Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mississippi Mud - Completed

This is a small excerpt from Mississippi Mud – a completed Novella.

Chapter 1

It had been one of those days. One of those days only found in Tennessee William’s stories and along the banks of the wide Mississippi. One of those days when the muddy water of the wandering old man ran flat like molasses, the lethargic turn of a bass, or something less interesting, the only sign that life did exist below its flat brown surface.

The August sun had been relentless, the oppressive heat stifling and the humidity smothering.

And days like today always preclude nights like tonight in the Mississippi Delta. A night not unlike the one that Robert Johnson, standing at an isolated crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, handed more than just his guitar to the Devil.
Flipping his Zippo open he ran his thumb across the flint wheel and lit his cigarette. Snapping it shut he placed it on the scratched Formica and gave it a spin.

Pulling a napkin out of the matt black dispenser he unfolded it and wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead.

Broad ceiling fans, small tufts of lint and dust clinging to the patina of grease that covered their wooden paddles, looped lethargically.
Glancing at an old Seth school clock above the front entrance John O’Bannon wondered if Miss Lee would be a no-show.

Snippets of chatter drifted up from the four old men sitting at the back of the Cat Bucket, a Vicksburg eatery that specialized in fresh-caught catfish and was frequented by the locals. He watched idly while an apron-wrapped busboy cleared tables.

Sitting on a small knoll overlooking the Mississippi, the Cat Bucket had been around since the war. No need to ask which war, there was only one when it came to the south.

He’d followed Warrenton road, the main blacktop that followed the river south of Vicksburg, right on an old gravel road by the cider stand, west to the ‘old hangin’ tree where he’d turned left and parked his car in a dusty gravel lot that filled the expanse between the restaurant and the muddy bank of the river.

“Hell no, son,” the wrinkled old gas station attendant had explained, “That’s the tree where we hanged all them there Yanks in the war.” Deciding that might not explain it completely, he spit on the broken concrete apron for emphasis and added, “That there’s sacred ground.”

Left to his thoughts in the ratty booth swimming in the heavy night air of the old clapboard restaurant, he took a drag of his smoke and sorted through the strange string of events that found him sweating in a catfish restaurant in the Deep South on a hot August night like tonight.


John O’Bannon, ex-Chicago-homicide-detective, stats like most cops, was a divorced father of two, a house in the burbs he never visited but still made payments on, and an ex-wife that despised him in an oddly mutual sort of way. Married too young, loved too little, his children already in college, he’d decided to throw in the towel and take early retirement.
From hell raising teen, to blissful newlywed, to proud father - twice, to woeful domestic kidnap victim, to giddy hostage survivor in twenty-five years. A lifetime, he was sure. And he had the scars to prove it.

On the street at forty-five with no real skills other than filling out police reports, solving the occasional murder mystery and shooting a handgun with uncanny accuracy, he’d drifted a few months before accepting an offer from Don Brakin, the Detective that broke him in many years before.

Retired ten years now, Don’s offer sounded as good as any and he’d taken it. Providing security for visiting dignitaries, politicians, the occasional rock star, and anyone else that felt that venturing into the public venue unprotected was dangerous, it was a puff job that paid a little better than his old one and he’d started getting comfortable with life again when, as is often the case, things changed.

At first he’d thought his wife wanted to squeeze the turnip some more when a lawyer showed up at Don’s office, briefcase in hand, and asked for a little private time with one John O’Bannon.

“My name is Nigel White of White, White and Jackson, a small law office in Vicksburg, Mississippi.”

Can’t be the ex he’d decided and invited the seersucker clad gentleman and his good ol’ boy accent into the small coffee room just off Don’s office.

“Nice to meet you,” John shook his hand and added, “I guess. What can I do you for, Mr. White?” Mr. White didn’t smile much and John was sure his pasty white face would crack if he did. Instead, he popped the latches on his briefcase while explaining, “It’s about your Uncle, Mr. O’Bannon.” Pulling out some stapled papers, he’d shoved them across the sticky tabletop and waited.

John picked them up and read as far as ‘…last will and testament of Robert Lee Sneed’ before looking up.

“I guess you didn’t hear,” Mr. White said.

“That’s an understatement. Who the hell is Robert Lee Sneed?”

“Actually, he’s your great-Uncle on your mother’s side. He married the sister of your mother’s mother, Lorry Sue.”

“You still got me, buddy. Sounds like a lot of mothers to me.” He decided Mr. White probably didn’t have a mother of his own when the hard ass façade stayed the course.

Leafing through papers, Mr. White looked up and asked, “You ARE the only son of Patrick and Deborah O’Bannon?”

“I sure ARE,” John said and got up, dropped some coins in the old coffee machine, slapped it twice on the dirty worn spot on the front, and watched a cup fill.

“Did you know your grandmother had a sister?”

“Sure didn’t.”

From Mr. White’s demeanor it would seem not knowing you had a great-aunt that had lived and died without crossing your doorstep was a deadly sin. And as far as John knew, in the south, it was.

“Do you have some kind of identification, Mr. O’Bannon?”

The guy was starting to tick John off. “Sure do,” he’d said, crossing his arms across his chest and asked in his best bad-cop voice, “Do you, Mr. White?”

“Mr. O’Bannon, this has been in probate for nine months. If you are, in fact, the only son of Patrick and Deborah O’Bannon, then you are the last living heir to the estate of Robert Lee Sneed.”

Few things left John O’Bannon speechless and he wasn’t about to let this prick ruin his track record. Setting his paper coffee cup on the table he’d quipped, “I guess the buck stops here then.”

It was no great surprise when Mr. White hadn’t seen the humor in that one either as he slid an officious looking piece of paper, check attached with a paperclip, across the table.

It had taken a month to tie up loose ends. He’d paid off the mortgage on his ex-house leaving his ex-wife very happy. He’d sent both his children some of the money along with his new address, sold his old car, got on a plane, and set off to discover Vicksburg, Mississippi and the late and great Uncle Robert Lee Sneed.


Yes, he thought, here I am.

Just before eleven Flora came around with a scorched Silex pot and said, “Last call, Sweetie, we’re gonna close in a few more minutes.”

They called it Mississippi Mud on the menu. An acquired taste he thought. And after a month in Vicksburg hanging with the locals and watching the kudzu grow, the thick brew was starting to annoy the hell out of him. He still shoved his china mug toward the edge of the table and smiled as Flora tipped her pot.

“And here’s your check, Hon,” she said sliding a pink counter check with ‘Thank You’ on the back, through the sugar that had slipped off his spoon.

A few gritty sips later and a last look around the mostly empty restaurant and he started to push out of the booth when the rusty spring on the dilapidated screen door announced a new arrival. Settling back in the rickety booth he waited to see who it was.

He’d never met her so he really couldn’t say but watched, mesmerized, as a true southern bell walked through the door.

Her honey-blond hair was shoulder length and brought to mind the 60’s with a broad white band holding it off her ears. The straight-cut bangs that hid her eyebrows and her small chest gave her a girlish look. He guessed she was somewhere between thirty and thirty-five.

“How ya’all doin’ there, Flora May?”

He watched Flora May look up from swatting a fly and say in a smartass sort of way, “We’re doin’ just fine, Jeri Lynn.”

Her dress was a sleeveless A-line in red linen with a turned down collar and a handful of quarter size white buttons from just between her small breasts to six inches above her knee-length hem.

He noticed the gab club at the back of the restaurant stopped mid gab and wondered if they were staring as openly as he was.

You couldn’t call it showing up late. Jeri Lynn Lee, at least he guessed this beautiful creature was Miss Lee, completed her grand entrance by walking along the counter, white handbag clutched under her arm, her free hand running along the edge of the chipped Formica counter, and stopped just short of mid-way.

Spinning on a white three-inch heel, she leaned against the counter, cocked her hip, and struck a pose between two gaudy, red-vinyl covered, counter stools looking directly at him just long enough to make him feel uncomfortable.

He was surprised when she pushed off the counter and headed back toward the rusty screen door, a languid sway to her hips, saying in a southern sing-song, “Well, I guess I better get on home now, Flora May.”

Picking up her Silex, Flora dumped the last of her Mississippi Mud down the sink and replied, “You tell Mr. Lee we all said hey there, Jeri Lynn.”

He watched as her red summer dress disappeared with an annoying screech and wooden slap of the old screen door. Grabbing his check and his recently acquired seersucker jacket, required attire in the south, he stepped to the counter and threw a couple of bills down beside his check. Not bothering with the change he headed out the door and thumped across the old tongue-in-groove porch trying to find the woman.

“Damn,” he muttered and knocked a balled fist on one of the rough-cut porch posts.

Stepping into the dusty gravel parking lot he headed for his old pick-up truck, a faded 1947 Studebaker one-ton with a cracked windshield, something he’d found in the equipment shed on the farm he now called home, and wondered what the hell had just happened.
Just as he stepped on the sideboard of his old truck and pulled down on the door handle he saw the red glow of a cigarette coming from the passenger side of the cab. The door groaned in protest, the end dropping half an inch as he pulled it open, and there she was.

He couldn’t see her but he could certainly smell her. Sweet; smells of spring and jasmine. The musty old pick-up cab never smelled better.

Offering a hand, he said, “Miss Lee, I presume.”

Taking a drag from her cigarette, the butt glowing, she said, “Just get in and get going before Flora throws the Vicksburg four out.”

Looking back at the white clap-board building he saw the busboy sweeping the porch and noticed the red neon ‘OPEN’ sign had been turned off.

The old truck threw gravel as he made his getaway.


At the blacktop she pointed right and he headed south. His second attempt at conversation had gone unanswered so he worked the old truck through the gears and found a speed it seemed comfortable with and waited.

Just past an ornate white-brick entrance on the right she said, “Take the next road to the right. It’s right up there.” And she pointed, the glow of her burning fag a beacon that bobbed between her pointing fingers.

Slowing down he found an old gravel lane with twin ‘No Trespassing’ signs on the two fence posts and turned off.

After half a mile of potholed ruts and bushes and branches scraping the faded green paint of his old truck she pointed at a small pull off and said, “Park it there.”

She was out of the truck before he could shut the engine off and he watched as her red dress receded in the pale yellow glow of his headlights.

Finding the path she’d taken, he followed. On the phone she’d only confirmed that he was, in fact, John O’Bannon, and asked if it was true he did investigative work for hire. When he confirmed, she said, “Meet me at the Cat Bucket tonight at ten-thirty,” and hung up.

And here he was. Instincts told him something wasn’t quite right. Reaching under the back of his rumpled seersucker jacket, he pulled a small black handgun out and let it hang loosely at his side as he made his way along the path.

The air smelled earthy and damp and the stifling heat retreated as he followed the path down a mossy stone ledge that went off to the left. Water running, or falling, somewhere off to his right blanked the Mississippi night sounds.

When the path ended at a pebbled creek bed he looked back and could barely make out a drop off of about fifty-feet where the path had started down the stone ledge.

He could see a shimmer of white further up the creek and investigated. Set neatly on a large flat rock was a pair of white high-heels and a matching white purse, the white hair band stuffed in one of the shoes. Looking further up the small creek bed he saw a flash of color. Finding Miss Lee’s red dress neatly folded on a second flat bolder he picked up something wispy and discovered it was a silk stocking. The smooth material was still warm as it slid between his fingers. Leaving it with the dress he made his way further up the rocky creek bed and called out.

“Over here, Mr. O’Bannon.”

In the moonlight he could barely make out a dark line of water falling down a moss covered wall of rock from about the same height as the path he’d come down. Following the flow he could see the rock receded leaving the water in free-fall for about twenty feet before ending in a frothy white splash in a natural rock bowl about twenty-five-feet across at the base of the huge wall.

Miss Lee’s honey blond hair floated above the dark black pool. Stepping to the edge he said, “Well, Miss Lee, I think it’s time you explained what’s going on.”

She kicked around in the dark pool ignoring him completely.

Finally, turning in disgust, he stumbled on a few rounded creek stones and headed back the way he’d come.

“You need to start a fire. There’s wood over there,” he heard her splash some more before adding, “It gets really cold when you get out of the water.”

The southern drawl flowed like honey.

Turning back around he saw she’d moved to the far side of the pool and was climbing up on a heavy flat bolder at the edge of the waterfall.

Her skin was pale in the moonlight, her breasts small in contrast to her wide hips and long legs. Less hips and she’d look like a tomboy, he thought. As it was she looked ravishing as she ducked her head under the waterfall, hands covering her eyes, and disappeared through the curtain of water.


Rhian said...

ah JP - you're killing me here - pulling a Lisa with these serial posts. Okay, fine - i'll read it in the morning with my coffee.
Glad you have a blog btw!

Rhian said...

okay dammit - where's the rest of it? damn bloody partials. grrrrrr....

Lisa Andel said...

Hey Rhian, it's RJ here. Got it?

Roscoe James said...

Guess you'll have to wait on this one Rhian, being reviewed. Soon as I get word back I'll know what to do with it.

Rhian said...

Fingers crossed for you! and toes. and legs. and eyeballs... that's it. that's all i got.

Roscoe James said...

Thanks Rhian. Hopefully I'll hear back before your condition becomes too uncomfortable.

Rhian said...

it would be muchly appreciated... wincing.

Rhian said...

sigh. new post? chapter 2? flash fiction even. something new to entice me to return?

whew - i feel better.

Lisa Andel said...

Begging Rhian?

Roscoe James said...

When she's on her knees I'll give