Gentlemen’s Club

Kingston and I were knee-deep in the latest excavation when we heard the Cadillac on the gravel driveway.  The Cadillac was full of large men. A heavy-set, middle-aged man rode shotgun; by his white coat I took him to be in charge. The car came to a stop 20 yards away and the tall driver sprang from the car to open the passenger-side door.  The large man squeezed out.  He waddled toward our hole with the driver flanking him.  Two other men got out and stood alongside the car, watching us.

As the large man neared us I saw he looked familiar.

 ‘You Jackson Calvert?’ he said.  His voice was high and strained.  He was a heart attack waiting to happen.

‘That’s me,’ I said.  I climbed from the hole.  My hands were streaked with red clay and clay had lodged under my nails.  I offered a dirty hand.  The large man took hold of it in a crushing pork chop mitt.  His palm was even sweatier than mine.

‘Earl Watkins,’ he said.  ‘Earl Watkins the Third.  I knew your grandfather.’

‘I didn’t.’ 

But I knew Earl Watkins.  His face was all over Mississippi television, accompanied by a persistent campaign jingle

‘I knew your father, too.  He was older than me by a lot but you end up knowing everybody ‘round here. You look just like him.’

‘So everyone keeps telling me.’ 

‘What you doing here?  That’s a strong-lookin’ fella you got there.’  He pointed to Kingston.  ‘Where can I find myself one of him?’

‘He’s not my fella, and I’m sure if you want to hire him you can.  His name’s Kingston.  Now how can I help you?’  Earl Watkins had a round head with small eyes and a rotund neck.  He looked at me hard. 

‘I heard you were nosin’ around.’

‘Who told you that?’

‘Woman in town.  At the library.  Said you were askin’ all kinds of questions ‘bout the Sovereignty Commission.  Said you was askin’ ‘bout Pappy.’

‘Who’s Pappy?’  I knew the answer but wanted to tease.   

‘Govena,’ he said.  ‘Pappy was Govena of Mississippi.  You not from around here, are you?’ 

‘No, I’m not.  Does it matter?’

‘Outsiders never been too welcome ‘round here.  Not when Pappy was runnin’ the state, and not when I get to run it.’ 

‘I didn’t know you got to run it.  When do I get a turn?’

‘Look here.’  Earl Watkins leaned toward me.  I could smell his cat-piss cologne.  ‘You little shit.  I own this county.  Soon enough, I’m gonna own this state.  What you do on your land is your business, but if you start getting in my business you’re gonna find it hard to do your business.’  He backed away.  The driver looked on anxiously.  The two men still stood watching, though one of them now had his hands inside his suit jacket.  Earl Watkins turned his back on me.  Kingston provided the parting shot.

‘You three welcome to help dig.  Just come on back whenever.’  Kingston didn’t laugh out loud but he was smiling and showing teeth.  The men didn’t turn but they did stiffen. 

Let’s finish this conversation in your office,’ I shouted to Earl Watkins’s back. ‘I’ll call on you soon.’ He waved a dismissive hand without turning back to me. I stepped into the hole, shot Kingston a grin, and continued to dig.

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