Cotton & Corruption
Boarding the Amtrac train from the Memphis station always made my nerves jitter like I’d just drank a scalding pot of coffee. Truth was, if I was searched for any reason, they’d find eighty thousand dollars in a duffle bag, and a Colt .45 under my black smoking jacket.
My ID said I was Christine Turner, but the picture beside the fake name happened to be Jackie Dawson. Yours truly.
In all the years I’ve been fiddling in the illegal aspect of the crime atmosphere, I’ve forced out a precise system when it comes to taking other people’s money.
Robbing a bank isn’t about the gun you use or which mask you place over your face. It all relies on the crew guarding your black-lined back —if you use one, I don’t— and how you get the hell out of the city. Get-a-way cars get you caught almost as fast as fat boys squealing.
Here I sit in my roomette with my legs crossed over the extra chair while the Memphis PD check every single car leaving I-55. A road block almost worked once a few years ago in ’78, but I refuse to make that mistake again. Now, the plan was to board the train, enjoy the scenery all the way to New Orleans, and drive back to Leighton, Alabama. I was confident the blue suits wouldn’t make the connection between the train schedule and the robbery time.
Making one big loop around the South East didn’t bother me. Especially when I have eighty thousand riding shotgun and nothing but time.
I locked the sliding door leading to the hallway of the train, and curled up with what I hoped was a clean blanket. The world passed by through the picture window. First, there was the industrial side of Memphis. Smoke stacks towering into the clouds constantly blowing grey air. Loblolly pines took over as the train picked up speed. Green for miles on end as we curved through the forests of rural Mississippi. Before too long, I was lulled to sleep by the sway of the railroad tracks.
The New Orleans train station bustled with people flocking back and forth from the souvenir shops. Not to mention, I was offered a shoe shine from two different homeless men. I kept my heels a-clickin’ as I made my way to the circular loop out front. The first taxi I spotted was vacant, so I slipped inside, and gave him the address off of Dauphine Street.
The French Quarter’s architect is something to be admired. The wrought iron paired with gingerbread styled homes adds to the uniqueness of the city. Someday, I plan to run the New Orleans chapter of the Dixie Mafia, if only because I want to make The Crescent City a home away from home.
Shadows began to illuminate the street corners as the sun faded behind the horizon. The air smelled of fried beignets and debauchery as the taxi stopped outside of the fetish parlor. The only disadvantage to making money from criminal activity would be dealing with shadier criminals than you ever imagined when first starting into the likes of crime for dimes.
I paid the driver his fare before tucking the duffle bag under my arm, and heading inside ACTS.
“Jackie, where you been keepin’ yourself?” Chantice asked me wearing pasties paired with a black g-string as I rounded the first corner of the establishment. “Donnie’s waitin’.” She flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder as she led the way.
We walked through a long hallway of black doors. The lighting was nonexistent except for a blue bulb in the middle of the corridor. “We’ve had some problems getting our trucks through a few checkpoints as of late. Keeping my runners out of jail maintains a top priority,” I admitted Alabama’s troubles because she was Donnie Mantony’s bottom girl. She probably knew more about my racketeering than I did.
Being in a glorified whore house, you can imagine the sounds I heard behind those doors. The whole fetish aspect came into play when whips cracked from the front parlor inviting tourists inside. A door slung open causing Chantice and I to step aside.
Strutting through in one heck of a hurry was the most average looking man I ever laid my darkened eyes on. His corn silk hair was combed back and parted to the left. He straightened his striped tie before passing us. Purposefully looking away, he headed to the door, and tip-toed out like a church mouse.
Curiosity got the best of me as we walked by the open door. I turned my head to peak inside expecting the Ringling Brothers to be shooting fire from some strange sex portal. Instead, I noticed a raven haired young woman counting money underneath a butcher’s meat hook. The silver flickered in the low light revealing empty shackles draped over the hanging metal piece.
Call me naive in the ways of love, but in no form, shape or fashion do I want to be suspended with my legs open.
Reaching Mantony’s office door, Chantice knocked with the tip of her nails. The more I stood in the awkward position of waiting, the more I dreaded going inside.
“Come in,” called Mantony.
“Jackie’s here,” Chantice informed him as she stood to the side letting me through.
Mirrors served as the four walls. I could see myself from every angle. Dark hair pulled up in a ponytail with my growing grey streak peaking out on the side. My duffle bag felt bulky in my arms so I placed it by Mantony’s desk before reaching out to shake his hand. We wore the same hair style. The only difference happened to be, Mantony was completely grey.
“Jackie, dahlin’, you been up to no good, no?” His Cajun dialect stood out far more than the Italian. Knowing the Mantony’s, I knew his father hadn’t been the one who raised Donnie. His accent came from his French mother.
“What makes you think that?” I asked as I watched him sit down in his chair, and almost bust the seams out of his grey suit. I’d bet he hadn’t seen his feet since Kennedy was in office.
The mirrors helped me see all sides of him, but that wasn’t the point. Donnie wanted the damn things up so he could see all sides of me. His usual business associates had been known to pull, point, and shoot when receiving answers they thought were untoward. This way he could watch from every angle.
“Got a Lincoln waitin’ in de back, yes. I know you got a Lincoln at home. No business of mine why you buy de Lincoln, no, but I know you don’t need one.” Donnie lit a cigarette as he fished for all the information he could.
“Lets just say I drove somewhere in a car that wasn’t mine,” I crossed my legs, and asked, “How much for the Lincoln? It’s getting late, I need to get on the road.”
“For you? Take it! We all friends here, cherie. No business between us. Did hear of some trouble, I did. Might watch that driver... Oh, who is he? De one with de Tennessee route. Hear he makin’ de trouble. Maybe he don’t want his truck goin’ through, no.”
“It won’t go unchecked, believe you me,” I said, wondering why Felton would intentionally get his beer truck stopped. I rose to my feet, and Donnie pitched me the keys to what I figured was a hot Lincoln he needed to get rid of.
“Be careful, ya hear?” He shook my hand again before I rushed out of the mirrored room, and down the hallway hearing the muffled cries of sex until I was on the sidewalk.
A few kerosene street lamps lid the way as I walked from Dauphine to St. Louis, and turned the corner with my bag held under my arm. Mantony owned a private parking area, but even with his power over New Orleans, he couldn’t get it closer than three blocks.
When I found the Lincoln, I was disappointed in the coloring. Puke green with baby shit interior. Black is the only color a car should be, but this Continental would be on my good side if it got me back to Alabama.
Sitting behind the wheel, I thought about turning right, and following the sounds of trumpet horns all the way to Bourbon Street. I had enough money to drink Johnny Walker straight from the bottle. What I didn’t have, was time. If Felton was forcing me to buy off the Sheriff of Giles County, Tennessee, the thunder was fixin’ to roll.
The desolate roads droned on for miles. Bad Company and .38 Special kept me awake as I crossed into Mississippi. I could tell without seeing the sign because the roads had more crater holes than a pre-teen’s face.
While the hours strained by, I started to wonder exactly what Felton Dixon had up his sleeve. The rank of the Dixie Mafia compares to that of the Union. Generation members get first pick, and Felton —like me— went as far back as you could go. My father, Royce Dawson, had proceeded to take over when his own father died. When mine was brutally executed at a limitless poker game, I stood in.
Now the Dixon’s had always been two steps under the Dawson’s. We called the shots, and they hopped to it. Felton should know better than to cross me. If he’s in on the Giles County take, he won’t live to do it again.
The more I contemplated the situation, the more furious I became.
Coming into Leighton, I stopped by Dawson Tractor & Farm Supply to put the eighty grand in the safe. Unlocking the front door, I snickered as I moved through the deserted warehouse. The safe was in the back corner of the office with contents ranging from Tech 9’s to customer’s approved bank loans. Come to think of it, the puke green Lincoln looked pretty good parked between the John Deer tractors out front.
Turning the handle to the right, I made sure to hear the clicking of the gears before I headed back to the car.
With the sun coming up, I knew sleep was the best option, but Felton was scheduled for a pick-up at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. Alabama’s one of the only states left with dry counties, so it was vital to get the beer to every bootlegger North of Montgomery. If Felton fucked up sales he’d be thrown into the wolves den. And let me tell you, my friends, Wolf Jackie doesn’t play fair.
I turned the Lincoln toward the old plantation house. Greystone had been built in the 1800s; the decedents of the original owners left it in bad shape, then the next line of trustees had done the same. Before it was laid to rest by a bulldozer, my father stepped in and bought the house along with the two hundred acres that went with it. Extensive renovation had transformed the nine bedroom estate. The upkeep was a bitch, but I enjoyed living where I grew up. Even if it was the house my father shot my mother in. God rest her soul, but she was a sorry excuse for a Southern woman.
Driving through the gates, I rolled down the window to take in the smell of the fresh-blooming magnolias. I hadn’t been up this early in years, can’t say I wasn’t enjoying it. The birds sang, peaches fell from the trees, and I was flipping the safety to OFF on my .45.
I had company.
Cruising down the driveway, I noticed the car was a red foreign made. I parked the Lincoln beside it, and unbuttoned my jacket before I stepped out. My heels clicked across the pavement with the rhythm matching the steady thump in my chest.
Moving closer to the car, I figured it for a BMW. The driver slept with the seat reclined. I knocked on the window trying to rouse her. The taps did nothing.
Knocking harder, woke her with a start. She jumped like a cat had crossed her grave.
I pulled the door handle, but noticed it was locked. She took her sunglasses off and laid them on the console before unlocking her door. I took a step back giving her some room.
“I’m so sorry. I waited on you to get home last night, but I must’ve fell asleep in the car.” Her hair was sandy blonde curled into featherback waves. One thing was for sure, I hadn’t the slightest clue who in the hell she was.
“Can I help you?” My voice was filled with skepticism.
“Uh, yeah. I mean, I kinda got in some trouble over in Corinth. I figured if I wanted to work here, I should see you first,” she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“What kinda trouble?” I asked.
“Well, it’s hard to explain. I’m Leigh, by the way,” she held her hand out to me.
One thing I absolutely hate is a limp handshake, so I was relieved when Lee threw some grip in there.
“Jackie Dawson, my pleasure,” I pulled my hand back, and asked, “What sort of trouble?”
“Oh Lord, you’re gonna... it’s a long story..”
Leigh sure was acting sketchy. I trusted her as fair as I could hurl her, and she had three inches on me along with what I guessed to be, forty pounds. I’d always been too skinny, but I’d bet I couldn’t pick her up, much less throw her.
“Give me the short one.” I was tired of playing slip-n-slide.
“Okay, the short version... I’m gonna be honest with you,” Lee took a deep breath, and spit the whole thing out. “I finally broke away from my piece of shit pimp---”
“Whoa! Whoa! Shift that back, Lee! I don’t know what you heard, but I’m no Madame. I don’t run girls. I want no part of this.”
“No, no, Jackie! I don’t want you to be my Madame, I just want your permission. I mean, whatever happens in Alabama you’re the one to talk to. So, would you be willin’ to put the word out? You know, like don’t mess with me?” Her eyes puppy-ed right out.
“Sweetheart, I don’t think you understand. That’s what a pimp does. I run a lot of things through this town, but I don’t charge the escorts. If I had to deal with every John that beat up on his girl, I’d never get anything done. I can point you in the way of some clients, but not much more than that.” I hadn’t said anything rude. I’d only told her the honest truth.
“Just show me where to go, and I’ll head that way,” her lips curled into a scowl of disappointment, but I kept my foot flat. It was down and in no fashion coming up.
“Follow me, I’m headin’ that way.”
I walked around the Lincoln, and decided I might as well drive it since it was handy. The engine caught with a purr. I shifted into reverse. While I was backing out of the driveway, I caught sight of my own reflection. Bags formed under my eyes from lack of sleep, not to mention, my head was throbbing with an exhaustion headache.
One more stop, Jackie. Just one more stop.
Cruising down County Line Road, I kept glancing behind me to make sure Leigh hadn’t gotten lost. The red car was steadily paced, even when I turned down a dirt road.
Live Oaks were planted down the side giving Rural Route Six an old Southern feel. Branches hung over the road, and if it hadn’t been daylight, you can bet your ass it would’ve been creepy.
A dilapidated barn came into view. I turned onto the rut filled path that traveled through acre after acre of cotton. Parking around the side, I saw a dark Cadillac, and figured Felton had pulled an all night gambling session.
I waited on Leigh to park before going inside. Once the door was opened, the carpet began. There was a full bar over to the side, and gambling tables of all kind lined up in neat rows. The place was the ultimate camouflage in the deep South. No barn would ever be considered a coverup. It was practically blasphemous to the culture.
Leigh closed the gap behind me as I waved at Felton who had the strangest look on his face. My hand reached for the .45, but I stopped as the click of a hammer echoed through my ears.
“All right you hillbilly fuck! Where’s the money? Hand it over, and I won’t pull this trigger!”
I placed me hands out to the side, and turned around slowly, “What the hell are you talkin’ about?” I asked trying to keep my wits.
“Now’s not the time to play dumb. I want the money.”
Her voice never wavered, even when she shoved the .357 in my face. This wasn’t her first rodeo by a long shot. “You robbed that bank in Memphis. It’s all over the news, you washed up bitch!”
At that instant, I thought I was headin’ into oblivion. An echo of gunshots filled the barn. How many, I couldn’t tell ya.
I caught a glimpse of shock on Leigh’s face right before her forehead pulled free from her skull. It seemed to happen in slow motion, even when bits of bone projected into the barn walls. As she fell, she gripped the gun in a reflex and fired a shot that nicked my right arm. I was in such shock; the pain hadn’t even registered.
By the time she hit the ground, her head looked like surgery gone wrong. She had her eyes—which oozed blood— but nothing else toward the top. Her hair blasted away right with her brain.
“Jackie! Jackie! I kept trying to signal you to duck!”
I had no idea how long Felton had been screaming at me. He shook my shoulder as he started to pick Leigh off the ground.
“We’ve got to get rid of the body, I’ll take her down to the lake if you find some weights.”
Felton carried her in his arms with blood pouring to the floor in long streams. When he headed for the door, a single shard of paper floated to the ground.
“Wait Felton, something fell out of her pocket.” I scurried over to pick it up.
613 DAULPHINE STREET
THE FRENCH QUARTER
My tongue turned to sandpaper as I flipped it around to show Felton. His eyes widened to the size of half-dollars. At that instant, we both knew this had been a long time coming. We’d been pinned against each other all along.
Sirens wailed down Rural Route Six. Donnie Mantony had set us up.
Amazon Best Selling Author Kim Karter is a born and raised Southerner. Her work has been published in Folly, New Voices, and MicroHorror. She resides in Muscle Shoals, Al with her family, German Shepherd and an orphaned fox named Todd. For more information on her projects and books please visit www.kimkarter.com