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 wrapped around his erect penis and rubbing his slowly. 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 genitals, 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, but 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.