I got this today in my email from an anonymous person. I sure hope there is not copyright. The attached note asked me to read it and if I liked it to use it on the site. So here it is.
At first he thought it was a fly that woke him. He tried to shew it away but instead got a hand full of hair. He awoke with a start, since he didn’t remember going to sleep with a cat, dog, or rat. He looked at the head of black hair that sprawled across his shoulder and tickled his nose. The hair was so damned black it was almost blue. That hair told him he had shared his bed with Rose.
Now he did some pretty dumb things when he was half asleep. That morning he tried to look at the clock hanging on the far wall of his one room apartment. The numbers on the clock should have been large enough to read, since it had come from the grocery store across the street. Where, he had been told, it hung for ten years.
Moving his head to look at the clock first caused it to pound, then his stomach turned a few loops. Shortly there after he felt the urgent need to use the bathroom. All things considered waking Rose seemed to be a good idea.
“Hey Rose,” he paused a moment. When she didn’t stir, he gently shook her. “Rose honey, I need to use the bathroom.”
“Deke, why don’t you get a bigger bed. I got to get completely out of bed so that you can get out.” She acted as though she had been in his bed, and in that same situation before. Which I assure you was not the case.
“Rose, I haven’t exactly needed a larger bed before now.” he stated with a very large smile.
“Well Deke, you can’t prove that. I mean, I ain’t been in it before, but I expect that others have.” She had a really smug look on her face, as if she knew a hell of a lot more than she was telling.
“Well if you will move so that I can get out we can discuss that later. Right now I got to use the bathroom, and I mean right now.” He really wanted to avoid the conversation altogether. He wanted that almost as much as he wanted to use the bathroom. Just as soon as Rose sat up, he moved past her to sit on the edge of the bed. He stood quickly then walked to the bathroom. The bathroom was surrounded by the only partitions in the apartment.
When he returned, he was surprised to see Rose again stretched out on the bed. When she saw him, she opened her arms in an invitation for me to join her. which is exactly what he did of course.
He held her in his arms even though it hurt a little. It hurt because they were laying too close. So close in fact she was forced to lay on his right arm. he rested my head against her. he had never seen her naked in tight jeans sure but naked no. Rose carried about twenty pounds of extra weight attached to her hips. She was also a couple of pounds light in the chest. Still she was all woman and in his bed at that moment, which was a definite plus for her.
What really hurt was he couldn’t remember what he had done the night before. After a moment he found the courage to ask, in a round about way. “I was pretty drunk last night Rose, I hope I wasn’t too much trouble.” He could tell from her reaction just how stupid it sounded. Man if nothing else, he was not smooth at all.
“Deke, if you don’t want to make love to me, now is your last chance to back out.” she said it with a small quiet laugh.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“After you couldn’t get up a card game last night you began to drink. Me and you drank till closing time. You invited me here before you were so drunk you didn’t know your left foot from you right hand. Anyway, when I got you up here you passed out while I was in the bathroom. Not real nice of you by the way.”
“So you are telling me that we did not make love last night?” he asked, not really knowing how to feel about it. Rose was nice enough in that loose, divorcée hairdresser kind of way, but he wouldn’t want to take her home to his Ma. She was the only divorced woman he knew.
“No Deke, we did not make love, nor did we have sex. So if you want to call this whole thing off, now is your chance.” She had the most amused look on her face. She looked as though she were reading his mind.
He actually gave it some thought, which shows you how sick he really was. In the end he moved his hand so that he could touch her under the sheet. He kissed her gently at first. The kiss quickly became demanding, then something with a life of it’s own. He found himself moving against her body in the overheated room.
Suddenly he heard a pounding noise which seemed far away somehow. He knew that he just hoped it was far away. Rose instantly stopped responding. Deke lifted his head from her breast, since she was ignoring him anyway. The pounding at the door continued. It became clear that the pounding was at His downstairs door.
He probably would have ignored it had Rose not pushed him away. “Well, you better go see who that is.” Her voice was more angry than frustrated, meanwhile the pounding continued.
Deacon didn’t even answer her. He simply stood, then slipped into last night’s pants. He was so groggy from the beer, and almost sex, that he actually hurried down to answer the door. Hell, ordinarily he would have ignored it for at least three more bangs. If Rose had been willing, he most likely would have ignored it completely.
As he had expected, it was someone he had no desire to see. Deke looked at the familiar man through the screen. “Yes?” he said pretending not to know him.
“Come on Deke, don’t pretend you don’t recognize me. Open the damned door and let me in.”
“What in the name of God makes you think I want to see you?” Deacon replied.
“Because, you need to talk to me before I talk to the FBI,” he said with a conspirator’s smile.
“I have no idea what you are talking about. But keep your voice down.” Deacon said as he reluctantly opened the door. There was a strange moment when Rose rushed past him in one direction, and then Carlton Anderson pushed past him in the other. Deke watched Rose as she disappeared around the corner. He shook his head sadly then followed along behind Carlton. He did not like following anyone, especially not Carlton.
Carlton stood at the top of my stairs without entering my apartment. He was obviously assessing the one large room. “What a dump,” he finally announced.
“Thanks, now that you have seen how low I have sunk, you can leave.” Deacon didn’t expect that he would. He had come too far to simply walk away. Why he had come was a totally different issue. As to the why Deacon really didn’t have a clue.
“Why the hell are you living like this?” he asked.
“Because, I don’t have a real job,” I replied. “I’m kind of a fixer, and that don’t pay very well.” I could see that he didn’t understand.
So Deke explained, “When things go wrong with the mill workers, they come to me. Most of the time, I kind of fix things for them. You did know there is no union down here.” Deacon could see from the look in his eyes, that he still didn’t understand. Deke really didn’t expect a Princeton man ever would. “Look Carlton, if a supervisor demands that a woman sleep with him or get fired, she sometimes comes to me. I have a talk with the supervisor, or his wife. Either way the problem usually goes away. Since these people don’t have much money, I don’t really get rich at it.”
“What crap,” Carlton said forcefully. Then when he saw Deacon looking as though he might kill him, Carlton added. “Oh, I believe you are a fixer. You just don’t do it for the money. I took a look at the FBI files before I left Washington. You’ve been up to your old tricks again.”
“What are you talking about?” Deke asked even though he knew Carlton planned to lay it all out for me. When he did, Deacon would know exactly what evidence he had, so he waited waited impatiently.
“You are opening bank cans again,” he declared as he picked up a shirt from my one comfortable chair. He tossed the shirt onto the floor, then sat in the chair uninvited.
“Have a seat you prick,” Deacon said in a voice filled with anger.
“Thanks, now let’s stop the pussy footing around. I know you have been blowing cans in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Since that is the case, I want to know why you are living in this dump.”
“Listen to me you ass. You may think I have been blowing bank cans, but I have been living right here since my discharge. While I was in Greece blowing up trains for you, I dreamed of coming home. While I was in Italy blowing up trains, I dreamed of this place. When I was in France and Poland, I dreamed of home and just living free. Do you understand. Just free to go to a movie, or to have a drink at the ‘Pump Room’ across the street.
When I got out, I went to live at my mother’s boarding house, while I decided what to do next. I was there three weeks before the Village constable came to tell me I had to either work for the mill or leave. At first I wanted to kill him on the spot. Hell if I hadn’t spent that six months in the German hospital after the war, I probably would have.”
“See, you are a better man because of those months,” he declared it, but not too happily I noted.
“I swore I would kill you for having me committed. Since I changed my mind, you need to go home Carlton, before I remember all the reasons I planned to kill you.”
“Come on Deke, you know I did the best I could for you. There was just no way to help you most of the time. That’s why we trained you to live off the Germans, which brings us back to the cans.”
“It doesn’t bring me back to the cans. I have told you, I had nothing to do with any American bank cans.” Deke said.
“Deke, those jobs have OSS written all over them. Add that to the fact that you live in the area and it is the only thing that makes sense.” He paused a moment to allow it all to sink in. He then continued, ” Now I could lose those files easily enough. Since I’m the only one looking at them. If I did, It would be safe for you to continue.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, and I sure as hell don’t care whether you lose a bunch of files or not.” Deacon knew that Carlton could tell he was getting frustrated, but he couldn’t quite sure why.
“Could you really stand a full court press by the FBI. I know you have done your best to do a perfect job. If it weren’t for me, I believe it would be good enough. Good enough, if the feds don’t know who you are and where to find you. I can give them that, or I can bury the files with the other bureaucratic crap.”
Deke thought for only a moment. “Carlton, I know you have an angle here. Like I said twice before, I don’t know anything about any bank cans, but what’s your angle? Hell, maybe I can help you out with whatever you have in mind.” Deacon said it even though his stomach was in knots.
What he really wanted to do was choke the man. He had been one of those who had sat in London telling Deacon and his friends what to do. Sending out radio messages, while they was running all over Europe dodging the Germans for three years. Three years of terror that seemed to be a lifetime.
That’s the way it worked. Those Princeton types always seemed to end up in offices, while the Dogfaces from the farms and factories wound up getting there asses shot off. The Deacon from a small mill village in North Carolina. He got his training in explosives from the Army. The training was long before he ever heard of Wild Bill. Somehow his ability with explosives crossed either Bill’s desk or someone else with enough pull to get him transferred to their show.
He already knew how to blow up a train along with it’s tracks. They thought him how to blow whole factories, not to mention the bank cans. His trainers had explained it this way, “Sometimes you are going to need money to pay for information or to hire men. If London can’t get the money to you, then you will have to remove it from a German bank.” Blowing a bank can proved easier then blowing a ball bearing plant. It was tougher than a lonely stretch of train track though.
The training school also taught him a lot about hiding in urban areas. According to the instructors anyone could hide in a barn. It was a damned sight more difficult to hide in a metropolitan area. It was especially tough, if you spoke almost none of the native language. Deacon was almost always assigned an interpreter from the local area. A couple of them were even women. Women who had played his wife. It was an act to fool anybody. Especially since the act went on twenty four hours a day in most cases. London actually insisted on authenticity.
The school also offered a masters in forgery and a minor in the theater art of disguise. That school taught him just about every possible criminal skill, things thought useful only during a war.
They didn’t teach him to kill in the school. Sure, they taught me how to kill, but no one can teach you to do it. By the time of Carlton’s visit Deke had killed more men than I could live with. Sometimes he killed them in train wrecks, or burned them alive in a fire bombing of their barracks. Worst of all, he killed some of them with a knife or garrote. Too bad Carlton, and the other Princeton boys weren’t around when he did that, Deacon thought. Too bad, they might have learned something useful before they sent men out to die.
They also weren’t around when he hid from the Germans after a blast. They definitely were not there during any of the three years while he lived in constant fear for his life. They also weren’t there when the Gestapo arrested his pretend wife in Dansk. Certainly not the next morning when he saw how she looked after his explosion. That was the day Deke swore he would kill the men who ordered me around. Every night during the next year, he dreamed alternately of killing Carlton, and of coming home to live in the mill village with my family.
The Village was almost completely self sufficient. It was a world almost completely cut off from the outside. The company had built houses for it’s workers, since there had been no place else for them to live. After the houses, it built and ran mercantile stores in each of its residential communities. The four communities where Deacon grew up were adjacent to each other, and to the four cotton mills. The company owned the houses and the stores. The mill also owned strips of retail buildings, which it rented out to hand picked businessmen. There were doctor’s offices, drug stores, shoe shops, and movie theaters. There was even a hotel. There were also plenty of other smaller shops. All of them were run by company approved businessmen.
Then there were the other business. Businesses which sprang up just outside the village’s boundaries. The street on which Deacon lived at the time of Carlton’s visit was crowded with unauthorized shops. The company didn’t approve of those businesses for one reason or another.
They didn’t approve, sometimes it was because the mill owners didn’t think their workers should be wasting their meager pay on the items sold in the shops. More often though, the owners of the out of bounds businesses had not been enthusiastic enough about paying the sky high rents for a company owned building.
Either way the ‘heights’ had sprung up on a small hill two blocks from the mill’s property. Deacon’s large one room apartment was located over a brick and glass jewelry store. Sure, there was a lot wrong with his living arrangements, but it also allowed him to be close to his large family and many friends.
When he wasn’t working, which was most of the time, he drank watered down beer and played poker across the street. When he got hungry, he either walked two doors down to ‘Pop Marshburn’s” cafe, or across the street to the overpriced grocery store for fruit, cheese and crackers. Maybe the Princeton man didn’t think much of his life style, but it suited me just fine, he thought
Deacon had pretty much tuned him out while he remembered the circumstances which had led him to the point where Carlton sat in my one comfortable chair threatening him. When he tuned him back in, Carlton was saying, “So they are shutting down my operations. My job is going to be gone in a couple of months and I’m going to be on the outside.”
“So what, it happened to a million men after the war. You’ve been lucky to keep your job this long.” Deacon was sure he noted that there was a certain amount of satisfaction in his voice.
“I know you hate me, but believe me I had no choice in the decisions I made. Besides, I was just following orders,” he said.
Deacon didn’t bother to remind him, that it had already been decided that the, ‘I was only following orders’ excuse wouldn’t wash for the Nazis. “So what the hell is it you think I can do for you?” Deke asked instead.
“Unlike you, I don’t want to run around hitting tiny little banks every few months. I want to hit one then retire.” he was looking hard at the floor when he spoke. He still wasn’t sure how far he could push The Deacon.
“I already told you, I haven’t hit any banks. Carlton, if I was opening bank cans would I be living like this.” Deke didn’t figure he would buy it, but it was worth a try.
“Actually you probably would. If I remember right your only ambition, other than killing me, was to come home to this ‘place’ and live out your life in poverty.”
“See, what do I need with money?” Deke asked still trying to convince him.
“Even poverty requires some income. No Deke, you have been hitting small town banks.” He looked into my eyes when he firmly made that last statement.
“Even if I have, what make you think I would help you?” Deacon was actually enjoying it by that time.
“How about fear of the FBI?” he suggested.
“You have said that about a dozen times, and I have told you I have no fear of them. If you want, I will tell you where you can find a phone to make your call.” Deacon was sure he was bluffing by that time.
As if he could read the Deacon’s mind Carlton said, “Don’t think I’m bluffing Deke. If I have to start my life over without a dime, I have no reason not to take you down as my final gesture of revenge.”
“Look you two bit jerk, if you think you have something call the cops. I know you can’t hurt me, because I haven’t done anything.” Deke said it as he turned his back on Carlton. Then he went to the refrigerator to fill his iced tea glass. Deke pointedly did not offer Carlton a glass. The tea came from his mother’s boarding house, since Deke could never master the art of making it myself.
“Why don’t I just skip over that part for now,” Carlton said. “Instead I will tell you about a large vault, in a small bank, outside an Army base in Fayetteville. Once in a while, it contains more money than either of us could make in a lifetime of real work.” Carlton began.
“Surely a Princeton man can make more money than a small town bank would hold?” the Deacon suggested.
“Princeton men aren’t as much in demand as you might think. Besides the government is paying off in cash these days. That little bank holds the proceeds of about every merchant, who’s cash registers are filled with Army payday cash. When the payday falls on a Friday, the banks can’t get the cash moved until Monday. The money just builds up in the bank on Friday and Saturday. I expect it is upwards of half a million bucks.”
“Now that is a good sized chunk of change, but I ain’t interested.” The Deacon really did enjoy turning him down.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because Carl,” Deke called him by the familiar name for the first time. He seemed to enjoy Carlton’s discomfort at it. “I am not a thief. Secondly you are not the great organizer you think you are. Most of the missions you and your Princeton friends arranged, could have gotten me killed. In the end, I just ignored your plans and worked out my own.”
“We knew that, but our plans were laid out with the best military intelligence available to us at the time,” he demanded defensively.
“Talk about a contradiction in terms, military and intelligence should never be allowed in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence.” Deke had almost begun to enjoy Carlton’s discomfort, even more than my dread of him being in his life again.
“Okay Deke, you have made your joke. How about it? Will you blow the can for me?”
“The short answer is no. The longer answer is, let me see your plan then I will tell you no.” Deke replied.
“Then you are in?” he asked it, obviously ignoring Deke’s comments.
“No, but I will listen to your plan before I make my final decision,” Deacon said that hoping to keep him guessing.
“I don’t have a real plan just yet. You see, when I realized you were up to your old tricks, I kind of just decided on a whim to come talk to you. It would never do for a war hero to get busted for burglary. Before I found the time, I got the notice that my job was going to be cut. It looks as though the whole organization is going to be on the scrap heap.”
“Spare me the hearts and flowers, I don’t give a damn about you and your college buddies. So what you are telling me is that you know about this bank, but you don’t have the first idea what to do about it?” Deke said.
“Not yet, but I can mount an operation. I was always good at that,” he suggested.
“Like I said before, your operations stank up my life. I sure as hell ain’t going to let you draw up a plan for something as serious as a bank job. Hell, I wouldn’t even let you draw up the plans for a kid’s bicycle race. Now take my advice and go the hell back to Washington. Forget all about this bank job.” Deke said.
“Like I said, I am going to do this bank, and you are going to help me or go to jail for the others.” He was serious and Deacon knew it.
“Look Carl, I done told you half a dozen times, go to the FBI, if that is what you want. I am as clean as you. On second thought, I am cleaner than you.” Deacon said.
“Okay then how about this, even if you haven’t been doing banks, I know we can pull this off. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money,” he said.
“Half a million is more,” Deacon replied enjoying the look on Carlton’s face.
“If you do this without me, I will go to the cops. There won’t even be a doubt in anyone’s mind that you did it.” Carlton said smiling.
“Same goes for me. You do this bank, I will roll up your fat ass.” Deke waited while the fact that information was two edged sword, sank in on Carlton. “Now like I said, you go back to Washington and forget all about this.”
“Like hell, I am going to do it and so are you.” There was a definite threat in his voice.
“Carlton let me tell you something, that head doctor didn’t save your life. He got you a stay of execution. Now, do you really want to threaten me?” Deke looked at him as if he were already a corpse.
“This is my one chance to be set for life Deke, I am not going to let you screw it up.” He said it positively, but he was looking at the hardwood flooring again.
“Me, you should be worried about screwing it up yourself. Okay, give me five hundred bucks and I’ll drive down to take a look at the bank.” Deke finally agreed.
“I knew you would help. It’s the Fayetteville Bank and Trust. The only branch is located on Bragg Boulevard, about a thousand feet from the front gate of the Army post.” Carlton explained.
“Don’t tell me any more about it. I’ll go down and take my own look. I’ll draw up an operational plan myself.” Deke informed him.
“Oh no you don’t, I am going with you. I am not going to let you out of my sight until this is over,” Carlton declared.
“What about your job in DC?” Deke asked.
“I am on leave for a month, that should be more than enough time to do this. When we get the money I am headed for South America.” Carlton said.
“You doing down to live with the Nazis?” Deke asked.
“Sure why not, old enemies make great friends,” he said it with a grin.
“First of all forget about running. You go back to your job on the day your leave ends. If the FBI turns your ass up, they will eventually get to me.” Deke said.
“Don’t get the idea you can tell me what to do,” Carlton demanded angrily. He was trying to salvage his position as the superior.
“Then you get your ass back to DC right now. Either that, or you do this job without me. If you do, I am going to turn snitch.” Deke said.
“I am not going to take orders from you,” Carlton said again.
“Oh yes you are, you idiot. I have done all this during the war. You have read and talked about it, but you haven’t lived it. You are either going to take orders from me, or you are going to forget the whole thing.” Deacon said.
“Maybe I’ll find another explosive man,” he suggested.
“If there was anyone else, you would never have come to me. You know I planned for three years how I was going to kill you. If you came to me, you were desperate enough to risk your life. Now, why don’t you just cut the crap and go along with the plan.” Deacon said.
“Okay, but I know all the rules. Hell, I helped to write them.” The man just couldn’t let that fact that he had been Deacon’s boss go.
“You know them, but now you are going to live them. That is a horse of a whole different breed.” Deke explained.
“I suppose you have figured out that there is a Friday payday this month. It is exactly three weeks off.” Carlton said.
“I do hope there is a payday between now, and the one you are talking about. I want to see exactly what the security is like.” Deacon said.
“There is going to be a payday in three days, then another fifteen days later. We are going to have a few days to take a look around, then two weeks to devise a plan.”
“Then I need to get into Fayetteville on payday. In the meantime you go on back home.” Deacon said.
“Like I told you, I am not leaving here until it is all over. So where do I sleep?” Carlton asked.
“In a hotel, did you drive down?” Deke had been pretty sure from the start that sending him home was not a real option.
“Are you kidding driving down from DC is a real pain. No I caught the train.”
“Where are your bags?” Deacon asked it hoping he had a place somewhere.
“In a locker at the train station, why?”
The idiot really did get it a all, Deacon thought. “Because you are going to have to get them, then check in to a hotel somewhere.”
“I am staying with you,” Carlton demanded.
“Like hell are, you can stay close, but you are definitely not staying with me. I don’t want to be seen with you period. Go across to the grocery store and use their pay phone. Call yourself a cab, then have the driver take you to the White Oak Hotel. Tell the desk clerk that you are going to try to sell machine parts to the mills. If you do they will rent you a room, otherwise you are going to have to know somebody down here to visit.” Deacon explained,
“Okay, I can do that. When are we going to go down to Fayetteville?” He was already antsy, not a good sign at all.
“It won’t be any use going down there until Wednesday morning. That will give us the afternoon and evening to look around before payday. After the GIs get paid we want to keep a close eye on the bank. I want to know what security they have overnight.” Deacon explained.
“It won’t be much. The military won’t be doing any of the security work, and the cops don’t have enough men to station anybody at the bank routinely.”
“We will see. Just come back day after tomorrow.” Deke informed him hoping the conversation was over.
“What the hell am I going to do in a place like this for two days?” Carlton asked. The man actually had desperation in his voice. He obviously bored easily.
“Not much, you could check into the downtown hotel, but I doubt that you would find much to do there either. The White Oak will be closer and you can get plenty of rest. If you get too bored, you can go to the YMCA next door for a swim.” Deke suggested.
“Was that built by the mill?” Carlton asked.
“Everything was built by the mill. Now you can stay where ever you like, just get the hell away from me.”
While Carlton waited across the street for his cab, Deke gave the whole thing a little thought. Rose had seen Carlton, but she would never connect a bank job two hundred miles way with the visitor who broke up her morning sweat session. That is unless she was asked by a cop, if she had ever seen us together. If it got that far, it wouldn’t matter at all.
Deacon waited until the cab came and went before he left the apartment. When Deke finally walked down the sidewalk he was headed for a late breakfast. Pop’s cafe was empty, since it was between meals. Being the only customer did have it’s advantages, he got the waitress’ full attention.
“You know, if you would get out of bed sooner, you could eat at your mother’s place. You know the food there would be better than it is here.” the young waitress remarked.
“It sure as hell couldn’t be any worse that’s for sure.” Deke answered. As he was most every morning, he was surprised by the young woman’s terrific body. Lois wasn’t a natural blond. She was a blond in the tradition of Jean Harlow. The work was done by Rose of course. Rose was the hairdresser three doors down from the cafe. The Harlow look alike even had a body like the actress. She was almost perfectly put together. Only difference was she wore underwear. It least that’s what the younger men at the pump room said.
Lois always seemed to be more interested in her dream of a movie career, than in her waitress job. Deke might have been the only one in the village who didn’t mind. He had nothing but time, so her inattention didn’t bother him at all. He also didn’t mind calling her when he wanted something. Unlike a really good waitress, she tended to forget a customer once his or her food was on the table.
“You want the usual?” she asked as she placed the cup of black coffee on the counter in front of me.
“Sure why not,” Deacon replied.
Lois didn’t have to do more than speak in a normal voice since the cooking was done on a grill just behind the counter. “Pop, scramble a couple of eggs, with sausage links.”
The man only a few years older than Deke nodded. Deacon wasn’t sure if he had ever heard Pop speak in the mornings. Deacon was sure that he could speak. He just don’t think he had ever heard him before noon. For some reason Deke took a good look at pop that morning. It might have been because Carlton had him nervous. Afraid the he might lose everything.
For whatever reason he noticed that pop had put on a few pounds since his return home. He to had been in Europe during the war in a combat outfit, so he had dropped a tremendous amount of weight before his returned. That morning he seemed to have gained it all back. The scar on his face, where his real eye should have been, was less noticeable even. At least less than it had been on his first day behind the counter, six months earlier. If he had been Pop, deke would have opted for a patch instead of the fake eye. The eye the government gave pop looked like a glass eye.. It did not even look like a good one at that, Deke thought.
Then of course Pop wasn’t really Pop at all. Tommy Sims had used his mustering out pay, plus some he had won in a crap game, to buy the place from the real pop who retired. I guess the name Pop was more an honorary tittle than anything else. Either that or he didn’t want to waste his money on a new sign.
Lois dropped the plate containing his sausage, scrambled eggs, and the ever popular grits onto the red linoleum covered counter. She turned her back to retrieve a biscuit from the stainless steel bread warmer.
“Deke, why do you always have the same thing every morning?” She was smiling her movie star smile as she asked.
“Well Lois, I am just a creature of bad habits.” Deke replied returning her smile.
“Do you have the same thing at your mama’s place?” she asked.
“I usually have whatever Ma has left over. I don’t get there in time for the real breakfast.” he confided.
“That’s not what your sister says.” Lois suggested. Lois was about the same age as Sissy so he expected they shared secrets or at least a little gossip now and then.
“And what exactly does my sister say?” Deke asked. Sissy’s flights of fancy really were a source of amusement to him.
“She said that since Max Fuller ran you off the hill, you won’t go in the house during meals. She also said you were afraid you might get your mama in trouble. That and your mama didn’t have no where else to go.”
“Lois you talk too much,” it was Pop who spoke. Deke was shocked, like he said before he had never heard him speak in the morning.
“Lois, I don’t know about nowhere else to go, but I do know that mama likes running that house. I sure wouldn’t like to see anything happen to cause her to loose it.” Deke said.
“That’s what your sister said,” Lois said it to Deacon but stuck her tongue out at Pop.
“Leave the man to finish his breakfast,” Pop said to her sternly.
None of them said another word until Deacon had finished his breakfast. When he did, he looked at the check even though it was the same as it was every morning. Deke found enough change in his pocket to cover the check and a small tip for Lois. He laid in on the check then stood to leave.
He was out the door and half way to the corner when he heard or more likely sensed someone behind me. He turned slowly toward the man who walked quickly to close the gap between us. He waited to see what the stranger wanted, but he passed without even a nod of his head. Deacon walked on thinking that he was a arrogant jerk to think everyone he met had business with me. Deacon decided that that he really was on edge after Carlton’s visit.
He walked on past the jewelry store, then past the grocery. He saw the man who had passed him earlier enter the beauty shop. The one built into the front of the movie theater, not Rose’s shop beside Pop’s cafe.
The theater wouldn’t be open until five, but the shop opened at ten in the morning. Deke Ignored the man as he entered the auto garage across from the theater. Deacon was inside the shop when he looked back to see the same man standing in the doorway of the beauty shop looking toward the garage.
“Hot enough for you?” the man in the greasy jeans asked.
“Sure is Ed. Hey Ed, do you know that guy?” Deke was pointing to the man standing in the beauty shop’s open door.
“Sure that’s Peanut Harris, he works in the mill.” Ed replied.
“Hell Ed, everybody but me and you works in the mill,” Deke replied.
“Not quite everyone, but almost,” Ed replied. “Anyway Peanut works down there.”
Deacon nodded his understanding. Ed walked off so Deke turned toward the shop. “Hey Ed, you got my car fixed,” Deke finally asked.
“I did the best I could, but that car has a lot of miles on it,” he replied.
“I know but I couldn’t afford anything newer. Besides there still ain’t many cars for sale.” Deke commented
“I know the war done a number on everything. Anyway, yeah I got it fixed.”
Deacon followed him to the 1939 Chevy. The whole front of the car seemed to be grill. The square passenger box was sort of attached to the rear of the engine box, which was located behind that monster grill. The car though eight years old still ran pretty well. The flat six cylinder engine went through oil and spark plugs as if the makers of the car had stock in both. Which Deke swore that he did.
“I put in new plugs and changed the oil for you. It should run a few of thousand more miles before the plugs go out again. I also put a couple of quarts of oil in the trunk just in case she runs low when you ain’t near a service station.” Ed added.
“You’re a prince Ed,” Deke commented as he handed Ed the five dollar bill. Deacon stood looking at the beauty shop’s door which had closed by that time.
“You ain’t expectin’ no change are you?” Ed asked.
“Lord no, I just wondered what happened to Peanut?” Deacon replied.
“You think he is lookin’ for you?” Ed asked.
“I got no idea, but I don’t like people watching me.” Deacon said.
“He probably wants to talk, but is too shy. Peanut ain’t all that bright.” Ed suggested.
“Well, I’ll pick up the car after while. I think I’ll walk back to the apartment just to give him a chance to catch up to me.” Deke commented.
He made it almost to his outside door when he heard the voice. “Hey, are you Deacon Burke?” it asked.
“I am, but everybody calls me Deke. What can I do for you Mister Harris?” Deacon asked.
“How do you know my name?” he asked a little shaken.
“I know just about everybody. Those I don’t know, my friends do. Now what is it I can do for you.”
“I board at the Bridges house across the street from your ma’s place. I know your Brother Archie real well. I ain’t seen him for a couple of years, but I know him. Course I know Earl real well.”
“Mr. Harris, I’m in a bit of a hurry. Exactly what is it I can do for you.” Deke wasn’t really in a hurry he just wanted him to get on with it.
“I don’t really like to talk on the street like this. Could we go up to your place?”
“Mr. Harris, I don’t allow strangers into my apartment, but we can go over to the ‘Pump Room’. There shouldn’t be anyone in there this time of the morning, at least no one who gives a damn about your problems.” Deacon said.
“That would do I guess,” he replied.
They walked across the street, then passed a small furniture store, before arriving in front of the beer joint. Deke spent a lot of time in the place, either drinking their thin beer or playing poker at the rear most table. That morning He ordered two Cokes as he led Harris to a table near the poker table.
Harris didn’t speak until the Cokes arrived. Once the bartender had returned to the bar Harris began, “I got fired last night. Mr. Burke, working in the mill is all I know. I can farm a little, but there ain’t no money in that. Working in the mill is all I want to do.”
“Why tell me?” Deke asked.
“Word on the hill is that you can get the company to change it’s mind about firing people.” Peanut said.
“Mr. Harris, somebody has been pissin’ in your ear. I don’t have no pull with the company. If I did, I would be living in one of their fancy houses. No, I got run out of my mother’s boarding house cause I wouldn’t work for them.” Deke replied.
“I heard all that, but I also heard you can talk to them. Please Mr. Burke, I need some help here.” Peanut said.
“Tell me what happened?” Deacon replied with a sigh.
“I didn’t go to church on Sunday, so they fired me last night when I come to work. I don’t think they got the right to fire me for what I do on my days off.” Peanut was close to tears.
“Mr. Harris, the job belongs to the mill, you just use it. They pretty much have the right to do whatever they want. I mean they can’t mistreat you like beating you, but they can sure fire your ass for not going to church. Let me ask you this, did they ever warn you about going to church?”
“Not really,” he said hedging ..
“Come on Harris, did they ever tell you that you had to go to church?” Deacon asked.
“Yeah, a couple of months ago the overseer called me in for missing church. I though that it had been long enough, so’s they wouldn’t mind me missing again. You know, I thought they meant that I should go most of the time. I had no idea they meant every Sunday. If I had known, I would have gone.”
“Well Harris, since they warned you there is nothing I can do. If I was you, I’d go look for a job with another mill. There are plenty of them.”
“But I want to stay here,” he replied.
“Why?” I asked, then quickly added. “It don’t make no difference, you are out of a job. Since you are living in the Bridges House, you might as well move on as quick as you can. Just as soon as your board is used up the constable will be coming to see you.” Deacon said. “It’s a free country Harris, you can go about anywhere you want.”
“I’m gonna’ tell everyone I see that you ain’t no help at all,” he said angrily.
“I really would appreciate that. I get awful tired of people coming to see me. Now if you want, I can tell you where there is a mill that’s looking for help. If you don’t want, then I’ll be seeing you Mr. Harris.” Deke said.
“Where is the mill?” he asked shortly.
“The mill over in Pomona is always looking for good help. Go see Everette Richardson over there. You might as well tell him the truth about what happened here. You can bet your ass, he is going to call the mill for a reference. Tell him up front and he’ll give you a break.”
“Yeah sure,” he said as he stood to leave.
“You’re welcome,” Deacon said too quietly for him to hear as he stomped out.
“You want another one?” Bobby the bartender asked.
“God no, I hate sugar this early in the morning.” Deacon said as he stood to leave. As he passed the bar Deke put a quarter on it for the ten cents worth of cokes.
“Thanks Deke,” Bobby said as Deacon walked outside.
The sunlight was blinding after the dark of the bar. After the sweet smell of stale beer and disinfectant, the fresh air almost caused him to gag. Truthfully it was the reverse. The smell of the ‘pump room’ could be hard to take on your first visit. The smell was a lot like scotch whisky, you had to acquire a taste for it.
From the ‘Pump Room’ Deke returned to the garage. He found his car in the dirt parking area in the rear. Deke headed off toward town. Just a couple of blocks from the center of town he stopped at the Gulf station. Deacon allowed Bo, to fill his tank while he went inside for a road map. He made sure Bo was busy with the car before he picked up the North Carolina map. He had already gotten several maps of the area, but he had never been interested in a state map before. Deacon slipped the map inside his shirt before Bo finished with the car.
Deacon paid him the almost three bucks for the fill up, then drove on into town. he parked in front of the public library. he often spent his days inside it’s dark rooms. The air was cool inside the building, and it smelled of bookbindings. Deacon loved the smell of books, hell He even admitted that he loved to read. With a good book, he could be anywhere and anything at least for a while.
That particular morning he chose to read magazines, since his attention span wasn’t very good. His mind slid easily between articles about the brave new world, and thoughts about the bank in Fayetteville. Deacon definitely didn’t like the idea of working with anyone, especially an amateur. Of all the amateurs, Carlton had to be the worst. He had never done anything except send poor bastards like me out to die. Deke had a bad feeling about it, but then again half a million was a hell of a payday. It was a real toss up as to whether he would kill Carlton before or after he took down the bank. Deacon laughed silently at the joke, or maybe he laughed because it wasn’t a joke. Either way, he had decided to go along with Carlton at least for the time being.
It was after two when he decided to go for lunch. He drove the eight blocks to the Woolworth’s lunch counter. At two in the afternoon he was almost the only person at the counter. Deke ordered their lunch special, even though the lunch hour had passed a few minutes before. While he waited, he looked down the counter at my three companions. The closest one was a middle aged woman. Deacon guess that she was a bank employee or some such thing. She was much too well dressed to be a shopper, unless she was one of the Parkview crowd. Then again a woman from the Parkview section of town wouldn’t be caught dead at the Woolworth’s lunch counter.
Further down the counter was a man in clean work clothes. Deke figured him to be a delivery man for one of the department stores in the area. The person farthest from me was a very young woman in a plain cotton dress. The dress was simple and probably came from one of the company store’s ready to wear sections. Her bright lipstick and poorly applied makeup, left no doubt that she was a mill worker. Since the timing was right on the cusp of shift change, she was either a third shift worker, or she was playing hooky. he might have spoken to her, if she hadn’t been so attractive. Young women who looked as good as that one did, were forever the recipient of unwelcome advances. She obviously wanted to be alone, or she wouldn’t have been.
His thoughts about the woman were interrupted by the arrival of the meat loaf. Deke took one look and knew that he would rather have eaten at his mother’s boarding house. He only stayed away because he didn’t want to press his luck. Not that he was especially concerned about the constable. He was more concerned that he would loose my temper and cause a scene. His mother didn’t need that kind of trouble. As it was, Deacon visited her a couple of times a week. He avoided meal times when the boarders and often even the mill’s management people ate there.
He visited his older brother and sister about as often as he saw his Ma. He didn’t suppose family would have been as important to him, had it not been for those years in hiding. He spent most of that time dreaming about his family and growing up in the village. He didn’t know much about the world when he went into the Army, so remembering home was about all he could do.
Deke checked his wristwatch and discovered that he had to hurry home. he had promised to help his brother Earl work on his car. He knew it seemed strange for him to pay someone to work on is own car, then go help his brother do pretty much the same things to his car. The truth was that helping Earl was just an excuse for them to spend time together. Earl’s wife didn’t much like Deacon. Deke and Earl had an unspoken agreement, we always found a reason to spend a couple of hours together each week.
Deke also wanted to slip into the beauty shop and speak to Rose. He figured he might be able to keep her from telling everyone in the village about their night together. That was ift she had already begun spreading the word. Still there was a small chance, so he took it.
He parked his Chevy out back in the coal cinder covered alley, then entered through the rear door of Rose’s shop. After passing through the storage room, he entered into the one long room used as a beauty shop by three different hair dressers. He passed Lucille Mathews on his way to Rose’s station. Lucille gave him one of those knowing looks. It appeared that he was going to be too late to stop the gossip. He knew that he should have turned at that moment and walked right back out the rear door. Instead in his typical male stupidity he continued to hope he could talk to Rose in time to minimize the damage. Since his luck was running almost perfectly lousy, he was not surprised to find Anita Wilson in Rose’s chair.
“Hey Rose, you got a minute?” he asked.
“For you lover, anytime,” Deacon noted that the concentration camp thin Lucille giggled. Her bottled red hair seemed to mock me even more than the giggle. He turned what he hoped was a withering look on Lucille. It looked as though it missed by miles. She started giggling even harder at his obvious discomfort.
Deacon returned to the rear storeroom without looking back. If Rose hadn’t follow, he planned to beat a hasty retreat out the back. Rose followed into the storage room then closed the door. She moved against Deke, then kissed him deeply. It took the Deacon by surprise’ The amount of passion in the kiss was disconcerting. He was even more surprised by it’s effect on him. He forgot all about asking her to keep their night together a secret. Instead he simply returned her kiss.
The Deacon found myself breathless in seconds. Damn that woman can kiss, he thought. By the time she broke the kiss he was pressing his hips hard against her.
“What was it you wanted to talk about Deke,” she asked with her hand still behind his head, and her body pressed hard against him.
“Rose, I swear I have forgotten,” he replied. He hadn’t of course, he just thought it would be bad form to ask her not to mention their night together, after just having had his tongue in her mouth. Deke didn’t know how to bring it up, so he just said, “I got to go see Earl,” or something equally stupid. He just wanted to get out of the shop before he got myself in even deeper.
“Okay and thanks for coming by Deke, it means a lot to me. Especially since we didn’t really do anything.”
“I hope you told Lucille that,” he replied remembering Lucille’s giggle.
“Do you really want her to know you couldn’t get it up, hon?” Rose smiled a wicked smile at him as she asked it.
Deacon didn’t even answer. H just slipped out the rear door.
He pulled into Earl’s dirt yard around three. Deacon was sitting in his car when Earl walked up a few moments later. Earl, he noted had become a well fed looking man. He was older, taller and heavier than the Deacon. Earl was exactly like him otherwise. They shared their Pa’s brown hair and almost black eyes. His face was rounder, due to the extra pounds, but otherwise they looked like the brothers they were.
“Hey Earl, it’s about time you got here. What were you doing flirting with the girls after work.” Deacon asked it jovially.
“Hey, keep it down. If you don’t, Eve will be out here nailing both our asses to the door.” He wasn’t smiling when he said it.
“No she won’t. She will swear it is my fault, then forbid me to come here anymore.” Deacon didn’t bother to smile, since thoughts of Eve always brought out the anger in him.
“You could be right. I sure wish I knew why she hated you so much. Hell, let me go get us a beer.” He said it as he disappeared into the house. Deacon knew it would be several minutes before he returned. He would return wearing greasy overalls and carrying two beers.
Sure enough he showed twenty minutes later dressed as Deacon had expected, and carrying two Shlitz beers. “So Deke, what you been up to today?” he asked seriously.
“I went to the library.” Deke replied waiting for the inevitable.
“When you going to get a job?” he asked.
“You know I got a job.” Deacon replied with my eyes on the car’s engine
“You ain’t got a job unless somebody is paying you. Half the time the people you help ain’t got enough money for food. You know they ain’t gonna pay you before you even start helping them. How the hell are you living anyway?”
“Come on Earl, you know I got a ton of back pay from the Army when I mustered out. Besides, some of the people I help can pay.” Deke replied.
“Yeah, well one of these days the company is going to get tired of you interfering in there business.” He said it without any real conviction in his voice.
“What are they going to do, have me killed?” Deacon asked it with a chuckle.
“They damned well might. You are about the only person who ever tried to change things around here.” Earl said.
“Not really, there were those guys who tried to unionize the plant back in the thirties.”
“That’s right, look what happened to them. The governor called out the national guard to get rid of them.” Earl had his Pa’s serious look on his face.
“You don’t reckon he will call out the guard, just to get rid of me do you?” Unlike Earl, Deacon was wearing a great big grin.
“Deke, you keep it up and they are going to find you in a ditch.” Earl replied.
“Sure they are. Earl, those guys don’t give a damn about me. Now do you have the plugs? Deke asked, “I have things I need to be doing.” They both knew it was just to change the subject. There was no where the Deacon would rather have been.
They had been working about two hours on the twenty minute job, when a train passed behind the house. Earl’s house was a mill house which set only thirty or so feet from the Southern Railway tracks. That night the train that passed was a sleek passenger model. Deacon tried to spy on the passengers through the windows of the speeding cars. He expected they felt sorry for the residents of the run down houses by the tracks. Deacon knew that if they understood them, they might actually envy their pressure free lifestyle. Pressure free, if you didn’t want anymore than simple survival.
“Earl, aren’t you ever going to finish with that car. I got supper about ready.” The shrill voice belonged to Earl’s wife Eve.
“Earl, when you going to have some kids, so she has somebody else to holler at?” Deke asked with a grin.
“Oh, Eve’s okay. She just has a real dislike of you for some reason. You want to come in for supper?” He asked it knowing Deke didn’t. Also knowing that if he went into the house his wife would have a fit.
“Are you kidding? Eve would poison the gravy. If it’s all the same to you, I would like to live a little longer.” Deke was grinning and Earl knew it was only a slight exaggeration.
“So what are you going to do?” he asked.
“I think I’ll go get some barbecue.” Deke replied.
“Deke, you got to start saving money. Man you are always eating at one of those greasy restaurants. Why don’t you find yourself a woman and get married.”
“Yeah, maybe if Eve had a sister.” Deke followed the statement with a burst of laughter. “Look, you go on into supper, and I’ll go look for that good woman to marry.”
Deacon had lied to his brother Earl. He had a couple of scrambled eggs with cheese for supper. He cooked them myself in his own little apartment. Food cooked in his tiny little kitchen, tucked away in a corner of the large room he called home, tasted pretty good. He expect that it was because he seldom cooked more than the most basic of foods. If it couldn’t be fried in a pan, Deacon didn’t cook it.
He finished his diner and was looking over a three day old newspaper, when the banging started on his door again. Thinking it might be Carlton, he removed the Mauser from under the bed. When he got to the head of the stairs, he could see the legs of his caller. If it was Carlton, he was wearing a dress. Deke walked down the stairs after hiding the Mauser in the rear of my pants. He recognized the woman instantly.
“Rose, I am glad to see you.” He meant so that they could talk about the night before. She followed him up the fourteen steps before she spoke.
“Yeah Deke, I expect you are. I felt kind of bad about leaving you hanging this morning, so I came to settle up.” Rose suggested with her evil grin.
“There is nothing to settle Rose,” he replied in a bewildered voice.
“You mean you don’t mind that we didn’t do it?” He could see the hopeful look on her face. It bothered him a little that he wasn’t sure which way she was hoping.
“Sure, I would have liked it if we made love, but we were both high. If you wanted to just forget the whole thing it would be okay.”
“Deke, are you trying to be a nice guy, or do you just not want to sleep with me?” At that moment she was giving him a serious look. Deke still couldn’t tell what was on her mind.
“Rose, what man would turn down a chance to sleep with you?” He didn’t want to answer the question directly.
“So, you got time for a quick roll in the hey?” she asked boldly.
“After last night’s fiasco, I want to hold off till I get rid of this hangover. I just don’t want to disappoint you again.” He said it hoping she would buy it.
“Deke, you didn’t disappoint me. I enjoyed laying against you and having you just hold me. You got the cutest way of wrapping yourself around me.” She was laughing inside he knew. She had to be it was all so corny.
“Well glad you like it, but I am much more fun when I am awake,” He was trying to sound like he knew what he was saying. Deke had no idea how to answer her. She was too bold for him to handle.
“Then we will just have to wait until tomorrow night. Are you going to the Pump Room tonight?” she asked seriously.
Yeah their poker game is how I pay the rent here, why?” He knew that she went there occasionally. It was where he met her the night before.
“I have to eat dinner with my mother. I will also most likely wind up there until pretty late. I could stop by after, but I expect you will be playing until late. Huh?
“Yeah, I expect so.” he saw her face fall slightly. “Course if you come by, I will buy you a drink. Least I can do for falling asleep on you last night.”
“Yeah, you could hardly do less. If I finish up at mom’s in time, I’ll swing by, but I am pretty tired. I don’t keep them hours regular like you do. I might stop by for a while though”
“Sure come on over and have a drink at least. Then one night real soon we will get together and finish what we started.” Deke said it with his very best leer.
“Deke, you don’t really mind that I told Lucille do you? I didn’t tell her that you fell asleep, Only that I spent the night with you.”
“I don’t know for sure how I feel about that Rose. I mean it ain’t exactly the truth, but then it will do my reputation good to have a beautiful woman admit she slept with me.” Deacon said.
“Deke, you don’t need any help with your reputation, but I do.” Rose said almost sadly.
“How so?” I asked.
“Deke, you know I been divorced?” I nodded that I did indeed. “Well it’s like that book, you know where they branded that girl for being a loose woman. Everybody thinks I am a loose woman cause of the divorce.”
“I don’t see how sleeping with me will help that any?” he admitted.
“Come on Deke, all the people around here respect you. The women all adore you. The guys would stop making passes at me, if they thought I was your girl.” Rose admitted.
“But what happens when the real thing comes along Rose. You might miss it because he was afraid to ask you out.” It sounded perfectly logical to Deacon until she laughed so hard it frightened him.
“Deke, you are so funny. I have a boyfriend, but he is married. I would really like to have you as a boyfriend too.” The tears still streamed down her cheeks from the laughter, only they didn’t seem to be tears of joy.
“Rose if you are talking about using me for cover forget it. My Ma, would have my ass when she found out. Before you say it, you know she would find out sooner or later.” Deacon admitted.
“You mean she wouldn’t approve of you seeing a divorced woman?” She asked it defiantly.
“Not that Rose, she would have my ass for helping deceive some man’s wife.” he looked her hard in the eye while he spoke, since Deke finally had the high ground.
“Nobody knows about the married man, so it wouldn’t have to get out. You and me could sort of spend just a little time together. If we did no one would suspect that I was screwing around on you. After all Deke, no woman in her right mind would risk losing you.” She had me going until she added that last part. It was just too much.
“Damn Rose, you are good, but that last bit about no woman losing me was just too much. So what is the deal here?” Deke managed to keep my good humor while he asked.
“Deke, I need a man once in a while, but I don’t need anybody sponging off me. I got a pretty good thing with the shop. I don’t need some guy trying to live off me.” Unlike most women she looked him dead in the eye when she spoke.
“So explain what you really want from me?” He asked it with as much good humor as he could manage.
“I don’t know what I want I just know what I don’t want. I don’t want to sleep with a different man every time I got an itch that needs scratchin’. I’m getting a terrible reputation and I want to clean it up. Now what you got in your bag of tricks for me?”
Deke gave it a quick thought then said, “I guess we need to find you a husband with a better job than you.” He grinned at her when he said it.
“I’ll find my own damn husband, thank you very much. Besides I don’t need a husband just now. What I need is a place to go where I know I can sleep with a nice guy. One who won’t judge me and is accepted by my friends. In other words Deke, I am propositioning you.” Rose said it using a very business like tone.
Deke didn’t know what to say and Rose knew it. He tried to stammer out a response but Rose stopped him. “Look Deke, you think it over and have an answer for me next time I see you. Now I got to go to Mom’s house.” With that she moved close and gave him one of those kisses. One all filled the promise and tongue.
“Just a reminder,” she said as she stepped back. She quickly turned and fled down the stairs, leaving him with a physical reminder of her. Deke sat at the kitchen table with a glass of iced tea, while he gave her proposition some real thought.
There weren’t enough men in the Pump Room later that night to form a card game, even if they had all wanted to play. Deke had a couple of watery beers, then went home. He fell into bed and then into a dreamless sleep. Probably the result of having slept poorly the night before. The tiny bed in his apartment was hardly enough for one let alone two. He knew that if he accepted Rose’s proposal, he was going to have to buy a larger bed. Also the fact that it rained that night added to the depth of his sleep.
Deke awoke before eight. Even after he bathed and dressed for the day it was still only a few minutes after eight. Since it would be after the boarders breakfast times before he could get to mom’s house, he drove on over. He arrived at almost exactly eight thirty. He entered the giant three story frame house through the front door. Deke walked down the hallway past the two parlors on the right and the huge dinning room which occupied the same space as both of them on the left. Not only did Ma feed her boarders breakfast, she also fed at least half the mill supervisors breakfast. Hell, once in a while, you could even find the owners of the mill at her table.
That morning he found Ma and his younger sister in the kitchen washing the mountain of dirty dishes. His mother looked sixty even though she was only fifty. Deke expected that raising eleven kids did that to a woman. She would have looked even worse had she not been about twenty or thirty pounds heavier than the doctors would call normal. The extra pounds helped to hide the worry lines.
“So Ma, did you get all the borders fed and off to work?” he asked as a greeting.
“Some to work and some to bed. You want I should fix you some breakfast?” she asked wearily.
“No thanks, but I would like a cup of coffee,” Deacon replied. It was their not so secret code. It meant that I would like a cup of coffee, and a biscuit filled with whatever breakfast meat she had left. That morning it was a patty of very spicy sausage.
While he ate, he also talked with my mouth full. Deke managed to find out which of her many pains was bothering her the most at that moment. As usual, he suggested that she see a doctor. Also as usual she promised she would just as soon as the pain got bad enough. That meant she would see one when she was admitted to the hospital, if that ever happened.
She changed the subject on him. “Deke, Max Fuller is looking for you.”
“Why is that?” He asked it not really expecting her to know.
“Wouldn’t say, but he didn’t look happy. I expect it has something to do with one of the mill hands you been helping. I told you the company wouldn’t take kindly to your butting into their business.” As usual Ma wanted to give him her motherly advice.
“If that’s so Ma, why do you keep sending them to me?” He asked it with his best boyish grin.
“I don’t send nobody to you. If they ask me what they should do when they are in trouble with the mill, I tell them they should talk to somebody. I can’t help it, if the rumor mill gives them your name. Besides, I only send you people who really could use a break.”
“Then why did you send me Peanut Harris?” he asked smiling. He knew she hadn’t sent the slacker to him at all.
“I didn’t send him. I did know that he was going to see you though. I reckon I should have told him not to bother.”
“No, you just let them all come. Some of them have legitimate complaints, those I try to help. Can’t say as I do much good though.” Deke was actually looking into the coffee cup when he said that.
“That’s not what I hear,” Sissy replied. I hadn’t noticed my very attractive younger sister. She didn’t look so attractive at that moment. Her hair was hanging in her eyes and she was covered with a fine perspiration film. She also wore one of those smock things to save her clothes. It might have saved her clothes, but effectively hid the fact that she was full grown woman.
“Well you heard wrong. If you see Max, tell him to come to the apartment. Hell, I’ll be glad to talk to him.” Deke said that as he took a long drink from the streaming coffee cup.
“You sure do cuss a lot,” Ma said shaking her head.
“I know Ma. It’s the company I keep.” He grinned up at her again.
“I’ll tell your daddy you was here,” she said it as he stood to leave. “He’s sleeping right now.”
“Okay, tell him I asked about him. He is doing okay isn’t he?” he asked it as a second thought. His father and Deacon hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words since he got home. He didn’t much approve of Deke’s life style. Rather than tell him, he just ignored him whenever he could. Deacon got the point real good.
“Sure, he works a lot, but he is doing all right.” Ma looked hard at me as if judging my reaction.
“Okay, then I’m heading out.” He hugged Ma and his younger sister before he walked back through the house. The front porch was empty as Deke left, but it wouldn’t stay that way long. The second shift workers would begin coming down to sit in the shade, once the temperature level in the house rose well past uncomfortable. When it reached unbearable the porch would be full.
Deacon thought about driving to the White Oak Hotel to see Carlton, but decided against it. He really had nothing to say to him, and he didn’t want to be seen with him in case Carlton got caught. It was possible that he could manage to hold it together. The thought of him holding out, under even our police interrogation, made Deke laugh out loud. The Princeton kid couldn’t hold out for fifteen minutes.
Then he thought about driving to Max Fuller’s office in the mill. He decided not to bother. Deke knew for a fact that Max would find him when he was ready. Spreading the word was part of the intimidation process. Deke wasn’t intimidated, but he didn’t much like him worrying Ma either. Still, she hadn’t seemed concerned either. She probably knew more about their methods than Deke would ever be able to guess.
Instead of doing either, he drove to the ball field. Deke never knew the practice schedules for any of the mill’s teams, but it didn’t matter since he enjoyed watching them all. Whenever he had a few minutes he would drive by the practice field hoping to find one of the many industrial league teams practicing. That morning he was in luck, the Bulls from the White Oak Plant were working out. He parked the old Chevy in the coal cinder covered lot, then found a seat on the rough wooden bleachers.
For the next two hours Deke watched the Bulls hit and throw the baseball around. The Bulls were a good team, but not the best in my opinion. his brother Earl played for the Red Caps, so I rooted for them. They weren’t the best either though. The team that won the championship, almost every year, was the team from the Pamona Mill. Rumor was that the mill’s owner paid professional players from some of the minor league teams to play for him. Since professional baseball was a summer sport, he must have come up with some real bread to get them. The players really didn’t lose out on anything, since the industrial leagues were scouted just the same as the organized minor leagues teams.
When the practice broke up, Deke drove back to the heights. He didn’t really have a plan for killing the day. Even if he had one it wouldn’t have included a visit from Carlton. I found him waiting in the doorway to my apartment.
“What the hell are you doing here. I told you not to come back here until tomorrow.” he said it in a low menacing whisper.
“There is nothing to do over there. Everybody sits on the porch and talks about the mill. I don’t know anything about textile mills. I had to get away. I just couldn’t face the whole day over there.”
Deke waited until they were inside the apartment before he spoke again. “I hope to hell you didn’t tell anyone where you were going.” It was more a question than a statement and he knew it.
“Of course not,” he replied. “So what should we do?”
Deacon took a good look at Carlton before he spoke. Carlton was about forty and at least seventy pounds over weight. If Carlton had a larger frame, he might have been impressive with the extra weight. With his naturally small frame he just looked fat. His hair was thinning badly, and his face was slightly flushed all the time. After climbing the stairs he was even more flushed than usual. Deke figured, if he had enough time to wait, Carlton’s blood pressure would take care of killing him before he had to do it.
“You need to get your fat ass back to the hotel. If you don’t want to do that, go downtown to a movie or something. I have the village constable looking for me. I don’t want him to find you here. I hope to hell you haven’t done anything to put him onto to me.” Deke knew that he hadn’t since he was staying in White Oak. Each of the mill villages had it’s own constable. If Carlton had done anything to draw attention, it would be the White Oak constable, not Max, looking to talk to Deke.
“Okay, how about giving me a ride downtown?” he asked.
“Okay, but only because I don’t want you making any more calls from the grocery store. Hell, they may have seen you this morning anyway.” Deke said.
Fifteen minutes later he dropped Carlton at the public library. Carlton was within easy walking distance of everything in town from the library. After dropping him, Deke drove straight home. It was still early so he drove past the apartment, then to the park a couple of blocks from the Heights. The park like the ball field was owned by the mill. The mill was pretty good about allowing others in the neighborhood to sit on the benches. Even those who didn’t work for the mill. Deke just sat on the bench for a long while before he heard a voice he recognized as that of the Village constable.
“Deke, we need to talk.” The fifty pound overweight Max Fuller said. Everybody seemed to have gotten fat since the war. Max couldn’t use that as an excuse, since he didn’t leave the village during the war.
“I got nothing to talk about, but I will answer any questions you might have,” Deacon replied.
“Okay, what the hell have you been up to?” he asked it trying his authoritative voice out on Deke first. He knew it was a waste of time, but then I suppose it was second nature to him by that time.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Deke replied looking him in the eye.
“Come on, I’ve been hearing rumors that you are trying to change the way we do things again.” A little of his bluster was gone, just because Deke wouldn’t look away.
“Who is we?” Deke asked just to make him say it.
“You know damned well, I am talking about the overseers. I heard you been trying to tell them what to do again. If that’s true, you aren’t going to be real popular with the owners.” He was trying to make a point, but it was one blunted by it’s over use.
“Why should I care whether I’m popular with the old men. I don’t work for them.” Deke said.
“No, but most of your family and friends do,” he replied with a smirk on his fat face.
Even as he put my hands around Max’s throat, he knew he shouldn’t have. It didn’t matter what Deke knew, he was working on pure instinct. Those instincts had been born in him as they had in all men. His had been refined by the United States Government. Deke held Max’s fat, but fragile throat in his hands. he caught myself just before he crushed his larynx. Deke fought myself for control, since killing Max wasn’t necessary, or advisable. He was far to surprised and frightened to put up any fight. I knew I had to do something to cover my almost murder of the man.
“Max, listen to me. If anything happens to my family or friends, I will kill you and every other son of a bitch who had anything to do with it. Now you can tell your slimy friends that, or maybe you shouldn’t, just as you chose. Personally I wouldn’t want anyone to know about this little meeting of ours. I wouldn’t want the mill hands to know how easy it is to take you. Hell, they might not go along so willingly next time you take a drunk to the high Sheriff’s office. By the way Max, you tell those overseers that I am always available to talk it out with them. But if they would rather, I’ll take it up with their wives, or the superintendent whichever one needs telling.”
Deke left Max gasping for air as he walked away. Deacon showed him his back, even though he knew Max carried a .38. Deke figured if Max was going to shoot him in the back, it was as good a day as any other. If he did shoot, at least he wouldn’t have to fool around with Carlton. Even the worst events had an up side, he decided.
When Deacon got back to his car he took a deep breath, then drove home. He sat around the apartment with his pistol on the table. He sat drinking tea while waiting for Max. Deke didn’t think he would come, but he waited anyway. Deacon half expected him to show up with the high Sheriff, or one of his men. At that moment, Deacon couldn’t bet sure he wouldn’t blow them all into the next week. Fortunately for everyone Max decided to go somewhere and lick his wounds. Deacon was absolutely sure that there would be another day for them.
He spent a fairly uneventful day after he finally got moving again. Deke had a late lunch at Pop’s place, then slept away a pretty good size chunk of the afternoon. Finally after a dinner of cheese and fresh bread, he went to the Pump Room. He drank slowly while he played poker with several of the workers from the mill.
Rose came and went during the game. Evidently she was waiting for him to make the next move. Deke had poker on his mind, so he didn’t make any move. He knew that he was going to have to work something out with Rose. He just didn’t know what it would be.
The game lasted until well after midnight. Deacon was the last of the customers to leave the Pump Room. The bartender was still cleaning when he walked out of the door. He was in the middle of the deserted street when a voice he didn’t recognize came from the shadows. “Deke, I got a message for you.” At that moment Deacon expected a shot to ring out. Instead the man took a step toward him. He waited for the flash of cold steel at least.
When it didn’t come he asked, “What’s the message.” At the same time he braced for a fight. He figured Max or some mill boss had found a thug.
“Sandra Evans wants to see you,” the heavyset man answered.
“Who the hell is Sandra Evans, as far as that goes, who the hell are you?” Deacon figured he could sound tough, since the man hadn’t killed or maimed him so far at least.
“Me, I work for Miss Evans. Miss Evans runs the old Hammond place.” Hammond he did know, he had been a farmer. His farm had been in a small built up rural area just north of the mill village.
“What would a pig farmer want with me?” he asked. He knew that the Hammond farm had long since gone out of the pig business. In the twenties and the early thirties it had supplied pork and vegetables to the mill village and the larger nearby town.
“I guess you might say Miss Evans is a keeper of pigs, but not the kind you have for dinner.” He laughed at his own joke. “Miss Evans runs a house. You do know what a house is don’t you?”
“Sure I know what a house is. What the hell does a Madam want with me?” Deacon was more than a little surprised by the invitation. It must have showed because Luther looked pleased when he next spoke.
“Why don’t you just bring your ass out there and see?” he suggested it in a dead serious business tone.
“Okay, but I follow you.” The big man nodded his agreement. Obviously he had planned it that way. He probably didn’t want to drive Deke home in the early morning hours, any more than Deacon wanted to be his prisoner.
To reached Sandra Evans’ farm, one went by way of gravel roads, dirt roads, oiled roads and even a paved road. The business was located inside a house with about half a dozen bedrooms. The downstairs area had been opened up by removing all the doors. The doorways were expanded by arches which created one large party room. It was a place where the ‘guests’ could wait in comfort. In one corner of what had originally been the parlor sat a small bar. Unlike the Pump Room her bar served liquor. Liquor by the drink, or by the bottle was illegal in North Carolina at that time. Since the farm was also illegal, Deke didn’t expect the legality of the liquor was a real consideration.
Deacon was told by her goon to await Miss Evans in what had once been the living room. He sat on a garish, but comfortable sofa while he waited for the lady of the house to make her appearance. Deke was somewhat disappointed when the goon returned for him instead. Deacon followed him into an addition built on the rear of the large house. From the floor and the wall finishes it was evident that the room had once been a pantry off the kitchen. At the time of his visit, it held a very small desk and telephone. Deacon guessed that it served as a sort of office for Miss Evans.
After he checked out the room, Deke took a good look at Miss Evans. The lady of the house was probably his mother’s age. She was much more heavily made up, but still she had to be at least fifty. He stood restlessly shifting his weight from one foot to another until she seemed to notice him for the first time.
“So, you are Deacon Burke?” she asked, but she obviously already knew the answer
“I woke up in his bed this morning, I therefore assume that I am.” Deke replied with a more confident grin than he felt.
“Don’t be a wise ass, you don’t have the cool to pull it off,” she said with a smile.
“Oh, I got the cool. I just don’t show it on all the first date.” He said it hoping to make a tough guy impression on her. he didn’t want her to think he was too easy, otherwise he might have Luther threatening him on a regular basis.
“I guess we will see what you are. I got a proposition for you.” Miss Evans said looking hard at Deacon.
“I figured as much, why else would you get me here in the middle of the night?” he asked returning her gaze.
“It ain’t what you might expect in a place like this. We each have a problem with an employee who talks too much. At least one who may begin talking to the wrong people at any moment.”
Deke knew exactly what she meant, but he pretended that he didn’t. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any employees. I work alone, when I work at all.”
“If we can’t be at least a little honest with each other, this conversation is going to be a waste of my time.” she suggested. I nodded for her to go on. “You have a friend named Carlton Anderson.”
“I would hardly call him a friend,” he responded to her statement before she even finished.
“Okay whatever he is to you, he drinks too much and he talks when he does. Your, whatever, asked the night man at the White Oak Hotel to find him someone to listen to his war stories. Eddy sent him Ting.”
“Who?” Deke asked.
“Half of my sister act, Eddy sent him Ting a Ling. Her sister Ding Dong was already working.” She waited until I nodded. He was pretty drunk when she arrived. He got even drunker as time wore on. During the course of their ‘date’, he told her that he was coming into a lot of money. He also mentioned a bank in Fayetteville and his good friend Deacon Burke.”
“Not only is he a loud mouthed drunk, but he is also a lying loud mouthed drunk,” Deke suggested.
“Probably, but it will still get your ass in prison, if he tells that story to the wrong person. Especially if that bank gets blown.”
“Thanks for the warning, I’ll take care of Carlton.” Deke replied.
“If you would like, I could have Luther take care of him.” As she spoke she cocked her head toward her goon.
“No thanks, there is a record of a threat to his life I made once. If he turned up dead around here, I would be the first one questioned. No I’ll figure out something else.” Deacon said.
“I’m sure you will, that’s why I need your help with my little problem.” Miss Evans replied.
“Why don’t you just have Luther take care of yours?” Deke asked.
“Because mine is in jail. Even Luther can’t problem solve inside the county jail.”
“While I figure out what to do about mine, tell me your problem.” Deacon suggested.
“Do you know Raleigh Phipps?” she asked.
“The superintendent of the weave room at Revolution?” Deke asked in return.
“That’s him.” she said.
“I know the name, and I’ve seen him at ma’s a couple of times around the breakfast table. I don’t think I ever said more than a couple of words to him though.” Deke said.
“Well old Raleigh has an eye for the ladies. He is out here a couple of times a month.”
“So he comes out here, so what?” Deke asked it trying to hurry her along.
“It’s got nothing to do with this place. Raleigh was at some kind of meeting downtown last week. When he was walking back to his car, he met a whore. The whore was one who had worked for me until a couple of months ago. She fell in love with a customer and left.”
“That can’t be good for business.” Deke said it being a smart ass again.
“Oh, it gets worse. She takes Raleigh to the King Cotton hotel for a short ride. When they are in the middle of the ride, her boyfriend bursts into the room. He demands that Raleigh give up his wallet. Now Raleigh has been around enough to know a scam when he sees one. Raleigh also recognizes that big old Army colt. All things, being not at all equal, he gives up his wallet. I guess Raleigh thinks it over all night because it isn’t until the next morning that he calls in Max Fuller. Fuller arranges for the Sheriff to arrest Laura Lee.”
Deke interrupted her again, “I suppose Laura Lee is the hugger mugger?”
“She is that, now let me finish please.” he nodded his apology. “The Sheriff agrees that no good will come from the superintendent of the weave room testifying in open court. So he arranges for the DA to take Raleigh’s statement under seal. They all agree, that he can testify in the judges chambers. So Laura Lee winds up in jail awaiting trial, and everyone is happy. Well almost happy, like I said Laura Lee is in love. She won’t give them the boyfriend. After a couple of days they get tired of asking, so it’s Laura Lee who’s going to prison.
“I know that somewhere you come into this, but where?” Deke asked.
“You don’t have any patience at all do you?” Sandra Evans asked shortly.
“I guess not. You go on and I’ll try not to interrupt again.” Deacon said smiling at her cause both both knew he would.
“Somehow that no good boyfriend of hers gets word to her. Laura Lee makes another phone call to me. She tells me that she is going to force the Sheriff to close me down That is unless I stop her from going to trial. She don’t know all that much, but she can make a stink about me during the trial. Enough so’s the good women in town force the Sheriff to close me.” Sandra Evans did not look happy at the prospect.
“Could she do that?” Deke asked.
“I don’t know, but I can’t take the chance. So there you have it.” the madam said.
“Have what?” he asked.
“I have laid out both problems for you. They tell me you are the fixer, so fix them. I need you to handle this for me.” She seemed almost amused by it all.
“Okay, I’ll ask the obvious. Why don’t you just have Luther pay Raleigh a visit.” Deacon suggested.
“Raleigh isn’t one of those 4F’s. He was a paratrooper during the war. He got himself a crap load of medals. Luther might have to hurt him to stop him from testifying. That wouldn’t be any better than the fix I’m in now.”
“Give me a few minutes to think this over,” he suggested.
“Anybody, I can get you while you think?” she asked smiling.
“Best offer I’ve had since…..Hell it’s the best offer I ever had, but no. Just have Luther get me a beer and let me think a few minutes.” The few minutes became an hour before his brain finally worked out all the details. He knew from the start that blackmail was in order, but it took me the hour to get all the details worked out.
He had both Luther and Sandra making calls and running errands until the sun came up that next morning. While they ran around, he assembled the blackmail kits. Deke had one for each of our antagonists.
“There is one thing we haven’t discussed yet,” he stated just before dawn.
“And what might that be?” Sandra asked.
“Money, I could sure use a hundred bucks. I mean, I am saving you a damned sight more than you are saving me.” Deke said.
“I don’t know what is ten years in the slammer worth to you?” she asked.
“I wasn’t really going to blow that bank for Carlton.” Deke said it smiling at her.
“It don’t matter, he would have had the cops looking at you anyway. I get the feeling you couldn’t stand that no matter what you say.” Evans predicted.
“Maybe not, but I could still use the hundred,” Deke persisted.
“If what Carlton said it true, you don’t really need the money.” Sandra replied.
“But, what he says isn’t true. I am about out of my GI mustering out pay. How about it, surely it is worth a C note.” She didn’t know about the mustering out pay. Nobody else did either. He had gotten a chunk of back pay all right, but it was a bit more than that. You see every time he opened a German bank can, he not only found their Marks, but a few American bills as well. He couldn’t spend the American, but he wasn’t about to leave if for the Germans either. Liberating the money seemed like the best plan all around. Deke held onto it until the war caught up with him, which happened more than once. Whenever he got the chance, he sent the money to myself at Ma’s. He still needed to put more money with it every chance he got. he just wasn’t near as broke as everyone thought.
“Oh all right, you get Raleigh off my ass, and you get the hundred.” Evans agreed.
“Right now, I am going home to take a bath. Then I am going to put on some dry clothes which should last about thirty minutes in this heat.” Deacon said.
“It’s going to be a hot one all right. I mean that both ways.” Sandra replied.
“I know. Well, I’ll let you know what happens,” he advised her.
“You do that, but just about Raleigh. If you won’t let Luther kill the other one, I don’t give a damn what happens to him.” She wore a big grin as she spoke the words. I was playing at being tough, but she was tough.
Deacon sat at his kitchen table drinking iced tea. Sure enough Carlton knocked around nine. Deke let him pass as he climbed the steps to his apartment. he stood at the top of the stairs blocking Carlton’s retreat.
“Carl, we need to have a little talk,” Deke suggested.
“About what? I thought everything was settled. Let’s get moving we can talk on the way down to Fayetteville.”
“We aren’t going to Fayetteville after all,” Deke informed him.
“What do you mean? I thought we had settled all that.” Carlton asked.
“Well, it’s been unsettled.” Deacon informed him with a nasty look.
“How?” he asked angrily.
“It happened when you told a whore at the hotel how you were about to get rich.” Deke said with a slightly louder voice.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Carlton shouted.
“Lower your voice and read this.” Deke said handing him the statement which Ting had given before a notary. The notary wasn’t going to be doing any talking, so it was all right that he heard it. Besides nothing was going to happen to that bank in Fayetteville anyway.
After Carlton finished reading the statement, he looked up at Deacon. “This is bull. You made this up so that you could cut me out. There was no whore.”
“Sure, and I made this up too,” Deke said handing him the statement by the desk clerk.
After he read the statement he said, “It doesn’t matter, nobody is going to believe them.”
“Carlton it’s over. Get a cab to the train station and go back to DC.” Deke suggested.
“If I go back without that money from that bank, I swear I am going to the FBI.”
“Carlton are all Princeton kids as dumb as you. If they are, it’s a wonder we won that war at all.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
‘Just this, if you read that statement by the whore more carefully, you will find that she states. You said you were going to be rich just as soon as you talked me into blowing the bank. Well I refused, so you tried to set me up for the other banks. That’s going to be my story when I get interviewed. Unlike you, I have the statements from two different people with no ax to grind. I also have your name on a register at the White Oak Hotel listing your occupation as salesman. You are going to have a hard time explaining all that away.” Deke said.
“I will just tell them I never met the whore. I’ll tell them you set me up.” Carlton said.
“Recognize this?” Deacon asked showing him his liquor bottle wrapped in tissue paper inside a sturdy shoe box.
“What is it?” he asked sheepishly.
“It’s your liquor bottle from the hotel. I also have a statement from a maid who swears she removed it from your room this morning.” Deke said.
“How did you get it so fast?” Carlton asked.
“Carlton, three a.m. is also the morning. You are a heavy sleeper, obviously you were never on the run.”
Carlton looked up at me with a defeated expression. “So, if I go home and never bother you again the bottle and statements never surface?” he asked.
“That would be my expectations. Of course, I am going to rig them with a deadman’s switch.”
“If anything happens to you, they go to the FBI?” he asked.
“Something like that,” Deke replied.
“Well Deke, I would like to say it was fun, but it wasn’t.” He was beat but at least he knew it.
“I feel exactly the same. Look at it this way, you are getting out of here alive. It’s more than you deserve.” The look Deacon gave him let him know leaving was definitely in order.
“Yeah, alive and broke, I guess it’s better than rich and dead,” he stated as he walked toward me.
Deacon stepped aside while resisting the urge to push him down the stairs. Instead he watched him walk out the screen door leading to the street. Well that ended half my days work, Deacon thought.
Luther showed up with the final piece of blackmail material two hours later. “Here you go,” he said handing Deacon the brown envelope.
“So, you did find it. I’m surprised it wasn’t trashed.”
” Lover boy don’t empty his trash regularly. It was in the can behind his house.” Luther said.
“He must really have something. I mean he was real confident that Laura Lee wouldn’t turn on him.”
“Either that, or he is just plain stupid. By the way, if Laura Lee don’t get out of jail till this afternoon, lover boy will be long gone. I expect just as soon as the Doc finishes with him, he will be on a train.”
“You mean he won’t be driving. I thought he had a car for some reason.” Deke suggested.
“Man can’t drive with a broken leg and a broken arm,” Luther was grinning at me. I expect it was his way of telling me how tough he was. He needn’t have bothered. I figured it out just by looking at him. Not only was he large, but he had mean eyes. It was a combination which could prove lethal.
After Luther left Deke tried to read a novel with a prewar setting. It was one of those silly mystery things. He tried for a long time but just couldn’t get into it. It was sometime after three when he heard the voice from the foot of my stairs.
“Mr. Burke, are you up there?” the voice was definitely female. Deke thought he recognized it, but he wasn’t sure until he walked to the top of the stairs. Deacon stood looking down at a very pretty young woman with short red hair and freckles all over her face. She was very attractive even in her plain cotton dress. Deacon did recognize her.
“Hello Sarah., what brings you here? You want to come up?” He asked all the questions in a single breath.
“No thanks to the coming up there. I came to pay you something on my bill,” she said it slowly. I had forgotten that she spoke slowly. She certainly didn’t think slowly.
“Wait a second while I get a shirt and I’ll come down.” Deke hadn’t realized that I was sitting in my tee shirt until I noticed her look away from him. He grabbed a shirt then walked down the stairs. She moved back so that they stood on the street which ran beside the jewelry store.
“So how are things at work?” he asked.
“Whatever you said to Stanley sure worked. He didn’t apologize, but he never mentioned any of that nonsense to me again. It’s like it never happened.”
“Well that’s what you really wanted wasn’t it?” he asked.
“Sure, I just don’t know how you did it,” she exclaimed.
“It’s probably better that you don’t know.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say so he stood pat.
“Anyway, here,” she said thrusting a five spot at me.
“Can you afford this?” he asked it knowing how little she made.
“I got paid today and I have a little left over. My little sister came up a couple of weeks ago. She is staying in my room at your mother’s place. We share expenses. She is also sending money home, so I don’t have to send so much. Besides, I owe you a lot more than five dollars.”
“I told you to give me what you could spare, when you could spare it. You probably should keep some of this to go to a movie,” Deke suggested.
“If you are worried about that, why don’t you take me to a movie?” she asked with her green eyes averted.
“I would love to do that, but it would never do for me to drive up to Ma’s house for you. The other boarders would tease you unmercifully.” he said it not really sure if he was trying to avoid taking her out or not.
“I could take the bus and meet you at the little cafe beside the movie theater.,” she suggested.
“Then you must mean the Carolina Theater, since it is the only one I know with a cafe beside it.”
“Sure, I like it best. It is by far the most grand,” she said smiling a little girls smile.
“Why not meet me there at six, and I can buy you dinner before the movie?”
“All right, but I warn you I’m a big eater.” She was smiling her child’s smile again.
“Hey, I have five dollars. You can have anything you want.” He replied.
“All right then, I’ll see you Friday.” she said.
“Would you like for me to walk you home?” I asked.
“Oh no, people will talk, remember?” She covered her mouth as she giggled.
Deke passed the remainder of the day with the novel, but never could really get into it. He gave some thought to stopping at Rose’s shop for a quick visit, but since he didn’t have an answer for her, he passed on that idea.
Finally after dinner at Pop’s, Deacon spent the evening in the Pump Room playing cards. Rose came in around nine. After that during my breaks I would sit and talk to her for a while. She didn’t press me about her relationship so I stayed away from it’ Besides she seemed to be doing just fine flirting with the married guys who hung around drinking beer. She finally left around midnight, but only after she came by the table and whispered in Deke’s ear.
“I have to open the shop early tomorrow. Too bad you found a game, I could try to persuade you to see things my way.” Deacon almost stood up to follow here because her words were followed by her tongue in his ear. He managed to keep his cool even with the other player laughing nervously at us. Rose left immediately after returning their laughter.
After she left it got to be late quickly, even though he was tired Deke hung in there till the end. The thing about staying up late a second night was that he slept like the dead when he finally did get to bed.
Deacon awoke around eight the next morning. he spent the better part of an hour bathing and dressing. He wanted to look as good as he could when he saw the Superintendent. Not that Deke gave a crap about impressing him, he just didn’t want to be on the defensive for any reason.
Raleigh shared an office with a couple of other plant management types. There was a secretary assigned to the three of them. Deacon didn’t know her, but he knew her type. She was determined to show him how important her boss was, therefore herself by association.
“I’m sorry Mister Burke, but Mr. Phipps is awfully busy. I don’t know that he will have time to see you,” the middle aged woman said.
“Tell you what ma’am, why don’t you tell him it’s about the wallet he lost at the King Cotton. I expect he will find time.”
“I don’t think so, but I’ll see.” She said it just before she disappeared behind the half frosted glass door. Sure enough she came back after only a couple of moments. “Mr. Phipps said to have a seat, he would see you in a few minutes.”
Deacon knew it was a hustle, but he didn’t mind. He pulled out the novel and began to read. He actually was doing no more than scanning, then turning the pages. He couldn’t get into the novel at home, when he wasn’t distracted. At Phipp’s office he hardly even saw the pages. To an observer he was totally at ease, even though he was really as tight as a drum.
The phone on the secretary’s desk rang. She mumbled a couple of words then hung up. She waited a full minute before she said, “Mr. Burke, you can go in now.”
Deacon stood without a word, then stretched my muscles as though he was thoroughly bored. he walked slowly through the door and into the office of Raleigh Phipps.
“I’m terribly busy,” the heavy set man stated as I entered. He hardly even looked up from the papers on his desk.
“This will take only a couple of seconds, unless you want to talk more,” he replied.
“Very well, Marsha tells me you have my wallet?” he asked.
“No, I didn’t say that. I said I wanted to talk to you about it.” Deacon stated firmly.
He looked me over before he spoke again. “You’re one of those Burke boys from the boarding house aren’t you?”
“Well you are partly right. I am a Burke and my mother does run the boarding house. The one outside gate three, but I’m no boy. I haven’t been a boy since before the war.” Deke said it just as nasty as he had spoken condescendingly.
“So how are you involved in the robbery? Maybe I should call the Sheriff?” he suggested.
“That is totally up to you. I would hear me out first. Then if you want to call, I’ll wait until he gets here before I leave.” Deke said.
He looked a little worried when it became obvious that I wasn’t going to rattle. “Okay, what have you got to say?”
“Let me start with the fact that I know all about the robbery and the circumstances involved and could care less. If you would like, I will run down the facts so that you will believe me when I say you have a problem.”
“If you know about the King Cotton, I will assume that you know it all.” Raleigh said.
“Then let me just cut out all the preliminaries and say that I have a friend on the Charlotte Observer. Mike is a bit of a communist liberal. He just loves to expose fat cats and how they manipulate the system. If I give him the story about the sealed indictment and the plan for the closed court testimony, he is going to have a field day.” Deacon said.
“Mr. Burke, I don’t like to be threatened.” Phipps said with a certain irritation in his voice.
“Well Raleigh, I think I would hear me out before I decided whether I was being threatened or not. What I had in mind is a plan where all the good guys get away clean. I am assuming you are one of the good guys.”
“I like to think so,” he said lighting a cigar. I noted with pleasure that he didn’t offer me one.
“Okay, I can get your wallet for you. It has all your Identification and even your money.”
“My money?” he asked.
“Well they may not be the same bills, but the money is all there.” Deke said.
“What you should do Mister Burke, is to give the perpetrator’s name to the Sheriff.”
“That in itself is a little strange. You do know that the jurisdiction of the crime should have been the city police,” deke suggested.
“And you know that the Sheriff has jurisdiction in the town as well as the rural areas,” Phipps suggested.
“Yes, but it is unusual for him to be involed in it. None the less, the gentleman who pointed the pistol at you is no longer in town. He left a few hours ago for the coast.”
“Then he gets away. I don’t think I like your solution.” He didn’t look happy that was for sure.
“Well, he left with one arm broken and a broken leg on the same side. The man who did the breaking assures me that using a crutch with a broken arm is extremely difficult. No judge would or could have done as much.” Deacon admitted.
“That’s nice, but it does nothing to punish the woman. I do assume you want me to drop the charges against her?”
“Absolutely not, if you did that the Sheriff wouldn’t do you any more favors. I imagine he would feel betrayed. No, what I want you to do is to call the DA. I want you to suggest that you were a bit hasty in requesting she be held without bail. Tell him that her gray haired old mother came to visit you, and persuaded you that Laura Lee wouldn’t jump bail.”
“I suppose her pimp is going to bail her out?”
“I told you her pimp is on a train for the coast. No, I am going to bail her out. I am also going to scare hell out of her. Then I am going to put her on a bus, one not headed for the coast. She will leave and never come back.” Deke said
“And if I don’t, you will have your friend run the complete story in the Charlotte Observer.”
“Well, that really isn’t all. Not only will that embarrass your boss, who I expect actually put in the fix. I know you are a powerful man to the mill workers. I also expect the Sheriff required a little more fixing than you could do. It will no doubt get back to your employees, who will be snickering behind your back. Last but certainly not least, I am sure one of your less than happy employees will see that a copy gets to your wife.”
“You bastard, you are blackmailing me,” he snapped.
“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to name calling, but if you insist. You sir have a young woman being held incognito for a crime of which she has not yet been convicted. You are arranging to testify in chambers, so that you can keep your name clean. That sir, makes you less than an honorable man. I therefore feel no need to treat you honorably. Now if you think I am bluffing, ask yourself what I have to loose by calling my friend.”
“Your family has a lot to loose. Quite a few of them work in this mill,” Phipps said dangerously.
“See now there you go threatening me. Let me tell you something. There is not a single one of my family who would stand for me backing down an inch. They are honorable people, and would never allow their job security to stop me from doing the right thing. I, on the other hand, would take it very personally, if anything happened to them. It wouldn’t do the District Attorney or the Sheriff much good at election time to make the papers as company henchmen. It might hurt them in a one man one vote system. As for my mother, you probably should ask some of the old timers how she came to run the boarding house before you do anything stupid. All in all, if this hits the newspapers I expect you would be out of a job before you could retaliate against my family.”
He crushed the mostly unsmoked cigar in his ashtray. The cigar crumbled into shreds of tobacco. What a waste, Deke thought. Deke stood over Raleigh’s desk without smiling although they both knew Deke I could have. Raleigh was beat and even he knew it. “You know I won’t forget this?”
“I didn’t expect you to forget it,” Deke said evenly.
“I want my damned wallet back?” he demanded it to save face.
“Just as soon as I send Laura Lee on her way. You should probably make that call right now.” Deke again replied.
He waved me off with a limp hand. Deke walked from the room rather than push his victory. All he wanted to do was get Laura Lee out of town. Deke didn’t think threatening Sandra Evans was near as inconsequential as they all pretended. That’s why he hadn’t mentioned getting her bailed out to Evans or Luther.
Thirty minutes later Deke stood in front of the magistrate. I handed him the same hundred dollars that Sandra had sent to me via Luther. “You go on down to the jailer and give him this receipt. He will go get the woman for you. Man I don’t know what the hell is going on with her. First I get a hold from the DA, now I get word from the DA that I can issue a bail, if I want. Man this is a screwed up mess.”
“I know, but it’s about to get straightened out.” Deke suggested. He took the receipt to the county jail. It took them another half hour but finally they brought Laura Lee to him..
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“I’m the guy who paid your bail, and guaranteed that you would return for trial.” Deacon said it without a hint of a smile.
“You bet your ass I am going to return. If that prick don’t drop the charges I am going to blow the lid of more than just one scandal. I know who keeps Sandra Evans in business.” Her voice was loud and her tone belligerent
Deacon hustled her outside before he answered her. “Listen to me. Your boyfriend is headed for the coast with a broken leg and a broken arm. The only reason he is still alive is that he don’t know nothing. You on the other hand know too damned much. If you go home, or if you go anywhere at all in this town, Luther will find you. I expect Luther plans to shut you up permanently.”
She suddenly began to shake. How could she not have expected Luther to come after her. She had known both Sandra and Luther for sometime before she ran off with her boyfriend.
“Oh God, you are right. What am I going to do?” I could tell she was genuinely frightened.
“I know you had fifty bucks when you were arrested because I saw them give it back to you. What you are going to do is buy a bus ticket far away. I am going to tell Luther, I don’t know where you went because I am not going to know. If you come back to this town, you are probably going to die. There is nothing else I can do for you. Believe me this is your only chance.” Deke explained it all to her.
“Where did Johnny go?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but you need to stay away from him. Luther might know where he went. You need to get the hell away from this and start over.”
“Okay, just get me to the bus station.” She looked out the rear window every few seconds during the drive. I could tell she would have rather it had been dark. Still she did the best she could to hide until her bus left.
Deke parked outside and watched until she got on a bus headed north.
He had a late lunch at Pop’s before he drove to Sandra’s farm. He was met at the door by a black maid. “Is Miss Evans sleeping?” Deke asked.
“She is. You be Mr. Deke?” she asked.
“I am.” he said.
“Miss Sandra said to wake her if’n you came by.”
“I wouldn’t bother. You can give her a message for me. Just tell her everything is taken care of, but not exactly as we discussed.”
“No Sir, I got’s to go wake her. You stay right here.” She said it as she began slowly climbing the steps to the second floor.
Luther was the first to come down the stairs. “What do you mean not the way we planned?” he asked angrily.
“Good to see you too,” Deacon replied just as shortly.
“Cut the clowning, what did you do with the whore?” Luther asked.
“I sent Laura Lee packing just like we discussed.” Deke admitted.
“How the hell did she get out so quick. I would have thought it would take a day or two to get the charges dropped.” He was talking to himself at that point.
“I didn’t get the charges dropped. I got her bail, then I put it up for her. Last of I saw of her she was on a bus for places unknown, at least to me.” the Deacon admitted.
“What the hell do you mean you bailed her out. She swore she would go to the papers, if I didn’t get the charges dropped.” That time the voice came from a much less attractive Sandra Evans. She looked about ten years older than her years. It appeared that life was as tough on a madam as a whore.
“Don’t worry she won’t be talking to anyone. I put the fear of Luther into her.”
“What’s to stop her from talking when she gets away from here?” Luther asked.
“Nobody outside of this county gives a damn about any of us, or our problems. If she was going to talk, she would have done it before she left town and she didn’t.” Deacon noted the looks exchanged by the two of them. It was pretty obvious that Deacon had been right. They never intended to have Laura Lee get out of town. It made one wonder where the boyfriend might be at that moment. Deke sure as hell wouldn’t have bet on California.
“Well, it’s done now. I hope for your sake that Laura Lee doesn’t show up here again,” Luther said.
“Now, that wasn’t a threat was it. I mean you and I have been getting along so well up until now. I hope this isn’t going to become a crack in our good relationship.” Deacon said it as sarcastically as he possibly could.
Luther was about to speak when Sandra cut him off with a look. “It wasn’t a threat at all. We just think, she might implicate you in a plot to avoid prosecution. That wouldn’t be good for any of us.”
“If you say so. Anyway I am going home. I think this ends our business,” Deke said.
“Probably not,” Sandra replied.
“What are you talking about. I have done everything I promised.”
“It’s not that love. It’s what is going to happen when Raleigh begins putting the pressure on you.”
“Why would he do that?” Deke asked. he was truly surprised.
“By now Raleigh has convinced himself that you are the one responsible for all his problems. If it hadn’t been for you, none of this would have happened.”
“What are you talking about?” Deke asked.
“You should have figured out by now, Raleigh is about half wacko. He is going to strike back at you.” Sandra and Luther both looked as though the idea appealed to them.
“That’s why you didn’t do this yourself?” Deke asked.
“That’s right. He would have hounded me out of business. Let him hound you instead. So you take care of yourself love. You might want to sleep with one eye open.”
“Not really, Raleigh isn’t the violent type,” I said hoping it was true.
“Maybe not, but he will get you. That much is for sure.”