There is a knock on the door. At first I think it’s the boys. I have been pacing back and forth wondering what went down at that party. I knew Beau was mad. I knew that he was beyond heated and I knew he was going to do something radical. I just wasn’t sure what that was yet.
When I open the door I’m shocked by who it is.
My sister is standing there. Lena looks different. She always kept her hair cut short when she lived down south with us. Now her hair was long. It was long and flowed down in a permed hairstyle. She had on some tapered leg trousers.
“Hey Steve,” she says.
Lena is the only one in the world that calls me Steve instead of Stevey. It’s awkward as we stand there looking at one another. I don’t know why. Neither of my sisters had ever been too big on emotion. Momma used to say they were two men trapped in the bodies of pretty girls. She takes me in silently until I finally break the awkwardness and embrace her. I hug her fully, allowing my hands to wrap around her.
She pats me down slowly and awkwardly but smiles none-the-less, as best she could.
“Well damn, I guess pigs do fly. How you been, girl?”
“Better,” she smiles, “You in here alone?”
There is a pause. Lena looks nervous for some reason. I don’t really get it. It doesn’t really click to me what would be making Lena nervous.
Lena is acting real suspicious. She was the type of girl who scared easily. You can see the expressions off of her. She’s looking at this house as though this is a nightmare that she was trying to forget.
I’m confused even more, “What are you doing down here?”
Lena called every now and then. She sent us some money every now and then too. She had supposedly been married to this big shot up north. She had a house that was real nice too. I never thought she’d step foot back in Birmingham, Alabama, that’s for sure.
“Sissy called,” she whispers softly.
All of a sudden I’m very well aware of why she’s down here.
“Sissy out here being dramatic Lena.”
I walk into the house. I can feel Lena hot on my tail as we make it to the small little living room. It’s no wonder she didn’t arrive at the door with no bags. It’s no wonder that I can almost still see the lights from her car outside shining past the curtains.
“We think it’s about time you moved up North with me,” she tells me, “So go ‘head now. Pack a bag. Take what you need. I’m here to bring you back.”
I felt as though this was an ambush. That’s the best way to describe it. If it was a year ago I would have done it. I would have felt pressured from my sister to do what they said. Hell, maybe even a month ago I would have done it. Right now though I just didn’t know. Something was keeping me here and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“I’m not going.”
“Lena, Sissy needs me down here.”
“Sissy is stronger than you,” she states, “You done got yourself involved with Shug and those boys raping a white girl. Do you know what that means?”
“They didn’t rape no white girl.”
“From what I hear you weren’t even there,” Lena states.
“They didn’t rape no white girl.”
“You willing to put your life on that?” she asks me, “You willing to hang for that? Because when they come they going to come for everybody. You hear me? Every—dam—-body…”
“I’m not going.”
“You heard him Lena,” a voice states.
We all turn at the same time. It’s Beau who speaks, but he’s not alone. We notice Beau, Lonny and Shug walk in the house. Immediately I notice Shug’s eyes draw onto Lena. Their weird relationship had ended with Lena abruptly leaving Birmingham. You can almost cut through the tension.
“Lena…” Shug states.
Lena ignores Shug almost completely as though he’s not even there. She turns relatively fast back to me.
“I’m going to run some errands in town. I’m gonna call tonight. If you not home, I’m leaving here without you,” she tells me.
I can tell she means it. I watch as she turns briskly and starts making her way towards the back door. It’s curious that she wants to avoid Shug so much that she’s going out a whole different door. Oddly enough Shug looks like he’s ready to follow her. He makes it halfway to the kitchen all the while screaming out here name.
“Lena, wait,” Shug is saying.
Lena pays him no mind at all and before he can follow her out the house I see Beau looking over at him.
“Let ‘er go,” Beau responds.
Shug looks irritated but he listens to his brother. He sits on the couch. I sit next to him. Beau walks back into the room. Lonny has this look on his face as he’s standing there in my living room. I look over at Lonny and I can tell something is definitely wrong.
“How was the party?” I ask.
“Good,” Beau states.
“Lonny, how was the party?” I ask.
“I already told you it was good, didn’t i?” Beau asks.
I roll my eyes at Beau, “I was talking to Lonny.”
Little Lonny was a kid who was always girl crazy. That’s the best way you can describe him. Big girl, skinny girl, black girl, white girl, tall girl, short girl, none of it mattered. As long as the person had a pussy Little Lonny was trying to fuck them. He reminded me of one of those little dogs who humped your leg. That was his mode in life. Pussy chasing. So all this other stuff that was going on in his life looks like it’s clearly taking a toll on him.
He raises his hands and shrugs, “Like Beau said.”
That’s when I notice his hands.
“Is that motherfucking blood on your hands Lonny?” I ask.
“Oh god Lonny, you’re a goddam fuck up,” Shug says slapping him in the back of his head.
“I thought I cleaned it all off at the gas station,” Lonny responds frantically.
“You’re lucky it was just Stevey who saw it,” Shug continues to dig into him, “You fuckin’ idiot. I swear I don’t know why we hang with you.”
Shug can be a bully sometimes specifically when it comes to Lonny. That’s because Lonny wasn’t the smartest one in the group. He definitely wasn’t even anywhere close. I watch how he seems to shuffle in his stance at that movement getting more and more anxious about it all. Beau remains quiet as usual just watching the exchange not really saying anything until it was absolutely necessary.
“What’s the blood from?” I ask.
They all get quiet. They all remain quiet. It’s as though they don’t fucking hear me.
I shake my head, “Let me ask this again. Where the blood come from Lonny?”
Lonny looks overwhelmed, “Ask Shug.”
I turn to Shug. The mouthpiece of the south. The slick car salesman who swore up and down he can charm his way out of anything. I watch how he flashes me one of his smiles. He knows he is attractive. Where as Beau is handsome, Shug is just drop dead handsome. He’s the kind of guy who could easily be a singer except his voice sounded like shit but you know ladies would line up to drop their panties at him. He tries to play off that same kind of charm when he’s talking to me.
“We just had a little fun, ain’t nothing serious.”
“What did you do?”
“Killed the dog and threatened ‘em with it,” he states.
“You killed an animal?” I ask.
I’m sick to my stomach.
“You rather us killed one of them?” Beau asks, “Because that was the other option.”
I shake my head. I can’t believe it.
“This is where we are now?” I ask.
“You don’t get it,” Shug states, “You and your goddam family been working for the white man too long. They trying to play us. I didn’t rape that white girl. That white girl wanted it. Now we got to hide out for the rest of our lives? Too scared to do shit and too broke to leave the city. This our new life?”
“It makes us look like savages.’
“They already think we’re savages!” Beau states.
I shake my head. It was stupid. It was only going to escalate things even worse.
“Is that all that happened?” I ask.
They look at me and both say yes at the same time. At least Beau and Shug do it. Lonny looks differently. Lonny looks away. He’s turned to the ground as though something else is happening. It’s almost as though he wants to say something but he doesn’t. He looks like he feels guilty about something.
It’s at that moment I knew that Lonny was hiding something.
“Lonny, he asked us a question,” Shug states.
I watch how Shug looks at him. As soon as I turn to Lonny I can see in the reflection Shug mouth some words to Lonny. I SWEAR he is feeding Lonny lines about something.
Lonny quickly responds, “That’s all that happened. Just the dog thing.”
I don’t believe them. I don’t believe any of them.
“Shug can I use your car?”
Shug gives me a look, “Why?”
“I want to go check on Sissy at the Crawfords. Clearly she’s still there.”
“Nah it’s been a busy night,” Shug states, “They don’t need you right now.”
“Beau,” Shug states for help.
Why would he need help though? Why was he so intent on me not going back to the Crawfords? The dog thing was bad but they wouldn’t be acting like this because of that. Something else had happened.
Beau stands up at that moment. He grabs me up. The way he grabs me is almost in an intimate way. He wraps his hand around my waist. I’m surprised he does it in front of Shug. He leads me to Sissy’s room so that we can have a bit of privacy. As soon as he’s in Sissy’s room he takes a few breaths.
“Can you please calm down, you’re riling everyone up,” he says.
“I’ve been here for you guys through it all,” I tell Beau, “Through everything. What I’m not going to tolerate is lies. What happened back there?”
“Things got…out of hand.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means we did the thing with the dog and we had no idea that some white girl would come around looking for the dog. She found us.”
“Oh god. Did you guys do anything to her?”
He isn’t answering!
I give Beau a push hard on his chest. I push him again and again. Finally, Beau musters up enough strength to answer me.
“One of the guys ripped at her blouse. I think…he was trying to scare her or…”
He looked like he was talking about Shug. At that moment I’m just irritated. How much would he protect Shug?
“Beau, did he rape that girl?”
“No. I came and stopped it and…”
“He was going to rape her?”
Beau turns away from me, “No…”
“Are you sure on that?”
This was dark. I didn’t like to talk about it. Beau turns, “We aren’t animals…”
“I can’t tell,” I respond, “You attacking dogs now?”
“You feeling sorry for their dogs now?” Beau asks, “When I grew up my father’s friends were beat to death. 10 black boys for protesting. That blood on the streets. That wasn’t goddam dog blood. That was human blood. So while you sitting here worried about man’s best friend, why don’t you worry about man. Those people got more love for their fucking DOG then they do us. They treat their fucking DOGS better. So yeah. I killed their precious fuckin dog.”
There is so much pain in Beau. So much pain.
“Beau, things will get better,” I state, “But there’s another way.”
He shakes his head, “I don’t see one. Stay here tonight. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
With that he leans over and attempts to kiss me. I turn my face and Beau ends up kissing the side of my cheek. He seems upset about it but he takes it as he walks out of the room. I knew there was so much anger in him and in all of them but they weren’t doing anything good at the moment. Right now they were only making things worse. For all of us.
That’s why I sneak out of Sissy’s window, get to the backyard and get on my bike.
I start cycling to the Crawford house.
“There goes one of them!” I hear as soon as I get on the Crawford property.
I see a group of white boys. They are teenagers. White teenagers. They see me riding up to the Crawford house on my bikes. They were young, real young. All around this area were rich white boys but I never specifically saw any of these faces.
“Get that nigger!” another one screams.
All of a sudden I see a rock fly past my head. It almost hits me. It almost full blown smashes me in the head. I keep pedaling up the grand fence that is about a half a mile from the front of the house. I can see the boys chasing me when I look back. The rocks they are throwing are bigger and bigger. The faster I pedal the angrier they get.
They chase me all the way to the gardens when my tire breaks out. By now I can count that there are 6 of them. One of them lifts me, ready to beat my ass when I hear someone interrupt.
“Let him go,” the person says.
I turn and realize that it’s Chuck. He’s come with a few of his boys as well. I definitely recognize these boys. The memories had come back to me fully. Seeing them again makes my hair stand on end. It seems like there were groups of whites pulling up from everywhere now and it didn’t seem like it was some type of party or something.
No…this wasn’t a party…this was something…darker.
“Ain’t that the same nigger who was there when Carol got raped?” one of Chuck’s friends asks.
“I got him. He works here.”
The boys look at Chuck like he has three heads.
“He’s a fucking dirty stinking nigger. You Crawfords can afford some white staff. This is what happens,” someone else says.
There is a chorus of agreements at that time. The way they sound scares the hell out of me. The way they are swarming around me like killer bees. They are so thick that I can’t really hear the barks of racist and angry remarks being yelled at me. They all just merge into one angry sound of anger.
“Guys I know what he is. Trust me I got this. It’s me, Chuck. I’ll make sure he gets questioned,” Chuck states, “Make that interrogated. We’ll have this dirty nigga squealing like a fucking pig before the night is out…”
Sounds of agreement from the ol’ boys club get loud at that moment. Chants of “That’ll teach ‘em” and “Kill that nigger dead” start raising out in the crowd almost immediately. I had heard scary talk before but this wasn’t anything I had heard before. Chuck seemed like he was barely able to convince them that he’ll handle it.
Chuck was definitely not the one leading this mob of people.
Chuck runs over to me grabs me up and puts me in this strong choke hold. He wrestles me to my knees. I can barely breathe he’s holding onto me so tight. The crowd seems to react to this squealing in delight as he leads me up the path to the house.
It’s not until we are in the house that he lets me go.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he asks me, “What the hell were you thinking coming up in here?”
He whispers it to me. He whispers because the black staff are gathered in the foyer. They have this look in their eyes. This worried look. They had all worked the party. I knew these people. We had all worked with the Crawfords for years. I’d never seen this kind of fear on their faces before as they notice the mob of people continuing to form outside.
“I needed to see what happened.”
“By having something happen to you?” Chuck asks, “Shit is getting serious now. I can’t keep trying to protect you. Stop being so fuckin’ selfish.”
“I don’t need you to protect me.”
“You’re mine,” Chuck states, “I always protect what belongs to me. I just want you to be more careful. You hear me?”
He puts his hand on the back of my head. It’s gentler than he usually does. I watch how Chuck watches my lips. He wants to kiss me. He would. Hell, even with the staff there I think but then I hear footsteps from the ballroom. There’s only one person who walks so hard. It causes Chuck to jump back almost immediately away from me. Into the room walks his father, Charlie.
Charlie Crawford wasn’t a dumb man. Chuck might have been quick but when he sees the awkward positioning of where I was and where Chuck was he gives him this deep stare.
“What the fuck are those hooligans still doing out there?” he asks his son.
“Millwood is getting them all worked up,” Chuck tells his father, “People are getting their guns…if something doesn’t go down tonight he is going to make sure something goes down soon.”
“And you’re in here doing what?” Charlie asks his son.
Chuck doesn’t answer. He just has a dumb look on his face.
Charlie barks at him, “Take your ass out there and clear those people off my property! I don’t need this type of ruckus here. The party is over. They need to leave. They can go kill random niggers all night for all I care, just not here!”
Maybe it’s the image that makes him say that. Maybe it’s something else. It was hard to read Charlie Crawford.
“I’ll come too,” June Crawford says.
I’m surprised. June Crawford wasn’t that kind of guy to even want to deal in situations like this. He always put himself above things like this.
“You sure?” Chuck asks, “Mary might need you.”
“I should have been protecting Mary. These…” June starts before shaking, “These savages are getting out of control. Something needs to be done.”
Mary? Were they talking about Mary Flannery? Did something happen to Mary? I watch how the Crawford brothers leave the house at that moment. I was just hoping August Crawford wasn’t outside involved in all that craziness as well.
“What the hell you doing?” Charlie Crawford asks me.
“Just came back to help sir?”
Charlie Crawford looks me up and down, “You’re looking well.”
“You seem surprised.”
Charlie Crawford shakes his head, “No matter. Go start in the ballroom. Your sister is there and she might need your help.”
Sissy is in the dining room. She and the other house girls are helping Mary Flannery, Mrs. Crawford, and Carol Millwood. The three white woman are drinking. Mary Flannery is crying and Carol has an arm over her. I’m a little shaken up by it all.
“Same thing,” Carol Millwood says to Sissy as Sissy pours some tea in her cup.
The way Carol Millwood says it to Sissy is so strange. It’s as though I’d walked in on something I shouldn’t have walked in on. Sissy nods to Carol Millwood and finishes pouring her drink. Carol doesn’t drink it herself. She gives it to Mary instead as she continues to pat Mary’s back.
As soon as my sister sees me she walks over to me and grabs me by my hand to take me towards the storage closets.
“What are you doing here?” Sissy asks.
“I heard something went down.”
“Lena was supposed to be arriving. She was supposed to be taking you away,” Sissy responds, “That was the plan.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Did you see outside? Did you see that mob forming?”
“It’s about Mary?” I ask, “Shug attacked her, didn’t he…made her think he was going to rape her.”
She shakes her head, “Wasn’t Shug, sweetie.”
“I’m confused. What do you mean it wasn’t Shug,” I state, “Beau told me…”
She shakes her head.
Sissy looks like she knows something.
Sissy shakes her head, “He will pay. I’m telling you he’ll pay for all of this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know why Shug and Lena broke up, did you?” she asks.
“I figured Shug cheated.”
“It’s not Shug. Shug just protects him. I don’t know why you all just protect him.”
“Shug and Lena were making love one night. Shug was real drunk. Too drunk to finish. That’s when he climbed on top of Lena. He finished for Shug whether Lena wanted it or not. He took her. He raped Lena.”
Omg. What had Beau done?
“Why leave Shug?”
“Shug covered for him. We tried to go to the cops but he said he would get him help. He promised us. Said a black man would be killed in prison. We had to deal with the problem internal.”
Had he raped Carol too? Sissy hadn’t mentioned Carol.
“So it was Beau who attacked Mary. Was it Beau who took off her blouse?”
“Beau?” she asks, “You aren’t listening, brother. Beau and Shug protect him.”
“It’s Lonny,” she states, “Lonny has a problem. He has a problem that’s going to get us all killed.”