E.J. spoke to the ringing phone as it could hear him. “I’m coming. Dammit, I’m coming!”
“Just the voice I wanted to hear.” The Chief’s voice was oily smooth.
“Hey Chief, what can I do for you? You need some whiskey?”
“Naw, E.J. but I’ve got some good news for you. I’m ready to pay you the money I owe you.” The Chief couldn’t see, but could imagine E.J.’s mouth dropping open at the other end of the line.
“My, my Chief….this is news. When do you want to meet?”
“I can’t meet you E.J., but I’m going to send somebody. In fact, the guy I want you to meet with is paying me back a debt he owes me. You might call this whole transaction a wash.”
“However you want, Chief. You know I’m not in a hurry to collect.”
“It ain’t the principal I owe you, E.J., it’s your vig. Each day that goes by adds more to the balance.”
“Where did you tell the guy to meet me?
“You know that place where the kids park down in the woods behind the HooRah Club out on the York highway?”
“I’ve done many a transaction there Chief – as you well know… What does this guy look like?
“He looks sort of greasy, but don’t worry, he won’t give you any trouble. He’s happy not to have a prison sentence facing him.”
“Damn Chief! My life is interesting, but ‘hot damn,’ I’d pay good money just to live your life for one day.”
“I think you’d probably want your money back, E.J. Hurry now, my man is waiting.” The Chief’s tone was wistful.
E.J. couldn’t believe his luck. A debt he thought he would have to forgive was going to be paid. He had always thought the money the Chief owed him would never be paid. In fact, he had rationalized in his mind that “it was just the cost of doing business.” As long as the Chief owed him money, he reasoned – he never had to worry about anything threatening from the Chief.
Later that morning…
“Where you are you going, hon’?” Renee asked as she saw E.J. start for the back where his Buick was parked.
“’Just going to take care of some business, sugar. I won’t be long. I’ll be back a long time before dinner.” E.J. hurried out the door wearing his one piece set of tan coveralls – a uniform that most of the townspeople associated with E.J. Renee hated the outfit, but every time she would take it upon herself to buy E.J. new clothes, he would go back to wearing the coveralls with their zippered oversized pockets.
The coveralls were very practical for E.J. In the zippered pouches, he kept his billfold, his roll of money secured by rubber bands, gum, and of course, his gun. He never went anywhere without his thirty-eight special. It was always loaded and he wasn’t afraid to pull it or use it.
A few miles out of Parson’s crossing, heading towards York, E.J. passed the HooRah Club. There was one truck in the lot. Probably somebody who drank too much the night before, E.J. thought. It was Sunday and usually Saturday night was the HooRah’s time to shine. The place could only hold about 50 people, but there was many a night that E.J. had seen that many or more cars parked outside. Some people said that old E. Humphrey Boswell owned a part of the action. E.J. had been in the place a few times to bring booze when the club ran out as they sometimes did. He never stayed long because frankly, it was a dangerous place – and just a little too redneck even for E.J. He’d told his kids that if he ever caught any of them there that he’d flay the skin off their backs. They never went and he never had to make true his promise.
Over the next rise past the HooRah Club E.J. made a quick left hand turn onto an unmarked gravel road that went into an extensive patch of forest – another property of E. Humphrey Boswell’s. Over another rise and at the bottom of a hill, E.J. saw the rusty red Pontiac and a short swarthy man standing outside smoking a cigarette. E.J. recognized the man but could not place his name. He didn’t associate the fellow with Parson’s Crossing. E. J. wheeled the Buick in besides him. Somewhat wary, E.J. unzippered the pocket on his coveralls that concealed his gun.
“How you do brother? The Chief said you and I might have some business together. You the right man?”
“Yeah, I’m him. Are you E.J.?”
“That’s me. Say…you look familiar. Do I know you?”
“Can’t say so – I’m not from here. I’ve just been in these parts doing some oilfield work. I got into a little scrape and the Chief helped me out and I’m finally able to pay him back for the favor. He said that if I’d give the money I owed him to you that we’d be square. I brought six thousand dollars. Is that about right?”
“As rain, brother.- right as rain. I know where I’ve seen you, but it’s been a long time. Are you from Race Track, Louisiana?”
Shocked the man looked more closely at E.J. and said, “How’d you know that man?”
“Easy, I think we frequented some of the better juke joints together.”
E.J. started listing some of the places and the greasy stranger and E.J. slipped into the “Do you remember – do you know” game. This went on for about 15 minutes when E.J. suddenly remembered what he was there for.
“I’ve like to keep on remembering old time and old places, but I’ve got to get back to the house. Have you got the money handy and I’ll go.” Relaxed from the conversation, E.J. reached in his coveralls for some cigarettes. He lit one just as his new best friend rose from the car with a paper bag in his left hand. Again, E.J.’s instincts kicked in and he started to reach for his gun when suddenly he felt like he’d been hit in the back with a ball bat. He staggered and fell forward still reaching for his gun. The greasy man carrying the bag pulled out a gun and fired it at E.J. He missed. He was nervous because it suddenly dawned on him that whoever had fired the first shot – the one that hit E.J. – might have a second shot for him. His boss in New Orleans had never said anything about a second shooter. He fired twice more, hitting E.J. both times.
Shivering and shook up, the man walked over to E.J. to make sure he was dead. Satisfied he pulled a can of gasoline out of his car and doused the interior of E.J.’s Buick with it. He and E.J. had leaned on the car as they smoked and the Chief had been specific about burning the car. One more thing, he thought. The man walked over to E.J.’s body and reached into the pocket that contained the roll of bills. This was for the Chief… He lit the match and threw it in the window of the Buick.
The Next Day
U.S. Army District Recruiting Command, Montgomery, Alabama
“Colonel Enders here, who am I speaking with?”
“Colonel, this is Chief Ernest Hackney with the Parson’s Crossing Police Department. I’m calling about one of your recruiters.”
“Is one of my boys in trouble Chief?” We certainly like to deal with these situations as soon as possible.”
“It’s about Sergeant Mitchell Johnson, Colonel. No he’s not in trouble, but he’s in a situation that could result in trouble, if you know what I mean.”
“Tell me more, Chief. I’m all ears.”
“Well you see Colonel he attempted to recruit this young lady and mind you Colonel, she’s over 18 and all that, but her daddy’s intent is to keep her around the house until she’s twenty-five. There are some folks like that down here. When he heard that Mitchell was attempting to recruit his daughter, he started making threats about shooting Mitchell.”
“It sounds pretty comical to me Chief; I don’t think Mitchell Johnson has to worry about threats from an old man in Parson’s Crossing Alabama. He’s a combat veteran you know.”
“I know that Colonel, but the old man and the girl’s five brothers are bushwhackers and I’m truly concerned about Mitchell. He’s almost like a son. We talk all the time. Besides, I don’t think the Army would like the negative publicity”
“What do you want me to do Chief?”
“Get him out of here for his own safety. Send him back to Texas.”
“Now Chief that’s something I can do … with the stroke of a pen. The Army likes to have good community relations. Do you have any other problems with my boys?”
Mitchell Johnson’s transfer orders were cut that same afternoon. He reported into the Amarillo District Recruiting Command, two days later.
To Be Continued...
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