Chuck Galey – Mississippi Artist

Chuck Galey has drawn all his life.

“I had everything I needed growing up in a small farm town in the Mississippi Delta; a pencil, a piece of paper and a long-winded Baptist preacher.”

He has illustrated over seventy educational books and ten children’s picture books, one that he authored. When he is not working on books in his studio in Jackson, Mississippi, he is presenting exciting school programs that inspire and astonish students. His programs, listed on the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Teaching Artist Roster, encourage them to be creative in their reading, writing and art. For additional information, please visit his website: www.chuckgaleycom.

As a MAC teaching artist, what is your role in education?

I use the opportunity of developing arts integration lesson plans that introduce critical thinking with a visual art activity that enhances the learning process.

What does Arts-in-Education mean to you as an artist?

By utilizing the arts, teaching any subject reaches the students on a new level rather than just memorizing dates and equations.  The students are able to artistically reach a critical thinking process that helps them utilize and retain the lesson for future use.

Why are MAC teaching artists/roster artists important to education?

Teaching Artists (TA) are important because these are lifelong professional artists that are able to teach the creative process and apply that process to learning any subject.

Describe the MAC SPED initiative made possible through a grant from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (KCPA).

KCPA provided funding so that TAs could work with inclusive and self-contained SPED classes.  The concept was that, through the arts, SPED students could be taught in a creative way and that they would understand and retain information.

How will your role in this initiative enhance and/or improve the skills of children with special needs.

My role as a visual artist lets the students approach problems in a critical manner in a way that, perhaps, they haven’t been taught before.  SPED students vary in so many ways, from severe Autistic to the physically handicapped.  Each learns in different ways.  The arts explores that.

How can teaching artists help children of all ages and mental and emotional levels experience Mississippi’s culture and heritage while also developing their learning and life skills?

By applying arts integration to different cultural and heritage lessons, students can learn the lessons on a basic level.  Just by working through the lesson, the student has to use critical thinking through the arts to solve a problem or experience a cultural event.

How do you think MAEC can impact education through the arts?

Coordination with school principals and teachers is the key. The schools will have to buy-in to the idea that arts integration does enhance the educational process. This could possibly done with workshops for principals and school system superintendents to convince them to use the arts.  Many are skeptical and are very old fashioned in their educational approaches.  One only need to look at arts integrated school district’s soaring test scores for proof that arts integration is a legitimate way to enhance the learning process. By providing on-going workshops, including traveling workshops to schools, MAEC can impact education by using arts integration lesson plans to enhance the learning process.  MAEC sponsored performances, screenings and exhibitions targeting area schools can also be utilized in tandem with the arts integration lesson plans.

The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair – Nominated for the 2005 Texas State Reading Association’s Golden Spur Award for children’s literature written by a Texas author, Dotti Enderle.
Jazz Cats – 2003 Mississippi Library Association Award for Excellence in Illustration in Children’s Literature;  Nominated for the 2003 Texas State Reading Association’s Golden Spur Award for children’s literature written by a Texas author, David Davis;  2003Children’s Choice Award presented by the Children’s Book Council.
My Brother Dan’s Delicious; 2004 Children’s Choice Award presented by the Children’s Book Council.
This interview between Richelle Putnam and Chuck Galey was first published on the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience website and in its newsletter.  For more information about MAEE click HERE

“Once Upon a Time”

R.W.B. Lewis, a major literary critic of [the 20th] century, once gave this evaluation of Southern literature: “It is impossible to name another region in this country with so massive and virtually unbroken a display of literary genius.” (source: Living By Words; Why Are There So Many Great Southern Writers by David Todd)

Rocking chairs and front porches. Sweet tea and cornbread. Old men playing checkers and whittling wood. Women cooking in the heat of the kitchen and chit-chatting. Some things just go together. Stories and the South go hand in hand.

William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Harper Lee, John Grisham, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston …the list could go on and on.

The American South is a place of storytelling-that is for sure.

Today’s authors and writers stand on the shoulders of the great writers of yesterday. I have often found it ironic to realize that the American South, particularly the Deep South, is a place filled with people who write. They gather in coffee shops, join local writing groups, and attend a menagerie of Book Festivals and symposiums to learn all about how to write. Their books are filled with ideas, both staunchly conservative and openly reflecting on the dark days of the South and examining Southern culture with new eyes. In this sense, it is a place of straddling fences. How can it be such a place…one where countless people have a desire to create with words and art, yet also stubbornly cling to the past and refuse to join the 21st Century?

We need only consider the history of the Deep South to see that storytelling has always been a part of the culture. The American South is a place that once belonged to many Native American cultures, most notably the Cherokee and Choctaw, who have a strong tradition of oral history and storytelling. It’s also a place to where many immigrants and pioneers journeyed in the early days of the founding of Alabama and Mississippi. Long story short- no pun intended- throughout the history of the South, we have always gathered on the front porch or around the kitchen table to tell tall tales, gossiped about everybody’s business, or soaked up Paw Paw’s stories of his childhood and the good ol’ days (Paw Paw=Grandpa for those unaware). It’s just who we are, and what we have always done- in both word and song. And so the tradition continues.

One MS Gulf Coast author, Fran McNabb, explains it like this:

“The South is more than a regional destination; it’s a state of mind, a feeling, an emotional attachment, and a connection to the past and family…The slow rhythmic cycle of seasons gives a person the time to appreciate the little things in life….Living the slower paced life gives [us] time to allow ideas to develop.”

Perhaps it is also this very emotional attachment which is the reason why we Southerners stubbornly hold onto old ideas, yet are also straddling that fence of old vs. new? On any account, that will have to be a different story on another day, as it is one that is long and complicated.

Today the Gulf Coast is dotted with indie book shops and local writing groups.

The Gulf Coast Writers Association of Mississippi (GCWA) is one such group. Founded in 1986, their purpose is to “encourage and inspire local writers…[whether they] dream of writing their very first story or poem…[or if they are] experienced published authors.” They host monthly general meetings with speakers on a variety of topics related to the art of the written word, an annual “Let’s Write” Literary contest, and publish a quarterly magazine. Philip Levin, a local author and the President of the GCWA, says that they have 176 members, half of which actually live on the MS Coast and 80% of which live within the state. The other folks live as far away as Pennsylvania, Delaware or Colorado but have roots in Mississippi. It seems that the rule applies: ‘once a Southerner, always a Southerner’- those roots stretch deep.

However, another local author named Connie Rainey (who writes as G.G. Houston) adds this:

“You don’t have to be born in the South to understand how to be a Southerner. All one needs to know is that the South is a quilt of heritage and time. It is snug with remembrances, and stitched together by the diversity of its people. I live in this wonderful place because I ‘feel’ the past in its plantation homes and know its future in its modern steel structures. Art and stories blend together to make the South a home for anyone with a story to tell.”

Regarding writing, Philip Levin states,

“Mississippi has a long, proud heritage of inspiring authors. The fetching vistas of our Gulf Coast, with her gentle breezes and proud history, provide inspiration for heartfelt stories. Our generous and friendly citizens offer lovable and quirky characters to populate those tales. Here on the Mississippi Coast, we have a tradition of neighborly visits, relaxing on the front porch sharing a pitcher of sweet tea under the fragrant magnolias. This is why so many Coastians become writers – it’s just a matter of writing down those stories.”

Almost every town and community has a local writing group: Mobile and Fairhope are two that are nearby the Gulf Coast area with large and vibrant writing groups. Oxford, MS, although in the northern part of the state yet home to William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, holds its own in the world of Southern literature, and is another area that has a large following, mostly in part because of its rootedness with the University of MS. Square Books, famous in that neck of the woods, has a long history of supporting and featuring local and up-and-coming authors, as well as Thacker Mountain Radio which also shines a spotlight on local stars of literature. Along the MS Gulf Coast, Southern Bound Book Shop, a younger indie book shop that has two locations in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, also features local writers on its shelves and at Book Signing events. The MS Writers Guild is still relatively new, as it was only established in 2005. But they have local chapters in Hattiesburg Jackson, Newton, Natchez, Tunica, and Yazoo. Columbus (MS), known as the birthplace of Elvis, isn’t far behind with their Writers and Storytellers Guild.

Despite the long tradition of writing and storytelling, it was only this past summer that the very first Mississippi Book Festival was held. Hopefully, this event will grow each year, and shine a bright light upon the many talented writers in our area. My favorite aspect of editing is working with local authors; most are unknown yet extremely gifted with words. Publishing a book isn’t easy these days, but I’m not sure if it ever really was a simple feat. If you think about it, William Faulkner, John Grisham and Fannie Flagg all got their start somewhere. Stop by your local indie book shop today and peruse the Local Author section. You may discover a hidden treasure tucked between the pages of a book. Or perhaps you have a story to write?

  • - Book Signing event for writers who contributed to the "Katrina Memories" book. (photo credit- GCWA)

(Click on Name to go to site)

For More Info: Gulf Coast Writers Association (MS)

Featured Local Authors from this story: Fran McNabb

Connie Rainey (G.G. Houston)

Philip Levin, President Gulf Coast Writers Association (MS)

By Kristina Mullenix Juniper Creek Editing & Literary Services

Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell

Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell might arguably be one of the hardest working musicians in the Hub City. There is hardly a weekend where he’s not playing either solo or with his band, The Cowboy Blues Band.

What bands do you perform with?

I am currently the lead singer of The Cowboy Blues Band, as well as, I perform a popular solo show.

When and why did you start playing?

I have been singing since I was three. I started out with my family’s gospel music group. I then switched to drums in the sixth grade and learned the basics and such. In my senior year of High School, I needed one more credit to graduate so I started taking guitar class with a borrowed guitar from my sister Becky. I liked the class. Since then I have worked to learn the Piano, Bass Guitar, and Cowbell.

Which instruments do you play?

My first love will always be the drums and guitar. I do play several other instruments.
What was the first tune(s) you learned? On drums the first tune I learned was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris. On guitar the first tune I learned was “ As Tears Go By “ by The Rolling Stones.

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

So many musicians to choose from. I love music from a holistic standpoint. It depends on what particular mood I’m in. I love Buddy Rich, BB King, Albert King, Joe Bonnamassa, Jeff Healey, Glenn Miller, John Williams, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Drifters, Joss Stone, Nora Jones, the Neville Brothers, and on and on. During my younger years, I was all about Elvis.

Which famous musicians have you learned from?

I have had the fortune of working with some famous musicians in my life. I have been really good friends with Jeff Healy and had gotten to play drums with him a few times. We remained friends until he passed away. He gave me advice all the time. I have been fortunate to work with Al “Fish” Herring who is a three time Grammy award winner and he provides great support and great advice. I have also learned from some negative musicians on the proper way NOT to do things. I have had conversations with John Popper from Blues Traveler, Alanis Morissette, Chris Young, Charlie Daniels, and Joe Nichols. I also love having “Shop Talk” with local musicians on songwriters nights and performances. The Hattiesburg Community is a great support system.

Describe your first instrument.

Many people will be surprised to know that my first instrument was a trombone. I didn’t play it very well and moved to drums quickly. Most times our neighbors thought a cow was dying at our house.

What are your fondest musical memories?

In 1993 I had a farm accident and turned a John Deer tractor over on myself. Lots of things broken, horrific scene, and I almost died. I had a broken back, I had a punctured lung, and my arm was in a sling and needed physical therapy. I became really depressed. I thought that I would never play drums again. I was angry. I had been saving up to buy a used drum set from my friend and I had saved half of it. I thought for sure that My music days were done. My sister Lenae went and bought that drum set. She told me that I was going to play it and that I didn’t have a choice. I sat down behind it and started to play with one arm. As my arms and body got better so did my playing. She may never know how significant that one act of kindness was to my future as a musician, but I’ll always be grateful and love her for buying me that old and worn-out drum set. About a year later, I would start my first band and name it after one of my other sisters, Audrey and the rest is history.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Buddy Guy, BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Jeff Healey, The Commitments, Johnny Cash, Ricky Van Shelton, George Jones, Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, Les Paul, Brad Miller, Johnny Glover, Al Herring, B.C. Dueitt, Joe Dueitt, Johnny Dickens, Lori Dickens, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, George Harrison, John Lennon, John Legend, Bruno Mars, and WAY too many others …

Do you get nervous before a performance?

I get very nervous at new venues. Every time I play a new place I get nervous. Older venues seem like family, so I don’t get quite as nervous. If I’m playing guitar and an awesome musician walks in to my show, like someone I really look up to, then I will get nervous, as well. I don’t want to mess up in front of someone I really admire. I’ve been playing a long time, but I still respect people who can really bring it.

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Take a breath, learn the song, play the song, and know that you are going to mess up from time to time. I had a music teacher tell me one time that it’s not about how bad you mess up, but how well you recover. That has proven to be so true.

How often and for how long do you practice?

I try to practice guitar at least daily. I will also take two to three days a week to try to learn new material and words to a song. My goal is for you never to see the same show twice.

What do you practice – exercises, new tunes, hard tunes, etc.?

I practice all of those things. I work on easy tunes first, then work on a hard tune. I try to learn a new chord every week and then learn a song with that chord in it so that it forces me to use it.

How do you balance your music with other obligations?

It’s very hard to do that. Music is a cruel mistress. There are some things that get neglected, however, I take at least one to two days a week to spend doing whatever the family wants to do. I also try to take them to as many shows as I can.

If someone wanted to book you or your band how could they get in contact with you?

They can check out the website, find me on Facebook, find the Cowboy Blues Band on Facebook, or email us at cowboybluesband@hotmail.

Do you have a website? Our website is www.thecowboybluesband.com

  • Downtown Music Media

Interview by Downtown Music Media

 

Keith and Kathy Thibodeaux – Dancing and Playing in the Spirit

Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, Kathy Thibodeaux spent most of her life training and living in Jackson, MS.

In 1982, Kathy won a silver medal at the II USA International Ballet Competition. For the third contemporary round in that competition, Kathy expressed her faith in a dance to Sandi Patty’s “We Shall Behold Him.” Kathy was one of the first contracted dancers for the Jackson Ballet Company (Ballet Mississippi) and danced with the Company until 1986 when she and her husband Keith formed Ballet Magnificat! Tour Company.

Keith Thibodeaux is the former child entertainer best known as Little Ricky on the “I Love Lucy” television series and Johnny Paul on “The Andy Griffith Show.”


He was a drummer for the rock band David and the Giants, which later became a groundbreaking Christian rock band. Keith left the world of music in 1991 to join Kathy and Ballet Magnificat! and in 1993 became the Executive Director.

About forty years ago, Kathy and Keith met through a mutual friend who was related to a band member of David and the Giants.

“I was dancing with Ballet Mississippi,” said Kathy.

Keith was a musician, so from the outside looking in it didn’t look like a match made in heaven. When talks of marriage began, Keith told Kathy, “You know, let’s just pray about it.  God answers prayer and we’ll just see what He says about us getting married.”

According to Kathy, Keith told her to take the Bible, close her eyes, open up the Bible and point to a scripture. “We’ll just trust in God to give us an answer.”

Keith said a short little prayer and Kathy took a Living Bible and did as Keith said.  Her finger landed in the Book of Ruth where Boaz takes Ruth as his wife.

“That was a pretty clear answer and so we eloped,” said Kathy.

“Everybody thought we would never make it but, thank the Lord, here we are almost forty years later.”

On faith, Keith and Kathy married in October 1976, three months after they met, but how did faith drive them to create Ballet Magnificat!?

“I became a Christian not long after Keith and I were married,” said Kathy. “Ballet Magnificat! is all about faith and the Lord Jesus Christ because we know we wouldn’t be here without Him.”

Kathy was torn about whether or not to continue her dancing career after becoming a Christian because other Christians were telling her to give up dancing, that being Christian and being a dancer didn’t go together.

“But we saw in God’s word where He says to pray in His name with dancing.”

Thankfully, Kathy kept dancing and she and Keith kept praying about what the Lord wanted them to do. Seven years later, they started Ballet Magnificat!. People couldn’t believe she was giving up her career and told her that Ballet Magnificat! would never make it because they’d never find dancers or the support for a Christian Ballet Company.

 

“We really felt that God wanted us to do it so we knew that He would provide and take care of it,” said Kathy. And God has blessed and provided for them.  “We never thought we’d be dancing in Europe or Israel.  We have danced in over 30 countries.”

To Kathy and Keith, dance is important to a child’s physical and mental development.

“Dance is a great discipline and I think dance really helps children mentally. It also gives them poise and presence and helps them to know their bodies and how they move,” said Keith. “Mississippi has a rich cultural arts community. The [Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center] will be an eye opening place for so many to see the artists and gifted people from Mississippi that they have been unaware of.” 

This interview was first published in the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment newsletter and on its website, where you can read more interviews with Mississippi artists.

Find out more about David & the Giants, including their tour dates!

Visit Ballet Magnificat for information on workshops, performances and the latest news

Topher Payne and The Perfect Arrangement

Topher Payne is the author of more than a dozen plays,

including Perfect ArrangementSwell PartyThe Only Light in Reno, and Tokens of Affection. The American Theatre Critics Association awarded him the 2014 Osborn Prize, which recognizes their choice for top emerging playwright in the country. He has been named Atlanta’s Best Playwright by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, The GA Voice, and The Sunday Paper. David Magazine named him Atlanta’s Artist of the Year. He has also won the Metro Atlanta Theatre Award for Best Original Work and Best Play of the Year, the Essential Theatre Playwriting Prize, the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award, and the National Newspaper Association Award for his column, Domestically Disturbed. He has been commissioned twice for original productions at The State Theatre of Georgia, The Springer Opera House, and in 2013 made his New York debut with a production of his play The Medicine Showdown in Manhattan.

A native of Kosciusko, Mississippi, Topher wrote his first play,

Beached Wails, while working as a scene shop intern at Jackson’s New Stage Theatre. His career as a playwright was launched, although he can still build a sturdy platform when called upon to do so. As an actor, Topher has appeared in the national tour of Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas, played David Frost in The Springer Opera House’s production of Frost/Nixon, and gave Melissa McCarthy a makeover in Universal Pictures’ blockbuster hit Identity Thief.

Were you active in drama as a child?

I was active in drama; all I was missing was a stage. Kosciusko didn’t include performing arts as part of their curriculum- I did have some opportunities through the Methodist church, but I didn’t have much of an outlet for those energies. Fortunately, my family had a video camera, and we had a back yard, so I’d write screenplays and force all of my cousins and friends to act them out. Last Christmas, my parents had all the VHS tapes transferred to DVD, so I got to experience those again for the first time in over twenty years. It was a humbling experience.

Do you think drama is important in schools?

Look, we were all teenagers once. That’s when you’re figuring yourself out, you don’t recognize your own body, the world is simultaneously too big and too small- it’s a very self-centered time. The beauty of having drama as an outlet is that it forces a young person to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. It reinforces empathy and compassion, helps them consider perspectives outside their own experience. And they learn to have confidence in their own voices and opinions before we send them out into the world, which I believe is particularly crucial for young women.

How does Topher Payne the actor differ from Topher Payne the playwright?

As a playwright, my job is to craft a road map for others to interpret and follow. As an actor, I’m part of the gang doing the interpretation. But both rise from the same impulse- I’m a storyteller. I believe the right words, said to the right people, at the right time, can change the world.

Has the 2014 Osborn New Play Award affected your life as a playwright?

There are so many undiscovered playwrights doing great work all over the country. It’s an uphill battle just getting your work noticed. So it’s an incredible gift when someone shines a spotlight on you for a little while, and people pay attention. That’s been the big change, I suppose. Right now, I’ve got people’s attention, and I’m just trying to make the most of it.

“I’m a Mississippian. My need to communicate with the world through stories is dug out of the same red dirt which inspired Tennessee Williams, Ida Bell Wells, Eudora Welty, Beth Henley, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Oprah Winfrey…people whose words shaped our culture and our country. The MAEC is so essential, because the people of Mississippi deserve to have a place where that heritage can be celebrated, and where the next generation of voices can go to be inspired.”  This was first published as a Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center interview. Visit the MAEC HERE

OFF-BROADWAY

PERFECT ARRANGEMENT

(in association with MARS Theatricals)

New York Premiere by TOPHER PAYNE

Directed by MICHAEL BARAKIVA September – November, 2015

In Topher Payne’s biting comedy, Perfect Arrangement, it’s the 1950s and the age of the Red Scare. The Martindales and the Baxters have manufactured a life as peppy as a sitcom, right down to the corny jokes and occasional product placement… but when a co-worker at the US State Department discovers their deepest secret, the worlds of “I Love Lucy” and Edward R. Murrow clash in hilarious, ironic, and genuinely moving ways. Read more HERE!

 

 

The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest – Building Community and Economic Development

To learn about the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest, you must first learn about The Montgomery Institute (TMI).

With a mission to “upbuild the people and places of the East Mississippi and West Alabama region guided by the leadership legacy of G. V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery” TMI undertakes initiatives in leadership development, rural place building, educational enhancement, workforce development, research and information dissemination, regional cooperation, and innovation. Working with partners to engage citizens, identify place building champions, and create regional networks of place builders, TMI seeks out resources and opportunities for innovation that will help partners do better, for the benefit of the people and places in West Alabama and East Mississippi.  Twice, in 2003 and 2010, the 13-state Southern Growth Policies Board presented TMI its “Innovator Award” in recognition of its innovative approaches to region and place building. The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest was born out of one of these initiatives, namely the West Alabama East Mississippi (WAEM) Mayors Network.  http://tmi.ms/

The seed of the Fest was planted during a WAEM luncheon facilitated by TMI.

The inaugural 2013 Hwy Songwriters Fest began as two “Musical Appetizers,” one in Demopolis, Alabama on July 6 and one in Meridian, Mississippi on September 17. The Demopolis event hosted 19 songwriters from Alabama and Mississippi in three rounds on the Demopolis courthouse lawn. The Meridian event hosted 13 songwriters in Dumont Plaza in downtown Meridian. All but one were from outside Lauderdale County. From the first fest in 2013, the goals and outcomes were to expand the songwriter’s platform and territory, provide education in the songwriting craft for songwriters of all ages and levels of expertise, to build and support the creative economy in West Alabama and East Mississippi, and to ignite the public’s understanding and appreciation for songwriters and their craft. Songwriter rounds in Mississippi/Alabama venues, the Grand Finale, the professional songwriting workshop and songwriting in the schools accomplished these goals. In fact, several Mississippi songwriters were invited to perform in other Alabama venues and Alabama artists were invited to play in Mississippi venues.

With the 2014 Fest, the committee moved into the expansion and progression phase, adding the educational component with songwriters going into Poplar Springs School and Northeast Elementary School in Meridian to work the students on the craft of songwriting and writing their own song. The activities helped students improve reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking skills. Also offered was a two-hour songwriting workshop at Rhythm & Brews, Downtown Meridian on October 25 from 2 – 4 p.m. Facilitated by Marty Gamblin, Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center and the world-renown Ralph Murphy, Vice President of ASCAP and author of Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting. James Walton “Walt” Aldridge, Jr., an American musician, singer, songwriter, engineer and record producer, also helped facilitate the workshop. He has written dozens of hit country songs including the Number One hits “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” by Ronnie Milsap (1981), “Holding Her and Loving You” by Earl Thomas Conley (1982), “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” by Travis Tritt (2000), and “I Loved Her First” (2006) – recorded by Heartland. He is listed as a “Music Achiever” by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which is a precursor to future induction, and has been awarded a star on their Walk of Fame. Also involved in the workshop was Bob Regan, a Grammy and Dove Award nominated songwriter based in Nashville Tennessee, participated in the workshop round with Ralph and Walt.  Bob has had over 200 songs recorded by such contemporary artists as Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Jake Owen and Rodney Atkins as well as legendary artists ranging from Don Williams to Hank Williams Jr. to Andy Williams, from Kenny Rogers to cowboy legend Roy Rogers. In 2009, Bob’s song “Dig Two Graves”, by Randy Travis, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Song. 2, 3, 4. This extensive workshop covered how to write songs and the business of songwriting.

The 2014 fest rounds began in Demopolis on the courthouse lawn.

In Meridian, three venues, Faces Lounge, The Brickhaus Bar & Grill and Weidmann’s Restaurant became the stages for the 19 songwriters Friday and Saturday night. The 2014 Hwy Fest Meridian rounds included Dexter Allen toured with Bobby Rush for 3 years as lead guitarist, was inducted into the Mississippi Artist Roster and devotes time conducting Blues in School workshops sponsored by The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in area schools throughout Mississippi. Cary Hudson made Gibson guitar’s “Top 10 Alt Country Guitarists” list in 2008. Steve Deaton recorded and performed with Buffalo Nickel and has shared the stage with the likes of Wilco, Maroon 5, Junior Brown, and Leon Russell. Scott Albert Johnson, accompanied by Chalmers Davis, was one of the “Hot 100” Harmonica Players worldwide by The Harmonica Company (U.K.); He also received a 2013-2014 Performing Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Bob Ray, an award winning singer-songwriter from the hills of north Mississippi, has twice been named a Kerrville Folk Festival – New Folk Songwriting Finalist. He has been a finalist in both the Ozark Folk Festival Songwriters Festival and the Gum Tree Song Festival. Christina Christian, an indie/country artist and songwriter from Foley, Ala., picked up the guitar at 12 years old, and began writing her own music at 16. Taylor Craven began writing songs as a hobby and soon was performing in songwriting festivals across the south, including the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival and winning contests, including recently both a 3rd place and honorable mention award in American Songwriters Magazine. He was selected to play in the first ever Gulf Coast Songwriters Shootout in 2014. He’s a 2014 top ten contestant in the Texas Troubadour Songwriter Classic, judged and selected by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Taylor is also a co-founder and current member of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Songwriters Festival, which was established in 2010. Sydney Beaumont began writing and producing her own music early in 2009 and formed Sydney Beaumont Band as a vehicle to showcase songs and also with goal to license and sell music. Sydney performed for Nashville “Play for Publishers” workshop and with other writers at Richards Café and also performed at the famous Bluebird Café. Alphonso Sanders is the Chair of Fine Arts and Director of the BB King Recording Studio at Mississippi Valley State University.  He has performed with such artist as Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, Mulgrew Miller, Rhonda Richmond, Cassandra Wilson, Paula West, Debra Brown, Bobby Rush, David Lee Durham, The Four Tops, and David “Honey Boy” Edwards among others. He is recipient of the 2010 MAC Folk Arts Fellowship; the 2011 Mississippi Humanities Award and is published in Big City Rhythm & Blues magazine 2011 (UK); the book “Musicians Up and the Delta”; and “Down in the Woods” a documentary of the legendary bluesman Willie King.  He is also an award winner in the 2009 and 2010 International Blues Challenge and was selected by the Delta Blues Society as the 2013 Blues Musician of the Year. These are the caliber of songwriters you discover at the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest!

The 2015 Fest, after careful evaluation of the past two years changed its date to coincide with the Demopolis venue,

which connects to its annual Freedom on the River July 4th weekend. However, before the rounds began, on June 22, songwriters worked students at The Meridian Freedom Project in Meridian. In October, they will conduct songwriting workshops with the 4th and 5th grades in October 2015 at Poplar Springs School.

The Mississippi rounds began with a new round at Hal & Mal’s (see round list below) in Jackson on Wednesday July 8 and in Newton on July 11 (see round list below. The night of July 16 local songwriter rounds were held at News and Squealers Restaurants (see round list below) in North Meridian. On July 17, rounds with Mississippi/Alabama songwriters from outside of Lauderdale County returned to Weidmann’s and Brickhaus Bar and Grill (see round list below).

Saturday, July 18, the songwriting workshop facilitated by Alphonso Sanders and Marty Gamblin was at Meridian’s historic Soule Steam Feed Works Museum.  Open Mic started at 5:00 p.m. and welcomed all ages, all levels and all genres to stage.  Alphonso backed up every songwriter with either Sax, trumpet, flute or harmonica. The Grand Finale of professional songwriters started at 7:30 and included Scott Albert John and Tony Sant’Angelo, Ron Etheridge, Thomas Jackson, K. D. Brosia and Alphonso Sanders. The caliber of the 2015 songwriters remained as high as the 2014 Songwriters with some of the same songwriters returning this year.  All rounds will bring more business into popular community venues. The Grand Finale location in Meridian showcased the beautiful historic buildings of Soule and most songwriters plan to return for the Soule Steamfest in November.

The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest gathered communities, cultures, social groups and all ages together in one setting where music spoke a universal language and stories touched the deepest place within us all. The Fest was made possible through the generous contributions of these sponsors and grantees:

The Mississippi Arts Commission

Visit Meridian

The Mississippi Writers Guild

The Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center

Mitchell Distributing

Meridian Main Street

MEDIA SPONSORS:

WTOK TV, The CW, My-TOK2, Bounce TV, Cozi TV

The Radio People, The Meridian Family of Stations, New South Radio, SuperTalk Mississippi, 106.9 the Eagle, WMOX 1010

The Meridian Star, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Premier Outdoor Advertising

 

The 2015 Rounds

Demopolis, AL Courthouse lawn, July 3

Derek Norsworthy

Cristina Christian

Alan Hartzel

Britt Gully

Mel Knapp

Shawn Pfaffman

Melissa Joiner

Megan McMillan

Steve Wilkerson

July 8 Hal & Mal’s, Jackson, MS

David Vincent/Richelle Putnam

The Stonewalls

Zac Clarke

July 11  Newton, MS Church Street Market

Jacky Jack White

John Marshall/Terry Cherry

Chuck Luke

Local Songwriters – Meridian – July 16

SQUEALER’S

A’keela Hudnall

Earl Aycock, Jr.

Red Bird

Chad Fuller

NEWS RESTAURANT

Richelle Putnam

Terry Cherry

John Paul Dove

Josh Burton

July 17 Weidmann’s, Meridian, MS

Robert Daniels

Stephen Lee Veal

Bob Ray

Brickhaus, Meridian, MS

Sydney Beaumont

Michael Hughes

Taylor Craven

SATURDAY WORKSHOP – 2 – 4 p.m.

Soule Steamworks, Meridian, MS

Master of Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Saturday Ceremonies – MAEC Executive Marty Gamblin

Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Workshop Facilitator – Dr. Alphonso Sanders, Chair of Fine Arts and Director of the BB King Recording Studio at Mississippi Valley State University.

Open Mic:

4:30 – 6:30 p.m. (All songwriter/musicians, all ages, all levels welcome  to participate. Sign-up, play two songs, sign-up and play again, if time permits!

SATURDAY NIGHT ROUND July 18

Soule Steamworks, Meridian, MS

Scott Albert Johnson

Thomas Jackson

Ron Etheredge

K. D. Brosia

GRAND FINALE

Alphonso Sanders

 

They

First published in Brick Street Press “Mississippi’s Got Talent” Winners Circle Anthology, Second Place Winner

HE

The gun felt as light as a dust mote in Sam Branton’s hand. He had held it to his head, in his mouth, and against his heart, wondering what it would feel like to die. The room he sat in spoke nothing of why he was there. It was the same study he had worked in for years, the same study she had come into every night, delivering his icy cold Coors in one hand, holding her glass of Merlot in the other. Directly across from him was the same chair where she sat, legs curled beneath her. She had loved watching him finish his last bit of work in this room she had decorated in dark leather, iron and glass.  Original canvas art hanging on the cream-colored walls allowed the only true splashes of color into the room. She had known him so well—plain, a bit old-fashioned, conservative inside out—and yet she always found the splashes of color in him. She loved him with a fierceness to the very end.  Her quiet, serene love brought peace into his chaotic world of constructing buildings of steel, stone and glass where roaring, pounding machinery and shouting crewmen devoured the air.

Now, this quiet room only provided the space and privacy he needed to do—ask the same question he’d asked ever since she drew her last breath. Why her?  Why not the scum crouched behind a bush waiting to steal some old lady’s purse? Why not the crackhead who killed his own mother over ten dollars. Why? Why?

Now this space was too quiet, and his temples throbbed. Until Sara’s death, he had not realized how many sounds she had made: her classic music traveling and settling in each room, pots and pans clinking in the kitchen, her steam iron spewing, broom swishing, drawers opening and closing, her furry slippers shuffling across the floor, even the slightest movement in her chair across from him. Never had he noticed the sounds of her love until they were gone.

Still, it was her bath water not running at precisely eight o’clock every night that drove him mad, the absence of her humming and the warm water trickling over her bare skin. Her voice scented their home like a lover’s serenade and he longed to hear it again. He needed to hear it again.

How could her heart have stopped? Stopped. As if it clocked out because the job was finished. His moans alarmed him and he aimed the gun again, firing all six shots.

The holes in the ceiling gaped at him and he ignored the sheetrock spilling down like sand. At least sound penetrated his existence again. But silence quickly returned. It always did.

SHE

The stranger approached Regina at Macy’s east entrance, introducing himself as Sam Branton. His face was strained, but something in his tired hazel eyes prompted her curiosity and she listened to the story stumbling from his mouth. Sam Branton. The name was familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

“How did you know I’d be here?” she asked.

“Frank Baylor. A mutual friend, I believe.”

Frank? Why would Frank risk his reputation as a supposedly happily married man, pillar of the community and church to help this man?

And why did this Sam Branton want to be in her elite circle of men? The question got the best of her and she didn’t like that feeling because in her business she had to maintain control at all times.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” he said. His eyes belonged to a child begging for a too expensive gift at Christmas.

But she didn’t need this man’s money. She had invested well, thanks to Frank, making sure that when her looks finally gave out, her money would not.

“I take it we share the same investor,” she said.

“That—and more.”

What could that mean? She questioned his mental stability, but wondered more about his motive.

She said, “I’ll meet you at The Bay Restaurant at six o’clock tonight, but I’m not promising anything.”

“I am,” he said before walking away.

HE

The face in the mirror startled him. He rubbed his clean-shaven chin and wondered when he had gotten so old and stern looking? His hair was almost completely gray now and three ruts remained between his brows even when he tried to relax. He had lost weight, but at least the long hurried late-night walks had kept him fit. What did it matter anyway? Women like Regina looked at the wallet, not the face.

How had he arrived at this sick point? Hiring a prostitute, of all things. Lying on the bed he pressed his face into Sara’s pillowcase that hadn’t been washed going on—no, it couldn’t be a year. Not yet. Her scent barely lived anymore within the fibers, but what remained was enough and he breathed it in as if it contained all the oxygen he needed.

SHE

Okay, so Sam Branton is rich. Sinfully rich.

At her table in The Bay Restaurant, Regina sipped lemon water and refused to glance at her watch again, wishing that she hadn’t agreed to do this. She had her quota of four well-to-do men, four pillars holding up her world. She paid her taxes, had been honest with the IRS, except the part about being a business consultant, thanks to William, her accountant, and one of the select few. She didn’t need anyone else. Actually, she didn’t need anyone.

Sam Branton followed the maître d’ to the table. Regina sipped again, patted her lips with the linen napkin, and returned it to her lap.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, pulling out a chair. “Thank you, Wilson.”

The maître d’ bowed. “Very good, sir. Shall I bring the wine list?”

Sam nodded before looking at Regina. “I thought you might back out.”

“I’m not the backing out type.” She smiled to prove her confidence.

Wilson delivered the wine list and waited to take their orders.

“May I order wine?” Sam asked.

He was too mannerly, no telltale signs of domination that money often wrought. She forced her usual smile that was now like a late night rerun.

“Just water for me, please, with lemon.” She decided it was either madness or pain that emanated from his eyes, but was she willing to find out which one?

 HE

That first moment he saw Regina sipping water at the table, he had ached to embrace her. “Sara,” he wanted to whisper. Then he had the impulse to flee. But to where? Back home to tear through the hiking trail, the way he usually did, until he spent his energy. No. He was going to do what he set out to do. He always finished what he started, and, by God, he’d finish this—if she allowed him to.

She said, “What did you have in mind?”

Her face was Sara’s, but not her voice, being deep and much too smooth, controlled to the point of iciness. But when she smiled, a knot swelled in his throat. The teeth were straighter, whiter, maybe a tad larger, but it was Sara’s smile.

“Weekends,” he said.

“I’m booked on weekends.”

“Okay.” He’d said it too fast, but he didn’t care. “Sunday through Wednesday.”

“But…”

“$5,000.00 a week.”

“What?” When her voice rose, she sounded more like Sara.

He cleared his throat. “$5,000.00.”

He sounded like a desperate madman, but he didn’t care. He’d spend six, seven thousand to see Sara’s smile again.

“For how long?” she asked.

Her eyes weren’t enthusiastic like Sara’s. In fact, they looked more like his had earlier that day in the mirror, determined to survive, but so close to giving up.

“Not long,” he said.

 SHE

He had told her not to pack, that he would buy what she needed, but she packed anyway, her way of saying, “I am in control.” She refused the car he offered to send for her, another way of controlling. So why did she feel out of control?

Sam Branton wasn’t crazy or at least hadn’t been until his wife’s death, according to the information she had gathered. He was a successful real estate developer, a multi-millionaire who had built condos along the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast at the ideal time. Now, he constructed casinos along the Gulf coast. Word had it that he no longer went to his Chattanooga office, but worked from crew to crew, like he was really trying to work himself to death.

For a second, sympathy tugged at Regina, but every man had something to grieve: a demanding wife, a daughter dating the wrong boy, a lazy son who’d never amount to anything, or a demanding business that probably caused the other problems.

As Regina packed, her thoughts swarmed inside. She hoped Sam Branton’s house had lots of windows and bright colorful walls like her condo. She needed light. No blinds and heavy drapery for her. Never again.

His home in the Chattanooga Mountains was no disappointment. She had expected monstrous and luxurious, and discovered comfortable and chic. He glanced at her bag and she clenched the handle as she followed him.

“Here’s your room,” he said, flipping on the light.

“My room?”

The large, square room housed a king-sized sleigh bed, two iron bedside tables, antique dresser, and armoire that served as an entertainment center. The walls were cheery yellow, the floors glossy oak. Outside the picture window an enormous oak danced and mountains scraped the intensely blue sky. Somehow she knew that was what Sam Branton wanted to do, reach up and retrieve what was rightfully his.

That night, on a barstool in the kitchen, sipping a glass of lemon water, she asked the question, “Exactly what do you want?”

His heels clicked across the Italian tile to the cabinet over the sink where he retrieved a glass, wiped out the inside, stuck it under the spigot, filled it with water, and drank. With each swallow, his Adam’s apple jumped. What else he was trying to swallow? He set the glass on the countertop, picked up a dishtowel, and wiped his mouth. The overhead light reflected in his eyes.

He said, “I want you to make sound.”

 HE

She had handled him better than he thought she would. Somewhere, she’d learned to be a fighter, but that was not his concern.

She had asked, “What kind of sound?”

And he named them, “Music, sweeping, cooking, singing, you know, sound.”

“You want me to clean and cook?”

“I want you to make sound.” He didn’t mean for his voice to crack and become hard.

“I see.” She drank her water down.

“And,” he added. “At eight sharp every night, I want you to start your bathwater, fill it with bubbles, light the candles, and relax to music.”

Regina’s brow lifted into a quizzical arch and he trembled. Sara had also done that when amused or skeptical.

“And you’ll be joining me?”

He grabbed his same glass, filled it again, but didn’t drink.

“I will enter the room, ask how your day was. You’ll tell me.” Again, he swallowed that relentless lump. “Then, I will leave you to your bath.”

 SHE

And that’s what he did.

Candlelight flickered around her, forming a lighted walkway inside the mirrors around the tub. He sat on the edge and his shadow shuddered on the wall without mirrors.

“How was your day?” he asked.

It sounded so normal, like a husband might say to his wife after a long day. But what did she know about normal? About marriage. About husbands and wives. Relationships. She closed her eyes. “Strange,” she said. “And yours?”

His silence made her wonder if she had angered him, but she didn’t open her eyes. Through the speakers, an old Sinatra song played, “When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…”

She forgot about Sam Branton and hummed to the music. The sponge swelled with warm water and she squeezed it over her face, water trickling off her skin. When she opened her eyes, he was gone.

That night, in bed she thought about how Sam had walked away from her nakedness. The ceiling fan twirled above, cooling the night air. Maybe he didn’t want to snuff out loneliness the way other men did. This frightened her, because if he didn’t want her physically, how could she control him?

Regina remembered her mother, how she had no control, scurrying about trying to catch up on unfinished tasks only to stop before she finished. Beds were never made. Dirty dishes stacked up. Cobwebs gathered along with every promise she’d made to Regina.

“We’ll go to the movies tomorrow, just you and me, okay, Reg?”

They never did.

No, there was that one time they went to see, oh, what was the name of that movie? Her mother had gone to get popcorn and in the lobby had run into Luther, a previous boyfriend. She left with him, returning in a drunken stupor hours after the movie was over.

“Don’t be mad,” her mother had begged.

As much as Regina had wanted to hate her mother, she couldn’t. Her mother tried to squeeze love out of men like juice from citrus. But they were as dry and bitter as persimmons.

The shades in their small house were always drawn. Burned out bulbs were never replaced. Dark. Gloomy. Like their lives. Late at night, her mother’s weeping would burst into Regina’s room. Or it might be the screaming and cussing before the latest man left her mother. Or the raw groaning sex that sounded like two dogs stuck together.

One night, silence woke Regina and she knew her mother was gone. That silence gave a sixteen-year-old girl the determination to use before being used, to control before being controlled. Unlike this strange man who craved sound to make life bearable, Regina yearned for silence that might one day turn into peace.

 HE

His silence remained until Regina returned on Sunday afternoon. He was amazed at her ability to simply—be. Though her boldness was so unlike Sara, he realized without that boldness this arrangement would not be happening.

He listened. Pots and pans clanged. Water boiled on the stove. Regina shuffled from one area to another. He wanted to watch her, but settled on closing his eyes, imagining Sara preparing garlic roast and twice-baked potatoes, cheddar bubbling on top.

“I brought you a Coors.”

His eyes popped open to see a bottle wrapped in a paper towel, icy mist floating out the top.

“Thank you,” he said.

The bottle cooled his trembling hand, and, as he drank, bits of ice floated down his throat.

From the kitchen, she yelled, “I’m trying this new recipe I saw in Woman’s Day. It looks divine. A red sauce with Italian sausage served over linguini. Do you like Italian? I didn’t think to ask.”

Food was not something that mattered to him anymore, but he answered, “Sounds great.” He listened to the sausage sizzle. The mixture of garlic and tomatoes pervaded him. Andrea Bocelli’s Come Un Fiume Tu played through the sound system.

At the dinner table, Regina talked while he listened.

“There was a pile up on 127 today.”

“Really?” he asked. Her ease fascinated him. It was as if everything that interested her must interest him as well.

“Three were killed; five are in the hospital. Seven cars were involved. Can you believe that? Seven.”

“That’s too bad.”

She nodded and bit into her garlic bread, chewed, washing it down with lemon water. “Life can be snuffed out just like that.” She snapped her fingers.

His heart jerked and he rose abruptly. “I enjoyed it,” he said. Ignoring her confused look, he retired to the guest room that had never been used until his wife’s death.

At first, he had planned on Regina using the front bedroom, but when she arrived the first day carrying that bag, her chin held high like Sara’s, every bit of logic flew out the window. So he gave her the master bedroom, the bed where he and Sara had held each other every night.

At eight o’clock, the sound of running water called him. At five after eight, he sat on the tub.

“How was your day,” he asked.

She laid back, closed her eyes. “Peculiar. But not too terribly so.”

Bubbles snuggled around her neck. In the background, Canto Della Terra played. She must really like Bocelli. Sam lingered until he was sure her hums carried across the hall to him. Then, he stretched out on his bed to listen.

SHE

Around two a.m., she switched on the lamp, rose, walked over to the dresser, and opened the top left drawer. Inside were white bras and cotton panties intended for small breasts and hips, much in contrast to Regina’s fuller breasts and round derriere. The drawer squeaked as she closed it. She opened another drawer, finding soft cotton gowns. She pulled one out and held it against her. Regina didn’t wear cotton, choosing instead enticing silk lingerie.

In the mirror, she saw Sam in the doorway, watching. She looked away, embarrassed to be holding his dead wife’s cotton gown against her. When she looked again, he was gone.

HE

Weeks quickly passed. Too quickly. They had shared a total of 36 days. Regina had arrived on Sunday as usual. In the kitchen, she rambled on about the deal she’d gotten on sirloin, griped about the squishy oranges, and boasted about the sandals she’d gotten on sale at Macy’s. Sam pulled a pot from the hanging rack, seeing the ingredients to their now favorite dish, linguini smothered in Italian red sauce. Regina shuffled from the counter to the refrigerator and back, adding important news, knowing where to find every pan, spice, and dish.

“How did the grand opening of Her Majesty’s Casino go?”

“Larger than anticipated,” he answered.

“That’s wonderful.” She stirred the browning sausage and onion. Spicy aromas saturated the kitchen. “Did you win much?”

“Let’s just say I didn’t lose.”

She emptied the grease into a container. “That’s all that matters.”

For the past weeks, Sam Branton had gone to the office every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, accepted phone calls, and answered mail. He had even used his sudden re-emergence like a mischievous boy, enjoying it, stirring it up. For the office, he bought new computers and installed a stereo system. He was sure everyone wondered if he was into opera now because Bocelli boomed from the speakers. Today, he’d even given the staff a day off.

When had the change taken place? Was it when Regina’s steps relaxed into a stroll? Or when she giggled when she spoke, her controlled voice finally giving in? Or had it been when she had jogged with him through the mountainside, not bothering with makeup, dressed in sweats, her hair in a ponytail? Afterwards, they had stretched out in lawn chairs on the patio to read, him a Michael Crichton book, hers a Jane Hamilton. She flicked her nails as she read, the pages sounding crisp as they turned.

“I love the quiet,” she said, pouring a drink from the pitcher on the table between them.

“I love the sounds that the quiet makes.” His eyes never left his book as he spoke.

Now when she smiled, her eyes seemed to respond, and he felt sure it was the first time in many years. Every time he thought of that abandoned teenage girl she once was, he hurt for her.

The prior days had brought nights of remembrances, confessions really, short and slow at first, but then becoming detailed, drawn out, as if with each one, their confessions grew with their trust. He finally shared his motives for hiring her, how he had seen her at Frank Baylor’s reception celebrating his newly built office that Sam’s crew constructed. He had watched her, studied the way she mingled with others and yet comfortably stayed to herself. He had wanted to introduce himself that night, but he couldn’t get up the nerve.  So, he contacted Frank, “and the rest is history,” he told her.

She told him about never knowing who her daddy was, and quitting school at the age of sixteen after her mother had left her.

“I got tired of broken down cars, rundown apartments, and sorry men,” she said. “Seemed like every girl I knew had been left to take care of three or four kids, while their men started over with new women. Some of my friends clung to sorry men like my mama did, not caring if the men beat them as long as they stayed.” She paused, like the past held her down like a heavy boot. “I know what I chose was wrong, but at the time, it felt, not so much right, but better.”

He had felt the rousing then, but the change hadn’t come until his question, “How was your day?”

She had gazed at him and touched his hand. “Absolutely wonderful.” Then, she lay back and closed her eyes.

That night, he walked through air that was thick and humid from gathering clouds. Hours later, he wiped tears and rain from his face, feeling drained but cleansed, as if life could carry on now.

In the dark, he pondered these things. He had promised Regina it wouldn’t be for long.

It was time to let her go.

 SHE

Darkness enfolded her, but she wasn’t afraid. Earlier, he had chuckled at something she said, his eyes lighting up as if someone had lit a match. What was it she’d said? Oh, yes. She’d told him about the little girl in the grocery store who, every time her mother looked away, pulled an item off the shelf, and threw it into the buggy. The mother didn’t notice until she was checking out. Sam’s laughter had thrilled her as no touch had ever done.

Sara’s picture had shocked her at first. Except for Sara’s dishwater blonde hair, and Regina being taller and meatier, they could’ve been twins. Sam confessed that this had been his motive for hiring Regina. But was how she’d dealt with her pain any different from how Sam dealt with his? Any better? Any more sane?

In the pictures of Sara and Sam, Regina saw an equal love, each giving the other so much that neither had to steal from the other. She admired their determination to stay together through difficulties: the bankruptcy in the first few years, the slow climb back to success, their inability to have children, and Sara’s fragile heart. He couldn’t embrace anyone else because he still clung to Sara and his devotion couldn’t be swayed.

Devotion.

It really did exist.

Regina hadn’t planned to stop seeing the others. It just happened. And each good-bye was a stone removed from the doorway she had to step through to be free.

Sam had never kissed her, only grazed her hand, or brushed past her. His simple question, “How was your day?” had touched her where no other man could.

 HE

She entered the kitchen, carrying the same bag she’d brought that first day. But this time, she was leaving for good. The lump had returned to his throat and he had swallowed it all day.

“I’m flying to England. Lancashire,” she added. “I’ve always wanted to walk across Duddon Valley in autumn. The heather moors and birch trees should be glorious this time of year.”

As she spoke, he pulled out a glass, wiped the inside with a dishtowel, and filled it with ice and water. He squeezed in a lemon, and handed it to her.

“I’m most looking forward to Birk’s Bridge near Seathwaite,” she said.

He had known she wouldn’t stop talking when he handed her the water. He also knew she’d say, “Thank you,” before she sipped, while shifting her weight to her left foot.

Silence came. They stared at each other.

“I’ll be leaving tomorrow as well,” he said. “First stop, Taiwan, then on to Tokyo. New venture in architecture software.”

“You’ll do very well, I’m sure.”

At the same time she said, “I guess…” he said, “I’ll….”

They paused.

He came closer, wiped away her tears with his thumb. “Where will you be staying?” he asked.

“I don’t think that’s wise, Sam.”

He nodded. Then, he kissed her cheek, even though he wanted so badly to taste her lips. But it wasn’t time.

Not yet.

SHE

His lips were soft on her skin, his breaths dependable, like the rustling newspaper in his hands every afternoon, the flick of the remote every night, the cough clearing his scratchy throat, and the yawn when he was tired. Sound—constant, dependable. That’s what he had longed for. Now, she wondered if she could return to silence.

She took one last look at the kitchen, the stove he and she had cooked on, the dishwasher he and she always loaded together, the refrigerator she opened to get his beer and where he had gotten ice for her glass.

She. He.

They.

She had arrived to change his life and he ended up changing hers. She thought of sweet Sara, knowing they would meet one day. Sara would thank Regina for saving her husband, and Regina would thank Sara for sharing him.

“I better go,” she said.

“Regina?”

The doorknob felt icy cold, but she didn’t let go. “Yes?”

“Next time, it will be you I come for. Not Sara.”

Regina stood in the open doorway knowing she could believe him. It felt good to trust someone. He would find her—in time. But first, they both had to find themselves.

She smiled and said, “Until then.” And she left the door open behind her.

By Richelle Putnam

 

Feature photo courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Danilo Rizzuti

Murder in the Myrtles (PG)

Crape myrtles lining Grant and Terri Coleman’s driveway seemed to wilt in sorrow.

Their dog Buster, soaked with blood, chased the coroner’s van down the dark wet street carrying his masters’ bullet riddled bodies past terrified neighbors, dressed in house robes and slippers. This was not supposed to happen in the Garden District of New Orleans where tourists walk the streets and take photographs of antebellum mansions and browse quaint little art galleries.

Homicide commander Captain Jack Fontenot, of the New Orleans Police Department, (NOPD) stared into the void of the Crescent City fog. He said nothing, and then gazed at his subordinate officers as if he were trying to wake up from a very bad nightmare. His greenish pale face, and glazed eyes baffled his fellow cops. They had never seen their captain rattled or emotional at a crime scene.

A few feet from where the bodies were found, (NOPD) Sgt. Marti Lance called to her boss, “Captain Fontenot…Captain Fontenot are you okay?”

“I’m fine, just been in this business too damn long,” he said running his hands through his thinning hair.

“Looks like Grant and Terri Coleman returned from the bar association awards around eleven o’clock and walked in on their killer. From the way the bodies were lying, I would suggest he was hit first. It looks like Grant threw himself between his wife and the shooter. Crime lab officer Phillip Landrieu said. “Double-O buckshot. No sign of robbery. White powder in her purse appears to be cocaine. Blood spattered their flesh and blood and brain matter on the wall. Worse damn mess I ever saw.”

“Can’t imagine Terry Coleman being so dumb as to have cocaine. Send me your lab report ASAP, Phillip,” Fontenot said. “And tell Kip Houser, he’s free to go, but not to leave town.”

Fighting back anger and tears, Lance said, “They were both dead they before they hit the floor.”

“We have to get to Leo Coleman before the reporters do. How did they get here so fast? Damn police scanners, ought to be against the law!” Fontenot said.

Fontenot and Lance worked their way through the crowd of onlookers and reporters, and then sped away with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, clearing the way for veteran homicide detective Jack Fontenot’s most dreaded mission of his twenty-seven year career.

+++

They say Leo Coleman was two men in one, wrapped in a three hundred and sixty pound package;

to his opponents on the football field, a bone crushing nightmare, but to his family and friends, a gentle giant. But standing among the tombstones and crypts at his son’s and daughter-in-law’s burial, Leo found himself fighting with himself, with the Lord, and with Satan to keep his giant heart from turning to stone, and his blood from turning to ice-water.

Leo cradled his six-year old granddaughter in the bend of his massive arm while Kip’s umbrella sheltered her from the cold rain. Leo wiped the tears from her eyes, and said, “Go with Grandma. Grandpa has something to do.”

“I’m scared Grandpa. You will come back won’t you? My mommy and daddy never came back from the banquet.”

Leo kissed his granddaughter. “Nothing can keep Grandpa from you sweetie. I’ll be home in time for dinner. Promise.” He told his wife, “I have to go to the airport. Kip will drive you and Little Robin home. The priest will be with you too.”

“But Leo why can’t you—?”

“Do as I say. I’ll be along soon,” Leo snapped.

When Leo spotted Yancey Turner at the Delta Terminal at New Orleans International Airport, he said, “Yancey, it’s been too long.”

The two old friends embraced. Leo’s hubcap-sized hands dwarfed those of his old quarterback teammate. Their handshake was long, but their small talk was short. Yancey Turner was ready to take care of the business he came to New Orleans to do.

Leo tossed his keys to Yancey and said, “you drive. I hate to drive in the rain.”

“Don’t like to drive in rain? I remember the way you drove at Ole Miss, the same way you played football. Full speed ahead, rain or shine.” Yancey said.

“You can stay with Louise and me, and you can use my car.”

“No. I have reservations at the Holiday Inn in Slidell. Best we keep our distance, but I’ll take you up on the car. I bought four Trac-Phones. Those are all we’ll be using. If you and Louise have smart phones keep them turned off. Same goes for Little Robin if she has one.” Yancey said.

“Tell me, how is it being a big city Washington D.C. private eye?”

“Not as glamorous as you might think. Nothing like the TV dicks, all work and no play.”

“Sounds like professional football,” Leo shot back.

Leo laughed for the first time in four days as they reminisced about their college days,

but his demeanor changed with his next breath. Tears cascaded from the eyes of a man who was big enough and powerful enough to squeeze the life out of any man. His hands trembled as he wiped his swollen eyes. His voice weak, his words slow but deliberate, he said, “You know why I called you, so let’s get to the point. I don’t care what it takes, or what it costs. I want you to bring me the head of the son-of-bitch who killed my son and his wife. Money is no object?”

Before turning onto Airline Highway toward Kenner, Yancey stopped Leo’s Lexus and said, “Let me get to my point too, Leo. Your money’s no good with me. I’m a private investigator, not some gun slinging bounty hunter. If you want their murderer brought to justice, I’ll find him, and I’ll turn him and the case over to the proper authorities, but if you want him assassinated, I’ll turn around and catch the first plane back to Washington.”

Leo’s voice became louder to be heard over the rain pounding on the roof of the car. “You think I’m some kinda dumbass? You know me well enough to know that nothing would make me any happier than killing the bastard with my bare hands, but I have a granddaughter to raise.”

“What does your gut tell you about the murders? Was it because your son married a white woman?” Yancey asked.

“I don’t think so. Interracial marriages are no big deal here in New Orleans.”

“The FBI says Grant knew too much and the New Orleans Police did it. Maybe a drug deal—hell I don’t know. But do I know neither Grant nor Terry was involved in dope? Hell they donated a million dollars to the rehab center last year.”

Yancey looked in his rear-view mirror, and spotted a plain-jane Ford Crown Vic on his bumper and asked Leo, “what do the NOPD detectives drive?

“The one I talked to drove a Chevy Tahoe,” Leo answered.

“Do you know of any reason anybody might want your son and his wife dead?” Yancey asked.

“All I know is what the FBI told me. They said they still don’t know who the killer was. I’m sending Louise and Little Robin to stay with my brother in Atlanta. They’ll be safe there”

“Good move, you need to go too.”

“No way, I’m not leaving ’til the killer is caught.”

“Very well Leo, but my first stop will be the NOPD in the morning, and you’re not coming with me.  But first I’m raiding your liquor cabinet.”

+++

In the homicide bureau of the New Orleans Police Department, Jack Fontenot and his team reconstructed the crime for what seemed like the umpteenth time. Each time, Kip Houser was the only person they could put at the scene.

“Captain Fontenot, the Times Picayune is on the phone,” Marti Lance said.

Fontenot gritted his teeth and said, “Tell them I’ll call them back. If those damn reporters don’t get out of my face, I might be facing a murder charge. They want a suspect, but we’re not giving them one till we know for sure who it was. Not one word about Houser outside this office,” Fontenot ordered.

“We have company, Captain,” Marti Lance said.

Raised eyebrows and suspicion greeted Yancey Turner as he strolled his six foot three inch frame into the precinct office, “My name is Yancey Turner,” he told the uniformed female at the desk.

Jack Fontenot, interrupted, “I know who you are, Mr. Turner. You’re the former Ole Miss All American quarter back, turned Secret Service agent, turned private investigator,” the detective said.

“Then you know why I’m here.”

The detective instructed the desk officer to make any and all public records available to Turner. Turning away from Turner, he made it obvious he had nothing else to say to Yancey.

“Got minute,” Yancey asked the homicide detective.

Jack Fontenot focused on the file folder in his hand, and said, “Mr. Turner, I’ve had maybe four hours sleep in as many days, and I still have a murderer to catch, and you can tell Leo Coleman, the NOPD had nothing to do with Grant’s and Terri’s murders. The officer has your copies ready. They’re fifty cents each. Good day Mr. Turner.”

“Detective, why the hostility toward Leo Coleman? I know he makes no secret that he thinks the NOPD was behind the murders of his son and daughter-in-law. The man’s grieving, he’s confused. Hell, he doesn’t know who, or what the hell to believe, but I have to tell you, you’re not making it any easier for him to believe otherwise,” Yancey said.

Fontenot lit a Viceroy and said, “I have nothing against Leo Coleman, except that he’s from Shreveport, Louisiana and chose to play football at Ole Miss instead of LSU. Go figure!”

“Well he did come home to play for the Saints. Doesn’t that mean something?

Fontenot paused and with a subdued chuckle said, “Okay step into my office, you have one minute,” he said.

The detective closed the door, and sat in a chair in front of his desk, close to Yancey. He spoke barely above a whisper. “Mr. Turner, I know what Leo Coleman told you, but this police department had nothing to do with those murders and I’m not going to say it again.”

Yancey fanned Fontenot’s cigarette smoke from his face and asked, “Then who did kill them?”

Fontenot exhaled a cloud of smoke, rolled his eyes and said, “If I knew that, you wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I can tell you this, there was no physical evidence at the crime scene that did us any good. There was cocaine in Terry’s purse. But according to the medical examiner, neither she, nor Grant had any in their blood. Strange! The shooter left the weapon lying on the floor beside the bodies. No prints, no nothing. Whoever it was, knew how cover their tracks.”

“Who reported this to the police?” Yancey asked.

“Kip Houser. A washed up football defensive lineman and family friend of the Colemans. Grant and Terry both liked the booze. His story is that he drove for them that night. After he dropped them off after the party, he said he found Terry’s cell phone on the car seat, and went back to give it to her. Dog was going crazy when he got there. Front door was open, that’s when he found the bodies.”

“I know Kip, and the timing doesn’t look too good for him. Is he a suspect?” Yancey asked.

“Every son-of-a-bitch in New Orleans is a suspect.”

Detective Fontenot handed Yancey his card and said, “Careful out there. My private cell phone number’s on the card if you need me.”

“Why the sudden change of heart, detective?” Yancey asked.

“No change, just a word of caution. I have enough to deal with, without a dead x-Secret Service agent on my hands. If you’re smart, you’ll forget this, and have a bowl of Louise Colman’s gumbo, then head your Ole Miss ass back to DC,” Fontenot answered.

+++

Kip Houser mounted his Harley Davidson and headed east on the Chef Highway, when a purple crotch rocket pulled alongside him.

The two bikers showed off, popped wheelies, each trying to outdo the other on their showroom clean machines. When a red-light caught them, the rider of the purple bike sent a hollow-point from a 357 Magnum to Kip’s head.

The purple crotch rocket disappeared into the jungle of East New Orleans traffic, while helpless and horrified onlookers stared at Kip’s lifeless body lying beneath the overturned Harley. They could tell the police little about what appeared to be just another New Orleans drive-by shooting.

+++

At the Bayou View Café, Yancey gazed at his watch. Kip should be here by now, he thought. After two beers, he ordered the red-beans and rice, hardly taking eyes off the police report, until Leo called his cell. “Kip’s dead. Shot while riding his motorcycle on the Chef Highway about fifteen minutes ago.”

“I’ll call you back Leo,” he said, and hit the end button on his iPhone when a man dressed in a business suit parked himself at his table as if on cue. Yancey knew the signs. The sunglasses, the cropped hair, and most of all the dead-pan expression on his face, spelled FBI.

“I’m Special Agent Roberto Garcia, FBI,” he said and shoved his credentials in Yancey’s face.

“I know the drill and I know the protocol.  Why have you been following me since I stepped off the plane?” Yancey asked.

“Of course you do, former agent Turner, and you know I ask the ques–.”

“Don’t try to play the game with me. I knew the rules when you were still in diapers. Why have you been following me?” Yancey asked again.

With his chin raised and his jaws tight enough to bite a railroad spike in two, the FBI agent called the waitress over and ordered coffee and a beignet, and said, “I can save you a lot of trouble Turner. If you’re smart, you’ll be on the next flight back to D.C.”

“Sorry Agent, but the NOPD beat you to that line earlier today,” Yancey said.

“We know who killed Grant Coleman and his wife, as well as Kip Houser.”

“Want to share that info with me as a matter of professional courtesy?” Yancey asked.

“I’m surprised, Mr. Turner. You mean to tell me you don’t know the NOPD narcotics division was behind all this. They made it look like a drug deal gone bad. Planted cocaine on his wife.”

“Why? What the hell was their motive?” Yancey asked.

“Coleman was a damn good lawyer, and so was Terri Ann. They were getting too close to the narcotics division’s little game of setting up young boys for bogus drug deals,” Garcia said.

“Terri Ann? Funny thing! I never heard Leo or Louise call her Terri Ann,” Yancey said.

“An old habit, I always refer to murder victims by the first and middle names,” Garcia said.

“Sure you do. Now what about Kip Houser?” Yancey asked.

“He was their trigger man. They had to silence him when you got here.”

“By the way Agent Garcia—Kip Houser was shot less than an hour ago, how did you know about his murder so soon?” Yancey asked.

Garcia took a sip of his coffee and said, “it’s my business to know.” He stood up, adjusted his sunglasses and walked out, leaving Yancey with more questions than answers.

Yancey chuckled and called to Garcia, “Don’t worry about the coffee and the donut. I’ll take care of it.”

Yancey found Fontenot’s card and dialed, “Do you know FBI agent Roberto Garcia?”

“So you met Agent Garcia? How were the red-beans and rice at the Bayou View?” Fontenot asked.

+++

Leo’s cell rang, Yancey calling.

“Everybody from the FBI to the NOPD knows our every move. They might even be listening to us now. Leave now. Drive to where Little Robin and Louise are staying. Don’t use a credit card for anything. Cash only for gas, food, whatever.” Yancey said.

“Can’t do it Yancey. Remember the time Arkansas had us down by three points with seventeen seconds left on the clock?”

“What the hell does that football game have to do with it?” Yancey asked.

“You think you could have run that touchdown if I hadn’t opened the damn hole for your ass?”

“Leo. Get to hell out of New Orleans! Sometimes you have to take the bench for the sake of the team,” Yancey said.

After a long silence Leo said, “I’ll call you when I get there.”

+++

“I’ve been wondering how long it would take for you to show up in my office, Turner. How could the Bureau be of service to one of America’s finest, or should I say, former finest?” Garcia asked with a strong hint of disdain in his voice.

Yancey opened his notes from the NOPD and took more time than he needed in order to locate the report he was looking for. “Ah, here it is. According to the report, Grant Coleman and his wife were shot multiple times with double-O buckshot. Doesn’t look like a hired hit to me. More like a revenge, or a rage killing. We both know, professionals like to keep it clean, quick and quiet,” Yancey said.

“But Kip Houser was no pro,” Agent Garcia said.

“He was no psychopath either. What makes you think it was him? No history of violence—except when he got his hands on some poor quarterback. He was loyal to Leo Coleman. Leo took care of him after he got hurt and had to quit pro football.” Yancey said.

“He was kicked out of pro-football for using steroids,” Garcia shot back.

“The NOPD hired Kip Houser to kill the Colemans and I can prove it,” Garcia said.

“Of the all needle popping, cocaine snorting disposable pieces of shit in New Orleans they could have hired, you’re trying to tell me the New Orleans Police hired Leo Coleman’s best friend to kill his son and wife. Bull-shit, and you know it.” Yancey said.

“He had a gambling problem. The loser bastard was up to his ass in debt. It’s that simple.” Garcia said

“What federal laws were broken? “Nobody seems to think this was a hate crime, in spite of the racially mixed marriage.

“The NOPD was directly involved. We were about move in with a RICO charge.”

“This was no paid hit, and Kip Houser was not your man. Now I’d like to speak to Agent Pakowsky,” Yancey said.

“Agent Pakowsky is out. Sick with a cold, or something. Probably be back in a day or two,” Garcia said.

“Or something?” Yancey asked.

+++

After his twenty hour day, Yancey returned to the Holiday Inn in Slidell and called Leo.

His tired eyes strained to find the numbers on his cell phone. “All I have is a stack of papers from the New Orleans Police, and bullshit from the FBI. But I can tell you this, the New Orleans police had nothing to do with it.”

“Then who did?” Leo asked.

“I don’t know yet, and it’s not going to be easy to solve. If I only had a motive.” Yancey said. “Is there anything more you can tell me?”

Yancey wanted to ask Leo more about the murders, but he could tell by the tone of Leo’s voice that he was getting irritated. “I’ll call you back tomorrow,” Yancey told him and then went to the restaurant for dinner.

The Wednesday night crowd was sparse, and the bandstand was empty in the Slidell restaurant. Yancey’s tip hungry server seemed more than happy to keep cold beer in front of him.  She said, “your shrimp should be out shortly.”

He wasn’t expecting company for dinner when an attractive brunette, fiftyish looking woman and dressed in business attire found his table and introduced herself. “I’m Abigail Dunn, I am, or was, Terri Coleman’s secretary. Leo told me how to find you.”

“Now that you’ve found me?”

“The FBI agent, Roberto Garcia, he and Terri used to date when she was in law school in Dallas. He was stationed at the Dallas FBI office. When she broke of their relationship, it got ugly. After she married Grant and moved to New Orleans, he followed her here, and began stalking her—mostly in the form of phone calls to her office,” she said.

“FBI agents don’t have the privilege of moving around at their will and pleasure,” Yancey said.

“If their father is a buddy with the Attorney General, they do,” Abigail said.

“What did Grant think of all this?”

“She never told him. He would have hurt Garcia. She didn’t want that.”

“You’re taking a hell of a chance, being here and telling me this.”

“I can take care of myself,” she said.

“Would you like to order dinner or something to drink?” Yancey asked.

“I’ve had dinner, but I’ll take a Jack and Coke.”

“Lucky for you. Worse shrimp I ever had. Taste like some of the shit you get in D.C.” Yancey said.

“I’ll take you to Emeril’s for dinner tomorrow evening,” Abigail said.

+++

The ten o’clock meeting in Jack Fontenot’s office was a little more cordial than the day before.

“I know you’re not here for coffee, Mr. Turner, but from the look of your roadmap eyes you could use a cup.” Fontenot said.

Yancey forced down the New Orleans coffee and chicory and asked Fontenot, “what did the witnesses at the Kip Houser murder scene tell you?”

“Not much. The shooter was riding a purple crotch rocket. Some guy said it was the same color as the crape myrtle trees in the Garden District. Shot one time, and hauled ass. Whoever did it knows the city. Three scenarios, A, the shooter grew up here, B, he studied the streets well and planned his getaway, which I doubt, or C, law enforcement. No prints, tape on the handle and barrel, just like the shotgun used in the Coleman murders. This guy knew what he was doing.” Fontenot said.

“All this sort of gives credence to the FBI’s theory, doesn’t it Detective?” Yancey asked.

“I didn’t say cop. I said law enforcement,” Fontenot said.

“Garcia?” Yancey asked.

“Maybe, but no record of Garcia owning a motorcycle. But one of my detectives, Sgt. Martie Lance, has learned that Agent Garcia used to date Terri Coleman when she was in law school. She broke up with him and started dating Grant. The breakup got nasty. According to her confidential informant Agent Garcia had been calling Terri at her office.”

“I had a visitor last night. Do you know an Abigail Dunn?” Yancey asked. “What she told me backs that up. I think we need to talk to Agent Garcia.”

“Before we start questioning an FBI agent for suspicion of murder, we better make damn sure we have our ducks in line,” Fontenot said.

Yancey took another sip of his coffee, laughed, and said, “don’t be intimidated by the Feds. They are an arrogant bunch of airhead bastards.”

“You ought to know. I’ll arrange a meeting with Garcia and make it look like we want to cooperate with their investigation. That should loosen him up a bit,” Fontenot said.

+++

In the conference room of New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, file folders and laptops  cluttered the table in front of the meeting between, Garcia, Fontenot and Turner. Their meeting started a few minutes early. Turner knew the early start was a sign of nervousness for Garcia. One of the FBI intimidation tactics is to keep others waiting, starting meetings late and dropping meaningless hints about what they know and what they don’t know. All this was a sign that Garcia was so ready to get it over with that he strayed from his training and protocol.

“I’m happy to see you’re finally willing get to the bottom of this case, Detective Fontenot,” Garcia sneered and rolled his eyes toward Yancey Turner.

Garcia pointed to the screen on the wall and said, “I have prepared a power-point presentation on the case for your convenience.”

“Before we get started, Agent Garcia, may I ask do you own a motorcycle?” Fontenot asked.

“A purple crotch-rocket to be exact,” Yancey said.

“What the hell are you two getting at?” Garcia asked.

“You know exactly what we’re getting at,” Fontenot said.

Garcia slammed his laptop shut and shouted,

“I don’t know what you two sons-of-bitches are implying, but this meeting’s over.”

Fontenot jumped to his feet and pointed his finger in the face of the FBI agent and said, “this meeting is over when I say it’s over Agent Garcia. Your FBI badge doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to murder in my town. You can cooperate with me here and now or surrender your weapon and we’ll finish this discussion downtown.”

+++

Detective Fontenot handed Sgt. Lance a court order to back up the orders he was about to give her and said, “I want a twenty four hour surveillance on Agent Garcia. I want to know his every move, his every phone call, and his every breath, if that’s what it takes to nail that bastard. There’s a hole waiting for him at Angola and I want him in it. The sooner the better. But for now, I have a shooting. The victim asked for me.” Fontenot told his staff.

+++

“A locksmith. He’s one lucky son-of-bitch. Not hit that bad. He’ll live. You can see him,” the doctor said.

In the emergency room, Fontenot asked the victim, Thomas Saucier, if he knew who shot him.

“I don’t know her name, but it was the same woman who hired me to get her into the Grant Coleman home the night they were murdered.”

“Why did you let her in the Coleman home? Yancey asked.

“Am I in trouble Capt. Fontenot?” Saucier asked.

“I ask the questions. Why did you let her into the Coleman home?”

“She paid me.”

“What did she look like?” Fontenot asked.

“Don’t know. She never took her helmet off.”

“Her helmet?

“Yeah. Motorcycle helmet.  One of those blacked out face guards.”

“What kind of motorcycle was she riding?” Yancey asked.

“I don’t know that either. It was one of those little streamline jobs that goes real fast. Purple, like the crape myrtles in the Garden District.”

“Oh, One more thing Detective, the woman who hired me to open the Coleman house—she spoke with a husky voice. She sounded like she had a bad cold or something,” Saucier said.

“I’ll deal with you later.” Fontenot told him.

+++

“How did your meeting go with Fontenot and Yancey Turner?” Mickey Pakowsky asked Garcia.”

You crazy bitch. Look at what you’ve gotten us into,” Garcia answered.

“What I got us into?” she shouted. “If you hadn’t been hung-up on that damn whore, this would not have happened. Terri Ann this, and Terri Ann that. She’s all you could talk about. I gave you everything, but no, you said we couldn’t be together. It would violate Bureau policy. Bullshit! Policy had nothing to do with your half-ass excuses.”

“Why the hell did you have to kill Kip Houser? He wasn’t a player in this game?” Garcia asked.

“The more people we get out of the way, the safer we are, darling.”

“You’re crazy, you need help. I’ve covered for your crazy ass for the last time,” Garcia said. ”and don’t call me darling.”

“If you’re smart, you’ll follow me toward Houma, and let’s ditch the bike in the bayou,” she said.

+++

Sgt. Lance called her boss and told him the pair of rogue agents were headed west on Highway 90. Fontenot called the Louisiana State Police (LSP) and requested backup outside the city on the highway, and he and Yancey made a mad rush to beat them to the bridge at Des Almonds.

“Damn, you’re scaring the hell out me, Fontenot,” Yancey said as he blew past two cars with blue lights flashing.

“LSP didn’t have a unit close enough to assist. If we can get to the bridge before they do, we’ve got them. And I don’t know if they’re in front of us or behind us. They got away from Lance.”

Fontenot spotted the purple crotch rocket approaching in his rear-view mirror, and told Yancey, “that’s her, but she made us, and she’s about to turn around. Garcia’s right behind her.”

Spotting Fontenot’s unmarked Tahoe, Mickey Pakowsky slammed on her brakes. Her bike skidded out of control, and off the road unto the muddy shoulder.

“Oh, shit!  She busted her ass,” said Fontenot.

Mickey rolled and tumbled on the soggy earth, but got up on one knee, shaking, blood flowing from her nose and with her weapon drawn. Garcia stopped his Ford just short of running over his partner with Lance on his bumper. She blocked his car from behind. The trap was closed as Fontenot brought his cruiser nose to nose with Garcia’s Ford. Garcia emerged with his hands up.

“Freeze, and drop the weapon,” Fontenot shouted at the female FBI agent.

Her insane eyes focused on Fontenot’s weapon. She dropped her shoulder, lowered her gun and said, “Don’t shoot, I surrender.”

“Drop the weapon now,” Fontenot shouted again.

Pakowsky nodded in the affirmative, but then in an insane rage, turned and fired. Garcia’s head exploded from the 357 Magnum. Before Fontenot could fire, Pakowsky put the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

“Damn.” Fontenot said. “I really wanted to personally deliver that bitch to Angola myself.”

+++

At the gate of the New Orleans Airport, Leo Coleman’s giant hand again engulfed the hand of his former teammate.

Little Robin asked Yancey, “Are you a real private investigator?”

He answered, “I’m just an old friend of your grandpa’s.”

Louise Coleman hugged Yancey and said, “We can never thank you enough. Next time you come down, I’ll be at home and fix you a bowl of my gumbo.”

“No thanks due me, but I will accept the gumbo. Thank Jack Fontenot. Oh, and Louise, please drive Leo home. He hates to drive in New Orleans in the rain, and besides that, he drives the same way he played football at Ole Miss.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mississippi Signposts

There is something like magic in a good book.

Some are like living, breathing voices with the capacity to change the reader’s life. Good books can crack open a door to let you see a tiny bit of someone else’s soul and help you to understand people in another place and time. The reading of a book somehow causes words to turn into faces and places as they tattoo themselves inside the reader’s mind.

It’s a mystery how this happens, but I know that skillful writers have drawn pictures in my head. Years after I’ve read their stories and the pages are yellowed and frayed, images are still etched in my mind. There’s also something like a map with signposts inside my brain. When I read a story, I have to connect it with some place I’ve been. Since I’ve lived in Mississippi most of my life, I suppose it’s natural to have lots of Mississippi signposts standing inside my head. For instance, when I read A Time to Kill by John Grisham, maybe I was thinking about the author and a story I’d heard about him writing while sitting on the courthouse steps? Nevertheless, a picture placed itself in my head of a man aiming a gun at his daughter’s rapist on the stairs of the courthouse at Oxford, Mississippi. Now when I visit the old-fashioned square in Oxford, I find myself looking up, trying to see inside the second story window of the court house on the square.

Union Station in Meridian, Mississippi, is one of those signposts.

I can’t pass those train tracks without remembering the story of a young woman stepping from a train, searching through the terminal, and then darting into the woods. Helene lives within a tiny corner of my mind because Toni Morrison put her there. When I read Sula some years ago, I became, for a moment, a young woman with skin not white enough to enter a public restroom in a train station governed by white folks. I could almost experience pressure upon my bladder and feel the panic of having no place to go for relief. So now when I drive up Front Street in Meridian, I search for trees and tall grass. I see only buildings and train tracks today, but my eyes will always search for a safe place for Helene to rest. And I will question again why it was that kind of world back then. It’s funny I don’t remember the rest of the story or the other characters in Morrison’s novel, just Helene and her urgent need for a rest stop.

When I drive along The Natchez Trace,

a signpost pops up in my head with a voice that says, “Look out there in the woods. Can you see Phoenix Jackson?” And I’ll find myself searching for a little black woman with a red rag tied around her head. I’ll think about the dress she wore and her shoes that needed to be tied because she couldn’t bend down to tie them herself. I can even see her walking down that Worn Path the way Eudora Welty described her, “moving a little from side to side, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock.” I want to stop the car right there and go searching for that little grandmother so that I can tie her shoes. And if I could find her, I would follow Phoenix Jackson home and tell her that she was very brave and that people should have respected her. I would go inside her shack and try to comfort her little grandson who swallowed lye.

I’m acquainted with William Faulkner’s novels.

But it’s his short stories that have impressed me most. One could never forget “A Rose for Emily” or his story about the Mississippi Flood of 1927, a tale to ponder forever. From “Old Man”  these words etched indelible images in my head:  “…chained ankle to ankle and herded by armed guards…they had plowed and planted and eaten and slept beneath the shadow of the levee itself…but many of them had never seen the Mississippi River until the flood of 1927..” When I visit the Delta and see the levee against the river, I recall those men in leg-chains, their eyes staring at the ground, never looking up because their minds were bound in strong chains too.

I have read stories that made me hear and feel and see more clearly.

My mind now contains a rich treasury of characters and ideas set in courtrooms and cotton fields, train stations and riverboats, mansions and shacks. Mississippi is the place where writers have drawn pictures in my head and tattooed their words inside my heart.

 

By Virginia Dawkins

 

John’s Gift

First published in A Cup of Comfort for Christmas Prayer (Adams Media Publications)

Ephesians 4:7-8 –  “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.”

The first time my son, John, held a crayon,

it was to create; a cat, a dog, a tree, or a creature or place no one had ever seen. He drew while watching TV, eating at the table, and riding in the car. He drew on homework, in school and in church, as if an unseen force drove his fingers and he couldn’t stop.

At age five, he began art lessons and his art teacher told me on more than one occasion, “He has the gift.” She explained how she could teach the basics of drawing, the different techniques of painting water color, pastels, charcoal, acrylic, and oils, how to study objects and draw their form. But the gift is God-given.

In her studio, she said, “I set different models on that table and have students draw what they see.”

She showed me some art her students had done, vases, bowls of fruit, a piece of driftwood, each a masterpiece by a child’s hands.

I said, “You have some talented students.”

She smiled. “Now, let me show you some of John’s work.”

I followed her to another stack where she picked up the top picture.

“This is John’s painting of the fruit.”

I took the artwork and followed her as she guided me through his painting.

“Notice the detail, how he shaded the shadow of bowl underneath and highlighted the light reflecting off the orange?”  I nodded. “But look beyond the bowl.”

 I scanned the page, holding the curling edges taut. Above the painted bowl of fruit was a light.

I glanced over at the light above the table. It was identical to the painted version, down to each tiny link in the chain holding the fixture.

“Look at this,” his instructor said pointing to his painting. “My art books on the table, my paint jar, and the shelf beside the table with each item.”

I looked at each, compared them to the real items. Chills ran with amazement through me.

“That’s not all,” she said. He includes the window behind the table? And this.”

She pointed to the black dog outside the window sitting beside a tree in the painting.

“He sees beyond the obvious, sees the bigger picture.”

She chose another of John’s drawings, a fire-breathing dragon with enormous wings and a tiny figure of a man fighting the creature with his sword. Each individual scale had been drawn on the dragon and the fire exploding from its mouth and nostrils was so real, you would hesitate touching it for fear of being burned. The ground was just as complex, with different sized stones, tiny cracks, wide crevices, and dust rising beneath the valiant man’s feet. The sky revealed a bright orange sun setting behind a rocky mountain range.

“Most artists draw from models or landscapes they see.  But John can draw this kind of detail in things he doesn’t see or may have never seen. Only a select few have this gift.”

Gift.

There was that word again.

But with gifts also come trials.  John struggled in his school work.

“He has problems paying attention,” one teacher said.

“He’s looking at the board, but his mind is miles away from school work,” said another teacher.

“He needs to be in a special reading class,” still another one said.

Then we heard others word. ADD. Medication.

So, every night we read and did flash cards at the dinner table. Weekly, I took John to tutoring. Even though medication did help John concentrate and stay on task, he hated how it made him feel. We slowly worked our way through each grade.

John’s best friend, Josh, was an artist, too, and throughout school, they yelled and loped through the woods behind our house, imaginations running wild along with them. They drew their own super heroes and developed “save-the-world” plots. They created other worlds with powerful enemies threatening to take over earth and its people, drawings in such intricate detail the blades of grass in a meadow were easily counted as well as the strands of hair draping a character’s shoulders. They had big plans for their artistic endeavors. And I couldn’t wait.

When I received a letter from John’s High School explaining Awards Day and that John would be receiving an award, no one had to tell which award he’d be receiving.  I knew.

I sat on the bleachers in the gym that had filled up with loud voices and the clamor of students finding their seats. On the floor, chairs were neatly lined up and in each chair sat a student who would receive an award.  I watched John tease the girl sitting beside him, clowning around like he always did. The long program was a blur except for John’s art teacher stepping to the podium and calling John up to accept the art award.

After the program, I went to John’s art classroom to thank his teacher.

“John’s one of my most talented art students,” he said.  “He oversaw our school mural project, drew most of it. Come on. I’ll show you.” As I followed him out of the classroom, he said, “He certainly has a gift.”

When the local Museum of Art held its Youth Art Competition, John entered a few of his pieces and won Best of Show.  He also sold his first art piece.  To me!

After John graduated, we looked into art colleges. But there was one problem. School and John had had never mixed.  All he related to the word “school” were other negative words.

One day, John brought home another word. Army.

And another word.

Infantry.

He left for boot camp at Fort Benning in September 2006. I was mortified because troops were being regularly deployed to Iraq. Daily newscasts showed casualty counts from what was called the War on Terrorism. And there was no sign of an end to this war.

At John’s graduation, he received an award for marksmanship. I was proud, but frightened.  All I’d ever seen in John’s hands were crayons and pencils and paint brushes.  Not weapons.

From Fort Benning, he was transferred to Fort Hood. From there, after extensive training, he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq to serve in PSD (Personal Security Detail).

Throughout my house, John’s paintings and drawings hung on the walls and I longed for his gift to once again to bring colorful life into our existence. Everyday, I questioned the Lord and prayed about His plan for John and his gift. All I could visualize was that weapon in my son’s gifted hands.

The phone rang early one morning and I rushed to answer it, smiling immediately when I heard John’s voice.

“Hey, Mama. How’s it going there?”

“Fine,” I said, sounding choked up. “How are things there? You need anything?”

“I’m fine, Mama.  Really I am. But I do need something.”

“What?”

“The kids here are always asking for soccer balls.”

“Soccer balls?”

“Yeah.  And there’s this one kid—I call him Little Buddy—who comes to the fence asking me for a ball.  I’d really like to give him one. A nice one.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

I hung up, immediately called my pastor and was so excited when he said, “We’ll send John a whole box of soccer balls.”

The boxes went out, the church’s box filled with soccer balls and my box filled with goodies for John and a special ball for Little Buddy. I imagined Iraqi children crowding around John to receive their ball.

Then I knew. John’s gift still lay within his hands, not with a paintbrush or a pencil, but with his love for these children.

And with this love, he was creating something so much bigger than what he could create on paper.

I thought about God’s gift to us on starry night where shepherds were keeping their flock, how He knew His infant son would one day face powerful enemies threatening to take over earth and its people.

God’s plan was so much bigger for His son’s life, bigger than his mother Mary’s or his friends’, or even His disciples’ plans.  They all loved and honored Jesus, but sometimes they couldn’t see past the obvious to see the bigger picture.

I know now that God’s plan is so much bigger for my son John and the gift that lies within his hands.

So much bigger.

By Richelle Putnam