my telephone bill and the lonely call to Charleston that it contains.
Into The Lions Den
For those of you that have followed the travels of Henny and the Judge, It comes as no surprise that they, along with the Deputy Sheriff Hooter Hall have fished the streams of northern Georgia and North Carolina since the dawn of man. Each of them had lived long enough to have seen the mountains and their streams become crowded and a faint shadow of their former state of remoteness .even danger.
Nineteen Sixty had dawned a good time in the history of the country. Wars ended forever, prosperity growing, a chicken in every pot, promised by a socialist president but being delivered by the last of the true Southern" democrats the nation was to ever see.
Even the families and clans of these remote mountains were beginning to change. If you have noticed, in the jungles of South America it is always the natives that live closest to progress that change first. No great breakthrough in this pattern. But as today most wish to be just left alone to raise and teach their families, many of the remote clans and people hove even closer to the old ways" and old rules".
Complexity in society never bodes good for it - dont ever believe that.
Now, all of this seems right and expected. But then, I was unaware of the animosity and even hate building in the dark recesses of MY mountain.
Even then, to protect ones self from the herd of flatlanders arriving daily to buy land in the mountains, it was necessary to buy all one could see (or afford) in order to keep the God-sent" at bay. I had bought the eight hundred and forty acres that comprised the stream and most of the fertile pasture that led to the highest peak. I was to later remember that the first deed in the county books had been to a family named Joab. But at the time the knowledge was .what is it they say? a dollar late and several dollars short"
That fall day in 1960 I fished the upper reaches of my own home stream. Alone for the weekend, tired of business and with some now forgotten squabble at home , I came to our newly purchased land," To rest and gather my diminished resources as they would say today." But for me, at the time, I felt a need to be on the land, working with my hands at something. Fishing is the answer to most of lifes ills. It provides the time to clearly see other events in a prospective that will never be achieved by the false science of psychology.
There is no weight, length of beard or diploma that will ever give psychology the innate ability to see ones own reasons for acts committed.
Fishing can do that.
Alone, and to this day, I cannot tell you if I had even turned a trout to this point in my trip. I reached a branch entering the stream I was fishing. As this branch was the true headwaters I turned up it to hopefully catch a unthinking Brook trout, despite what the Wheaties box says, the true Breakfast of Champions", at least in the league I played.
We have all felt the uncommon queasiness of feeling ourselves watched, its needless to describe. As My Daddy said about gout, if you have suffered it, you need no description of its anguish, If you have not, no description will suffice or make you understand.
So it is with feeling yourself watched, carefully, by those that do not wish to know you, or have you know they are there. Let me add only this - land and stream that you know and love, become strange. The cool mist of damp waters become cold and foreboding. The rocks, over-hanging Rhododendron and Laurel change from inviting respite from rain and sun to dark impenetrable caves hiding the deepest secretes and evils of man.....all in the blink of an eye.
Standing deep against the shadows, only seen because of shifting clouds, not some error on his part, was a man. I remember thinking, how in the hell can some one hide in blue overalls and checked shirt? In his hand was a stick, a stick with a hole the size of a milk bottle, for those of you old enough to remember them.
As I fell I remember thinking, Stephen Crane was right, bout how is it you never hear a thing? All that smoke and all you feel is the air pressure of the bullet as it strikes.
Sliding into unconsciousness, two brief unrelated flashes; whywere Rosalie and I fighting? and Joabe ...Juabe what the hell is all that about?
Mist Upon The Mountains - Expiation
By A.H. Watson
I awoke surrounded by both angels and archangels, a black pain hurrying to fill my brain and connect it to my weirdly shaped ankle. The angels slowly morphed into the strangest group of desperadoes ever devised by man.
All in overalls, all of the same build - with similar, almost carbon, faces as if carved from the same root and branch.
That long thin face, protruding chin and sallowness gave no hint to thankless hours spent pulling stumps trying to eke out a living from a callused, unforgiving land. Their one differing feature was age; youth and the seasoned, and therefore height.
Peas, if not from the same pod, at least from the same plant.
John had never heard this story in its total. Sheriff Hooter knew only due to being kin by marriage. Even he did not realize, for several years, the story told by his kin over the church picnic table or revival supper, was about me. Even among their own family mountain people were remote and aloof at times, especially so if one of your kin was the law.
Seated comfortably in the warm cabin, as even in June a small fire burned briskly and was welcomed, Hooter Hall and the Judge asked about the long ago event. I thought for a moment, then said, Hoot I will tell you what I remember, if you will tell the Judge and me what the Juabe clan said and did during those critical days after I ran up on their liquor still."
Our bargain sealed with scotch, forty years of friendship and the knowledge that all parties were either dead or too damn old to care.
The real story finally unfolded. Some of it new to me, as I had expected it would be.
"Henny do you remember that it was a fall afternoon, the leaves had just begun to turn. Early Juabe was the youngest of the clan they let up on the Mountain when they were close to running off the whiskey. It was Early's job to guard the stream. He was told to let no one up the creek. It was never explained how he was to stop them, but unnecessary as they gave him the old .44 caliber single shot to carry."
"Hoot, I don't even remember if I caught a fish going up the creek, I was just thinking about that and I flat can't remember. You know I can sit here and remember ten different fish I caught under the yellow rock, but damned if I can remember what I caught that day."
"If you fished like you usually do, your creel would have been be full of alder branches and twigs", the Judge mumbled as he waggled his glass for another drink.
Amazed I watched as Hoot got up grabbed the glass and headed for the bar, thinking to myself - Jesus, now the old fart has Hooter trained.
"Was the boy trying to kill me, Hoot?"
In a measured way and after a few seconds, Hoot said, Henny, I'm going to tell you a couple of things that I think you know about us mountain folk now....after some forty years. Things you didn't know then, things that made you one large, unappetizing, son of a bitch."
You were young, you had money, no bad thing in its self, but it gave you the feeling world was yours .and I guess in a way it was - right up until that moment you endangered several families of people."
Judge, tell Henny about corn, about how it relates to the people in these hollows.
"Oh, Henny knows this now Hoot, you know that .you are just polite enough to invite me in to, what up til now, was a closed conversation. But I will say this, for those that don't know or even care in the larger sense, as it affects their OWN lives in no way .that is unless one is about to be shot .eh, Henny?"
The judge smiling at Henny, spoke.further.
"In the mountains there is little room for more than subsistence farming. The flat land is at a premium and changes hands rarely as it is the key to a family's ability to grind out a living on the side of these rugged hills. The crops are grown to feed the family and to provide feed for the meager livestock around the farm. Corn is the only crop that contains residual value that can be used for money. Kept in the corn bin all winter, value is lost to mice and rats. The excess is not of sufficient quality to sell or of sufficient volume to be traded on the market.
Liquor made from corn is the only way to receive full value for the effort expended . It can be kept, traded, sold for actual cash, the only money a mountain man might see for several years on end, unless he comes off the mountain and works for others in lumber or manual labor."
The Judge paused, looked at Hooter, and continued.
"The government in all its wisdom found no need to chase real criminals in the cities and the financial institutions, but instead, much like today at WACO, found it easier to chase and gun down those who's only crime is one of nonconformity. The Feds filled these hills with informers, they moved people into the towns to befriend the people, then turn on them. They passed special laws that required that store-owners tell to whom they sold sugar and glass ware. Can you see this if the people were Black or Mexican? - but alas, they were White and could be exploited at will."
I remember them standing, squatting on their heels around a small fire, gesturing at me and arguing. In the end I remember two men that smelled like sour food left far from the fridge.
Standing above me. Two rancid "peas" leaned forward frowning .toward me.
I awoke at the cabin, in bed, clean, food beside the table .don't know how long I was out, the days were stretched, then shortened.
"Hooter did that boy try to kill me?" I asked again.
"Henny you came up their branch the day they were bottling the whiskey.
This collection of men, all kin, had put every nickel of their cash together, along with their extra corn from the years harvest. The man moving up the creek was young recently moved to the valley. By the way did you know the land you bought had been in their family till after the War?
Its owner and his only son had been killed within sight of each other at Shilo. The land lost for lack of cash to pay the taxes. You would have thought their deaths would have done that wouldn't you Henny?
To lose that still, and it product would endanger the lives of all the men you saw and their families."
"But, they took me home, cleaned me up, and saw that I was fed."
Did you ever see any of them again, the Sheriff asked.
"Well ,no but I was probably asleep when they came."
"Henny, they brought you home to die - they wanted you well away from the place they were making whiskey. They knew if someone started looking they would come up stream. So it made sense to take you back to the cabin. Did your car work when you finally left ?"
"No, but it was just the battery, it had shorted out, as I remember."
Hooter Hall looked at Henny for a minute, paused, then changed the subject - how could you explain to a man such as this, that thinks he has lived on looks and virtue, that what saved his sorry ass was two things.
First, one of the women had disobeyed her husband or father and looked in on Henny. No man would admit that it happened, even within the clan, but he bet the poor woman paid a pretty penny for her act.
Secondly, the men finished the workings of the still, bottled the whiskey, and dismantled the still within two days of Henny having found their camp. Had Henny been one week earlier .well, why think further on these matters. No one could ever be certain, could they?
"I have decided that the boy didn't mean to shoot me Judge, Hoots is just fooling with a old mans mind"
Henny nodded toward the Sheriff.
"Henny, I just can't ever fool you can I?"
Hoots smiled as he remembered, Early had sold that rifle two weeks later at the county swap meet. At the turkey shoot that followed, the damn gun not only missed the bird, the bullet all but "killed" a Ford pick up .3 yards to the left of the target.
© 2001 A.H. Watson. All rights reserved. Published here with the author's permission