Earlier this week I gave you the first half of this chapter, knowing that I’d follow-up later in the week. Funny thing - more that one person said they really wanted the second half to follow on closely. They felt like I left ‘em hanging. Which I suppose I did. But, as I planned, here’s the rest. Sorry you had to wait three days….
A War Between States Part 26:
Chapter 14: Skirmish: Tamara, Part Two
“Deputy Soames didn’t handle your situation properly,” Sheriff Boyd said.
“You can say that again,” Tamara started, feeling suddenly empowered to speak her mind. But then, as she was about to say more, Boyd cut her off.
“I’m not sayin’ he didn’t use proper judgment when it came to issuin’ you a permit. He did judge rightly - this sort of business you’re lookin’ to run ain’t right. Maybe in Atlanta or New York. But not in Marionville.”
“I went through all the legal loops -”
“Legal don’t make right,” Boyd said. “I think you know that, smart girl like you.” Boyd lowered his warning finger, which Tamara took as a sign of acquiescence. Still, the sheriff continued. “When confronted with the possibility of a place like yours openin’ up in his jurisdiction - especially one he didn’t have no legal way of stoppin’ - Soames did what he could, by sittin’ on your application and hopin’ you’d just… give up.”
“But I didn’t.”
“But you didn’t. And then, when confronted by you - in person - Soames did what any man might do, backed into a corner. He fought back. But in his haste, he didn’t do things right. He didn’t follow procedure.”
A small silence descended on them then. Tamara knew what she wanted to say, but she didn’t have the records in her hands yet, nor did she have her liquor license. If she said the wrong thing now….
Then she looked over at The King towering above them, and felt a renewed strength. She squared her tired shoulders and asked, “Do those records show that I have a criminal record?”
The sheriff looked uncomfortable then, which almost made Tamara press her advantage. But then she remembered what Boyd had said about men being backed into a corner, and she held back, waited.
“No,” the sheriff whispered.
And she waited.
When the sheriff didn’t say anything more, she spoke aloud a small piece of what she was thinking: “Then he lied.” She knew it might not be the right thing to say, but Boyd couldn’t deny it. No sir. He could not.
And he didn’t. But he did raise his finger again.
“Yes. He lied. And he’s being taken to task for it. You don’t need to think about Deputy Soames, because I’m taking care of him through appropriate measures.”
“I could sue.”
“I suppose you could. But being from around here, you probably know the old sayin’ ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Well, Barry’s little fib and you suin’ Marionville for it ain’t exactly gonna help you get your liquor license.”
“Is that a threat, Sheriff Boyd?”
Men backed into a corner be damned. This little podunk man might need to prepare for a woman backed into a corner.
“No, Miss Granger. It’s my attempt at a negotiation. Let’s say you forget Deputy Soames’s impertinence, and I’ll make sure the paperwork on your license gets squared away right speedy-like. We move on and forget this impasse.”
Tamara paused and considered for a while. A breeze blew past them, cooling the sheen of sweat on her skin. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw The King’s limbs wave back and forth. Like it was cheering.
“Fine,” she said, and the sheriff nodded. His face softened - just a little.
“Good,” he said, and handed her the papers. Then he turned to go.
“I have somewhere to go now, Miss Granger, down the road a spell, so I can’t stay,” he said as he walked away. Tamara watched him, and suddenly her wariness of him dissipated - in a burst of stunning sunlight, in a cloud of September-flavored dust. She decided with a smile and a quiet chuckle that Sheriff Boyd should always position himself where he was facing forward in every encounter, and should always leave by backing away. It’s hard to be intimidated by a man whose pants sagged so much in the butt.
But then the sheriff spoke, and Tamara stopped smiling.
“I still don’t like the idea of what you’re doing here, Miss Granger. And I have much more patience and ingenuity than Deputy Soames.”
With that, he got in his car and drove away.
- Tamara Granger - Stephanie “Rain” Thornton
- Sheriff Boyd - Dennis “Needs A Beer” Maguire
- Narrator- Will Kenyon
Here we go. This novel’s coming fast to the place where I have not written a single dot or dash. I vaguely know where the story’s supposed to go, but after the next four chapters/scenes, I’m on as much of a ride as you are to find out what’s gonna happen. Should be interesting, eh? Anyway, here we return to Tamara Granger, who’s about to get introduced to yet another Marionville original….
A War Between States Part 25:
Chapter 14: Skirmish: Tamara
Two weeks passed after Tamara’s run-in with Deputy High Horse Racist Rat Bastard Barry Soames.
Tamara indulged herself each week by spending the night at the State Park Lodge. She even let Craig pay for the room one time, offering only enough resistance to be polite, and not enough to be coy.
Whenever she stayed, Craig didn’t pressure her to “hang out” or go to dinner, and Tamara found herself awash with conflicting feelings. Part of her expected Craig to feel a little entitled to her company, especially the time he paid. Part of her knew Craig was far too unassuming for that. Part of her was glad he didn’t make any advances - he always said good-bye to her at her door, and didn’t hover outside after she closed it (she always checked through a crack in the front window curtain to make sure). Part of her wished he would.
Typically, Tamara spent the nights at the Lodge drinking a six-pack of Diet Sprite and watching whatever Denzel Washington movie was showing on the various satellite channels. She always took a shower before she went to bed, and another when she woke up. And she made a point of waking up late.
Most days, though, Tamara stayed in her camper.
From there, she watched the workmen come and go, directed them when she needed to, asked questions when she thought she should.
She watched the first crew come and clear the lot, cutting down trees and ripping up stumps, then leveling the earth with Bobcats and a bulldozer. They left the oak - The King as it came to be called - and it towered over them and their work, its leaves beginning to change color here and there as the air cooled and summer faded into autumn.
The workmen had the foresight to bring coolers of Gatorade and water - even after a new crew came and installed a water line, then laid the bar’s foundation and plumbing. It took that long for the town of Marionville to get Tamara’s water access turned on. Tamara adjusted to days without a shower, and since everyone was as sweaty or sweatier than she, no one seemed to mind.
Actual construction on the building was underway a week before the water was turned on. The day Tamara knelt beside the one outside spigot and twisted it on, a cheer went up from the men, who crowded around her for the occasion, all of them knowing to some extent her difficulty with the city.
While the work was being done, Tamara placed a few calls to people she thought could help her get her liquor license. She hoped that someone - one of her friends from college, maybe Karen’s husband Phil or his friend Nate Wells - someone would know someone who could figure out a way to put pressure on Marionville’s city hall and sheriff’s office.
True to what she’d told Deputy Soames and Craig there in the city hall office, she filed a subpoena for the records Soames had claimed indicated she had a criminal record. The clerk at her lawyer’s office told her it would take a few weeks for the records to be released, maybe more if Soames waited until the last minute, which Tamara was sure he would. And even after she had the records, she wasn’t sure what she’d do with them. Sue? Confront Soames again?
And what if through some stroke of really shitty luck, the records actually did reflect that she had commited a felony? How did one go about clearing up something like that? How long would that take?
These were the things which occupied her mind, even as summer peaked and then slacked off, even as her bar took form, rising from the dry, packed earth and becoming first a skeleton of framework, then a shell of sheetrock and plywood, then finally something that resembled the building of her dreams.
Then one day, she was standing in the dark walk-in refrigerator, waiting for the electrician to finish installing the thermostat, when one of the roofers who was on break leaned in and said, “There’s a police car drove up.”
Tamara felt a flush of anger mixed with dread. Why were the cops here?
“I gotta see what they want, Daryl,” she said to the electrician, and he nodded, never taking his eyes off his work. When she stepped out of the building, she had to squint against the sun.
She saw the brown sedan - couldn’t help but feel a bit relieved to see its lights weren’t on - and watched as its door opened and lanky Sheriff Boyd clambered out.
His sunglasses didn’t seem all that silly in the sunshine - Tamara had seen the man wear his shades on overcast days, and Craig said he’d seen him once wearing them indoors. They’d laughed and made fun of Boyd, but now Tamara found herself, despite the often hilarious picture Boyd presented, scared of what he represented now, of what he could do. The sheriff scanned the lot quickly before stepping toward Tamara, who still stood in the entrance of her bar. He raised a sheaf of papers that he held in his hand. Waving them at her, he said, “Here’s those records you’re requesting.”
Tamara started to walk toward him - and noted how grim his gaunt face looked.
He held the papers out as if he was going to give them to her, but as she came close, he lowered the hand holding them and raised the other, one finger of the raised hand extended in a gesture of warning.
“Miss Granger,” he said in a way which indicated he was going to say more. But he didn’t.
The sheriff still didn’t say anything, just stood there in front of her until she thought she might burst, or turn around and run away. Then, when she finally opened her mouth to say yes again, he took that moment to interrupt her and continue.
“Deputy Soames didn’t handle your situation properly,” he said….
- Tamara Granger - Stephanie “Rain” Thornton
- Sheriff Boyd - Dennis “Needs A Beer” Maguire
- Narrator/Daryl - Will Kenyon
The “almost a month” which lapsed between podcasts this time is totally the fault of dementia associated with old age. In other words, I kept getting together with Jay to record his part for this podcast, and we’d say at the beginning of the afternoon/evening: ”Hey, we’re gonna record later.” And then we’d forget. I’D forget.
Finally got it together, and although the evening we finally recorded (last Saturday) was full of distractions, we still managed to crank out his lines.
So here you go. Nate returns to Marionville….
A War Between States Part 24:
Chapter 13: Campaign: Nate
Nate knows that, as much time as he spends on the road, and as much of THAT time which he spends on the phone, he ought to get a headset. But as his budget got tighter and tighter, the more he was able to put off such a purchase - even when decent headsets fell into a price range which qualified as outright cheap.
So it was that he spent most of the three hours he was on the highway holding his cell phone to his ear with one hand while he steered with the other. He’d lower the phone to his lap - excusing himself to the person on the other line - every time he passed a sheriff or state trooper. It wasn’t illegal to talk on the phone while driving in Georgia. Yet. But Nate had heard stories of cops following cell phone users, waiting for the tiniest infraction and then busting them.
For most of the three hours, he was talking on the phone with this person and that about Raymond Bernhardt’s offer. For most of his life, he’d been a “go by the guts” kind of guy, but the last few months of second-guessing himself regarding his business and the articles he’d run had made him wary. His gut said HELL YEAH! Take Bernhardt’s money, consider it a gift from God, given so that you might continue defying those who show malice in His holy name. But he kept coming back to the too good to be true thing, and he’d hesitate.
He figured calling people whose opinions he valued would help him make a decision, maybe give him some insight he needed.
Deanna. Phil Dobson. His accountant. His mom.
So far the verdict was split: Deanna and the accountant were all for it. Phil and his mom expressed reservations, all for the exact same reasons he went back and forth himself - no epiphanical insights whatsoever.
He was driving three hours to see his mom and his Uncle Bill again. All because he’d called his mom first, a few hours after he and Bernhardt parted ways. After they’d talked about Nate and his problems for a while, she’d said:
“Well, since you’re not doing anything much else, you think you could come down to Marionville again?”
“Mom. I was just there.”
“Yeah, well, I’m gonna drive over next week to see Bill. I’d like you to come back down, too.”
A pause, then: “What… Nate? You don’t want to see your family?”
“I don’t want to go to Marionville.”
“Look, honey. I ain’t able to tell you a whole lot, but your Uncle Bill needs his family right now.”
“He had us a month ago. Why’s he need us again so soon?”
Nate knew something was up, knew he was being cold-hearted, and knew eventually he’d cave, but he wasn’t going back to Marionville without knowing why.
“Sweetie, I’m your mother. And Bill’s my brother. My only living relative left, ’sides you. He called me a couple of days ago, and he was… cryin’ - “
“Jesus, Mom. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
One last pause.
“I can’t. As much as I want to, Bill insisted that he tell you and everybody else in person. It seemed so important to him that I let him tell us. But he also said he wanted to see you.”
“I just saw him. He was fine.”
“C’mon, Nate. Things have changed. He needs you. I need you.”
And that was it. Nate was going back to Marionville, and he had no idea why.
Even as distracted as he was by his phone conversations, Nate couldn’t help noticing how the pine trees lining the highway changed - from full Eastern white pines to scraggly, crooked loblollies. He’d never noticed how ugly loblolly pines were until he’d brought a college girlfriend “home” to Marionville. Now, he never failed to notice.
The loblollies were at their haggard, haphazard, gnarled worst as Nate came to Morning Crossroads, just north of town, where he turned left if were going toward Bill’s house. Somewhere on that road, a woman he vaguely knew named Tamara Granger was about to open a bar. Supposedly, he’d gone to elementary school with Tamara, although he couldn’t remember her. He’d lost track of kids like her when his mom started moving around in the mid 80s. But Phil Dobson, who stayed in Marionville until he went to college - assured Nate that they both knew the girl.
Nate believed Phil, even if he couldn’t remember her for shit. As he passed Morning Crossroads, he briefly wondered how her bar was doing. If she managed to pull off a coup like opening a bar in Marionville, Nate thought he might actually find a reason to like the hell hole.
Even though Bill lived out that way, that wasn’t where Nate’s mom told him to go - everyone Bill had invited to his “announcement” was congregating at Bill’s store in town - the very store where Nate had flipped his SUV a few weeks before. The announcement was in half an hour - Nate was ten minutes out now - and now Nate was starting to itch with curiosity: what the hell could Bill be sharing that required everyone to converge in Marionville, at Bill’s store, all at one time?
Bill was lucky Nate was currently out of job….
Now Nate was passing by the low-lying swampland that ran along the state highway for several miles. He didn’t pay too much attention to news from the homelands, but when he was down last month and saw Bill, Bill had told him about Eddie Corland, a childhood friend that he DID remember, who’d totaled his motorcycle right along here - the accident broke all of his limbs and dumped him in the swamp; he couldn’t swim with shattered arms and legs, so he’d drowned.
Random thought. Random morbid thought to carry Nate the rest of the way through the three hour drive from Atlanta to Marionville, where great mysteries awaited him - mysteries as revealed by a skinny, ultra-tanned rednck millionaire in a goofy T-shirt and flip-flops.
- Nate Wells - Jay ‘ That’s Not A Hernia’ Elgin
- Mandy “Mom” Wells - Terina ‘KamiKRAZY’ Kenyon
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
If you’ve been with me so far, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get to THE ACTION. Well, it kinda starts here. A pivotal scene is approaching, and this chapter, along with the Interlude introducing Terminius Green from a few weeks ago both hint at it.
You might be surprised to know that we’re fast approaching the place I left off in this novel’s original draft. Pretty soon, I’ll be riding the same ride you are. I just wrote a new chapter last week - and elements of this book, with all its disparate characters and situations - are about to take shape.
A War Between States Part 23:
Chapter 12: Campaign: Tommy
“I’m trying to stay professional here, Mr. Boyd - ” Fran said into the phone receiver.
Her voice was still at a level most would agree was professional, even calm. But around the edge of each word, Tommy could hear an icy sharpness - sharper than usual, even for Fran. Those edges were full of threat, like the edge of a sword. But they also sounded brittle, like the edges of a shelf of melting ice. Brittle and ready to crumble.
“Sorry. Sheriff Boyd,” Fran said and frowned up at Tommy as he approached her desk.
The desk was one of eight in the office, which was a large room partitioned off from the rest of the floor by thin white walls set with a row of windows. Tommy, Gerald, and Mick sat out on the main floor, amid a jumble of desks and telephones that buzzed most of the day and often well into the night with men and women interviewing potential leads, pushing the required paperwork, and chatting with other agents.
In Fran’s office, it was more quiet. One reason, Tommy thought, was because the room was carpeted instead of tiled - with an off-white and often stained carpet which dated back to the early 80s. The main reason, though, was simply that there were less people here, and the walls, however thin, did hold some of the chaos beyond at bay.
Tommy stopped next to Fran’s desk and watched her face. The lines at the corners of her mouth seemed more pronounced to him, her crow’s feet deeper and more defined. The omnipresent bags under Fran’s eyes looked full and blue. She hadn’t dyed her hair recently, and the graying roots were starting to show.
“I’m trying to stay professional here, Sheriff Boyd, but it’s hard to with the tone of voice you’re using.”
She nodded for Tommy to sit, and he did so in the vinyl cushioned straight chair in front of her desk.
The surface of the desk was covered in Fran’s characteristic pile of forms and folders, charts and photographs. Her name plate lay face down, and Tommy righted it while he listened in on Fran’s conversation.
Judging by Fran’s level of dishevelment and the fragility of her voice, Tommy hesitated to be the bearer of the news he had.
Killing the messenger and all that.
“Listen. Sheriff Boyd. Obviously a decision was made during the planning stages of the raid to keep local authorities out of the loop. So far, that decision hasn’t been rescinded. So, for me to even explain why the decision was made would violate the orders that were handed to me because of it.”
Fran rolled her eyes, and Tommy saw that the whites were bloodshot. He couldn’t help but chuckle, though - Fran had been the one who made the order to keep Boyd and his boys in the dark.
“I’m in no position to tell you that,” Fran said.
“No, I can’t refer you to my superior. That would violate my orders as well,” she continued.
“Listen, Sheriff Boyd. Be patient. Once we’ve got everything together and the right people are brought to trial, you’ll be included. We’ll need your cooperation then. But until then, I can’t tell you anything, and neither can anyone else here. I would suggest you just settle down, concentrate on doing your job, and trust us to do ours. Okay? Thank you. Good-bye.”
And she hung up. The look on her face told Tommy that she’d probably cut Boyd off in mid-sentence.
“Will he be included when we turn this over to the state prosecutors?” Tommy asked. He knew he was procrastinating, asking her a question he already knew the answer to, but he figured he’d give Fran a chance to breathe easier before giving her the bad news.
She smirked at him like she knew he was pussy-footing around on something. “Oh yeah,” she said. “One way or another, Sheriff Robert Boyd will be part of the prosecution procedures against Williams and his little cartel.”
At the mention of Williams, Tommy flinched. He could feel himself flinch, so he knew Fran saw it.
“What? What is it?” she asked, leaning forward.
“It’s Williams, Fran….” Tommy said.
“He jumped bail,” she finished for him. “Goddammit. I knew he would.”
The woman amazed Tommy sometimes. Her uncanny intuition was the reason she’d risen through the ranks so fast. It certainly wasn’t her tireless drive, because obviously, Fran was tired. How long before she collapsed or gave up?
As it was, her shoulders slumped noticeably when Tommy nodded affirmation.
“That fucking idiot. Nobody jumps bail anymore. He’s fucking dead.”
Tommy shrugged, pretty happy at her reasonably calm reaction to the news. “Well, if some state patrolman or bounty hunter kills him, at least he won’t get off on a technicality or some trumped up racial profiling thing.”
Now Fran scowled and looked ready to kill him.
“Fuck that, Krinshaw. As big as Williams thinks his operation is, and as much time as we’ve spent bringing him down, he’s still chump change compared to who he could lead us to. He might’ve been able to connect us to a major supplier in Florida. But he can’t finger shit if he’s got a goddamned bullet in his head.”
Tommy sat, silent. He was as jaded as the next guy about the War on Drugs. But he also held Fran’s hope to see some of their efforts pay off.
“Where’d he skip?” Fran asked. She started shuffling files around on her desk like she was looking for something. “Any leads on where he’s going? What about Jenkins, Blalock, and Green?”
“The others are all accounted for, and per your orders, we’re reboubling watch on them. All Williams’s contacts are hot, but nothing’s showed up.”
“He disappeared this morning. We got word about an hour ago.”
Fran hesitated. Her scowl deepened so that Tommy thought her face might crack apart at the wrinkles.
“And you didn’t tell me immediately?”
Tommy stood. The dam was going to burst after all - he figured he’d better get to higher ground. “Gerald and me initiated everything. Then him and me and Mickey drew straws to see who’d come tell you.”
Fran’s face softened again. Was the disaster averted?
“And you lost.”
“Nobody called me directly,” she said.
“Came in on the radio. And you were on the phone.”
Now Fran stood herself, grabbed a couple of files and her jacket.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay.”
She threw her jacket on, switching the files back and forth between hands. She rolled her head around - Tommy heard bones crack and pop - and then she reached under jacket to adjust her gun belt and bra. When she was finished, she walked off across the carpet. Other agents at other stations glanced up at her passing.
At the door, she turned back and raised an eyebrow at Tommy, who was still standing in front of her desk.
“Well, come on,” she said.
Tommy opened his mouth, shut it again. “Where we going?” he asked, although he already knew.
Fran didn’t answer. She just turned around and left. And knowing better than to protest, Tommy followed.
- Fran - Aida Kenyon
- Tommy Krinshaw - Bret Wood
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
This week, I had to re-record two of my readers’ voiceovers because I changed the configuration on the sound devices on my computer. I can now listen to porn in stereo throughout my house if I want, but my microphones all stopped working.
Anyway, fixed it and got my “talent” to come back and record again. So all is well.
Except that with Tamara, it’s not….
A War Between States Part 22:
Chapter 11, Part Two: Skirmish: Tamara
July 22, 2003
“What do you think the problem could be?” Craig asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket,” Tamara answered, shaking her head.
Several minutes later Miss Riggs returned.
“Why not?” Tamara asked before the old woman could open her mouth to confirm what her face already said. The look on her face spoke paragraphs, and Tamara could feel herself getting upset to the point of crying. Opening a business is tough — she knew that — but this was getting ridiculous. Something in Tamara’s tone of voice must have impressed the old man with the magazine, because he shuffled his feet and sat up straight.
“There was a match on a felony record,” the old woman said, “plus, your accident a couple of years back….”
Tamara was already tired. Her stress was high. This day was driving her crazy so far. And now, the double whammy of being accused of having a felonious record and hearing mention of the greatest tragedy in her life — it was enough to set anyone off. So off she went.
Bursting into tears and nearly screaming, she said, “But I don’t have a criminal record! I’ve never even had a speeding ticket! And that — that accident — it’s already been shown, it wasn’t my fault!”
After that, all Tamara could do was sob and babble incoherent repetitions of what she’d already said.
In the tumult, Craig stood up.
And for whatever reason, the old man closed his Field & Stream and started paying attention. Miss Riggs seemed to shrink, to cower beneath Craig’s imposing figure, and the old man moved suddenly to intervene. As if he was a valiant knight interceding between the distressed damsel and the awful ogre.
But Craig wasn’t moving to attack, or anything like it. Instead, he knelt beside Tamara in her chair and wrapped his powerful arms around her. She moaned in response and buried her face into his chest, into the black fabric of his shirt and the manly, comforting, understanding warmth she felt there.
“I’m not —” she stuttered, muffled between sobs. “It wasn’t —”
“I know,” Craig whispered in her ear. “I know.”
“Oh, Ben,” she wailed. “Ben.”
Craig stiffened at the mention of that name, but then he softened and pulled her closer. Tamara cried and cried and cried into Craig’s broad chest until the rayon shirt was slick with moisture and she felt like she could just go to sleep right then and there.
Then a booming voice filled her ears and filled the room. Craig stiffened again, and this time let her go. Tamara herself sucked in a weighty, wet breath of air and squared her shoulders against the sound. She remembered that voice — from a couple of months before, when she’d come here the first time to fill out her forms. And she remembered it from high school, when she was an ambitious and active graduating senior and the voice belonged to a hefty, square-jawed, crew cut, freckle-faced sophomore — a linebacker on the school’s perpetually losing football team.
“What’s goin’ on here?” the voice said — a resonant baritone. To those whom Soames called friend (a mere handful of people), his voice sounded garrulous and jovial. To those who were not in his good graces (most of the world), he sounded like a sardonic bullfrog.
Tamara peered through her tear-filled eyes to see him, to see Miss Riggs move toward him, to see Craig stand up, one hand still firm on her trembling shoulder.
Barry Soames had a way of standing that made him always seem taller than his average height, with his chest thrown out and his feet planted flat and straight and exactly the same distance apart as his shoulders. His shoulders were broad, which belied his considerable beer gut and made him seem more powerfully built than he was. His medium brown hair was cut with an old-fashioned part on the side, and he wore the tan and beige uniform of his office — including slick, black boots, a shiny badge, and a fully-decked out and heavy-looking utility belt, complete with a billy club and a pistol. He was on office duty, but he was still dressed to kill or kick ass.
“I’m — I’m not sure, Barry,” Miss Riggs muttered. “I just told Miss Granger about the problem with her liquor license, and she got upset.”
Soames tried to square his jaw — which didn’t quite work with his round face — and grunted. “Upset, huh? Well.”
The deputy took a step forward, and Tamara felt Craig tense.
“Miss Granger, what’s the cause for this outburst?” Soames asked.
Tamara almost laughed. Barry Soames knew who she was. Miss Granger? What the hell was that all about?
Whatever it was, Soames’ affected formality steeled Tamara, and her tears dried up almost as quickly as they’d come. Smirking, she said, “Barry, I don’t have a criminal record, so I don’t know how you’re denying my liquor license on those grounds.” She stood up, and Craig’s hand slid away.
Soames regarded her scowling face, unfazed.
“Miss Granger, I cain’t go by your assurances. My records —”
“Your records are wrong, Barry.”
And with that interruption, Barry Soames himself got upset. His face contorted and he finally succeeded in squaring that fat jaw. His eyes narrowed to slits. His hands went to his hips, and for a fleeting second Tamara thought he was going for his gun. That was silly of course, though. Right?
“Miss Granger,” he said, “you will refrain from addressin’ an officer of the law with that level of disrespect. And you’ll note that you ain’t in a position where you can negotiate or change nothin’. My files — which I checked and double-checked as a favor to you —indicate an 80% match on your name, age, social security number, and race, with at least two notable felons in the Southeast United States. It is a policy of my office to refrain from issuing liquor permits to possible felons. Now… is my position understood?”
In response, Tamara could only say one word. “Hostile,” she whispered.
“What?” Soames asked, leaning forward like he might pounce on her, tear her limb from limb.
“I said ‘hostile.’ All of you here are so hostile,” Tamara answered.
Soames looked like he might laugh at her now, even as he tore her apart.
“From where I’m standin’, most of the hostility is comin’ from you.”
“Can we see?” Craig said. If Tamara wasn’t already convinced of Soames stalwartness, she might have thought she saw the deputy jump. She jumped at the sound of Craig’s voice, as did Miss Riggs and the old man.
Soames swung around to face Craig. His hand really did move to his pistol butt. “See what?” the deputy asked.
“Can we see the felony records that match Tamara’s information?”
“Absolutely not.” Soames eyes narrowed again until his brown irises all but disappeared.
“Why not?” Craig said, his voice wavering slightly. “I tell you what — if you let us see them, maybe they’ll satisfy us. Maybe we’ll be convinced there’s no way of getting around this and we’ll just go away.”
Soames regarded Craig in much the same way he had Tamara, but with additional vehemence, as if this latest challenge threatened something deeper than just the veracity of his records and the authority of his office.
“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Owens. Yeah. I know who you are,” Soames said when Craig raised his eyebrows. “I’ll tell you what. I don’t have to satisfy you for nothin’. I don’t have to convince you of nothin’. What I say stands, and that’s all there is to it. And at this point, I’m on the verge of convincin’ myself that you and Miss Granger’s presence here constitutes a threat to Miss Riggs and Mr. Edson. So I would suggest that you do just as you suggested — and GO AWAY. Otherwise, I’ll have to take matters into hand.”
The room was nearly silent for several long moments — except for the hum of the window units and Tamara’s still-wet breathing. Soames stood like a wall. Craig stood like a man calculating how best to scale that wall.
Finally, Tamara decided the battle was lost.
“C’mon, Craig,” she said. “I don’t have a felony record, and he knows it. But if we stay here, he’ll make sure we both do.” She grabbed Craig’s hand and tucked the bundle from Miss Riggs under her arm. “I know how to get at those records. A subpoena will do, won’t it, Mr. Soames?”
With that, Tamara left the courthouse, Craig Owens in tow.
The battle was lost, but not the war.
- Tamara Granger - Stephanie Thornton
- Craig Owens - Joe Macon
- Miss Riggs - Barbara Nix
- Narrator/Deputy Barry Soames - Will Kenyon
Sometimes it’s UNBELIEVABLE how difficult it is to corral the voice talent for a project like this. I swear to you that the main reason this podcast was delayed so long was because of A) the trouble I had syncing people’s schedules and B) the fact that two people’s recordings DIDN’T TAKE the first time through. So you see where that left me.
Anywho… here it is. Another podcast for A War Between States. Thanks for reading/listening.
A War Between States Part 21:
Chapter 11, Part One: Skirmish: Tamara
July 22, 2003
Tamara crossed the old verandah circling the City Hall building and opened the front screen door. On either side of her, AC units rested on the window sills, humming and dripping condensation onto the porch’s plank surface, causing the dark green paint under them to crack and peel. Whatever cool air the units generated didn’t quite make it into the front hall. Just inside the entrance, the air was stifling.
Craig followed a pace behind her. She could tell by the silence that had settled between them about an hour before that he was frustrated — as she was — by the blatant hostility they’d suffered from Donisha Green. More than that, though, he was getting impatient driving her around Marionville. The first trip was justified — it had everything to do with him being able to do his job. But this trip — to find out the status of her liquor license — had nothing to do with him. He was only driving her around out of courtesy, and because he knew she couldn’t get around without him. There were no MARTA trains or taxis in Marionville.
The hallway was dark. Only the gray light which came through the front door and the window at the back of the hall illuminated anything, and it was only just enough to outline the picture frames on the walls, to cast a glare off their glass panes so that Tamara couldn’t see what the pictures were of, and to light up the carpet on the floor just enough so that she could tell it was red.
“It’s down here on the left,” Tamara said. Her voice carried loudly through the empty hall.
Craig only grunted, but he followed her as she moved deeper into the building.
As she walked, the floorboards under the carpet creaked. The sound must have alerted the people in the courthouse of her presence — a sort of built in alarm — because suddenly a small, older white woman with a bouffant of peppery gray hair and a dress which matched the carpet came out of a side office and said, “Hello there. How can I help you?”
Tamara smiled at the woman. This same lady, a Miss Riggs or something like that, had come out and asked her the same question in the same tone of voice a couple of months previous, when Tamara had first come to the courthouse looking for licenses. The woman’s tone was one of cautious greeting, and Tamara wondered if the woman remembered her.
“Hi. My name’s Tamara Granger. I’m checking up on the status of some licenses I need. From what I understood from my phone call to you earlier, everything’s ready to go except my liquor license.”
“Tamara Granger. Tamara Granger,” the woman said, nodding her head. “Yes, yes. Come with me.”
The woman strolled back into her office. Tamara and Craig followed.
The office was bright with sunlight and comfortably cooled by one of those window units. In it were two desk sets, several filing cabinets, and two plush armchairs for guests. Tamara saw the woman’s nameplate on her desk — saw that the woman’s name was indeed Riggs. Why couldn’t these city government workers have as good a memory as Tamara did?
Miss Riggs motioned for Tamara and Craig to sit and began rifling through her outbox. A man sat at the other desk — an old, heavyset white man with a wispy circle of white hair around his liver-spotted scalp. He nodded at the two of them as they entered and took seats, then dismissed them and turned his full attention back to the Field & Stream magazine he’d been reading.
“Tamara Granger,” Miss Riggs repeated. “Ah, here it is….” She pulled a manila folder out of the stack and pulled several certificates out of it. She offered the papers to Tamara, who took them and started looking through them. Then the woman sat down herself.
“Most of it’s there,” she said. “You need to post all of those forms in a conspicuous place. But you probably know that already. And you’re right. Your liquor license isn’t included in that stack. It hasn’t been approved yet.”
Tamara winced and frowned. Oh no, she thought, here we go again.
“Do you know why?”
The expression on Miss Riggs’ wrinkled face was a cross between befuddlement and worry. “Sort of. You see, one of the things we have to do when issuing an alcohol permit is a criminal background check. That’s something the sheriff’s office does.”
“Is there a problem?” Tamara asked. Craig sat up all of a sudden, probably surprised to find his client might have a criminal background. He’d be disappointed, though, or relieved, because that wasn’t the case.
“Well, not that I know of,” Miss Riggs said. “It’s just that no one from that office has come back with a go-ahead. Sometimes these things take a while, so I haven’t pursued the matter.”
“Can’t you go ahead and open up without you liquor permit, Miss Granger?” the woman asked.
Tamara’s frown deepened. She could feel her pulse quickening. “No, Miss Riggs. I’m opening a bar. I’ll need to serve alcohol.”
Miss Riggs’s now blank expression told her that the woman couldn’t tell if Tamara was smarting off or not with that remark. Tamara wasn’t sure herself.
Then the woman stood up and held up a reassuring hand. “Look, don’t worry about it yet, honey. Now that you’re here, I’ll just go ask Deputy Soames what the hold-up is. He’s the only one in the office right now, but he should know.”
And with that, the woman crossed out from behind her desk and left. The old man glanced up to see her go, then returned to his magazine.
- Tamara Granger - Stephanie Thornton
- Miss Riggs - Aida Kenyon
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
The last time I did this, a couple of months ago, it was because I felt like there was simply too much of a lag between podcast posts, and so I made a compilation to serve as filler. Turns out, with the amount of content currently floating around on this site o’ mine, that a place which serves as a depot for all my currently posted Novel Podcasts was actually a PRACTICAL idea. Therefore, I’ve decided to do exactly that every 5 chapters or so from now on - that is, post a compilation of all the podcasts.
So here you go. For your convenience, and for all the newcomers to my site and to this podcast, here are direct links to each of the chapters, in order. So now you can just click and go, and maybe give a listen to the whole thing….
- Chapter 1, Part 1
- Chapter 1, Part 2
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3, Part 1
- Chapter 3, Part 2
- Chapter 4, Part 1
- Chapter 4, Part 2
- Chapter 5
- Interlude 1
- Chapter 6, Part 1
- Chapter 6, Part 2
- Chapter 7, Part 1
- Chapter 7, Part 2
- Chapter 8, Part 1
- Chapter 8, Part 2
- Chapter 9, Part 1
- Chapter 9, Part 2
- Chapter 10, Part 1
- Chapter 10, Part 2
- Interlude 2
A fun little Interlude? Well, the character of Elgin, with his incredible wit and candor, may amuse people somewhat, but hopefully you’ll get the sense of foreboding that his behavior and the situation merits. Why?
Because this is a portentious piece - an aside which will eventually become the crux of the novel.
There - I hope I’ve intrigued you. Now, on to Interlude 2, featuring my brother Daryl and my other brother Darrell (seriously).
A War Between States Part 20:
“What we doin’ way the fuck out here?”
Terminius Green drove his white Mustang down the gravel path which the road sign had said was County Maintained 51. The road had two lanes, with barely discernible yellow streaks indicating the divide between northbound and southbound. But Terminius wouldn’t quite call them lanes — they were so narrow they could barely accommodate his car, and the endless washouts and potholes on either side forced him to drive right down the middle. Streaks of morning sunlight danced across his car as they came through the periodic gaps in the pines which lined either side of the road. It gave him the impression of someone turning a light on and off, on and off. The rhythm of the light, the dull roar of his tires as they cracked on the gravel of County Maintained 51, and the fact that he wasn’t used to getting up so early would have lulled him to sleep, except for Elgin Blalock beside him.
Elgin was used to getting up this early. Elgin barely slept anymore, on his diet of Red Bull, rum, amphetamines, and cocaine. Terminius figured the man, barely in his twenties, had maybe two good years left before he’d OD or have a heart attack.
He wouldn’t die in a car accident, probably, because he’d already lost his license three years back, and he never drove. Strangely enough, it was a rule he took seriously.
“We jus’ doin’ what we told,” Elgin said. He fidgeted in the bucket seat beside Terminius, twisting this way, then that. He undid his seatbelt, and then, when he caught Terminius’s sidelong, uneasy glance, he put it back on — but not without offering a little verbal abuse.
“Fuckin’ fuck. Fuck yo’ old stupid fuckin’ rules about yo’ fuckin’ car.”
“They ain’t my rules. They my mama’s.”
“Fuck yo’ mama.”
Terminius let his foot off the gas and the car slowed. He reached into the pocket of the car door beside him and felt the handle of the .22 there. He’d use it, by God, if this asshole beside him gave him any more shit — especially about his mama. He dared not slam on the brakes the way he wanted to — not on the loose gravel, not in his new car. But he’d stop the car and take care of Elgin.
Elgin noticed the car slowing and grinned.
“I’m jus’ kiddin’, man,” he said. “Don’t need to slow down and start no trouble. I o-pologizzze.” The zzz was accompanied by a huge flash of Elgin’s gold-plated front teeth.
Terminius grunted and accelerated, accepting the o-pology. For now.
“‘Sides,” Elgin said, still grinning,” I’d fuck yo’ ass UP!”
Elgin didn’t know about the gun in the car door.
They came to a place where County Maintained 51 veered off, banking steeply against the rows of pines. An unpaved road of red clay dirt continued straight ahead. The pines also lined the left side of the dirt road, but an open field filled the space to the right. In the middle of the field stood a lone, off-white trailer on the top of a low hill that started at the dge of the dirt road and plunged away out of sight. A rough driveway led from the trailer’s grassless yard to the dirt road, and a forlorn pole with a transformer clinging to it towered over it all. Wires hung low over the driveway, connecting the transformer to the power lines on the side of County Maintained 51.
“Turn in there,” Elgin said and pointed at the dirt road and the driveway.
“What’s that?” Terminius asked.
“That there is a little white trailer in the middle of a fuckin’ field out in the middle of bumfuck,” Elgin said and flashed his teeth.
“I can see that. But why are we here?”
Terminius slowed down again, pulled onto the dirt road, and then onto the driveway leading to the trailer. Rocks crunched under his tires. He was glad it hadn’t rained recently, or he’d have to wash his car.
Elgin popped his seatbelt loose before they stopped, opened his door and tumbled out before Terminius had a chance to shift into park and turn off the car. He strolled quickly across the barren yard, his skinny legs looking strikingly black in contrast to his ultra white shorts. Despite all the money Elgin had, he refused to wear shorts like Terminius — baggy, with lots of pockets, just like their heroes on BET. Instead, Elgin wore super tight coach’s shorts, kind of like the ones Coach Williams sometimes wore. Only Coach Williams’s legs always looked especially large and more muscular in his clothes. Elgin’s just looked… funny.
Terminius climbed out of the car and clicked on the alarm with his keychain. A beep let him know it was armed. He followed Elgin to the trailer, mounted the steps, and entered the door that Elgin had left open.
Inside, the trailer was musty and devoid of any furniture, save a fold-out card table in the front room and two matching chairs. Elgin was already in the kitchen, his movements echoing through the empty trailer. Terminius walked into the kitchen to find Elgin opening the cabinets and pulling out stacks of plates and glass after empty glass.
“What is this place?”
Elgin chuckled. “It belongs to one of Coach’s girlfriends. She don’t live here no more, though.”
Then Elgin pulled out an airtight brick of something wrapped in green plastic. He reached into the cabinet and pulled out another one, this one wrapped in black plastic.
“What’s that?” Terminius asked.
Elgin smirked. “What the fuck you think it is? That,” he said, pointing at the green package, “is smack.” He pointed at the other. “That… is crack. Smack and crack. Crack and smack. What the fuck you think?”
- Terminius Green - Darrell Collins
- Elgin Blalock - Daryl Funn
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
Years have passed since I first wrote this chapter, and as I was reading over it in preparation of recording it for this podcast, I noticed Raymond Bernardt’s long speech about the Reverend Fowler, which you’ll see below. Toot, toot, toot my own horn, but I think his speech is one of the most vibrantly authorative things I’ve ever written. He’s right, you know….
Also, Oz Pizza really does exist, and it proved perfect as a tie-in to all my Wizard of Oz allusions here. They make really excellent pizza, too - just FYI. No wizards involved.
A War Between States Part 19:
Chapter 10, Part Two: Campaign: Nate
August 20, 2003
Nate couldn’t speak immediately, only blink, open-mouthed, as the man made his little speech. And as Raymond Bernhardt talked, Nate had the impression that the man was singing and dancing a happy jig at the same time — a kind of musical number like in the elaborate Gene Kelly movies that sometimes aired on Turner.
“You had a run-in with a bastard of a man,” Bernhardt continued, “whose been a thorn in my side for going on twenty years. The Reverend Kenneth Fowler is and has been the pastor of the church where my family — and me by default — chose to attend. I go there now. My daddy and my mama went there before they passed. I go there now. And if I had children — which I most likely won’t — they would go there until they were old enough to choose otherwise. Evangeline Baptist is a good place, full of kind people. And most times, Fowler is a decent man. But over the years, he and I have come to… disapprove of each other. I don’t like his politics — don’t like the fact that he has more than a passing interest in politics at all. There’s a reason God gave the kingship of Israel to Judah and the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, and a reason our founding fathers made so much of the separation of church and state. The pulpit ain’t the place to bash Democrats from, and the church’s influence should not be used to interfere with the affairs of men like you. Fowler had no right to do what he did to you. No right at all.”
Nate blinked again. He thought he saw an after-image surrounding the man’s penny-loafered feet — like sparkles kicking up from dancing feet. Like the glint of glitter on Dorothy’s red shoes.
“Did you come here by coincidence and decide to talk to me on the spur of the moment?” Nate asked. “Or were you on your way to see me all along?”
“The latter.” Bernhardt cracked a conspiratorial smile. “Nate, I know your plight. In fact, most of the folks I hang around with in East Point and Midtown know your plight. And so I’ve come to introduce myself and make you an offer.”
Bernhardt laughed again, a giddy, resounding chuckle that made Nate grin despite himself.
“C’mon, Nathan Wells. Let’s step into Oz Pizza and I’ll buy you a soda — or a beer if you like. Even a slice. You got time on your hands, I know. And I know you’re just dyin’ to hear what I’ve got to say.”
“You’ve said quite a lot already,” Nate replied.
Bernhardt only chuckled softly and stepped past Nate on his way to Oz. Nate followed, looking down at the sidewalk as he went, searching for yellow bricks.
A song by The Clash was playing inside the pizzeria. Pieces of art hung on the walls, along with a bulletin board full of real estate posts and business cards. The room smelled deliciously of garlic and baking bread.
Raymond Bernhardt sidled up to the counter and ordered a glass of wine. Nate decided what the hell and ordered a beer. When he did, Bernhardt nodded approvingly. They sat at a table in a relatively quiet side room and sipped their drinks for a couple of minutes in silence.
Finally, Nate spoke. “You said you had an offer.”
Bernhardt put his glass of red wine down and leaned back in his plastic chair. “I told you that Fowler doesn’t approve of me,” he said. “You wanna know why?”
“I’m dying to.”
“Because I am two things which Fowler can’t abide, both of which start with the letters G and A.”
Nate took a sip of his beer to mask whatever look was on his face. He didn’t want to offend the man if his guess was wrong as to what one of those things was.
“I’m a professional gambler,” Bernhardt said — that was the one Nate probably couldn’t have guessed. “And I’m gay.”
Yep, Nate thought. Would have got that one right.
“Unfortunately for Fowler,” Bernhardt continued, “I’m also outspokenly Christian. I just don’t think some of the things Fowler preaches are so absolute.” He took a sip of wine as if to emphasize his point. “And I’m rich. The first creates countless compromises for me to deal with. The latter presents a few for Fowler. You see, he likes my tithes to his church.” Bernhardt laughed again, and Nate couldn’t help but join him. It was a sublime bit of irony, something Nate would have loved to written a story about — if he ever got the chance again.
“Now I can’t really influence Fowler,” Bernhardt said. Then he drained his glass and leaned forward, folding his hands together — Nate noticed the man had a ring on nearly every finger. “As generous as I am to his church, I am an abomination…. But I can undo what he’s done to you. And it would give me great pleasure to.”
“What do you mean, Mr. Bernhardt?”
“Oh, come now. Ray. You must call me Ray.”
“Okay, Ray. What do you mean?”
“How much money would it take to get you out of the financial straits you’re in?”
“Well,” Nate said, thinking hard, his excitement building, “I’m not a hundred percent sure.”
“That’s fine,” Bernhardt said, standing. “Think about it while I fetch myself another glass of the vino.”
After he left, Nate sat and thought about the little man’s implied offer. He stared into his beer and did a quick tally so that he could at least give Bernhardt an estimate. Did the man really mean to imply that he would spot Nate — a man he didn’t even know, regardless of his “education” — cash to get out of debt? What was the catch? Was Bernhardt the Wizard at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, or was he just a Munchkin? He kind of looked like a Munchkin. Or was he worse than a Munchkin — was he a Rumpelstiltskin type, and this some sort of Faustian plot?
Suddenly Bernhardt was sitting down in front of him, swirling wine in a glass. “Well?” the little man asked.
Nate raised his eyes from his beer. “Thirty grand,” he said.
Bernhardt’s grin nearly split his face in two. “Is that all?” he said. “Thirty large will get the Atlanta Scribe afloat again? All the way?”
“Well, that’s just the debt. If we reopened, we’d immediately start plunging into the red again, since we’ve got holes in our advertising revenue, thanks to Reverend Fowler.”
“Bah,” Bernhardt said and waved one bejeweled hand at Nate dismissively. “You can use the extra space for additional editorial.” Nate noticed that the man’s second glass of wine had just about disappeared. “Nathan Wells, I would like to offer you a loan in the amount of SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND dollars, to pay your debt and keep you operating until the Fowler tempest blows over.”
“I — I could never pay that back,” Nate stammered.
“Don’t be silly. I’ll put no time limit on it, and I won’t charge any interest. Bible says not to charge your brother interest.”
“We’ll call it a sponsorship.”
Bernhardt finished his wine again and raised the empty glass in the gesture of a toast. “The Atlanta Scribe was a fair voice in an unfair world. It gave equitable coverage to the gay community, the Christian community, the you-name-it community. Few publications can claim that level of non-bias. It would a shame to see it go. But besides that, I told you, Nate Wells: it would give me great pleasure to be a thorn in Fowler’s side. And, like I said, I am a gambler.”
- Nate Wells - Jay ‘Hot Thang’ Elgin
- Raymond Bernhardt - Jeff Jarvis, Sorceror’s Apprentice
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
It’s been since before the holidays that I posted a podcast of the novel I’m podcasting. But don’t worry - I haven’t forgotten it, just neglected it! Still, here’s a new installation, which will be followed later this week by another installation. In this one, we return to Nate Wells, now after the closing of his magazine. Here Nate meets a mysterious stranger, and hopefully you’ll soon be wondering the same thing Nate is….
A War Between States Part 18:
Chapter 10, Part One: Campaign: Nate
August 20, 2003
Deanna was the last one to leave. She walked across the tiled floors of the office with a cardboard box cradled in her arms. From its top protruded the peak of the goofy alarm clock/art piece she’d bought at the Lakewood Antique show — the goofy alarm clock/art piece her girlfriend wouldn’t let her keep in their apartment. It looked like a flamingo, with long yellow legs holding up a blue cuckoo clock house from which the flamingo’s elongated pink neck thrust, and from which an orange pendulum hung like a silly neck tie.
The peak of the blue house caught Nate’s eye as Deanna bustled by. She’d already said good-bye, so she didn’t say anything else to him as she left, only stared straight ahead, jaw clenched and blue eyes shiny with tears. Nate didn’t blame her — they’d both nearly burst into crying when they’d met in his office three hours ago to exchange future contact information and say farewell. Deanna wanted to hang around and help Nate finalize his plans for the business, but the bankruptcy lawyers and accountants insisted that they needed no help.
Nate watched her open the front door with extended fingers, watched her thrust her foot in to open it further, and watched her bump through the opening with her hips. Sunshine outlined her briefly and then she was gone. The door closed behind her.
Nate sat at a desk in the rear of the main office and gazed out across the room. He realized that, without its tell-tale decorations and desktop knick-knacks, he couldn’t remember whose desk this had been. All of the desks were void of computers. Nate had already purged their memories, downloaded all the stored articles and copies of the Scribe to CD. He’d already sold them all to subsidize the final paychecks for his former employees — a move the bankruptcy lawyers had balked at when they found out he’d done it. Still, Nate stood by his decision.
“They stuck with me through it all,” he told the stern-faced lawyers — one bald, droopy-cheeked man, the other a younger, swarthy-looking man who blatantly ignored Brylcreem’s insistence that ‘a little dab’ll do ya.’ “I can’t give them a decent severance package. The least I can do is give them the money I owe them for putting out our last issue.”
The computers were gone, and with Deanna’s departure, all the decorations — the posters, the toys, the shelves of books — were gone as well. Nate’s own Lego robot and his North By Northwest poster were in the back of his Blazer, which was itself newly restored and still not paid for.
And so the white-washed walls appeared starkly white-washed, except for the tiny tack holes which the building management’s work crew would start to spackle that week. The tiled floor seemed so much brighter now under the flourescents, even with the office furniture still intact. There was a slight echo throughout the few rooms.
“It looks so empty,” he said out loud to test the echo again, and wondered how empty it would look when the office furniture rental guys came and took all the desks and filing cabinets away.
He sighed and stood, went to his office for one last look — one final check to make sure that he’d gotten everything.
He stared at the empty, dusty corners of his tiny office and sighed again. For six years, ever since he’d started the Scribe, he’d happily come to this office and did what he was most passionate about: he’d bathed in information, in facts and conjectures, in opinions and statistics.
Every day, immersed in words.
“All struck a finishing blow by one ignorant man’s whimsy,” he said to the dust.
The dust gave no reply.
So Nate spun on his loafered heel and headed the way Deanna had gone — out the front door. He switched off the flourescents, stood in the dark a moment, then opened the front door and stepped into the morning sunlight.
Outside, the street was mostly empty. Deanna’s Civic was gone, and someone in a pickup truck was pulling into her spot in front of the building. A man in Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt was walking toward him on the sidewalk. A line of people in vehicles waited to use the automated teller at the bank across the street. The air around all of them was hot and oppressive — the sun too bright, the Atlanta smog noticeably thick. The atmosphere reminded him of Marionville.
Then he heard a bird chirp in the maple tree to his left and he smiled. It was so hot in Marionville during August, even the birds didn’t chirp.
“Well, hell,” he said, “at least I’m not there.”
“Not where?” a voice asked in reply, and Nate started.
He whipped his head around to see that the man who’d been approaching on the sidewalk was standing beside him, smiling, a pencil-thin mustache perched under his small, sharp nose.
“Oh, nowhere,” he said to the man and smiled automatically — a friendly I-don’t-know-you-but-how-are-you-have-a-nice-day smile.
The man smiled back. He was a good head shorter than Nate and he beamed up at him with genuine — could it have been? — affection. Nate was tall, but the man was diminutive, only coming up to the bottom of Nate’s chest.
“Marionville,” the man said through his smile. His uneven but ultra white teeth flashed in the sun.
Nate turned to face the man full on. He gaped down, even as the man gazed up. The man rocked back on his penny loafers and chuckled softly.
“How did you know that?” Nate asked.
The man licked his thin, pale lips. “You’re Nathan Wells, the editor and publisher of the Atlanta Scribe. I recognize you from your headshot in the paper.”
Nate nodded, a little flattered but unsurprised. He wasn’t famous really, but people recognized him now and then. That still didn’t explain how the man knew he was thinking about Marionville just then.
“I remember a little editorial you wrote about how you grew up,” the small, smiling man continued. “First in Marionville, Georgia, then in Opelika, Alabama. Although the piece was a bit nostalgic, you didn’t paint the prettiest picture of Marionville. So, I figured if you were glad you weren’t somewhere, there was a fair chance that there was Marionville.”
Nate frowned and furrowed his eyebrows at the man. “Good guess,” he said.
Now the man laughed out loud. “Actually, it was an educated guess, and I should hope it was good — making good, educated guesses is what I do for a living.” The man shuffled back a step so that he could offer his hand to Nate and perform a little bow. “My name is Raymond Bernhardt. And now you’re wondering why I’m educated — even in the slightest — about Nathan Wells and his recently, dearly departed Atlanta Scribe.”
- Nate Wells - Jay Elgin
- Raymond Bernhardt - Jeff Jarvis
- Narrator - Will Kenyon