When Maggie got home, she ran straight upstairs without looking at her
They knew something was wrong.
Her mother said, oh don't worry she's growing up.
Joel let his wife take care of the girls, but he knew something was wrong.
River Boy dropped off Top Hat's car.
Blacktown was unusually quiet as he walked back to Grandpa's.
the street, Mrs Washington was smoking on the front porch. She yelled,
hey River Boy, I ain't too old I can't see yo white ass at midnight. He
Maggie woke up next morning not believing what happened in Crook's Tail.
She looked out the bedroom window and her mother was already working in the garden.
There were rows of sunflowers, beans and carrots.
The tomatoes were big this summer.
rabbit fence, hand pump with galvanized buckets for watering, cement
cistern, clothesline, ligustrum hedge, the stone sidewalk out to the
garage where the neighborhood tomcats lived, the garden swing they
built after the outhouse was torn down.
It was so normal. Maggie felt better.
Through the transom above her bedroom door she could hear her father walking downstairs.
Maggie could feel him thinking about her. She sat back on the bed and got dressed.
Her whole life changed in one night.
She wanted to ask her older sister about Joddie, but with the new baby and Howard working with her father ... it wouldn't work.
Maggie finished dressing and ran downstairs, yelling on her way out, I'm going to Becky's.
Joel was in the kitchen and got to the front door in time to see Maggie running down the street.
River Boy woke up late. He was supposed to get up early and go fishing with Grandpa.
He felt bad but would catch up later.
River Boy had to get to Crooks
Tail to help Joddie.
There were problems.
He delivered payments to Crooks Tail from
night before somebody was watching him from the dark hallway when he
and Maggie went into the room where Joddie was performing.
It had something to do with delivering the payments.
Hat was in a corner because Spade was trying to take over the gambling and rent business in Blacktown.
Nobody else wanted to deliver the payment out of fear.
River Boy didn't understand the reasons but he was old enough to understand that delivering payments was a bad
idea. He hoped he was young enough to get away with it and Top Hat was his friend.
Except now he had to go back and put his head in the lion's mouth, over a girl.
Grandpa had already left to go fishing. He
dreamed back to the night before how he removed her panties and pushed
her knees up. And how her large breasts and nipples felt when he pushed
them open to the night air. It was dark and Maggie was noisy. Crooks Tail offered no mercies in the night and they were lucky a bunch of men didn't beat him and throw her on the ground.
The fellows in Crooks
Tail didn't like a white boy coming from Blacktown. It showed disrespect.
It was an uneven arrangement that left a bit of money in River
Maggie and River Boy met secretly.
She couldn't let friends know.
He had places down by the river where they secretly enjoyed a passionate affair of repeated intrusion of stroking.
Maggie's sex was intoxicating just like Joddie's, but Maggie understood the moment.
Bob and Joddie came to lunch the following Sunday afternoon.
They stepped out of a big new Buick.
Joddie wore a tailored blue dress, her mother's cross replaced by a large opal pendant. It sparkled and shined. Joddie's white skin against the dark dress was stunning in the early afternoon light. They
were a spectacle walking up the stone steps with Bob's sequined suit,
jet black hair and shiney shoes, with a smirk on his face to match.
Joel knew something was wrong. He didn't like Bob at all.
The men set in the front parlor while Maggie and Joddie helped her mother set up the lunch.
A late church function kept Howard and the older sister away.
It was just Bob and Joel sitting in the parlor with nothing to say.
The wood floors, plush center carpet, high ceilings, and formal chandelier represented past times.
Bob didn't represent anything.
Lunch was served at great-grandmother's large oak table
and chairs. The china and polished silver service came from Joel's
mother before she passed.
table was set with a fresh turkey from the butcher. Maggie's mom spend
the day before making the breaded dressing and gravy. The potato salad
was made from white potatoes, farm eggs, milk, butter, ketchup dressing,
onions, and mayonnaise. Lunch was topped off with fresh-squeezed
lemonade. It was the family's favorite recipe.
Maggie set across from Joddie and kept staring in bewilderment.
Joddie's tragedy loomed in both their eyes.
After lunch Joddie wanted to talk on the side porch.
walked down the hall away from the kitchen and dining room. The porch
had a dark-varnish beaded ceiling with eight chairs and a swing. It had been a beautiful place for evening sits, but the family stopped going after the brother's death.
Joddie chose the large double seat at the far end and Maggie sat down next to her. The smell of roses came through the screen.
Maggie couldn't hold back, she whispered, what are you doing?
Joddie replied, Bob knows.
He doesn't care?
He takes me there. You were there. What were you doing there?
Maggie couldn't think what to say. It's not the same.
It is the same.
There was silence for a long time.
Neither could remember the last time they talked.
Their mother brought out iced tea. Maggie got up and closed the door after her mother left.
Maggie said, it's not the same because a friend took me there. Did you tell Bob that I saw you?
How often to you go there?
How often do you go? And who were you with?
Maggie said, that was the first time and I'm never going back.
Joddie looked away.
There were no words to explain it. Joddie could not separate sex and life.
Joddie wanted children. She wanted a family. She wanted the house. She wanted all the things they used to dream about.
Maggie could see her sister was about to cry.
She reached out and Joddie put her head on Maggie's shoulder. They sobbed.
It had been a long time.
Her mother heard them. Joel and Bob were washing dishes. Bob wanted to outside for a smoke. Inside the house was quiet.
If only ifs-n-butts were sugar-n-nuts, we'd all
have a merry christmas, but they ain't.
You have to understand the damnable history of man to understand the
stupidness that people get involved in.
Except history is as forgettable as every gorilla with a butt.
Rebelling against common sense that
would tell anyone else to stay home, River Boy saw Big Mak drive by and asked for ride to Crook's Tail.
Big Mak was always ready for some crazy thing, and very good at doing
Mak wasn't a salamander under a rock. He was open about his bootleg
Very agreeable, very tough, he survived on tips and wits, knowing how to spot the undercovers and informers, listeners, set ups,
ripoffs. All the usual stuff.
He was known around the state and made the payoffs but didn't get his head up tall enough
they'd cut it off.
He liked River Boy, seeing him as a younger version of
The visit to Crooks Tail was not going to be a social event.
Big Mak checked both
revolvers before putting them back in his pockets.
There were three streets from the civilized side of Lewiston down to Crooks Tail.
Big Mak stayed off the main route.
River Boy saw Mak's eyes change.
He was watching. Searching for change or recognition that might alert of danger.
A man in a car, did he turn his head? Did somebody
duck out of sight? Did a bird fly up startled? Was there
They parked behind the Lewiston hotel. It was a
destination long forgotten by respectable travelers.
A place where men could imbibe themselves of matronly flesh and delight
and drink the hardest whiskey until they were happily numb.
They got out of the car. Big Mak was wary and looking around.
He was large. Not overtly tall. Thickly built maybe some fat. More like a potato chip and a hotdog than all beef
He wore a loose baggy brown jacket, plain
pants, never colorful, but he had plenty of personality.
Before they went in, Mak
said, you know they're going to kill Top Hat.
River Boy asked, why?
Mak was the type of guy who when he wasn't babbling nonsense said what
knew but didn't fill in the blanks.
They went in the back door past
the kitchen toward the bar.
River Boy followed.
Suave Jinkins tended bar. You couldn’t miss him. He was the tall
jet Black man walking through the room with a tipped hat and checkered
His twin brother played piano. The place was crowded and noisy.
His younger brother Lucius set
at a corner table with Crackling Green and Boy Johnson.
corner table was dimly lit and the nighttime room let the occupants run
deep in the shadows with a door where people came and went without
Yet the corner table could see everybody in the room.
You could have stirred
hell with an electric rod and not come up with
devious pair than Cracking Green and Boy Johnson.
Crackling was the killer. Boy Johnson kept a civil tone that carried
the pair to the top of Crooks Tail and under paybail to the Upstate
They collected the money, ran the tables, sold the whiskey, controlled
the gaming and the girls.
Top Hat was afraid of them. It didn't make sense
that he hired River Boy to carry the payment.
River Boy and Mak sat at a table in the middle of the room.
River Boy had never been there before or met Crackling or Johnson. He
always handed the payment to someone else at different hotels each
Mak said, don't look at those guys. They know you're here.
If they want to meet, they'll let you know.
If not we have to leave.
Mak added, they'll read you like a book.
River Boy knew if he wasn't straight honest they would see it.
The waitress brought drinks to the table.
Leave it Mak said.
I deliver it.
That must be wicked that Mak didn't drink his own product.
A girl stopped by and sat down. She was topless and her heavies hung
down against the table. It was kinda funny having large brown nipples
staring at your hands.
Big Mak cracked open a peanut and threw the shell on the floor. She
offered him a situation so he got up and went into the back with her.
She was shapely and had extra meat hanging on the reverse side.
River Boy got a twitch. Grandpa told him about men getting the rot from
Still he wanted to have a peek.
He watched the piano player until another girl came over. She was white
and topless. Pretty in a way. Her nipples were pink and didn't whack the table when she
sat down. At least his eyes had a place to rest.
A minute later Big Mak came back.
River boy was thinking that was kinda quick for a robust performer like big Mac.
Miss pink nipples got up and left.
Mac said real low, damn that
place. They got it on the walls and on the doors. Damn.
It was the dirtiest haikute
brothel he'd ever seen, and
that was claiming a lot for Big Mac who traveled the low trade since he
River Boy wondered about the chair he was sitting on. No wonder Big Mak
didn't drink the product.
A rough-looking Negro nodded toward River Boy.
Mak said, it's you.
River Boy followed the Negro and they went up several flights of
creaking stairs. The building smelled old.
The carpet was worn through to wood.
At the top floor was a long hall. The Negro pointed to a door at the far end. River Boy had to pass
three unlit hallways from the side. Anybody could be hiding in those holes. He was scared but couldn't go back.
He knocked on the door and went inside. Joddie was there.
She sat next to heavy dark Negro. It was Boy Johnson.
She was beautiful. It was hard to resist looking at her face or seeing she was unhappy.
Did her 5-year old brother's death strike at the very time she was beginning to mature or sexually?
Why did she burn the misery into her that she had to scorn punishment out of her body by trading her life for this mess?
There was a table with whiskey bottles and glasses. A piano in the corner. The room was
painted red with gaudy circus curtains. Pictures with ornate frames. There were four table lamps with glass shades and
Boy made his pitch. Boy Johnson squinted. He had no intention of giving
up that girl but liked watching this boy play over his head.
Joddie yelled back, I don't want to be
saved by your stupid ass.
River Boy couldn't give a good reason.
Johnson would charge more if he knew it
mattered, so River Boy lurched
forward and smacked her hard across the mouth.
That should fix that except
nobody could outdeal Boy Johnson.
Why was River Boy there if it wasn't important?
The suspicion in Johnson's mind that River Boy's presence aroused
that the purpose was not disguised well enough.
The deal was refused.
The girl laughed.
No sense arguing against the Ace of Spades
Something else had to be tried to help Joddie.
Maybe nothing was better than something.
He was trying to impress Maggie who might not even like him.
And what was the return?
Some damn whore of a girl laughing at him?
Her fate was chosen and River Boy exposed a weakness that Boy Johnson's
warped mind would certainly capitalize.
It was a mistake he wouldn't repeat.
Worst part, he put Grandpa at risk.
Johnson would figure out something to extract revenge.
However each exchange has price.
River Boy likewise saw an weakness in Johnson.
It seemed likely that Johnson was indeed dependent upon this whore of a
She was more than a bag of money.
Johnson felt nothing except a bit of joy when River Boy
But when he said I gonna keep that one, it displayed attachment to
her beyond just dealmaking.
That bit of information would be River Boy's
leverage for extracting
himself from these difficulties.
He had to weigh his next move carefully
It would be all for a man of pride to react violently toward Johnson's
And Johnson was expecting that reaction from River Boy.
Which would only cost more later.
River Boy walked two steps and then sat down in a chair.
There was no sense arguing with the Aces of Spades
Something of value could be gleaned.
River Boy's actions told Johnson that he had revealed himself to River Boy, and
that River Boy was not quite simple.
He had to weigh his next move carefully
River Boy said I don't to move the girl away from
The problem is her husband, Bob.
was a ridiculous distortion of the events that caused this, because
River Boy was certain her husband Bob would end up killed over his debt
with the Upstaters.
That was their reputation.
How could Johnson not know that? But River Boy was gambling that he