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.
Chloe returns home in a bit of a daze. It was a strange evening, she was annoyed at her parents and Kyle for arranging her ‘date’ without her permission, but she was glad of it as she finally got to meet Shona face to face.
“Where you been?” Larry asked his daughter as he came in through the door.
“Out…drivin’. I needed some space from all the who’s car is bigger than who’s talk. I’m goin’ to bed”
Chloe strutted past her mother who didn’t say a word. They needed a Plan B
“I didn’t hear you leave this mornin’”
Cuban said to Shona who was sweeping out back.
“Couldn’t sleep, thought I’d get in early. May as well be doing somethin’. It’s better when there’s no son of a bitch here!”
Cuban and Shona both smiled.
“That a bruise on your face?” Cuban asked Shona squinting slightly.
“What?…Oh…I fell off Storm when she was being a crazy mare”
“Morning Cuban!” It was Chloe who came outside
“Morning Miss Chloe” Cuban tipped his cap
“Good morning Shona”
“That looks a bit of a bruise on your face” Chloe asked with a wry smile.
“Yes ma’am…some driver spooked my horse and fell off”
Shona returned the smile
Cuban looked slightly confused.
“Well I hoped you got a description of the car” Chloe was carrying on the private joke
“Oh It’s a pretty distinctive car ma’am” Shona grinned
“Well…I don’t want to stop for you long, so have a good day you two”
With that, Chloe was gone.
Shona returned to sweeping, bit with a little more vigour.
“Did I…..miss something here?” Cuban asked
“What?” Shona continued to sweep
“You and Miss Chloe….actually speaking….to eachother. I thought you hated her…no?”
“She’s ok” Shona shrugged one shoulder.
“Whats this about falling off your horse? You ok? What car was it?”
“Cuban…listen…I’m fine, don’t worry about it, you got no work to do?”
Shona asked throwing a rolled up cloth at him.
Meanwhile all of management and some of the investors (apart from Jeffrey Ellis, his wife was unwell) were in one of their usual meetings talking about figures, production, budgets, staffing. As it was coming to a close, newly appointed manager Ron Black wants to speak.
“I think it should be noted that Elbe has been with us for over thirty five years and is coming up to well-deserved retirement…”
Kyle and Larry looked at each other, with Kyle rolling his eyes discreetly.
“….and I think we should think about getting him a retirement gift, so just have a little think about what we could do”
“The guy will be dead soon, so we’d better not spend too much of our profits….I need more liqueur for my cabinet!”
All though around the table sniggered, some out of pressure, apart from Ron and Chloe.
“Father…” Chloe aimed at Larry disappointedly.
“Well…he’s done us a great service” Ron finished off, Chloe nodded.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful after that until Cuban was approached by Kyle.
“Hey Nigger….I need my shoes shinin’…and my car cleanin’…properly. I gotta impress the ladies and I don’t see why I should pay when I got a nigger to do it for me for free, right?…So when everybody goes, come find me and I’ll give you my shoes and I’ll open my car, I’ll get a lift with the deputy into work. Now….I’m sure I don’t have to draw a picture of what happens if it’s not all up to my…very high standard…right? We understand each other?”
“Yes Sir” Cuban replies reluctantly. He’s also understands that he wouldn’t be getting paid overtime.
“Right, that’s me done. Hopefully I’ll actually sleep tonight”
Shona came over to find Cuban who was cleaning out one of the trucks that was about to go out.
“I gotta stay” Cuban replied, looking downtrodden.
“Stay? What for?”
“Just a job….for Kyle”
“What’s he want? I’ll help you”
“Go…trust me. Go home. The more simple I keep things the better.”
“He threatening you again?” Shona’s face hardened
“Just leave it Shona, for my sake…please?” Cuban looked at Shona in the eye.
Reluctantly, Shona left for home.
“Goodnight Shona” It was Chloe who was just walking behind her.
“Oh….night ma’am” Shona replied turning round. For a split second, Shona wondered what would happen if she drove out by the Weaver River at the same time tonight, would the same encounter happen. That was one strange evening.
“What you doin?’ Shona whispered to herself and started the journey home.
Cuban trudged his way up to Kyle’s office, all the other managers had left for the evening. He knocked on the door.
“Yeah!” came the voice behind the door. It wasn’t Kyles.
Cuban opened the door to reveal Kyle and Deputy Paul drinking and smirking at Cuban.
Deputy Paul got up out of the expensive chair opposite Kyle and got up in Cubans face. His breath stank as he spoke,
“I heard you gone do Kyle’s car and shoes….right?”
“Well after that, you gone do mine. And I’ll bet you, you will scrub them until you see your dirty nigger face in them or….you do them again…you get it?”
Cuban slowly nodded whilst Deputy Paul grinned to reveal rotten stinking teeth.
“Here..” Kyle threw his car keys at Cuban who caught them.
It was going to be a long night.
Cuban had to admit, he had done a good job on all the shoes. He laid them out neatly outside the office doors. Now he was tackling Kyles luxury car a dark blue Hudson Hornet.
‘Wow’ Cuban whispered to himself as he almost stroked the leather inside. It was a beauty, shame it belonged to such an imbecile. Everything Cuban touched was made with precision, he daren’t think how much this car cost.
With a huff, of exhaustion and plain not wanting to do it, Cuban cracked on with cleaning Kyles car, being meticulous as he went. He didn’t want to have to do it again.
Around forty minutes had gone by, and Cuban was polishing the inside. He noticed lots of rubbish in the driver’s door storage. It looked messy, so he took it all out and sorted it. He found telephone numbers with women’s name by them scribbled on bits of paper, empty cigarette boxes.
‘Dirty son of a bitch’ Cuban mouthed to himself ‘He’s a damn dog of a player’
He discarded the rubbish but thought he’d better keep the numbers, then he came across a letter. It was from the car rental business in town. It was a final demand.
‘What!?’ Cubans’ reading wasn’t great, but it didn’t have to be. It was easy to read ‘You owe us 3 weeks rent on your vehicle, you have one week days to pay in full’.
Cuban was confused as he had heard on numerous occasions Kyle bragging about his car that he had bought and how much money he has.
Cuban tried to put everything back the way he found it, but he couldn’t forget what he had read.
Looks like Kyle doesn’t have the money he says he does. If he has been lying about this, what else has he been lying about?
Cuban was the last one to lock up, it was pitch black outside, the street lights at the top of the long straight road provided the only but much needed light for Cuban to see where he was going. Some low lighting around the sides of the building were a blessing.
Eager to get home, Cuban stumbled for the keys, but he dropped them. He kept looking around, an animal of some kind disturbed the bushes nearby.
“Get a grip Cuban’ he said to himself.
His hands were shaking, he took deep breaths to compose himself.
Finally both locks clicked into place.
Starting the journey home, Cuban started to stride out. The street lights provided some comfort. This road he was on felt like the longest, loneliest and most dangerous.
About a third of the way up the long road from Ellis and Bruce, Cuban saw his path lit. But the light was coming from behind him. Natural instinct was for him to turn around to see a familiar shaped truck crawling towards him, as if taunting him.
‘Oh no..’ Cuban said out loud.
He started to jog towards the end of the road, to the lights, to safety. But even he couldn’t out run a truck which revved into gear to catch him also keeping just behind as if it was choosing to let him live or die.
In a few seconds Cuban was in full sprint. The eerie revving of the truck like a warning call to him.
‘Come on…come on!’ Cuban shouted to himself as if to beckon the lights to come quicker.
Just as Cuban felt he was welcomed into the first lot of street lights, the truck revved once more and was up alongside him. Cubans instinct was to look left at the driver, and he saw the familiar sight, men dressed like Klan with a dog barking viciously in the back. It remained alongside him for five seconds then vanished on a left turn, Cuban headed right, but stopped to breath where he thought he was safe for a minute.
Cuban almost collapsed out of exhaustion and through fear, but he would wait until he got home for that, he ran most of the way.
Meanwhile, in the Bruce household, Larry and Eleanor were watching TV, Chloe was fidgety. Like she had somewhere else to be.
‘Damn it! Another one of my TV shows has just been canned because of the niggers!”
Larry fumed, slamming his newspaper down.
“Why?” Eleanor asked, Chloe looking up from her doodling at the table.
“Damn racism or something, felt it wasn’t considerate, horse shit! I mean the worlds gone crazy, I’m telling you those dirty niggers, they will take over, and you mark my words, that’s why we have to quash ‘em”!
“Quash ‘em?” Chloe asked from the table hoping for a more defined way of explaining what he meant.
“Your father is right Chloe”
With a huff, Chloe got up
“I’m goin’ to bed”
“Cuban! You alright!?” Shona went in to see Cuban, she could hear him come through the outer door to his room and slump on his bed breathing heavily.
“I can’t take it Shona, I can’t take it no more!”
“Take what? Whats happened!?”
“Klan! Klan are messing wit me! They know when I’m locking up late. They come from behind me….behind me when I’m leaving work. Must mean they are parking in the parking lot, waiting somebody knows who they are, if not …its people from work!”
Cuban had to stop to take in some breaths, Shona was horrified and put her hand on his shoulder.
“I can’t stay here Shona….I’m scared of watching my back all the time. Something bad is happening in that place and there aint gone be a happy ending let me tell you!”
“Ok…alright…come on” Shona tried to comfort Cuban knowing what he was saying was right.
“But you what?….. They watching me… and if I set foot…out there, alone. I won’t make it. I’m already being hunted down like a dog. They playin’ wit me, they can take me anytime”
Shona didn’t have words of comfort. There were none.
They just both stayed in silence contemplating their bleak immediate futures.
Shona somehow fell asleep laying up against Cubans bed as she wanted to try and comfort him best as she could, she drifted off….
“Shona!….Shona wake up!!”
“Shona….what the hell!?…You were screaming in your sleep. You alright?”
“Yeah…screaming, get it off me, get it off me or something. What the hell you talking about?”
“I don’t know….just a crazy dream” Shona faked a grin
Shona did know. She knew exactly what she meant, but now wasn’t the time to explain.
“Cuban!” Chloe called, she had been looking for him. He was coming into main canteen area after emptying the waste.
“Miss Chloe” Cuban seemed a bit surprised
“I remember you saying that you’d like to read, and I’d be happy to help if…..you needed it, but if not that’s ok”
Cuban’s face softened. Chloe continued
“Well anyway, my father was clearing out some things and he’s read these anyway and I thought…..you may like them?”
Cuban was drawn towards the three books Miss Chloe had in her hands and felt like he had won a thousand dollars.
“Miss Chloe! I couldn’t, I mean…I want to, thank you so much, but that’s too much…too much..-“
“Now shush…take it as an order then, I’m instructing you to have these books” Chloe smiled her beautiful smile that went all the way to her eyes
“Well alright, how can I say no to that?” Cubans face lit up
In the background , Kyle stopped in his tracks to see what Chloe was up to.
“Good…good… Let’s see, there’s a book on Roosevelt….” Chloe said handing it to Cuban.
“My goodness, I can really have these?” Cuban was tearing up
“Of course, it would be my pleasure Cuban”
“Thank you so much….so much Miss Chloe” Cuban really wanted to hug her, but there were too many eyes on them as it was.
“You’re welcome…anyway, I need to go into town and have a meeting with the interesting Mr.Johnson, wish me luck!.
“Good luck…but you won’t need it, Miss Chloe” Cuban smiled as Chloe nodded a ‘thank you’ and left.
“Somebody’s teacher’s pet” Shona came up to Cuban smiling after hearing the conversation making sure Chloe was out of earshot.
“Can you believe it Shona, how nice is that woman” Cuban said in Chloe’s direction.
“She’s…..ok” Shona said plainly
“Ok? That’s one of the kindest damn things anyone has done for me!…Well apart from giving me a home and a job that is” Cuban smiled at Shona
“I’m glad you remember that!” Shona playfully punched Cuban on the arm.
“Chloe” Kyle approached, not happy that some workers were laughing and joking with her on the way to her car.
“Kyle” Chloe’s face hardened as she turned around.
“Can I…have a minute?”
“Of course” Chloe replied politely
“Look at him, she’s too good for him. I hope she knows what a fraud he is”
Cuban spotted Kyle and Chloe talking near the exit.
“What do you mean exactly?” Elbe joined the conversation
“Hey Elbe…..I mean that when I cleaned the son of a bitch’s car, he don’t even own it, he is up to his neck in debt with it, it’s a rental, I saw the demand letters”
“What?” Shona screwed her face up in disgust.
“Yep, there he was just a couple of weeks ago telling the boys he paid cash for it”
“She’s such a pretty little thing, I hope she don’t get stuck with him. He will be after her god damn money!”
Shona didn’t reply, just looked on.
“Walk with me…” Kyle asked
“I’ve got figures to prepare for our meeting and I have to shoot into town to speak with Johnson right now, I’m already late, Kyle” Chloe replied, itching to escape their conversation. Kyle felt a pang of rejection.
“Ok…I was just…thinking…hoping…that we…could start over and do that dinner again. Just…. the two of us?”
Kyle tried to flash his Hollywood smile, it didn’t have the effect on Chloe like it had on all the other women.
“Kyle…I like you, but I don’t get mixed up with guys at work, I hope you can understand that”
“Understood” Kyle lied. He was furious inside. How dare she refuse his advances when other women flocked around him?
“I gotta go” Chloe left, emotionless, to go into town.
Shona watched on.
“Paul!” Kyle snapped at Deputy Paul who nodded a ‘what?’. He was in the middle of his gaggle no doubt having a completely inappropriate conversation.
“I need you for a minute” Kyle replied, stone faced
Cuban put the books in his locker room and went out to join Chloe to clean the trucks that had been repaired and were ready for the customers to collect.
“The dreams…that you have, they sound.. terrible”
Cuban was standing at the front of the truck washing the lights whilst Shona was in the cab cleaning it with the door open.
“I’m sorry I keep waking you up” Shona replied looking down as she remembered the content of her last dream, or she should say nightmare.
“No…no I didn’t mean that, you just, never really talk about them that’s all…..or anything.”
Cuban was careful not to make Shona uncomfortable.
“I just, like to keep myself to myself that’s all”
“OK..Understood. But if you ever need to talk, ever…I’m here, right? I mean, you’ve done more for me then you’ll ever know”
Cuban stopped washing so that he could look at Shona, he meant every word. Shona looked deadly serious until she got out the truck, picked up the sponge in the bucket and threw it at Cuban.
“Hey!” Cuban laughed
“So serious” Shona laughed
“Another break? That would be nice” Cuban said wiping the water off him, squinting as some of the droplets went in his eyes.
“Yeah, right….a telling off more likely” Shona replied cynically
Shona and Cuban saw Elbe who was standing near the back of the already-gathered crowd who were mumbling their confusion as to why they were called. They were looking for answers ‘up top’ towards the management offices. Nobody came from up there.
“Do we have a thief in here!?”
Everybody’s head shot from looking up, to over near the lower rooms, offices and lockers. None other than Larry Bruce was standing there hard faced, Kyle directly behind him with just a hint of smirk.
“Whats going on?”
“Whats he talkin’ ‘bout?”
More mumbles. Shona, Cuban and Elbe remained silent and just as confused as the others.
“We are conducting a locker search as we speak and we…really hope we don’t find anything that belongs to somebody else in there”
Larry walked slowly towards the gathering. He truly was intimidating. He continued.
“Now…does anyone want to confess to anything?” He scanned the room, but ended on Cuban, burning a hole with his stare.
“They’re not searching everybody’s lockers” Shona whispered to Cuban.
“We found these Sir” One of deputy Pauls ‘assistants’ handed over something to Larry Bruce.
Cubans eye’s widened and his heart thumped.
“Still don’t wanna confess anything….nigger?”
Larry stared back at Cuban. So did everybody else. Cuban slowly shook his head.
“There’s more Sir..”
“These are my books…from my home you thievin’….son of a bitch! You been in my house!!?”
“No! No Sir! Miss Chloe…she…she gave them to me! I promise!” Cuban pleaded
Without warning, Cuban felt a whack to his left cheek and a kick to his thigh.
“Bring him to my office” Larry said, eerily calm
“Yes Sir” Kyle smirked
“No wait…This is wrong! I saw Chloe give them to him!” Shona tried to hold back the barrage of punches towards Cuban and she caught a few herself. Elbe waded in to help Shona who was on the floor, getting up when he got a punch in his head for being a ‘nigger lover’. There was chaos, a mass fight directed at Cuban, Shona and Elbe who all had bad cuts and bruises, Cuban was on the point of collapse and felt relieved that Deputy Paul broke it up to get Cuban out of there to take him to Bruce’s office.
“No!…This aint right! This aint right!” Shona screamed as she was held back when Cuban was dragged up the stairs to Bruce’s office.
“Come on, get outta here, back to work everyone. We’ll see justice get done”
With that Deputy Paul spat at Shona and Elbes shoes who were breathless and bleeding.
“What we gone do!” Shona asked Elbe whose back creaked after he was punched in it.
“It all lays with Miss Chloe”
“She’s in town….she’s in town, I’ll have to find her, she at the Johnson’s place, can I borrow your truck?” Shona asked Elbe
“Course! You be careful” Elbe squinted, he was too dizzy to drive after being hit in the head one too many times
Shona snuck out to where Elbe’s truck was parked and floored the gas pedal until she got into town, not entirely sure which road Johnson’s company was at. She had to keep wiping blood from her nose that was dripping.
“Come on…come on!” Shona was willing herself to get the right road until she saw a sign ‘Johnson’s Truck parts end of road’
Again, Shona floored it until she saw the familiar gleaming dark red car belonging to Chloe all parked up just outside. Shona near-on abandoned Elbes truck in the first available space and ran to the entrance.
“Excuse me…I’m sorry, do you know where Chloe…Chloe Bruce is please?”
Shona was breathing heavily with adrenaline at the receptionist who slowly put the telephone down at the sight in front of her, Shona was bleeding quite heavily from her nose and head.
“Please..I don’t have much time.” Shona pleaded again.
“I’m sorry…who are you?”
“My name is Shona…ermmm I’m ermm late for the Mr. Johnson meeting. I had an accident on the way here, I’m late for it. Please, will you help me with where the meeting is?” Shona lied.
The receptionist wasn’t convinced.
“Wait here please” The receptionist left and Shona was going to follow her.
She saw her go down the corridor, not too far, but just saw her lean into a room where Shona could just about make out a large table.
“That’s gotta be it” Shona muttered to herself, and she headed towards it.
“I’m sorry, Mr.Johnson doesn’t know you….do you mind!?”
Shona barged the receptionist out the way, she felt guilty but it was necessary.
“Excuse me! What do you think you’re doing!?” The receptionist tried to grab Shona who was too slippery and she got in, scanned the large oval table to find Chloe who was directly opposite her.
“You know this woman?” Mr.Johnson asked
“Yes, she works for me” Chloe replied, confused at the sight of Shona, she was bleeding all over her face.
“I’m so so sorry for doing this….” Shona tried to grab a breath
“Get the Sherriff on the phone and get her out of here!”
“No…wait…please” Chloe stood up
All eyes were on Chloe, then Shona.
The receptionist was straightening her top.
“Chloe…I need your help, its Cuban. It’s serious, will you come back with me please?”
“Would somebody mind telling me what in the hell is going on!?”
Mr.Johnson got up, looked round the table and adjusted his cigar, frowning.
Chloe said surprisingly gently, with a concern in her eyes looking right at Shona as if nobody else was in the room, despite it being amongst one of the most important meetings Chloe had secured.
“Thank you” Shona almost whispered.
“You better get out, I don’t care whats happened, you don’t barge into meetings like that!”
“Sorry…Mr.Johnson….sorry” Shona also apologised to the receptionist.
“What’s happened!?” Chloe asked as they walked together towards the exit of Johnsons company.
“Its Cuban, he’s had his locker searched, by your father…Kyle. They sayin’ he stole them from your house. He’s been beaten..badly, your fathers about to fire him..let him go…then who knows what will happen to him out there. He…and I tried telling him that you gave them to him, but they didn’t believe us”
Their pace quickened with the urgency.
“My god…I was so stupid! Its all my fault!” Chloe was annoyed with herself as she was fumbling for her car keys.
“I’ll meet you back there?” Shona was about to head to Elbe’s car which was sixty feet away.
“Get in mine, its quicker”
“Ok” Shona opened the car door and moaned lightly, he ribs hurt from where she had taken punches and kicks also.
“You’re bleeding too” Chloe, without thinking and out of concern, touched Shona’s forehead where there was a nasty cut, knowing that it was caused by her…by her giving those damn books to Cuban.
“I’m ok…I’m ok…Its Cuban I’m worried about” Shona couldn’t help but feel grateful for Chloe’s concern.
Chloe coughed an ‘awkward’ cough and put her foot down to head back to Ellis and Bruce, praying they got there in time.
Cuban, bleeding was standing where so many niggers had done before, directly in front of Larry Bruce whilst he sat behind his solid desk smirking about the amount of physical and psychological pain he was about to inflict. He was going to enjoy this one the most, he had been waiting a long time to get Cuban out and now Kyle, the genius, had helped make that happen and it would be a ‘legal’ sacking as he was caught with stolen property something that Jeffrey Ellis would back. This was too easy, and felt good.
“You been getting your dirty feet under the table here….aint cha. Been eating the food that gets served, taking another man’s job who aint some dirty, thievin’ nigger. Well now…..times up. Mr. Ellis instead of protecting you, will help pack your bags and I’ll throw ‘em out the door!”
Larry Bruce got up, took a swig of whiskey and came round to be directly in front of Cuban who was shaking in shock and fear. Larry continued.
“You know something…. You losing your job here aint even the worst part of your day, you know why?…When I let you go out of here, in front of all them guys and out the front door….It will be like feeding you to a bunch a hungry wolves, and they’ll enjoy ripping you apart!”
“Sir…please…may I speak?” Cuban pleaded.
“Shut the fuck up nigger!” Kyle interrupted digging Cuban in the back, who daren’t argue back
“No wait…let him entertain me. I’m enjoying this. Please..what in the hell are you gonna say that will even make me contemplating that you’re anything but a dirty thieving son of a bitch?”
Larry Bruce full on smirked in front of Cuban who was flanked by Kyle and Deputy Paul.
“Your wonderful daughter Chloe, came and spoke to me a little ago, and asked me about myself. I told her I liked learning to read. The all of a sudden, she came and found me today and offered me some books. I said to her it was too much, but she insisted Sir, I promise”
Cuban hoped some of these words would land somewhere remotely in his favour.
He was wrong.
“You listen….don’t you dare have anything to do with my daughter, you hear!? I know what men like you are like and what you’d want to do with my beautiful daughter….I hear about it, raping, beating…well that’s why I’m getting rid of you, for her safety!”
With that, Larry punched Cuban clean in the stomach. A punch filled with long awaited venom that would wind Cuban even though his muscular frame was built to take punishment, this hurt. He was doubled over, struggling to breathe.
“This is from me, you stay away from Chloe…she’s way out of your league”
Kyle punched Cubans face and blood splattered over the floor.
“What in the hell is going on daddy!?”
It was Chloe, followed by Shona. They were horrified by what they saw.
Meanwhile, Tom Byrd cam home from getting some groceries and food for his animals in a sombre mood.
“You Ok honey?” Ruby noticed Tom was more quiet than usual.
He slammed the grocery bags onto the table.
“Yeah….well….I went into Johns store today and the whole damn queue were looking at me”
Tom went to the sink to wash his hands and splash water over his face.
“They sayin’ we nigger lovers… They all spat at my damn shoes”
Ruby covered her mouth with her hands. She’d experienced it too, the humiliation was unlike anything they knew or prepared themselves for.
Ruby continued “What do we do, we can’t just throw him out”
“I know Ruby…I know….that would be like sending him to the slaughterhouse”
Tom hugged Ruby knowing that the pressure was mounting, if it started to hit them in their already light pockets, they maybe starved into a decision they didn’t want to make.
“What in the hell happened father!?” Chloe fumed as she burst through the door, she didn’t think she would have to ask twice.
Larry Bruce, Kyle and Deputy Paul were shocked to see her, Cuban was relieved to see her and closed his eyes as if his prayers had been answered.
“This doesn’t concern you princess”
“Don’t princess me!….If this man is here because of those books, its everything to do with me…I took them! You were throwing them out anyway!”
Chloe had trouble containing herself as if old anger was being purged.
“Why would you be standing up for a nigger darling?” Larry was having trouble containing himself
“Because it’s the truth…You should be ashamed of yourselves, all of you! You have wronged this man!”
Kyle struggled not to roll his eyes at Deputy Paul who were still standing guard over Cuban who was coughing up some blood due to his beating.
“You ok?” Chloe softened towards Cuban
“Yes ma’am I’ll be fine…thank you” Cubans response only added fury to the men watching this unfold. How did this even happen?
“Ok Cuban…can you get up?” Chloe asked to which Shona was helping him up. Cuban groaned with pain.
“Now…I want you all to apologise to this man…it was my fault, not his….now say sorry to him”
Shona was impressed.
Chloe looked at Deputy Paul with hatred whose face looked even more haggard and rough especially now he was having to apologise to a nigger.
“Sorry” he said reluctantly
“Sorry” Kyle replied without any emotion, it was all internalised
Larry was starting to realise very quickly, that he no longer knew his daughter.
“I wont ever….ever apologise to a nigger, you’ve gone too far Chloe”
Larry stormed out.
Shona was almost open-mouthed at what was going on.
“Cuban is to have 2 days off to rest….paid, you understand?”
Kyle and Deputy Paul reluctantly nodded at Chloe then both sloped out the office.
“Wow….Cuban you alright?” Shona tended to him, he groaned a response.
“You ok Cuban?” It was Elbe, he had heard about the commotion.
Shona explained about what had happened.
“This is all going in my diary” Elbe said to himself.
The next morning at breakfast, things were tense in the Bruce household. Chloe and Larry were hardly speaking to each other and yet, he didn’t want to fall out as he wanted his daughter (and future husband) to be heir to his company.
Larry got up earlier than usual and left without having his breakfast, leaving Chloe sipping her morning tea alone.
“You ok Miss?” The housekeeper asked
“Yes……yes…thank you.” Chloe appreciated people being concerned about her.
Eleanor Bruce was also out, Chloe felt the coldness. It was their way or no way. She grabbed her things and made her way into work.
“Here….” Ruby Byrd gave Cuban some tea as he lay in his bed recovering. It hurt when he moved.
“Thank you..Thank you Ruby”
“Why can’t they leave you alone?” Ruby said standing over him.
“Because they’re frightened at what I’d do” Cuban half joked
“Ruby….” Tom came in
“You ok?” Ruby replied
“Come and have a look at this”
Tom led Ruby out, Cuban was intrigued but ached too much to follow.
“What is it Tom?”
“Look” Tom went up to the cattle, one looked to be in distress
“Easy…easy…” He tried to calm it and gently maneuvered it around.
“What is it? She ok?”
Tom didn’t need to reply, once it was moved around Ruby’s face said it all.
“My god” She put her hand over her mouth
Written clearly in some kind of paint in huge letters on the distressed animal was ‘NIGGER LOVERS’
“Whoever did this…was right near the house…while we were all asleep, they aint messin’”
“What we gone do Tom?”
Toms look said everything as to what they should do about Cuban.
Back at work, Shona sat alone at the table in the canteen, her drink untouched, her fingers tapping the table. She was tense.
“There you are, you ok?” Elbe came over, adjusting his cap as he sat down.
“How’s Cuban doing?”
“He’s ok, he don’t want to make a fuss you know him”
“What about you?…How you doing? You got caught up in it too” Elbe make a fist as if reliving what happened.
“I can’t wait to get out of this place. All of us, where we don’t have to worry….look over our shoulders. We can just be….us”
Shona traced imaginary shapes on the table looking forlorn. Elbe was sad for Shona, he had lived a long life, given quite a lot of protection by Jeffrey Ellis, but Shona was vulnerable here, mysterious and vulnerable. Through conversations they had shared, Elbe knew Shona for whatever reason couldn’t return home, she had to keep pushing on.
“Right, anyway…I gotta go” Shona seemed to spring into action.
“Where you goin’?”
“Ermm…I’m gonna quickly see Chloe” Shona replied pushing her chair in.
“Now that’s quite a surprise. You used to hate her” Elbe smiled
“Well, she’s tried to help Cuban, round here that’s rare, and she didn’t have to do it, especially with her last name”
Shona disappeared to go up the management steps. She felt nervous for some reason, she had played out the scene.
“Come in” Chloe replied quite sternly, her door was almost closed
“Hi Shona” Chloe’s voice softened
“I can see you’re busy”
“Please…sit” Chloe got up and went to pull a chair out
“No its fine….but thank you. I just wanted to come and say thank you for what you did for Cuban. There’s not many who would do that. Compassion is hard to come by”
“You’re welcome…and how are you doing?” Chloe asked leaning back on the desk
“How are you? It can’t be easy working here. I admire you” Chloe’s voice was genuine
“I’m fine..I can take care of myself” Shona tried to sound tough, but inside she was broken and tired.
“Good…well be sure to see me if I can help with anything” Chloe returned to her seat
“Thank you” Shona smiled and left as quickly as she had arrived.
Chloe could help but feel there was an air of mystery and intrigued when it came to Shona
Shona came home after her long walk, her body was tired, still achy from the commotion with Cuban and everybody. She went through the door and heard sobbing, she hurried through to the kitchen.
“Ruby…what’s wrong?” She was being consoled by Tom who had his arm around her shoulders, they were sitting at the kitchen table.
“They been here…again. It’s a game to them, they’re coming up near the house writing god awful words Shona”
Ruby was almost ashamed to complain as she loved Cuban, like her own son but his presence was making it near on impossible. People could get hurt.
Shona breathed our heavily looking up searching for answers, there were none. Well, there was, for Cuban to go.
“Listen, I think….I know that things may calm down now. Chloe Bruce is protecting him, she’s the one who gave him the time off. Now that those animals know that one of the bosses wont have it, they’ll ease off….”
“Chloe Bruce?…I thought you hated her, you said she was like the rest of ‘em”
Tom questioned Shona.
“I did…until, I got to know her. I was wrong….she’s different”
“Shona, what if they hurt one of us, it might not even be those at Ellis and Bruce, there’s Klan around here…”
Ruby was wiping her face of tears.
“Please, if we throw him out….well I don’t even want to imagine. The only thing that I’d wish for him is a quick death, but he wouldn’t get that if he’s on the streets. Once me and Cuban save up some more money, we will be gone anyway. We will protect each other. Come on, please, I’ll have to go with him, I can’t see him out there, they will be over him like dogs on meat”
Tom rubbed Rubys back and digested not only the words but the images of what would surely happen if Cuban was out on the streets. They couldn’t see that happen to him especially as he was still recovering after he got a beating in a supposed ‘safe place’ at work.
Ruby looked at Tom, her eyes telling him what she wanted and mirrored the gaze.
“Alright, he stays…I don’t want to see any harm come to him. I just hope he makes it to New York soon to meet up with his friends”
Tom meant the words with compassion, Shona smiled widely, her eyes glistened, trying to fight back tears. Tom and Ruby really were incredible, so brave and courageous.
“Hey you…” Shona checked in on Cuban who was having a lie down.
“How’s the patient?” Shona trying to be lighthearted.
“Bored….Tom and Ruby won’t let me do anything”
“Good, you need to rest….get strong”
“It’s difficult, every time I close my damn eyes, I see Klan”
“Yeah, the Klan who attacked me and my family. It will haunt me forever Shona. I keep seeing my house burning, my kids screaming, my wife cryin’. You know….when they beat me at work, I didn’t want ‘em to stop. I wanted them to finish me off…send me to my family. I couldn’t wait for the lights to go out. It’s more of a punishment that I’m alive. Because I keep re-living it anyway, when I’m awake, or when I try to sleep. It’s a living nightmare Shona. I can’t see a day when I won’t have to look over my shoulder.”
This was breaking Shona’s heart, but she tried to be positive.
“Well…when you’re in New York, with your friends, that’s something to hold onto, a new life right? I’ll come and annoy you up there”
Cuban attempted to smile.
“Shona, let’s be honest with each other here…..It will be a miracle if I make it out of this town, let alone new York”
Cuban’s gaze went from looking up at Shona to the bare wall in front of him. He looked a picture of complete despair.
Larry slammed the newspaper onto the round meeting table where everybody had gathered. The atmosphere was tense until Larry pointed at the front page gesturing Deputy Paul and Kyle. Chloe just looked on.
“Look, the damn fair is in town. That damn fair is the reason Clint aint in this mornin’. I saw his father on the way in, he said to me that Clint met some young girl, got drunk, went back to hers, had his way until her parents came home so he jumped out the god damn window running away from her father with a shotgun. He twisted his damn leg, can’t walk on it”
Deputy Paul and Kyle didn’t try to hide their sniggers.
“I’m a man down …he’s an idiot” Larry went and poured a drink.
“I hope she put out, otherwise what a waste of time” Deputy Paul smirked, Kyle laughed but attempted to be on some kind of best behaviour with Chloe around, but he wasn’t disciplined.
Chloe looked straight ahead at the closed office door, emotionless, cold.
“Would you be saying the same thing if it was Cuban?…Or would you be on the phone to Jeffrey getting rid of him?”
Chloe directed the last part to Deputy Paul and Kyle who remained silent, stunned and looked to Larry for guidance. He poured another drink, lost at what he was going to do with his daughter.
“I need some air” Chloe packed her things up and went for a walk. She figured that if the meeting was that important, they wouldn’t have spent the last half hour discussing baseball.
“Elbe…how are you?”
“Why hello Miss Chloe, I’m ok, how ‘bout yourself?” Elbe tipped his cap
“I’m fine, thank you. You being treated ok?” Chloe asked with genuine concern
“This place has changed a lot Miss Chloe. I’m just glad I retire soon that’s what I will say”
Elbe tried to speak quietly, just so Chloe could hear.
“Well Elbe, this company will be the poorer for losing you, you know that?”
Chloe’s smile lit up Elbe’s face who smiled his response. He was grateful.
“Listen…Elbe, you don’t happen to know where Shona is do you?”
“Yeah of course, she’s outside cleaning the truck that’s about to go out to be delivered.”
Elbe smiled. It was good to see Chloe and Shona getting on.
“Hi Miss Chloe”
“Can I get you anything Ma’am?”
Everywhere she went, Chloe was the centre of attention. She wasn’t comfortable with that, but that’s just how it was with being the boss.
“Randy…hi…You seen Shona anywhere, I was told she was over here”
“Umm…yeah she’s just cleaning up an oil spillage over there” Randy pointed over to where some huge tyres were stacked and where a truck had been parked, Shona was obviously detailed to clean up any mess.
Randy was intrigued. He would love it if Chloe made a special visit to see him. He made it so that he sneaked nearby, pretended to sweep up or something…anything.
“Hi…how are you?”
“You know…it’s so nice to hear that. Normally all I get is demands, groans, moans…for somebody to actually ask me if I’m ok is quite rare”
Shona just smiled a reply as if to indicate she was listening.
“Sorry…Shona. You didn’t need to hear that, that’s me moaning! Listen, Umm, anyway. How’s Cuban doing?”
“He’s doing ok, wants to get back to work. He’s not a good patient”
“And….how are you doing, your work…ok?” Chloe tried not to sound patronising, just tried to be interested, but Shona was covered in oil and god knows what else.
“I can’t lie…being blasted up in that damn rocket they have just launched sounds appealing right about now. I can think of better ways to spend a day…but it’s a job”
Chloe appreciated some honesty for once.
Shona looked around, but knew that walls have ears and eyes so declined to reveal.
“No…everything’s fine Chloe” Shona tried to remember where she was.
“Well, I feel that I owe you an apology so-
“- An apology?” Shona interrupted
“Yeah, for the book incident, you got caught up in it too, so I was wondering if you wanted to join me at the fair tonight…Unless you have a prior engagement..?”
Chloe was gently probing for information, Shona was a closed book.
“Listen, you don’t need to apologise, so I’ll decline to go to the fair out of an apology”
“So….will you come because I’m tired of being around guys all day?”
“Yeah, I’d like that” Shona responded putting her hands in her pockets
“I’ll meet you at the entrance say, 7.30? Or I could pick you up? Where abouts do you live?”
“I live about two minutes further down that road we met when I was on my horse….It’s just off to the right…. near the Weaver, you can’t miss it. But it’s ok, I’ll meet you at the entrance”
Shona’s cheeks went slightly red as she recalled that meeting.
“Right…well that’s settled then. Have a good day Shona”
“You too” Shona watched Chloe glide away unable to comprehend what had just happened. Every guy in Alabama and beyond would kill their grandmother to spend five minutes in Chloe’s company, but here she was inviting her to go out for the evening.
“She’s gotta be lonely” Shona said to herself and walked past Randy who was ‘sweeping’ up.
He knew if he passed this on, he would start to be thought of as more useful, so he went and looked for Kyle.
Ruby brought Cuban a drink, he had hardly eaten anything. He was starting to be more and more in a daze now, almost awaiting his fate.
“Here, drink this”
“Thank you Ruby….I know it’s hard for you too. I hate being the one responsible for everybody’s pain..”
“Now you listen…You listen good. We will get through this Cuban. You hear? Tom and I, love you like our own son. Just because things get difficult, doesn’t mean we give up, we fight on. When you’re ready, you’ll go…but not before. This is your home, you understand?”
Cuban’s eye welled up, he couldn’t believe how kind somebody could be, he hugged Ruby and didn’t want to let go, those words snapped him out of his fog, and he wanted to fight on.
Shona looked up, she was mopping the tool room as best she could, it was hard keeping on top of it, grubby footprints constantly walking through, but it was her job. She saw Kyle approach almost looking pleased with himself. Shona didn’t answer, just looked at him, she hated him.
“Shona…We are expecting a delivery later tonight, and so I want you to stay and wait for it. It’s important so you need to make sure you don’t miss it, ok?”
“But what? You’re not willing to work..?” Kyle was goading Shona
“No…it’s not that, I just…… made plans that’s all”
“Unmake them” Kyle snapped and was looking dead in her eye
“Right….Umm…is Chloe around?”
“No…She’s in town, at the Johnsons, trying to clear up the mess that was left, remember?”
“Yeah…” Shona’s head dropped, how could she forget storming in that meeting.
“Can I….pass on a message to her?” Kyle smirked
“Could…You please say to her, that I’m working tonight?”
“Of course…consider it done”
Normally Kyle would have probed more, but he already knew as Randy couldn’t keep his big mouth shut.
“Thanks” Shona replied reluctantly. She had no choice but to ask Kyle, it’s unlikely she would see Chloe today to tell her plans had changed.
Shona see’s Elbe walking past and signals him. She tells him about having to work tonight.
“I’ll stay with you, you don’t want to be on your own” Elbe offered.
“It’s ok, but thank you.”
“It’s a real shame that you have to miss your evening with Miss Chloe, it’s good to see you two getting on” Elbe was genuine.
“Yeah…Yeah…well…anyway, let’s get back to the grind” Shona wanted to change the conversation.
A few hours later, Chloe returned, mostly everybody had left. Chloe was hurrying to get things packed away so she could get ready to meet Shona.
“How did meeting go?” Kyle appeared at Chloe’s door. She looked up, then wished for him to be gone in her head.
“Um…yeah, its ok. I think I’ve done enough, he’ll trade with us again, no real harm done”
“See…You’re so talented. Listen, I was wondering if you wanted to get a bite to eat tonight?”
How could she turn him down, many other women didn’t.
“Umm…Thank you, but I already have plans” Chloe couldn’t or didn’t want to make eye contact. Kyle was seething inside. He purposely withheld the information Shona asked him to pass on. If he was hurt, others should feel it too.
“Right…listen Chloe….You’re not serious about letting the nigger come back here are you? I mean, it’s been a lot more….calmer round here wouldn’t you say?” Kyle was a mixture of trying to be in Chloe’s presence as much as possible, savouring every second, and trying to snap at her, this rejection was painful. He wasn’t used to it.
“He stays…Kyle” Chloe didn’t even look at him, she was shuffling her papers. This lack of eye contact made him seethe, plus the prospect of having to ‘deal’ with Cuban again.
“Oh…well, I hope you have a good evening then, night” Kyle replied abruptly.
“Night” Chloe quickly straightened her desk, grabbed her bag and left brushing past Kyle who could smell her sweet perfume. He ached for her, they made sense to be a couple, a real power couple.
Kyle rubbed his eyes as if to try to think straight. He slowly walked to his own office, slumped in his oversized chair, poured a drink, a habit he picked up from Larry, he never used to drink this much during the day and stared at the office door he slammed behind him. He looked at the phone on his desk, took another swig and dialled a number.
“Larry…Its Kyle…..Yeah, listen, I’m worried about your daughter Chloe, she seems to actually be taking the side of the nigger, and I’m worried for her safety. You know what this town is like with people who harbour niggers.. They won’t care who she is, there’s some real animals out there. ……..Yeah? You will? Of course I won’t tell Jeffrey…..Bye for now”
Just as Larry had put the phone down to Kyle, his heart racing, he picked it up again.
“It’s me…….Yeah I’m good, listen….I need you to do something for me, need you to stir something up, it needs to be convincing…You’ll need the guys from the bar too…”
Larry explained the rest of his plan to whoever it was on the end of the line and seemed pleased with himself.
Kyle went downstairs to where Shona was alone, waiting for the delivery,
“You can clean this place…properly while you’re waitin’” he snapped at her.
“I did this earlier, but I can over it again” The place looked gleaming.
Kyle went to the door just outside and found a large bucket with smelly, oily water and poured it all over the floor.
“Looks like it needs doing again….Night”
Chloe raced home, she needed time to get ready.
“Those are mighty fine paintings and drawings in your den Miss”
Chloe looked up from sorting her hand bag, smiled broadly at her housekeeper.
“Thank you…I wished I did more”
“Well you should, you sure got a talent for it”
Chloe looked rushed.
“You’re too kind….ermm…have you seen my red top?”
“You’re favourite red top? How could I not know where that is?….Its hanging up all ready for you, out anywhere nice?” the housekeeper probed, but Chloe knew she was discreet.
“Oooh…You seem keen to impress” The housekeeper teased.
Chloe smiled a reply, it was too complicated to tell her that it wasn’t some hot date.
Chloe was upstairs getting ready and Larry was downstairs pacing in the lounge, his mind was all over the place what with happening with Chloe. He sat in his chair and began reading the paper to take his mind of it, trouble was, it didn’t.
“They are talkin’ about mixing these damn niggers in with whites at school now! What is this flaming world comin’ to!?”
Larry raged at Eleanor who was trying on a new shade of nail polish, she didn’t look up but sighed her disbelief.
“I tell ya, could you imagine if our Chloe went to a school and some nigger turned up!? I would take her out of there so fast and get the school closed down. I got contacts that would be only too happy to oblige too…”
Larry stopped in his tracks and saw his beautiful looking daughter come down the stairs looking even more stunning.
“Honey…?” He said, that was his way of asking where she is going, without asking where she is going. She was growing more and more distant from him
“I’m going out, I won’t be here for dinner….bye”
Chloe said coldly, not hardly looking at her parents as she left, getting into her car and heading for the fair, her heart seemed to beat a little faster, it was probably because she was starting to really stand up for herself.
The housekeeper had to stifle her grin, she knew this would frustrate Chloe’s stern, controlling parents.
Shona had finished all the possible jobs including mopping up the dirty water Kyle so kindly spilt. She was bored, and would rather be somewhere else, definitely the fair, although she was sure she would feel awkward with Chloe, I mean, what would they talk about? They were in different worlds, what could Shona possibly offer? It would be intriguing if nothing else, and Shona was curious about how she would have dealt with tonight had she not had to work.
Tapping her knees, sitting in the canteen that was normally hustle and bustle especially around ten and twelve thirty, Shona was completely alone waiting for the front buzzer to go off which would be the delivery, she decides to venture up to the management offices, Kyles in particular. She knew she shouldn’t, but who was here to stop her?
“What?…Sam that’s terrible, I’m sorry…..sorry for your news…”
Larry just got off the phone to Big Sam.
“Who was that?” Eleanor asked
“Big Sam…he called to tell me his father passed away”
“That’s a shame, he was a lovely man”
“Its not a shame for us, all his father’s money goes to Sam, we are talkin’ millions of bucks. I’ll leave it a little while and I’m sure I can help him how to…..invest it…..in our company. Maybe this will be the way I get rid of Jeffrey”
Larry poured another whiskey into one of his finest glasses looking pleased with himself.
Meanwhile, Chloe had arrived at the fair, parked the car amid admiring glances who appreciated her looks and her car. She reapplied her lipstick, fixed her hair again even though it hadn’t moved. She was early, she wasn’t normally. Unsure and nervous, she was in unfamiliar territory. She wasn’t normally on nights out like this, nights that weren’t about business. Shona intrigued her and Chloe wanted to find out more. She took in a deep breath to calm her nerves and waited and looked out the window to see if by any chance, Shona had got there as early as her, but no. All she could see were couples and families amid bright colours, loud music and happiness. That’s what Chloe was looking forward to being a part of when Shona arrived.
Shona was a few miles away, snooping through Kyle’s office, still being careful she couldn’t hear anybody, like Kyle sneaking back in. If she was caught, she knew she was done for, in every way possible. But her curiosity was pulling her to look through drawers and files. Shona didn’t even know what she was looking for, just things to confirm what a pig he is. Some drawers were locked, but others weren’t and Shona saw flyers for Reds casino, women’s phone numbers, a demand letter for his car (Cuban was right) all spelling out that he wasn’t this squeaky clean hero, he was likely going to take the company for what he could get, he was in debt. Shona thought she heard a noise and shot out his office, it turned out it was only birds flying around on the roof and the sound echoed. She sprinted down the winding stairs and back where she belonged, slightly out of breath, mainly through fear of it she was caught..by anybody.
7.30, Chloe waited patiently in her car, tapping the steering wheel in time to some of the music belting out the speakers getting everybody in the mood. There was quite a crowd. Families started leaving, making way for the young adults venturing out to have fun. 7.35, 7.40pm, Chloe started to think something was wrong. She knew that Shona was never late for work, and would she really be late when meeting the boss’s daughter? She got out of her car and walked round the entrance to the fair, she stood out with her bright red top, immaculate long dark blonde hair, perfect figure that drew glances from anybody who walked past her. Most knew who she was anyway, she was a minor celebrity in this town. You can’t hide how powerful your father is.
Chloe wouldn’t normally wait this long for anybody, she was too busy, but by now she was getting annoyed, angry, upset even mixed with a hint of embarrassment. A mixture of emotions flurried round her. By 8.15pm, she decided enough was enough and slowly got into her car and huffed. She would definitely be seeking an explanation first thing from Shona. If this is how she conducts herself, no wonder she was on everybody’s hit list at work, how dare she…
“Mission accomplished as they say…”
One of Larry’s hired thugs, the oldest of the 3 Bullen brothers, got in the passenger side of a car parked at the entrance to the fair, being careful to stay out of direct eyesight.
“Yeah…mission accomplished” The driver of the car looking pleased with his plan.
“Head down!” Chloe’s car drove near them as she no doubt headed home after ending up alone.
“Kyle…you are one mean son of a bitch, but I like it. She looked close to tears!” Both men cackled as Kyle drove in the opposite direction to Chloe, he would do pretty much ‘anything’ to be near her including paying people to follow her and tell him her whereabouts.
It was 9.30 and Shona decided to lock up. There was no delivery.
“Morning Miss Chloe” The receptionist said to Chloe who looked serious as she walked passed.
“Yeah…morning” She normally had a smile but not today.
“Good to see you Cuban…how you feeling!?” Elbe greeted Cuban in his tool room. Cuban was back at work, still a little sore, but back.
“I’m ok, thanks for asking Elbe”
“He can do my shit today seen as he has had the most sleep out of all of us!” Shona joked as she caught the tail end of the conversation.
“Oh yes, how did your evening with Miss Chloe go?” Elbe asked
“I didn’t go, Kyle told me I had to work…wait for some delivery, that didn’t arrive”
“Delivery? There was no delivery booked? I check the logs….he is either wildly incapable or an evil bastard” Elbe said emphasing by pointing his finger.
“Um…I would say…both!” Shona snapped back.
“Shona, I need to see you for a minute”
Chloe came in and snapped at Shona and left immediately emphasising the urgency, leaving everybody a bit stunned. She was normally so polite and gentle natured with them, the only manager that was so…well Ron Black was nice too.
“Everything….ok?” Shona asked nervously as both women went into an empty office nearby
“Everything ok?” Chloe snapped “Everything ok? Do you think everything is ok when you make plans with somebody who is really busy and then you just don’t bother to turn up? I would feel bad if something terrible had happened but I saw you messing around with Cuban and Elbe and everything looked fine to me!”
Shona was stunned.
“What do you mean?…” Shona replied, it felt like no words would sort this situation
“Last night…the fair…?”
“Ohhh…” Before Shona could even explain Chloe looked annoyed and stormed off.
“What was that about?” Cuban asked when it was safe to venture in.
“ Kyle…making sure Chloe didn’t get my message about the phantom delivery”
“He is one nasty son of a bitch” Cuban replied, Elbe caught the end of the conversation
“You look a little stressed Chloe” Kyle seemed to delight in it as she walked in, keeping her files guarded as they arrived for their morning meeting.
“I’m fine” Chloe replied coldly
Kyle had a good idea what was up, but he would enjoy that for himself.
“Right, lets get started….” Larry got some papers together at the head of the table, some of the investors were there too. Drinks got poured, windows were opened and notepads opened.
“Damn it, I’ve left my pen…” Chloe snapped, she went to get up and go and get one
“Here, I have another….But its red…You like red, don’t you?”
Kyle’s remark stopped Chloe in her thoughts, it was creepy, but she couldn’t work out why. Kyle was simply privately reflecting on the beautiful red top he spied her wearing from a distance the night before.
The meeting went by in a blur for Chloe until it was interrupted by one of the drivers.
“Sorry to interrupt and all…but we have a problem, there’s a load of people gathering outside having some sort of protest, it looks like it could get out of hand”
“Thank you Lewis, we will handle it” Larry replied getting up to look out the window.
“My god! What’s going on father?”
“Maybe Jeffrey will listen now….” Larry looked a little too cool, which confused Chloe.
She saw the banners and placards which read ‘No more niggers!” and ‘Niggers don’t belong here!”
It was obviously a reference to Cuban returning to work.
“I think it’s quite clear how we deal with this” Kyle got up and joined Larry and Chloe, he purposely got up into her space to which she felt uncomfortable.
He continued…”We get rid of him, for everybody’s safety…or the company will lose business…don’t you agree Chloe?”
He seemed alarmingly calm, Chloe looked at Kyle and back out the window, then went to the phone
“Can you call the Sherriff to arrest these people, they are trespassing…thank you”
“No!…I mean…give me the phone…” Larry grabbed the phone off of a surprised Chloe
“Hi, it’s me….Listen, I’ll sort it, don’t call the Sherriff, he’s got enough to do”
Larry looked Chloe in the eye as he replaced the receiver.
“Whats goin’ on? These people could hurt your guys, they could come in here, cause damage…. they are on your land…Why you not doing anything father?”
“Because they have a point”
Larry replied coolly.
Chloe looked round the room, there didn’t seem any urgency.
She looked back out the window and the chanting seemed to get louder as the Press turned up and started taking pictures.
“How did they get here so fast?” Chloe questioned
“People talk” Larry replied going to his drinks cabinet
“Right, well if you’re not going to deal with it, I will…it’s dangerous, we don’t know what these people are capable of..”
Chloe headed towards the office door
“The same can be said about niggers…..You leave the talkin’ to me Chloe, that’s an instruction as your boss, you understand?”
Larry sat back in his seat taking a swig. The air was thick with tension, some people round the table knew more than others.
“Now…..where were we..?” Larry gestured to get back to the meeting, the chanting soon faded, but Chloe remained confused and concerned at how little she knew her father now.
The buzzer went at 10am, the meeting had finished. Chloe felt slightly at a loss as to where to go, she normally met up with Elbe, Cuban and sometimes Shona, but she was annoyed at Shona, how insensitive to just disregard her last night.
“Talk to her” Elbe caught Shona watching Chloe come down the stairs at break time. They were sitting alone at a table waiting for Cuban.
Shona snapped out of it.
“I’ll talk to Kyle first…find out what happened”
“And you’re expecting him to give you a truthful answer?” Elbe scoffed.
Elbe was right, but Shona was curious as to how he would dig his way out.
“Hey…” Lewis, one of the drivers stopped Cuban as he was making his way into the canteen to meet Shona and Elbe.
“Hey…?” Cuban replied, confused
Lewis looked around making sure nobody saw him talking to Cuban.
“Listen, I think you’re alright…I really do, you’re more hardworking than four men put together here. I like you Cuban but you understand I can’t take your side here….this aint the right place for you. You gone get yourself hurt, or somebody else. Those people out there were crazy for your blood. I think you should take your wages and run”
Lewis seemed old beyond his years, he quickly looked around again, fiddled with his cap and walked off leaving Cuban contemplating. If that’s what a ‘nice’ guy thought, what would his enemies be thinking, which was pretty much the rest of the employees at Ellis and Bruce.
“There he is” Shona said as if stalking her prey
“Be careful” Elbe said
“Where she going?” Cuban just joined them
“To have a word with Kyle. He stitched her up”
“Sir….Kyle…” Kyle turned around and when he saw it was Shona, he looked pleased with himself
“Yes Shona..and what can I do for you today?”
“Did you…I just wanted to know…Did you pass on the message to Chloe that I was working last night?”
Kyle faked a confused look
“Say again” He replied putting his hands in his pockets
“Chloe…did you tell her that I was working last night, that I was here. I was…..I was supposed to be meeting her”
Shona hated that she was giving more information away, but then she thought why does she feel the need to keep it secret..?
“Shona…You didn’t tell me any message, so I didn’t tell Chloe anything. You must be mistaken”
He seemed to delight in Shona’s increased frustration.
“Kyle, I told you and you said you were going to tell her…She thinks I just didn’t turn up as I was waiting here for a non-existant delivery while she got stood up! It wasn’t fair!”
Shona’s increased volume drew a couple of people to look over, including Deputy Paul who came to join the conversation.
“Shona, you might want to not be disrespectful to your manager and calm down. Jeffrey Ellis, the guy who thinks you’re more brilliant than what you are, would take a very dim view, what do you think?”
Kyle grinned in support. Shona was seething. She nearly lost it.
She nodded as if to say ‘Ok’ she thought it best to leave, she knew he was a lying son of a bitch, but she knew there was no way of proving it. She went to go on her way.
“Apologise” Deputy Paul said just before she turned away
“What?” Shona said, frowning as she did
“Say you’re sorry to your boss…and make it genuine” Deputy Paul nudged Kyle
There was no point in arguing. Shona wondered how in the space of two minutes had it been that she wanted to make Kyle feel uncomfortable to now she felt utterly humiliated.
“I’m sorry….Sir” Shona actually liked looking Kyle in the eyes, she burned his soul with what she really thought of him. Kyle thought Shona was really attractive and enjoyed this power trip, it was almost sexual. He often got a pang of rejection with the fact that Shona never tried it on with him so anytime she had to beg him, helped make up for it.
Shona kept out of the way of Kyle and Chloe for that matter, for the rest of that day and the next. The doom cloud seem to weigh heavily of Shona’s shoulders, she was losing hope, especially as she had lost an unusual and unexpected friendship with Chloe who regularly chatted with her, Cuban and Elbe at the 10am break. This affected Shona more than she realised.
“Jeffrey…It’s me…..You seen the front page?”
Larry lit a cigar and took a seat at his desk.
“Yes Larry I seen it, anybody hurt? Any damage done?”
“Um…no…no damage done, but this could put pressure on our investors Jeffrey, I mean, they could pull the plug if we don’t listen to the people of this town-“
“He stays Larry…..Cuban stays”
Jeffrey Ellis seemed to be less tolerable of Larry Bruce as weeks were marching on.
“Right…well, be it on your head if he murders or rapes any of your family Jeffrey, we have all been warned by the town about how they feel…”
Larry slammed the phone down, a first. He was livid that even now, Jeffery wasn’t listening to him. The divide between them carried on. He took a few deep breaths and picked up the phone again.
“It’s me…even the god damn protests didn’t work, I tipped the Press off beforehand to be there to get a good picture, cost me two hundred bucks for them to go front page ‘and’ keep quiet….No no, your guys were good…convincing, but Ellis isn’t biting, he will not let this nigger go…. We will have to think of another plan..”
Kyles’ quick but heavy footsteps banged the floor down the long stone corridor, every inch of him angry and on a mission. He headed from his office, down the winding steps to past the canteen to find Deputy Paul. Normally they greeted each other playfully, they were on the same page in almost everything, same twisted minds. But this time seemed different.
“Keys” Kyle demanded
“What?” Deputy Paul screwed up his face, he didn’t understand.
“Give me…the keys, to the lockers” Kyle looked Deputy Paul dead in the eyes. His demeanour eerie
“Listen, what the hell you playin’ at? I can’t give you the guys lockers, what you plannin’?”
Deputy Paul gestured to Kyle to leave the conversation he was in to go somewhere slightly more private
“This doesn’t concern you, just give me the keys…..ok?”
By saying ‘ok’ Kyle really meant that it was a deadly serious instruction.
“Thank you…this doesn’t concern you, you saw nothing” Kyle took the keys and vanished leaving Deputy Paul concerned and confused.
The 10am buzzer went.
Cuban, Elbe and Shona all took their usual positions on the table away from everyone, the shunned table. But they had got used to it.
“You ok Elbe?” Shona asked taking a bite of her bread.
“You don’t look it”
“I’m thinking about retiring earlier, I can’t stay here, not with the way it is going. I dread to think of what it will be like in a month, two months…a year.”
“You can’t leave us!” Shona half joked, but really she understood, Elbe didn’t need lots of money to survive, he was a simple man, with simple needs.
“I’d want you two to come too…I don’t like the way you both get treated, it’s nothing short of barbaric”
“Well…I wont be far behind you Elbe. I’ve been speaking to a couple of guys from The Cell Block, they are going to sort me a job in New York, they are on their way up next week. They gone just settle in, find their way then they will contact me and I’m outta here”
Shona smiled her response and nodded apporoval.
“Oh that’s great Cuban..You know, when I’m out of here, I’m going to send my diary to somebody more powerful that Larry Bruce to expose him”
“You serious!?” Shona said putting her face lighting up
“Yup, been my plan all along, just didn’t have the strength to do it before, but when you two came along, you gave me a…purpose…a reason. For that I’m grateful”
“Oh Elbe…” Cuban put his arm around Elbe’s shoulder.
“It’s true…You don’t have to hang around an old man like me, you got your lives ahead of you”
“But we love to” Cuban replied with a genuine tone to his voice
“What about you Shona? What’s your plans?..You got any family anywhere?”
Elbe asked cautiously, he never really heard much about Shona’s life outside of Ellis and Bruce. Shona looked a little uncomfortable, but she knew Elbe wouldn’t have meant any harm.
“Um…Well, you see, my life is a little complicated….My mother died, well….I say she died, I know in my heart she was killed…”
“Killed!?” Elbe asked eyes wide
“Yeah…by my father….he’s a drunk, and one night, I was…15 or 16, they were arguing…over me. I went out to see and my mother told me not to come out under any circumstances, it’s like she knew what was going to happen…she was tryin’ to protect me, I went back in my room, hid under the covers, tried to block the noise but…then I heard a scream. I didn’t know what to do, so I…went to my door, pressed against it to see if I could hear anything and nothing. I opened it and my father caught me and said if I came out, he would hurt my mother, so I stayed in my room until the following morning, by that time, doctors were there saying that my father told them my mother tripped and fell that morning and died from her head wounds, but my father and I know that’s not the case, nobody believed me….I still blame myself for my mother’s death”
Shona was visibly upset at recalling the night her mother died, Cuban and Elbe looked at each other with the same thought that this is the most they had ever heard Shona speak, especially about her past.
“Shona I….I’m so sorry…I completely understand how painful it is to lose a loved one…I’m so sorry”
Cuban said reaching Shona’s hand and squeezing it, Shona smiled her appreciation.
“What in the hell were they arguing about that was so bad?”
“Now….that is a story for another time, trust me…”
Cuban and Elbe were intrigued, but respected Shona’s words.
“Where is your father now, Shona?” Cuban asked
“Back in Louisiana, probably sitting in a bar getting drunk as we speak”
The sombre mood was interrupted by the buzzer to get back to work. Cuban, Elbe and Shona all got up in a respectful silence to go back to their sections.
Chloe walked past Kyle’s office and was curious, she saw him with four wallets, he looked surprised when he saw her looking in.
“What…are you do doing with those wallets Kyle?”
“It doesn’t concern you Chloe, I’m…sorting something out and I’ve got to go”
Chloe was furious as Kyle barged past her, she was a boss at Ellis and Bruce and knew that Kyle was up to no good and followed him until she was stopped by her father who wanted an update about some figures. She couldn’t accuse Kyle of anything just yet as she had no proof and she knew her father worshipped Kyle, she needed to get it right.
Chloe quickly walked to try to find Kyle, she saw him with Deputy Paul and he handed over a small bag ‘The wallets’ Chloe thought and followed Deputy Paul who kept looking around to see if anybody was following him, Chloe was discreet.
“Oh no” Chloe said to herself
She saw that Deputy Paul was headed for Cubans locker space and so hurried up to get there in time.
Meanwhile, Kyle knocked on Larry’s door and simply said ‘It’s done, wait for the buzzer and act surprised…and then furious of course”
Larry grinned and simply replied ‘Its over…we got him, even Jeffrey wont protect his ass now”
Chloe hid behind the doorframe and watch Deputy Paul rummage round Cubans belongings whilst he was working, and then empty the bag with the four wallets and stashed them, Chloe waited until he was done.
“Finished?” Chloe said calmly. Her voice startled Deputy Paul
“Chloe..I mean…ma’am…” He was visibly stressed at being caught
“You’re gone tell me what in the hell do you think you’re doin’….Who asked you?”
Chloe slowly made her way closer to Deputy Paul who was breathing heavy, he wiped some sweat from his forehead
“I got orders..I can’t break ‘em ma’am”
“You got orders, Paul?…I don’t see that, I see that you’re walking into another man’s locker space uninvited with stolen wallets, that makes you a thief Paul. I happened to be one of the bosses, I think my word counts, don’t you?”
Deputy Paul realised he was screwed, as what it looked it was him being the thief, which would mean he would lose his job. Deputy Paul was only loyal when it suited him.
“Ok….I’ll tell you, oh god, can I still keep my job?”
“You’re unbelievable….the consequences of what you were gone do meant that Cuban was not only gone lose his job, but he would find his neck in rope, hanging from a god damn tree….and you’re only concern is that you want to keep your job?”
There was a twinge of feeling from Deputy Paul, Chloe was trying to remain professional, but it was difficult.
“I’m sorry ma’am…I’m sorry”
“Right, you’re gone do as I say, understand..?”
Meanwhile, Cuban was in the field raking up when he overheard two of the guys causing a commotion, he stopped and listened.
“Some son of a bitch has stolen my wallet! I bet it’s that nigger over there, let me go ask him!”
An irate Jerry, almost foaming at the mouth marched over to Cuban with another guy in tow, Cuban realised he may have to defend himself, he could feel a punch coming.
“Nigger!…Yeah you! You got my wallet you thieving dirty bastard, let me come check and I swear if I find it, I will put you in a grave myself…I knew you were bad news, I knew it..”
Ron Black jumped in
“Hey…wait..Jerry, what you talkin’ bout?”
Jerry explained how he has three others have had their wallet go missing.
“Ok…well we will deal with this in the right way..there’s no use in violence”
Ron Black tried to calm everybody down
“Putting a bullet in his head is the right way!” People were having trouble holding Jerry back from Cuban who was confused.
“See…he aint sayin’ nothin’! Guilty as hell!” Jerry almost tried to grab Cuban who genuinely had no idea what he was on about
“Right, let’s go boys, management must want us for something… Cuban, walk in with me…” Ron Black tried to calm the situation
Cuban felt unsettled, more than usual. He knew that Ron Black was his bodyguard, but why?
“Hey Cuban..You ok?” Shona asked looking at him concerned
“Somethings going on and I don’t know what it is”
“Right everybody….” It was Kyle up on the balcony looking down at the crowd who had gathered below.
“…It appears we have a thief.. wallets have gone missing” People started mumbling amongst themselves of ‘Who? What? Why?”
“Quiet….the only way to deal with this is fairly of course…we will conduct a search”
Kyle looked particularly smug, Chloe wasn’t far behind Kyle almost waiting for her moment.
“Deputy…would you do the honours please” Kyle called down to a nervous looking Deputy Paul who knew he had to stage search in other lockers, but to really hone in on Cubans.
Everybody’s head moved towards where Deputy Paul was, every one to two minutes a ‘clear’ was heard after he searched the white guys lockers.
“It goes without saying that whoever’s locker space we find them in, will no longer play a part here…”
Kyle made it obvious he was meaning Cuban, who looked back up at Kyle, swallowing hard, something terrible was going to happen, even though Cuban had never stolen anything in his life, his stomach was churning with dread almost waiting to be knocked out with a killer blow.
“All clear” Deputy Paul called up
“Right..now Deputy, the only locker left is….the nigger’s”
Kyle enjoyed every second of making Cuban squirm.
“They better not find my wallet in your locker you piece of shit, I will smash a rock in your head, I swear!”
One of the other guys whose wallets was missing called over to Cuban who was flanked by Ron Black, Shona and Elbe
Everybody held their breath, seconds seemed to be minutes whilst Deputy Paul went in and rummaged around thoroughly. People held their breath as Deputy Paul emerged saying ‘All Clear’
Moans and conversations erupted, including a big sigh from Cuban who shut his eyes tight with relief, he knew he was being framed.
“What!?….You want to check again Deputy!?” Kyle panicked.
“Kyle, can I see you a minute” Chloe asked calmly
“Not right now, I need to sort this!” Kyle was sweating, the plan had gone wrong and chaos was erupting below, if all the lockers had been checked, where were the wallets and who was the thief?
“I think you’ll want to make a few minutes for what I have to say…”
Chloe got into Kyle’s view and stared at him as if warning him.
“What is it?” Chloe led Kyle back into his office
“Do you know where the wallets are?” Chloe lied knowing that Kyle is not going to admit he ordered to have them planted
“That’s crazy of course I don’t know!”
“Whats crazy is that you thought that was the way you were going to get rid of Cuban”
“I have no idea what you’re talking ‘bout”
“Ok, no problem….I’ll get Deputy Paul to take you away right now and I’ll let the four guys who wallets went missing to be here while I check your office, what do you say?”
“The wallets won’t be in here!” Kyle was breathing fast
“Ok…Deputy…keep hold of Kyle please, I’ll do the search now”
“Wait…wait!” Chloe went to his drawer, opened a drawer, didn’t touch anything in it and bingo! Four wallets staring back at her.
“You want to take a look?…I’ll get my father to draw up the firing paperwork..”
“Chloe, listen..please….Ok, so I was going to plant the wallets, you saw me take them but I did it for you…”
“Yes…I was getting concerned with how you may get treated by taking the side of a nigger, and it was the only way I thought I could help…I worry about you, you’ve changed”
“Kyle…you only care about you…that’s it. I only care about what is right…and what is wrong. Now, what am I gone tell my father about these wallets?”
This was Chloe’s way of making Kyle squirm
“Everybody! Listen up..Miss Chloe would like to speak to you all”
Deputy Paul hollered to the crowd below
“Hi…I wanted to let you know that the wallets have been handed in just now…so whoever you thought it was, wasn’t..Kyle would like to speak to you..”
Chloe looked smug
“You leave Cuban alone and Shona for that matter, or I’ll expose what you were planning to do” Chloe whispered to a fuming Kyle
“What the hell is going on up there that we don’t know about?”
Elbe asked quietly, Shona and Cuban looked puzzled
“I would like to apologise to anybody who I aimed my accusation at like…Cuban…as Chloe said, the wallets have been handed in, I was wrong to accuse, right everybody back to work”
“That girl is good!” Elbe chuckled “She’s got that Kyle by the balls”
Chloe looked down at Shona who briefly looked up back at her, but broke away first. Shona knew that took some guts to stand up for Cuban against Kyle.
Cuban was relieved and puffed his cheeks out and went to go back to work.
“Go talk to her” Elbe gestured Shona towards Chloe
Chloe was thinking the same
“Hey..” Shona found Chloe as she was on her way back from talking to the receptionist
“Hi” Chloe tried to be hard, but realised that after the latest goings-on, it seemed trivial to be angry at Shona.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what it seemed like, that I just didn’t turn up. Kyle told me there was a delivery, that turns out it didn’t exist and I didn’t get chance to tell you….Kyle said he would. Then when I spoke to him, he denied everything. Please trust me, I really wanted to meet up with you”
Chloe could tell Shona was genuine just by the look in her sparkling blue eyes and by now knew just how deceitful Kyle was.
“That’s ok….maybe we can re-schedule?” Chloe said raising an eyebrow
“I’d like that”
Chloe smiled and went to walk away.
“Um Chloe, what about this evening, come by…I don’t know..if you’re free..?”
Shona understood she was talking to the most sought after woman in most of Alabama, of course she would be busy.
“I do have plans…sorry”
Chloe replied reluctantly, she was supposed to meeting some business people with her father.
“Oh ok…no problem…have a nice evening”
Shona then went back to work
“I don’t know what to wear tonight, the blue dress with the bow near the shoulder, or the red dress with the split, what do you think Chloe?”
Eleanor Bruce was at the dinner table almost talking to herself trying to pick out what she was going to wear at the business function in town. Chloe was picking at her dinner and not at all interested at what her mother just said.
“Blue dress” Chloe replied mechanically not even looking up from the table.
“I like the red dress..”
“Fine..wear the red dress” Chloe snapped.
“What has got into you?” Eleanor said frowning as if scolding a child
“I’m going out” Chloe got up and left the dinner table, just as Larry Bruce was coming in. The housekeeper kept her thoughts to herself, she knew Chloe was changing.
“Where you goin’ young lady?” Larry found it difficult to call her princess, the divide between them was massive and their relationship was tense.
“Out” Chloe grabbed her coat
“What about the function?” Eleanor called out
“I’m sure people will make deals whether I’m there or not”
Chloe slammed the door shut.
“Larry..I’m getting’ really worried about our daughter”
“I know…I’ll deal with it. It’s those low lives she has taken a shine too, Elbe who I don’t know how he is still alive, the nigger and Shona who I still can’t work out exactly what she is doing in Daynes. She seems like nothing but trouble if you ask me. They all need to go, but trouble is, Jeffrey seems keen to keep ‘em just to spite me now….”
“Larry, what if that nigger moves in on our daughter…preys on her good nature, there’s no telling what he might do”
“I know…I know…. I don’t want to think about it, I’ll deal with it…my way…”
Shona sands down a bench she is making out of the wood that Elbe got for her when Cuban comes to join her in their outhouse near their sleeping quarters.
“Hey Shona, that’s looking pretty good there!”
“Thanks” Shona wiped some sweat off her forehead and took a breath.
“Where you gone put it?”
“It’s for Maria..for her and her son to sit”
“That’s real nice of you…real nice of you”
Maria was a widow who lost her husband to Klan, her 12 year old son got badly injured two years ago trying to protect his family. They chopped off part of his right foot, he walks with a limp now. Shona met Maria at the secretive night spot The Cell Block, it’s where the black community met every few weeks but Shona was always welcomed. Unfortunately they had to move every two to three occasions as when Klan found out its location, it was burned down. The Cell Block was wherever the community met, they felt they were always locked in a prison cell.
“Right, that’s that…I’m gone try and see what mood Storm is in”
Shona dusted her hands, put her tools away and went out to get Storm.
“Good luck with that” Cuban replied, Shona smiled like ‘I’m going to need it’
There was a knock at the door
“Who’s that at this time!?” Tom called out to Ruby who was on her way to the front door.
“Hello…who is it?” Ruby called through the door
“Hi…um its Chloe…Chloe Bruce”
“Hi Ma’am…of course I know who you are, come in”
Ruby was as polite and warm as ever.
“Ruby! Who is it!?” Tom called out from the other room
“It’s Chloe Bruce dear!….I’m sorry about that darlin’…”
“That’s ok….Um…I was wondering, I mean I’m sorry to just turn up, but is Shona around…?”
Chloe looked nervous
“She’s out back…. tryin’ to tame that damn wild horse…Storm”
Tom heard the tail end of what Chloe said as he made his way into the hallway. He couldn’t quite believe one of the most famous faces in Alabama was standing in his barn.
“You want see..?” Tom gestured to Chloe to go out back, she nodded and smiled her response, she was led through the barn to land out back, she could hear the stomping of hooves of a wild horse and Shona’s calming voice.
“Shona…you got a visitor….I’ll leave you two to it” Tom said to Chloe and he shut the main door
Shona turned to see Chloe and her face was a picture she thought ‘what in the hell is she doing here!?’
“Hi…” Shona said shyly
“Hi …Sorry to just turn up like this”
“No problem…You ok?” Chloe found it amazing to be asked actually how she was, this is one of the many things she found intriguing about Shona, along with her mystery.
“Yes..I’m fine…I just wanted to take you up on your offer”
“Thought you had plans tonight” Shona shot back, she didn’t mean to sound direct
“I did…I did…But when you’ve been to one business function, you’ve been them all. It’s the same faces, the same conversations, who has the most money…..”
“Well that won’t happen here…we all don’t have any money so that’s easy!” Shona smiled, Storm pulled on her reigns as if to respond too, Chloe grinned.
“So this is Storm..?” Chloe approached a nervous Storm who was breathing heavily
“Yep…she was the one who threw me off when……” Shona smiled embarrassingly in recalling the first time they properly met.
“That’s alright, here…stroke her…” Shona gently tugged the reigns as if to gesture to Storm to behave.
Chloe cautiously approached Storm respecting her wildness and gently patted her mane. Storm responded as instructed. Chloe’s’ face lit up Shona noticed.
“She likes you…and she’s tough to please trust me” Shona felt proud that Storm wasn’t letting her down.
“I like her too….She maybe wild, but she just wants what we all want… to be understood” Chloe looked Shona in the eye and it was like a punch for Shona. She almost forgot she was with her boss. She felt like what Chloe had just said was a metaphor, for all of them standing there, not just Storm.
“Well….she can also be a pain in the ass too..” Shona wanted to break the intense atmosphere and as if on cue, Storm broke wind…loudly.
Both Chloe and Shona laughed out loud
“Storm!…Behave!” Shona said to Storm playfully.
“Is Miss Chloe stayin’ for supper?” Ruby came outside
Shona looked at Chloe and Chloe looked back at Shona. Shona nodded and raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘well? You’re welcome to’
“I’d love to…thank you” Chloe again looked at Shona who smiled
They both talked and stroked Storm who seemed to be on her best behaviour for once and went in when they were called for supper.
“Hi Miss Chloe!” Cuban greeted Chloe with genuine warmth
“Cuban..how are you?”
“I’m doing ok, here let me get your seat” Cuban held out Chloe’s chair and pushed it in when she sat down
“Thank you Cuban”
Shona sat right opposite Chloe which was pleasant and uncomfortable at the same time, luckily Ruby and Tom were never shy of conversation. Within ten minutes, the table was filled with laughter from funny stories to deep conversations. The only downside was that time was flying by.
“Kyle…It’s me…..Yeah….meet me at Reds…Nine o’clock” Larry Bruce slammed the phone down, he was livid and nothing but a big win at the casino with a constant refilling of his whiskey glass was get close to fixing it. Kyle was his partner in crime and now also a regular at Reds that didn’t exactly have the best reputation.
Chloe had never felt so relaxed, so welcomed and so joyful around a table. There was no talk about business deals or who had the most money, no talk of people getting fired, it was pure happiness and yet Chloe knew the horrendous time Shona and Cuban were going through at work, yet they still had room for compassion in their hearts.
“Well Shona can take you out ridin’ she’ll make sure you ride one of the more how should we say it….calmer horses.” Tom out Shona and Chloe on the spot after Chloe hinted that she missed horse riding.
“I’d really like that as long as it’s ok with you…Shona” Chloe was strangely nervous, but she needn’t be.
“That’d be great…don’t worry, I wont make you ride Storm”
The table laughed and Cuban lingered a look at Shona and Chloe, considering Shona considered her an enemy not too long ago, here she was sharing dinner with her, laughing and joking round a table.
“Drinks gentlemen..” The stunning waitress who caught the eye of Kyle brought 2 more drinks over to his VIP table where he and Larry had enjoyed a game of poker, both had lost which only heightened the mood to a new tension.
“My daughter…I don’t know her anymore, you know? Its like whatever I say to her, she doesn’t listen. And worse still she sympathises with niggers. Do you know what that could do to my reputation? “
Kyle nodded in understanding.
Larry continued “Tonight, I don’t even know where she is, she got up and left. I went to the function earlier but I couldn’t concentrate on a damn thing, all I had in my head was where my daughter was”
“She got any friends she might have gone to?”
“No idea…she doesn’t tell me anything”
“A…secret boyfriend?” Kyle took a swig as if to mask his fury at that option.
“Not that I know of…but you know how I feel about that, I want you to date my daughter, I can trust you. I want her and you take over the company when I’m long gone”
These words delighted Kyle, to actually hear that he would inherit an absolute fortune and all he had to do was date Larry Bruce’s stunning daughter, all his own private issues would be solved.
“That’s…very kind of you Larry. I’m honoured”
“In the meantime..I want you to keep an eye on my daughter, follow her. I’m worried she is getting mixed up with niggers and other low lives, will you do that Kyle?”
“It would be my pleasure Larry”
The clinked glasses
The following morning, at the work meeting all the regulars were round the table, Jeffrey Ellis was also there. Larry had talked about another client who put a lot of work his way.
“If we have to get them to work double shifts, so be it…its worth a lot of money this contract..”
Everybody nodded apart from Chloe. It’s not that she disagreed, her mind was just elsewhere and Kyle noticed.
After the meeting, Larry approached Ellis and asked for more money as he would need to pay the guys more wages and Jeffrey agreed, but reluctantly. He was growing more and more wary at giving Larry a blank cheque.
As soon as the meeting finished, Chloe shot out of the room, Kyle closely behind.
Shona was the first out of her, Cuban and Elbe to find a table at the 10am break time.
“Um…hows your morning been?”
“Boring…but don’t tell them I said that”
“Listen Shona…Thank you for last night, you have no idea how good it felt to be…normal. I really enjoyed myself. Tom and Ruby are adorable”
“That they are….and you’re welcome….anytime”
“You wanna meet up, go to the diner in town or something?”
“I gotta work all this week…sorry”
Shona had no excuse. Not that she wanted one. She was flattered at Chloe’s persistence.
“What’s perfect?” Elbe had his dinner tray and was sitting down opposite Shona who was next To Chloe.
“The apple pie that you make Elbe..” Shona joked. Elbe grinned. There was something strangely private about the conversation she was having with Chloe like she didn’t want to tell everybody.
“Hi Miss Chloe!”
“Hi Cuban….right I’ll let you all get on with you food. Have a good day” and Chloe left
“Now that is one beautiful young lady, some guy is gone be real lucky to snap her up” Elbe said dipping some bread in soup.
Chloe’s visit to Shona’s table didn’t go unnoticed, Kyle saw everything. He just wished he heard the conversation.
The week flew by, with the workers having to put in almost double shifts due to the new contract Larry had secured. Shona hardly saw Elbe or Cuban other than at the ten am break time. She didn’t see Chloe at all, it felt like months ago not days that Chloe had invited her out. It was Friday afternoon and Shona was a little worried that tomorrows meet wouldn’t happen. She looked up at the management offices and Chloe’s door was shut, so she looked around and decided to go up and ask. Something about it felt like it was a secret, she hadn’t even told Cuban or Elbe.
Most people had left for the day and Shona felt like she was creeping to Chloe’s lavish office almost like she wasn’t allowed or not invited. Chloe didn’t make her feel that way, but Shona’s position in society did.
Shona took a deep breath and knocked on the office door. No answer. Chloe gently knocked again and opened it, hoping she wasn’t disturbing.
“Hello?” Shona called out as she slowly ventured in. Chloe wasn’t in. Shona, feeling despondent stood there looking at Chloe’s office appreciating the wealth in there. She heard footsteps, perked up, turned round and got bumped into.
It was Kyle.
“Shona…what are you doing up here?”
Shona couldn’t tell him about tomorrow and she didn’t even know herself why she was in Chloe’s office.
“I um…was working late so wanted to see if Miss Chloe wanted a drink” Shona lied
“Shona…you and Miss Chloe are not the same, she is your boss as am I. You don’t belong up here unless you are getting promoted, hardly likely, or getting fired, which is more realistic. Do you understand me?”
“Yes….sir” Shona again burned Kyle with her blue eyes. She hated him with every inch of her.
“Oh and Shona…you’re working late right? There’s no extra pay for you or for the nigger. Consider it, working as a team. If you have a problem please feel free to complain to…Larry Bruce.”
It was like Kyle not only had to stick the knife in but twist it again and again.
Kyle left, Shona watched him walk over to Deputy Pauls office.
“Shona!” came a call from below, it was Chloe. Shona’s demeanour brightened immediately.
“There you are, I’ve been looking for you…we still on for tomorrow?” Chloe asked nervously.
“Yes…I’d like that” Shona replied.
Chloe would have no idea how much those words meant to Shona.
Ed’s diner was the finest diner in Daynes. It was Chloe’s favourite and familiarity is what she wanted as for some reason she was nervous about meeting Shona, whether it was because she was secretly worried about getting stood up again or what, she wasn’t sure.
Chloe took a seat in booth by the window near the door. She had arrived early and was on the lookout for Shona. Every time the door went, she looked up expectantly.
“Hi Miss Chloe”
Everybody knew Chloe and said hello when they walked by.
“Can I get you a drink Miss?” The waitress wearing the paper hat had some coffee.
“No thanks, I’m just waiting for somebody”
Shona just got of the bus and made the short walk to the front of Ed’s Diner.
She took a deep breath and walked in to Chloe’s relief.
“I’m sorry I’m late, I got the early bus but there were was an incident. A white woman wouldn’t refused to travel on the bus where there was an old black even though he was sitting in the correct seat”
“He was…literally kicked off the bus, he couldn’t move very fast, had a walking stick”
“Yeah…I just think of Cuban and what he must go through with the things he don’t tell me. The bruises give away most of it”
“I wish I could help him”
“You do..he speaks very highly of you”
The women chatted about general things. It was so pleasant that Chloe was being asked questions by somebody who had no agenda other than to listen.
Chloe was eager to deepen the conversation. Shona intrigued her, she was a mystery.
“So…why Daynes? Why Alabama? What’s your story Shona?”
Shona breathed deeply as if she was preparing to be unravelled in some way. It wasn’t comfortable for her, Chloe noticed Shona’s face change slightly.
They talked for around an hour about Shona’s past, well the elements that Shona wanted to share. Chloe was horrified about Shona losing her mom and how Shona had battled to make it in men’s jobs.
“Wreckers..” Shona said after the deep and meaningful conversation about her past
“Wreckers…a place in Mississippi I settled for a while after leaving Alabama. Wreckers was a big workshop, mainly for trucks, I was there for almost a year, the longest I’d been anywhere for a good while. The guys treated me well, I loved my job, saved up a little bit of money. It was great as they finished at midday on a Friday, time off if you needed it, the boss was all about looking after the staff It was the best place to work, good food too….” Then Shona faded as if recalling something painful.
“Why? Why if it was so good?”
Chloe looked at Shona directly in the eyes as if uncovering the answer. Shona felt that Chloe was as close as anybody had got to uncovering the truth. There was a split second between the two of them that was intense, like Shona was going to blurt out the painful past.
“Um…it don’t matter, let’s talk about something else” Shona was visibly uncomfortable.
“Ok…alright” Chloe was disappointed.
Somebody had put some money in the jukebox and ‘Its In His Kiss’ started playing. Shona and Chloe smiled at the inappropriate or indeed appropriate timing of the uplifting song as it lightened the heavy conversation.
“As it is this song that’s playin’, let’s play a game..” Chloe said, every minute that went past she seemed less and less like Shona’s boss. Shona looked confused.
“Okay…?” Shona replied
“Its called Make out, Marry or…kick to the kerb” Chloe said with a glint in her eye, she was seriously probing Shona now. Shona was sure that Chloe had just made this game up.
“Right…Um…what is it?”
“I’ll pick three guys and you tell me would you make out with them, marry them or kick ‘em to the kerb”
Chloe looked playful, her eyes bright. Shona didn’t see this side of Chloe when she was at work.
“No…I tell you what, you go first” Shona said decisively
“Ok..You pick the guys”
“Umm..let me see….Right, Ok……Randy, Kevin the delivery guy and …..Kyle”
Shona deliberately left Kyle until last, she wanted to see Chloe’s reaction.
“Ooooo….Ok… I would…make out with…..Kevin, he’s kinda cute but I know his lovely wife, I would marry Randy as he is so laid back and I would……kick Kyle to the kerb” Chloe said looking Shona in the eye whilst she sipped her milkshake.
That told Shona all she wanted to know.
“But we wont be telling that to anybody right?” Chloe playfully pleaded.
“Now it’s your turn Shona”
“No…no….listen can you make swans? Out of napkins?”
Shona was always skilful at changing the subject
“Excuse me?” Chloe was confused
“Swans..here..” Shona said then expertly made a perfect beautiful swan and handed it to Shona.
“My mother taught me that..” Shona looked a little lost for a minute
“Can you teach me?” Chloe asked
“I can try”
In the five attempts that even though they gradually got better, were not a patch on Shona’s swan.
“You keep touching your necklace. It’s beautiful” Chloe said
“My mom..she made it, it’s worth not a cent to anybody, but its worth all the money in the world to me. We went walking along a river nearby home on evening and she picked up this small pebble, somehow put a hole in it and thread some string through and I’ve never taken it off since she died. My father he….. was so annoyed… she never did anything like that for him. He was a jealous, bitter drunk and that’s the nicest part about him” Shona tried to make a quick joke at the end, but Chloe was heartbroken for Shona
“Why do you keep looking around? You seem nervous” Chloe asked Shona
“No reason I….Just don’t normally come into town that much if I can help it”
Chloe couldn’t help but think it, but she was convinced that somebody or indeed people were after Shona, could it be her father she was afraid of and that’s why she was nervous at being in public? But it took a lot for Shona to open up and Chloe was certain there was a good reason for it.
Chloe and Shona both said goodbye. Chloe offered to drive Shona back to the barn.
“Its ok..I’ll get the bus..but thank you. See you Monday”
Chloe slowly made her way back into Eds Diner.
“Can I have a coffee please?” Chloe didn’t want to go home yet, she didn’t want the night to end
Shona quietly came through the front door, careful not to startle anybody. It was late by the time she got dropped off at the top of the road by the bus.
She went to get undressed and could hear whimpering coming from Cubans bed area behind the divide. She cautiously went round quietly calling his name. She found a shivering wreck in bed.
“Shona….they are wherever I go…They show up when I leave work, they knockin’ on my window, I see them”
“Klan Shona…we are surrounded by Klan. They are just waiting for the right moment to take me out”
Shona comforted Cuban.
“Where you been tonight?”
“Yeah with um….Chloe, she invited me”
Cuban didn’t seem surprised
“That’s nice…that’s real nice” Cuban replied
“Can I get you….anything..Sir?” The sexy waitress dressed in a miniskirt at Reds was preying on her eager well known powerful customer who was drinking alone.
“How much…for you, for an hour?” he snapped
“I’m sure we can come to some arrangement” she led her customer into a private room in the VIP section.
Fucking this waitress went only a small way of Kyle being able to deal with the sting of rejection of not being able to get near Chloe and worse still her being seen with Shona in town.
The following week flew by, the new contract ensured that breaks were kept to a minimum, shifts were long and chat were short. Shona couldn’t remember seeing Chloe that week. She was tied up in meetings to hopefully extend the contract as it was bringing in a lot of revenue. She wondered how Chloe was, she could sense she wasn’t fully happy with her life eventhough most would kill to be in her position of wealth.
It was Friday afternoon and the contract had been fulfilled, there was more of a sense of relief, some of the guys went to the local bar to celebrate. Shona went to find Chloe.
“Hey….” Shona said quietly, peeking round the office door
“Hi” Chloes face softened at the sight of Shona and not that she was another worker demanding this or that
“You could say that…I’ve been drowning in paperwork…You?”
“The same….well, not the paperwork part” Shona smiled at her error
“You going to the bar with the guys?” Chloe asked
“No…I’ll leave them to it..you?”
“No…I got too much to do here still, let them be all macho, they don’t want their boss around” Chloe smiled
Shona had to keep reminded herself that Chloe was her boss.
“I’ll leave you to it…Bye” Shona went to leave
“Oh…good night” Chloe was a little sad Shona was leaving
Shona stopped after walking three steps and came back.
“You don’t want to….go out horse ridin’ do you? By the Weaver? Its beautiful this time of year…I understand if not, you’re busy..” Shona gestured towards Chloe’s paperwork
Chloe breathed out as if that was just what she needed
“You free tomorrow?”
Chloe and Shona made plans to meet at Shona’s barn to pick up two horses for the trek.
The following day, Chloe arrives dressed in more casual attire. Shona smiled as if she almost didn’t recognise her from her work clothes. Cuban was pleasantly surprised to see Chloe out back and wondered why Shona didn’t say anything before. There were some laughs shared with Tom and Ruby who were quickly growing very fond of Chloe.
“What did your mother and father say about you coming out to see me?”
Shona and Chloe were out riding at a very slow, comfortable pace, it was bliss. The sun wasn’t too hot, there was a slight breeze as they headed along the Weaver River in and out of trees.
“Um…they don’t know….I got changed in my car. I’m sure you know what my father is like”
Shona was a bit upset that she was so hated by the Bruces because she was poor and shouldn’t even be allowed to talk to Chloe socially let alone be enjoying these kind of times with her. But Chloe was mainly the one instigating, like she was lost herself as well as Shona and yet when they were in each other’s company, they were totally the same.
They walked some parts in complete silence and yet the atmosphere was relaxed.
“Here..” Shona stopped her horse and got off, then helped Chloe steady her horse to get off.
They settled for a light picnic on the river bank. They were totally alone. Chloe stretched out, arched her back and groaned as if she was in complete paradise.
“Like it?” Shona asked
“Like it? I love it, I can understand why you come out here” Chloe said looking around at the stunning view, the water just lapping up the bank.
“Yeah..this is my secret place” Shona said throwing a stone into the river
Chloe turns to Shona and momentarily just focuses on her side-on.
“I’m sorry for the way you get treated at work…you and Cuban. Its not my doing. I want to change things…for the better”
“I know you do…we see that. It must be hard for you too”
Chloe was astounded that Shona wasn’t bitter.
“I liked what you said about Wreckers….how they treat their staff. I’m gone take those ideas and see if I can…slowly put them into practice. Would that help things?”
Shona was amazed that Chloe had listened so intently back at Eds Diner.
“Well, it would help the guys I’m sure” Shona replied throwing another stone in the river
“What about you?”
“Me? I probably wont be there much longer….Kyle and your father will be pleased.”
Chloe’s face dropped
“Why? Where you goin?” Chloe asked
“I want to go to the west coast, I’m saving every cent, but its hard as Tom and Ruby are losing money as less and less people want to deal with them as they are ‘nigger lovers’. I have to put more and more money in, but it’s the least I can, they put a roof over my head”
“Um…when you thinking of leaving?” Chloe was genuinely upset. She had finally started to get to know Shona, and she really liked her.
“Cuban and I will probably leave in a couple of months, he will head north and me west.”
“I can’t say I blame you with how you’ve been treated but…I’m not gone lie, it will be a real shame..”
Chloe wanted to say more
“Look at this…” Shona again, changed the subject and drew Chloe’s attention to a stunning looking delicate pebble, that had shades of pink that glistened and handed it to Chloe
“It matches your scarf” Shona said noticing the flimsy pastel pink material loosely draped around Chloe’s neck.
Shona takes back the pebble and puts it in her pocket.
They talk for another two hours, lost in conversation from everything from politics to the weather, but Chloe notices that its her doing most of the talking and that Shona is an expert listener and when she does have something to say, Chloe hangs on every word.
“The clouds are comin’ in, we better get moving” Shona looks up then gets up from the river bank to untie her horse.
“Oh…what a shame, I was having a lovely time” Chloe replied huffing a little
“We can do it again if you want?”
“Yeah I’d like that” Chloe smiled and then looked around her, she felt free and at ease
Drip….Drip………………….Drip, …………………Drip, Drip
“Damn it…we wont make it in time” Shona said kicking her horse to motivate it into a trot
“Make what in time?” Just as Chloe responded, the heavens opened and they were still around fifteen minutes away from the barn.
“Damn it” Shona tried to get her horse to go quicker, but the downpour made the ground slippery, so she gave up, huffed with embarrassment and look behind at Chloe who was bobbing up and down a little out of control which made Shona smile.
“Well…too late now” Chloe said embracing the rain. Shona laughed and rolled her eyes.
Both their horses walked slowly back to the barn, they were in no hurry anymore, they were soaked wet through, but couldn’t stop laughing at the sight they must look.
“Easy girl..” Shona got off her mare and tied her up and then helped Chloe get off.
“Well…Its been an adventure, different!” Chloe said wiping her face of raindrops
“Don’t apologise…it’s the most fun I’ve had since….a long time…Thank you” Chloe said it genuinely looking at a soaking wet Shona, whose horse kept nudging her.
“Listen..I better go Shona…thank you again” Chloe said, Shona nodded and smiled, her heart was awkwardly beating a little faster, probably because of the adrenaline of being caught up in the torrential rain.
Shona tied up the horses securely, wiped her head with a cloth and made her way back in and Cuban startled her.
“You alright?” He said standing just behind the doorway, he would have heard the last part of the conversation between Chloe and Shona
“Yeah…Listen, its great…really great that you’re getting on with Miss Chloe, she’s amazing. The only thing I got against her is her father.”
“I know..” Shona didn’t mean to but she snapped her reply
“I don’t want you to go through anything like I do….If you are his enemy, you’ll know about it, and so will everybody else. You mixing with his daughter.-“
“I’m not mixing with his daughter!? We hang out! Whats the problem with that!?”
Shona snapped and went to walk off
“In my time of knowing you, I’ve never heard you angry at me…Whats going Shona, whats really going on?”
Cuban lowered his head to try to be level with Shona’s who dropped it, she had her back to Cuban.
“Can we just drop it?….Please…Cuban”
“Of course…I just want you to be careful that’s all, you’re dealing with dangerous people”
Shona heard Cubans words, but didn’t respond.
Cuban heard Shona punch some wooden pallets out of frustration. He had never seen Shona like this before.
Meanwhile, Chloe drove home, smiling to herself ‘what was she doing!’ she thought, but it was so much fun being around Shona and being able to feel free, she decided she was going to more of this and make the most of Shona before she left town. Still soaked, she quietly unlocked the front door and creeped in, trying to make it upstairs without anybody noticing.
“Where have you been young lady? We were worried, there was a terrible storm” Larry Bruce was at the bottom of the stairs, Chloe almost made it to the top.
“I’ve been out…riding” Chloe said, trying to use minimal amount of words
“I can see you’ve been out…You’re soaked through. Who in the hell you been with who wouldn’t think to take good care of my daughter”
Larrys cheeks went red with anger as he said it
“Shona… She gave me free riding lessons. I think that’s good of her right?” Chloe tried desperately to salvage some positivity, but Larry wasn’t having it.
“The mixed up nigger lover…..that’s who you’re choosing to spend your time with. I know she lives with Cuban….There are countless guys who would look after you, and you choose to go to a hut and get drenched, who knows how many people seen you!”
“This about me……or you father?” Chloe looked her father dead in the eyes and replied eerily calm.
“Don’t you dare speak to me that way! Don’t you dare!…We give you all this, all this! For you to throw it away and spend your time with nobodies who wished they had all this! Do you have any idea what that does to me and your mother!?”
Larry went up one step of the stair case as if to emphasise his point.
“If you only got to know them…..You’d wished you had their happiness rather than……all this……I’m having a bath”
Chloe instantly recalled the laughter around the table she had experienced at the Barn and verbally struck her father straight into his heart. For once, Larry was speechless with fury.
The rest of the weekend was spent in pretty much silence in the Bruce household. The atmosphere was thick with tension, nobody seemed to be able to talk to anybody. Chloe actually preferred it that way. She discovered new vigour for her drawing and painting after talking to Shona on that riverbank, and on the Sunday set about re-creating the Weaver river, she knew she wouldn’t get disturbed in her ‘den’ as her parents never went in there, they didn’t think she should be ‘wasting her time’ by painting and drawing anyway.
“Hi Miss Chloe, that scarf looks beautiful on you” Pat said admiring the same, but newly washed pink scarf she wore on the Saturday whilst out riding with Shona.
Pat owned the local convenience store in town, Chloe was on her way to work but forget, well, didn’t stay around long enough at home to make lunch so decided to buy a sandwich and whilst she was browsing, she saw and bought a small postcard of planet earth as there was big news around space travel going on.
“Thank you, Pat…and how are you?” Chloe knew that Pat was a gossip but made polite conversation anyway.
“Well….Its Monday, what can I say?” Pat huffed, Chloe mirrored a sympathetic huff.
Pat continued “But you on the other hand…I bet you had a great weekend!” and then cheekily winking at Chloe who was confused
Chloe instantly recalled her weekend, where on the Saturday she spent with Shona and loved every second of it, but how comes this drew such a reaction from Pat, and how did she know about it?
“I…don’t understand…?” Chloe thought it best to play dumb
“You know..?” Pat winked again
“No…I don’t know…what are you getting at Pat?” Chloe was slightly sterner.
“Kyle of course!…Now, I’m not one to gossip, but I heard that you and him have a bit of a thing going on..?”
Pat said smiling her ‘I know everything’ smile
“Did you? From who?” Chloe’s face dropped, she wasn’t happy, Pat noticed
“Um…well..Um from your mother initially when she bought a dress for you and the news just kinda spread, then Kyle came in a couple of days ago and I sort of…asked him…”
Pat seemed a little more cautious the more she spoke.
“…And…what did he say?” Chloe asked coldly
“He ermm…he said that things were slow, but moving in the um….right direction” Pat realised that it looked like a one way relationship
“Did he?…I’ll tell you this and I hope you spread it, like you do everything else, there is nothing and I mean nothing going on between me and that fool, d’you hear me!?”
Pat nodded her understanding, she had never seen Chloe like this ever. She was left in shock when Chloe left the store slamming the door behind her.
It was the ten AM break.
“My favourite time of day” Shona said as she took a seat next to Cuban and opposite Elbe
“You’re damn right it is” Elbe agreed
“Shona” It was Chloe, she called from behind, everybody looked round.
Still chewing, Shona said ‘hi’.
“Can I…talk to you for a moment?” Chloe asked
Cuban and Elbe looked knowingly at each other
“Yeah sure” Shona took another bite of her bread and got up and went off to a place quieter.
“Um…You ok? Hows everybody treating you?” Chloe lied, that wasn’t what she wanted to speak to Shona for.
“Um..Fine” Shona lied, she got abused every waking moment at work
Chloe bashfully went into her handbag, leaving Shona wondering what she doing.
“Here…I went to the store early this morning to get a sandwich and I saw this”
Chloe handed Shona the postcard of Planet Earth, Shona looked a little confused at the relevance, but remained polite.
Chloe continued “What you said…on the riverbank, that you wanted to be blasted up into one of those rockets that are goin’ up….well…this is the next best thing. This would be the view you’d have..”
Chloe looked nervous, a rare vision considering she was normally fiercely confident.
“I love it….thank you…Thank you” Shona said cooly, she was still surprised, the moment was then a little awkward so Shona did what she did best and changed the conversation ‘Listen I need to get back to work…thank you again for this, very sweet”. Shona put the picture in her pocket, nodded and went back. Chloe felt like an idiot.
“What!?” She snapped
“Um..can you sign this…just here” delivery guy Kevin felt the full brunt of Chloe’s embarrassment.
“What was that all about?” Cuban asked Shona who seemed to avoid him when she went outside
“What?” Shona tried to deflect
“You….and the boss?”
“Nothing, she was just asking if…things were ok with us, all of us three” Shona lied and Cuban knew she was too, but what was she covering up?
When Shona got home, the first thing she did was carefully fix the postcard to the wall space beside her bed and she just stared at it, in hope of how free the picture made her feel, perplexed at Chloe’s gesture.
“Hey..” Cuban knocked on the diving wall at the barn
“Where’d you get that?” Cuban gestured at the picture
“Umm….Chloe gave it to me…I mentioned to her how I wanted to go up in one of those stupid rockets….Just like you mentioned you wanted to read and gave you those books”
Shona looked Cuban in the eye as if to deflect any other suggestion that was polluting his mind.
“Uh huh…..” Cuban wasn’t convinced “Let’s go Cell Block tonight, we haven’t hung out in a while….and I won’t take no for an answer, you hear?”
Shona huffed a reluctant ‘yes’ and got ready.
Cuban and Shona arrived to a bustling Cell Block, this time the location was on the corner of a dimly lit part of town, people inside hoping Klan won’t know about the converted storage house. Many people came up to them to say hi, Shona was well liked because of what she was doing for Cuban.
For once the conversation didn’t flow as well as it usually did between Cuban and Shona. It was more Cuban making the effort and Shona giving one or two answers. That was until there was a bit of a commotion to Shona’s right, Maria a lady in her 40s looked devastated and was being guided by people to a table next to her.
“Whats up with Maria?” Shona asked Cuban discreetly, music was playing, but not very loud so as to not give away the location
“Klan….Klan abducted her only child…Woody. He’s been missing two days now…don’t look good. The poor son of a bitch can’t exactly run with half his right foot getting chopped by ‘em when he was younger”
“Yep…that’s about all can help him. The Sherriff aint interested”
Shona sipped her drink and looked away, Cuban looked at her carefully.
“Maybe you could ask….Chloe” Cuban said quietly
Shona’s head shot back, Cuban carried on “Well…I’ve seen how you two get on, you got an understanding. She seems like she wants to help all the time, maybe she can talk to the Sherriff?”
Shona nervously takes another sip
“I don’t know her that well…I mean, if I see her I can ask”
Cuban smiled with gratitude, there was a least some hope.
Maria started to cry uncontrollably and Shona immediately turned round to comfort her and whispered in her ear ‘We will find your boy….we will find him’.
The next day, first thing. Shona sprints up the winding steps to the management offices with intent. She arrives at Chloe’s door which is shut. She knocks on it and hears ‘Come in’ in an assertive voice.
“Oh..sorry, didn’t mean to disturb” Shona’s demeanour dropped as she went in and saw Kyle the other side of Chloe’s desk.
“That’s ok…we were about finished here” Chloe gestured to Kyle that that was the end of their unnecessary meeting that he called just so he could be close to Chloe. Chloe on the other hand seemed to welcome the intrusion.
Kyle, with inner embarrassment collected some files, got up, eyeballed Shona and left.
“Shut the door if you want” Chloe said, which Shona did
“Sit down, sit down” Chloe pointed towards the chair used by Kyle.
“It’s ok…Um…I don’t even think it’s right that I ask but…You’re kinda the only hope for these people.” Shona looked nervous, Chloe frowned in anticipation
She continued “There’s a boy…a black boy that has been abducted by Klan…..he’s missing for two or three days now, but the Sherriff won’t listen to Maria the mother. She just wants to know what’s happened to her only child….especially as she lost her husband to Klan a few years ago.”
Chloe’s eyes were filling up with emotion, she could only think about the horror.
Shona continued ‘Will you…speak to the Sherriff? He’ll listen to you”
Chloe sat back in her chair, breathed out at the responsibility that was put to her and not sure how to act, whether to be Shona’s friend or boss.
“Shona I can’t…and I won’t promise anything, I don’t want nobody getting their hopes up, but I’ll speak to the Sherriff…if it helps”
Shona’s smile lit her face making her blue eyes sparkle, Chloe mirrored a smile.
“Thank you…thank you so, so much….I’ll leave you in peace” Shona quietly left the office.
“Hartley! Get your ass in here! When I say I like my tea strong, I mean it! I aint drinking this shit! “
Sherriff Kendrick was feared in the office, he stomped around, shouted and smoked countless cigars like a chimney that was on a good day
“Sorry Sherriff, let me sort that for you…” That was deputy Sherriff Hartley who was keen to impress his intimidating boss
“Um Sherriff…we have Miss Bruce asking for you”
“Who!?” Snapped the Sherriff
“Miss Chloe Bruce…she is asking for you especially” the frightened receptionist was constantly in fear she would say the wrong thing.
“Send her through…….”
Chloe Bruce amidst stares from those in the local police station made her way straight to the Sheriffs office, everybody else had to make do with whoever was on shift.
“Miss Bruce..how can I be of service this lovely afternoon?” the Sherriff asked with an air of smarm.
“Hi Sherriff…..I wanted to know the update of a missing boy, a….black boy called Woody, his mother is Maria..she live-“
“A nigger?….You come here about a nigger…..Your father know about this Miss Chloe?” The Sherriff interrupted
“Um..No why would he?” Chloe was confused
The Sherriff grinned ‘Carry on..”
“She has been in here before to ask for help so I….just wanted to know the progress…?”
Chloe was asking but she and the Sherriff both knew that there was nobody from the Sherriffs department looking for Woody, he was a nigger and that was that.
“I’m sure my boys have followed procedure, but um….to make you happy Miss Chloe I’ll have them look for the boy and even visit Maria to let her know….hows that for service?”
Sherriff Kendrick took a puff on his cigar eager to impress the beautiful Chloe daughter to the most powerful and feared man in most of Alabama.
“I appreciate it….thank you” Chloe replied sincerely.
She left the Sherriffs office hopeful and quite proud of herself that she could put her power and influence to good use, she was looking forward to telling Shona.
“Larry..? Yeah it’s me……I’m good….Listen, your daughter’s just been in here…asking me to go look for a nigger….What’s she getting mixed up with? Yeah, course I won’t….I know what to do”
Sherriff Kendrick put down the phone to Larry Bruce who he could tell was furious with his daughter, but this had to played carefully.
“Chloe…Hi” Shona was alone and was pleasantly surprised she saw Chloe who seemed eager to speak to her that she joined her at the table. It didn’t go unnoticed, Kyle was in eyesight.
“I spoke to the Sherriff, he said he will look into it and send some officers around to Maria” Chloe was pleased with herself especially when she saw how happy Shona was.
“Oh Miss Chloe…that’s fantastic…It really is…Thank you so much….”
“You’re welcome” Chloe replied smiling, so caught up that she didn’t see Elbe and Cuban sitting down either side and infront of her.
“Hi…Cuban…Elbe…..I better go, but um..let me know if you hear of anything” Chloe asked hopefully. She got up and went back to her office
“You two….Good to see you getting along there” Elbe said taking a bit of his sandwich
“What?…Oh…She’s hopefully trying to help find Woody”
“Woody?” Elbe was confused
“I’ll explain later Elbe…..Shona, really? That’s quick! Jesus what did you say to her to make her act so fast? Maria will be real happy….”
Shona spent the rest of that break in silence, head down eating her food. It didn’t go unnoticed by Cuban.
The following day before work had started, Shona found Elbe in his tool room, he was writing in his diary.
“Dynamite….what’s in here is pure dynamite I tell you!….Mornin’ Shona”
“Morning…Listen you got anything that will put a hole in this?” Shona pulled out the thin, small pebble that she found on the riverbank when she was with Chloe
“Sure…this should do it” Elbe handed Shona a screw type tool.
“What’s it for?” Elbe asked curiously
“I saw it…and I liked it…” Shona kept it brief
With ease, she punctured a perfect hole in the stunning pebble and threaded some tough, white string through it. Perfect.
“This the one?”
“Yeah…knock on the door”
2 Police officers from the Sheriffs department approach Maria’s home in the late afternoon, the sun was just setting. Maria looked out the window even before they knocked, she was frightened at what they might say.
“Hello….” Maria peeked out the front door.
“We been sent by the Sherriff after a report from Miss Chloe Bruce that your boy is missing, that correct?”
“That’s right” Maria struggled to hold it together, the mere mention of her sons name brought tears to her eyes.
“Well, just to let you know we have men looking for him and we will be in contact as soon as we find anything”
“Bless you! Thank you! I’ll thank Miss Chloe too…Thank you, what lovely gentlemen you are!”
Maria was overcome with emotion, tears streaming uncontrollably down her face as she watched the two officers return to their car.
They got in, made sure they were out of earshot and looked at eachother and smiled.
“I thought we did well there…to think she actually believed that we would spend more than one minute searching for her nigger son….But hey…we did as we were told by the Sherriff…”
They drove off sniggering.
In the barn, Cuban walked in and looked at Shona staring at the postcard.
“You ok?” Cuban was concerned, Shona seemed more distant.
“No reason…” Cuban didn’t prod anymore….this time
Shona saw that Chloe had arrived early to work, even before Kyle so she took the opportunity to go up and say thank you.
“Hi Shona” Chloe greeted Shona with a warm smile “You ok?”
“Yeah..yeah I’m fine…you?”
“Um yes….” Chloe responded, the moment a little awkward
“Oh…yeah…Um…I just wanted to say Thank You you know for….trying to help Maria and…for helping us”
“Well..they haven’t found Woody yet, so I don’t know how much good I have done” Chloe smiled as she appreciated the appreciation, this was rare.
“Well…lets hope they do eh?….Another thing was…I made you something, I mean, you gave me that postcard….I wanted to give you this……it’s the pebble from the Weaver riverbank. Hopefully to remind you of good times if things….get you down at all”
Shona’s heart was thudding. Chloe was silent for what felt like an eternity.
Shona quickly continued “I mean, you don’t have to wear it, you probably got like diamond necklaces…but…um I don’t know…I’ll leave you to it”
“Wait….Shona it’s beautiful, the way it catches the light…it sparkles like a diamond anyways!” Chloe replied smiling showing her perfect white teeth.
“I love it….I’ll put it on now”
Shona witnessed Chloe struggled to tie it without losing grip with the other hand but refrained from helping. Eventually it stayed put and looked stunning round her neck.
“Well,it looks great….Listen…you wanna come Cell Block? They will love you”
Shona explained all about Cell Block and the hope that she would meet Maria there. Just before Chloe gave her an answer, they were interrupted.
“Hows my little ray of sunshine..?” Kyle walked in not realising Chloe had company trying to smarm his way.
“Kyle…” Chloe replied coldly. He stopped dead in his tracks.
“You!? Again?…Can you not see your boss is far too busy to be dealing with you, you have Ron Black to listen to your moans…get outta here!” Kyle shouted at Shona who didn’t need telling twice to get out of Kyle’s space.
“Kyle…don’t be rude! Shona I’ll catch up with you later about that idea, I’d love to do it!!
Shona grinned, and left with a smile not caring that Kyle would be furious.
“What on earth is that round your neck?….You need a man to buy you diamonds not cheap rubbish….”
Chloe sighed. The first opportunity she would get she would kick Kyle out of her office.
Back Home after work, Chloe was upstairs brushing her hair and putting it up in different ways to show off her necklace.
“Miss Chloe!?…You have a delivery” The housekeeper called up the stairs after hearing a knock at the door and saw there was a bunch of hand picked flowers wrapped in coloured paper with a note for Chloe.
Chloe came the stairs not entirely sure who would send her flowers. She opened up the envelope and was pleasantly surprised.
Dear Miss Chloe,
My heart burst with joy when I heard that you had helped in trying to find my son, I will be forever grateful.
You are a gift,
Chloe smiled, she appreciated the sentiment, but she knew she would have to hide the note that came with the flowers.
A couple of welcomed uneventful days passed and Chloe met Cuban and Shona at the Cell Block one evening after work. People started to trust Chloe even despite her surname as she had stuck her neck out to look for Woody and word got round.
Soft swing Blues played in the background and Cuban, Chloe and Shona got used to people coming up to their table and thanking Chloe for trying to look for Woody, and some just wanted to ‘look’ at Chloe. They couldn’t believe somebody of her influence wanted to spend her busy time with them and cause them no harm.
“What do you think?” Shona asked Chloe over the music
“Here?…The atmosphere..” Shona asked looking round, Cuban sipped his drink listening to Chloe’s reply.
“I love it, it’s a shame it’s all a secret”
“Yep…for their own safety” Shona looked sad looking at all the happy faces who finally felt like they had a place to relax, even if only temporarily until they had to move to the next secret location.
“I wish that…one day they wont have to be hidden, I’m working on it” Chloe said to Shona as if to promise her and somehow impress her. Shona was impressed, she knew Chloe had massive power and influence, but her father was a major obstacle, he would go crazy if he caught Chloe here.
“So Cuban, you gone give us a few bars?” Shona smiled as if to include Cuban in the conversation.
“Yeah…why not? They got some guitars all ready, I’m gone go and check ‘em out” Cuban got up and went to speak to a group of musicians that Cuban knew, they were only too happy for Cuban to jam along within the next ten to fifteen minutes.
Chloe huffed and sighed, Shona frowned.
“Whats up?” Shona asked, concerned
Chloe appeared tearful “You know something, I’ve never felt so free….so….happy. Its like I’m discovering new things all the time. I can be me here, I haven’t got to impress anybody be in charge of anybody, close deals…..Its just bliss”
Chloe wiped a lone tear, the music was powerful and probably added to the emotion that Chloe was feeling. Shona looked Chloe in the eyes and felt really sorry for her. She maybe wealthy, but she was as trapped as everyone of those under this roof.
“It’s gone be ok…It’s gone be ok…You’re always welcome here. Look, they love you.” Shona gestured with her head to look around and see the occasional admiring glance which made Chloe smile up to her eyes that were glistening from tears caught in the low lighting of the room.
“Miss Chloe!….” Maria came in a spotted Chloe sitting with Shona and made a bee-line.
“Hi” Chloe replied
“This is Maria, Woody’s mother…” Shona interrupted
“Oh!….Hi, listen, thank you for my flowers, they were beautiful. I really hope the Sherriff finds your son” Chloe said with both her hands on the tops of Maria’s arms.
Shona stood back and admired this coming together. Never did she think somebody with ‘Bruce’ in the surname be so compassionate with a black person. The two women shared some more kind words and Maria left Chloe to get back to her drink.
“So…Shona of few words….Was there a man back in Alabama or Mississippi?” Chloe asked just as she sipped her drink, she was getting braver as the alcohol entered her bloodstream.
“No… What about you?” Shona deflected perfectly.
“Uh uh…As your boss, I’m ordering you to tell me more” Chloe was looking tipsy and playful all of a sudden, Shona was sober as a judge and felt uneasy, she knew Chloe didn’t mean to make her feel that way.
“That’s a long, boring story….”
“The reason you left? Chloe probed
“Yes..kinda…..Yeah” Shona confirmed
“Well…we got time” Chloe missed her mouth slightly and spilt her drink, Shona mopped it up on the table with a napkin, grinning at the situation. How can she look Chloe in the eye again as a boss.
“But here isn’t the place…another time maybe”
“Ooohh…..I wanna know whats behind the cool, mysterious Shona that nobody knows about” Chloe was getting drunk quickly
“Trust me, you don’t….It’s not a pretty story” Shona’s answer only intrigued Chloe more.
Chloe and Shona looked at each other for a second too long. Shona was convinced that it was because Chloe had to focus harder due to the drink.
“Anyway” Shona added “It looks like Cuban is about to perform” Shona got her seat and turned it to face the stage, Chloe quickly sobered up, she had never felt so relaxed.
Cuban expertly played some blues on his guitar along with two other musicans, the audience tapped along to the soothing beat. Chloe was impressed.
“Excuse me….excuse me miss”
Chloe turned to her left and saw a young black kid, he couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17, he looked nervous, he was sweating and breathing fast.
“Hello…?” Chloe answered, Shona turned her head to see as well.
“I got paid to give you this note from somebody outside” The young boy handed Chloe a note.
Get out now, for your own safety.
When Chloe looked up the boy had vanished. She sobered up even more, took a deep breath and showed Shona.
“We need to get Cuban” Shona interrupted Cubans performance. He was puzzled until he was told about the note, all three of them made their way out of the Cell Block. They didn’t know why Chloe would be in danger inside there.
“Who the hell wrote this?” Cuban asked looking at the note round the side entrance of Cell Block with Chloe and Shona nearby
“No idea…I don’t fear anybody in there, that’s crazy” Shona was confused.
In two minutes flat, chaos erupted.
Screams and cries were heard with many running out of The Cell Block to be taunted by guys in white masks- Klan.
The Cell Block was being set alight, Shona, Cuban and Chloe all ran in the opposite direction to safety as far enough where they could catch their breath. They could see in the distance roaring flames consuming the peaceful bar they had just enjoyed being in.
“My god” Chloe said quietly, she was in shock as the three of them hid behind a wall.
“Welcome to my world” Cuban said, eyes reflecting the flames in front of them, breathing heavy from shock.
“Whoever did that” Shona pointed towards where The Cell Block once stood “wrote that damn note and didn’t want you harmed. They been following you, they saw you walk in”
Chloe had thought that, but didn’t want to believe it, that she had led the Klan here and worse still somebody she knew was in the KKK and didn’t want her harmed.
“Your father?…..Do you think its him?” Shona asked Chloe gently, there was no other way of putting it.
“I don’t know, I didn’t tell him where I was coming tonight, I can’t see his car anywhere, I mean…would he do that?” Chloe was upset at the thought of her father instigating such horror, Shona knew he would do that.
Once the Klan were out of sight and vanished as quickly as they arrived, the three of them helped people who were injured and eventually went home, almost in silence.
Somebody was clearly sending them a message and now people were getting hurt.
If whoever was following Chloe wanted to warn her about who she spends time with and to separate them, it worked. That night at The Cell Block had frightened them all. Other people were at risk of getting hurt.
The next eight to nine days whereby Chloe didn’t hardly speak to Cuban and Shona went by with no other issues, warnings or violence. Shona found it agonising to listen to Chloe’s speeches at work without saying ‘hi’ afterwards, or going up to her office to invite her out with her and Cuban, or to go to Ed’s Diner again.
“You ok?” Cuban asked sitting down at the 10am break, Shona who was picking at her food
“Yeah…you?” Shona lied
“I know its bullshit, but people don’t get hurt this way. She’s in a different league anyway. We have to protect her too remember, her kind aint gone be happy if she’s talking to a nigger, can you imagine what that could cause in this town if she was seen to be doing that. There would be a downright war?” Cuban tried but failed to make Shona feel any better. Shona felt good when she was around Chloe and that’s all she remembered, she could talk to her, listen to her and she was great company especially as she felt she could start to finally open up to her. But whoever it was, was making sure the divide stayed.
“Or she could make it so we all live together.” Shona said with a hint of hope and perhaps naivety.
“That aint never gone happen Shona, not in our lifetime. I haven’t known peace anywhere I’ve been, even when we had had a hundred whites on our side. The organisation always win. We just have to….keep moving, keep hiding” Cuban said with despair in his voice.
“I know….” Shona got up and went back to work without touching her food.
Elbe saw Shona leave and came over.
“She alright?” Elbe asked
“Not really….” Cuban sighed then pushed his food away.
Shona stomped outside to get back to work early, along the way she met delivery guy Kevin who was looking happy with himself.
“Hi Shona…you seen Miss Chloe..?”
“No I aint” Shona snapped back
“Oh…I need to give her this package” Kevin looked innocently upbeat
“She’s in there somewhere” Shona in the past offered to take the packages up to Chloe, but reluctantly she didn’t offer, it was best for everybody.
“Thanks….Oh and Shona…You live in the barn don’t you? By the Weaver?”
“Ermmm…take care, there’s so bad weather comin’ in tonight that’s all”
Shona didn’t even thank Delivery Kevin, she was in too much of a bad mood.
“How was your day Cuban?” Ruby gave him a drink after he washed his hands.
“Ok…You seen Shona?”
“Only briefly…she came in, got changed then took Storm out… I said the weather is turning but she seemed a bit distant, she ok?”
“Just work things that’s all….thanks for this” Cuban raised his glass and went into his bedroom.
Shona was out galloping on Storm which was almost like suicide, but it seemed to help Shona with the recent frustrations. She somehow managed to control Storm for a minute or two to catch her breath, she then headed towards the River Weaver and slowed to a trot to retrace the steps she was with Chloe before.
“Damn weather is on the turn!” Tom came in covered in oil after working on his truck.
“Shona is still out on Storm” Ruby looked a bit concerned.
“What she doing out….The heavens are gone open up!?” Tom said turning on the taps to wash his hands.
Shona has slowed Storm to a walk and watched the sun set beautifully, but she could see the angry clouds gather and knew she should be making her way back, but something kept her out, she felt free out here, like she could think what she wanted, do what she wanted.
“Damn it” Shona said out loud as if Storm would respond.
“Come on girl, let’s go” Shona pulled on the reigns to steer Storm who started bucking.
The roar of thunder spooked Storm who was attempting to throw Shona off. The rain started pelting and stinging Shona’s skin, somehow she managed to control Storm enough to get back at the barn soaking wet, again.
“What the hell you doing out there in this!?” Tom scolded Shona
“I didn’t know it would rain” Shona snapped, witnessed by Cuban who was getting more and more concerned at the change in character of his best friend who was becoming more and more distant.
She went to run a bath passing Cuban in the hallway, but they both didn’t say a thing.
“Nice bath?” Cuban asked as Shona came into her room. He peered round the divide making sure she was fully dressed.
They could hear the rain pelting on the roof.
“Yeah” Shona replied
“Listen, you’re not yourself…..I can see that…I’m worried about you, you’re my friend.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting’ at Cuban?” Shona replied not being able to look Cuban in the eye, she was fiddling with her bedsheets trying to tuck them in properly.
“Chloe…” Cuban said sternly, he witnessed Shona’s head spin to him at the mention of her name
“What about her?”
“I don’t know what’s going’ on but you’ve changed. I’m worried you’re gone get hurt.”
“Cuban, I don’t know what you think you know…but you don’t know anything, you understand?”
He was shocked at how angry Shona was towards him, the days of her being gentle, appearing carefree seemed a thing of the past, she seemed to snap back at him with venom.
“Ok….here it is….I think you have some kind of feeling towards Miss Chloe. There I said it…now, am I wrong?”
The hail got louder and the wind got up, luckily the animals were in safe, but it only added tension to the thick atmosphere between Shona and Cuban as they heard barn doors banging.
“What in the hell are you sayin’!? How dare you think you know me! You of all people!”
Chloe shouted, she needed to, the rain was at full pelt.
“Me of all people….me off all people!? Meaning a nigger right!” Cuban snapped back himself
Shona didn’t look at him, she regretted what she said, but she was hurt.
Cuban continued “So I start asking some truths about my friend…and you come back with the most hurtful thing, my god….Shona, maybe I didn’t know you at all, maybe you are like the rest of them!”
“Me!?…I found you, you son of a bitch, took you in, convinced Tom and Ruby they should let you stay despite them getting shit from everybody in town and being called nigger lovers, I get treated like shit at work along with Elbe for defending you…but yeah…I’m like the rest of them! How fucking dare you compare me to all those animals out there who want nothing more than to kill you ‘cause they despise you!”
Shona was almost breathless after her rant.
“Spoke from the heart there, Shona….Like you know what it’s like” Cuban probed. He knew he had to try and stay calm.
“What what’s like?” Shona looked at Cuban almost with disgust, she felt the most uncomfortable she had felt in a long time.
“What being despised is like…That’s why you’ve helped me so much isn’t it, you understand how I feel, ‘cause you’ve gone through the same thing …?” Cuban was treading on dangerous ground, he didn’t know if Shona was going to flip out or cry.
She did both.
Tears were forming in Shona’s eyes, she was pacing up and down, almost reluctant to let them fall as if in some way, she was letting go of some deep rooted dark secrets that would haunt her more if those tears escape and spilled her feelings. She didn’t plan on telling anyone about them, least of all Cuban in this situation.
Shona started to repeatedly punch one of the wooden doors with all her might, Cuban got up and tried to restrain her, but she was damn strong and she managed to fend him off to continue punching to the point her knuckles were bleeding badly.
“Shona! Stop it!…..Stop it Shona!” Cuban pleaded getting up to grab her again.
“What in the hell is going on it here!” Tom burst through the door after hearing the commotion, he saw Shona punching the door, look up towards him and Cuban took the opportunity again to grab her and they both fell backwards, Cuban still holding her. This time Shona didn’t struggle, she burst into tears, wailing in places,Cuban not saying a thing, he realised Shona needed to be held, just held. Cuban could feel her heart pounding and felt the drips of blood on his hands coming from Shona’s knuckles.
“Tom! Tom!…..” Ruby ran through the door panicking. Cuban and Shona had never seen her like this. She was startled to see Cuban and Shona laying on the floor with Shona sobbing.
“What!?” Tom replied with same urgency
“It’s coming!” Ruby looked horrified
“We gotta go! Now!” Tom went over to help Cuban and Shona up
“Come on Shona, come on..” Cuban whispered in Shona’s ear who was almost drunk on emotion, she was exhausted, but she somehow heard over the noise of the hailstones and complied.
“Come on! We’re in its path!” Ruby gestured to everybody to get inside the house, they had a basement where they were heading for.
“What!?” Cuban couldn’t hear properly
“A twister! There’s a twister coming straight for us!” Tom shouted.
This seemed to ‘wake’ Shona up who went into protective mode, She ensured that doors were locked behind, made sure Tom and Ruby got down the basement stairs safely. At one point, for a split second, it was between her and Cuban who would last to go down the steps, they both wanted to protect each other despite what had gone on in the previous ten minutes, they genuinely cared for eachother. They could hear the roar of the twister coming, animals were screeching. It was close.
“Get down the damn steps Shona! Do as you’re told for once in your life!” Cuban pleaded. Shona gave in, but made sure her friend came down safely too and when there was a slight problem closing and locking the hatch, Shona shot back up the steps to help. They both jumped off the rungs just as they felt the twister was as close as it was going to be to them. They landed with a thud, but they were safe and just needed to wait it out.
“Thank god you two are safe” Ruby hugged them both tightly.
They waited for five minutes underground with little light and could feel the journey the twister was making above them. They were in silence as if sensing it’s every powerful move, hoping the animals had made it.
Tom, out of breath nodded and said ‘Thanks you two, if you hadn’t have shut that, we might have all been sucked up into that damn monster. I don’t have the strength anymore to do that lock…” He looked forlorn, like he realised age was catching up with him.
Shona and Cuban just looked at each other knowing there was lots unsaid between them, but in this moment, they were both happy they were safe.
“What was going on between you two anyway?” Tom asked as the roar above them was fading as fast as it had arrived.
“Shona was a little upset, somebody back home died…” Cuban lied, taking the pressure off of Shona who looked at Cuban with a little appreciation.
“Oh I’m sorry Shona…” Ruby gave her a hug, Shona held on tight.
“Let’s go and see the damage” Tom said sighing. Unfortunately there was more than a few occasions that the barn had been wrecked, he tried to build it stronger every time.
“Damn it…” Tom looked upset as he saw that the twister had ripped through one of the stables and one of the horses had gone.
Some fences looked chewed up, the truck was on its side and some of the cattle had gone. All four of them came out to inspect and picked up things that had got strewn.
“Well….I’m just grateful we are all ok, the barn is still standing, and it could have been a lot worse” Ruby had a natural maternal instinct and was grateful her ‘family’ escaped unharmed.
“It looked like it headed into town…Hope everybody is ok” Tom said looking out on the horizon.
Cuban and Shona still hadn’t spoken directly to each other, they just mirrored each other’s actions of tidying up the carnage.
The town was in chaos for a few days, and Jeffrey Ellis shut the business for minimum of three days as a lot of workers had severe damage to their houses which was their priority. He agreed to still pay the workers full pay, this was when his town needed him and he stepped up and stepped in to help where he could. Larry Bruce on the other hand complained at all the work that wasn’t getting down and all the money they were losing out on.
Chloe kept out of the way, attended the occasional meeting out of town but spent a lot of her time in her den drawing and painting. It was a period of change, division and at the same time, the town came together.
One morning, five days after the twister, life was slowly getting back to some normality for Ruby and Tom as they hadn’t been as hard hit as others, they were sitting down at breakfast. They could tell there was some tension between Shona and Cuban. Both were at breakfast as Ruby had insisted on it, but they were adults and she could only do so much.
“Can you um…pass the juice please Shona” Tom asked cautiously, Shona hadn’t uttered a word.
She passed the juice, Tom and Ruby looked at each other knowingly, thinking it must be the friend who passed away back home like Cuban said.
“I need to go and..check on Storm” Shona made her excuse and left the table which was in silence.
“Whats going on?” Tom asked Cuban
“I don’t know…I don’t know” Cuban slowly got up, thanked Ruby for breakfast and slumped in the living room chair.
“Who’s this coming down our road?” Ruby spied out the kitchen window, some dust coming from the wheels of an expensive looking car.
“It’s Miss Chloe” Tom squinted and saw the familiar bright red deluxe motor.
Cuban heard and got up to go to the front door and he opened it before she had got out of the car.
“Miss Chloe…” Cuban said tipping his invisible hat
“Cuban…hi….how are you all after the storm?” Chloe seemed genuinely concerned.
“Not too bad, just getting back to normal…I know some people got hit a lot harder. Anybody hurt?”
“Unfortunately yes…Three guys are in hospital from work” Chloe said their names, but Cuban didn’t know them, but wished them his best
“Would you like some tea?” Ruby came out and invited her in.
“Is Shona in?” Chloe asked cautiously, Cuban noticed.
“Yeah, she’s out back…I’ll go get her, come in, come in” Tom came out to gesture Chloe in.
“Between me and you….Shona hasn’t been herself. We can’t for the life of us get to the bottom of it, so she could do with a friend right now” Ruby whispered as she held onto Chloe’s arm as she went inside the barn.
Chloe’s stomach churned.
“Shona! You got a visitor!” Tom hollered
Chloe seemed nervous, blew out her cheeks discreetly and sat down at the breakfast table whilst Ruby fixed her some tea. Cuban observed closely.
“So…what kind of damage happened here?” Chloe asked
Tom and Ruby explained about the animals, fences and the funny story of how they managed to get the truck upright.
Chloe was smiling at the story when Shona walked into the kitchen shocked at seeing her boss after what seemed like a long while.
“Miss Chloe” Shona said coldly, aware Cuban was watching everything.
It was awkward.
“I just came by to see how….everyone was after the dreadful storm.”
“We’re fine……thanks” Shona replied looking directly at Chloe, eyes emotionless.
“Ok…..Well I’ll um…leave you all to it, let me know if you need help with anything, Jeffrey Ellis has got a team together to help the town”
Chloe said towards Tom and Ruby who had warm faces.
“He’s a good man…a real good man” Tom replied not realising that he was technically saying that Larry Bruce wasn’t.
Shona watched Chloe leave out the living room window, Tom and Ruby chatting to her as she got into her car. They had grown fond of Chloe and the feeling was mutual. Cuban waited in the hallway and spied Shona strutting outside in the yard where Storm was kept.
Chloe drove away confused, upset and a little empty. She had lost Shona from her life, but she knew she would also be losing Tom, Ruby and Cuban just as she had got to know them. She needed some genuinely friendly faces round her at the moment too. She drove home in a blur.
He had had enough, he wasn’t going to hold back. Cuban was going after Shona to get answers.
“Sir?….I’m sorry to bother you at home sir” Ron Black was invited in by Jeffrey Ellis’s wife and saw him sitting in his armchair looking over some figures that he wasn’t happy with, they didn’t add up, but his face lit up when he saw Ron, he liked him.
“Ron! Come in son!….take a seat”
“Thank you…I wont take up too much of your time sir, but I was thinking of Ellis and Bruce doing something good for this town, to raise money and spirit in the aftermath of the storm…”
“Maybe something like a fete or….anything like that to help some of the families get back on their feet. I mean how can we expect them to concentrate at work if they don’t have a roof over their heads?”
“I like it Ron….I like it….You spoke with Bruce?” Jeffrey said taking off his reading glasses and putting one end on his lips.
“No sir…I um…wanted to speak to you first, I felt like you would be more open to….listening….if you know what I mean?”
“I understand” Ellis gave Ron a warm smile of understanding. He knew exactly what he meant. Larry Bruce wouldn’t even entertain the idea of being compassionate to anybody else, but if it came from Ellis, he would have to do it.
“Let me know what you need” Ellis said ready to listen.
“Shona….What the hell is going on here!? Miss Chloe made a special visit to come see us and you treated her real bad! I thought you liked her!?”
Cuban was frustrated and confused towards his friend who he felt he was becoming more and more distant to.
Shona was grooming Storm who was nodding her head as if picking up the unsettled vibes from Shona.
“Easy girl…easy…” Shona whispered to Storm
“Shona? Did you hear me?” Cuban came nearer
“Yes I heard you!….She will end up being like the rest of ‘em!” Shona snapped
“Rest of ‘em? Chloe?….You don’t mean Larry, Kyle, Deputy Paul right? I think with all the time she and compassion she has given us, that aint right to put her in that league Shona!”
Maybe Shona wasn’t comparing Chloe to ‘them’ but other people.
“Just leave it Cuban….just leave it” Shona was getting more and frustrated, it was showing as Storm started to kick out as if sensing her rider was uneasy
“No….this ends now, you hear?…I’ve lost enough people in my time, friends and more recently my whole god damn family to Klan, do you think I wanna just sit back and lose you too! Not without an explanation. If you want me out of your life that’s fine…I’ll walk away, but don’t push me away if you don’t mean it……what in the hell is going on?”
Cuban’s eyes were wide as he subconsciously recalled the images of the fire where he lost his entire family to Klan that night. His eyes slightly filled with emotion. He really didn’t want to lose Shona’s friendship.
Shona stopped grooming Storm. Still facing her she starts crying, quietly at first, trying to disguise it. Cuban could see her shoulder shuddering and realised she was breaking down and went over to her instinctively.
“Come here….it’s alright..it’s alright” Cuban embraced Shona protectively, it was their friendship deepened in that second.
After a calming minute in Cuban’s arms, Shona broke away, tears streaming.
“Its not alright!……Don’t you see! It’s not alright!?” Shona cried
Cuban looked confused and concerned and tried to hug her again, but she put her arm in the way.
“What you talking ‘bout?”
“You aint the only one on the run here….You aint the only one who has to look over their shoulder….You aint the only one being hunted”
Shona said with an eerie calm. Cuban looked horrified, it was like a new Shona had emerged, maybe the real Shona, not the happy go lucky Shona, but a scared little girl.
“What’s happened?” Cuban gently tried to console Shona
“If I tell you….I’m scared I’m gone lose you too….” Shona slumped down the stable door, Cuban joined her.
“You kiddin’? You aint getting rid of me that easy….You’re my friend for life, you understand…no matter what”
Shona needed to hear that from Cuban, she really did. She was wiping her tears, but they kept coming as she was building herself up to say what had been on her mind for years, and the real reason she was forced to leave Alabama, and Mississippi.
“I don’t even know where to start…”
“Start at the beginning…I’m listening” Cuban said gently, putting his arm round Shona. She had longed to hear these words from people.
“Well…..here goes….. Back in Alabama when I was 13 or 14, I worked with my daddy on a farm for a few years. It was owned by a rich guy called…Donald Chamberlain. He was hard son of a bitch, always shouting at people. My daddy was a drunk…and I often had to cover for him when he fell asleep in the barn on his break, I couldn’t wake him sometimes. I did some of his work too. ..”
Cuban listened intently, and noticed Shona’s eyes started welling up.
She continued “Donald…he had a……daughter…called Connie. She was 17 when I was I was around 15 and……I found that I kept trying to think of something to ask her…kept trying to see if she needed anything. Every minute in her company felt like precious seconds. My god she was beautiful. Long wavy blonde hair. She had a boyfriend, Nate….but I saw that she cried a lot over him, so I used to go see her in her house after work and we talked. She said I was a good listener and that nobody listened to her like I did. My father liked it as he felt I was making a good impression with a rich family which might lead him to a better job, so he encouraged it. But….my heart beat faster when I was with her, especially when she talked about breaking up with Nate. Anyway, one afternoon, she was in the bathroom and I was waiting for her in the lounge, nobody else was around and I saw a picture of Connie by the fireplace…there were lots of pictures. So I took one of her. I was totally in love with her at this point and I couldn’t tell a soul. My daddy told me many times about what happens to men who like men he said they…..deserve to be punished. So…I took this picture, got rid of the small frame and kept that picture with me always for around 6 months or so. Then one particular day Mr.Chamberlain asked me if I wanted to ride one of his new horses as he knew I could ride, Connie was there so of course I said yes to impress her. Then…I got on the horse…did my thing, saw Connie was smiling at me riding. Man that felt good..that felt real good….then when I came back to the porch area on the horse, I got off and that damn picture came out of my pocket with Mr.Chamberlain being the first to see it. It was the look on his face…the disgust. At both knowing that I had stolen something from his home and the fact that it was of his daughter. He struck me round the face, I swear I lifted off the damn ground….”
Cuban’s eyes were welling up too, he felt Shona’s pain.
Shona sniffed “…But even worse, it was what they were calling me, Connie also, that broke my heart. The last time I saw her face was her looking at me like I’d killed somebody. Donald called my father. All I wanted was to explain to him….but he beat me and told me that Donald had fired him which meant we had no money comin’ in, that I was a disgrace on the family, not so much for the stealin’ but because he knew about my feelings for Connie. We got home, my father sent me to bed, told my mother and they began fighting. My mother came into my room, I was scared….so scared that she would hate me that I almost didn’t want her to speak, I wanted to cherish just a bit longer of her not saying that she didn’t love me anymore……But…..She held me tight and said she loved me…. that she was my mom no matter what…Well, I cried…I cried harder than I’ve ever cried, harder than when my father beat me with the kind words that she said. Then….my father must have heard me cryin’ and burst into the room, saw my mother hugging me and dragged her out of my room, slammed my door. I heard her screaming, crashing and banging….he’d been drinking, slurring his words as usual saying how he didn’t want have a damaged kid, that I would be the talk of the town….My mother….the last words I heard from her were…..’You don’t deserve to have her as your daughter, I will love her no matter what’….then….silence”
Cuban looked horrified, but didn’t dare speak, this was the most amount he had heard Shona talk.
Puffing her cheeks she carried on “Cuban I was so scared, so scared…..I didn’t dare come out my room for a minute or two. I just lay there, covers up to my face, heart pounding out my chest. Eventually I crept, careful not to make a sound on the floorboards..gently opened the bedroom door to see out…and my father was right there and said ‘if you come out, something bad will happen to your mother’ so I quickly went back in. I didn’t know what to do, he was drunk…looked possessed. I didn’t sleep much but early in the morning, I heard voices downstairs….men. I opened my door and listened. It was the local doctor. I heard him ask ‘what happened?’ and my father said ‘she just fell down the stairs’ that morning. But my father and I both know he pushed her down the stairs the night before. He got away with it too. He spoke to that doctor about me…. Said I was crazy and needed medication or ‘something’. Later that day I was taken away by nurse..Jean. I was sent to live with her at her house that she’s converted into treatment rooms. I stayed there for 6 months, locked up. Didn’t see my father again. She told me I could see him If I was mended. By mended she meant that I didn’t find women attractive”
“What happened at her house Shona?”
“Her and a couple of doctors would at….different times of the day and night, come get from the dark, damp basement they kept me locked up in and do experiments on me….They would…show me pictures of naked women then when I….looked at them….they would cut me, electrocute my private parts…make me drink the most god awful things”
“My god…..my god Shona….I’m so sorry…that must be why you have those nightmares…saying get off …get off me right” Cuban couldn’t hold back a lone tear dripping down his cheek
“It obviously don’t work!” Shona made an attempt to temporarily lighten the conversation
“Then what happened?”
“Well, I escaped, the nurse took a delivery and put it down in the basement, I pretended I was asleep then just made a run for it up the stairs and out the door. I moved around a lot. I learned about fixing trucks and stuff on the Chamberlain farm. I cleaned shoes, you name it. But… I kept hearing my father was after me. I brought shame on his family, cost him a good job. He had nothing to live for, nothing to lose. So I just kept moving on, spending 3-4 weeks in each little town. Then, a year or two ago, I settled in a small town in Mississippi. I broke my own rule and stayed there for longer. I figured…. my father would have given up on the chase by now, I’d found a great job at a place called Wreckers, the boss loved what I could do…said I was one of his best workers and knew more about fixing trucks than any damn man he knew.”
“What happened in Mississippi?” Cuban was hooked
“Well….history repeatin’ itself. A girl…around 19 or 20 hung around the local bar every single night. It was right oppsite Wreckers, so she would often come in and talk to the guys. She looked a bit wild, exciting… free. Her name was Lucy. Now…I wasn’t exactly wise to the ways of the world entirely let’s just put it that way. I didn’t know at the time, but Lucy was a prostitute. That’s why all the guys buzzed round her, they knew she was a sure thing. Later I found out she was called Loose Lucy for obvious reasons. When I was at the bar..she started to come up to me even in front of the guys there when I was playin’ pool. I didn’t understand, she was the most beautiful woman in the room coming up to me.”
Cuban shut his eyes, he knew the story wasn’t going to end well. He listened more.
“I started to like it you know….I started to have those feelings again, the ones I daren’t have for a long, long time. I didn’t so much as even look at a woman, every time a woman talked to me, I made my excuses and left. They probably all thought I was real rude and they’d be right. But Lucy…she was different. She kept coming up to me whether I was in the bar, Wreckers or at the grocery store. I started to think about her more and more and then one day, I finally found the courage and I ask her if she wants to come to mine for dinner, I mean, she wouldn’t leave me alone. She accepted even winking at me funny. I thought that meant I had found somebody…at last…somebody like me, who….likes me the way I wanted to be liked you know? Well the next evening she came round, my god she looked pretty..real pretty. We had dinner and she then asked me to sit to her on the couch, so I did…She put her hand on my knee…So I put mine on hers….She went in to kiss me…and just as we were about to kiss she pulled back….and said ‘I knew it! I knew you were one of those screw ups!’. Then from nowhere four of her friends, three guys and one girl appeared. Lucy purposely hadn’t locked the front door. It was a set up. She got paid by some of the people at the bar to ‘see if I was one of them’. Then I got the biggest beating of my life. I couldn’t see properly for a couple of days. I didn’t go into work the next day, couldn’t say what the reason was, and left town”
“So you see…You see why I’m pretty scared to get close to anybody…women that I find attractive I mean. When Chloe was introduced to us all that day. All I heard was the guys around me say how pretty she is, how they would like the chance to date her and all this…but me…..I had to stay quiet. I didn’t want to risk it again.”
“Do you have strong feelings for Miss Chloe?”
“Yes….yes I do” Shona held her head in shame.
“What do you think she feels?”
“I have no idea….There’s times I just think she’s being kind..and there’s other times I catch her looking at me and it’s like I can read her mind because I’m thinking the same. But Cuban, I am petrified especially in this town of getting found out, or my past catching up with me. I just have to keep my head down, save some god damn money and get out of here. I can’t go through it all again and have to run….leave you, Tom and Ruby and this one….”
Shona gestures her head towards Storm.
“But you can’t stop thinking ‘bout her right?”
Shona starts to shake and sob
Cuban warmly hugs Shona and they just sit. Shona had waited a long time for somebody to know who she really was and to not run in disgust. This was a moment that Shona was cherishing.
“No…I can’t stop thinking about her, Cuban”
Ellis and Bruce was shut over the next two days as Jeffrey Ellis made sure people in town got the time and help the needed to repair homes, see to relatives in hospital.
On the first day back at work, Ellis made a shock visit to work. He wanted to call a meeting.
“Wonder what’s happening now..?” Elbe said looking up towards the management offices
“You ok?” Cuban whispered to Shona knowing she would see Chloe
“Yeah…yeah..” Shona wasn’t convincing
First to come out was Ron Black, followed by Ellis then Kyle and Larry slowly walked out, hands in their pockets looking glum. Then lastly, there was Chloe.
Shona breathed deep. She knew what would happen to her if anybody found out her feelings, she was in the same league as being a nigger, maybe even worse, she was a white nigger loving homosexual. She wouldn’t last long out there especially as she had next to no money. She and Cuban had spent almost all their savings on repairs at the barn, they were starting from scratch again. It was an unsettling time to make big confessions, but Shona had been carrying it for too long.
Chloe glanced fleetingly down at Shona knowing where she would be in the crowd below. They all stood in roughly the same area, Cuban, Shona and Elbe at the back where they knew they belonged.
“Hi everybody…I know I don’t come here nowhere near as much as I should, apparently I’m always in the Copperpot according to some…” Ellis made a private dig towards Kyle who was stone faced.
He continued “But I really felt for this town after such an ordeal like the one we have just had with the storm. Of course we can prepare, but nature soon lets us know how small we are. But we have big hearts in this town, and I want to help. So, Ron came to me with an idea and I liked it…We are gone do a fete of some kind, bring the community together, base it around the grounds here, tell your wives and anybody who can make something, do something to bring in people to donate money to those who got affected the most. Ron here will be round to give you more details, but if you any ideas, come see me or him.”
Larry and Kyle looked at each other and discreetly rolled their eyes.
For a split second Shona and Chloe’s eyes met, Shona looked away first. Cuban noticed.
“Shona… you and I could build a couple of benches couldn’t we…sell ‘em at the fete do a good turn?”
“Yeah…that sounds great Elbe..good idea” Shona was clearly distracted, her secret was out, maybe only to Cuban but it caused her worry.
“Shona..” It was Kyle calling from behind
“You go on ahead..” Shona gestured to Cuban and Elbe
“Just to let you know in case you already put your mark on the money raised at the fete, we won’t be giving any proceeds to white nigger lovers like the couple who took you and Cuban in….you understand…just lettin’ you know”
Kyle winked, Shona wanted to punch him straight in the face. Tom and Ruby could do with any help, they were getting old.
“What did he want?” Cuban asked when Shona caught up
“Nothing…don’t worry about it”
Shona knew Cuban was reminded day in and day out about being black, if she could spare him one second of being reminded, she would.
It was early morning on the day of the fete. Huge numbers were expected. Ron Black, and Jeffrey Ellis called upon the big hitters of the town to come down and bring their wallets. Women were bringing cakes and crafts to sell, there were horses for kids to ride for a donation.
Cuban was clearing up some mess in the tool room from all the flags and placards that had been made when Deputy Paul and Kyle came in from outside.
“Nigger…” Cuban looked up and jolted.
“Um yes sir?”
“You do realise that you wont be going outside today, you wont be seen by the good people of this town, you understand?” Deputy Paul looked at Cuban directly in his anxious eyes.
“I mean people don’t like seeing bruises and cuts on peoples faces right?” Kyle said calmly
“Bruises? Cuts?…What?” Cuban didn’t understand.
A second after Cuban uttered those words, punches and kicks rained down on him, there was no point in screaming, nobody would hear and nobody would come for him. Shona and Elbe were in town getting the horses from a nearby stable. He let them finish. The only reason they stopped was because they were exhausted. They straightened their tops, run hands through their hair and left Cuban in a pool of his own blood.
“She’s beautiful….” Shona strokes a brown coloured placed mare.
“That she is” Elbe said gesturing the horse into horsebox ready to take to the fete, a makeshift stable was waiting. For once, Shona felt like she had a good job in looking after the horse at the fete.
They pulled into the long road that led to work, letting the cool morning air run through their hair, the silence was almost a pleasure, as they felt free, if only for a few minutes longer until they pulled up, both seemed to sigh at the same time.
“I’ll show her to Cuban, I’ve never seen him ride” Shona heads off to the tool room.
Elbe tied up the mare just outside the makeshift stable and put a barrel of fresh water in front of her. He was growing attached to her already.
Shona opened the door to the tool room and her face filled with horror.
“Cuban!…What the fuck happened to you!?” Shona ran over to him.
He had just managed to crawl over the side of the tool room and rested there, his face was covered in blood.
“They…..they messed me up real bad this time, worst its ever got”
Cuban could hardly breathe, congealed blood had blocked his nose.
“Who!? Who did this to you?” Shona snapped, but already knowing the answer
“Kyle….Kyle and Deputy Paul….they said I wasn’t to go out front today…and made sure”
Cuban coughed up blood.
“My god….we need to get you help, grab hold of me” Shona tried to lift Cuban but he was too heavy.
“Wait, I’ll go get Elbe, two of us are better than nothing…” Shona said concern screaming out of her face.
“Two?…..you and Elbe?” It was Kyle
“Did you do this?” Shona was furious, she found the courage.
“Me? Trust me, there is a very long list of people who would love to have done that…..I do hope you’re not accusing me Shona. That’s a very serious thing to do..”
Kyle walked slowly towards them both, Cuban could barely keep his eyes open they were that battered.
Kyle continued “And I’m sure with the beating that….it looks like he got….I’m sure he can’t remember who did it to him”
Shona shook her head slowly in disgust. They had almost killed Cuban with their bare hands. Kyle’s smile creep across his face in deep satisfaction.
“You in there Shona, the damn mare has knocked the damn barrel……” Elbe walked in a froze.
“I’ll let you pass on that message Shona” Kyle said as he swaggered out.
“I’ll be ok…” Cuban started to come round a little, Shona got some water and cleaned the blood off.
“Sons of bitches……one day…..one day” Shona dabbed at cuts, Cuban squinting in pain, Elbe fetched whatever Shona needed.
“If Jeffrey Ellis knew about this…” Elbe said holding back a tear
“He can’t know….” Cuban barked
“One day he’ll know….” Shona said determined
Shona patched Cuban up as best as she could, time was running out until the start of the fete and it was ‘curtains up’ where the town near and far descended on Ellis and Bruce. Shona was nervous.
“I hope that….nobody from back home is here…” Shona whispered to Cuban who was limping towards the horse to help groom her ready for the fete.
“I’m sure it will be ok….just stay out of the way…” Cuban winced as he was pain from the beating.
“I’ll stay back here…” Cuban said taking a seat on some hay.
The mare, Rosie, proved a hit with the kids who near on one after the other demanded rides, the money was flowing. Shona also let kids feed Rosie, but she couldn’t get her mind off her friend almost being beaten to death back behind Ellis and Bruce and she couldn’t tell a soul about it. Even if she got up on the megaphone, the truth was, nobody would care…he was a nigger.
“Right….Rosie needs to have a few minutes break now” Shona said to some disappointed kids. She walked her round to where Cuban was recovering.
“How you doing?….”
“I’m ok….here, let me get her some food” Cuban got up and limped towards Rosie. He wanted to still have a use.
“I need to use the bathroom, be back soon”
Shona headed off. Shona did need to use the bathroom but she was curious to see where Chloe had been all morning. All Shona has seen was crowds of people but it was non-stop horse rides which meant she didn’t get to see what else was going on. She knew Elbe had a small stall selling his woodwork and a couple of benches they had both made.
“Momma….I can see the horse! I can see the horse!” A girl of around six or seven excitedly ran to where she could just see Rosie’s bobbing head.
“Evelyn! Come back here at once!” The mother gave chase, the lure of Rosie proving too much for her daughter.
Cubans sprang up from his seat on the hay wondering what was happening when he saw this little girl running around the side of the building towards Rosie.
“Hey there…” Cuban said gently, knowing that the sight of his cuts and bruises maybe quite distressing for the little girl.
“Hi….is that your horse?” She asked almost obviously
“She is our todays…Do you like horses?”
“Yes I do, I’d like my own horse one day……your face is hurt, you ok Mister?”
Cuban felt like crying. “I’m ok…I’m ok…thank you” he smiled instead
“Evelyn…will you..” The mother stopped in her tracks and looked at Cuban with complete horror and grabbed her daughter.
“Momma! I was talking to the man about his horse!” Evelyn cried innocently
“You stay away from my daughter….you stay away from this town you dirty nigger…!” and the mother spat at Cuban, Evelyn looking confused
“But that man was a nice man momma, why did you do that?” Evelyns voice fading as she was carried away by her mother.
“Because he is a nigger…he’s dangerous… we don’t talk to those with black faces, do you hear me!!?”
“And that’s how it starts..” Cuban whispered to himself
Meanwhile, Shona left the bathroom, heard the music and noise from the crowds, she caught sight out of the window of Elbe working his magic and selling his crafts and she smiled. She then saw Chloe. Looking stunning in a flowing lemon coloured summer dress surrounded by the town’s richest and most influential people. Shona could tell that Chloe’s smile was fake, but even still, Shona understood that Chloe was in a completely different world. Shona would never belong in that world, but she felt she belonged in the company of Chloe and that’s why something inside of her ached at the unfairness of it all.
She sighed and made her way back to the horse riding section of the fete. She heard a small girl crying hysterically round the corner to where Rosie was kept, and her mother trying to calm her.
“Hey…..” Shona crouched down to the little girls’ level, she must have been around six years old.
“She’s just fallen over and scraped all up her legs” the mother said knowing that Shona was trying to help
“Do you like horses?” Shona asked the young girl who looked at Shona’s warm smile and gradually stopped crying.
“Yeah…a little bit” The little girl answered cautiously
“Well..how about you and your mother come with me and you can see Rosie and if you would like, you can have a free ride on her, what do you say?” Shona said slowly standing up
The little girl looked up at her mother who was smiling and then nodded.
“Come on then…”
Shona led them round to the make-shift stable where Rosie was drinking some water, Cuban heard unfamiliar voices and hid.
“Here she is….wanna pet her?” Shona noticed the cuts up the little girls legs.
The little girl nodded excitedly.
“How bout I lift you up to stroke her, maybe sit on her and mom…you um….” Shona gestured towards cleaning up the cuts. It was perfect distraction.
The mother nodded gratefully
“She literally hadn’t stopped crying until she saw you” The mom whispered.
Shona nipped to get a clean wet cloth and a plaster to discreetly to give to mom and Shona lifted up the little girl onto Rosie and talked about how to look after horses whilst the mom carefully cleaned the nasty cut, but no more crying.
“Honey!….Honey…you round here!?” A deep male voice called out
“We’re in here sweetie…….it’s my husband, Sam” the woman said to Shona.
Shona didn’t realise it was ‘Big Sam’ the guy who was now one of the richest people in Daynes due to the unfortunate passing of his father.
“There you are honey……how’s my girl?” Big Sam tipped his hat to Shona and went straight to Evelyn.
“My god…she’s stopped cryin’! How in gods name did you do that!?” Big Sam said discreetly to his wife, Shona overheard.
“All down to this young lady…sorry what’s your name?”
“Well Shona, you’re my new best friend!” Big Sam said hugging Shona tightly
Cuban could hear it all and he smiled
“The Press are here….that’s good” Ron Black goes up to Jeffrey Ellis
“Yeah…its goin’ real well don’t you think?”
“Some wanted it to fail…” Ron said eyeing Kyle and Larry in the distance chatting to Deputy Paul.
“But it didn’t fail….don’t worry about them”
“Ellis!…..How you doin?” It was Big Sam heading towards Jeffrey, Larry Bruce heard and wanted to get in on the action.
Three powerful men getting together didn’t go unnoticed by some of the crowd who started to gathering around them.
“Sam! You’re looking well…I’m sorry to have heard about your father.” Ellis said shaking Sam’s hand.
“Thank you, appreciate it”
“Sam!…” Larry Bruce got in on the action, Chloe followed her father reluctantly at first.
“Larry….Kyle…Chloe, looking beautiful as ever” Big Sam shook all their hands
“Your lovely wife here with you?” Ellis asked looking behind Sam
“She is…there she is, by the horse and this lovely young lady…Shona I think she said her name was” Sam turned round seeing Evelyn on Rosie for what felt like an age, but she was smiling.
Chloe’s heart twinged at the sound of Shona’s name.
“She was amazing with my daughter, Jeffrey…I tell you, this is a great event, a great event for this town” Sam was overjoyed.
Larry and Kyle quickly looked at each other.
“Here she is….my beautiful princess, did you have fun!?” Sam scooped Evelyn up off the back of the mare. Eveylyn was beaming.
“Can Shona come visit us please daddy!?” Her mother and father both smiled broadly
“Of course she can!” Sam meant it genuinely, Shona and Chloe caught each others glances for a split second aching to speak to one another.
Larry and Kyle looked fed up at not being included in this conversation and all the interest in Shona.
“I’d like to do some business with you guys real soon…I mean a lot of business. I came down here to initially check it out up close, and I love it…People like Shona and this old guy Elbe made us a family feel real welcome, so if that’s what its like…I’d love to put work your way, got a real family feel to it” Sam said with animation.
Chloe felt proud about Sam mentioning Shona and Elbe but knew it was a false picture of the miserable place where she worked, but now wasn’t the time.
“That sounds real good to us…” Larry said grabbing Big Sams hand to shake it again as if staking his claim.
“Gentleman…oh and Ladies, could I take a picture…it will be front page…?”
The Press guy saw the towns wealthiest individuals was too good a shot to miss.
“Wait!” Ellis interrupted as people were shuffling together to get in the picture.
“Shona…come on…get in the picture….and Rosie” Jeffrey smiled
Shona was surprised, grateful but a bit nervous to be included and stood on the end of the shot with the mare on her left. Chloe was painfully the other side of the picture.
“Smile!” then SNAP! The shot was taken.
A couple of hours later, the crowds started to slowly disperse. Rosie was taken back to her makeshift stable where Cuban was waiting to feed her.
“Larry….Thanks a lot for what you did for this town today” Big Sam was getting his little girl ready to go home
“It’s our pleasure Sam…Thanks for coming and for the donation to the cause”
Larry faked his joy, he thought it was a stupid idea.
“I can see that Kyle has a thing for your daughter, a blind man can see it”
Sam said looking over Larrys shoulder at Chloe saying goodbye to guests and Kyle by her side.
“They’d make a great couple wouldn’t they?” Larry grinned
“Damn right…I mean, I don’t know Kyle but you can see he likes her and you know I love your daughter to pieces. I mean Larry, we aint gone be here forever, I want it to be that if I invest a lot of money, that my clients will have the stability of using a company that will still be around in a decade after we have kicked the bucket….”
“And I think that company is yours…with Kyle and Chloe at the wheel in the future, man…investors will be clambering…They are the future and that’s what we invest in…the future.”
Larry’s smile widened, after he said his goodbyes to Big Sam, he went straight over to Kyle who went out back to Cuban, Shona and Elbe who were tending to Rosie and talking about their day.
“You lot…..we, are off in town to celebrate a good day….You, will stay here and clean up all this shit….Got it?”
Kyle left as quickly as he appeared. He had a new mission, to seduce Chloe.
Everyone apart from Elbe, Shona and Cuban gathered at ‘Jesters’ in town to celebrate the success of the fete that day, a great deal of money was raised for the needy people of Daynes after the storm.
Chloe was one of the last to walk in as she insisted on going on home first to freshen up. Whenever she walked into a room, there was a slight ‘hush’ as men were taken aback by her beauty and influence and were eager to impress her.
“You. Look. Radiant.” Kyle creeped as soon as Chloe made her way through the crowd. Chloe wasn’t flattered, she hated him, but faked a smile.
“Can I get you a drink Miss Chloe?” Deputy Paul sprang from her other side.
“Um…yes please, just an orange juice” Chloe was eager not to drink alcohol, she didn’t want anybody to take advantage and she didn’t want to give out any wrong impressions.
Kyle leaned on the bar, despite feeling a coldness from Chloe. He saw her as a challenge still.
“Is um….everybody here tonight?” Chloe asked nonchalantly
“Pretty much” Kyle said staring right at Chloe who felt uneasy in his company.
“Well…I’m gone go and say hi to all the workers, its down to them that today was a success” Chloe slipped away, Kyle again felt a huge pang of rejection, it was getting harder to deal with each time.
“Hi Miss Chloe!”
“Hi Miss….you look great!”
Eveywhere she went, people wanted to spend time with her, but all their faces were a blur. She wanted to see one particular face; Shona, but she was missing.
“Enjoying yourself?” Kyle asked whilst sipping something expensive.
“Yeah….Um wheres, Cuban…Elbe and…”
“Shona?…..They didn’t want to come, not their thing apparently. We’re obviously not good enough for them” Kyle lied, Chloe found this difficult to believe, so much so that she couldn’t concentrate on what anybody was saying to her.
The bar door opened and momentarily Chloe hoped Shona had changed her mind, but it was Jeffrey Ellis and a couple of the investors walking in smiling. The night felt empty and even changing her drink to something alcoholic wouldn’t help.
Chloe turned round and bumped into Kyle who seemed to be everywhere.
“You ok?…We can go somewhere more….quiet if you want?” Kyle burning Chloe’s face with his intense stare.
“No…thank you…..I want to get an early night, I’m quite tired” Chloe left Jesters a little undecided, she wasn’t ready to return home.
Kyle meanwhile was furious leaning on the bar.
“I’ll have a shot….no, make that a double” and he swigged it all in one go. He caught the eye of one of the women who was standing on the stair case beckoning Kyle with her smile. She was likely a prostitute and that’s just what Kyle needed, without hesitation, he went up the stairs, she whispered in his ear and they went upstairs.
“I feel so bad that Shona spent the last of her savings on us yesterday” Ruby was washing up.
“I know, me too…but truth is, without her and Cubans extra money, we wouldn’t have been able to survive with the repair bill after that damn storm…it’s not likely that we will get any help from the fete, we are outcasts now…”
Tom said walking into the kitchen trying to fix a clock.
“Why can’t they see what we see..?” Ruby said with sadness in her eyes, she had wiped this particular plate more than a couple of times.
“Because they don’t want to see it Ruby…it means that if they accept Cuban, and god forbid they like him, all their beliefs, all what they been told by their parents, communities would be wrong..a lie…and that’s too much to deal with. It’s better to hate and appear be ‘right’ then to learn the truth and everything around you be wrong. Not everybody is like us….”
Tom tapped the clock and it appeared to be working again.
“I fear for his future Tom…for both of them”
“They got us…..they got us” Tom went over and stood behind his wife and put his arms round her, Ruby felt safe.
“Hang on…who’s this?” Tom broke away and saw headlights coming down the drive. He went to the front door.
“It’s Miss Chloe” Tom called out
“Hi Tom……Ruby….” Ruby joined Tom at the front door.
Chloe continued ‘You don’t happen to know where Cuban and um….Shona are do you?”
Insect noises were interrupting the peace.
“They haven’t returned from work yet, we assumed everybody was staying late to help clear up….” Ruby said a little concerned.
“Ok…thank you…I’ll go and check…you take care”
Chloe got back in her car, and headed towards work.
“Elbe…you go home, its been a long day, we haven’t got much else to do, go on…”
Shona insisted and Cuban nodded in agreement. Elbe was falling asleep any time he sat down, it was heart breaking to watch.
“Oh ok…if you’re sure..?” Elbe said rubbing his eyes
“Yes…we’re sure…take it easy” Cuban said helping him put his jumper on.
As they waved Elbe off, they saw headlights coming down the long, long road approaching Ellis and Bruce.
“Who the hell is this at this time?” Cuban asked, squinting his eyes trying to make out the shape of the vehicle.
“It’s Chloe” Shona almost looked annoyed. It was like everytime she was in Chloe’s presence, she had to deal with buried, painful feelings.
“Oh…well…this could be interesting!” Cuban tried to make light of the situation.
Chloe, even though she was the boss, she almost felt nervous walking up to the main door as she saw Cuban and Shona looking straight at her.
“Miss Chloe” Cuban tipped his cap as they were almost face to face, Shona just nodded.
“Why you two not in town….at Jesters..?” Chloe probed
“We weren’t asked, more importantly we were told to clear up all the shit” Shona just came out with it, Cuban grinned his surprised, Shona didn’t care anymore.
“Who do you think? Kyle..” Shona said looking at Chloe directly in her eyes.
“He told me…..”
“Told you what?” Shona asked, a little aggressively.
“…that you refused, that it wasn’t your thing” Chloe said cautiously.
“What…so we can spend it at work clearing up everybody’s shit? Does that sound right to you?” Shona was annoyed
“Hey…watch your tone” Cuban whispered.
“Well….I’m sorry about that, I genuinely didn’t know, I wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”
“But you allow his and his hired thugs to beat the shit out of Cuban?”
“That’s enough Shona!” Cuban shoved Shona as if to wake her up from what she was saying
Chloe looked shocked.
“I’m sorry Miss Chloe…I’m so sorry” Cuban tried to make the situation right.
“I know..that you and Cuban have a difficult time here, I know that…and I’m so sorry. If you just trust me, I want to make sure that I have a good team, a good team who will eventually lead Ellis and Bruce. But it takes time. That’s why we made Ron Black up to manager, Jeffrey and I have spoken but you need to understand its difficult with my father ultimately being in charge…please understand where I’m coming from. I really am trying to do my best.”
Chloe’s eyes pleaded with Shona. Cuban could feel the tension.
“Look at his face…please…just look at it…they did that today, to make sure he didn’t go out in public. That’s who is in charge at the moment”
Shona’s verbal aggression continued, but at its core, it was frustration with her feelings towards Chloe.
“I’m sorry…Cuban, I’m so sorry…I will do right by you I promise”
Chloe was almost crying, Shona was deadly serious, unmoved on the outside, inside she was in pain.
“Miss Chloe I know…Shona, what you doing!?” Cuban was annoyed at Shona.
“She needed to hear what was going on Cuban, I’m tired of being scared”
Shona’s glance turned back to Chloe whose eyes were searching for some feeling from Shona.
“Please…come in? Can I make you a drink Miss Chloe?” Cuban tried to repair the tension between the pair.
“If I’m welcome…?” Chloe looked at Shona who wanted to scream ‘yes’ but nodded slightly to indicate she was.
Chloe came in, Cuban took her coat and bag and immediately went to make her a drink. The atmosphere was awkward between Shona and Chloe who looked everywhere apart from split second glances at each other.
“Here…” Cuban handed Chloe a hot drink and pulled a chair out in the canteen for Chloe to sit, Shona purposely picked a seat that was opposite and down a few away from Chloe, Cuban shook his head at her behaviour knowing what was really behind it. He sat opposite Chloe.
“How’s Storm?” Chloe desperately tried to get Shona to engage
“Do Tom and Ruby need…anything…after the storm? They ok?”
“Nothing that we can’t help them with” Shona didn’t even make eye contact.
“But thank you…thank you for that Miss Chloe” Cuban trying to sound appreciative even if Shona wasn’t.
A minute went by agonisingly for Chloe.
“I heard there’s a new pie in Ed’s Diner…wanna come try it out with me…you’re both welcome?”
Chloe looked at both Shona and Cuban.
“With regret…as you can understand, I don’t do many public places in this town, but….Shona..?”
Cuban looked down the table at Shona who was scratching the table.
“My shout..?” Chloe added, a slight grin
Cuban tried to kick under the table towards Shona who looked up at him.
With a huff, Shona relented a little “If you throw in a strawberry shake I’m in”
“Deal” Chloe was relieved and her heart beat a little faster.
Cuban smiled at the pair making up and was impressed at how many men would give their right arm to take Chloe out let alone be asked out by Chloe.
The ice was broken and the trio talked for what felt like hours into the night.