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  • Milton Davis

Down South


Green Tea by Kadir Nelson

Previously published in Dieselfunk!

Roscoe removed his chauffeur's hat as he entered Miss Liza’s mansion, patting his hair in place with his free hand. Although he worked for Miss Liza for almost 10 years, he’d never set foot inside the expansive home on East 127th Street. Whatever she summoned him for must be special.

The maid led him through the antique laden foyer then through the gauntlet of oil portraits hanging on the hallway walls on the way to the parlor. Miss Liza sat before the picture mirror; her ecru skin radiated by the sunlight reflected from the window opposite the mirror. She took a sip of tea then placed the gold inlaid teacup on the matching saucer on the table before her.

“That will be all, Celia,” she said.

“I’ll be right outside if you need me,” Celia said as she cast a distrustful glance at Roscoe.

“There’s no need for that,” Miss Liza replied. “Roscoe drives me every day. If I can’t trust him, I can’t trust anyone.”

Celia glared at Roscoe.

“You behave yourself, boy,” she whispered.

Roscoe glared back. “Mind your own business, you old bitty.”

He smiled as he turned his attention to Miss Liza.

“You asked for me, ma’am?” he said.

“Yes, I did, Roscoe. Have a seat.”

Roscoe sat in the chair next to the door.

Miss Liza turned toward him. “How long have you worked for me, Roscoe?”

“Ten years come this May,” he said.

Miss Liza laughed. “You’ve outlasted all my husbands.”

Roscoe lowered his head, hiding his grin.

“I reckon so, ma’am.”

“Aren’t you from down South?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Where?” she asked.

“Alabama, ma’am. A little place called Seale.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” she said. “My parents are from the South, Atlanta to be exact. But you know that.”

“Yes, I do, ma’am.”

“You fought in the war too, didn’t you Roscoe?”

Roscoe tensed. “Yes, I did, ma’am. I was a Hellfighter.”

Miss Liza knew about his time in the army. He fought in Verdun and earned a medal from the French. He came home thinking the medal and his time served would make a difference, but it didn’t. The Klan almost lynched him outside of Phenix City, so he got out the South as soon as he could. If he’d had the money he would have gone back to France. Instead he ended up a taxi driver in New York, where he met Miss Liza. She was so impressed by his manners she hired him as her personal chauffeur.

“Miss Liza, excuse me for being direct, but why did you ask me here?”

Miss Liza’s smile faded. “Roscoe, I need you to pick up a package for me, a very special package.”

“That ain’t no problem ma’am,” he said, somewhat relieved. “Where do I need to go? Brooklyn? Manhattan?”

Miss Liza looked at him square in the eyes. “Savannah, Georgia.”

Roscoe shook his head. “I don’t think…”

“Listen to me, Roscoe,” she said. “You’re the only person I can trust to do this. You’re from the South so you know to behave down there. If I sent one of my New York men they’d be lynched before sunset. You’re an ex-soldier so you can handle yourself. I’ll pay you one thousand dollars up front and one thousand dollars when you return with the package plus all your expenses.”

Two thousand dollars would set Roscoe straight for quite some time. But he knew his answer long before Miss Liza began her persuading talk.

“I’m sorry, Miss Liza,” Roscoe said. “I can’t do it.”

“Roscoe, please,” Miss Liza said. “This is very important to me.”

Roscoe put on his hat. “The last thing I want to do is disappoint you ma’am. You’ve been good to me. But this is one thing I can’t do.”

“Roscoe…” Miss Liza said.

Roscoe backed out the room.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m sorry.”

Roscoe turned then walked away,

“Roscoe, wait!”

Roscoe kept walking. Celia waited at the door, a grin on her face.

“You done messed up now, boy,” she said. “Ain’t no way Miss Liza going to keep you on now. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.”

Roscoe pushed by the old maid then continued on to the garage. He trudged up the stairs to his room. Celia was right. He would have to leave and find another job. He was fond of Miss Liza; she reminded him of the daughter he never had. But there were some things he just could not do. Going back down South was one of them.

He opened his closet then dragged out his trunk, the same trunk he was issued when he enlisted. He opened it and was engulfed in memories. He gazed upon his uniform, neatly folded and pressed; the Cross de Guerre still pinned to the pocket. Atop the uniform was his bolo knife sheathed in the army issue canvas sheath. He picked up the knife then pulled it free, studying the long, razor-edged blade. The last time he held it in his hand was in Phenix City, Alabama. It was the only thing that stood between him and a lynch mob. He closed his eyes then shook the memories from his head. A man who fought for his country shouldn’t be treated that way. He had the right to defend himself.

He sheathed the knife, and then placed it back into the trunk. Roscoe shuffled over to his dresser, opened the drawers then began removing his clothes and placing them neatly into the trunk.

“And where do you think you’re going?”

Roscoe turned to see Miss Liza standing in his door way.

“Well Miss Liza, I figured since I turned down your request, you’d be ready to fire me.”

Miss Liza sat in his desk chair. “You figured wrong. You’re like family, Roscoe, and Lord knows I don’t have much of that.”

Roscoe sat on the foot of his bed. “I appreciate you think of me that way. But I don’t...”

Miss Liza grabbed his hand.

“Listen to me, Roscoe. I’m going to tell you the whole story. After I’m done, if you tell me you won’t do it, I’ll never bother you again.”

“I’m listening,” Roscoe answered.

Miss Liza swallowed. “When I was 15, I got pregnant. The father was a white boy, Leonard Shuman.”

Roscoe leaned back stunned, almost pulling Miss Liza from her seat.

“Pregnant? By a white boy?” Roscoe felt anger rising inside. His grip on Miss Liza’s hand tightened.

“It’s not what you think, Roscoe,” Miss Liza said quickly. “Leonard and I loved each other. Leonard’s parents were prominent in New York politics, just like my parents. But Leonard’s parents weren’t about to let their son marry a colored girl, and my parents weren’t about to let me throw my life away on some weak-minded white boy. We fought them, but in the end our parents won. Leonard’s parents sent him to Europe; my parents sent me to Atlanta where I lived until I gave birth. They took my baby from me, and then put her up for adoption.”

Miss Liza’s eyes glistened. Roscoe took a handkerchief from his drawer then handed it to her.

“I held her in my arms, Roscoe. She was so beautiful. I made a promise that day that I would find her, no matter where they took her. Five years ago, I did.”

“In Savannah?” Roscoe asked. Miss Liza nodded.

“It took a long time and a lot of money, but I found her living with foster parents. I sent them a letter explaining who I was and what I wanted to do. I promised I would not try to take her from them. I only wanted to communicate with her. They agreed.”

“So, you ready to break your promise now,” Roscoe said.

“About three months ago my letters started coming back. I’ve been going crazy ever since. I think she’s still in Savannah, but for some reason her family decided to stop the letters.”

Miss Liza opened her purse, reached inside then took out a picture. She handed the picture to Roscoe.

“Her name is Mary Ann,” Miss Liza said.

“She looks just like you,” Roscoe said.

“I want my baby, Roscoe. I want my baby home. I’ll pay you whatever you want. Please do this for me. Please.”

Miss Liza bent over then cried into her hands. Roscoe leaned toward her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ll go get your baby, Miss Liza.”

Miss Liza lunged toward him, wrapping her arms around them.

“Thank you, Roscoe. Thank you!”

Roscoe held her, stroking her hair. He imagined if things had been different for him his own daughter asking him the same question. There would be no doubt he would do it, even if it meant returning to the South and risking his life again.

“It’ll be alright, Miss Liza. It’ll be alright,” he said.

Roscoe took the subway to the train station. He paid for his ticket then took a seat in the cabin. Once the crossed the Mason-Dixon Line he’d have to move to the colored section, but for now he sat where he chose. The train left promptly; Roscoe settled into his seat then quickly fell to sleep, lulled by the rocking rhythm of the train. He dreamed of the day he discovered what he was. There was a storm that day, the worst storm he’d ever seen. He, mama and daddy crouched in the kitchen under the table, mama praying like a preacher on revival Sunday. They heard a loud crack then everything when black. When he woke, they were still under the table, except the large white oak that grew beside the house was on top of them. Daddy was still, but mama moaned and prayed. Roscoe pushed against the tree, straining with all his might, but the tree was too heavy. He cried out for help until he was hoarse, but no one answered. In a fit of rage, he pushed against the tree again and it shifted. Roscoe kept pushing until they were free. He picked up Daddy and took him outside, and then he returned for Mama. She looked at him with wonder.

“God done sent us an angel,” she said. “An angel!”

Weeks later, after the excitement and tragedy of the storm had passed, Daddy and Mama called him to their room.

“The Lord done gave you a gift, boy,” Daddy said. “And it ain’t one to be trifling with.”

“You have to keep it secret, unless other folks find out and try to get you to do bad things with it,” Mama said. “It’s bad enough being black in this world. What you have will only make it worse.”

“But I can help people!” he said.

“Listen up boy!” his father said. “You promise that you’ll let no one know about this, you hear?”

“Yes, sir,” Roscoe said.

“Swear on the Bible,” Mama said.

Roscoe placed a trembling hand on Mama’s Bible.

“I swear I won’t use my strength or let anyone know,” he said.

Mama smiled then kissed his forehead.

Roscoe jumped awake. He halfway expected to see Seale, Alabama. He settled into his seat. It was hard, but he kept that promise for most of his life. It wasn’t until the war did he use his powers again. That was another nightmare.

The train eased into the Savannah station in the afternoon in the midst of a hot humid day. Roscoe peered out the window, his stomach churning with emotions. During the journey down he’d spent his time lending a hand to the porters, chatting with the black men who served the passengers and kept the train running smoothly. Most were from the south like him, fleeing Jim Crow or seeking a better life in the North. From the conversation nothing much had changed. One conversation with the men warned him to keep on his guard, even though the men didn’t realize the warning in their words. They were playing Spades when it began.

Moses Jones, a tall light-skinned man with slick-backed hair dropped a seven of diamonds on the table.

“You fight in the war?” he asked Roscoe.

Roscoe nodded.

“Yeah. I was there, but I wouldn’t call it fighting,” he lied.

Mike Stevens, a thick muscled man with skin like onyx and glittering white teeth, flashed an easy smile as he cut Moses’ seven with a three of spades.

“I think I dug more holes in France than I did in Arkansas,” he said.

‘Pepper’ Lewis, another light-skinned man with freckled cheeks, cursed as he dropped a two of hearts.

“Them boys from the 369th gave them hell, though,” he said. “A few of them won medals from the French. You meet any of them, Roscoe?”

Roscoe dropped an eight of spades and everyone moaned.

“No,” he said. “I heard they were something else.”

“Sho’ were,” Mike said. “Gave them Huns hell.”

“Shoulda stayed in France,” Pepper said. “You heard about that one that got lynched in Alabama?”

Everyone but Roscoe shook their heads. Roscoe picked up the cards and shuffled them.

“Say he was coming home and a bunch of Klansmen met him getting off the train in Phenix City, Alabama. Dragged him back in the woods and lynched him.”

“That’s a damn shame,” Moses said. “A goddamn shame.”

“You ain’t heard the rest of it, though,” Pepper said. “Story is every last one of them Klansmen showed up dead. Every last one of them.”

Mike folded his arm across his chest. “You a damn liar.”

“Kiss my ass, Mike,” Pepper said. “I ain’t never lied. Some say it was that soldier boy’s ghost.

Roscoe quit shuffling the cards, the memory of that night paralyzing him.

“Hey boy, you gonna shuffle them cards?” Pepper said.

Roscoe placed the deck on the table.

“Got to go,” he said. “This is my stop.”

Pepper laughed. “That story scared you, didn’t it?”

Roscoe peered over his shoulder. “Something like that.”

As Roscoe trudged back to his cabin, the images of that day in the Verdun filled his head. The French officer had sent him and Thaddeus Jones out to scout the trenches north of their position. Thaddeus was always a joker, making fun of everything and everyone. They laughed as they walked the narrow, filthy gully, Roscoe taking point. As they rounded a sharp turn in the trench, they came face to face with a column of Germans reoccupying the abandoned trench. The Germans fired immediately; Roscoe heard Thaddeus grunt then fall into the mud. Bullets struck Roscoe in the back, spinning him around. He dropped to his knees as more rounds battered his chest. But he didn’t die. Roscoe shot back, emptying his Bethier rifle, then throwing it aside for his .32 Ruby. Germans fell before him, replaced by more as they came closer and closer. When his Ruby was empty, he snatched his US issued bolo knife from his waist then charged, a rebel yell escaping his lips. The rest of the fight was close quarter carnage, Roscoe hacking and slashing like a madman. The Germans finally had enough of the black devil that would not die. They fled the trench, leaving Roscoe alone with his dying friend. When the rest of his unit reached him, he cradled Thaddeus’s head in his arms, the wounds that hadn’t healed still bleeding. In the medical tent they marveled at his recovery; if anyone thought it was unusual, they didn’t say. Weeks later he was awarded the Cross de Guerre amidst the protests of the American Expeditionary Force commanders. A colored man didn’t deserve such an honor. The French thought different.

Roscoe shook away the memory. He went back to his seat and gathered his things. The porters had been good company on the way down, but it was time to get serious. He waited until he was off the train before opening the leather pouch Miss Liza gave him before the trip. Inside was the address of her daughter’s last known residence and a map with directions. Roscoe ventured into the old city, falling into old habits drummed into him since he was a boy. He kept his head down, making sure not to make eye contact with any white folks, especially white women. He was a man of average height, so physically he didn’t draw any attention. He deliberately wore his clothes two sizes too big. Most people saw him as overweight; in truth Roscoe was nearly three hundred pounds of hard muscle on a 5’8-inch frame.

He hesitated as he came within a few blocks of his destination. This was a neighborhood for rich folks. There was no way he would enter without being noticed. What would a colored girl be doing in this kind of neighborhood, he thought. He shrugged, Miss Liza was light-skinned, and with her daughter being half white she could probably pass. Roscoe checked the directions one last time.

“Yeah, this is it,” he said. “Lord help me.”

He proceeded down the manicured street until he reached the address. He was walking up the walkway when the voice startled him.

“Hey boy! Where the hell you think you’re going?”

Roscoe turned around to see the policeman standing on the sidewalk, his billy club in his hand. He was a lanky white man with straw blonde hair and a snarl.

“I’m sorry sir, but I was told the people living here were looking for a gardener,” Roscoe said.

“They might be, but you know damn well you ain’t supposed to be on this walkway. Git on around back!”

Roscoe silently cursed himself. He shuffled down the walkway toward the officer.

“You better be glad I’m in a good mood today, boy,” the officer said. “Otherwise I’d take you downtown.”

“Much obliged to you, sir,” Roscoe said.

“Git on now before I change my mind,” the officer said.

“Yes, sir,” Roscoe replied. “Yes, sir.”

Roscoe walked across the grass then worked his way up the side of the house to the rear entrance, all the while clenching and unclenching his fists. By the time he reached the back of the home he was trembling.

“What you doing back here?” a husky female voice asked.

Roscoe looked up to see a dark brown woman dressed in a sky-blue maid uniform hanging clothes on the wire clothes line.

“I came back here to wait on the owners,” he said. “I’m looking for yard work.”

“Well you a day late and a dollar short,” the woman said.

Roscoe stood then ambled to the fence.

“What do you mean by that?”

“The Finches moved out two weeks ago,” she said. “Flew out of here like they owed somebody money. But that ain’t so, because they got old money.”

“My name is Roscoe Hill,” Roscoe said.

“Lucinda Jones,” the woman said. “Nice to meet you. Where you from?”

“New York,” Roscoe said.

Lucinda laughed. “If you from New York I’m the Queen of England. You sound like you from right around here. Why you trying to be uppity?”

Roscoe laughed. “I’m originally from Alabama.”

Lucinda smirked. “I thought so.”

Lucinda walked back to the clothesline and began hanging the wash.

“Were they expecting you?”

“Apparently so,” Roscoe whispered.

“What?”

“I said I guess not. My boss man said they’d be here.”

“Looks like your boss man was wrong,” Lucinda said.

“You got any idea where they went?” Roscoe asked.

“I don’t, but Mr. Henderson might. He’s who I work for. You got a place to stay?”

Roscoe pushed back his hat. “No.”

“There’s a place called Lulabelle’s down by the marsh,” Lucinda said. “It’s a juke joint, but she has a couple of rooms upstairs she rents out. It’s loud but the food is great and it’s far enough out of town so no white folks will bother you. Now come over here and help me hang up these clothes. The sooner I’m done, the sooner I can leave.”

“Your boss won’t mind?”

“Hell naw,” Lucinda said. “As long as he ain’t got to pay you he’s fine. He’ll probably think you some old buck sweet on me.”

Roscoe grinned as he made his way next door. Lucinda wasn’t a bad looking woman, but she was way too young for him. Besides, he was in Savannah on business. He helped her hang the rest of the laundry then went out front to wait for her. She came from around back, a wide smile on her face.

“Give me your arm,” she said.

Roscoe extended his arm and Lucinda wrapped hers around it.

“Now we’re sweethearts until Mrs. Henderson can’t see us no more.”

Roscoe glanced at the house. The curtain was pulled aside; a white woman with a blonde bun on top of her head glared at them.

They strolled down the road until they were far from the house and into the city. Lucinda let go of Roscoe. The two strolled to Black Savannah, a section of town that was in complete contrast to the newer section north and south of the city. Though the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crops, Savannah still thrived on shipping naval stores. The city had grown because of the prosperity, but like most cities that prosperity barely touched Negroes.

Lucinda walked up to a grocery store then began walking inside.

“I thought we were going to Lulabelle’s,” Roscoe said.

“We are. I got to pick up a few things before I go home.”

“I need to get something too,” Roscoe said.

They entered the grocery store. Lucinda strolled about the little store picking up items here and there; Roscoe went straight to the tool barrel. He searched through the tools until he found a sturdy long handled shovel. When he met Lucinda at the counter her eyes went wide.

“Now what in the devil’s name do you need that for?”

“I’m a yard man,” Roscoe said. “It always helps to have a good shovel.”

Roscoe and Lucinda strolled down the street until they reached the edge of the colored district.

“This is as far as I go,” Lucinda said. “Keep walking that way. You’ll smell the marsh before you see it. Once you get inside ask for Slow Tom. He owns the place.”

“Slow Tom?”

Lucinda laughed. “We call him that because he’s the smartest man in Savannah.”

“Thank you, Lucinda.”

“You’ll thank me by buying me dinner once you finish your business.”

Roscoe looked puzzled. “My business?”

Lucinda tilted her head. “You might fool them white folks, but you ain’t fooled me. I know you ain’t no yard man. I don’t know what business you got with the Finches, and I don’t want to know. All I can say is be careful. This ain’t New York.”

“I’ll be getting on then,” Roscoe said.

By the time Roscoe reached the marsh the moon had risen over the humid night. The light wavered on the high tide; the air heavy with the wetland organic aroma. The sound of raucous laughter spurred on by a teasing melody of guitar and piano drifted toward him as he neared Lulabelle’s. The large barn-like structure sat on a piece of land jutting into the marsh, surrounded by ancient live oaks heavy with Spanish moss. A tall man in coveralls leaned against a pickup truck, cradling a double-barreled shot gun in his thick arms. The man stood up straight as Roscoe approached.

“Who that is?” the man said in a thin, high pitched voice.

Roscoe walked into the light with his hands raised.

“Roscoe Jones,” he said. “Miss Lucinda told me I could find a place to stay the night here.”

The man motioned Roscoe forward with the shotgun.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“Alabama, by way of New York.”

The man smiled. “I’m Percy Green. My niece Corliss lives in New York. You know a girl named Corliss Lewis?”

“Can’t say I do. New York is a big place.”

“Yeah but all the colored folks live in Harlem,” the man said. “You sure you don’t know her? Tall, yellow gal with big teeth.”

“No, I don’t know her.”

The doorman shrugged. “Go on in. Slow Tom will be behind the bar. Can’t miss him.”

Roscoe nodded then went inside. The blues band was playing a slow, heavy tune, the dancers slow dragging to the beat, grasping and grinding. Roscoe made his way across the packed floor toward a wide man with a bald head, a cigar protruding from the side of his mouth. His thick hands worked on a large beer mug as he rocked to the music.

“You Slow Tom?” Roscoe asked.

Slow Tom looked at Roscoe and his eyes narrowed.

“Who’s asking?”

“Roscoe Tillman,” Roscoe said. “Miss Lucinda told me you rent rooms to colored folks.”

Slow Tom placed the mug on the bar then extended his right hand. They shook, Slow Tom attempting to crush Roscoe’s hand with his grip. He yelped when Roscoe returned the favor. When he finally let go Tom jerked his hand away as if he’d touched fire.

“Damn, boy! Where’d you get a grip like that?”

“Grew up on a farm,” Roscoe replied. It was half the truth.

“Rooms are a dollar a night. Might as well stay up until I close. Won’t get much sleep with this going on. You play cards?”

“No, sir,” Roscoe replied.

“Quit with that sir stuff. Just call me Tom.”

Roscoe reached into his pocket then handed Tom a dollar.

“Now that’s the kind of boarder I like!” Tom said. “Man pays up front. You hungry?”

“Yes, I am,” Roscoe replied.

“I’ll fix you up. Sit on down and I’ll have Hattie mix you up a bucket.”

Slow Tom turned then pushed the swing door behind him open.

“Hey Hattie! Fix up a bucket! I got paying folks out here!”

Roscoe took a seat at the bar just as the music tempo picked up. Some of the couples reluctantly let go of each other, others took their business outside. Tom dropped a mason jar in front of Roscoe and grinned.

“Good stuff,” he said. “Made it myself.”

Roscoe picked up the jar then took a swing. It was good moonshine, stronger and smoother than most. He would need some liquid encouragement for what he was about to do.

“Good stuff,” Roscoe said. “How much?”

“First one is on the house,” Tom said.

Roscoe finished the glass then wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“Hey Tom, you know anything about a white family called Finch?”

“I don’t,” Tom said. “But their maid Corliss does. She came in here two weeks ago mad as hellfire. Said the Finches let her go without even a warning. Said they were moving.”

“When did that happen?”

“About three weeks ago. She said they got a letter then lost their minds. Rumor is they went to hide out in the marsh.”

So, the Finches had been warned about his coming, Roscoe surmised. And he knew exactly who warned them.

“Any idea where that house is?” Roscoe asked.

The kitchen door swung wide and Hattie came out with a steaming bucket, a wash towel wrapped around the metal wire handle. She dropped the bucket between Tom and Roscoe. Her eyes lingered on Roscoe as a grin came to her face.

“You gonna have to teach that boy how to eat crabs,” she said. “He ain’t from around here.”

Tom took a crab out the bucket then instructed Roscoe the proper way to crack a crab.

“Why you trying to find them white folks so bad?” Tom asked.

“I have a special delivery for them,” he said. “My boss man told me to deliver it directly to them, nobody else.”

“He picked a colored man for the job?”

“My boss man is colored.”

Tom sucked the meat out of a crab leg.

“They’re hiding out at the old Wallace Plantation about five miles from here. But you better have business with them. They got some local rednecks standing guard. You might mess around and get lynched.”

“I’ll be alright,” Roscoe said. “That’s been tried before. Didn’t work out too well for them.”

Tom began to laugh until he saw Roscoe’s serious face.

“Do me a favor; when you get caught, don’t mention my name. I gots to live here.”

Roscoe was working on his third crab.

“I won’t.”

The men finished their meal as the band slowed down the music again for another round of slow dragging. Roscoe laid two dollars on the counter for the meal, but Tom waved him off.

“You don’t make a man pay for his last meal,” he said.

Roscoe took the bills.

“You think your man can take me close?”

Tom laughed. “You give Percy five dollars and he’ll take you to the moon.”

“Much obliged,” Roscoe said.

He tipped his hat then went outside. Percy leaned against the pickup truck, whistling.

“Hey Percy, Slow Tom says you’ll take me anywhere I want to go for five dollars.”

“Hell yeah!” Percy replied.

Roscoe handed Percy the five-dollar bill.

“I’ll give you another five if you’ll wait for me,” Roscoe said.

“It’s a deal. Where we going?”

“Spanish Wells,” Roscoe said.

Percy hopped into the truck and they drove deeper into the marsh. After a few more miles Percy stopped the truck.

“This is as far as I go,” he said.

Roscoe climbed out the truck then took his shovel from the bed.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

He trotted down the narrow road through a gauntlet of live oaks. A few minutes later a large house came into view. Roscoe counted six men in the front, four standing guard near the gate and two on the porch with rifles or shotguns. Roscoe slowed to a saunter as he walked into view.

“Who’s there?” one of the men shouted. Roscoe didn’t answer.

“God damn it, who is it?” the man said again.

Two of the guards approached him, their guns still cradled under their arms.

“Boy, what the hell are you doing out here this time…”

Roscoe smashed the man in the face with the shovel. He knocked the gun from the other guard’s hand, then reached behind his back for the knife. As soon as his hand touched the hilt he was back in Seale, Alabama, surrounded by the sights and sounds of that horrible night. He cut the guard across his throat then sprinted for the house.

He heard a rifle report then flinched as a bullet struck his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and his body expelled the bullet then commenced healing. Other men appeared from behind the house. Roscoe counted twenty in all. He had worse odds in France. He waited until they were all close before he went to work. Roscoe stabbed, cut and slashed his way through the bodyguards, every blow a killing blow. Thirteen bodies lay sprawled on the ground before the others realized this was no ordinary man they were dealing with. They tried to run, but Roscoe caught them then dragged them back to his blade. He managed to glance toward the house; he saw a car pull from the back then speed up the narrow road. He looked about; five men were still alive, each running in a different direction. If he wanted to get Miss Liza’s daughter, he would have to let them go.

He wiped his knife then tucked it in the back of his pants. Roscoe started with a slow gait then picked up the pace with each step. He ran down the dirt road then onto the paved street, increasing his speed. Soon the rear lights of a car came into view. He assumed by how fast it traveled it was the car he sought. Roscoe ran faster; in a few moments he was side by side with the car, peering into the passenger’s side. A young woman sat there; she looked up, saw him then screamed. The driver swerved then looked at him as well. Roscoe lowered his shoulder then rammed it into the car. The driver lost control, then spun across the road and into the surrounding marsh. Roscoe hurried to the car. The driver leaned over the steering wheel rubbing his head. The girl looked at him as if he was death. He reached for the door but the girl locked it. Roscoe gripped the door handle then ripped the door free.

“Don’t be afraid,” Roscoe said. “Your mama sent me.”

The man in the driver’s seat pulled out a gun. Roscoe snatched the woman from her seat then turned his back as the man fired. The bullets struck him hard and he fell forward. He caught himself, hovering over the young woman. He heard the man grunt as he exited the car.

“Get up and turn around,” the man ordered.

Roscoe sprang up, knocking the gun from the man’s hand. He wrapped his hand around the man’s throat then lifted him off his feet.

“Now you listen to me Leonard, and you listen good,” Roscoe said. “I’m taking Mary Ann to her mother where she belongs. Y’all could have worked things out, but I guess it’s way beyond that now.”

“I’m her father!” Leonard said.

“You done took everything from Miss Liza. You ain’t going to take her daughter, too. Now I’m going to put you down and you’re going to get in that car and keep driving until you get back to where you came from. And you ain’t never going tell anybody what happened here. If you do, I’ll find out. And the next time I won’t be so nice.”

Roscoe set the man down on his feet. He glanced at Mary Ann then scrambled to the car, started the engine, then sped into the darkness. When Roscoe turned to the woman she cowered.

“Don’t hurt me!” she said.

Roscoe reached into his jacket then took out the letter Miss Liza sent with him.

“This is from your mama,” he said.

Mary Ann reached out with a trembling hand then took the letter. She opened it; as he read it her fear gave way to joy. She folded the letter.

“So, you’re Roscoe,” she said. “Mama told me a lot about you, but I guess not everything.”

Roscoe nodded. “You can’t tell what you don’t know. I’m trusting that you can keep a secret.”

“I can,” the woman said.

“Good. Now let’s get you to New York.”

Roscoe picked up the woman.

“Hold on tight,” he said.

Mary Ann held his neck tight and Roscoe sprinted down the road back to Percy’s truck. The man was snoring.

“Percy!”

Percy jumped; his eyes wide.

“Where? What?”

He looked at Roscoe and the woman and his eyes got bigger.

“Where the hell you get that white woman from?”

“I’m not white,” Mary Ann said.

Roscoe walked over to the passenger’s side then put the woman into the truck.

“You’ll be alright now,” he said.

“Thank you, Roscoe,” she said.

Roscoe nodded then walked back to the passenger side. He gave Percy ten dollars.

“Percy this is Miss Mary Ann Pritchard. You take this woman to the train station and stay with her until she boards,” Roscoe said.

“Where you going?”

“I got some cleaning up to do.”

“Got it.”

Percy sped off down the road. The woman looked back at Roscoe with a warm smile, waving as the pickup truck disappeared into the darkness.

Roscoe returned to Wallace plantation. He found his shovel then proceeded to dig a deep hole. Then he piled all the dead mean into the hole and covered it the best he could. The sun was breaking the eastern horizon as he finished. This was a sloppy job, but he didn’t have time to make it right. Word would spread soon on what happened at Wallace Plantation and he would need to be long gone by then. He heaved the shovel far into the marsh, and then ran into the forest shadows.

Franklin Stevens took off the blood-stained apron then washed his hands. Working at the slaughterhouse wasn’t the best job he’s ever had but it definitely wasn’t the worst. He was working, which during these times was a blessing. He trudged to his locker, taking out his coat, hat and scarf. Chicago winters were brutal, and this winter was no exception. Despite the cold he walked back to his flat, relishing the quiet time. Sometimes a man just needed to be alone with his thoughts.

His landlord stood in the lobby as he entered the building. He had a sly smile on his face that bothered Franklin.

“Rent due?” he asked.

“No,” the landlord replied.

“So why you looking at me?”

The landlord grinned. “You’ll see.”

Franklin shook his head then climbed the stairs to the third floor. He opened his door then stepped inside. He took off his coat and scarf, hanging them on the coat stand near the door.

“Roscoe?”

He stiffened at the sound of an old name from a familiar voice.

He turned around to see Miss Liza sitting at his table.

“Miss Liza,” he said.

“It took me a long time and a lot of money to find you,” she said.

Roscoe took off his hat. Miss Liza stood then rushed him, wrapping him in a tight hug.

“Thank you so much for sending my baby back to me!”

Roscoe held Miss Liza for a moment then let her go. He walked over to the door then opened it.

“You’re welcome. Now I think you best be leaving.”

Miss Liza seemed startled.

“Leaving? I just found you! I have so much to tell you, so many questions to ask…”

“I can’t answer your questions and there’s nothing I need to hear,” he said. “I know the both of y’all is alright. You know I’m alright. That’s got to be enough.”

“Roscoe, please.”

Roscoe shook his head.

“I’m suspecting Mary Ann told you everything.”

Miss Liza’s face became serious. “Yes.”

“The more you know about me, the less safe you are. There are people out there looking for me and I’m trying my best not to be found. You understand?”

Miss Liza nodded. “I found you.”

“Which is why I’m going to leave this place.”

Miss Liza gathered her things then walked to the door. She placed her hand on Roscoe’s cheek then kissed him.

“You take care of yourself, Roscoe. If you ever get tired of hiding, you have a home with me and Mary Ann.”

Roscoe closed his eyes hard to cut off the tears he knew were coming.

“Goodbye Miss Liza.”

Miss Liza’s hand lingered on his cheek a moment longer before she left his flat. He closed the door then sat hard at his table. He gave himself a moment, letting a few tears fall before wiping his face. He went to his closet then opened his trunk, gazing at the old uniform and the bolo knife.

“One day,” he whispered. “One day.”

He took his clothes off the hangers and began to pack.

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