When The Last Leaves Fall (~chapter eight~)

*This is a short companion story to the novel The Reputation of Booya Carthy.
It may contain spoilers apropos to the original story.



Hunter didn’t know the town that the Englishman was staying in, just that it was near to a place called Honahee. He’d settled there for an unfixed term while he helped out a friend of an old friend of his. Someone from his youth. Something to do with the murder of an escaped convict. He hadn’t given the name of where he was staying; just a number that Hunter must call.

With all the money that he’d need for a year burning in his pocket, Hunter knew that he could likely be able to trace FDR’s daughter, if he wanted. If he was in a city, he probably could. Mississippi was a world unto its own. Things down here moved at the pace of field plough being drug by a weary horse. The only way to find someone was for chance to lead you to someone that they knew. Even then they wouldn’t give away anything easy or for free. There was a natural scepticism; a wariness of anything unknown.

Damn this situation. Fugitives were almost always just one man. Even if they joined in with crews, they were still just a man. If Hunter cut and run he doubted that the Englishman would ever be able to trace him. He knew better than anyone the ways that a man could stay hidden. He had been instructed to call with updates once a week. He could call as he headed over the state border, maybe head down to the sun in the west, find work searching out errant progenies. He’d been travelling this way for three days and already felt that this might be the job to end his days – either alive in a small town seeking a peaceful life, or in a field in a creeping puddle of blood. If the Englishman knew who he was truly dealing with then he might have decided to leave well alone. You don’t mess with the devil and come away with only a few burn scars.

As he drove north, the thought of fleeing continued to play through Hunter’s thoughts. Yet thoughts of the man Booth kept troubling him. Assassinating Lincoln had changed the world, especially down this way. Hunter had heard what the man Helland had said. Had seen for himself how he rallied the crowd beneath a hailstorm of threat. If that man was left free to raise an army of hate, not a single person in the entire south would be safe. Where the devil walked the earth, hell would follow.

Hunter headed the nose of his car towards Clarksdale. The town was coming to life as he pulled the car into a lot off Main Street. Stretching his legs, he wondered when Helland and his crew would begin their venture north. He rubbed his eyes. He was tired, brain-weary. After the call was made he would stop for coffee, before heading on.

He found a phone in the back of a general store, dipped in his pocket for cents, and phoned the number written on a napkin. Hunter heard the phone picked up at the other end.

‘Oxford Garden,’ the voice said. ‘You’re speaking with Marcia. How may I help you today?’

‘I need to speak to the Englishman,’ Hunter said, leaning on the booth, his voice low.

‘Do you have a name please, sir?’

‘Don’t know his name,’ Hunter said, repeating a new routine. ‘He’s tall. Fair. English.’

The voice at the other end hesitated. Hunter could picture her: prim in her neat waistcoat; long, manicured and varnished nails; blonde hair tied back. He could feel the dirt of a night’s drive sheening his skin. ‘Do you have a name please, sir?’ the girl repeated.

‘Still ain’t got a name,’ Hunter said. ‘He’s waitin’ upon my call. He said to just ask for the Englishman.’ And then Hunter remembered: ‘He said to say that it’s about his cousin.’

‘Very well, sir,’ Marcia replied. ‘I’ll put you through now.’ Hunter heard a loud click, and then a quieter one a few moments later. The sound of someone clearing their throat, and then breath trickled into the line.

‘Have you found anything?’ the English voice said.

‘I found your man,’ Hunter replied.

The Englishman hesitated. ‘Is he dead?’ he asked.

‘Not even close,’ Hunter said. ‘He’s too busy aimin’ to kill.’ Hunter explained the situation of chancing upon The Knights of the White Camelia, in the direction of where the Englishman had said that Helland was last spotted. He told how he had stumbled upon the clan meet in the barn opposite the forest. ‘He got them all on his side, quick enough. Told them what his plan was. That The Knights had been chased away with their tails between their legs, after some of their number was killed in some ongoin’ battle in a town. That they’d lost an opportunity to show the world what they was standin’ for. He said that the only way to announce that they wasn’t gonna go away was to go back to that town an’ show them that they still as alive as ever.’

‘Helland is in control of this group?’ the Englishman asked.

‘Man, they was probably only fixed to drive up to the next town along and tie some negras in sacks, beat ‘em a bit, these boys. Helland wants them to go back to lynching. Public execution. An’ that ain’t the least of it. He said that he knows how to recruit The Law into the game. He said that he ain’t gonna stop until the land is rid of the negras. Thing is, I get the impression that when he’s done with them then he’ll just about go on killin’ anyone he wants.’

‘Mmm.’ Hunter heard an expulsion of air through the phone. ‘What else did he say?’

Hunter thought back to Helland’s last words, when the good ol’ boys’ whooping reached peak level. ‘He repeated that there was plenty of unfinished business to be done in this place Honahee, an’ that –’

‘Where did you say?’ the Englishman asked. ‘Honahee?’

‘Sure,’ Hunter continued. ‘He said that it’s a town that’s more black than white. He wants to take it back; said that it would be their new base once it was rid of the negras. A place to spread out across the south.’

‘Did he say anything about any individuals in particular? Did he mention names?’

‘No names,’ Hunter said. ‘Just that while he was there he had something personal to revenge. That they all did.’

‘Where are you now?’ the Englishman asked. ‘How soon can you be here?’

‘Clarksdale. Just gonna get me a coffee an’ I’ll be on my way,’ Hunter replied.

‘Get here now,’ the Englishman said. ‘Quicker than you can. I’ll have a coffee waiting for you.

‘I know exactly where Helland is headed.’

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