Friday, May 27, 2016

Blood Cries Chapter 37

This is the last chapter in the first draft, and will give you an idea of the direction I will taken in draft two. I'm taking one month off to gain perspective and work on other projects. I will then begin posting the second draft. CV


Melvin looked across the desk at his interviewer and paused for a few seconds before saying, “That’s it.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “How can that be it?”

“That’s it,” he said, “because that’s all there is to the story. Louella Harper never published another book.”

“But she still has a manuscript,” I said. “I don’t want to start work on this thing, only to find out that she’s been holding on to this manuscript all these years and is finely ready to publish.”

“If you don’t write this book,” Melvin said. “No one will.”

“What about Ernie Smith? Is he still around?” The truth was I didn’t want to get killed.

“He died about ten years ago. Heart attack, I think. And anyway, as far as I know, he became a legitimate businessman.”

“That doesn’t seem very likely.”

“Well, he never got caught then. All I know is I never had cause to represent him after that. He was a smart man, though lacking in scruples. He ran his funeral home until about 1980, when the building burned down in an electrical fire. Luckily, no one was hurt.”

“Who collected the insurance on that?” I asked.

“He did. I’m told he used the settlement to help finance his retirement.”

“What about Lester Woods?”

“Well, he went into the state psychiatric hospital for a week or two. He went through “the revolving door” as Henry Russell used to say before he died of cancer. Lester moved up to Ohio and started driving trucks again. His wife called me up a few years ago. She wanted to see if things had cooled down around here, if I thought any of the Reverend’s people would come after him, or if the sheriff might try and pick him up. I told her people around here had forgotten about that case a long time ago. I didn’t see any reason for them not to come back.”

“She was worried about Lester. She said he still had nightmares, sometimes about Vietnam, sometimes about being chased by the Reverend. She said one time he woke up screaming, and ran through the house with his rifle in his hand, saying the Reverend was after him. She wondered if bringing him back home would settle him down or only stir up more nightmares. I heard they came back about six months ago. He lives over in Johnson’s Gap. You should probably go talk to him.”

I did go see him a while later, but not before sending a letter to Louella Harper. I needed assurances that she did not plan to publish a book putting me on the losing end of a competition, but I think what I really wanted was to receive her blessing.

Of course, I had no way of asking her. I had no address or telephone number. The people I spoke with who did know her refused to give out any personal information. One person told me, “The reason I’m friends with her is because I don’t give out that kind of information. If I did, I suspect, I wouldn’t be friends with her for very long.”

As it happened, I managed to get a letter to her care of her sister’s law firm. After years of splitting time between New York and Alabama, a stroke caused her to move south full time. Within two weeks of sending the letter, I was surprised to receive an envelope in the mail bearing an elderly woman’s scrawl.

I ripped open the envelope and removed several pieces of card stock bearing her monogram and a response to my inquiry. This is what it said:

Dear Christamar,

Thank you for writing to me and stirring up memories I had almost managed to stifle. When I set out to write a book about Reverend Baxter all those years ago, I intended to write straight journalism—the thing I sought was the truth.

What I found was something different—a collection of individuals seeking to trade their accidental proximity to a serial killer for fame and fortune. People would walk up to me on the street and ask me when the “movie” was coming out, and could they be in it? The Reverend’s next-door neighbor followed me around town like a puppy dog offering to sell me his story. Everyone I met either wanted to broker a deal, exchange an anecdote for cash, or have me somehow bestow upon them a place in history.

Then there was the Reverend’s lawyer, a man who viewed himself as a cross between Gregory Peck and Robert Redford. But if you are looking for a hero, keep looking, because his main interest is in his own self-glorification.

The truth proved elusive, even back then when the bodies were still fresh in their graves. Here are the facts as I know them: The man, Reverend Baxter, did kill at least four of his relatives, and the motive was nothing more than simple greed. He had an accomplice for at least one of the murders, and possibly more. His accomplice was man who ran criminal activities in town. You would be surprised at the number of people on whom those two men took out insurance policies.

Other than that, I am afraid there isn’t much I can tell you. If you go down there, as I did, looking for the truth, I suspect you will find little more than the memories of old rumors. If a novel, is your intention, good luck finding a hero.

In either event, I trust you will brace yourself for the many frustrations that will soon be heading your way. Consider yourself warned.

Louella Harper

END of draft one

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blood Cries Chapter 36


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