Monday, October 5, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 13


In 1814, Andrew Jackson and an army of 2000 soldiers surrounded 1000 Creek warriors fortified behind a horseshoe-shaped bend of the Tallapoosa River.

After softening the defenses with cannon fire, Jackson ordered a bayonet charge that drove the natives out of their defenses where they were slaughtered along the banks.

The next morning, Jackson’s men counted the bodies of over 550 “Red Sticks” and estimated another 300 dead at the bottom of the river.  Jackson lost 150 men.

Six months later, Jackson defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans.  Five years later, Alabama became a state.  Fourteen years later, Andrew Jackson became president of the United States. 

And 166 years later, Louella Harper stayed at a motel named the Horseshoe Bend a short distance from the original battle site, at the edge of a town called Jackson City, named not for Andrew Jackson but for an unrelated confederate general with no connection to the area whatsoever. 

The motel was set up like a baseball diamond, with rooms along the perimeter of a vast, well-manicured courtyard with a swimming pool at its center.  A highway ran along one side while the other three buildings guarded against the encroaching woods.

Louella heard a knock at her door and opened it to find Melvin Little standing with a young man who looked to be in his early twenties.

“Melvin, if you keep showing up at my motel room, people will begin to talk.”

“Yes, yes,” Melvin said.  “Louella, this is an associate of mine, Jimmy Easton.  He covered the Baxter story for the newspaper.”

“Call me Jim.”  Jim smiled and stuck out his hand.  “I’m a big fan of yours, Ms. Harper.”

“Are you?” Louella asked.  Her eyes squinted in appraisal.

“Jimmy was poking around my office, asking me a bunch of questions, and it occurred to me that you might need someone to chauffer you around while you’re completing your research.”

“It was one question,” Jim corrected, “and it was at the courthouse, but it’s true I would be happy to show you around Jackson City.”

“Jimmy here has extensive contacts among the town’s dark underbelly,” Melvin said.

“He means I know a lot of black people,” Jim said.

“Well, your offer of assistance is very kind,” Louella said.  “I might just take you up on it, but before I do, I have a few questions for you, Melvin.”

“You know I’m always happy to help, Louella.”

Louella disappeared into her room, leaving the door open.  Melvin looked at Jim, who shrugged, and they followed her inside.

The bedside lamp was on, but the shades were drawn, and the only natural light shone through the open door.  The room was neatly kept and the bed had been made, but papers and files were strewn across the bedspread and stacked on top of the television.  A rabbit ear antenna rested on the floor.

“I was looking through the files Sheriff Ford gave me,” Louella said as she shuffled through some papers.  “I couldn’t find anything about voodoo in any of the original reports.”

“Oh everyone was always talking about that.  The colored people would cross to the other side of the street when the ‘Voodoo Man’ came around.  Isn’t that right, Jimmy?”

Jim shrugged.  “It’s a small town, Ms. Harper.  The rumors just sort of float around.”

“I suppose all will be revealed in time,” Louella said.

“Well, I best be going,” Melvin said.  “I’ll leave you to it.”

Jim looked at Louella.  “Shall we go?”

A few minutes later, Louella was riding in the passenger seat of Jim’s van.  She clutched her purse in her lap.

“Did you read about the story in the Montgomery papers?” Jim asked.

“This story made national news,” Louella said.  “I read about it everywhere.”

“Did you read any of the local coverage?”

“If you’re asking me if I read any of your stories in the Sentinel, the answer is yes, and the coverage was much better than that which appeared in the Atlanta Journal or the New York Times.”

Jim’s face turned red as he drove, but Louella could tell that he was pleased.  

“Is this to be a novel then?” he asked.

“I’ve written a successful novel already, more successful than I ever could have imagined.  I want to see what else I can do.  This project is to be straight journalism of the old-fashioned kind: just facts.”

“Facts are sometimes hard to come by in this case,” Jim said.

“We shall see.”

Jim steered the van down a short dirt driveway leading to small one-story house.  It was small, but well kept.  The plank wood was painted white with red trim and matching shutters on the windows. 

“This is the house of Evan Waverly, the Reverend’s next door neighbor.”

“Is that the Reverend’s house?”  Louella asked, pointing through hole in the tree branches. 

“That’s it,” Jim said.  “Just a regular little house.  You never would know to look at it.”

“And you think this neighbor will have something useful to say?”

“He’s been telling everyone in town he does.  I thought he’d make a good first stop.”  Jim hopped out of the van.  He ran around the front to open the door for Louella, but she was already standing in the red dirt and gravel, looking up at the front porch where a man sat rocking in a swing.

“Mr. Waverly,” Jim said.  “This is Louella Harper, the writer I was telling you about.”

With her purse hanging from her elbow, Louella ascended the three steps to the porch and held out her hand.  “How do you do, Mr. Waverly?” 

The man made no effort to take her hand.  “Circumstances have changed since the last time we talked, Jim.  I can’t part with this story easily.”

Louella slowly withdrew her hand.

“What are you talking about Evan?  This is Louella Harper, probably the most famous author in the country. If you’ve got something to say, this is the person to talk to.”

“I’m holding out for the TV producer.” Waverly said.

“What TV producer?”

“A man from Hollywood called me two nights ago.  He said I could get seven grand for my story.”  He turned to Louella.  “Can you beat that offer?”

Louella was already walking down the steps.  “I want the truth, Mr. Waverly.  One never has to pay for the truth. Good day to you.”

Jim looked at the man and shook his head.  This trip had not gone the way he had expected.

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