Sketchy near-stranger who claims he knows my dad picks me up at the bus station

As we reached the heart of Poscataw I saw the Southern University campus sprawling to my right.  It was a decent-sized school with a Division I football team, although it was no Ole Miss.  There was no scarred Lyceum; no campus green with memories of teargas.  Southern U. was a community college on steroids.

Judging by the dismal Greyhound station I could have been anywhere in America.  I followed the slow queue off the bus, a lone duffle slung over one shoulder.  I’d no sooner set foot in Poscataw when I felt someone watching me and immediately took him to be Peter Bingham.  He was taller than me by several inches and he wore sunglasses and had fine red hair and a snout-nose.  Wearing jeans and a button-up short-sleeve shirt, he seemed more casual than I had guessed; I’d expected a suit from a trust administor.

‘You’re Jackson Calvert.’

‘I am. Are you Peter?’

‘Peter Bingham,’ he said. We shook hands. ‘My car is this way.’ We started for the exit.

‘So who are you?’ I said.

‘I was a good friend of your father’s,’ he said. He was a long-strider and I had a hard time keeping up with my rucksack slowing me down. ‘That was a long time ago.  You look just like he did.  We went to school together at Southern U.  He and I aren’t on the best terms now, but that’s no concern of yours.  I have a duty to administer the trust on both his and your behalf, and I intend to honor that duty.’

‘Yeah so about the trust,’ I said.  ‘I don’t know anything about that.’  I stepped out of the station and the humidity assaulted my senses.  I realized most of my Mississippi experience thus far had been spent in an air conditioned casino.  The heat was going to take some getting used to.

‘The trust was established by your great-grandfather, as a way of properly harnessing the value of the Calvert fortune.’

‘What fortune?’

‘The Calverts were a wealthy family when they first came to America. Quite wealth. At one time they owned most of Poscataw County. They have, over time, sold most of it—which accounts for the bulk of the assets in the trust. However, they still have various holdings. As administrator I am responsible for many of those properties.’

‘So why you,” I said as we crossed the parking lot. The wet heat was already all over me, dripping down my shirtfront. ‘You’re not even a Calvert.’ This seemed to make Peter Bingham smile. He peeled back the sunglasses.  I don’t really believe you can judge a man by looking deep into his eyes or anything like that but he seemed harmless enough.

‘Your grandfather trusted me. He knew I would honor the responsibilities of the trust.’

‘Is that why you aren’t friends with my father anymore?’ I said.

Peter shrugged.

‘It’s definitely part of the reason. Your grandfather chose me, not Jackson. But that is old new and not interesting.’

‘Then let’s just get the hell out of this heat,’ I said.

I was a little alarmed when I saw that Peter Bingham drove a late-model Ford van without windows on the side-panels, the kind of vehicle mass-murderers drive so they can hide their victims’ bodies in back.  He unlocked my door before going round to his own side.  I climbed in.  A spring from the busted seat poked me in the ass.  I may have been the heat but accepting the ride seemed like one of the stupider things I’d done.

‘The Calvert Family Trust really travels in style, doesn’t it,’ I said.

‘You caught me in the middle of a project,’ he said, unphased. ‘My other car is a Cadilac.’ He slipped the van into gear and we pulled onto the main drag.

‘How long did you know my father?’

‘Since we were kids.  We were quite a pair, Johnson and I.   Used to raise all kinds of hell.  We’d drive down to New Orleans and head down river a ways into the deep delta, then around Port Jackson we’d start hitting the local places.  We’d get drunk on roadhouse crawls, heading deeper and deeper down the delta ‘til it felt like we were at the end of the world.  A man could disappear for a long time down there, Jackson.  For the rest of his life.  Nothing down there but bogs and birds and fevers.  Back in the sixties people still pushed around on boats more than cars, using canals.’

A drunken crawl. This sounded like my father.

Peter Bingham didn’t press me with questions and I was glad of it.  I stuck my arm out the window but the hot wind did little to cool me down.


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