Friday, October 30, 2015

Five Unexpected Reasons Your Head is Killing You

This morning I turned on my computer and saw this headline: Five Unexpected Reasons Your Head is Killing You.  It turns out it was an article in Women’s Health about headaches, but I refused to let that stop me from coming up with my own list.  Here it is.

Five Unexpected Reasons Your Head is Killing You

    1)   Remember that time you looked in the mirror and complained about the weird shape of your head?  Your head does.

    2)  What about that mullet haircut you got in the 80s?  In a way, you’ve got it coming.

    3)  Your head is curious about what it’s like to kill a person. 

    4)  Oh.  So, you don’t want your head to kill you?  You should have thought about that before you started seeing that other head!

     5)  It’s doing it for the money.  In retrospect, maybe it was a mistake to name your head as a beneficiary of your life insurance policy.

I hope you enjoyed this nonsensical list.  Have a nice day!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 15


Louella sat at the head of the hotel bed.  Her feet on the floor, she hunched into the light of the bedside lamp.  Her finger circled the face of the telephone until she located the zero.  She spun the dial and waited until she heard the voice of the operator.  “I’d like to place a collect call, please” she said.  A minute later, Lydia was on the other end of the line.

“It’s not working out,” Louella said in a shaking voice.

“You just started,” Lydia said. She sounded calm, relaxed, and distant.  Like she was reading in bed. 

“I know, but it isn’t what I thought it would be,” Louella said.  She twisted the telephone cord around her wrist.

“Nothing is.”

“I just need your support right now, I guess.”  She plucked a loose string out of the bedspread and laid it on the bedside table at the base of the lamp.

“I am supporting you,” Lydia said.  “If you want to come on home you can, but you owe it to yourself to at least explore the possibility…”

“I know, but the people here…”

“What people? The lawyer?”

“Well, yes, Melvin thinks he’s the next Paul Newman, but it’s not just him.  It’s everybody.  I can almost see their minds calculating new ways to exploit my being here.”

“How?” Lydia asked.  “You aren’t the type to throw money around.”

“They don't know that.  They think I’m the free money dispensary.  Either that or they think I’m going to write them into my book, and somehow that will somehow transform them into an international celebrity.”

“Like who?  Oliver Twist?”

Louella kicked off her shoes.  “Exactly.  There is no basis in reality.  Most of the people in this county have never even read a book, but everywhere I go, whether it’s in the field doing research or at the mayor’s dinner party, everyone thinks I can make their lives more glamorous through the magic of typing.”  She lifted her feet unto the bed and lay down, facing the telephone.  “It’s ridiculous.”

“Why would anyone want to be famous in the first place?” Lydia asked. 

“Everyone pestering you for autographs,” Louella said, “as if your name on a piece of paper carried in value.  What do they even do with them?”

“Keep them in a scrapbook maybe?”

“Or on a bookshelf,” Louella said, “next to the other books they’ve never read.”

“It’s just something people do,” said Lydia. 

“Why do they think it would be nice to be recognized all the time, to never be able to walk down the street in public without having some stranger accost them, to never be able to sit in a coffee house and chat with a friend without being interrupted, and to have their anonymity and privacy stripped away for the amusement of people who, when it comes down to it, don’t care a fig about them?”

“Oh, Honey, I think you’re just homesick.”

Louella turned on her other side, away from the phone.  “Well yes, I suppose so.  Don’t you miss me?”

“Of course I do.”

“But you don’t want me to come home.”

“Of course I want you to come home, but you just got started.  You need to see where this takes you.”

“This afternoon it’s taking me to meet a convicted murderer.”

“You’re going to a jail?” Lydia asked.

“No, a funeral home.”  Louella imagined a question mark appearing over Lydia’s head.  “He got early release for good behavior.”

“Is Jim going with you?”

“No, he has to work.”

“What about Melvin?”

“It’s just going to be little old me.”  Louella smiled.  “Why,” she asked.  “Are you worried about me?”

 “No,” Lydia laughed.  “I’m worried about him.”

*        *        *
Louella entered the lobby of the funeral home and padded across dark blue carpet in tennis shoes that sank into its thickness.  A large silent man sat on a stool behind the counter, looking as if he’d rather be some place else. 

“Good morning,” Louella said.

The man behind the counter offered a blank, if not overtly menacing stare, but said nothing. 

“I have an appointment to meet with the funeral director, Mr. Johnson.”

At last, the man stood up and turned his back to Louella.  “This way,” he said in a bored tone of voice.  He led her down a darkened hallway to a conference area, where he left her in one of six foldout metal chairs situated around a long oak table in the center of the room. 

The room held a distinct odor.  Formaldehyde maybe.  The floor was covered in the same blue carpet as the lobby.  The walls were completely bare.  Not even a painting of Jesus.  Off to one corner was a chest-high, elbow-shaped bar. 

“That’s odd,” Louella muttered to herself.  She stood and went over and peered behind the bar.  She found it stocked with an assortment of liquor bottles including bourbon, gin, vodka, vermouth…

“Can I pour you a drink?”

Louella turned suddenly, holding her hand to heart.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”  A man stood across the table from her, a smile affixed to his face.  He appeared to be in his forties or early fifties.  He had patches of gray in his hair.  He was about six feet tall, clean shaven, and dressed in a rumpled black suit.  The smile told her he was the funeral director.

“Mr. Johnson, I presume.”

Ernie came came around the table holding out his hand.  “And you must be Ms. Harper.  I am so excited to have you here.”

Louella took his hand cordially.  “I suppose it’s nice to be wanted.”

Ernie motioned for her to sit.  “Did you want that drink?”

“I couldn’t possibly,” Louella said.  “It’s much too early for me.  Ask me again in five minutes.”

Ernie threw his head back as if to laugh, but no sound came from his throat.  “We’ll talk then,” he said.  He took a seat at the head of the table.  Louella sat to his left.  “What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Well,” Louella began.  She opened the satchel resting on her lap, and removed a legal pad.  “I’m in town researching a book about a man you may know.”  She placed the pad and a pencil on the table in front of her.

“I know why you’re here, Ms. Harper, and I’d love to help you.”

“You would?”

“Yes, of course," Ernie said.  "I knew the Reverend quite well.  As well as anyone could have known him.  In fact, due to the nature of my business, I know just about everyone in town.  I’m kind of a lightning rod for the community.”

“Is that how you would describe yourself?”

“Ask anyone in town,” Ernie said.  “I’ll introduce you to the Reverend’s wife Cassandra.  That’s his third wife.  I knew his other wives too—I buried them—and I know the rest of the family.  Now, these are people who might not be open to questions from outsiders, but they’ll talk to you if I tell them to.”

“Would they?”

“Oh, yes.  And I would be happy to facilitate meetings with all of them… for a consideration.”

Louella eyed the man for a few seconds after he finished speaking.  She picked up her pencil and began tapping the pad with the eraser.  “How is it that you have so much control that you can… facilitate all these meetings?”

“As I explained, my business allows me to meet a diverse group of individuals, and, well, the Reverend’s… activities… all seemed to require my services.”

Again, Louella stared at him for a few seconds after he completed his sentence.  “If you don’t mind me asking, when you refer to your business, are you talking about the mortuary or the criminal organization you run?”

Ernie, who had been leaning toward her, recoiled.  “I am a funeral director,” he said softly.  “I’m a business man.  A respected member of the community.”

“But you also went to jail for murder?”

Instead of looking at her, his face drifted off to the side.  “I never committed any murder.”

“No, you had someone else do it for you.  I understand you also distribute narcotics and run all of the illegal gambling operations in town.”

“I think someone has been telling you lies.” 

“So you weren’t connected to the shotgun murders in 1957 for which you were arrested, but,” she flipped open the legal pad and examined a page of text, “the charges were dropped after two of the witnesses became violently ill and had to be rushed to the hospital.”  She looked up at Ernie.  “They later refused to testify.”

“You’re making a very big mistake.”

“Mr. Johnson,” Louella said.  She looked him right in the eyes.  “You may run the illegal activities in this town, but you don’t frighten me.”

“I think we’re done here,” Ernie said.  He showed her to the door.

Go to Chapter 16

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 14


Kevin handed the bottle to his guest and then continued pacing the viewing area in the front of the chapel.  After circling around a floral arrangement, he ran his hand down top of the mahogany coffin. 

J Christopher slid down in the front pew.  He peeled the wrinkled paper bag back far enough to read the label of the Tennessee mash.  He nodded his approval.  A good brand was worth drinking just about anywhere, even in a funeral home.  He pulled off the bag and let it fall to the floor.

“You worked here a long time,” he said as he unscrewed the cap.

Kevin nodded.  “A good job is a hard to come by.”

“Good and job are two words that don’t go together.”  J Christopher said and then laughed at his own witticism.  He took a long swig from the bottle and winced at the taste.  “Damn,” he said, staring at the bottle as if it could unlock some mystery.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his shirt sleeve.  He held the bottle out to his host, but Kevin shook his head.

“No,” he said.  “I feel good.”

“It ain’t about feeling good,” J Christopher said.  “It’s about feeling right.”  He took another long swig.  “I’m starting to feel right.”  He let out a loud cackle.  “I ain’t there yet, but I’m getting close.”

Kevin flashed a set of square white teeth.  “I heard that,” he said.  He backed up against the coffin, pressed his palms against the lid for leverage, and then hoisted himself into a sitting position on top.

“You shouldn’t sit on a casket,” J Christopher said.  “It’s disrespectful.”

Kevin tilted his head toward the head of the coffin.  “He don’t mind.  Besides, I like it up here.”

J Christopher’s face twisted.  “You mean there’s a body in there?”

Kevin shrugged.  “This is a funeral home. What’d you expect?”

“Don’t know,” said J Christopher.  “But I’ve heard some stories.”

“The dead can’t hurt you.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” J Christopher said.

“The dead aren’t the ones you have to worry about,” Kevin said.

J Christopher took another swig of mash.  “I heard your old boss got sent up to the state pen after a same-day funeral.”  He laughed again.  “He tried to bury the evidence, but got caught.”

“Naw,” Kevin said, still smiling.  “Ernie’s okay.”

J Christopher drained the rest of the bottle.  “If there’s one thing that man ain’t, it’s okay.  He’s as bad as they come.”  He gestured toward Kevin with the empty bottle.  “He’s the one you have to worry about.”

“Ernie’s got his fingers in a lot of pies, that’s all.  A funeral home is a handy thing to own when you got your finger in a lot of pies.”

“Pies, shit.  You talk like you own it,” J Christopher said.  He dropped the empty bottle on the pew beside him.

“I don’t own it,” Kevin said, shaking his head.  “I never owned it.  I just ran it for him while he was away.”

“What do you mean was?”

“Hello, J.” 

The voice came from the doorway.  All of the mirth drained from J Christopher’s eyes as they dropped from Kevin to the casket in front of him.

Kevin hopped down and strolled to the back of the room.  He greeted Ernie with a half handshake, half hug. 

J Christopher never turned around.  He just kept staring ahead at that mahogany casket. 

Ernie strolled to the front of the room, slid into the pew beside J Christopher.  He picked up the empty liquor bottle.

“Still like Jack Daniels, I see.”

J Christopher looked down and away from Ernie.  His hands fidgeted in his lap.  “When did you get out?” he asked after a long pause.


Kevin called from the back of the room.  “J Christopher was just telling me he couldn’t wait to see you again.”

“Is that right?” Ernie put his arm around J Christopher, almost like a man comforting a mother who has just lost a child.  “Well, you can thank my lawyer then.  You see, a life sentence don’t really mean life anymore, and a 15-year sentence don’t mean you’ll do the whole stretch.  It’s the nature of our legal system.”

For the first time, J Christopher peaked at Ernie out of the corner of his eye.
“You ain’t gonna burn me up, are you?” he asked.

Ernie let out a long, loud laugh.  “No,” he said.  “I learned my lesson.  Fires attract too much attention.”

He made a motion to Kevin in the back of the room and Kevin disappeared.

J Christopher turned and tried to follow him with his eyes, but all he could see was an empty doorway.  “Where’s he going?”

“Relax,” Ernie said.  He squeezed J Christopher’s shoulders.  “He just went to get you another drink.  Wouldn’t you like another drink?”

J Christopher’s hand’s and head began to shake.

 “A drink would settle you down,” Ernie said.  “You’re all nervous.”

A flash of defiance entered J Christopher’s expression.  “I ain’t nervous,” he said.  “I ain’t afraid of what’s coming.”

Kevin entered and handed J Christopher a glass of whiskey over ice.

 “That’s right,” Ernie said.  “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”

*      *     *

Deputy Sheriff Ford leaned against his cruiser and watched the paramedics load the body.  He shook a cigarette out of his packet and used his elbow to shield the flame from the wind. 

A van pulled up behind him.  The reporter, Jim Easton, climbed down from the driver’s seat and walked up beside the deputy.  “Morning,” he said

Ford cranked the flint, but his Zippo was out of fluid.  After ten more tries failed to ignite, he pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it in his shirt pocket.  He continued to roll the flint with the pad of his thumb.  “You’re out awfully early.”

“What’s going on?”  Jim nodded to the two stretcher bearers lifting a still figure out of a patch of yellow grass.

The deputy stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. “Some nigger had too many and wandered out into the cold and froze to death.” 

“How did he freeze?” Jim asked.  “The low temperature last night was 37.”

“Too much to drink then.  Either way, he shouldn’t have been wandering the highway in the middle of the night.”

“Who is it?”

“Who is what?” asked the deputy.

“The man who died.”

“The deceased has not yet been identified.”

“You mind if I take a look?” Jim asked.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt him any.” The deputy sheriff cupped one hand over his mouth and called out to the two paramedics.  They had the body lowered onto the ground to open the back door of the hearse.  “You two bring him over here for a second.”

The two paramedics looked at each other and then did as they were told.  They carried the body over to the sheriff and the other white man.

Even on a windy morning, Jim detected the odor of liquor mixed with a pungent body odor emanating from the stretcher.  No sheet covered the body, and so nothing hid the contorted expression brought on by rigor mortis.  Jim could barely stand to look at the corpse, but Ford appeared to revel in the deceased man’s apparent anger.  “You had yourself a hard night, didn’t you brother?”  He asked the body.

Jim looked up at one of the two paramedics, both of whom stood waiting patiently.

“Hey Kevin,” Jim said, looking up at the taller, more slender of the two attendants.  “Got yourself a new partner?”

Kevin grinned.   “Yes sir.  This is Evan.  He’s a new hire.”  The other man said nothing.  He was a large man, maybe 6’4” and 300 pounds, and wore a blank expression.

Jim forced himself to look at the dead man.  “Wait a second,” he said.  “I know this man.” He looked at Kevin.  “Isn’t that Christopher Baxter?”

Kevin shrugged.

 “You two friends also?” Deputy Ford smirked. 

Jim pointed at the corpse.  “That’s Christopher Baxter,” he said.  “That’s the Reverend’s brother.”

*        *        *

The toxicologist’s report landed on Sheriff Maddox’s desk.  He opened the folder and studied the numbers printed on the paper. 

Ford walked in.  “Is that it?” he asked.
Maddox glanced at his deputy.   “Toxicology report.”

“Let me guess.  The man had alcohol in his system.”

Maddox continued to read the report.  “The man had a lot of alcohol in his system.  In fact, I don’t think there’s a human alive that could consume as much alcohol as this man had in his system.”

“You never met my cousin Henry,” Ford said, cackling.

“This is serious,” Maddox said.  “I believe this man was murdered.”

“So what if he was?” Ford said, turning serious.  “It ain’t like we can do anything about it.  We ain’t got any evidence.  We ain’t got any case.”

Sheriff Maddox closed the report, dropped it on his desk.  “I don’t like it.  People thinking they can disregard the law.”

“We all know who done it, Sheriff.”

“You think so, huh?”

“I know so,” Ford said.  “And he’s gonna keep on doing it too.”

“I won’t let that happen.  There’s no such thing as the perfect crime.”

“What are you going to do about?”  Ford asked.  It was just a question, but Maddox took it as a challenge.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m going to do something.”   

Go to Chapter 15

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.