Meet Me At 10
Hear my prayer,
Hear my prayer,
Grant my enemies a song that will fill their head instead of me,
Hear my prayer
Beep! Beep!…………….. Beeeeeeeep!
The last ‘Beep’ getting lowered in tone the further away the monstrous truck had sped by Shona. It woke her up. And she was walking. She stopped and put her hands on her weary knees to catch some breath after her near miss. That really was close. She must have wandered into the dusty road exhausted. She tasted particles kicked up by the huge tyres and spat them out as best she could wincing through the temporary stinging sand fog left by the huge speeding tyres. Still out of breath with adrenaline fuzzing through her, she stood upright, hands on hips and looked around. Where was she? Well she wasn’t in Louisiana and that’s all that mattered. Where she was heading, that was still a mystery, but she had to head somewhere, anywhere to get out of there. She had hitchhiked 2 lifts from truck drivers since she left, but that wasn’t her preferred method of travel, she couldn’t relax. The constant jolting caused by the bumpy roads kept Shona awake so she could keep herself safe, but really she was grateful to get out of there. Shona would have bought a bus ticket except that she had to leave Louisiana in a hurry, just had time to grab some essentials and leave. Plus she also didn’t have the money. She left on a Thursday, and got paid the following day. She really was desperate.
Trudging along the what seemed like endlessly straight road, Shona could feel the temperature dropping. The fading sun behind her reminding her that she was alone and on foot. The slowly visible crescent moon bringing with it thoughts of danger that she would be surrounded by total darkness. The only time her path was lit up was by infrequent speeding truck headlights. Hunger pains told Shona that she had to keep pushing on to the next habitual town for some kind of shelter. Then she would make a plan. Under different circumstances, the scenery would be stunning. Jagged unexplored mountains in the distance either side of the road interweaving each other whose faces slid down to plush greenery that would normally be inviting to Shona. She could ride horses into the wilderness, tend to animals and live simply, which was her dream. It may take a while for that dream to materialise.
Shona was trying to lubricate her parched lips with her tongue, pulled her dusty coat together to keep out the chill when she heard the familiar roar of an engine behind her. Out here was no place to be a woman Shona thought. Even though she could handle herself, she never went looking for trouble. She squinted, preparing for the impending whoosh of dust and sand particles to blind her temporarily in its wake, but the roar turned into a growl. It was slowing down. The only thing Shona was grateful for was the headlights guiding her in some kind of direction. The driver left them on as his brakes creaked the truck to a halt just in front of Shona to her left. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the driver was lost asking Shona directions? But in truth, if anybody was out in this unhabituated land for long, they would be in trouble, so it was Shona who was looking more likely to need help. But she was reluctant. Even though she took 2 lifts before, it was daylight and she recognised some of the landmarks of her hometown so she figured if she had to jump out in an emergency, she would manage to find her way out of Louisiana. This was different. Shona tentatively walked forwards slightly to her right as the trucks engine purred at its standstill so as it keep out of the way if a door was to fling open and she was grabbed. She was now level with it. Shona pulled her crumpled cap down protectively to just above her eyelashes and made sure her mid length blond locks were tucked behind her ears and pulled her coat collars up.
“You need a lift!?” shouted the voice from the driver’s side, there were no passengers. The passenger window was down half way. A dim cab light still didn’t reveal much about the driver through its flickering.
“Ummm…” Shona tried to make her face as small as possible as if crawling into her own shell.
“I aint got all night son! ”
Son, Shona thought. Maybe the night-time mixed with dressing in men’s clothing did have its advantages.
“Errmm sure….thanks” Shona shouted in a deeper tone trying not to reveal her identity. She would no doubt be safer as a ‘man’.
Shona climbed up the 3 steps to get into the cab and slammed the door shut, making sure she sat nearest the door (for a quick exit). She placed her brown denim-like satchel full of only emergency supplies in front of her on her knees, holding it so as to cover up that she is a woman. Perhaps even holding it for comfort. It had been a while. As long as she kept her cap low and her bag on her knees, she would be ok she thought.
“Where you headin’?” The drivers face easier to see as the roar of the engine powered the cab light better. The flickering stopped. Shona took a mental note of his belly over-hang into jeans that had given up the fight, a beard that looked like it had yesterday’s food still in it and sweat patches all down his front of his red t-shirt where there were rips in in the arms. But, Shona thought, he is giving me a lift out of here. Quickly remembering she had to speak manly-
“Umm… just, just the next town Sir”
“Well…that aint no 5 minute journey. What the hell you doin’ out here at this time?’
Shona didn’t know what ‘this’ time was until she spied the drivers watch that said 10.57pm. She was completely disorientated with time, days and direction.
Shona coughed as if that changed her voiced deeper.
“My ride bailed”
Shona kept her answers short. She didn’t want the truck driver knowing she was a woman.
He looked over at Shona with an air of suspicion his eyes narrowed then returned to the road. This ‘young man’ in his passenger seat not willing to make eye contact led him feeling like there was more to it. But ‘he’ was company on one of his painfully long routes delivering goods. Shona prayed he didn’t pry too much. She thought if she went asleep that would help, he wouldn’t disturb her, but she was that exhausted that she would really would fall asleep despite the countless bumps in the rocky road. If she fell asleep, she wouldn’t be able to defend herself. So instead pretended to be asleep. She got comfortable in her seat, pulled her bag in tighter to her chest to where her head was against it, pulled her cap over her eyes, that way she could still keep her eyes open and would stay alert. With her right hand, she discreetly traced along until she felt the door handle, just in case. The driver looked across again, frowned thinking this man won’t be any company at all.
‘Please god…don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep’ Shona whispered to herself.
“Damn son of a bitch! Get out of the way!”
Shona jolted awake taking in a quick breath at the same time with panic. She had been asleep. Damn it! Shona jolting had caused the driver to divert his attention from the swerving car coming towards the truck onto her. Shona rubbed her eyes but still squinted after being snatched from dreaming. It was 1.49am looking at the drivers watch.
Shona’s cap had fallen backwards when she jolted upright revealing her choppy blond hair and her satchel was in the foot well, it had fallen in the commotion. Her opened shirt just unveiled the edges of what looks like a bra. Shona buttoned up to the top.
“You’re a broad!?” The drivers face looking in disgust with the idea of being played, but at the same time trying to concentrate on the road, swerving where he was veering off into the oncoming lane.
“Listen, Sir. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to trick you, I just…I just wanted to get to the next town and when you thought I was a man, I just went along with it. I’m sorry.”
“What kinda game you playin’!? Where do you get off makin’ people look a fool!” The driver wiping sweat from his forehead, sitting upright looking tense.
“I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t wanna take me any further, Sir. I get it” Shona angry with herself for falling asleep. But in truth, she was hallucinating with exhaustion.
“I should kick you out right here!” The driver nodding at the windscreen as if to emphasise he was serious.
The road looked the same road as when she had got in. She dreaded to think if she had to walk it up until this point.
“I’m sorry” Shona again, curled up into a near foetal position with her head against the door, willing the truck every metre she didn’t have to walk that was getting nearer to civilisation. She was just about warm, but she knew outside she would have frozen to a slow death.
“Don’t mess it up Shona, don’t mess it up!” Shona said to herself
The driver saw Shona looking straight ahead and figured there was no point kicking her out. She may have deceived him, but no real harm done. Shona being a woman may not be such a bad thing.
The bumping and rattling of the truck hitting rocks, dead animals and swerving round holes in the road at the last second, may wake some people, but it again slowly rocked Shona to sleep. She didn’t feel in imminent danger, the driver would have thrown her out already surely. He instead was taking her out of that place, that state hopefully, heading east. The rocking motion soothed her into the deepest sleep she had ever had. Sleep didn’t come easy to Shona.
It wasn’t the noise, but the noise stopping that woke Shona. It was still dark out. It still looked they were nowhere, anywhere. Shona was facing the window trying in vain to find signs of life, civilisation. She put her left in a salute shape to block out the cab lights reflection. She made the mistake of turning her head left to look at the driver to quiz why they had stopped and parked off the beaten track after she could make out some headlights whizzing by. She couldn’t un-see what she was saw.
“What………what you doin?’” Shona’s voiced filled with confusion, mixed with fear and feeling disgusted.
The big burly driver was fixed on Shona, he had got into a ‘more comfortable’ position, back against the chair- with his right hand making its way into his underwear, jeans unzipped. He was sweating more, panting, which made Shona feel sick and horrified. His mouth was open a little, with his expectant tongue dripping a drop of saliva out of the corner of his mouth which he wiped on his left hand so as not to interrupt his rhythm of his other hand.
“You could… pay for your ride into the next town…?” he said, his voice husky with a sense of entitlement.
Shona started breathing heavily, but for completely the opposite reasons. Keeping her gaze onto the driver, who was increasing his hand speed, she tried to locate her property.
“I…I’m sorry. I don’t want…that” Shona said
“Oh I do like it when a girl puts up a fight” He had to stop mid-sentence to catch his breath-
“- it makes it so much more interesting”
Shona was paralysed with fear. She was in a strangers truck in the absolute middle of nowhere and it was 3. 54am according to the drivers watch that Shona had to cleverly read almost upside down.
“Sir…please. Just-“ Shona was holding her hands up in a ‘I don’t want any trouble’ position.
“- come over here and….help me out darlin’. You’re a pretty girl…… and I still…… got a long journey… ahead” His eyes rolled at the same time he arched his back clearly enjoying the moment even more the fact Shona didn’t want to engage with him. Shona wanted to vomit. Everything about him was dirty, his fingernails, his greasy thinning hair and he stank of sweat. Shona didn’t know whether to let him ‘finish’ and carry on the journey until it got light, or to just take her chances with the night. Shona thought the decision would be easy, but she had never been in this position before. Shona was pressed up against the door feeling for the handle to escape. Shaking her head at him slowly when he breathlessly repeated ‘come on, get on over here, helped me out sweetheart’ He had no shame in what he was doing. Shona quickly looked to see if there were any headlights that she could run to. She’d rather a ‘new’ problem that dealing with this sweaty ogre. No lights in the distance.
Just when Shona thought he would ‘finish’ he leapt at her across the seat, grabbed the back of the neck to try to force her mouth down onto him, but Shona was strong enough to put up a good fight. Being so up close, Shona could smell the extent of his body odour and started retching. She placed both her arms out wide, one onto the dashboard and her left hand onto the seat next to him to stop her from being forced to have him inside her mouth. The pair of them panting, one in excitement and one in sheer panic.
“Nooooo!” Shona’s pleas were going unanswered and excited him more.
Shona was losing strength-fast. Somehow she maneuvererd her body within the little space there was, to where her head was quickly level with the drivers right thigh, she lost her grip and her head went down, but instead of onto his penis, Shona bit into the fatty thigh with so much force she thought she could taste blood, maybe even skin. The driver yelled and punched Shona square on her right jaw in a bid to get her to release her grip. In a split second, he realised what would have happened if she bit down on his genitals. Shona thought about it, but was retching already, and a part of him would have probably enjoyed it. The punch was so hard Shona flew back into her own seat and hit the back of her head cracking the window. Through temporary blurriness she could see the driver inspecting his thigh, wiping the blood already running onto his muddy jeans. Shona had to get out. Now. The driver shrieked again as a second wave of pain flooded through his thigh at the same time trying to tuck his semi-erect penis into his underwear. Shona was grabbing at her things and stopped suddenly as she noticed the driver reach to the glove box. A gun, with some loose bullets next to it. Shona had a matter of seconds before he loaded it. She snatched at the door handle. The driver in two minds whether to grab at Shona or to load the gun, he realised that nobody can outrun a bullet so let Shona go and frantically trying to put the bullets in while both wrist were shaking profusely with adrenaline and unanswered sexual frustration whilst Shona made a run for it, purposely slamming the passenger door so that he would have to damage his own truck by having a bullet hole through the window. She jumped the 3 steps down and fell, rolled over, grabbed her bag, somehow her cap staying on and sprinted as fast as anyone can run when they are about to be shot in the back. She ran behind the truck into the distance, so that the 3-4 seconds the driver would take to open his door, down the steps just might be enough for her to take cover somewhere. It was her quick thinking that had always kept her alive, and it worked once again. She ran in a zig zig formation so she would make a more difficult target. Soon she vanished into the night hearing 2-3 shots fired in her direction. She remembers seeing 4 bullets. She would have to stay hidden. She didn’t want that last bullet having her name on it.
Shona was sure the truck had taken off. She had heard the familiar roar from afar, seen the headlights light up the dusty road and fade into the distance. But Shona wanted to make sure, hiding behind a large mound of rocks until it was completely out of sight was the only the only source of protection from a bullet.
She let out a huge sigh, catching her breath. It was only now she realised the magnitude of nearly losing her life. She was lucky. Stomping her way down the road, she could see the sun trying to break through in the distance, dawn was on its way and Shona felt reassured despite the throbbing of her head and cheek injuries. She touched the back of her head and tasted what was on her fingers- blood. She hoped she did some damage to that son of a bitches’ window, he deserved everything he got. Luck seemed to be on her side when she spotted a river into the distance, and started walking off the beaten track. The sun slowly pouring into the sky illuminating landmarks. Shona could see a shed-like building and made her way over to it treading carefully over the uneven rocks. She approached with caution. There would only be enough room for 1 or 2 people inside anyway. But she had already one near-death experience earlier. It was unlocked. Great. Her second bit of luck. Shona knocked on the beaten wooden panels as if to alert somebody inside she was coming in. She couldn’t see inside fully, but was sure she was alone. This was perfect to curl up, get warm and get some rest. The ordeal that had taken place over the last few hours were something she wanted to put behind her fast. Here she felt safe enough to drift off into a much needed sleep despite her head throbbing. The wind had got up and throughout the morning, Shona had been woken by the door to the shed she had been sleeping in, banging against the metal unused lock. But without any difficulty, she fell back to sleep.
“Daddy?” The phone line crackled slightly.
“Chloe….sweetheart! How’s my princess!?”
“I’m good daddy, real good. I wished I could travel for longer. I’ve taken so many pictures -”
“-I know honey, but we need you back here at the business. We’re counting on you. I’ll send one of the guys to pick you up from the station” Larry interrupted his daughter.
“Well alright. I’ll see you soon”
“Who are you!?”
Shona woke with a panic as she was faced with an old guy with a rifle pointing straight at her.
“What!?…Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Shona. I was dog tired sir, I been travelling and I found this place. I’ll move”
“Don’t you move!….you planning on letting my animals out? Stealing ‘em!?” He got closer
“I…no way Sir, I didn’t know you had animals! I just needed to rest. I promise!”
Shona held her hands up showing she wasn’t carrying any weapons. Damn it, this was the second time she was staring down the barrel of a gun within a matter of hours.
“Get up!” The man gestured with his gun to emphasise. He still couldn’t see Shona’s face clearly as she was at the back of the shed still in the dark. Shona complied and got up slowly. Her head still thudding. As she moved forward towards him, he could see her face was badly bruised on her right cheek. He softened slightly.
The man backed up until he was almost outside and noticed that there was blood on Shona’s palms. She was conscious not to make this old guy jumpy with a gun in his hand.
“What happened to you? You been in fight or somethin’? Or you been killing animals?” He was trying to stay hard but couldn’t help but feel a twinge of concern. A young woman shouldn’t have injuries like that, but still, she was on his land.
“A guy…a guy tried to…rape me. I managed to escape. I ran, and I’ve been hiding out here to rest until I move on Sir” Shona swallowed hard hoping the words landed to somewhere remotely of compassion.
The old man lowered his rifle figuring the girl looked like she had been through enough. It could have been his daughter, if he had had one. Unfortunately he wasn’t blessed with any children.
“Well…ermm.. you won’t get any rest out here. Come back to the house, get something to eat. My wife can make you some food for your journey…I’m Tom, Tom Byrd…and you are?”
“Shona….Jackson. Thank you so much”
Larry marched down the stony hallways towards his office with the sign ‘Larry Bruce- Business Partner’ on the door feeling pleased with himself. He sat back in his luxurious leather chair and exhaled. He reached into the bottom drawer of the fabulously expensive desk for his favourite tipple and poured into the whisky glass already in front of him, a permanent feature. He tips the glass as acknowledging his achievement to himself.
“Job well done Bruce. Job well done”
“Would you like some more tea, Shona?”
Ruby Byrd immediately put Shona at ease and brought out the soft side in her husband Tom. She busied herself in the kitchen ensuring there was plenty of food on the table after springing a surprise on her by bringing Shona inside. Tom managed to give Ruby a quick low-down in the time Shona removed her dusty shoes on the mat by the front door out of respect. Ruby, despite not being a mother herself was horrified and gestured Shona to come in at once.
“Oh I’m fine Mrs Byrd…Thank you.” Shona was famished due to her ordeal over the last 12 hours or so but now was full to the point of being uncomfortable. She sat back in her chair and patted her tummy hoping it would ease, but she didn’t know when she was going to eat this well again.
“Please….call me Ruby”
Shona nodded in response.
“So Shona, what are your plans?” Tom said as he buttered more toast.
“Uhmm… I don’t really have any Sir-“
“-Tom, call me Tom”
Shona smiled “Ok, Tom…I don’t have any plans. It was just to find a job, somewhere to sleep. Just living the simple life, out of harm’s way, you know?”
Ruby listened with concern. Daynes was no town for a woman travelling alone. She and Tom kept themselves to themselves on their farm just on the border of it and were pretty self-sufficient. But over time, the town was becoming more hostile, not in full view, but you definitely had to have your wits about you. Everybody knew everybody’s business.
“Can you sew?” Ruby interrupted her own negative thoughts.
“Ah pardon me?” Shona looked confused.
“Can you sew? Can you mend clothes?” Ruby was putting her brown straggly unkempt hair up into a makeshift bun.
“I’m sorry ma’am. I… can’t sew” Shona looked slightly disappointed with herself. “But I can mend vehicles, any kind. I maybe a girl, only 24 but I can fix a car like any man can! I can ride, and I can tame any damn horse you give me, I swear I can”
Ruby and Tom both chuckled at Shona’s enthusiasm. She had a charm about her, a harmless aura of somebody just wanting to find their way.
“Where you from Shona?” Ruby clearing the breakfast plates off of the chequered table cloth.
“Never heard of it” Tom took another bite of his toast.
“Nobody has” Shona chuckled, “It’s a small town. I worked on a farm with my father until I was 16”
“Why did you leave?” Ruby looked intently sitting down resting her elbows on the table and interlocking her fingers.
Shona’s delightful smile disappeared.
“See now…that’s a long story”
Larry Bruce shrieked at the top of his voice in the direction of his personal assistant, the long suffering Linda Coles. She was used to the shouting by now, but it still make her jump and often led to her jolting at her typewriter and on numerous occasions, spilling her coffee.
“Yes Mr,Bruce” Linda was in the doorway.
“Linda, I want you to get the Sheriff on the phone and tell him to come right on over here to arrest these 3 thieving dirty niggers, you hear?”
3 men, terrified, looking perplexed as to how and why after only a week of starting work which they were grateful to Geoffrey Ellis for, were they being hauled into the other Boss’s office awaiting to be arrested.
“Right away Mr. Bruce, right away” Linda replied looking frazzled as she never knew what she was going to be asked to do, or to cover up for that matter, working at Ellis and Bruce. She adjusted her glasses to write down a quick note on her miniature notepad and hopped back to her office 2 doors down. Larry was left with the 3 men who was visibly shaking. One had beads of sweat on his forehead slithering down his nose, eyes wide.
“Sir…please, may I speak?”
“Shut your damn filthy mouth you son of a bitch!” Larry interrupted
“ You go crawling to Mr. Ellis, the ‘easy touch’ when it comes to you niggers, then you have the audacity to thieve wallets from the good, honest white folk here from their lockers!?”
Larry got up out of his leather office chair walked around the desk to get in the face of the black man who dared to even look Bruce in the eye. Larry was furious.
“I hope they rip your ass apart in prison where you belong…chained up” Larry spat at their feet with disgust.
The shaking guy shook more and looked to his left willing the other 2 to speak out. On the verge of wailing out of the injustice he opened his mouth and dropped to his knees as if pleading, not for forgiveness, but just to be heard.
“Sir…Mr. Bruce. I swear…I swear to God. I don’t know about any wallets. I aint seen ‘em. I been workin’ hard in the job that you and Mr. Ellis were so kind to give me…give us. We don’t know about the wallets Sir.”
The other two looked down at the sorry state of a man pleading for his life curling up into a ball on the floor. He was only 20 years old, they at least understood the world a bit better. Being black was as close to a death sentence in these parts. But trying to escape was almost out of the question too. Nobody liked niggers. 2 more went missing three days ago, no trace. They were only trying to move on to a more sympathetic state, didn’t make it out.
“Get up! Get your sorry ass up off of my clean floor” Larry Bruce jolted the 3 of them with his deep husky southern voice. His mouth hardly moving as his wiry moustache covered it. They stood as if they were awaiting execution, which isn’t far from the truth.
The shaky lad quickly sprinted upright and stood next to the two others, breathing faster. The middle man, the more older, confident of the 3 friends looked towards Larry Bruce, but purposely didn’t make eye contact, focused on a picture on the wall above Larrys’ head and quietly, almost to a whisper spoke one last plea to Larry, trying desperately to stop one lone tear from fighting its way out of his right eye.
“Mr. Bruce, Sir….I promise on my dead sons grave. We aint seen, we aint taken those wallets. Please… we beg you. Search us, search our bags. We aint stolen a thing” The tear won the battle and dripped onto his cheekbone and straight to the floor like a stone.
Larry Bruce smirked. Loving every second these filthy niggers were begging him. That’s the way it should be. It wouldn’t get them anywhere, but at least they finally started to understand where they were in the pecking order, below homosexuals, below murderers, rapists, paedophiles, that’s where.
“Mr. Bruce the Sherriff is here” Linda’s voice came from just outside the doorway and straight after, the Sherriffs’ intimidating figure took up the doorway, with his 3 deputy’s. A little heavy handed, the 3 men hadn’t shown a morsel of aggression the short time they had been at Ellis and Bruce, now they were all becoming shivering wrecks.
“You know what to do Sherriff. I’ll leave these 3 in your…..capable hands” Larry winked at the Sherriff who responded with a knowing nod tipping his hat. All 3 were handcuffed without resisting, too weak and scared to move, and then led off.
“Anything else Mr.Bruce?”
“That’ll be all for now, Linda”
Larry once again sat back into his chair that moulded around him and exhaled feeling pleased with himself, tapping his fingers on the leather arms. Leaning over slightly, he opened his bottom right drawer for his drink of choice-whiskey, which was padded on one side slightly by items that were next to it. Larry smiled at them ‘good work again’ he thought and shut the drawer. They were the 3 ‘stolen’ wallets.
Shona was being taken for a tour of the Byrd’s farmhouse. Both Tom and Ruby decided to cease asking Shona too many questions for now, she obviously wasn’t comfortable talking about the past. They just made sure her cuts and bruises were seen to. Tom took Shona to the stables across the way from the house, as he heard at breakfast how much Shona loved horses.
“This is Storm” Tom patted a feisty mare who was nodding repeatedly as if she was about to be let loose in a race.
“Storm?” Shona’s eyebrows raised.
“Yep, every time we used to let her out, she’d be like a whirlwind. Now she is untameable”
Shona laughed and patted Storms mane. Storm threw her head to the side almost taking Shonas arm out the socket, then back kicked the wall several times creating loud thuds.
“Yeah I see that” Shona chuckled.
Shona had seen everywhere, the small, quaint 2 bedroom house where the second bedroom had been made into a sewing room, which is where Ruby did her repairs. They didn’t need a second bedroom for guests, they hardly had any visitors and they preferred it that way. They had each other day in and day out like it had been over the last 40 years where they clapped eyes on each other both aged 16 when they met a school dance. They were soul mates. Shona loved the vast land out back of the house. It was where she felt most comfortable. It headed towards the River Weaver, a scenic sometimes fast flowing river that was great for fishing with beautiful flowers blooming on the bank. The land was used for some basic crops and for grazing their farm animals used to generate the majority of their low income. That’s the only time they went to town, on business and that’s because they had to.
Shona came back to the kitchen after using the toilet and felt she interrupted Tom and Ruby talking quietly and went to go back out.
“Shona, wait…..” Ruby gestured with her hand, open palmed, as if to stop Shona feeling like she was in the way of their conversation.
“Tom and I have just spoken, and…..we wanted to ask if you would like to stay a night or two or just until you find somewhere. I mean, we will have to clear some space in the barn across the way, but it’s warm”
Rubys gentle smile already made Shona feel at home. It was warm and complimented her little round face showing early signs of aging, and Shona hadn’t felt wanted for a long time, since her own mother died.
“Really?…You kiddin’? My god, yes please! I’d be so grateful. I’ll help with the animals for my keep…” Shona looked temporarily ashamed.
“…I don’t have any money.”
“Shona, that’s ok. Ruby and I would appreciate any help on the farm. We’re not getting any younger” Tom glanced at Ruby with a cheeky smile.
“Speak for yourself!” Ruby playfully jabbed a finger towards Tom.
“Well I’d like that. I really would. Thank you so much” with that Shona almost leapt at Tom and Ruby and gave them an excited hug each. This was the most compassion Shona had been shown in a long, long time. She hoped it would stay like this. Just as long as they didn’t keep asking questions, all should be ok.
“Mr Bruce!…What an honour to be chosen to work here, alongside a fine gentlemen such as yourself who I… look up to, respect and are in complete awe of….”
Kyle Chambers eagerly shook Larry Bruce’s hand in Larrys lavish office after being given the good news. Kyles left hand cupping Larrys wrist in excitement. He was told he was the successful candidate for the Management programme of Ellis and Bruce, a company whose financial success was revered for miles, especially due to business boom in the early 1950s and early 1957 was looking even better already. Larry had attracted more people to use his company for vehicle repairs and transportation of cotton and the ‘golden grain’ that is wheat farmed from his land. Ellis and Bruce had been trailblazers in Alabama for better machinery out in the fields, so as not to need as many men, paying fewer wages, more production, more profit, and making Larry Bruce and Geoffrey Ellis even more ridiculously wealthy. Jobs at Ellis and Bruce were sought after in and around the busy town of Daynes.
Kyle’s broad smile exposed perfect Hollywood white teeth that glinted under the light, a fine handsome man, not a dark hair out of place wearing an expensive suit that contoured his admirable muscular but svelte frame. He knew he was onto a good thing at Ellis and Bruce.
“I’m sure you will do well here Kyle, I like the way you think” Larry’s eyes narrowed as if to emphasise this point.
“I won’t let you or Mr Ellis down, Sir”
“Great! I’ll get Linda my secretary to give you all the details as to when you will start Kyle. I’ll present you to the staff on the floor after that. My daughter Chloe will be back by then too, she will be your equal, but she’s my daughter so she has final say…for now.”
Both men chuckled. Larry continued.
…”I’ll be training her to eventually be director here long after me and Geoffrey have gone. But, I need a man to, you know, take this company forward. I mean, who in the hell as heard of a woman being a boss. It’s downright crazy! We would be laughed at by our competition if I left it all in Chloe’s hands. Our investors would run a mile!? But..she’s my only child to pass this place onto, well after my son died 5 years ago aged 20……anyway, Cheers!”
After a second of feeling sombre at Larry being reminded of the death of his son, they clinked their whiskey glasses in celebration, Kyle’s eyes wide.
Later that evening, Shona was shown to where she could sleep with only her satchel as her belongings. Tom and Ruby felt bad they couldn’t offer more space. This was paradise to Shona who wasn’t even sure she would survive the night before. The house was cramped as it was and the open planned farmhouse area across from unused stables was fairly warm, just across a short path to the main house. Storm, the feisty mare was kept in a separate purpose built stable about 20 metres away from the house with the other animals as her kicking had damaged the walls to the point where she nearly escaped, and if she did, there was no stopping her.
Ruby came in and joined Tom and Shona in the farmhouse bringing some towels and bedding to make the place feel more like home. An old single mattress was propped up on some wooden furniture to keep the bed off the damp floor-perfect Shona thought, especially with the pillows and the blankets.
“Shona…..do you where dresses at all?” Ruby asked awkwardly.
She had taken note of Shona’s clothing, a white men’s shirt unbuttoned to the chest, sleeves rolled up above the elbow. Denim pants more suited a man’s waist that have seen better days. They had a couple of rips down the side (probably caused by the falling and scrambling from the truck). Shona looked more like a handsome young man with mid length choppy hair that often got in his eyes, than a pretty young woman. Tom and Ruby thought Shona was pleasant and that’s all that mattered.
“Dresses?….ermm no I don’t.” Shona’s cheeks went red with embarrassment
“I was only asking as I could make you some, I saw you only had a little bag with you”
Ruby pointed to the crumbled satchel with 2 rips in it, on the floor next to Shona’s new bed. Tom felt sad for Shona. But he was no good in these situations and left them to Ruby, until he had a thought. He ‘could’ help actually.
“Well Shona, just until Ruby here can make you some clothes, I can lend you some pants, shirts, overalls. We got a collection over time from guys who have done work here on the farm, would that make you feel more comfortable?….We’ll see that they’re washed clean”
Tom squinted his face a little. He hoped he didn’t offend Shona
“I’d really like that, thank you Tom…..Ruby”
Shona felt as if she could be herself here already.
“Yeah, Larry. What can I do for you?” Geoffrey Ellis was pouring himself a drink, an expensive cigar pushed to the side of his mouth.
“I’ve had to get rid of those damn niggers you gave a chance to. They been thievin’!”
“What!? ..I heard good things from the guy they worked with, nothing but good things…you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I turned them over to the Sherriff like the last ones. You can’t change ‘em, you can’t work with em’ ,they don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do for them Geoffrey. It won’t be long and they’ll think they’re damn entitled to a job”
Geoffrey made himself comfortable into his sumptuous armchair and took a sip of his red wine perplexed at the rate of the black employees who come and go through Ellis and Bruce. He tried to help them. He had a personal reason why he wanted to despite being in the least understanding and uncompassionate town that is Daynes.
“Ok Larry…you got anything else for me?” Geoffrey had a twinge of disappointment the 3 black guys didn’t work out.
“Just that the numbers are looking good Geoffrey….there is one thing. I’m looking at buying some replacement machines, and some damn tractors keep breaking down. Can I go ahead… get the cash out? The boys are waiting on it”
Larry was bound by an agreement that he couldn’t do any major deals or take large sums of money without Geoffrey’s say-so. They were equal partners, but Geoffrey was by the far the wealthiest (and the kindest) who had put a greater portion of the money into Ellis and Bruce. But Geoffrey was more a silent partner, he preferred it that way. He did pop into the business from time to time to check all was ok, but his visits were becoming less frequent. He was a businessman after all, a very successful one who took over the company from his late father. Geoffrey was in his 60s and didn’t need the stress of running it day-to-day like Larry, his slightly younger business partner. He instead was enjoying his later life, socialising and spending time with his wife Marilyn at their country estate just outside of Daynes.
“Sure Larry, go ahead… I dropped some more cash off in my last visit. There should be plenty in the safe.”
Shona had stayed the night at the farmhouse. And the next night. She actually didn’t feel like moving out at all, she felt so at home eating Ruby’s delicious cooking, but she needed money and she was helping Tom and Ruby with the animals for her keep, they didn’t have any money to give her work.
“You know anywhere that I could find work round here?” Shona asked looking up from her flavoursome breakfast that Ruby had prepared for them all on the familiar red and white chequered tablecloth with every condiment you could need on it.
“Ermm Tom?” Ruby aimed in Toms direction, she was at the cooker boiling some more eggs.
“This is a….tough town for… a lady Shona, looking for the kind of work you want. I mean, it’s not really the done thing having a lady working with trucks now, even one as hardworking as you. I know you’re other place Wreckers had you, back in Louisiana, but that’s rare. There are some bone idle people about this town. Why do you think we stay out of it?”
Ruby felt sad for Shona, but she knew Tom was telling the truth. She carried on with the poached eggs.
Shona knew that Tom found that hard to say. He was a gentle soul. He could hardly make eye contact with Shona fearing he would see that he hurt her with his comment.
“Want some more Shona?” Ruby carefully put them in the bowl next to Shonas empty breakfast plate as if to offer some comfort. Shona smiled and nodded as a ‘yes’.
Tom interrupted his own breakfast put down his knife and fork, wiped his mouth with the napkin.
“You see, there’s this one place. I mean, I aint worked there or nothin’, but I’ve heard from people, they got trucks, tractors, you name it coming and going. I’m sure they could use your help….. but it all depends if you get the chance to speak the nice guy.”
“Nice guy?” Shona questioned looking confused.
“Yeah, his name is Ellis. Geoffrey Ellis. He’s got more money than God. He co-owns the business but each year, he has less and less to do with it, so it’s harder to get hold of him. He lets that no-good Bruce run it day-to-day, so its Ellis you need to find and speak to. He ermm….he gives people a chance, at the annoyance of Bruce, but I’ve even hear the Blacks go in with a job after speaking to Ellis. I don’t know why he does it, this town openly has Klan running through its veins, blacks get lynched… disappear on an almost daily basis, but Ellis likes to give ‘em a shot, you know?”
Shona was leaning forward taking in every word, fingers interlocked, eyes widened at the prospect of possibly getting a job that she could actually do that would help keep her staying with Tom and Ruby, and allowing her to save much needed cash to figure out her plan.
“Where do I find this…..Ellis?”
“James, what’s in your glass!? You talkin’ like you drunk already!”
Harry Conway said whilst stubbing out his cigar laughing at another ridiculous idea coming from James.
James Wilson, Harry and three other wealthy gentlemen including the sought after Mr Ellis, belly laughed whilst enjoying their drinks and their regular day time haunt, the high-end Copperpot Inn. The kind of place glasses were polished, windows cleaned, and a guest list strongly adhered to. Not the usual kind of bar in Daynes. Here they would discuss their fortunes, bad investments, jackpot investments and generally making sense of a crazy changing world. Their table would be the VIP table.
“Can I help you….miss?” The immaculately presented middle-aged woman front of house eyed up Shona from her feet to her hair. Not a flicker of a smile, pursed lips, no emotion, one eyebrow raised and looked on the verge of disgusted.
Shona flicked her floppy blonde fringe out of her blue eyes and stood up straight, trying to make herself look…better. She was grateful that Ruby had altered one of Toms shirts for her, and cleaned some pants. Shona felt like a new penny.
“Errmm…Is Mr. Ellis in here please, I’d like to talk to him?”
“I’m afraid I can’t give you that information. Does he know you?” The woman looked even snootier at the sheer audacity this young woman, and she used that term loosely given by her dress sense resembling more of a poor man.
Shona took a big intake of breath. She was out of her depth in a place like this.
“I just need a minute of his time, Miss, I just wanna talk to him, I aint here for no trouble”
“This is an exclusive member’s bar that is men-only. Mr. Ellis is one of our most valued customers and we wont see him being disturbed by…..you”
The woman’s tone got more louder, assertive, to the point of aggressive, emphasising that Shona would never be a part of an exclusive club of anything.
“Miss…I just need to talk to him, I can wait outside..I-“
Shona was interrupted
“I will call to have you removed if you do not leave!”
This last interaction stopped the group of men mid-sentence. They all looked over at what was going on front of house. They had the circular table in the middle, by the window-best seat in the house. One of the men of Ellis’s table got up to go and see if everything was alright.
“Whats going on over here Gracie, you ok? She causin’ you trouble?”
Now both the tycoon and the front of house woman were glaring at Shona. She really didn’t want to cause trouble. But Mr.Ellis was her only hope to remain in Daynes to stay with Tom and Ruby and to have a chance to save some money.
“Sir, I just need to speak to Mr.Ellis. I can wait outside”
“Why you bothering Mr.Ellis, he doesn’t know you!”
Geoffrey’s name being hollered twice, made his ears prick up The commotion was obviously about him.
“Carson! Whats going on over there!?” Ellis called from his table. He was in Shonas direct eyeline now that Carson had got up. Great. Shona knew which one was Ellis. Her heart started pounding faster and faster.
“Nothing Geoff, nothing we cant fix”
With that Shona ducked past Ms. Snooty and Carson and headed for Ellis. Carson reached to grab Shona, but she was too nimble, in two seconds she was at his table, Carson and Snooty following.
“Sir…Mr. Ellis..” Shona started to speak, out of breath from adrenaline, then Carson grabbed her-hard to where she was in a headlock at the table, the others looked on in confusion.
“Get off me! Get off me!” Shona pleaded
“Carson!……Come on, let her go. She’s a woman for Christ’s sake!” Ellis stood up.
Carson reluctantly shoved Shona loose. Ms Snooty looking on, furious. The table silent. Other members looking over to see what was happening, but slowly the mumbling started again.
“Thank you…Sir” Shona was panting after having her airways blocked temporarily by Carson. She rubbed her neck.
Ellis sat down, it felt less threatening.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you here, Sir. I just heard that you’re a real nice guy and you gave people chances that may not get help elsewhere.“ Shona looked at Ellis right in the eye, her blue eyes pleading.
Ellis sat back in the high backed chair
“You’re looking for a job?” Ellis questioned with confusion, squinting.
“Yes Sir…I am”
The table quietly sniggered. Ms.Snooty rolled her eyes at the audacity.
“The thing is….” Ellis gestured for Shona’s name.
“Shona” she nodded at the same time
“The thing is…Shona. I already have a secretary. I have a wonderful lady who does all the administration in the office. I just don’t have a job for….you” Ellis shrugged his shoulders at the same time.
“Sir… I can work on trucks, I can repair any kind of vehicle, you watch me. I can work in the fields like I used to with my father, I’ll be the damn hardest worker you’ve ever met Sir”
Shona cupped her fist in her other hand as if to passionately emphasise despite the tables sniggers getting louder at the thought of her working on expensive important machinery.
Everybody sniggered apart from Ellis whose gaze remained focused on Shona. There was something about her.
“Trucks? You think you can work on Mr.Ellis’s trucks!? I must be drunk hearing this trash!” James Conway took another sip of his spirit.
“I’m serious Mr. Ellis. I wouldn’t let you down. I know you give people like me a chance” Shona spoke softer.
The tables gaze then switched to Ellis.
“I give people chances that won’t waste ‘em Shona. I can show ‘em through the door, then it’s up to them. If they steal, they’re out. They don’t show up for work one day, they’re out, they late, they’re out. They refuse any kind of work given to ‘em…then Bruce has my blessing and they’re out…”
Shona wasn’t entirely sure if this was a warning about the company, or possibly a hint at a job offer.
“It’s tough in there Shona, pretty much all men. I’m not sure how they gone handle seeing a pretty young broad turning up.”
The table laughed at the thought of it. Ellis gaze returned to Shona.
Shona’s face serious.
“I can handle it Sir. I worked with men before. They’ll see how hard I work. I just need the chance to prove myself…..please”
Ellis couldn’t believe what he was about to agree to. He sat back into his chair feeling his shirt slide against the silky material. His hands interlocked and the tip of his two index fingers rested against his pursed lip. He was thinking. Ms. Snooty knew she wasn’t needed at the table, but was flabbergasted Shona plea was even being entertained at this table of all tables. Even she wanted to know his answer.
“Shona……..” Ellis began.
Shona’s eyes alright bright blue, widened and glistened with expectation. The table and Ms.Snooty hanging on Ellis’s next words.
“…..Shona. I’m gone give you a chance. One chance. It’s up to you from here on. I aint gone hold your hand, you gotta prove yourself, you hear?”
Shona’s face broke out into a huge beautiful smile, she was looking for somebody to hug in excitement nearby. Ms. Snooty got it to her dissatisfaction, almost being lifted off her feet.
“Mr. Ellis, Sir I wont let you down, I promise! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Shona clasped her hands like she was praying at Ellis.
“Wilson here will get somebody to let Mr. Bruce know, your new boss. You can start next week…Monday. Report at the front office 6.30am. Don’t.Be.Late.” Ellis sipped his drink and couldn’t help but to smile at Shona. He admired her bravery.
Shona left the Copperpot Inn resisting the urge to skip, punch the air, anything to celebrate. Today was the day where everything started to fall into place for her.
Ellis’s smile was still visible watching Shona leave happily and Harry Conway leaned into him and whispered.
“You’re not exactly gone be there to protect her Geoffey “
Ellis’s smile faded instantly. His face hardened to a frown almost showing a twinge of concern as Conway continued.
“…..You do realise you just fed your girl there…. to a pack of damn wolves…”
Ellis, deep down, knew Conway was right.
“Get him!!……Get that son of a bitch!”
Three burly middle-aged men almost foaming at the mouth chasing a man at dusk, just on the outskirts of Daynes near the Weaver River. They were closing in on him, but damn it he was fast. He seemed to skip over small bushes at the side of the road with ease, dodge obstacles at speed as he ran into the field. He needed to. He was dead if they got hold of him.
“Let’s split up!” One of the men chasing gestured he would veer off to the left to try to cut the guy off. These three men were in sync. Or they had done this before.
All men at full pelt. It’s likely to get ugly.
Stopping for a split second, to catch probably his last breath he thought, the guy being chased looked to see a way out. Panting, hands on knees, sweat dripping. There were none. The field backed onto the Weaver and either side, the three men with perfect organisation had blocked off his exit, closing in. It got worse. He could hear ferocious barking.
“Let him go!”
For an instant, with a prayer, the doomed man thought he was being let off. Thank God! But he dared turn round, and in horror to see a vicious canine heading straight for him after being let off his lead. He was exhausted, but headed for the end of the field straight ahead, or more likely until his lungs gave up pumping the oxygen needed to outrun this bloodthirsty animal.
“Stop him before he gets to the river!”
River!? That’s a way out!. ‘Just got to make it to the river, just got to make it to the river’. His fell due to fatigue, his legs not catching up with how fast his brain wanted him to run. He was on the floor, skidded, kicking up dust that gave his exact position away when they were shining torches in the fast fading light. They had him now. He got up, hopped for 2 steps then forced himself to carry on, he was almost at the edge of field. Almost there. Until he felt a sharp stinging pain as the Alsatian had bit deep into the back of his right thigh, it had a distinctive ‘bite’ shape missing from one of its alert ears, but it miraculously lost its grip again after stumbling on uneven ground. Jump. He had no choice but to leap off the riverbank three to four feet high, and into the fast flowing Weaver heading to god knows where. He kept his head underwater hoping to evade capture and to not to get knocked out by rocks, being swept rapidly left and right. He had to come up for breath quickly, then went straight back down. The three men and the sound of the barking hound faded behind him. He hoped the flow of the river would stop somewhere where he could get out and find cover, which is exactly what he did which wasn’t easy or safe now that it was pitch black and he had some nasty cuts that needed seeing to. But he was alive.
“We’ll get him next time” The three panting men regrouped, patting their dog.
This was the only way to get him, to chase him, tear him apart with no obvious witnesses. The running man deserved all he got. The men didn’t know him, didn’t know his name, but as far as they were concerned, even though this man hadn’t stolen anything, murdered anyone, raped one of their women or harmed their children, he was absloutely despised.
The older leader of the pack spat on the floor in front of him.
“We’ll get that dirty fucking nigger”
“Excuse me!…Umm, I start work here today”
Shona spoke in the direction of the cramped reception office where the door was open a jar behind the reception desk, through the entrance of Ellis and Bruce. Nobody was there to greet her. She had arrived at 6am, nice and early. There was a rota as to who worked it until Bonnie came in at 9am. She could hear muffled voices, the occasional laugh, and bad language. She didn’t care, she had worked with men before and more importantly, she had a job.
“Well…look what we got here!” one of the muffled voices eventually emerged after hearing Shona. He was leering at her, chewing slowly.
“Mr. Ellis told me to report here and that somebody would show me round, so I can get straight to work on the trucks…or in the field” Shona said assertively. She knew she would have to stand her ground.
“Did he now?….Good ol’ Mr.Ellis. He really has lost his mind this time. First it was niggers, now it’s a broad…working on trucks, god damn it!” He couldn’t stifle his laugh. Shona was hoping for a better reception.
“Boys, get out here, you gotta see this!” he leant back and aimed his voice to the partially closed door to the office. Shona frowned while he faced away from her. Two other guys emerged in excitement and then looked Shona up and down. She was beautiful, shame she didn’t dress in beautiful clothes. She spoiled it wearing blue overalls whose arms were tied around her waist ready to get started, with a white t-shirt that drove the guys a little crazy as it clung to her perfect feminine body. She was odd, they thought. Something not quite right.
“What can we do for you sweetheart!?” one of the guys smiling a creepy smile.
“I’m here to work, on the trucks. If you could just show me where I need to go, I’ll start straight away” Shona had had enough being leered at now. She felt uneasy.
“Trucks!? You think you gone work on our trucks!? I’ll be damned! I thought you were our new cleaner!” All three laughed, loudly.
“Mr.Ellis said I could” Shona said, her mouth tensing.
“Oh…did he now? Are you and Mr.Ellis….good friends?” The first guy said, almost in a creepy whisper hinting that there was more to it, leaning towards Shona over the desk, perhaps mentally propositioning her.
“No…no of course not. I just came to work” Shona said defensively, even though she had nothing to defend. She rapidly realised what she was up against.
“Whats goin’ on….who are you?” Deputy Paul sneered towards Shona, this place was no place for a woman unless she was looking for a ‘different kind of work’ or was an annoying girlfriend of one of the boys. He was the guy under Bruce and Ellis and above everybody else. A brute.
“I’m Shona…Jackson. Mr.Ellis told me to report here at 6.30..today and I’d be working….on the vehicles. Or in the field.”
The boys were hoping Deputy Paul and his clean shaven face would break into hysteric laughter, but it didn’t. His eyes narrowed as he leaned on the reception desk resting his left hand on his hip.
“Yeah, I heard about you. I don’t know what game you’re playing little lady, but this place aint no place for a broad.You must have….caught the eye of Mr.Ellis. But orders are orders. Guys, get Johnson to show her round”
The boys behind the desk fell silent. It was true. She had got through the door, how she did it, nobody knew.
“Here…..this is where you’ll get changed”
Deputy Paul, huffing, opened a small room that gets used for brooms, buckets, old materials. It couldn’t fit any more than 2-3 people in it standing up. It was cramped, damp, dark and cupboards and shelves were broken or falling off. It was reluctantly Shona’s changing room to keep her things. The guys at Ellis and Bruce couldn’t be bothered to make it ‘presentable’ as asked by Ellis. Ellis and Bruce didn’t exactly plan on having a woman working for them in the main building.
Shona got given a very brief tour from Deputy Paul. He had more important things to do, but he received a message from Ellis that Shona was to given a ‘fair shot’. Deputy Paul begrudged every second of it, slamming doors as they left the offices, canteen and warehouse entrances. Shona began to worry. What had she gotten herself into? Everywhere she went on her guided tour, men stopped work on the vehicles in the warehouses or coming in from the fields, in the kitchen, from above walking to the management offices, and glared at Shona. What was her intention? Why was she allowed to work at Ellis and Bruce when they were men who were much more deserving and had to feed their families? Resentment was an understatement.
“You’ll have to share with us” Deputy Paul pointed at the bathroom area leaning on the door frame while Shona peeked in. It was dirty, smelly and unkempt. This wasn’t something Shona was looking forward to.
Just get me to work, let me work Shona kept repeating in her head. Once these men realised how good she was, they would go easier on her. Would they?
Deputy Paul ended the ‘guided tour’ just outside a tool room explaining the rules of Ellis and Bruce ‘Don’t be late, don’t refuse work, don’t steal and maybe…..you’ll be ok”. His words chilling and filled with hostility. Shona tried to blank it out and folded her arms almost for comfort and tried to stifle a ‘huff’. She looked to her right, near the entrance to the Tool room and she thought she saw somebody who ducked behind an unused tractor.
“Wait in here, somebody will show you where you’ll be workin’”
Deputy Paul pointed to a bench in a tool room housing every tool you could think of. But boy was it a mess. ‘Clean tools, look after you’ Shona thought back to what the boss (Bill) said at her old place ‘Wreckers’. His place was spotless, tools gleaming and Shona was happy there. Shame she had to leave so suddenly.
Shona was alone, looked up at the dusty clock on the wall in front, 7.23am.
Shona was still alone, nobody had come to show her to where she was working.
Shona started to tidy up the dusty tool room that backed onto the field, opened the door to let some fresh air rid the place of stale air, grease and smelly men.
10am a buzzer sounded. Shona stopped sweeping, wondering what it was, opened the door that went back into the main building, peering round and seeing a hive of activity heading towards the canteen. It was break time. She didn’t feel it was the time to introduce herself as it felt hostile enough as it was, she carried on working.
“Hello?” Shona rested the broom against one of the workbenches and crept towards the open door that backed onto the field. Everybody, she thought, was at break, and everybody appeared to not be very welcoming so she was reluctant to draw too much attention to herself. Who was it that made that noise? It sounded like footsteps creeping on gravel. Shona peered out the door, looking left, then right….then down to her right. She could see somebody, a man, trying to hide behind some stacked wood. Shona could see his feet.
“Hello..erm…you ok?” Shona spoke in the direction of the stacked wood. The feet quickly disappeared from view so that the man would be squeezing against the wall of the tool room trying to remain hidden.
Panicked panting came the reply. Shona raised her eyebrows in response. This man was scared. Shona flicked her hair out of her eyes to take more in, she was on alert herself. She cautiously approached the pile of jagged, rotten wood. She didn’t want to get hurt or to cause alarm to whoever this was. Her heart was beating so loud she thought this man would be able to hear it from where he was. Shona tried to control her rapid breathing. Her next footstep veering to the left would be the one to show her this man’s face. Shona swallowed hard and crept to the left and her face said it all.
He didn’t get up, didn’t attack her, just sat, sobbing, hugging his knees scared of making eye contact with whoever it was who had just found his hiding place. Shona completely understood why he would be hiding in these parts, he was black.
“Hey…” Shona said softly crouching down with a slow warm smile on her friendly face.
“….can I help?” This man couldn’t believe how a few words of compassion could elevate his head from being dropped to being able to make proper eye contact. Shona held out her right hand.
“I’m Shona……and you are?”
“Cuban….my name is Cuban” he shook her hand softly despite his visible strength.
His breathing stopped being so erratic. Cuban shifted positions on the gravel (that’s where the noise came from Shona thought) but he exposed quite a big bloodstain as moved.
“You…ok? You’re bleedin’” Shona asked gently, concerned. Cuban clearly looked in some discomfort. He spoke with emotion.
“I got chased by 3 men, I managed to outrun them but then…I got bit…I got bit by a large savage dog they set on me. I’m lucky…I’m one of the ones….I got away….”
“Hello….who’s out there?”
“Shit!” Cuban was afraid. If he was seen, he was probably dead
“Errmm its just me…” Shona lied
The wooden door from the tool room creaked open, Cuban tried to get up but his thigh was in pain from the dog bite and he let out a groan.
“Miss?….Who are you?”
An elderly looking man, faint white beard, white hair and very slight in frame wearing a tatty flat cap off centre, cautiously stepped outside. His raised his eyebrows when he saw Shona. Strangely, considering her ‘welcome’ so far, Shona didn’t fear this man.
“I’m Shona….I started work here today”
The man’s face appeared in shock. He looked at Shona’s clothes realising she wasn’t working in the offices where the few other women do.
“You?…Workin’ here? Doin’ what?”
“Trucks, I can repair trucks” Shona said proudly with a hint of a smile.
“Oh Miss, this aint no place for a pretty young lady” He seemed to say it more in a protective manner than of patronisation.
“I can handle myself”
“And who’s this?” he points to Cuban.
“I’m Cuban Sir”
“I’m Elbe….you two must have really sweet talked Mr.Ellis to get in here”
“Errm I don’t., I don’t work here. I mean, I really need a job but… I just rested here…” Cuban was about to point to his injured thigh when the sound of muffled voices and laughter came from inside the tool room and were coming outside. Too late.
“Shona….You got company” Deputy Paul leered at her and tipping his head towards the direction of voices coming from just behind him. It was Bruce and Ellis, and here Shona was with Cuban who was trespassing. This didn’t look good for a first morning at work.
“I just wanted to see how my girl was doin’ on her first day’ Jeffrey Ellis wearing a welcoming smile, approached Shona, then put his hands in his pockets. Bruce followed him outside. Shona and Bruce hadn’t met..until now,
“Who the fuck is that!? Bruce snapped, pointing at Cuban who was just behind Elbe to Bruce’s right. All heads pointed towards Cuban.
“Sir…I just…I just…” Cuban stuttered with fear, shaking.
“He just wanted to wait to speak to you or Mr.Ellis to ask about a job. Instead of sitting round doin’ nothing waiting for you, I watched him clean the Tool Room, look, see…” Shona expertly dived in, pointing back into the room they had all walked through to temporally distract them all. It worked, they all peered back in.
“Shona, you not been put to work yet?” Ellis asked, with a hint of concern. Bruce still raging inside at the thought of a damn dirty nigger setting foot on his property.
“Errm no Sir, I been waiting here. I was told to wait here” Ellis looked at Deputy Paul for answers.
“We can get her cleanin’, scrubbin’…” Deputy Paul was interrupted.
“Trucks, I want her on the trucks…she can drive, she can repair. Let’s see what she can do” Ellis said, protecting Shona.
Bruce rolled his eyes in disbelief. What the hell was going on!?
“This one just come in?” Ellis pointed towards a truck brought in first thing this morning, needing looking at.
Deputy Paul nodded reluctantly.
“Well Shona, now’s your chance to shine. Let’s see what you can do…take a look at it, see if you can get it goin’” Ellis smiled encouragingly at Shona, who returned with a half-smile, so as not to antagonise Bruce any more than what she already had done.
Bruce leaned into Ellis. “Jeffrey, you have really lost your mind this time…”
Ellis didn’t even flinch or acknowledge Bruce.
Elbe couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. This was all unheard of. Cuban was still on high alert. They hadn’t finished with him yet. He caught Bruce glaring at him menacingly.
Shona approached a mean looking Deputy Paul and gestured for the keys. He reluctantly gave them. His stare burning a hole in Shona’s head. Ellis sighed loudly.
‘Come on Shona, you can do this..’ She whispered under her breath.
Ellis and Deputy Paul glanced at each other in astonishment.
“This vehicle is expensive you understand?” Deputy Paul snarled at Shona. She nodded her reply.
Ellis folded his arms as Shona got to work. She tried the ignition, nothing. Got out, lifted the bonnet up, pulled some wires, and checked oil…
“Go on little lady!” Elbe whispered in Shona’s direction. The more he saw of her looking comfortable about a truck, the more he smiled.
5 long minutes had passed.
Shona was done under the bonnet, climbed up, put the key in the ignition.
“Well I’ll be damned!” Ellis said to himself smiling at Shona. He really was impressed with her. The truck purred perfectly. There was something captivating about Shona.
Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief, not becuase Shona had succeeded, but the fact she was given the time of day in the first place. This ‘Shona’ had really opened up a can of worms now.
“Did you know she could do that Larry?” Ellis, eyes still smiling glances towards a fuming Bruce.
“Do what? Pull a few wires, flick a few switches? That was the easiest damn job you could have given her…..and No, I hadn’t met her before this. I wasn’t expecting her to last the morning”
Ellis’s smile disappeared.
“Right, let’s get this nigger off our land..” Bruce turned, wanting to turn the spotlight off of Shona, still sitting in the truck, quite pleased with herself.
“Paul, take him” Bruce gestured to Deputy Paul for Cuban to be removed. Elbe looked worried for Cuban, but he had seen it happen over the last 5-6 years here, time and time again.
“Wait!” Shona jumped the steps leading to the truck and dived in front of Cuban.
“Get out of the way, Shona!” Deputy Paul enraged.
Ellis was concerned and uncomfortable with what is playing out in front of him.
“Sir, please…..Mr.Ellis…Mr.Bruce….Just give Cuban here a chance of a job. Please. Look at the difference he’s made to the Tool Room already and that’s without being paid, just waiting for you. He just wants to work” Shona’s bright blue eyes pleading.
“Wait…Paul…wait” Ellis, again seemingly under Shona’s spell, halts Deputy Paul.
“Elbe….this ‘Tool Room’ is normally your area right?” Ellis looks at Elbe.
Ellis continues…. “This man here…Cuban…..you think he’s done a good job of it?”
The wait was excruciating. Even Shona didn’t know how Elbe would respond. If he acted in favour of Cuban, Elbe would be on Larry’s hit list, if he went against Cuban, Cuban would no doubt be removed and then likely to go ‘missing’.
Elbe straightened himself up, licked his lips. All eyes were on him.
“Sir…you could eat your supper off it” Elbe smiled at Ellis. Both Deputy Paul and Bruce rolled their eyes again then whispered something to each other.
Ellis approached Cuban ‘You got a chance kid, one shot. You mess it up, I aint gone help you again. I’ll leave Shona here to explain my very simple rules. If you break ‘em, I’m behind Larry all the way and you’ll be kicked out, you understand?’
Cuban wanted to cry, but didn’t want to appear weak. He managed a ‘thank you Sir, thank you so…so much” Ellis smiled right into his eyes. Cuban knew he had just dodged a bullet courtesy of Shona and Elbe, and now Ellis. Shona didn’t have to pretend it was him who cleaned the tool room.
“Right, well….we have a meeting, don’t let me down. Word hard” Ellis shook Elbe, Shona and Cubans hand and turned to walk around the side of the building on one his walk-a bouts to see everybody.
Deputy Paul waited until Ellis was out of ear-shot and almost muffled to Shona.
“Mr.Bruce told me to tell you….You pull another stunt like that, you won’t be able to work, you hear? You and the nigger, you’re both on half pay. You want to complain? Go see the boss…Mr.Bruce. The one that’s here all the time, not your…..Mr.Ellis” Deputy Paul traced the side of Shona’s face in a sleazy, warning type of way. Shona stayed still, burning Deputy Paul with a stare, trying to remain calm, although her racing heartbeat giving it away. How in the hell had she got herself in this situation? She just wanted a quiet life. Deputy Paul caught up with Ellis and Bruce not even glancing at Cuban and Elbe chatting, with surprised looks on their faces.
Shona stood still, thinking. Had she just become Mr. Bruce’s number one target?
Shona was in shock. Her first day, and already the commotion she had caused felt overwhelming. It’s not the best way to start a new job by humiliating your intimidating boss. She let out a huge sigh, both hands on hips, but quietly proud she stood up for Cuban, looking over at him bonding with Elbe. Shona knew he would have no chance if he was ‘removed’. It looked like she had a friend in Elbe too. A friendly face already seemed rare round here. She would look after them.
“You’re quite the brave little lady” Elbe said, smiling to Shona as she made her way over from by the truck.
Shona smiled a modest reply.
“Thank you, Shona..Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.” Cuban said softly.
“You’re welcome. Looks like we need each other round here, right?” Shona tried to brush off the praise from Else and Cuban.
“You’re damn right Shona…This place…Its awful. Didn’t used to be” Elbe’s eyes widening, he points to emphasis his point.
“What changed?” Shona asked curiously.
“Bruce….Bruce the Brute. This place was run by Mr.Ellis for around 15-20 years, and he did a damn fine job of it. But, you know…he made his money, wanted to spend more time with his good wife. So he got Bruce the Brute on board to take care of the day-to-day running around 5 years ago, and then….” Elbe fiddled with his cap.
“……It got dark here, real dark”
“What do you mean?” Cuban quizzing Elbe
“People just came and went, rumours of mistreatment…if you were one of the bosses, you’d be left alone, but if not… and you disagreed with the bosses well…Your days were numbered here. Good people with consciences left or made to leave” Elbe looked sad as if recalling happy memories turning sour.
“Well…we got each other, right?” Shona tried to lighten the mood, but took on board what Elbe said.
Elbe looked pleased to feel ‘included’ again.
“I could tell you some stories that will make your hair curl young lady, I write everything down in my diary. It’s in the room next to the tool room, I’ve been writing it for 8 years now…-“
“8 years!?..” Cuban interrupts Elbe
“Yup…8 Years…I could tell you all about this place. I started writing it when my beautiful wife passed away. I made a promise I would ‘talk’ to her everyday….” Elbe licked his lips as if stopping emotion from overtaking him.
“….I write about everything that goes on here….There’s not many happy pages unfortunately”
“Well…..hopefully we can change that, right?” Shona put her arm round Elbe’s shoulders, comforting him. She felt they all needed each other in some way. Elbe nodded, a tear battling whether to escape or not.
Loud Buzzer sounds
“What’s that? It can’t be another break?” Shona looking around.
“We’ve all been summoned” Elbe’s smile vanished.
Shona, Cuban and Elbe were amongst the last to gather round underneath the balcony where the bosses speak to them. There was a ‘hush’ when they caught sight of Cuban, looks of disgust thrown in his direction. They couldn’t tell who was saying what, it just came from the gathering crowd.
“Another fuckin’ nigger!..”
“Lock up your stuff boys, a thievin’ nigger is about”
“Why the fuck should he steal a job here, I know plenty more who deserve a shot than that dirty son of bitch!”
3 men spat at Cubans feet, he chose to ignore it. He had gotten used to it. Looks quickly changed from disgust to confusion to leers when Shona followed Cuban.
“What the fuck have we got here, boys!?”
“Who is she screwin’ to get a job?”
“I’ll bet you five bucks she’s screwin’ somebody within the week”
“I might just get changed in the changing room when she is”
“I might ask her if she….needs a hand of mine. I’d quite happily oblige!”
It felt overwhelming for Shona, but she was on show and despite an aching urge to run. But if she did that, there’s no turning back. Shona had been warned about this place. Their stares burning holes into her head, but she remained calm. She had to. She also wanted to protect Cuban who was receiving a vile welcome.
“Right everybody!…” A voice came from above on the balcony. It was Deputy Paul. Everywhere hushed to a silence.
“…..We have a couple of new additions that we’d like to present to you, and I’m sure they will get your usual warm welcome”
Shona battled to not roll her eyes, and instead bit her lip. She and Deputy Paul obviously had different opinions over what was a warm welcome. He continued.
“…..I’d like to hand over to Mr.Larry Bruce”
Bruce intimidating stature kept the crowd silent as he hovered to the edge of the balcony in his expensive 3 piece suit showing a hint of a gold watch that would take these workers a decade to save up for. Shona swallowed hard. She had to control her breathing. This is the man she had humiliated not long ago.
“It’s not a secret that I’m always looking forward, to advance the company. Jeffrey and I won’t be around forever…” Bruce glanced towards Ellis.
“I plan to be!” Jeffrey lightened the mood
Everybody laughed, Bruce let out a smile and continued.
“….It’s a good time to invest, the market is booming, expanding, which is exciting. We are doing more business further afield for longer contracts. It’s great. So I….we…need some fresh young blood to keep up with it. I’ve sat down with a few guys and I’ve picked one. Somebody who comes from great stock, got good energy and thinks like I do..”
“That aint good, let me tell you” Elbe whispered to Shona and Cuban, who’s attention returned to up in the balcony.
“….I’d like you to welcome…Kyle Chambers to Ellis and Bruce”
Larry, gestured towards Kyle to make his entrance to the crowd’s applause and whispered to Bruce.
“I’ll knock these into shape Larry, don’t you worry”
“It’s an honour to be given the chance to lead such a fine work force, I’m sure we can do great things together.” Kyle looked like he had been elected President by his pose. His white teeth gleaming under the lights.
“Another rich kid tryin’ to be on our level..” Elbe wasn’t impressed already and screwed his face up as he said it.
There were some other mumblings between Larry and Kyle about how bright the future was at Ellis and Bruce. Ellis just stood at the edge, not needing to be in the spotlight, always wearing his warm kind face. The workforce were getting bored and restless at speeches that they felt didn’t apply to them. Shona saw some men’s attention divert back to her at the back of the gathering. She was getting stronger every minute, she had to. She looked them in the eye as if in a mental dual, then casually glanced back up towards the bosses. She’d got this. She could tell Cuban felt uneasy next to her, he was breathing heavy still nervous from his ‘welcome’.
“And I got one more thing….” Larry pointed at the crowd below him. They groaned.
“My daughter Chloe….my beautiful daughter Chloe is back where she belongs. She spent a couple of years studying Business so that she can take over this place when I’m long gone. I missed her terribly. But she’s back, she will be will on the management team, but I’m tellin’ ya, she’s fantastic and I know I’m biased because she’s my baby girl, but you’re gone love her….Chloe honey, come out and meet everybody..”
Larry went back into the doorway of of the management office, temporarily unseen then came back into view, holding his daughters hand.
“…..Everybody…..meet my daughter Chloe!”
The applause was a lot louder, there were even whistles. Normally Larry Bruce is full of shit, but he was telling the truth, Chloe really was beautiful.
“Man, I’d like to take her out on a date!”
“Look at those legs!”
“Boy oh boy”
“What a fine looking young thing!”
“She gone brighten the place round here!”
She had caused a commotion, everybody had something to say.
Chloe couldn’t even get a chance to speak because of the rapturous noise. She was standing, smiling, acknowledging some of the comments with a dainty wave, in an authoritative fashion. She was wearing a fitted bright red jacket, black skirt exposing perfectly toned legs. Her long light brown hair, with the light catching the highlights expertly done, basically driving the men crazy. Larry looked in between of being pleased with her reception and protective over his only child. Ellis again, stood out of the way, letting Chloe take the limelight.
She coughed as if to let everybody know she was about to speak. People were hushed.
“Well…I….didn’t expect that..Thank you! I’ll keep it brief. I just want to learn the business, help the company grow and I especially can’t wait to come round and meet every one of you….” Chloe didn’t get much chance to say anything else, the crowd applauded again at the thought of getting to meet probably the most eligible woman in Alabama. They all applauded.
“Hey..You ok?…Why’d you leave?” Elbe said to Shona who was sitting tensely on one of the seats back in the tool room-out of the way, head in hands.
“I just um…wanted to be here, so I could be put to work. This was the last place they told me to wait” Shona lied.
Cuban and Elbe knew something was up but didn’t want to push it.
“I don’t think I’m exactly welcome here” Cuban sighed, wincing with the pain of his thigh as Elbe was kindly put a dressing on.
“Ditto…It’s gone be tough, we got to stick together…all of us. Just keep our heads down, work hard and see where it takes us. They’ll get used to us” Shona ever the optimist, but even she struggled to believe herself.
“Here you both are!” The optimism was shattered by Deputy Paul.
“Right…lets get one thing straight. You aint gone work on no trucks, you hear. I don’t give a fuck what magic you pulled from your ass out there, you aint touching ‘em, you get that!” Deputy Paul right up in Shona’s face, seething.
“….You will clean the trucks when the ones for repair are ready to go, you clean the canteen, the floors and other stuff. That’s what you do! And as for you….” Deputy Paul screwed up face was now aimed at a fearful looking Cuban, who despite having quite a muscular frame, looked vulnerable. Jenny from the office crept in the doorway.
“…..You’ll get changed in a different place to us. I don’t want your dirty fucking diseases, I don’t want you being round my things, thievin’ ‘em, you hear me Nigger!? You’ll take a shit out in one of the holes in the fucking ground if you have to, but you stay the fuck away from us!” Deputy Paul pointing in Cubans face, almost spitting as he spoke.
He continued. “Jenny…these two sorry asses aint getting the chance to join no union, bellyaching about their fucking rights. They aint got none here!..” Jenny nodded.
“The less I see or hear from you two the better. And if you go cryin’ to Ellis, don’t even think about setting foot back here. That’s your first and last warnin’.” Deputy Paul was absolutely livid with the prospect of Shona and Cuban working at Ellis and Bruce. He stropped off, almost barging into Jenny, a petite, plain looking young woman who worked in the office who stood at the door emotionless, no compassion. She had obviously been drilled.
“Right..I got a form you both need to fill in, hand them back to me in the office. Deputy Paul tells me you’re on half pay, no union membership, so don’t tick those boxes when it comes to it. Just sign at the bottom….” Jenny said coldly, looked almost pleased with herself that she was on the right side of Deputy Paul.
She handed Shona and Cuban the forms and promptly left, no ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’, she just went.
Cuban looked embarrassed, and took a seat looking at the form. Shona hunted for a pen and found one in the newly tidied tool room, just as Elbe offered her his pen, the one he writes his daily diary with.
“This is bullshit…why we gettin’ treated this way? I got a job fair and square. I fixed the damn truck in front of their eyes!” Shona annoyed, reading her form.
“This is the work of Bruce the Brute…I’m telling you!” Elbe said quietly
Shona filled out her form, got up towards Cuban.
“You done?” Shona asked.
“Um…No…I can’t…I can’t read that well. It takes me a little longer.”
Elbe felt for Cuban.
“Ok..No problem, let me help…Can you write your name?” Cuban nodded.
“Put it here…age…write it here….where do you live?” Shona looked at Cuban.
“I don’t…I don’t have anywhere to live. I hid out the back, there’s some cover there. There’s a bin out there they put food scraps”. Cuban looked ashamed, sad.
Shona’s heart broke. She knew too well what its like to be outside at night. It’s dangerous, let alone being a black man, unprotected in these hostile parts.
“Listen to me……look at me. You can stay with me. I’ll ask Tom and Ruby, they’re great, so kind. You could help me on their farm for your food and bed. What do you say”? Shona tried to instil hope, hugging Cubans shoulders.
Through tears Cuban looked at Shona “They aint gone want a nigger stayin’ at their place. Not here.”
“Trust me, they’re different…They’re kind. Let me try at least..?”
Cuban forced a genuine smile and nodded. He couldn’t believe how somebody could care about him so much, especially a white person. He couldn’t stop the tears. He quickly wiped them. This place was no place to cry. You would get eaten alive. Elbe stood back, nodding, smiling at Shona’s generosity. He saw his daughter in her. It’s a shame he hardly saw his daughter.
“Right, that’s settled then!” Shona stood up straight, pleased with herself.
“Elbe!” All heads swung to the door they had come from. It was Deputy Paul again, he wasn’t alone. It looked like he had 4-5 of the kitchen staff with him. Deputy Paul hung back by the doorway as the kitchen guys trounced into the tool room.
“….Elbe, so you said to us that you could eat your supper off this floor after it was cleaned by a nigger. It wouldn’t be clean, it would be full of shit…like you. So…Eat!” Deputy Paul approached Elbe who’s frail frame shrunk even more, he was nervous.
“…..Let ‘em have it boys!” Deputy Paul called out to the kitchen staff all armed with large pots and deep bowls. On his order, they tipped the bowls and pots and what seemed like gallons of slushy gravy like liquid, mashed up food and waste came pouring all over the recently cleaned floor splashing all over Elbe, Cuban and Shona who stood motionless, shocked. The kitchen staff marched out, leaving Deputy Paul unscathed still leering in the doorway and looking to Elbe.
“You still wanna eat your supper off this floor Elbe? You should know better than to side with a nigger. That’s almost worse than being a nigger! Get it cleaned up!” He barked at all of them, turned and left only his keys rattling. Elbe nervously fixed his cap and struggled to make eye contact with Shona and Cuban.
“This is a bad idea” Cuban shaking his head “I’m sorry for what I’ve caused”
“No…We need to stick together, we’ll get through this. Besides, what else we gone do? Where else we gone go” Shona already made her way to get a broom, and some rags to start cleaning.
Elbe looked serious, trying to contain his fear, but hid with being angry. He started helping with the cleaning that would take them the rest of the day, his hands shaking.
“I should have retired 5 years ago, welcome to the biggest mistake of your life people. I hope you don’t end up like me, the only thing you can speak your thoughts are in damn diary for fear of what they gone do to you” Elbe aimed at Shona and Cuban who temporarily stopped to take in Elbe’s words, he started sweeping and cleaning at a faster pace.
Shona looked around, sighed, there was food waste and all kinds of smelling liquid everywhere that had splashed on the walls, all over the tools and in drawers. She knew they had to a good job to clean it up, but kept thinking what a horrendous first day and what happens after one comment of sticking up for somebody. Her attention was drawn back to Elbe who stopped and leaned on the mop handle. He looked deadly serious when he uttered “I think we have just rattled a cage of a god damn monster”
“It’ll be ok, don’t worry” Shona reassured Cuban as they walked the 3 miles back from work to the farmhouse Shona was staying at with Tom and Ruby as the sun was clutching the horizon. They were just in time for supper.
“Hi….only me” Shona called out.
“Hey Shona, how was your first day?” Ruby came over, big warm smile instantly making Shona feel at home.
“Umm…It was different. We will get there” This was an understatement.
Shona continued “Listen Ruby, can I ask huge favour? I know you’ve been so generous to me by letting me stay here, but today, a new guy started too, he hasn’t got a home, he’s a real hard worker from I seen and I was….wondering if he could stay out in the barn with me. They would be two of us helping with the farm and he could give you some of his wages for food. What do you think?”
Cuban was just outside the front door hearing muffled voices.
“I’ll have to ask Tom……Tom!” Ruby called out. Tom arriving after just washing his hands and face for supper.
“Hey Shona! How was your first day!?” Tom almost excited to see Shona’s lovely smiling face again.
“It was…..ok.” Shona faking a smile that covered up a horrendous first day.
Ruby asked Tom about Shona’s visitor, Toms head nodded and then teased “Should we be worried, is he a special kinda friend?”
Shona shook her head smiling “No…he really is a friend, in need. He’s just outside” Shona gestured Cuban to come in. The Byrds faces changed unconsciously. Smiles to the eyes disappeared.
Cuban cautiously came into the small hallway to silence. Maybe it was a bad idea Shona thought. She felt bad for putting the Byrds in this position, but Cuban needed somewhere to stay and to treat his wound, get it cleaned up properly.
“This is Cuban” Shona breaking the silence.
Cuban nodded, tipping his tatty flat cap aware that his very being has made things uncomfortable.
The Byrds looked at eachother with worrying faces as to what to do. They weren’t the type of people to throw anybody out, they always help where they can. But housing a black man? In these parts? What if people found out? All of these thoughts were going round their heads as if telepathically.
“Mr and Mrs Byrd I’m sorry to have just arrived at your door like this.” Cuban felt embarrassed, and he didn’t want to knowingly make the Byrds feel uncomfortable.
“He’s been bit by a big dog…show ‘em Cuban. It needs treating properly.” Shona gestured Cuban who still had a bloodstained thigh.
The Byrds were aware it was getting dark, Cuban needed help and they trusted Shona. They, as well as Shona can’t not help people in need, they just had to keep their mouths shut, nobody in town could know.
“Listen Shona…..Cuban. I don’t have to tell you how risky this could be” Tom didn’t mean to be brutal, but they were the facts. Cuban was a black man in a state that despised black people.
He continued “…..So just until you find your feet. Of course he can stay here, I can always use help on the farm. That wound there needs treatin’ too” Tom pointed towards Cubans’ thigh.
Cubans bright smile filled his face, it had been so long since somebody showed him an ounce of compassion. Shona’s face squeezed in excitement.
“You two must be hungry” Ruby said leading the way to the kitchen.
At dinner, they talked about Cubans past, most of it difficult to listen to, they spoke of Jeffrey Ellis and of course Larry Bruce and Deputy Paul. Tom spoke of how he nearly fell head first into the water trough when Storm started acting up. They made up another bed outside in the farm house just round the corner of where Shona slept so they both had privacy. Ruby was fluffing up cushions and organising blankets for which Cuban was thankful, she fetched some kind of first aid kit and treated Cubans wound. It stung, but at least it would start to heal rather than become infected.
At bedtime, Cuban and Shona reflected on the nights’ dinner. A small wall separated them so they could still hear each other as they lay in their beds. It had been a first for a long time for Cuban and Shona. They were tip toeing their way to building themselves up again. They had a mountain to climb, but they had made an important first step. They were exhausted, Cuban had no trouble getting to sleep. Shona was awake for a little while thinking back to earlier in the day, but she lost the battle to stay awake.
Thud, thud, thud, thud…
A 16 year old Shona immediately woke, and froze. The familiar dread of those footsteps coming down the stairs into the poorly lit freezing cold basement where Shona had to sleep was overwhelming. Her heart beat faster. She never knew when those footsteps were coming.
They seemed to take forever to get to the door as if prolonging the torture. There were no windows, no exits apart from the door that was about to be opened. The other side of it wasn’t good. Pleading wasn’t an option anymore, it had been done already, at least six to seven times previous, and it still went ahead.
The door knob groaned. A young Shona curled up into a ball trying in vain to protect herself. She already knew her fate, she already knew the pain that was awaiting.
The door opening caused a shard of light to stab through the darkness Shona was used to. She squinted. They launched at her, taking advantage of her temporary blindness. They were rough as always…
“Noooooo!!! Get off me, please get off me!!”
“Shona!…Shona wake up!” Cuban was standing over Shona looking worried for his new friend.
“I….what?…Oh…I’m sorry…I was just…dreaming” Shona rubbing her eyes looking around at her surroundings just to check she wasn’t back ‘there’
“Dreamin’? Sounds like a damn nightmare” Cuban asked concerned.
Shona hadn’t really been dreaming, she had been reliving.
“Larry, you seen this?” Kyle smirking, turning the newspaper tabloid around so that it was readable to Larry who was gazing out of large wide office window that backs onto the land where some of the trucks and tractors are kept. He admired his fleet.
“Seen what?” Larry turned
Kyle sniggered “Damn nigger college been burned down. I mean you can’t teach’ ‘em nothin’ so a pile of ash is more useful”
They both smirked as Larry started reading the story.
“Trouble is..” Larry cosying himself in his plush chair, Kyle directly opposite, eyes wide hanging on Larrys words.
“….They’re gettin’ everywhere, you got people representin’ ‘em. Damn do-gooders. You wait until they start getting their damn money stolen, their daughters raped, then come back and tell me its good to give ‘em a voice. By that time, it’ll be too late”
“Why does Jeffrey do what he does then?” Kyle asked suspiciously.
“That’s a long story goin’ way back, he’s a damn fool. Times have changed” Larry started lighting his cigar.
Kyle takes back the paper starts reading some more of the story.
Larry inhales deeply, some things on his mind.
“Thing is Kyle, that nigger..Cuban or whatever his name is…he’s getting comfortable, you hear? He and that broad have been here a week. Still no sign of goin’ yet. Jeffrey wanted me to give them both a ‘fair shot’. I can’t afford for him to think he’s the same as those white guys downstairs. Who knows what may happen. I mean, my daughter works here now, is she safe? I don’t like it. But whatever I get Paul to give him…and her. They just keep comin’ back for more. I don’t even wanna hand over a cent, not one cent to ‘em. It’s me who getting punished by entertaining those two.”
Kyle was carefully taking this all on board.
“What you want me to do?” Kyle asks Larry…seriously.
“I’ll take care of it for now. Just…make life a little unwelcoming round here. If they both leave on their own accord, it’s nice and tidy” Larry exhaling a puff of dull smoke.
“Can you believe this…?” Kyle looking back at the newspaper article about the Negro College being burned down.
“The white teachers were speaking to news reporters asking for people to be ‘more understanding’ about this matter and how they would feel if it were their children going to this college…My god..” Kyle chuckled, taking a sip of tea just brought into him,
“That’s where the damn problem is…The white people standing up for these dirty fucking niggers. They are worse than a nigger, and they will be the reason we will be overrun with ‘em…preying on our kids, stealing our hard earned things, takin’ jobs. They are the ones who need fuckin’ shootin’ ’” Larry clearly aggravated by this subject matter, got up out of his chair and looked back out the window. He had a sip of something stronger than tea.
“Yeah?….So where does that make Jeffrey Ellis in all this?” Kyle asked slyly. Larry turned and already could read Kyle’s mind.
It was the usual ten AM break time.
Cuban was washing his hands under a pathetic drippy tap in his closet of a changing space. He wasn’t allowed anywhere near anybody else, and he wasn’t allowed any locks on drawers. He washed his face, attempting to clean himself up before he ate something, but the lacklustre water pressure made life even more difficult. Every drip Cuban tried to catch in order to make himself more presentable at the table eating. The mornings work was nothing short of rancid. He had to unblock two toilets then mop up the mess. He couldn’t feel much lower about himself. He knew he wasn’t welcome here, but it was money and he was in desperate need of it to get out of this state.
Shona felt for Cuban, she held back saying it though. She didn’t want to act like she pitied him. She leaned against the doorway, half smiled with her hands in her holed pockets. It was cramped in here she thought looking up and around it. Shona’s space wasn’t much better.
Cuban splashed his face with the sought after water and dried his hand on a shabby towel. He was doing his best.
“It won’t be like this forever” Shona always tried to be positive. Cuban nodded a half-hearted response and exhaled. If only Shona knew what he had already been through.
“Come on, let’s eat..” Shona said a little brighter.
“I’ll be there in 5…go on, save me a space” She nodded and headed for the canteen
“You know where you need to be……nigger”
“Yeah, get to the back before you even think ‘bout it”
“Fucking dirty shithead”
This was the usual abuse. Cuban knew his place, at the back of the queue. Even if he was at the front, sometimes the guys would play tricks on him, after they had eaten, to keep going up to the counter just as Cuban got the front so that on a few occasions, the buzzer went and he didn’t get any food. Who could he complain to?
“Could I…have some of that please” Cuban couldn’t even make eye contact with the head chef who didn’t respond straight away, just chewed..slowly looking directly at Cuban, disgusted
“Sure….of course you can” The head chef forcing his rough wrinkled face into a fake sleazy smile. This made Cuban nervous. He felt eyes on his back.
“Give me your plate” Cuban was apprehensive about saying anything, or not saying anything. Every move was like a game of chess. He gave the chef his plate to put whatever slop was todays ‘surprise’.
Cuban turned around and saw Shona eating on her own at the end of a bench, 6 other guys at the other end making no attempt to talk to her. He returned his attention back to his food.
The Head Chef purposely poured some dark slop onto Cubans plate from a height so it splashed everywhere, including over Cuban then went to get some bread. Cuban trying not cause a scene secretly trying to rub the stains off.
“Here…some bread for you. You need to keep your energy up” Back came Head Chef. His hands covered in god knows what. He had two slices of bread, one in each hand which he proceeded to slowly rub down his chef whites which were covered in congealed meat juices, tea, gravy, sweat…He grinned then spat on one of them and then squashed them into a sandwich and put on Cubans plate of slop on the counter in front of Cuban. The thing is, Cuban was starving from all the ‘extra’ work he was being given to do, he had to eat something, and he was growing weaker each day. Cuban didn’t dare respond.
“Let me help you…tea?” Out of nowhere Deputy Paul appeared. Without giving Cuban time to reply, Deputy Paul poured leftover Tea onto Cubans’ plate making it a soggy mess.
“Ooops…” Deputy Paul picked up Cubans plate and dropped it. The ‘smash’ ensured all eyes were on the situation now, Cuban battling a tear. He still remained motionless, but faking his racing heartbeat was getting more difficult by the second of this utter humiliation in front of everybody.
“Oh…I’m sorry Cuban, how clumsy am I?” Deputy Paul exaggerating his speech. Cuban froze.
“Let me help you….” Deputy Paul was mashing up the food with his boots, walking in it. He grabbed a large spoon and started putting the food back onto another plate.
“The thing is Cuban…I’m told that when you clean floors…You can eat your supper off it…….so eat!” The last few words spat with venom and resentment.
Deputy Paul handed Cuban a dirty spoon from somebody’s leftovers. Everybody hushed to a silence, Shona looked up unaware of what was going on, then her eyes focused on Cuban standing with Deputy Paul and it didn’t look good. Her face turned to concern. She was poised to help. She saw Cuban slowly put a spoonful of food in his mouth and Deputy Paul grinning, then facing the boys on the nearest bench who started laughing.
“Come on Cuban! You must be hungry! Eat some more!” Deputy Paul almost insatiable with the power he has over Cuban.
“More! More! More! More!” Came the chanting, increasing in volume, with the snarling guys banging their knives and forks on the table. The ‘show’ broke up the break time and they were enjoying every second of Cuban being humiliated with every mouthful he ate. He started to gag which made it even more fun to watch.
Shona quickly got up and made her way towards Cuban, this was out of order. She squeezed through the men who started to make their way to the ‘front row’ of the ‘show’ but it was getting more difficult. The chants became louder, more voracious. Food started to be thrown at Cuban who daren’t respond. To say he was outnumbered is an understatement. Deputy Paul stepped back so it was Cuban who was centre stage.
“Get outta my way…move!” Shona desperate to get her friend out of there.
“Stop!……What is going on!?” Eyes spun from Cubans direction to the balcony where the management offices are.
It was Chloe.
She looked horrified and started to make her way down the stairs leading into the space where the benches were. People started scattering.
“You say anything nigger…I promise, you won’t be able to take a shit for a month…You hear!?” Deputy Paul whispered to Cuban fixed on him, then he casually walked in the opposite direction to where Chloe was coming. Everybody continued chatting as if nothing had happened. Cuban started to clean up the mess hiding his breathlessness, hands visibly shaking.
“You ok Cuban?” Elbe appeared grabbing a mop to help
“Yeah…I’m fine” Cuban lied.
“What the fuck!? This is messed up shit!” Shona angrily looked around at the two faced workers finishing up their food as if in denial what happened one minute earlier. She put her hand on Cubans shoulder who didn’t mean to, but shrugged it off. He didn’t want to be seen as weak. Shona understood.
“You can have some of my food…” Shona said quietly, kneeling to help clean the mess with some paper towels. The gravy and tea got everywhere. Cuban nodded in appreciation.
“Cuban?…Is it?….You ok?” A gentle voice came from behind them. Elbe, Shona and Cuban on their knees cleaning up the mashed food all looked up.
“Yes, Ma’am…I’m ok…Thank you” Cuban didn’t have the confidence to look at her beautiful face. He wasn’t worthy…so he thought.
“What went on here?…I heard lots of noise” Chloe quizzed but with an air of concern. Shona still hadn’t got up, she continued cleaning. Cuban and Elbe stood up.
“Just guys being guys’ ma’am…no harm done” Cuban lied with a fake half smile. Elbe looked away in disgust. Everybody knew if Cuban told the truth about his treatment here so far, he (and them) would get a lot worse, and yet now was the best opportunity…..gone.
Chloe wasn’t convinced, but was still learning everybody’s names and their nature. Cuban could be right…Just guys being guys.
“Right, it’s all done…I’m goin’ back to work…” Shona quickly stood up, didn’t look at anybody and left.
“Who was that?” Chloe asked attention turned to the back of a woman scattering away amongst the hustle and bustle of the canteen getting back to normal.
“That?…Oh that’s Shona” Elbe replied.
“I guess you heard about me letting that nigger know where he stands here at break time?”
Deputy Paul hovered over Kyle who was busy writing at his desk up in the management offices, but he stopped to grin and sat back in his chair.
“I did…Well Chloe came in saying she thought the guys were being unfair to Cuban. I pretended to care and look surprised.”
Deputy Paul snorted, then looked serious.
“I’m not sure what it’ll take to show him he aint welcome here Kyle. The boys are goin’ nuts that he’s still here. Not only that but he can hide under Jeffrey’s fuckin’ protection wing, why I don’t know.”
Kyle looked up at Deputy Paul and started fiddling with an expensive pen deep in thought, a smile gradually appearing across his Hollywood face.
“Leave it with me, Paul. Get him to stay even later tonight to work. There’s filters that need scrubbing, floors need cleaning…especially after your little performance in the canteen I heard.”
“You got it”
“I thought you were a little rude to Miss Chloe, Shona” Elbe was folding some rags and blankets to put in one of the store cupboards. Shona was vigorously cleaning the outside of one of the trucks that had just been repaired and ready to go back out. She had three more to do after.
“What?…Oh…I don’t trust any of ‘em Elbe. They all the same. All assholes” Shona didn’t even look up.
“I’m not so sure about Miss Chloe. She hasn’t been fed the Bruce The Brute poison for as long around here. I think she’s genuine Shona. Did you notice the way she was with Cuban, she was really nice?”
Shona did notice.
“So?….She deserve a fuckin’ medal now? She’s probably a spy, finding out what we think, what we do. Like I say, I don’t trust ‘em…any of ‘em” Shona didn’t stop cleaning, until Cuban walked into the tool room where Shona and Elbe were.
“Hey Cuban…You ok?” Shona asked concerned, standing up straight, cloths in hand, one tucked in her back pocket.
“Yeah….Deputy Paul told me I have to work late, real late. He said he wants everywhere spotless, got a visit from some big cheese tomorrow or somethin’”
Cuban looked deflated. He was already exhausted…not to mention starving.
“What? I know everything round here, I didn’t hear of no visit?” Elbe screwed his face up suspiciously.
“Well. Anyway, I’ll meet you at the barn Shona. I don’t know what time I’ll be back” Cuban voice had a hint of sounding uncomfortable about something.
“Well I’ll help you…We can go home together, that’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll kick you’re your ass into doing a good job!” Shona tried to joke, but Cuban wasn’t in the mood.
“No….Please. It’ll be fine. Tom needs some help with Storm tonight remember? He can’t clean the cut on her leg on his own, she’ll go nuts” Cuban reminded Shona.
“Well alright…But don’t let those fools push you around, you hear?” Shona wanted to hug Cuban, he seemed tense. Elbe tried to break the mood.
“I’ve been writing in my diary, I’ll show you two what’s in it soon. I lock it away. If my wife was here, god rest her soul, she would be horrified at what happened in the canteen earlier, horrified…it’s all in there under today’s date. There’s some real juicy stuff. If it got out-” Elbe said in lowered voice, tapping the diary that just about fitted in one of his overall pockets on his chest.
“Who’d believe it though….?” Cuban interrupted, with bitterness in his voice. “Who’d believe a nigger, a broad, an old man….against these people, these…. powerful people?”
“Somebody will…one day. You watch” Elbe pointed his finger at Cuban.
Cuban was just finishing up. He was absolutely exhausted, but he was still intent on doing the best job he could of cleaning anything Deputy Paul or Kyle gave to him or pointed him towards. He wasn’t convinced about a ‘visit’ from some big cheese. Nobody seemed panicked or nervous. It was nine thirty PM, three hours after he was supposed to have finished. Three to four guys were in Deputy Paul’s office. Cuban thinks they were drinking, smoking and playing cards. From the conversation and joviality, they definitely weren’t doing any work, it was only Cuban doing that. He didn’t recognise their voices. He put the mop away in the cleaning cupboard, the canteen was spotless, every side scrubbed, cupboard cleaned out, floor shiny.
“Cuban…..what an amazing job you’ve done” Deputy Paul the king of sarcasm slowly walking around the canteen admiring the shiny pots and pans. He even ran his finger along some previously neglected table tops and hard to reach places, to find they were spotless.
“Thank you” Cuban was cautious in taking any compliment from Deputy Paul. There was always a hidden agenda.
“Well now…I think you should run along home, you know get some rest. You deserve it” Deputy Paul looked Cuban dead in his eyes smirking.
“Thanks…I will” Cuban looking tense, waiting for something. But it never came whatever it was. There didn’t seem to be a catch to Deputy Pauls compliment. Cuban grabbed his tatty bag and left into the night for the 5 mile walk home. He was still confused, but blamed himself for being paranoid. Maybe he had proved himself at last, even going as far to saying he was now accepted?
“Fool” one of the guys emerged from Deputy Paul’s office behind Paul, listening to what was said and seeing Cuban leave.
“Isn’t he just” Deputy Paul smiling, pleased with himself. “Go to work boys”
On Deputy Pauls order, the men who were previously in the office waiting for Cuban to leave went and grabbed dirty water left over from outside, spoiled food, gravy, congealed paint and anything they could find and headed for the canteen.
“Chef’s gonna be real pissed when he sees this!” one of the younger guys unscrewing a container full of stinking oil of some kind.
“That’s the whole fucking idea, you idiot…and guess who will be his number one suspect?…The nigger who got humiliated here earlier” They all laughed.
Deputy Paul with his hands on his hips standing in the doorway, looking commanding, while his men commenced after his ‘nod’. The canteen got absolutely trashed, every counter was dripping with mixtures of sticky goo. Pots and pan strewn across the floor that was cake in congealed gravy and god knows what else. One of the guys opened some paint and flicked it with one of the cooking utensils so it was up the walls, he dropped it and stepped in it. He trod it in even more.
“Now that’s a job well done. Come on boys, let’s go”
The suns last ditched attempts at clutching the horizon were Cubans only light as he trudged home fatigued and deflated. As he walked the long straight of the road leading into the grounds of Ellis and Bruce, he would see the occasional lights from cars up ahead keeping him on a steady course so as not to trip on the side of the road into bushes. He couldn’t wait to get back to the barn and eat. No doubt Ruby would have left him some dinner before they went to bed.
Cuban was seriously considering his future. Then he quickly remembered he didn’t have one, not in this state. He needed money saved to book a ticket to New York to meet up with friends there, who were making money as musicians in Jazz clubs and working behind the bar. That was Cubans dream, but it felt like it was slipping away. He would miss Shona, but knew that he would invite her as soon as he was settled, he owed her- big time.
He just didn’t know how to make it work at Ellis and Bruce. They despised him, spat at him, tripped him, and hid his things. But what choice did he have? He knew he was under Jeffrey Ellis’s wing of protection, but how long would that last? How long could Cuban last?
About two to three hundred metres before Cuban came to the crossroads at the top of the road from Ellis and Bruce, car lights appeared from behind him. He turned round, squinted, but was grateful the lights lit his path that were previously near pitch black. The engine purred like a small truck behind him getting closer. Cuban moved to the right, hugging the side of the road so it could pass. It didn’t. The truck was creeping behind him. Cuban walked a little faster, gestured for the truck to go past him. There was plenty of room for it to drive round Cuban. It still didn’t pass. Cuban was feeling on edge. He carried on walking until nerves got the better of him, he walked onto the side of the road to the uneven surface which led to the Ellis and Bruce vast lands, in hope the truck would drive by. It stopped. Nobody got out. The engine ticking over. In some ways, Cuban wished they had got out, he could look after himself. He had to all his life. Cuban could hear his own breath quickening. He was still at least four and half miles from home late at night with fields either side until he got to the crossroads. He waited for a minute, frozen still. Still, nobody got out, the only noise was the engine. Cuban quickly decided to walk again, faster. The rev of the engine behind him panicked him, his strides getting bigger. He could hear the truck eerily crawling behind him again. He just had to make it to the crossroads and at least there would some signs of life from other people he hoped. However, he wasn’t convinced anybody would help him due his skin-colour.
The engine roared, not to speed up but as if a warning to Cuban. Cuban started to jog, he was quick but he knew he couldn’t outrun a truck especially feeling so weak. He could still feel the sting from the dog bite every couple of strides, the wound opening a little. What the hell was this truck doing? Whoever was in it had the chance to rob him, beat him, and shoot him when it was stopped by the road. The truck accelerated a little, easily pulling up to right behinds Cubans pace. He daren’t look behind him, he had around fifty metres to go when the truck pulled up alongside Cuban. He looked to his left to see who was driving, it was difficult to make out, until all of a sudden torches were shone, their beam almost blinded Cuban, his pace slowed slightly, and he looked back at the truck and saw a sight he had nightmares about as they shone the torches on themselves.
He could make out three figures wearing white cloths over their heads. KKK. The figure nearest the door to Cuban menacingly held up a gun to the window looking directly at Cuban now in a sprint. He started groaning in his panic. He heard a dog barking coming from the truck that easily matched his pace. They stared at him, then suddenly sped off into the night as mysterious as they appeared.
Cuban stopped running, hands on his knees, and vomited into the bush by the side of the road. He realised how close he came to death. They could have took a shot any time. Why didn’t they? He tried to catch his breath but knew he needed to be out of here, he wasn’t sure if those guys were coming back.
“Christ Cuban, you ok? You look like you’ve seen a damn ghost!?” Shona asked, sitting upright in bed, she had waited up and saw a bedraggled frightened looking Cuban stumble through to their sleeping area past Shona’s bed, some blood seeping out of his dog bite wound.
Cuban was to in shock in to answer straight away, he was overwhelmed with relief to be safe at home, shaking. He nodded unconvincingly that he was ok.
Seeing Klan so up close tonight was pretty much the same as seeing a ghost, and almost becoming one Cuban thought tucking the blankets under his chin. Despite exhaustion, it took him a while to drift off to sleep.
A family blissfully asleep in a cramped house filled with love in the outskirts of town near the forest just outside of Montgomery, Alabama.
The family dog took up his usual position of playing protector outside the children’s bedrooms in the bungalow.
The parents drifted deep into a satisfying snooze after reading to their young son and daughter before kissing them goodnight. The husband and wife snuggled into each other in bed. It was the same as any other night. All that could be heard is the welcome noise of insects stirring in the bushes nearby and drips from the hanging baskets that had been watered just before bedtime.
The bliss got disturbed.
Duke, the Husky started to bark at something outside.
“Duke, be quiet…..” came a muffled sleepy voice from the bedroom. The normally obedient animal continued. The barks starting to become more excitable.
“Baby, go and see what all the fuss is about will you…” The husband sat on the edge of the bed, rubbed his eyes, exhaled and wandered towards Duke who was by the front door. The barks becoming relentless, often including a growl. This wasn’t like Duke.
“Hey boy, come here…Duke”
Duke briefly looked at his master then continued, clawing at the wooden front door. Something was up.
“What is it, boy?” The man walked up to Duke tried to calm him, stroked his head and made his way to the kitchen just to the right to look out the window where the porch area and front lawn could be seen.
“My god….baby!! Get the kids!”
“What is it!?” The wife shouted from the bedroom.
The man sprinted to the kids bedrooms, woke them up gently, and picked them up in their blankets.
“What is it daddy?” His eldest, his six year old daughter asked sleepily.
“Come on princess, we just need to go out the back and get in the truck, quick…help your brother!”
By this time, his wife appeared looking alarmed.
“What the hell is it!?” She questioned
“It’s them….they’re here, out front…We need to go…now!”
“Oh my god. Our babies!”
“Cuban…wake up..Cuban…You’re dreaming”
“What?….Oh….Sorry. Sorry for waking you.”
“Don’t worry…Just rest”
Cuban tried to rest, but he couldn’t shake the images and panic from his mind of what he had dreamt about. But he needed his body to recover from the long days at Ellis and Bruce. He still managed to get up early, wash and get to work fifteen minutes before he needed to. He didn’t want to lose this job, he couldn’t. He needed every cent to save up to get out and to New York. That was his dream that kept him going throughout every difficult moment.
“Get me that nigger!….. Where is that fucking nigger!”
Head Chef Sid Webb was livid. He came into work to set up for the day and the sight that welcomed him made him sink to the floor. Until he was told who was the last person to be in there. Cuban. Deputy Paul had told Sid this.
“Wait….Wait, Sid, calm down….think….think….You go and batter him in front of everybody, you’ll have Jeffrey on your back saying you’re being unkind to one of his protected little birds under his wing. You gotta be smarter than that”
Deputy Paul holding Sid back from going after Cuban
“I’m gone take a shit and make him eat it for breakfast!….I can’t believe he has had his dirty fucking hands all over my kitchen, Paul ! I swear…..I swear I wanna kill him!”
Sid spatt at he spoke he was engulfed with anger.
“He’ll pay Sid…I’ll see to it” Deputy Paul loosening his grip on Sid, then he left to go up to the management offices to find Larry.
Elbe, Shona and Cuban were all in the tool room cleaning various pieces of grimy machinery and tools given to them. The job wasn’t pleasant. They didn’t mind what they did as long as they were together. They knew they were the outsiders.
“You know…I can’t wait to see the west coast. To feel free, go to the beach in California. That’s what I’m saving for…You?” Shona nodded to Elbe.
“Me?…Oh I want to see my daughter and granddaughter in Tennessee before I get too old to travel. I retire in 8 months and it’s been 3 years since we saw each other, so I wanna visit then.”
“Wow….Do you write to them?” Shona asked
“Yeah…You know life gets in the way, my daughters busy, so she doesn’t write as much as I’d want, but I understand. I just feel bad I can’t be there for her, but she moved away and started a family and I couldn’t leave the house I lived in with my beautiful wife all these years. It’s where I feel closest to her. I couldn’t stand living in a busy town where my daughter lives, I’m an old country boy” Elbe smiled tipping his flat cap.
“How about you Cuban? What’s your story?” Elbe gestured to Cuban.
“I don’t really want to talk about it if you don’t mind. I just hope to get out of here and get to New York to see some of my friends who made it there. You two can come by and we can have drinks..?”
“Sounds like a plan to me!” Shona lightened the mood and playfully threw a dry cloth towards Cuban
Buzzer. 10am. Break time.
“Cuban…..You’re wanted. Now” A serious looking deputy Paul broke up the hopeful atmosphere in the tool room by standing menacingly in the doorway.
“What’s his problem?” Shona asked quietly.
Cuban looked tense, he put down his cleaning cloths. He had no idea what was about to face him. He followed Deputy Paul from the Tool Room through the cramped off-white stony corridor that led into the canteen area, Shona and Elbe followed on behind confused.
“There he is…”
“Somebody teach him a lesson..”
The entire canteen was staring at Cuban, not a single plate, cup or cutlery on their tables. It was silent other than some hurled insults. The canteen was usually a hive of activity. Cuban was being led to the serving counter and couldn’t believe the sight he witnessed. Sid leaning forwards on the counter, face red with anger. Cuban looked around hoping somebody would give him some direction of what was going on. When his eyes found what was behind Sid, he couldn’t believe it. The whole kitchen was completely trashed. Sid was motionless when normally he was barking orders in a busy kitchen.
“What…….Whats goin’ on?” Cuban asked nervously in the direction of anybody who could provide an answer. Nobody came to his aid immediately.
Two men spat in the direction of Cubans feet. He was used to that.
“You have no idea……how much I want to rip your throat out right now” Sid spoke with a surprising amount of control and calmness, which made it even more eerie. He was never like this.
“You did this….You did this” Sid turned his head slightly to draw Cuban to look at the mess behind him.
Cuban frowned. No he didn’t.
“What?…I didn’t do that…I didn’t do it. You think I did it?”
Strangely, Cuban felt relieved at how Sid had got it completely wrong. Now he knew what it was all about.
“You’re fucking lyin’ nigger…I don’t believe a single word that comes out of that dirty mouth of yours”
Sid gritted his teeth, he was starting to lose his cool.
“Sid….I’m tellin’ you. Deputy Paul asked me to clean the kitchen, so I did. He checked it and said it was a good job and I went home. That’s the truth. I didn’t do this”
Cuban was panicking but wanted to get his story across in a hurry. He quickly realised that everybody had gone without food as the canteen was too much in a disgusting state to serve anything which meant that everybody was livid- with Cuban.
“Oh…You’re blamin’ me now nigger?” Deputy Paul stepped forward.
“What?….I was just sayin’ you told me to clean it, so I did. Then I left. Just sayin’ like it happened that’s all”
Cuban felt he had to defend on all sides of him. Nowhere was safe to look. He had an hungry and angry crowd behind him, Deputy Paul to his left, and Sid in front of him. Shona was looking around trying to make sense of it. But she’s sure Cuban wouldn’t have done anything like this.
“But that’s not what happened…..is it?” Deputy Paul raised his eyebrows to Cuban as if to direct him into telling a lie.
“You were the last to leave, it wasn’t like this when I saw it” Deputy Paul gesturing with his left hand towards the mess.
“There were guys…I don’t know how many, three, four…I could hear them in the office, up there” Cuban pointed towards Deputy Pauls office.
“Nigger…..please tell me…..how do I say this? Please tell me you are not accusing my guys of committing this atrocious act…. are you?”
Deputy Paul slowly stepped towards Cuban, intimidating him.
“Sir I didn’t do it…I promise”
Cuban couldn’t help it, he started shiver…and cry.
“So you’re happy to accuse others are you….?”
A different voice joined in from the far left. It was Larry Bruce making his way down the metal staircase from the offices. He had been watching the whole thing. He after all, hasn’t got any food either. Everybody’s attention turned to Larry. Bodies parted to let him through the crowd that were fixed on an anxious Cuban.
“I’m not…I just…didn’t do it. I don’t know who did it”
Cuban felt like these words were doing him no good at all.
“Am I right in thinking there was an incident in here yesterday?” Larry quizzed
“Am I right in thinking that maybe Sid took things a little too far?”
“Am I right in thinking that you would be angry at what took place here yesterday?”
“Yes Sir” Tears dripping down Cubans face. He knew how this was looking.
“The best form of revenge, is to hit somebody where it hurts right?”
Cuban reluctantly nodded, he daren’t disagree with the big boss.
“You were working late here last night, everybody had gone home, that correct?”
“And it wasn’t in this state when you first saw it, that right?”
“How does that look to you?” Larry square on in front of Cuban.
“Like I did it, Sir” Cubans nose was running.
“Like?….Like you did it?”
Cuban started shaking. And closed his eyes, another tear slipped down his cheek. There was no hope for him.
“He wouldn’t have done this! You’ve got it wrong! He’s been set up!” Shona said getting nearer to Cuban.
“Stay out of this!” Deputy Paul barked at Shona.
“This isn’t fair!…Can nobody see? Why would he make it so obvious if it was revenge?”
Shona pleaded people to see.
“You will sit the fuck down, and shut the fuck up if you still want to keep your job. I wonder what Jeffrey would have to say about some jumped up broad speaking back to the boss, what do you think!?”
Larry screwed his face up, disgusted with Shona. She reluctantly sat down, some of the guys purposely barging her. She stood up for a black man. That made her just as unpopular as him, if not worse sometimes. Elbe shuffled next to Shona, put a hand on her shoulder. He knew something wasn’t right. It would all go in his diary.
“Ok…Let’s put it like this….You will apologise to all these men. They couldn’t have any food this morning. Then you will grovel to Sid and ask for his forgiveness, you hear me?”
Larry almost whispered to Cuban, everybody could hear him though. You could hear a pin drop. Cuban couldn’t stopped his crying now. The injustice was overwhelming. He wanted to vomit.
“…..And then…You will clean up the mess you caused. Because if you don’t that is refusing work, and I Jeffrey will back me up when I fire your ass. Do you understand me..?”
Cuban completely understood. If he cleared it up, he looked guilty, if he didn’t, he was out of a job and fair game to everybody in there who despised him. He would be a dead man before he left the exit.
“Well….now is a good time”
Larry was being patronising and stepped back and half faced the expectant crowd waiting for their grovelling apology, like a pack of wolves waiting for the first taste of blood after a kill. Cuban slowly turned to face them too. He was desperately searching for a friendly face in the room full of hatred for him from people who hardly knew him. He eventually found a face. Shona, then Elbe looking on in despair.
“Get on with it Nigger!” Deputy Paul shoved Cuban
“I’m….” He swallowed his tears back. “I’m really sorry for…..you going without food-“
“-And what you did!” Larry interrupted.
Shona was shaking her head. This was outrageous.
“And what I did. I hope you can forgive me…please” Cuban was one broken man with not a shred of dignity left.
“Anybody got any rope? Let’s lynch his ass!”
Laughter broke out from the crowd. They’re weren’t even remotely in a forgiving mood.
“Quiet!……Now apologise to Sid here…and say it like you really mean it!” Larry barked
Elbe couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. It was so distressing to watch, and yet he didn’t want to leave his friend on his own, yet he felt so helpless.
Cuban slowly turned back towards the counter where the whole thing started the day before. Sid was disgusted with him and relished the idea of being grovelled to, maybe too much. He came from behind the counter, round, to where he was face to face with Cuban. Sid had never had to keep his cool as bad as he did facing opposite Cuban right now.
“Say it…..Fucking say it!” Sid was livid.
Two men in the on-looking crowd briefly glanced at each other and smirked. They may have missed out on their food, but they were enjoying this show.
“I’m sorry….I apologise for-“
“-Kneel down….and fucking beg!” Sid interrupted. Deputy Paul and Larry smirked at each other.
Cuban complied without fuss. This was the height of utter humiliation. He dropped to his knees in front of Sid, who somehow was winning the urge to kick Cuban in the face.
“Sid…I’m sorry for the mess. I apologise. I beg for your forgiveness” Cuban crying full-on. He had nothing left.
“Fuck you!” Sid stormed out, he wouldn’t lower himself to forgive a nigger.
Cuban sobbed like a baby on his knees in front of a packed audience. Some salt pots came flying over heads and landed in and around Cuban, Deputy Paul stepped out the way so he didn’t hit.
“Anything for me?” Chloe asked the receptionist as she came back from a meeting in town early, wondering where everybody was.
“Errmm no ma’am”
“It seems quiet…”
“They’re all in the canteen Miss Chloe”
Chloe made her way towards the canteen area confused at what was happening. All she saw was Cuban on his knees, objects being thrown at him. She was alarmed. Nobody was doing anything about it. She spotted her father and made a beeline for him through some of the crowd.
“Daddy! Whats going’ on?”
“Princess! You’re back early…I wasn’t expecting you.” Larry seemed nervous at his daughter surprise early return.
“We made good progress…..Daddy what’s going on, why is Cuban on his knees, is he ok?”
The noise level started rising, people shouting obscenities to Cuban.
“Honey….It’s nothing.. It’s just guys being guys you know?”
Chloe wasn’t convinced, concerned she walked towards Cuban who was quickly picked up by Shona who brushed him down and dragged him away from the scene of his humiliation. He was in bits.
“Hi Miss Chloe!”
“Hey..how you doin’ today Miss Chloe?” Everybody wanted to talk to Chloe. She wasn’t interested.
This was about the third time Chloe had seen the back of Shona.
“Look at them….fools”
Deputy Paul sneered with Larry Bruce towards Cuban, Shona and Elbe cleaning up the kitchen, from their balcony outside the management offices.
“I didn’t think the nigger would be back today. He seems to be taking whatever we give him. I thought he would have had enough by now….. Elbe has certainly has stated which side of the fence he’s on” Larry replied.
He continued “…He retires soon, and yet he brings this on himself”
“A white nigger lover is just as bad, if not worse than a damn nigger”
A serious looking Deputy Paul jabs a pointed finger down at the trio on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor. Larry nodded, his stare burning into the three traitors below him. All three had been hired by Jeffrey Ellis, if Larry had his way, all three would disappear.
“Right…we ready?” Kyle comes out of the meeting room to look for Larry and Deputy Paul who follow him back in.
Larry, Deputy Paul, and three investors take a seat whilst an eager Kyle remains stood to deliver a quick presentation on the company’s progress. Drinks get poured.
“Ok, thank you for joining us…” Kyle aims at the big-time investors stopping by to seeing how their money is being spent at Ellis and Bruce.
He continues “Jeffrey couldn’t make it today, probably in the Copperpot and Chloe is out of town on business. But life goes on”
The investors look at each other surprised at Jeffrey’s absence. He normally always turns up.
Kyle laughs and shrugs at the same time.
“Now I haven’t been here long, but Larry has allowed me to hit the ground running with ideas over stock, to let me realise my vision for the company moving forward.”
The investors nod in agreement, acknowledging Kyles energy.
He continued “Now…We have a good name…a great name but that’s because we are forward thinkers. The markets changing, companies are investing. We need to invest. Larry spoke to Jeffrey who signed off more money to buy more trucks, machinery and equipment which I strongly believe will put us ahead of the market that’s slowly getting crowded. We want to, we need to remain the best. So this is the time to keep pumping money into Ellis and Bruce, not hold back”
Larry nodded his approval at Kyle.
“I wonder what crap they are talking ‘bout up there” Elbe looked up towards the offices.
“They need somebody to speak the truth to those investors, what really goes on here. I can’t believe they buy the crap that gets said to them” Shona huffed, washing down one of the walls.
Cuban kept pretty quiet, he was still reliving the humiliation.
“Hey Cuban…What are you like at building benches. I want to build some benches and sell ‘em in town for extra cash, what do you say?”
Shona never failed to try to lighten the mood or to try to make somebody feel better.
Cuban just nodded, Shona felt bad for him. It was pretty brutal what he went through.
“Shona, you got wood for it, or do you do you need some? Sometimes, on weekends, I get cash for picking up all kinds of rubbish and off-cuts of wood from farms. I either use it or sell it cheap, depends what it is, you know? I’ve got some fine pieces of wood at home for your bench if you want?”
Elbe’s face temporarily glowed in hope at being important or useful for once.
“Elbe, that’d be great, thank you! I’ll cut you in on the money too. Then we can all get out of this hell hole”
The trio continued their cleaning, it would be another hour or two before they would finish. They had to get before lunch.
“Well done Kyle, great presentation, good energy. I’m excited about you”
“Well done son”
The investors each shook Kyles hand as they left the meeting feeling hopeful of the future at Ellis and Bruce.
“Right, I better get back to work”
Deputy Paul leaving Larry and Kyle alone. Larry pouring a whisky, it never mattered what time of the day it was Kyle noticed. Larry gestured for Kyle to have one.
“Too early for me” He replied. Larry didn’t take no for an answer and poured Kyle one anyway.
“To us. I think you will do well here Kyle. Me and you, we think the same, that’s what I like about you”
They clinked their glasses and downed in one.
An eerie silence fell on the town at nightfall. Hardly no sign of life, everywhere closed. A bird flapping frantically the only sound. Around 10.30pm, a black man came out of one of the small schools. He had finished his long cleaning shift there. A woman followed him, his wife. The man shut the thick wooden side door of the school behind them and fiddled with the key and the lock to secure it up for the night.
“You want me to help with that?” The wife smirked.
“No…I can do it, damn thing……. Alright, can you help? I can’t turn the key to lock it?” The man relented, stopped being proud and let his wife take over, smiling at her knowing he wouldn’t hear the last of it. He playfully rolled his eyes as he stepped aside.
“ Let me work my magic.” His wife had a beautiful smile, he fell in love with her over and over again.
“You done it?” He leaned over and saw the lock was secure.
“Of course. Now, let’s go home…I’m exhausted” The wife kissed her husband on the nose.
They both turned around and jolted to a stop.
They weren’t alone. They had been watched. Targeted. Headlights were blasted onto them just as they turned and they started to make their way down the three steps.
A dark coloured truck was parked in front of them just outside the exit of the school. Two men got out, one man still inside the truck revving the engine.
“Baby…what’s happening?” The wife, squinting, gripped her husband’s hand tight, he squeezed it back.
“Don’t worry honey”. He was worried. It didn’t take a genius to work out who these people were.
It was like a standoff. A game of chess, but with only one clear winner. The husband and wife were at the top of the steps, and the truck was around 10 feet away, no movement from the two men stationed either side of the truck with both doors open. It was as if they were savouring this feeling of inflicting fear. They got off on it. Their faces couldn’t be seen due to the night, and the headlights almost blinding the couple in front of them.
“Please…we don’t want any trouble. I can give you all that I have, which isn’t much, but you can have it.” The husband pleaded.
His wife stifling tears, she gripped her husband with both hands, frozen with fear.
A dog could be heard barking, coming from the truck.
“I beg you…Please don’t hurt us, please….don’t hurt us” The husband started to shake involuntarily.
“Ok..baby, listen” The husband whispered to his wife, but still facing forward.
He continued “I want you to run. Run to Mr. Johnsons place, he always leaves his back door unlocked. Wait for me there. I’ll be right behind you. Ready..?”
His wife sobbing, not wanting to let go of his arm.
“I don’t want to leave you baby..I can’t”
“You can, I’ll be right there. I’ll stall ‘em. Right, ready…one, two, three……..Go”
How his wife snatched herself away from her husband she didn’t know. But she sprinted down the steps. She was fast. But so were these men, one of them gave chase and caught her. The husband sprung down the steps, grabbed the man, unlocked his arms from around his wife, punched him full on in the head, and almost knocked him out. His wife got released in the commotion and sprinted into the night waling. Within two seconds, the man the other side of the truck came round and pummelled the husband still embroiled in a fight, and not a fair fight.
The dog got released to chase the wife who somehow made it to the meeting point pretty unscathed. She knew the veracious beast of a dog had given up, she couldn’t hear the panting anymore, but daren’t look back, frantically locking the door behind her. She was inconsolable waiting for her husband to knock.
His lifeless body was lifted onto the back of the truck, just as the panting dog jumped into the back also. They sped off, whooping with excitement like wild barbaric animals pleased with their kill.
Life was pretty much the same over the next few days. Cuban working longer hours than usual. Elbe made a note of Cubans and Shona’s mistreatment in his secret diary hidden away in one of the floorboards in his little hideaway at Ellis and Bruce. Tom and Ruby Byrd worked hard on the farm with Tom and Shona trying their hardest to tame Storm. Kyle was already climbing up the management ladder. More and more secret meetings took place between him and Larry. The only one who seemed to be genuine was Chloe, not that Shona would believe that.
“Jeffrey! There you are” Kyle made his way over to Jeffrey Ellis’s VIP table at The Copperpot Inn that was notoriously busy on a Thursday night.
“Yes…here I am” Jeffrey said with an unusual hint of sarcasm. He was sitting with three others including two of the investors who were present in Kyle’s first presentation.
“Thank you for inviting me Jeffrey….Larry not here?” Kyle seemed almost desperate.
“I didn’t invite him tonight, I thought it would be good to meet you…properly”
The waitress took Kyles order who seemed more nervous than his usual cocky self.
“I was just wondering young Kyle….when exactly did you tell me about this latest meeting? I was told that it was put across that I was in here drinking rather than being at a stakeholders meeting. Was that the case?”
Jeffrey’s usual kind eyes stared straight into Kyles who was searching for words-any words.
“You know something? I must have forgotten to tell you all about it. What with being new, my heads been full of so many damn things to remember, it must have slipped my mind to tell you. I’d assume Larry would anyway”
Kyle was fidgety.
“So it was Larry’s fault?”
Jeffrey was testing Kyle’s loyalty.
“I’d assume so…he is the boss… ermm as well as you of course”
He didn’t have any loyalty.
The waitress poured the drinks, she was the only person moving. The atmosphere could be cut with a knife.
One of the investors coughed nervously.
“You know, the next smart thing to do would be to apologise for embarrassing me in front of my investors. I’ve always attended every meeting unless otherwise stated.”
Jeffrey wasn’t happy, Kyle knew it and sipped his spirit drink nervously.
“Of course, Jeffrey, I’m sorry. It won’t happy again.”
That hurt Kyle. A lot.
Jeffrey smiled his reply and tried to lighten the mood.
“So..how is everything goin’, Kyle? Business runnin’ good?”
Kyle took another sip, hoping it would soak straight into his bloodstream to put him at ease.
“Yes…yes everything is fine. At the meeting I said-“
“- I know what was said Kyle. These good men told me” Jeffrey interrupted gesturing to his investors next to him. He continued.
“What about the staff,Kyle, they happy?”
“Of course Jeffrey…Of course they are happy.”
Kyle didn’t have a clue, he never lowered himself to speak to them.
“How are my new recruits…Cuban and Shaney….no…Shona, how are they getting’ on?”
Jeffrey was genuinely interested. He fought for them to get a job.
“They umm…they are getting’ along just fine. Busy.”
Kyle found it worryingly easy to lie.
“Shona workin’ on the trucks like we agreed?”
“I…believe so Jeffrey, yes.” Kyle was getting better at lying.
“Good” Jeffrey was pleased and nodded.
It seemed a natural time for people to sip their drinks. One of the investors, got up to use the bathroom and another went up to the bar as he recognised somebody. Kyle decided to instigate the next conversation.
“Jeffrey…do you think it wise, I mean, good for morale to have a…nigger and a broad workin’? Daynes is booming and those kind of people should give way to …more deserving people who want to work here, who have moved to get a job in this town. You know what I’m talking about?”
“No” Jeffrey was annoyed
“They make the guys crazy” Kyle tried desperately to get Jeffrey’s backing.
“Tell me Kyle…have they refused work?”
“Have they been late?”
“Have they stolen anything?”
“Then we are done talking about this and questioning my decisions. They deserve a chance like everybody until they mess it up for themselves”
“I understand” Kyle was defeated.
Kyle finished his drink. The atmosphere was too awkward to stay.
“Good evening Jeffrey”
They shook hands and Kyle sloped out leaving Jeffrey with tarnished feelings about his business. He was all of a sudden a little worried. Did he have reason to be?
Later that night, Shona joined Cuban sitting by a fire just outside their barn. Cuban seemed distant, playing Toms old guitar. He was pretty good at playing the blues.
“Hey…” Shona said gently, respecting Cuban looking a bit down. He immediately stopped playing.
“No…don’t stop playing on my count. That was beautiful.”
“You ok…? Another tough day? I didn’t get chance to see you much today”
“They just playin’ their games again, tryin’ to get me to take the bait, but I aint. I need the money too much.”
Shona pulled a chair to sit next to Cuban taking a sip of her tea.
“There are some real jerks there, real jerks. But it won’t be long and we’ll be out of it, right?” Shona again trying her best to lighten the mood.
“Even I if do manage to set foot outside of this barn or Ellis and Bruce, they are waiting. God damn Klan. It comes to something when I say the safest place for me is getting treated like absolute shit at work”
Shona’s look saddened, she knew it was the truth.
“I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could do.”
“You have shown me more kindness and compassion than anybody. You’re a gift” Cuban smiled a genuine smile
“How are you two doin’?”
Tom came in after checking in on Storm who had again injured herself after getting a bit too flighty.
“Yeah we’re fine, Tom. You?” Shona took the lead with the reply, she knew Cuban was down.
“That damn filly will be the death of me. You try to patch her up after her last episode and she goes nuts and ends up injuring herself. Anyway, night you two.”
“They’re great aren’t they? Tom and Ruby?” Shona smiling in the direction of where Tom was going
“Yeah, they’re brave, for havin’ me stay I’ll say that”
Cuban looked disheartened.
“They’re good people. Not too many of those around”
Shona threw some more wood on the fire. Cuban stared into the flames as if transfixed.
“I heard that three people have gone missin’ from town….Negros of course. The guys were talking and laughing about it today, calling it ‘population control’…..one of the missing… is my friend”
Cuban struggled to hold back tears.
“Oh my god…Cuban, I’m sorry.”
“He is a good man, a real good man. He just gets on with his cleanin’ at a school in town. I did a few shifts for him when I first arrived. He had to take one of his kids to some hospital appointments. I used to feel watched when I left and locked up, and I told him, but he said nothin’ would happen because he worked in the town and people were around so he was safe. I think his wife took over my job when I came here.”
“Is his wife missin’ too?” Shona said concerned.
“No, the guys at work said three men, and they mentioned the guy who works at the school, so that’d be him- Donal. I don’t know much more than that. Somehow I don’t think the Sherriff will prioritise looking for three niggers on his watch, do you? I can promise ya, it won’t end with good news.”
“Yep, I really need his help right now.
“Morning young Shona”
Elbe always looked pleased to see her. She walked into his little workshop the back of the tool room, she was early for work as usual.
“Good Morning Elbe, what are we up to?”
Shona was eyeing Elbe on his hands and knees. It looked like he had dropped something.
“Sssshh…this is where I keep my secret stash” Elbe whispered
Shona smiled at the cloak and dagger of it all. But she got on her hands and knees aswell.
“Where you keep what?” Shona quizzed adjusting the weight on her knees, the floor was wooden and uneven in places, not the most comfortable.
“My stash..my liquor, some cash and my diary. Those up in the offices would turn this place upside down if they had any idea”
Elbe felt along one of the floorboards near the wall, and one was loose. He wiggled it until its ‘lip’ was enough to grab to lift up, and underneath, was a box and sure enough, there was his red diary, a hip flask and a few dollars in it.
“This is my Escape box, that’s what I call it in my head”
Elbe pulled out his diary and began flicking through it, Shona felt sad looking at Elbe. He was an outsider here too. That’s what they had in common. The workers here didn’t make his life to easy either, especially now he has sided with a black guy and a broad. The fact that the only place he felt he could keep his things private, were in a little box underneath some floorboards spoke volumes.
“How often do you write in it?”
Elbe replied “Every day, trust me there’s always something to write with what goes on here. The things that are in here will make your hair stand on end. By writing in the diary my wife gave me, I feel I am telling her at the end of my day as if she were still here. I feel she listens you know, and if I listen close enough, I can hear her talking back to me.”
“Yeah? What does she say?”
“To get the hell out of here as soon as I can!”
The both chuckled.
“I would say that’s great advice from your wife” Shona smiled
“Here, this is a picture of her” Elbe placed a small square photo in her hand.
“She’s beautiful Elbe, really pretty”
“She was a stunner, too good for me!”
“You better put this back in case they come in.”
“Shona, if you ever need a, you know, drink, you know where it is” Elbe winked
“Thanks, I think I may take you up on that!”
“Here you are” Cuban walked in.
“Hey” Shona replied
“The boss is givin’ out the wages, he wanted everybody there, we need to go” Cuban gestured to come out
“This is the only good part here- wages!” Elbe gave a thumbs up
All of the workers were gathered in the usual place, underneath the balcony to the management offices. Each workers name was called out and they went and collected their wages from Deputy Paul.
As with everything, the outcast three were last.
“Elbe!” Deputy Paul hollered after calling everybody else. Elbe sprung into life when he heard his name. He was saving every cent for his retirement. He took his envelope from Deputy Paul and immediately started counting his money, but looked disappointed. Deputy Paul smiled.
“Shona!” Deputy Paul yelled. Same again, collected envelope and opened it on the way back to where everybody was standing.
“Nigger!” Cuban, head-down made his way to the front and collected his envelope.
“Right now everybody get back to work!” Deputy Paul ordered. People dispersed.
“I haven’t been paid right, have you?” Shona counted and re-counted her money and looked at Cuban.
“No, I’ve come up short”
“Me too, those thievin’ sons of bitches!” Elbe was livid, he didn’t get paid much as it was.
“I’ll go see Deputy Paul, we can’t have this” and off Shona went to try to catch him before he went up the winding steps to the management offices.
“Errmmm excuse me, excuse me… Deputy Paul” Shona was understandably cautious.
“What!” Deputy Paul snapped back with one hand on the rail.
“We haven’t been paid right. We are all coming up short, by at least thirty to forty dollars each Sir” Shona pleaded.
“That’s what they are payin’ you.” There was no compassion in his eyes.
“But I have to pay rent and I won’t have enough”
“Not my problem” Deputy Paul had no time for this and took his first step up, turning his back on Shona.
“You know this isn’t fair! We have done nothin’ wrong, we work damn hard here, harder than some of the others, we deserve our money god damn it!”
Shona immediately regretted her aggressive response, but she had been storing it up for too long.
“Well I suggest you go and the see the boss, I’ll let Mr. Bruce know you want to complain or…..leave”
Deputy Paul almost whispered it which made it more intimidating.
Shona was breathing heavily and told herself to not talk anymore, in case she got into trouble. She stayed still until she saw Deputy Paul reach the top of the steps and heard his footprints above her, then she turned and made her way back to where she was working, punching one of the cleaning cupboard doors on her way back.
“You hear that Larry, from the broad?” Deputy Paul approached Larry Bruce leaning on the balcony outside of his office
“Yeah, I heard everything. I’ll deal with her”
Deputy Paul smiled his response.
“You ok sweetheart?”
Tom asked Ruby as she came in with some shopping from in town. She didn’t look her usual cheery self. She put one of the grocery bags on the kitchen table, but it fell off, and food went everywhere.
“God damn it!” Ruby huffed
“Hey, its ok, I got it, honey” Tom put a hand on Ruby’s shoulder and knelt down to pick up the tins of food.
“Sorry, I’m not with it.”
“Something wrong?” Tom put the remaining loose pieces of fruit into the bag
“Well, news travels fast. I was walking through the store and thought I must have something on my face. People kept staring at me. I didn’t even buy everything we needed, I just wanted to get out of there…”
“Ok…” Tom encouraged Ruby to continue.
“And when I paid, Jill, she just came out with it, no usual softness on her voice”
“What did she say?”
Ruby looked visibly upset
“’So you’re a nigger lover now?’. She said she heard about us having one staying at the barn and how we should be ashamed of ourselves. Tom, I too upset to respond. I just wanted to run out of there”
Tom consoled his wife, they held each other for a while. His shoulder damp from Ruby’s tears. They knew what the easiest thing to do would be. Their lives would only get more difficult here on in the longer Cuban stayed.
They had a decision to make.
Late afternoon after the wages saga, the outcast three were all hard at work in silence. Cuban was sweeping outside, Elbe was fixing and repairing in his little workshop and Shona was cleaning up the kitchen until she saw her reflection in every pot and pan.
“Shona! Get your ass over here!”
Deputy Paul hollered, everybody heard. People poked their heads round doors to see what was up. It definitely wouldn’t be good news judging by the tone.
Shona folded her cleaning cloth and put on the side and made her way towards the voice. She coughed a nervous cough to herself. She emerged from the kitchen to find Deputy Paul at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the management offices. His cold steely eyes fixed on her.
“I don’t envy her” one colleague quietly said to another as they were peeking round a door
Deputy Paul turned and walked up the stairs in front of her not saying a word which added to the Shona’s anxiety about what was waiting. He stopped. Right outside Larry Bruce’s office and faced Shona as if relishing the experience. He knocked on the thick expensive door still eyeballing Shona who swallowed hard and tried to remain calm.
“Yeah” a voice bellowed from the other side of the door.
Deputy Paul opened the door, went in, shut it and was gone for about twenty to thirty seconds then reappeared with a smirk.
“Go in” was the last thing he said before he was asked to leave by Larry.
“Sir?” Shona asked nervously
“Get in here” Larry was sat back behind his luxury desk, fingers interlocked. Shona made a mental note of the vast drinks cabinet, photographs taken with the most influential people of Daynes and the state of Alabama. Shona had seen some faces she’d only seen in the newspaper. Larry Bruce really did know everybody who was rich and powerful.
He eyeballed Shona with disgust.
“You want to work here? Do you” Larry raised an eyebrow as he spoke.
“Then why the fuck you talkin’ back to your superior! Who the hell do you think you are!?”
“I’m sorry sir. I just questioned our wages, they weren’t the same as what we were told” Shona’s head was level with Larry, but she found it difficult to make eye contact. She had seen that look of disappointment and disgust before, in her father’s eyes.
“That’s because you’re not the same. Do you hear me? All three of you rejects. The Jeffrey Ellis fan club. You’re lucky you still have a job.”
Shona nodded reluctantly. A mixture of fear and an anger at the injustice built up, she dug deep inside herself for some grit to withstand the intimidating Larry Bruce. She grinded her teeth. He slowly got up out of his comfy leather seat and made his way to Shona who stood motionless. He was directly in front of her. She could smell his liquor breath, something else she was used to. His moustached mouth curled in disgust. He creeped to where he was directly behind Shona. She could feel his stagnant breath on her neck. She tried to stifle her fast breathing. She had no idea what Larry Bruce was going to do or say. He lingered behind her.
“The thing that’s been playin’ on my mind since you had the audacity to think you could walk into my company and contribute anything, was why?…..Why would a broad choose to work here? Now….I got my own suspicions. She either wants to drive the men crazy for her own gain and get some business for her own time in the evening, or….something, something aint right with her. Why would she want to work with these men, be like these men? She aint wired properly.”
The malice in his voice poisoned the air around Shona.
“So tell me….Shona. Why did you choose here?”
Shona closed her eyes wishing she was anywhere but here.
“Because….because I needed a job, and I know I can work just as hard as the guys, Sir”
Shona looked dead ahead. Determined, she regained some grit in her voice.
“Hmmmm….I strongly disagree with that.” Larry whispered in her ear. Shona flinched slightly. Larry continued.
“The guys tell me they think you’re pretty, but can’t work you out. You’re driving ‘em wild down there. Hell…I may ask if you could be of some use here after all, be of service to us, work that tension out of ‘em”
Larry ran his pointed forefinger gently down Shona’s back. She froze and didn’t respond. This was a new level of low.
Larry was surprised at a lack of response. He was the powerful boss after all. She should have felt grateful of his attention. The women at the high-end bars he frequented were.
“Get the fuck out of my office!” Larry was livid. Shona quickly left. Larry couldn’t read Shona, and he hated what he didn’t understand.
“You’re too slow old man, quicker!” Kyle hollers at Elbe as he was stacking some tire rims that were blocking the way for a tractor to reverse to get out on the fields.
Cuban walks out and immediately goes over to help Elbe with the remaining three, he does two quite easily and looks behind to see Elbe struggling with his remaining one so goes back to help.
“Why don’t you just fucking quit!? You’re past it!”
Kyle shoves an exhausted Elbe who falls and the heavy rims catches on his knee. Kyle somehow resists the urge to publicly kick him. He needs these tractors to go out now. Cuban springs to help Elbe up and put the remaining tire rim on its pile and goes back to check Elbe’s knee which is bleeding and a bruise emerged immediately. He was an old broken man, his bright light of a spirit had diminished.
“You ok Elbe?” Cuban had his arm round Elbe’s shoulder to help him inside to put something cold on his knee.
“Yeah…listen, thanks for helping me, Cuban. The others just watched”
Elbe briefly glanced at the half a dozen strong men who could have stepped in to help him carry those damn tire rims.
“Come on, let’s get you patched up” Cuban smiled.
The next day. At the usual ten AM buzzer, Cuban made his way to the canteen on the off chance he actually got a full plate of food that hadn’t been spat in, dropped or slopped. He made his way to his usual place, the back of the queue, but was stopped just before he joined it.
“Nigger” Deputy Paul had appeared to his right.
Cuban was nervous, he never knew what was coming next. It was never in his favour, or something pleasant.
Deputy Paul continued.
“The new boss, Kyle up there, he wants you to work longer hours, maybe weekends. Now…I’m sure you’re not gone turn the work down are you? We got a backlog we need to clear”
Deputy Paul looked up to his left, which made Cuban do the same. They saw Kyle leaning on the balcony outside the management offices looking directly at them, without emotion, as if mind reading.
Cuban looked back at Deputy Paul, knowing they were trying to get rid of him any way they could and if he protested against it, he would be out, with Jeffrey Ellis’ blessing for refusing work and then definitely released to the ‘wolves’ out there who were stalking black people of Daynes.
“Ok, Sir” Cuban said reluctantly, jaw clenched.
“I wasn’t fucking asking, I was telling.”
Deputy Paul spat at Cubans feet and disappeared as if he had successfully carried out Kyles order.
Cuban went on to see Shona was eating alone at her table. Elbe had just joined her as Cuban approached.
“Hey…how you doin’?” A concerned Shona asked Cuban. Elbe tucked into his soup.
“Yeah, I’m fine. You?”
“I’m certainly finding out about the new kid on the block, Kyle. He was telling me how I belonged in the kitchen, should make my living as a scrubber, and NOT thinking I could match the guys by working on the trucks or on the machinery in the fields. Yeah, me and him, we don’t see eye to eye already”
Shona sipped the soup off her spoon. Cuban knew all about Kyle and his intentions already.
“He seems like another damn idiot if you ask me. Corrupt as the rest of ‘em. Although, Miss Chloe doesn’t seem that way. I saw her talking to some of the guys earlier. She seems real nice.” Elbe added
“Hmmmm…..keep your guard up still, she still sits in the management offices remember”
Shona snapped back.
“What’s going on over there?” Cuban’s attention was diverted to a couple of tables away, Shona and Elbe looked up too.
They witnessed Randy, one of the mechanics being surrounded by three to four of the‘wolves’ of Ellis and Bruce- the men who knew how to make life even more difficult than it already was. They were throwing Randy’s hat around. Very quickly, it became a circus with Randy being the main attraction. He was normally one of the softer characters who kept himself to himself, which meant he was vulnerable which then meant he was targeted.
“Come on big boy, come and get it!” Greg tempted Randy
Randy was made fun of because of being overweight, so he often ate quickly, sometimes not at all at work. He was an easy target for the wolves.
The rest of the pack sniggered.
“Greg, it’s aint funny anymore, just give it back” Randy felt humiliated as heads were popping up all over the place to what this playground behaviour.
“I got his keys!” Another member of the pack launched forward to grab Randys keys from his huge pocket of his overalls.
“They are unbelievable” Shona was fixated, livid inside watching from afar.
“Even the damn bosses are watching, look”
Elbe faced the balcony to where Kyle and Deputy Paul were watching the event, not remotely looking like they were going to help Randy. Why?
“So…do you want your hat that Mrs Randy got you, or your keys that are kinda important, come on Randy…choose!”
Greg’s evil weathered looking face clearly enjoying the power as he tossed the hat and keys between the wolves.
“Randy, just see it as I’m helping you lose a few pounds, come on boy, move, move!”
By now, a circle a form around him, so he couldn’t leave. They all supported Greg, who was a force. They didn’t dare go against him.
“Right, I’ve had enough of this”
Shona go up out of her seat, and stormed over.
“What she doin’?” Cuban was concerned and got up too
Shona barged her way into the centre, grabbed the hat out of one guys hand who was in front of her due to the element of surprise. The crowd made ‘Whhhoaaa!’ sound simultaneously.
“Give him the keys Greg, or are you gone hit a woman in front of your friends and the bosses?”
The place hushed in an instant.
“I’m gone hold my hand out, and you’re gone place the keys in my hand, you’ve had your fun.” Shona continued.
“Who are you, his mother?” Greg snarled, but aware he needed to be cautious about his next move.
“No, give me the keys….please” Shona held out her palm.
All eyes were on Greg.
Chloe came out of one of the management offices wondering where people were, to find them on the balcony looking down at a crowd circling Shona, Greg and Randy.
“Whats goin’ on?” She asked Kyle.
“Nothing, just some high jinks that’s all, all good fun” Kyle lied.
“You need to be careful at who you make a friend in here….and who you choose to make an enemy darlin’”
Greg sneered sarcastically.
“Keys” Shona looked dead in his eyes.
Greg looked up as if to ask for guidance from ‘up top’.
Deputy Paul nodded. Things may have been different if Chloe hadn’t have showed up.
“Well, alright. But you may have made his life worse….and yours” with that, he reluctantly slapped the keys in Shona’s hand.
“Come on everybody, show’s over!” Deputy Paul barked to get everybody back to work.
Chloe wasn’t convinced it was high jinks, it didn’t look like it. She returned to her office leaving Deputy Paul and Kyle.
“That broad…Shona, just made a very big mistake” Deputy Paul said quietly in earshot to Kyle
“She certainly did”
The following morning, at the local newspaper office in town, Joe the large ever-mean editor wasn’t happy as usual. He was smoking even more cigars which ensured the stench travelled to everybody’s office. When you smelt the cigars, Editor Joe was back and you’d better have a story for him. The atmosphere was thick, not just with smoke, but with trepidation.
“Tim!…..Get your back side in here, boy!” barked Joe, exhaling a plume of smoke at the same time
A scrawny, but smart Tim, not twenty years old, quickly emerged at Editor Joe’s office, heart racing, awaiting his fate, dropping his note pad, then dropping his pen when he was picking up his notepad, editor Joe sighing.
“You know what I see when I look at my in-tray this morning?”
“I see Clarkes story, I see Johns coverage of the opening of Reds which has been refurbished, I see Tony’s story on a local school. You know what I don’t see Tim?”
Tim knew there wasn’t a right or wrong answer with this, he just had to go with it.
“I don’t see a good damn story waiting for me from Tim…AGAIN! What the hell am I payin’ you for!?”
Editor Joe got up out of his seat, walked round his plush desk and got in Tim’s face who got the full brunt of his smelly, smoky stale liquored breath.
“Umm…I’m sorry Sir, I’ve been looking round for stories, I really have, but -“
“- There are stories everywhere in this town you fool!”
Editor Joe interrupted
Tim nodded reluctantly, he felt defeated no matter what he said
“- Niggers been goin’ missing, like the three that are in today’s paper, why didn’t you cover that?”
Tim swallowed hard “I didn’t know about it. Sir.”
“That’s your fucking job to know about it! Clive got that story, front page, in your face. Hopefully scaring the black sons of bitches to get out of this town and back to where they belong!”
Editor Joe kicked his filing cabinet in a rage. Tim was grateful he didn’t feel the pointy end of Editor Joe’s boot.
“All I can say is that I’m sorry Sir, I promise….I’ll get a real big story soon”
“You better, for your sake!…Now get out of my office!”
Tim left without hesitation, searching for that big story.
“You see this Larry?”
Kyle picking up the newspaper on Larrys desk and being drawn to the bottom right of the front page. Larry pouring them both a spirit from the drinks cabinet.
“This nigger…King, Dr.King. He’s causing a lot of trouble, stirring up shit. He is getting too big for himself, he needs to be stopped and put in his place”
Larry took a large swig, never minding that is it mid-morning, then pours himself another and then passing Kyle a glass.
“He won’t amount to anything. Who in their right mind would back the fool? Its suicide” Larry sneered
“We got our own nigger to deal with” Kyle looks Larry dead in the eye, then returns to the front page and continues.
“Look…what a shame, 3 niggers have gone missing” Kyle read sarcastically.
“Its population control” Larry replied confidently
“Others need to….go missing” Kyle aims at Larry suggestively whilst sipping his drink.
Circling the house like predators stalking their prey, faceless men at home in the night, play games with their victims; a helpless family locked inside in fear of their lives.
“What are we gone do!?” A wife hugs her children tight, who are frozen with fear, too scared to scream looking to her husband. They have tried to hide in the middle of the house away from the windows, out of sight, given themselves a few minutes of thinking space.
“I don’t know, they’re everywhere, baby!”
“I’m gone go out, and distract ‘em, then you and the children go out back and run, you hear, you run!”
The husband cupping his wife’s face, drenched from tears, in his strong dependable hands.
“I can’t leave you, we can’t leave you, who knows what they will do”
She was desperate to save her children and her husband, but it seems they had been dealt a cruel fate.
“Baby, everything will be ok, just go out the back-“
“Sssshhh…whats that? It sounds like they have tried to get in round back?”
The wife put her finger on her husband’s lips, she was sure she heard noises.
“Then all the more reason to run fast straight out of here. I love you baby, just keep running, I’ll find you” With that he kissed his wife hard on the lips and the forehead, held his children tight, tried desperately to put their images of being horrified out of his mind, he headed to the front door where through the window, he could see a burning cross in the front lawn.
“Ready baby!” He shouted back “Go!”
The husband made his way out the front door. He was confronted by half a dozen men in the familiar horrific masks. They were motionless as he was making his way down the front steps, anything to distract them from the back door.
“They’re tryin’ to get out back!” came a voice from the side of the house.
“Do it!” came a very calm, cold voice from under a mask looking like the leader.
What did ‘do it’ mean thought the husband panicking, searching faceless monsters for some kind of answer. He got it.
Thick smoke made its way round to the side then the front of the house, the husband looked to his left. The soft breeze carried it round. He immediately went to run back in but was stopped by two large men who grabbed him just as he clutched the door handle. A fight ensued and there was one loser and wouldn’t be the men wearing masks.
“My wife and babies are in there!” He screamed unlike anytime he has screamed in his life- pure terror in his voice and eyes as he was being beat. He didn’t put up much fight against them, he was just scrapping for any distance he could make up to get to that front door to get them out.
Another of the group joined in to restrain him as one of the guys from around the side of the house coolly, on order, came to set fire to the front of the house. Their only exit. It was all wooden. It wouldn’t take long before the house would be engulfed. The final blow came when the husband heard the horrified screams from inside, he replied with his own scream, he was completely powerless, so he thought. He gathered some almighty strength and got loose somehow. However, he was quickly followed as he ran through some stray flames that were quickly eating up the front lawn due to the dryness of the grass. He was caught just as he managed to leap on the first step of the porch. He was taken down and felt his knee crack as he landed on it the wrong way. This time, he wouldn’t be getting back up. His last vision was looking sideways, his face in the dirt watching his beloved home with his world inside get completely engulfed in flames. That’s all he remembered before they beat him unconscious.
“Hey! Cuban!….Wake up! Cuban!”
Shona had to shake Cuban hard, harder than normal when he had these nightmares.
“What!?” Cuban completely out of it, looked around to desperately try to recognise his surroundings to see if he was in danger.
“Its ok…Its ok…what in the hell did you dream about?”
Shona comforting him
“My babies, my whole world….I never told you ‘bout what happened. What they did to ‘em. I couldn’t, it was too painful”
Cuban rubbing his wet eyes, he couldn’t stop the tears.
“My god…what happened?” Shona’s face told it all, she felt devastated for Cuban. He was normally so guarded about his past, but this particular nightmare had unlocked him somehow.
“They killed my family, my whole family. I don’t think they bet on me waking up. That’s why I can’t go back.”
He retched with pain and the recalling. It was easier to understand now. Cuban was on the run.
The following morning, a weary Shona was out in the field, not on the machinery of course, but gathering up the leftovers from the tractor and any other menial job that was left to do.
“Yeah?” Shona stood up straight, looked over to see Randy making his way over to her.
They hadn’t really spoken much, he tried to keep himself to himself which didn’t work here.
“I just wanted to say thanks for standing up to those guys in the canteen, you didn’t have to”
Truth was, Shona felt a bit sorry for him. He was short and round with thinning messy hair from constantly wearing a tatty cap. He always seemed to be wearing the same dirty tight dungarees that struggled to keep in his expanding belly.
“No problem……that happen a lot?” Shona squinted in the sunlight.
“Yeah…I mean, who do you complain to, right?” Randy replied with hopelessness in his voice. Shona realised that Randy was a bit slow and this was probably another reason why he was targeted.
“How long’s it been going on for?”
“Since Mr Bruce took over, but he told me that nobody else in Daynes would ever give me a job and that….and that I was lucky that Mr Ellis did, so I should be grateful”
Randy looked visibly uncomfortable. Shona started to build up more of a picture of life prior to Larry Bruce, and life since, and there didn’t seem to be any happy stories since Mr.Bruce was more at the helm.
“There it is….10 o’clock, breaktime. You coming in for something to eat?”
Shona tried to lift the mood
“Errmm no….no its ok. I made sandwiches. I’m gone eat them out here. I like the quiet”
Randy looked around fully appreciating the fifteen to twenty minutes where it was just him out in the fields, where he didn’t have to converse with the other guys.
“Ok, well I’ll see you in while. God knows where they will have me cleaning next”
Shona made her way to the canteen.
Cuban was next up to collect his food, he had waited until everybody else had gone. He grabbed a plate and gave it to the head chef who still hadn’t ‘forgiven’ Cuban over the mess he made of his kitchen and nobody ever realising that Cuban was set up. Cuban made even more of an effort to not cause any drama. He held out his plate and the head chef took it and slopped food but purposely missing the plate and it spilling on the floor.
“That’s your quota, move along nigger” he said
“Could I just have some bread…please?” Cuban pleaded
“When you gone realise you aint welcome round here!?”
“Can I just have some bread…..please” Cuban said calmly
“When you have cleared up that mess”
Heads turned around to see what was going on. Cuban again found himself the centre of attention, where he didn’t want to be. There was no point in arguining. He grabbed some paper towels, got on his hands and knees and wiped up the gravy and slop on the floor whilst the Head chef smirked.
“On his knees, where he belongs!”
“Go on nigger! Scrub! Scrub!”
Cries of laughter and the odd bits of bread came flying over and hit Cuban as he cleaned.
“Can I have my bread now please Chef” Cuban asked politely
“Of course, nigger…of course”
With that he went and got a small bread roll and took a big bite out of it leaving remnants of his saliva on it then gave it to Cuban whose stomach was rumbling so loud, he felt that everybody could hear it. He took the bread stifling his anger.
“Now….what do you say?” Chef said sarcastically
“…….Thank you” Cuban replied reluctantly
Cuban joined Elbe and Shona at the far table. Elbe asked what had happened when he saw Cuban only had some bread.
“I’m gone put all this in my diary, hear have some of my food”
Elbe didn’t take no for an answer and scraped some food onto a plate for Cuban
This was being watched.
“Diary? With all due respect, what is that gone do? How is that gone help me now?”
Cuban didn’t mean to snap, he was just embarrassed and ashamed at having to accept food from an old man. A couple of guys from another table turned round because of his raised voice.
“When I retire, I’m gone give it to somebody and maybe they can help when they see what’s really going on here. I won’t have anything to lose then. They won’t be able to do anything to me.”
Cuban didn’t reply, he just ate the half dozen or so spoonful’s of food that Elbe was kind enough to give him. They sat there in silence for the remaining five minutes of break.
An hour or so later, Shona approached Elbe who was sweeping up. She picked up a broom to help him.
“Elbe I got a question..”
“Why is Jeffrey Ellis so……so….Ok with black people?”
“Because he owes them.”
“What?…Owes them what? Why?”
“You see….Jeffrey Ellis’ father ran a big successful transport company about an hour from here. It was in the middle of nowhere as he built it up slowly from what his father had built up, Jeffrey’s grandfather. It was too expensive to set up in town. So….little Jeffrey Ellis used to play around at his father’s yard most days after school getting into mischief as you do. Jeffrey’s father used to employ blacks and pay ‘em next to nothing to do all the scrubbing, cleaning….jobs you wouldn’t wanna do. But his father couldn’t stand ‘em, despised ‘em and often beat ‘em.”
“Ok…..” Shona was gripped
“So….on one day, Little Jeffrey was about 9 or 10 years old goes off into the country nearby his father’s work and slips down a damn twenty foot hole after peering over the edge. It was the height of the summer, blazing hot and he twisted his ankle on the way down and couldn’t climb out. He would have been cooked alive right there if he had have stayed out for much longer”
“Then what happened?” Shona’s sweeping slowing to take in the story
“He called for help, his father didn’t hear him, didn’t come for him”
“A little while later, two heads appeared looking down at him. It was the black fellas who worked for Jeffrey’s father. They were on their way home and heard the cries for help. Now…These men were being underpaid, beat, starved and humiliated by Jeffrey’s’ father who had told Jeffrey never to speak to them because all of them were evil bad men who deserved to be punished.”
“So…what did they do?”
“They could have got the ultimate revenge on Mr Ellis senior. Jeffrey was his only son, his heir, his world. They could have left him in that hole, walked away and nobody would know and Ellis senior would experience a world of pain”
“And?…..Come on, Elbe what happened?”
“They walked away”
“Wait what?…they walked away?”
“They walked away…….and came back with two of their friends. And they brought back a rope from the yard and hollered to Ellis Senior to follow them, when he arrived, he saw these supposed evil, bad, black men pull his scared, dehydrated son to safety.”
“Yep….from that day on, Ellis Senior never treated them bad again, gave ‘em more money. Jeffrey made friends with their children and played out with ‘em. He owes his life to those black fellas”
“So that’s why he gives people a chance”
“And how come you know all this, Elbe?”
“Because I worked for his father and I never forget seeing the sight of him being brought back in that day, cuts down his legs from the fall. When Ellis senior passed on, Jeffrey always promised me a job no matter what. I’ve seen him grow from boy to man, and I’m proud of him”
“You never fail to amaze me Elbe, you got a lot of stories goin’ on in there”
Shona pointed at Elbe affectionately.
“Come on, I’ll quickly show you a photo of Ellis senior and all of us at the business, the black fella’s who saved Jeffrey are in it too”
They both made their way over to and quickly put their brooms up against the wall outside to Elbe’s workshop and went inside.
“What the?” Shona was confused
Elbe’s tool room had been completely trashed.
“Who would do such a cruel thing?….Why” Elbe asked, heartbroken.
“I’ll help you” Shona immediately began to pick up tools, papers etc off the floor.
Nuts and bolts were strewn all over the place. Elbe went straight over to make sure his ‘escape box’ was still undiscovered. It was. That was a relief. If ‘they’ had found that, who knows what the consequences would be. Shona shut the door behind them so that she could start sweeping up the glass, bolts, screws etc. inside and saw writing scraped in the wooden door.
Written clearly was ‘NIGGER LOVER’
Down the stairs they came again.
The creek of the door a sound that had imprinted in Shona’s mind to mean impending doom….and pain.
She was exhausted after trying to constantly stay awake and starving. This made her weaker, and easier to deal with.
Shona squinted and saw double vision through tiredness and fatigue.
They grabbed her and the man dragged her up the stairs where the lighting burnt her eyes. She passed out until she felt that pain again, he screams muffled by a pillow.
Reporter Tim was lingering over his cold coffee at Ed’s Diner one evening. He was praying as if by magic that the news story of the year would present itself to him, but no luck. He dreaded going back to the office empty handed after a fruitless day, and even considered not going back at all.
‘Hey Tim….I’ve got a story for ya!”
“Yeah!? What’s that!?” Tim looked up at Jimmy who was behind the counter, Tim’s eyes widened at the thought.
“I can juggle three eggs without droppin’ ‘em, what do you say!?” Jimmy set about laughing at Tim’s expense.
“Yeah, yeah that’s real funny”
Tim stirred the remnants of his coffee, hoping…Just hoping.
Meanwhile, later that evening at Kyles house, he was pacing around the room on the phone to his mother in Florida.
“What are you talkin’ ‘bout?” Kyle stopped in his tracks
“They came back, this time demanding money. What in the hell you got yourself into down here, Kyle!?”
“Its nothin’…leave to me, I’ll deal with”
“Nothing?….Your father paid them off…this time. They said they will come back for you if you return. Said you owe money to other people too, that right?”
“Of course not! They just kiddin’ round trying to frighten you-“
“-it worked Kyle, we don’t need this anymore. Time and time again we bail you out when you owe no good thugs money for god knows what, your father is livid”
“Yeah?……Its not like you can’t afford it mother”
“Son…..I have always, always defended you, even though it’s caused upset between me and your father. You have had the best upbringing, the nicest house, you went to the best school… but this has gone one step too far.”
“Uh huh….You happy to let your son get beat up by people, what kinda mother is that?”
“The kind of mother of paid those thugs off in secret so your father wouldn’t find out.”
“Yeah….I bet you have a lot of secrets from each other huh?”
“Why are you saying this!?”
“You should be helping your son, whys that a secret?”
“Because you got messed up with the wrong people Kyle. Drugs, gambling….You’re forty three years old, you’ve had more than enough money to support yourself”
Kyle sat down, took a swig of whisky straight from the near empty bottle.
“Didn’t realise there was a limit of my mother’s affections.”
“That’s not fair Kyle, that’s not fair!”
“Truth aint…is it mother?”
“Is that him?!” Kyle heard his father’s voice on the line.
“I’m gone give it to you straight now, I’ve paid them thugs off, but they said you owe more. You’re on your own. You don’t dare speak to your mother like that…and if you you’re wondering…You aint getting a penny of inheritance after the money you have blown. You’re a disgrace after the dirty deals you’ve done to some good folk back here. You’re no son of mine.”
The receiver went down. The line was dead.
Kyle had a problem, he had a big problem. He needed cash. Fast.
“Oh what is it this time?” Elbe scoffed.
Everybody made their way to the usual meeting place underneath the management balcony. They were pleasantly surprised to see Jeffrey Ellis emerge up top looking over, giving everybody a warm smile.
“Wish he was around here more, he wouldn’t like what he’d see”
Shona leaning in towards Cuban and Elbe standing and waiting for whatever the announcement was.
Following Jeffrey Ellis, was Ron Black with a beaming smile. He was the safe pair of hands of Ellis and Bruce, an ‘island’ who never caused a fuss, never joined in with the harsh treatment, just got on with things. Here he was joining Jeffrey Ellis on the balcony.
“Good morning everybody, I know you’re all busy, so I don’t want to take up too much of you time” Jeffrey said leaning over the balcony.
“Take as much time as you want” Elbe whispered. Cuban and Shona smiled
“But I want to introduce to you one of the new managers here at Ellis and Bruce.”
Shona purposely looked at Larry Bruce and Kyle who walked out and stood together straight after, not looking happy.
“I have been impressed with his professionalism, integrity and hard work. Please join me in congratulating Ron Black”
Jeffrey Ellis started off the applause and everybody else quickly followed. The applause was more reluctant from Larry and Kyle which Shona spotted.
Amongst the noise of the applause, Jeffrey Ellis leaned in towards Ron, knowing his voice would be drowned out.
“Ron, I want you to be my eyes and ears here, tell me everything that goes on”
Ron Black nodded with a smile. They knew something sinister was going on at the heart of Ellis and Bruce, they had to find out what and who was at the centre of it.
The workers were all mingling below the balcony, taking their time to get back to work, after all, all the managers were up top probably discussing who has the biggest desk. Apart from Jeffrey and Ron, they were alright, everybody liked them…and Chloe, she hadn’t made too much noise as she was quietly learning the business in the background. Speaking of whom.
“There she is….she’s a sweet little thing, she spoke to me earlier, she seems real nice”
Elbe looked over at Chloe who had made her way down to mingle amongst the workers who enjoyed her company, something the other managers wouldn’t do. Cuban and Shona both glanced over.
“She spoke to me when I was out in the field, seemed to really listen too” Cuban added.
Shona stayed quiet.
Chloe was slowly making her way over to Elbe, Cuban and Shona.
“I’m goin’ back to work” Shona walked towards the door leading out of the open space.
“Wait, Shona…What you doin’?” Cuban followed Shona just as Chloe caught up with Elbe. Chloe looked over to Shona and Cuban, then Elbe started talking to her.
“Like I said, I gotta get back to work”
Cuban walked with Shona who moved at pace as if to get away from something.
They were just about to pass Cubans changing space.
“Wait…you ok? You wanna talk about something?”
Cuban asked concerned. Shona did think about talking, but now wasn’t the time.
“No..I’m good. I’ll see you later”
Shona left Cuban who heard a noise coming from inside his cramped changing space.
It was Kyle.
“What…Wait…What you doin’!?” Cuban was shocked to see Kyle had completely turned everything upside down.
With a smirk, Kyle came right up to Cuban.
“Just checking…….nigger. Guys like you tend to…..steal….Locker check.”
“Has anybody else been checked?” Cuban knew he shouldn’t have spoken back. It stopped Kyle in his tracks. Cuban already knew the answer anyway.
Kyle whistled to Deputy Paul who came over.
“Oh….Oh you don’t like that huh?”
Cuban swallowed, he regretted speaking back. Deputy Pauls intimidating stature surrounded Cuban.
“You know what you can do….fucking leave. Do us all a favour nigger, leave, then let the wolves get you out there.”
Cuban was livid and scared all at the same time.
“I suggest, he comes with me, what do you say Kyle?”
Deputy Pauls face emotionless staring straight at Cuban. This wasn’t good, especially as two of Deputy Pauls close associates came over as if telepathically knowing they were needed. Kyle smirked his reply.
“We’ll go and have a…..little talk”
Cuban was led away to an empty office out of the way by Deputy Paul and his ‘associates’. Cuban tried to prepare himself.
Later that evening, Chloe comes in from horse riding round the paddock of the family estate to find her father Larry, slugging whiskey watching a game show that he gets frustrated with as he keeps getting the answers wrong.
“Damn it! I knew it was that!” Larry pours himself another shot.
“I’m going to my room, I’m gone do some painting”
Chloe went over to kiss her father on the forehead, slightly concerned at the near empty bottle by him.
“Ok Princess….But I do wish you wouldn’t waste your time doing that stuff, there’s no money to be had. The Business…..the business is where you will make your money sweetheart”
Larry didn’t even look at his daughter as he said it.
“But I enjoy it…and I think I’m pretty good at it”
She didn’t get an answer. He seemed transfixed by the TV.
“Yessss! I knew that one! I knew that one!” Larry screeched at the TV.
Larry puts the talking piece to his chest and looks at Chloe.
“Chloe honey, it’s a private call, can you go up to your room?”
Her father seemed to forget all too frequent, that she wasn’t 12 anymore, she was in her twenties and had lived away from home.
Larry waited until he was certain Chloe was out of earshot.
“Yeah, go ahead…Right……Ok…………………I’ll just tell old Jeffery that one of the machines packed up. Old fool too busy playin’ golf and drinkin’ in the Copperpot to check!………You leave it with me, count me in, I’m on my way. Get the cards ready!”
“I’m headin’ out” Larry rushed past his wife Eleanor who opening the mail in the other room, she didn’t have time to reply.
Larry didn’t count on Chloe hearing every word. Her mouth was open.
The next day, early afternoon, Eleanor Bruce made her way into the up market part of Daynes. She headed for ‘Stella’s’ an exclusive shop for womens clothing. Eleanor naturally always insisted on only dealing with Stella herself who was always pleased to see Eleanor and her money.
The usual fake affectionate greeting.
“Now…what can I do for you Mrs. Bruce, what fancy dinner you going to this time?”
“Well…it’s not for me actually…it’s for my daughter, Chloe”
“Ooooo… what’s the occasion?” Stella faked her excitement
“She has a date….with the dashing Kyle Chambers”
Eleanor pursed her lips, made a snooty face waiting for the jealous looks. Kyle had made quite an impression with the ladies already. They all wanted to be on his arm.
“Kyle Chambers!….Now, she is a lucky, lucky woman! But hey now, so is he….Your beautiful daughter is the catch of Daynes…hell Alabama! They are a match made in heaven!”
Stella was genuinely jealous and tried to hide it with flattery.
“I want something beautiful, revealing but not too sexy, this is my daughter we’re talkin’ about here….but I want him to be hypnotised!”
“Oh he will be….How long as Chloe liked him?”
“Well….Its kinda like a blind date you know? Her father and I talked about it, Larry really likes him, he comes from money, wants to run the company, so we thought you know…we would help things along a bit”
Eleanor screwed up her face into a snorted laugh.
“So, Chloe doesn’t know about it?” Stella asked, raising one eyebrow
“She will do, and when she does…..she will be over the moon, just like we will be when they are the next power couple of Alabama, in magazines, on TV…Who knows a wedding may soon follow!”
“You got this all figured out aint ‘cha?” Stella wasn’t convinced about the Bruce’s motives.
“Oh I have, I’m not gone let this one get away. I’ll make Chloe see what a smart move it will be to date him…Now, show me those stunning dresses…..”
Later that evening, the blood red sun gave way to the horizon, the Bruce household were all home about to enjoy a freshly prepared meal made by their housekeeper.
“Larry, your dinners ready, come on!”
Eleanor called for the third time.
“Have you seen this bullshit! Segregation being banned and all that!…What is this damn world coming to!?”
Larry Bruce slammed the newspaper down and sat back in his armchair in a huff, snatching his reading glasses from his face.
“El, I’m glad we paid for our princess to go to the best schools without having to….be around those kind. My god, if she had to share a class with a damn nigger…”
Chloe picked at her food, she was hungry, but annoyed.
“You’re right Larry..Now come get your food”
Eleanor put on her napkin and started to eat as Larry made his way into the dining room.
“Do you realise how good you had it, if you were in school now, they talkin’ bout mixing classes with those kind, my god. I would get you home tutored”
Larry plonked down, fixed his napkin although some of his moustache would catch some of his food.
Chloe had a large intake of breath and remained tight-lipped.
“You just don’t know what diseases they carry, I mean, you could literally die by just being next to them, I don’t wanna even share my neighbourhood with them kind, it disgusts me”
Eleanor faked a shiver as if to emphasise her point.
“I met quite a few black people when I went travelling on my time off from university….and I’m still here”
Chloe had been building up to say that, she didn’t even look up from her plate.
Larry stopped chewing.
“I don’t want you making friends with ‘em, you hear? They got bad intentions, motives. They rape, they steal, they lie…The power goes to their heads. They dangerous. Sucking you in, beautiful girl like my daughter then boom! Before you know it, the whole town be crawling with them like locust and we will be working for them! No, that aint happenin’, not while I still have air in my lungs. They need to be kept on a tight leash”
Chloe was horrified at what she was hearing. She felt like she was getting to know her family all over again, but the nasty side. Why couldn’t she go back travelling again, where she was living life, painting and seeing friends she had made.
“Have you actually spoken to Cuban at work?”
Eleanor looked up from her plate in surprise. How dare Chloe answer back?
“The nigger? I don’t care what he has to say, the only thing that would make me slightly interested in what he has to say is ‘Mr.Bruce, I’m leaving’
Larry and Eleanor snorted.
“Dearest Chloe, honey…he is probably crawling with diseases, you do know that. You stay away, I don’t want you bringing anything into this beautiful house. Don’t you go getting attached and feelin’ sorry for ‘em, that’s how they get you!”
Chloe couldn’t believe just how cold her parents were.
“Anyway, sweetheart….on another more important subject. What do you think of Kyle?”
Eleanor asked the question nonchalantly, putting a delicate portion of food in her mouth.
“Kyle?” Chloe looked at her mother then her father who didn’t or chose not to make eye contact with his daughter.
“Yes” Eleanor nodded
“He’s……okay. I don’t really talk to him, he seems up his own ass most of the time. He’s not very pleasant to some of the workers…Why?”
“We…I was just wondering. He is quite the catch of the town, made an impression on the ladies who are….how do we put this…eager to be Mrs. Chambers”
A mischievous smile creeped across Eleanors wrinkling face.
“Well…I would say…”
Larry and Eleanor both hung on to Chloe’s next words as she put down her knife and fork and interlocked her fingers.
“….They are welcome to him”
These words from Chloe were not what they wanted to hear.
“Give the guy a chance” Larry almost ordered his daughter.
Chloe knew this battle of words wasn’t hers to win, so she kept quiet for now and carried on her meal in silence…confused at the conversations she had heard from her parents.
She couldn’t finish all her dinner and got up and put her dishes on the side, eager to get to her room, her space. When she was out of earshot, Larry looked across to his wife.
“What we gone do…You’re gone have to work on her, El”
“Don’t worry, leave it to me”
Eleanor sipped her wine.
The end of the week saw a welcome drink in town, hosted by Jeffrey Ellis. It was in celebration of Ron Blacks promotion. Shona kept her distance from Kyle and Larry Bruce who made excuses to talk business outside and often took deputy Paul with them. Shona congratulated Ron, she liked him, he was one of the good guys, which is probably why Larry and Co. didn’t like him.
“Hey Shona, you want another drink?”
Randy came and sat next to Shona who was looking for Cuban.
“Um….no…thanks. I’m just waiting for Cuban, he said he would try and make it”
Shona replied, grateful of the niceness for once, she felt Randy tried to include her.
“Think you’ll find he wont be here”
Deputy Paul must have overheard as he, Larry and Kyle came back over to the table.
“Whys that?” Shona was suspicious.
The smirk on Deputy Pauls face said it all. He had something to do why Cuban wasn’t here.
“Who? Cuban?….The man deserves to be here like everybody else.” Jeffrey stopped his conversation with Ron.
Larry Bruce discreetly rolled his eyes, so that only Kyle saw.
“Next time Jeffrey, next time” Deputy Paul replied, and then smirked at Shona.
The atmosphere had clouded since Deputy Paul, Kyle and Larry Bruce came back, Shona wanted to leave, especially as she knew that Cuban wasn’t coming.
“I’m just gone get another beer Shona, you sure you don’t want one?”
Randy got up and started to head towards the bar.
“No…thanks anyway Randy”
Shona hated the stench of smoke and of the thick air that the ‘bullies’ brought with them. She was uncomfortable. She figured she has stayed long enough to be respectful towards Ron, Jeffrey and a few of the other guys who were ok. There was quite clearly a divide, it was playing out right in front of Shona. Jeffrey, Ron and the guys to the right and in front of her, and the bully boys (Kyle, Deputy Paul and Larry) to her left.
There was no queue at the bar, so Randy got served right away and made his way over. He put his beer on the table as Deputy Paul followed him.
“I wanted to say something Shona….”
Just as Randy opened his mouth for the next words, Deputy Paul pulled the chair from underneath Randy just as he was about to sit in it.
Randy still had his hand on his glass which went flying also. The whole bar started laughing.
Except Shona who sprang into action helping Randy up.
Ron and Jeffrey turned around and stayed neutral. They felt sorry for Randy.
“Here, I’ll get you another beer” Jeffrey said immediately
“You ok?” Ron offered a hand too.
Shona was livid, Randy was covered in beer.
“I’m fine….thanks” Randy started wiping the beer off as Larry and Kyle couldn’t contain themselves laughing.
Shona stared at Deputy Paul, who looked back, he knew what she wanted to say right there.
“Here……here’s a beer, what the hell happened Randy? You already drunk?”
Jeffrey tried to make light of the subject to help Randy. Deputy Paul glared at Randy as if warning him not to grass.
“Yeah…something like that….thanks for the beer” Randy replied embarrassed.
Shona shook her head at the playground antics. She had seen and heard enough.
“Now here’s a sight for my sore eyes!” Shona heard somebody in the bar say as a pretty woman walked in.
It was Chloe.
Great, Shona thought.
The playground antics never seem to happen when she’s around.
It was taking Chloe more time than anybody else to actually make her way over to the Bruce and Ellis table as she kept getting stopped by would-be suiters asking if they can buy her a drink, be her lift home, you name it.
“Here’s my beautiful princess!….Hi honey”
Larry Bruce, opened armed greeted his daughter, Kyle giving Larry a wink as she embraced her father. Chloe didn’t feel entirely comfortable with things at the moment, but showed her face, at least Shona is here, another woman for company, Chloe thought. Chloe had talked to pretty much everybody at the company, but hadn’t managed to have a proper conversation with the only woman who worked ‘on the floor’ at Ellis and Bruce. Tonight would be perfect to get to know her Chloe thought, Shona seemed elusive and had an air of mystery.
“You alright? ….Like really?” Shona whispered to Randy who had lost his quietly jovial spirit. He just sipped his beer, still embarrassed.
“Yeah…you know, it’s just…boys being boys. Its fine” Randy lied.
It wasn’t a two way street, Randy was always on the end of the pranks, people laughed at him, not with him.
“Well….thats me done. I’m off home, see you later” huffed Shona.
Shona got up, not a glance over at Kyle, Larry, Deputy Paul or Chloe. She went around the table to her right to say goodbye to Ron and to congratulate him again, shaking Jeffrey’s hand also.
“What do you think of her, Ron? She work well?”
Jeffrey glanced at Shona as she left.
“She’s great, works harder than most of the guys here, but she gets a tough time, I mean, I can’t be everywhere”
“Hmmmm” Jeffrey replied, concerned. It didn’t take a genius to work out what Ron meant.
“Ooooo there she goes, home to see her nigger friend”
Kyle sniped when he clocked that Shona was leaving. Chloe’s head quickly snapped round towards the exit, at the same time, annoyed at Kyle’s remark. The others sniggered.
Chloe silently exhaled in disappointment, again she would only get to see the back of Shona.
Shona returned to the barn, kicked her shoes off, didn’t care where they landed and slumped on her bed. She then wondered if Cuban was back from work so got up off the bed to peek round the make shift divide to see if Cuban was home.
Shona heard shivering.
“You ok?” She edged closer in the darkness towards Cuban on the bed, concerned.
Shona reached for his arm to reassure and felt something.
And lots of it.
“Cuban….what the hell happened to you? You alright? Talk to me”
“I’m…I’m…Fine” Cuban lied, he was shaking more now.
“Who did this to you? Who did this to you!?”
“I….I fell. I fell”
“I don’t wish to talk ‘bout it. I just want to go to sleep, ok?”
“You’re bleedin’ for gods sake! I get some things to patch you up”
Shona went to get some plasters and bandages, switching the light on to reveal the full horror.
“Christ!….You wanna keep lyin’? Where exactly did you fall to make your face, your arms look like that?”
Shona was livid.
“I said…I don’t wish to talk about it, can you just do that for me!”
Shona rarely saw Cuban aggressive or even assertive.
Through her own tears of frustration and hurt for her friend, she silently patched him up, took another look at him. Cuban just gazed in front of him. Shona switched off the light and went to bed feeling like she wanted to vomit.
Shona and Cuban were both in a sombre mood the next day at work. They didn’t want to raise their heads and get into any bother. Shona knew Cuban had taken a beating and told Elbe discreetly who said he secretly knew something like that was going on. He’d been making a note of it in his diary.
In the evening, Larry Bruce was eyeing up his book cabinet so as to make way for another no doubt extravagant piece of furniture.
“I want you to clear this bookshelf”
Larry orders his housekeeper without even looking at her. She is used to this.
“What are you doing with the old books?”
Chloe asked coming from the next room.
“Throw them, I don’t care”
Chloe came into the lounge and eyed up the book titles as Larry went over to pour himself yet another whiskey.
“Larry, you’re drinking far too much of that”
Eleanor watched as he poured more than one measure into his glass.
Larry downed that in one and poured another whilst sarcastically looking at Eleanor as if goading her for more comments.
“I’m going up” Larry said clutching the bottle of whiskey
Eleanor was left downstairs wondering how she had become so distant from her husband.
Meanwhile in the barn, Shona and Cuban were having a light hearted conversation.
“You done much readin’ Shona?”
“Nah….not really, you?”
“Well, I couldn’t read…until a nice white guy taught me then I couldn’t stop. I liked Marjorie Morningstar by Herman somebody…you heard of it?”
“It’s about this woman who wants to change her job… become an actress…good read. I just want to change neighbourhoods, no….states. I wished I could click my fingers and be in that bar in New York, listening to and playin’ that sweet smooth jazz music. I can hear it now”
A slow smile crept across Cubans face as he laid on his bed imagining being swept along with the soft music.
Shona was measuring up some wood for the bench she wanted to make nearby.
“Yeah? That sounds like a good place.”
Shona smiled at Cubans smile.
“You know….Miss Chloe was behind me in the queue today”
“And..” Shona’s smile disappeared.
“And….I went to let her go in front of me and….”
Shona stopped what she was doing and faced Cuban
“What?” Shona snapped
“And she let me go ahead of her, insisted”
“Really?” Shona said sarcastically appearing not to be impressed
“You shoulda seen the look on Chefs face, a real picture. I tell you, she aint so bad, I don’t think she’s like them.”
“Don’t trust her….She didn’t stop what happened to you, did she?”
Shona pointed to Cuban aggressively.
“Shona, she didn’t know…she doesn’t know. They don’t do anything in front of her. I think…..I think because she would stop it”
“Do you…You really think that? You really think that she would come to your rescue?”
Shona slammed the wood down.
“Shona what is your problem with Chloe?”
“She’s one of them!….She won’t ever help the likes of us. I’m goin’ to bed”
Shona stomped off leaving Cuban confused at how Shona could be so hostile against somebody she hadn’t even met.
The next day, Cuban was late to the canteen. As soon as he sat down, three guys got up as if in protest. Cuban was used to this, it was normal now.
“Fuckin’ deserved it”
Cuban heard one of the guys who had seen Cubans bruises.
After a deep sigh, Cuban heads towards his locker room. He finds Kyle.
“Spot checks nigger”
A smirking Kyle had turned Cubans locker upside down, obviously not finding anything. There wasn’t anything to find.
Kyle stares directly into Cubans eyes, burning them with his rage for niggers.
“Let’s hope we never find anything….for your sake”
Kyle aggressively barges Cuban out the doorway who didn’t dare argue back.
He scouts around and sees that his is the only locker being ‘searched’, but again, he didn’t dare complain.
“There you are, sorry I missed you at break…..”
Shona’s sentence tailed off when she saw the mess.
“What happened here?” She asked scanning the cramped closet space.
“Spot check….according to Kyle. Not that anybody else has had it, but….thats the way things are..”
“Let me help..”
“Thanks…..you’d think going on a date with the boss’s daughter would put you in a better mood, not a worse one.”
Cuban said huffing.
“What? What you talkin’ bout?” Shona stopped what she was doing
“Kyle….everybody knows because he’s been boring everybody with it. He’s got a date with Miss Chloe. I don’t know what that pretty young lady sees in him.”
“She…..likes him?” Shona asked confused
“God only knows and if she does, this place…well…the future aint great, we need to make our money and get the hell outta here!”
Shona’s face hardened
“See…she is like them” Shona stomped off
What was with her lately? Cuban had no idea.
Cuban was tasked with clearing up some smashed glass in the kitchen, he got all the glamourous jobs. Still reeling from the ‘locker search’ he forgot himself and when he picked up the bag with the shards in it, cut his hand.
“Arrrgh!” Cuban stamped his foot in pain
“Hey…you ok Cuban?” Ron Black was just walking by when he heard Cuban.
“Um…yes, Sir…I’m fine. It’s nothin’”
“Let me take a look at that, you’re bleedin’”
Cuban almost stared for a little too long at Ron who was inspecting Cubans hand. Rarely had he seen compassion in another man’s eyes, especially at work. It had been too long.
“I’ll get something for that, here”
Ron found some bandage from the canteen first aid kit and wrapped it round Cubans hand, the bleeding stopped straight away.
“Thank you, Sir. Thank you”
Cuban held his right, rubbed it gently as if for comfort grateful for the caring newly appointed manager.
“No problem, listen I gotta go…I’m late for a meeting upstairs.”
Ron smiled and left as quickly as he seemed to appear. His kindness left Cuban quietly emotional. They weren’t all the same ‘upstairs’.
“This is the canteen…..this is your locker….Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t even look at me, you hear?”
Deputy Paul was showing two new guys round, no doubt from the Jeffrey Ellis route in. Elbe was spying on proceedings. He felt like jumping out and screaming for them to run for their lives. These men were unaware they had jumped head-first into a hungry, angry lion’s den. They were black, and so their days were numbered here. Elbe looked on in despair, desperately wanting to befriend them, but he felt guilty knowing it was already too late for them. If you were black and you got in, you were lucky because you had a job, but when you’re here you wished you hadn’t got in as your life would be a waking hell, and yet, if you were brave enough to leave, your card was marked for the wolves outside to get you. There was nowhere to hide.
“I’ll give ‘em a week……poor souls” Elbe with sad eyes whispered to himself.
“Sorry I’m late, had to show the two new niggers round, don’t know why, they won’t last long round here”
Deputy Paul sniggering came in and poured himself a glass of water then making himself comfortable round the table in Larry Bruce’s office. Jeffrey Ellis made a mental note of the comment.
“We’ll kick them into shape” Kyle sipped his drink and winked at Deputy Paul.
Jeffrey noted this too.
“How about we see what they are capable of shall we? I do hope you are not undermining my recruitment choices boys?”
Jeffrey calmly put Deputy Paul and Kyle in their place.
“No sir, of course not” Kyle replied, crawling.
“No sir” Deputy Paul more reluctant, then glancing at Larry who remained tight lipped.
“I’m late, sorry…Cuban cut his hand, so I had to get a bandage and two guys wanted to see me about some shifts…..”
Ron Black came in flustered to his first management meeting, his eyes searching for his seat round the table. The only warm eyes were Jeffrey’s.
“Should have let the son of bitch bleed to death” Deputy Paul said under his breath.
Larry smiled in agreement.
“Right…it’s me up first isn’t it? Is Chloe joining us?” Ron sorted his papers, took a deep breath.
“She’s in town on business, she won’t be back today” Larry replied
“It’s ok Ron, take your time” Jeffrey said
“Thank you Jeffrey….Right, Um….I’ve had some ideas about that I hope you will like…….”
Larry, Kyle and Deputy Paul all looked less than enthused. Not because the ideas were bad, they were really good. It was because Ron Black simply was not like them.
“You wont get the investment”
“That’s impossible to do”
“That will never happen”
“That’s a crazy idea”
These were all the replies to every idea put forward by Ron. Damn, this was tougher than he imagined. Everybody except Jeffrey met his suggestions with negativity.
Jeffrey, normally the quietly powerful and confident man captured the meeting with one of his few comments. He was more of a listener who then made informed decisions. He had the final say and the final vote on things which continually annoyed Larry Bruce.
“…I’m hearing lots. But what I’m learning is that we are afraid. We seem to be afraid to be bold as a company. Companies don’t expand that way, they expand by taking risks from time to time, calculated risks. We can’t grip to the past, we must move forward with bold ideas..”
Jeffrey gestured towards Ron, fully backing him.
“….Ideas are always risky until they have been done, then everybody wished they had the balls to do them. I want us to be that company. The one with balls.”
Larry and Kyle looked straight at each other, not flinching, but reading each other’s minds. There was clearly a divide round this table.
“…I want us to be innovative and brave, and to listen to the people working for us.”
Deputy Paul discreetly rolled his eyes in response knowing only Larry and Kyle would see.
Ron Black genuinely nodding in agreement.
Later that day, Ron was working in his new manager’s office eagerly putting some plans into action after getting the all clear from Jeffrey who had overriding say due to his majority ownership in the business. Everybody else had gone home, Ron told them to as they had worked hard, much to Deputy Paul and Kyle’s annoyance.
Kyle stood at the doorway to Rons office. Ron looked up.
“…You’re the do-gooder”
“Pardon me?” Ron replied, confused
“You know…the nice guy…popular” Kyle had a hint of menace in his voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout” Ron felt threatened in some way.
“Wanting to win over the guys?”
“No” Ron shook his head, heart beating faster
“Wanting to impress the boss?”
“This all a problem to you?”
Ron was one of the only ones brave enough to stand up to Kyle, he could now he was a manager who was un-influenced by Kyle’s intimidating nature.
“Me? No…And if it was, it won’t be for long”
“Whys that?” Ron asked sitting up straight
“No reason, but um….I’m just headin’ home to um…take the boss’s daughter out on a date. You know, your boss”
Kyle smirked and began to whistle as he left.
Later that evening, Chloe came indoors to the Bruce household scanning all the books in bags.
“What are these doing here?” Chloe asked the Housekeeper
“Your father asked me to pack them up, he’s making way for new furniture in the lounge.”
“Oh…so…they gone be thrown in the trash?” Chloe asked picking some books up
“That’s what he said”
“Ok” Chloe smiled
When the housekeeper walked into the kitchen, Chloe sifted through the books and took three to her ‘den’ the room that was in the basement where she did her sketching and painting. Nobody ever went down there apart from her, there wasn’t the interest to.
Just as Chloe came back up the stairs from her Den, she saw her mother at the top.
“You need to get ready Chloe….I bought you this”
Eleanor Bruce directed Chloe’s attention to a dress hanging up at the door to her right. It was a stunning midnight blue, off the shoulder number.
“That’s beautiful mother, we goin’ out to eat?” Chloe asked confused
“Not exactly, but you have a date” Eleanor grinned excitedly interlocking her fingers in a prayer motion
“A date? What?…..Who with? I didn’t know about no date”
Chloe came up the stairs fully and closed the hatch door to the den as if to give this conversation her full attention.
“It’s a surprise! You’ll love it! He’s very keen, wealthy, comes from good stock, the catch of the town, the ladies are so jealous!”
Eleanor couldn’t contain herself and kept stroking the soft material of the dress.
“So everybody knows? Apart from me….Mother-“
“- Quick! Go get ready!” Eleanor scooted Chloe to the bathroom forgetting she was no longer a 17 year old girl, but a grown woman.
The dress fitted perfectly. Chloe was reluctant to feel excited as she was backed into a corner. The ‘date’ was happening regardless, ‘he’ was arriving in thirty minutes.
“You look beautiful Princess” Larry Bruce caught a glimpse of his stunning daughter.
“Thank you daddy, who is the date?” Chloe whispered
“You’ll find out! You’ll thank us later!” Larry winked
Chloe was still making some adjustments in front of the mirror in her bedroom when she heard the doorbell. She froze. She wanted some kind of clue as to who it was. All she could hear were faint muffled voices.
She tip toed to the top of the stairs, ‘damn it’ she still couldn’t see.
“Chloe! Come down honey!” Eleanor called her daughter from the bottom of the stairs.
“Here goes” Chloe whispered to herself
It was like slow motion, Chloe caught sight of her mother beaming at her, and then her father raising a glass of whiskey to her and a man with his back to her, he was just putting his jacket onto the hook.
He turned around.
It was Kyle.
Chloe’s faced visibly dropped. It didn’t go unnoticed.
“Honey….say hello to Kyle” Eleanor raised her eyebrows as if to hint for Chloe to appear more welcoming.
“Miss Chloe…You look…absolutely stunning” Kyle flashed his Hollywood smile
Chloe faked a smile as a reply
“Come on, let’s eat” Larry Bruce led the way to the table.
Kyle held out Chloe’s seat in true gentlemen style.
“Thank you” Chloe replied suddenly wishing she was anywhere from here.
Chloe was thinking that it’s one thing to go on a first ‘date’ with your parents present, and another thing when they hand-pick your date and it happens to be the last guy you would pick.
“So Kyle…hows things?” Larry poured Kyle a glass of wine
“Well Larry um…things are doing great..You know with your leadership and all…I really feel I know where we are headed. I’m gone ask for more investment, get some ermm ‘real’ men and not the ‘Jeffrey Ellis’ kind with all due respect…I mean, Jeffrey is a great guy, but his choice in personnel well….”
Kyle and Larry both chuckled, they both knew what each other meant. Eleanor faked a laugh as if to appear in with the joke.
The housekeeper served them their food, making a point to make eye contact with Chloe. She smiled at her as if to ask if Chloe was ok, who only managed a meagre smile back.
“So you parents Kyle…tell me about them” Eleanor was fishing to see exactly how much money Kyle was worth.
“Well, now there’s a story. I’m very close to my parents” Kyle lied
“..My father did well for himself, built up a nice fortune in the steel business back home, one of the most influential people there”
Eleanor delighted in hearing this, it was like Kyle was reeling off his family resume. Chloe was the only one not impressed.
“You’ve hardly touched your food sweetheart” Eleanor observed Chloes near full plate.
“It’s not the food, it’s delicious” Chloe aimed her look at the housekeeper.
This conversation only temporarily stopped the men talking about money and business, they soon continued.
Chloe was wondering when somebody, especially this fantastically ‘keen’ Kyle was actually going to ask her a question. She was reaching boiling point inside and couldn’t hold it any longer.
“I did a sketch today” Chloe said, the table hushed to a silence.
“OK” Kyle nodded
“Yeah, I did a sketch of the beautiful church in town” Chloe said knowing the impact.
“Chloe does little drawings you know” Larry squinted his face as if to make it seem inferior.
“They’re not little sketches father, it’s my passion” Chloe was annoyed.
“I know honey, listen princess I just don’t think you should waste your precious time on drawing, unless you plan to make money on them, but there’s no money in it, aint that right Kyle?”
Larry tried to reason with Chloe.
“Absolutely Larry, absolutely” Kyle wanted to side Larry
Chloe nodded, furious inside. Her only contribution to the table was shot down.
“I need some air” Chloe huffed, got up and headed to her car. The stunning red brand new Chevrolet Deluxe. It was a convertible, but she never had the roof down.
“Honey! Sweetheart, you can’t go out like this!” Eleanor got up to go and chase Chloe, but the front door already slammed shut.
Chloe skids away heading to wherever. The sun slowly setting felt like Chloe’s mood, her spirit deftly slipping away in that house, with those people.
Chloe drove past the other mansions, she needed to breathe to get out into the open air. She wound down her window to feel the breeze in her perfectly sculptured hairstyle that was wasted on Kyle. Her heart was racing, not in fear but in standing up for herself. She knew she would get it when she returned, but she felt suffocated in all the talk of business. Wealth and power didn’t interest her.
In an open road, she put her foot down, slowly emerging into the farmland. The sun hugging the horizon as if signalling Chloe to keep driving forwards. She joined a dusty road parallel to the Weaver River whose water looked beautiful catching the orange light of the fading sun. This was more like it. Chloe could start to breathe properly.
Chloe caught sight of movement just out of her eye line to her right. It was somebody galloping on a horse. They must have been going at some speed as Chloe struggled to keep up with their pace. The horse kicking up dust in its wake looked like it could fling the rider off at any moment, but both seemed in tandem. Chloe, keeping one eye on the road and with quick glances tried to see who it was riding at speed like that. She accelerated to get ahead so she was level, but the dust, the speed and lighting made it difficult. Up ahead, the roads merged, Chloe was intrigued and sped up ahead. Glancing across, as planned, she could see the rider making a gradual left turn to where the path leads to the crossing in the road.
Chloe screeched her brakes as due to the speed of the horse and it not appearing to slow down at the crossing, they had a near collision, and she shut her eyes fearing for the rider and that she had caused a serious injury through her curiosity.
The horse bucked violently and threw the rider off into the air. All happened in an instant.
Chloe opened her eyes and waited two to three seconds for the dust to clear and got out of her car, nervous around the unsettled horse who seemed huge up close.
Chloe clasped her face in her hands when she realised the identity of the rider who had a violent fall. She recognised their face from work.
It was Shona.
“I got no idea what has got into that girls’ head….!” Larry paced around the living room, furious at Chloe walking out, and pours himself and Kyle another whiskey.
“We are so sorry Kyle, she will come to her senses I’m sure”
Eleanor almost begging for Kyle’s forgiveness who was feeling quite smug that the most powerful couple in Daynes and even Alabama were apologising to him.
“That’s quite alright, ma’am…I’m sure she’ll realise soon enough what a good thing she’d have going with somebody like myself”
Kyle almost puffing out his chest.
Chloe slowly stepped out the car, careful not to slam the door shut so as not to frighten the horse even more, who was still bucking every few seconds.
“You’re Shona…I heard about you”
“I know who you are, being the boss’s daughter and all.”
Shona winced, stretching out her back making sure she could still move all of her joints. Nothing was broken, that was nothing short of a miracle considering how hard she fell off.
Chloe aw Shona calming the mare down who was just breathing heavily now.
“I’m so sorry…I didn’t know it was you…I didn’t mean to…”
Chloe moved forward slightly.
“-You were drivin’ pretty fast, you scared the horse”
Shona was somehow controlling her annoyance, even though Chloe was technically her superior.
“I know…I’m sorry. I just…I don’t know”
Chloe lied, she was curious at the identity of the rider.
Shona was rubbing the back of her sore head, she must have whacked it as she hit the road.
“ You seem pretty hard to pin down”
“I’m just busy, I work hard” Shona replied petting Storm,
“I heard that, Elbe…is it? And Cuban, they say nice things about you”
Chloe was desperately trying to patch things up
Shona just nodded a reply.
“Your horse?” Chloe asked
“Kinda..her name’s Storm, she’s owned by the people I live with. You ride?”
“Used to…used to…I miss it.”
Shona again, just nodded.
It was a tense moment between them.
Chloe felt she wasn’t getting anywhere and was about to turn around to get back into her car.
“You look nice, all dressed up” Shona called out to the back of Chloe.
“Thanks…It was a bit of a…. disastrous dinner…date, whatever you wanna call it”
Chloe raised an eyebrow recalling it.
“I’m sorry ‘bout that” Shona lied, she knew the date was with Kyle, and she hated him.
“You got a real nice car there, designed to go fast” Shona let out a cheeky smile given that Chloe was driving fast
Chloe responded with an embarrassed smile.
“You should have that roof down, enjoy the air”
“Yeah…you’re right, but my….father, who bought the car for me, said I shouldn’t as it gives off the wrong impression of me, that I’m somehow making myself ‘seen’ and available”
Chloe was stroking the side of the car as if apologising to it.
Shona slowly shook her head, knowing she had to be careful about what she said about Mr.Bruce.
“Well, I can tell you…If I had this car, you bet I would be driving round with that roof down letting the wind blast my hair”
“That sounds good” she replied.
“Anyway..” Shona said “ I need to get this one back” gesturing her head towards Storm.
“Ok…I’m sorry, again…but it was nice to finally get to talk to you, Shona”
With that Shona expertly jumped onto Storm and sped off, Chloe not quite wanting to get back into her car just yet.