Everyone in town seemed pretty happy about the outcome of the trial. The general impression was that the Reverend had gotten what he deserved. One editorial in a major newspaper suggested a campaign to buy Lester Woods a medal. Life went back to normal.
Part of normal life for Melvin Little was attending weekly cocktail parties, bridge games, and steak clubs, and waiting for his wife to take two hours to get ready. “Doris has never been on time for anything in her life. I don’t suppose there’s any reason she should start now.”
On the night of April 16, 1981 they were expected at the house of Dr. Jason Miller and his wife Evelyn. “Even though I was used to Doris making me late,” Melvin said, “I was a little put out because I knew we were going to miss out on the before-dinner drinks. I had had a rough day in court and was in the mood for two or three martinis, but, sure enough, by the time we got to the house, everyone had already sat down to dinner.
“Doris rushed on ahead into the dining room. I could hear her receiving loud, boozy greetings from the other guests. I was moseying on behind when I caught a glimpse through the glass door of someone sitting out on the deck. I stopped and did a double-take. ‘Is that Louella Harper?’ I asked. I hadn’t seen her much since the previous fall. ‘What’s she doing out there by herself?’
“Evelyn looked at me in a funny kind of way. ‘She said she isn’t hungry,’ she said, but at the same time she made a gesture with her hand, as if she was placing a glass to her lips.
“‘Well, is she okay out there?’ I asked.
“Evelyn shrugged. ‘I honestly don’t know, but I know I don’t have time to babysit a grown woman, famous writer or not, while my house is filled with guests.’
“‘I’m not hungry either,’ I said. I’ll go sit with her and let you get back to it. All I ask is a vodka martini in return.’ Evelyn gave me an icy stare and then rushed off to the bar.
“The Millers have a pretty nice setup. It’s like a huge, elegant log cabin situated on a hill overlooking the lake. I stepped outside and found Louella slumped in a deck chair, lying on her side, hugging a cocktail glass. The days were starting to get long. Even though it was getting close to eight, there was still a touch of light in the sky. The weather was cool without being too cool. Just the way I like it.
“Hey there, Louella,” I said. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”
“Louella rolled over and stared at me with one eye closed for a good ten seconds. ‘Melvin Little,’ she said. ‘I’m drinkin.’ She held up a glass of melting ice. ‘What are you doing here?’
“‘I suppose I wanted to appear sociable,’ I said, ‘and a drink sounds nice.”
I plopped down in the wooden chair beside Louella and we sat in silence for a moment before the sliding glass door opened and Evelyn stepped out with a couple of drinks on a silver tray.
“‘How are ya’ll doing out here?’ she asked in that chipper way of hers. She handed me a drink in a real martini glass. ‘Martini for Melvin,’ she said. She turned and swapped a full glass for Louella’s empty one. ‘And a scotch rocks for Miss Louella Harper. Ya’ll want any cheese or anything?’
“’Just keep the drinks coming,” Louella said.
“Evelyn shot me a look.
“‘No thank you, honey, we’re fine,’ I said. She pinched her lips and stomped inside.
“How’s the story coming?” I asked, turning to Louella.
Louella stuck out her tongue and made a sound.
“‘Not good, huh?’
“There is no story,” Louella said.
I looked at her like she was crazy. “The Reverend is nothing but story. I ought to know.”
“No,” Louella shouted. “There’s nothing new or interesting there. It’s just a case of basic greed, plain and simple. Another son of a bitch who cares more about little green pieces of paper than he does about his own family.”
“They say there’s nothing new under the sun, but the way you put them together makes them new.”
“Not me,” Louella said. “I can’t do it.”
“Of course you can. You just haven’t done it in a while, that’s all. Once you get back into practice, it’ll all come back to you. Just wait and see.”
Louella refused to even consider it, so I let it go. I knew there was no sense arguing with a drunk person and I figured I could always talk to her again when she was sober. I didn’t know that would be the last time she would ever set foot in Jackson City. The next morning, she checked out of her motel.
Despite what she said, I wasn’t about to give up on that story. That trial represented the highlight of my career and I intended to someday read about it in a book or see it play out on a movie screen. I knew she wasn’t about to give up on it either. Who in their right mind would be willing to throw away a year of their life?
I gave her a call towards the end of the year. She had given me her Alabama and New York phone numbers during our first face-to-face meeting. “No, you’re right,” she said after I wore her down with argument. “And I’ve been working on it. It’s just about finished.”
Well, I waited and waited, and I didn’t hear anything about a new Louella Harper novel or read about one in the papers, so a year or so later I called her up again. “Oh, Melvin, I’m just putting the finishing touches on it this week.”
And it went on like that. I’d call her up once or twice a year, and she would always say she was still working on it. “Oh, my editor asked for changes” … “Oh my editor didn’t like the changes I made. He asked for more” … “Oh, it’s finished. I’m expecting the proofs any day.” It went on like that year after year. I knew she was stalling me, but I kept calling her just the same to see how long she would keep lying to me.
That would have been fine, I suppose. At least I would have maintained contact with her, but I went and did a stupid thing, something I’ll regret until the end of my life. Sometimes my brain acts independently of my mouth. A man came down here a few years ago working on a biography of Louella. Of course, she refused to have any part in it. It was one of those unauthorized biographies, I guess is what you call it. The man wanted to know why Louella never finished the book about the Reverend. I said said something to the effect that Louella cared more about drinking than she did writing. She hasn’t spoken to me since.
Chapter 37 will appear within two weeks
About This Novel; Chapter 1Chapter 2; Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7; Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11; Chapter 12; Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16; Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20 Chapter 21; Blood Cries at the Half-Way PointChapter 22; Chapter 23Chapter 24; Chapter 25Chapter 26; Chapter 27Chapter 28; Chapter 29Chapter 30; Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33Chapter 34