Me and Desmond were wrestling a gas range out of a hummocky tangle of fescue. The people who’d bought that stove on time from K-Lo had left it in their yard. They were Arkansas Guthries who appeared to have abandoned their trailer home but not before they’d pitched their major appliances out the door. Their refrigerator had crushed a gardenia bush. Their washer had half demolished the pump house.
Desmond wasn’t surprised. He had some repo history with Arkansas Guthries. He explained to me, “Their way of saying, ‘Take your damn shit back.’”
Kendell rolled up in his county police cruiser. He climbed out and smoothed his trousers. Tugged his belt and adjusted his gear. Checked the safety on his Ruger. Gave his handcuff pouch a slap.
“Boys,” he said and wandered over.
“Gone already,” Desmond informed him. He jerked his head toward the trailer home with its storm door standing open.
But Kendell hadn’t come about Guthries. He just told us both, “Walked off.”
“Who?” I asked.
I knew enough to shiver and twitch.
“What Boudrot?” Desmond wanted to know.
“What Boudrot you think?” Kendell asked him.
Desmond groaned. He said, “Shit,” and let go of the stove. Back into the fescue it went.
We both waited for something further from Kendell who spat with his usual tidy precision.
He said nothing for long enough to cause me to say to him, “Walked off how?”
Thanks to me and Desmond, that Boudrot had been serving twenty years in Parchman, not the sort of place the inmates are usually suffered to walk off from.
“Out by Beulah,” Kendell told us. “Had a gang mowing and cleaning culverts.”
Prison work crews in their striped coveralls are a common sight in the Delta. Green and gray stripes, probably eight inches wide. You can see them a mile away. They have escorts, of course. No-neck guards in campaign hats with shotguns. The sort of boys who, but for some luck and restraint, would all be inmates too.
“He went in the bayou,” Kendell said. “Back in some cypresses. Disappeared.”
“They didn’t chase him?” I asked
“Or shoot him?” Desmond wanted to know.
“Gators around,” Kendell told us. “They must have figured he’d swim back.”
“Which bayou exactly?” I asked.
There’s a huge one up past Beulah where a man who hated Parchman more than he feared the gators and snakes could likely lose himself without much trouble.
“Out toward Mound City,” Kendell said, and both me and Desmond groaned.
That was the big one. It went on for miles, probably even clear to the river. I did some spitting. I wasn’t tidy and didn’t try to be precise.
“Well, that’s it then,” I said.
“Just hold on.” Kendell made a bid to reassure us. “They’ve got a whole crew up there. A couple of flat boats, an air boat too. They’re bound to flush him out.”
For a county cop in the Mississippi Delta, Kendell was awfully optimistic. It probably helped that he didn’t know an awful lot about that Boudrot. The man was just a nasty lowlife on a booking sheet to Kendell, but me and Desmond had tangled with him in the flesh. We’d made sure he got incriminated by all the harm he’d done. When we knew him, he was a Delta meth lord with a vile sadistic streak, and he’d sworn vengeance on me and Desmond from the moment he got arrested. We’d heard he’d kept it up in Parchman like a catechism.
“What’s he doing on a work crew anyway?” Desmond wanted to know.
Talk was he’d sliced up a couple of cons with a filed-down bunk stay, and there he was out in the regular world cutting grass and cleaning culverts.
“Guess they figured he’d straightened up a little.” But Kendell didn’t seem persuaded. “If they don’t find him, he’ll just keep on running, get as far as he can. I wouldn’t fret much about it. Just thought you ought to know.”
That Boudrot wasn’t remotely the typical lowlife spouting off, rattling on about all the harm he’d never get around to doing. He was a first-class Acadian fuckstick, the pride of Cut Off, Louisiana, and he was too eaten up with making us pay to back off it now.
“Who do we need to tell?” I asked Desmond.
He thought for a moment. “All of them.”
“Why don’t you start with me,” Kendell suggested.
Desmond gave Kendell a snort in reply. The one that meant “Like hell.”
We’d broken a few laws when we tangled with that Boudrot, and I’d been out of policing long enough to not be clear on what they were. Arson for sure. Assault most likely. More than a little felonious menacing and probably some grand theft too. It was all in a bid to put that Boudrot in prison where he belonged, but the whole enterprise had ended up with the bunch of us keeping his money. That had to be the thing Guy Baptiste Boudrot was most put out about. It didn’t matter that he could sell more meth and make another fortune. We’d messed with his shit, and he wasn’t the sort to tolerate something like that.
We couldn’t tell Kendell the shiftless details because he was sure to haul us in. Kendell was about the straightest arrow I’d ever run across. It wouldn’t matter to him that I was his friend and Desmond was his cousin. Kendell was a Baptist absolutest. You either broke laws or you didn’t. He was never terribly interested in why.
Desmond informed me, “Sonic,” once we’d finally packed up those Guthrie appliances and I’d pulled into the road.
“Sure about that?”
“Uh-huh.” He jerked his head toward the truck route. Desmond needed to think, and he did his best thinking over a Coney Island or three.
The trouble was Desmond had been on a righteous Pentecostal diet. He’d been seeing a girl from his church, and they’d been losing weight together as a sign of their devotion to the Lord. Of course, he’d been in an evil mood for some weeks. Nitrate withdrawal, I guess.
I lingered at the truck route junction to give Desmond the chance to reconsider the Sonic. He pointed west toward Indianola. “Ain’t telling you again.”
Desmond’s favorite Sonic parking spot happened to be available, well down the lot in the shade of a pine, away from the range hood exhaust. Desmond was ordering over the intercom before I’d even stopped entirely.
“Maybe they’ll catch him,” I said. “Might even have snagged him already.”
Desmond was usually the sunny one, but he had a nephew who worked up at Parchman, so Desmond was personally acquainted with the brand of halfwit the prison employed.
“Won’t,” he told me. “They’ll spread the word and wait for somebody else to do it.”
“Swamp might have got him. Ever been out there? Snapping turtles a foot across.”
“The man had a pet gator,” Desmond reminded me.
I’d tried to forget about that.
Desmond took his usual quarter hour dressing his Coney Islands. Truth be told, I think he preferred the ritual to the hotdogs. Marshaling the relish and the ketchup packets, applying his condiments just so. I knew he wouldn’t suffer questions while he was fixing his Coney Islands, so I just sat and ate my cheese tots and picked at my burger until Desmond had rolled up his condiment packets and had taken his first bite. He made a neck noise. He nodded. He could tolerate me now.
I fished out the golf pencil I kept in the ashtray and my phone bill envelope from the glove box. I licked the lead. “Start with Percy Dwayne?”
“Any idea where he is?”
Desmond shook his head.
“And Luther,” he said, “and those swamp boys.”
“Tommy and Eugene.” I scribbled all the names down.
“Dale for sure,” Desmond added.
Dale had been the one to arrest that Boudrot after we’d told him where he’d find him. Dale was off the force these days and working repo like us.
“Might tell Pearl to keep an eye out.”
Pearl was my dizzy landlady.
“I’ll need to tell Tula something,” I allowed. “This shit’ll chap her pretty good.”
Tula was my girlfriend, and I’d half been trying to tell her about that Boudrot. She was aware that me and Desmond had gotten up to some shady business, but she seemed content to let me lay it out for her as I pleased.
It was a simple story if you could tell it without cross-examination. A wiry white-trash specimen named Percy Dwayne Dubois had bought a rent-to-own plasma TV from K-Lo, our boss. He stopped paying on it, and I went to get the thing or come away with the money he owed. Percy Dwayne had another idea altogether and brained me with a fireplace shovel. Then he stole the car I was driving, which wasn’t even mine. That was the trouble really. If it had been my Chevy heap, I could have left it all to county police. I couldn’t do that with a car I didn’t own. So me and Desmond went after Percy Dwayne, and things got complicated.
That’s the leading problem with cracker lowlifes. They can’t do anything straight. One of them steals your car, and you end up taking down an Acadian fuckstick meth lord you didn’t truly have a thing against. It all just cascades into a gaudy heap and jumbles up together. Once you get in with white trash, there’s no such thing as clean and neat.
So whenever Tula or Kendell or anybody asked me about that Boudrot, I was tempted to just tell them, “Percy Dwayne Dubois hit me with a shovel and stole a car that wasn’t even mine.” That seemed explanation enough to me, but people crave elaboration.
Desmond polished off his second Coney Island. He chewed and thought. He thought and chewed. “First off, you and me might go have a look,” he finally told me.
“Bayou,” he said and pointed in the direction of Beulah, I had to guess. “Went in this morning, right?”
“He might want to want to come out before dark.”
Copyright © 2013 by Rick Gavin
RICK GAVIN is the alter-ego of writer T. R. Pearson. The author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed novels A Short History of a Small Place, Polar, and Blue Ridge, he lives in Virginia. Nowhere Nice is his third Nick Reid novel, after Ranchero and Beluga.