After school, I drove Justin to the downtown store, then went to the new store to see Mr. Sanford. He was busy with a customer and, while I waited, I looked around inside and through the windows at the outside. I had never really looked at the area with any special interest. Now I could see where, with some work, the place could become a nice area. It would still be a strip mall and there was no way to make it a Garden of Eden, but it could be made decent. There was way too much parking and I could envision redoing part of the parking lot into landscaped areas and, since parents would be involved in purchasing furniture, I thought a fenced play area would provide a place for children while parents shopped. I was still daydreaming when Mr. Sanford approached and said, "Good to see you, Marc, come on back to my office."
When we were seated in the office, Mr. Sanford said, "You seemed pretty absorbed in your thoughts out there."
I felt my face turn red and said, "Yeah, I was. Thinking about what you are planning to do out here."
"Oh?" he responded.
I told him what I had been thinking and he seemed interested, but then I said, "Just daydreaming."
"Daydreams are not bad if they are not out of place. Hope you'll give more thought to what can be done out here. Strip malls are generally an eyesore and there are limits to what might be done, but I like where you are headed. Now, you want a job? Why in the world would the son of Senator Porcher be out looking for a job? He hasn't disowned you because you're..." He slid to a stop, obviously embarrassed, then quickly added "Sorry, none of my business."
I laughed, "So far as I know, he doesn't know the change in my sexual orientation status -- my announced sexual status that is. I've always been gay. Frankly, his disowning me would not make much difference. No, I'm here because of two guys we met in Florida." I then told him about Sharkey and Antwon working together and the fact that I really knew nothing about the workaday world and especially about Justin's workaday world. I also told him how Justin had shown me there was a lot more to the county than Elizabethton. "I decided I needed to know something about work."
"Well, think you can handle deliveries -- of course, you'd not be making all of them since you'll be in school. I know you have talked to Justin so you have an idea of what's involved."
"To be honest, I'm not in as good shape as Justin, but I suspect that would change quickly."
"I'm sure it will. We'll have two full delivery crews starting in the next week or so. We've always had someone working a morning shift and then Justin and his helper after school. I'll be replacing Justin with someone to work an afternoon and evening shift. You'd head up a third team. I'd like you to head up that crew which would handle special jobs. Plenty of work for after school. When can you start? I guess this week's out because of the prom. Just before Easter is a busy time, so next week? Adam was upset because I told him he'd have to work this week and next even if I hired someone, but he's at loose ends and a week's work won't hurt him."
"Next week? That'd be fine. Earlier if you need me."
"Great!" Mr. Sanford said as we shook hands.
As I was leaving the store, my cell phone rang and when I answered, it was Sheriff Anderson. "Marc, can you come by the office and bring Justin?"
"Justin's at work, but I guess he can get off if it's really important."
"It's really important, but I guess you can tell him anything he needs to know and he can come by later if needed."
I drove to the sheriff's office, but couldn't find a parking place in his lot, so I drove around the block and parked on a side street, then walked a block to his office. When I arrived, the dispatcher said Sheriff Anderson was waiting for me in the conference room just down the hall. When I opened the door I was surprised to see Mr. Cobb, the art teacher, in addition to Miss Calhoun and Sheriff Anderson.
As soon as I was seated, Sheriff Anderson said, "Marc, after looking at the e-mails you sent us, I called Miss Calhoun and asked Mr. Cobb to come in. He brought other examples of Sandy's work and it looks like the same stuff to me. But I know nothing about art and couldn't do more than testify they and the ones you sent look like the work of the same person. On the other hand, Mr. Cobb is a trained artist and knows Sandy Jenkins' work and Miss Calhoun is a trained observer and both agree with Susan that the drawing is surely the work of Sandy Jenkins. What's your take on the situation?"
"It's troubling," I responded. "I don't doubt the observations of the three and agree, looking at the other work he has done, he must have done the drawing of the two guys kissing and ah ... but he couldn't have done all of it, could he? The two with the ball bats are not as crude as the first drawings we got, but they are definitely not in the same league with Sandy. That, together with what little I know of the fellow puzzles me. He's a quiet, pleasant, seemingly very shy young man, not one, it would seem, inclined to be involved in this mess. On the other hand, when I showed him a copy of the emails this morning, he definitely reacted: he looked faint, turned white, and was clearly anxious to be somewhere else. I thought at the time, and still do, that he acted guilty, sure, but also scared, really scared. So while I am as sure as you all that he did the drawing, I just don't think he's out to do Justin and me harm. I would like to know what lies behind his drawings being involved. Also, what's with the crude additions? Who did them?"
Mr. Cobb said, "My feelings as well. Shy, quiet, a loner is how I see Sandy. Sheriff, you told me Susan mentioned my commenting on his drawings being in the style of Tom of Finland. When I did so, I had the same reaction Marc did this morning; I thought he'd faint. He turned white and when I say he turned white, I mean that literally. I didn't pursue the comment because he reacted so strongly. Later I learned one day when I had a sub in while I was out, one of the guys in the class snatched one of his drawings and put it in the opaque projector. You can imagine the general reaction to that. Seems Susan took on the whole class and that was pretty much the end of it. Well, that took care of it in class, but I understand Kev and his associates put out the word he would deal with any further harassment. Then he beat up Sandy at home because of his faggot drawings, so I heard. He's been careful with his homoerotic drawing since then, but he still does them."
"You're saying he's gay?" Sheriff Anderson asked.
"No, I wouldn't make that statement since around here it's never a statement but an accusation, but given what I have seen of him and his work, if I had to bet, I'd bet he bats for my team."
You could have heard a pin drop after Mr. Cobb's statement. Art teachers are often accused of being gay, and I had never heard a hint that Mr. Cobb was, but he had just outed himself. I realized that we had all been guilty of stereotyping, this time a reverse stereotyping, since Mr. Cobb was definitely not the "gay type". His lifestyle also did not fit the stereotype. He owned a farm well out into the country where he raised organic vegetables, ran open range chickens and had a herd of milk goats. He had help, of course. Don Simmons, his partner -- wow! I guess in more ways than in business! -- and he ran the farm with the help of Jess Miller and his wife who lived in a small house on the farm. They sold their produce, eggs, and goat cheese to the finest restaurants in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.
"Mr. Simmons... ?" I stammered.
"Is my life partner, yeah. Actually, we are married in Massachusetts and consider ourselves married here as well."
"But, I mean..."
"Look, we like our life here with the farm and my teaching and we know it could be a pain if people knew, so we've made no big deal of it. But after that kid and his family were hounded out of town last year, we swore we'd do all we could to see that it didn't happen again should the problem arise."
"Well, probably wise for us to keep it to yourselves and avoid the consequences of making it known," Sheriff Anderson said.
"Fine with me so long as it's harming no-one," Mr. Cobb said.
We talked for another hour discussing possibilities, but came up with little beyond Sheriff Anderson talking with Sandy.
"Well, I think we're spinning our wheels now, so why don't we all go home, give the situation some thought and, above all, keep our eyes open and, Marc, you and Justin be careful."
I was surprised when I looked at my watch as we walked out of the sheriff's office. It was almost 6:00. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised because I had gone for the talk with Mr. Sanford after school, then come here and spent time discussing the case. Since it was near 6:00, I decided I'd just drift over to the store where Justin was working and wait for him.
"Where are you parked?" Mr. Cobb asked we walked down the steps. "In the sheriff's parking lot?"
"No room when I arrived so I'm parked on Johnson." Since that meant I would be walking in the opposite direction from him, I bade him goodbye and headed for the car.
As I approached it, I noticed the windshield was covered with something and as I walked closer, it looked like blood. At the car, I was sure it was blood splashed over the hood and windshield. When I opened the door, the inside was also covered with blood and an awful smell which almost knocked me down. A quick glance inside before I closed the door and gagged, revealed a dead animal in the driver's seat. I usually don't worry about someone stealing my car, but am careful to lock it, but this time? Anyone with guts enough to brave the mess probably deserved a car!! The culprits were, I was sure, long gone. Nevertheless, I looked around before I hot-footed it back to the sheriff's office.
He was just leaving his office with Miss Calhoun when I arrived. I told them what I had found and they walked with me back to the car. Miss Calhoun whipped out a pair of latex gloves and opened the car door, "Don't think it'll take modern forensics to identify the animal," she said as she walked away from the car, gagging. "That is definitely a skunk!"
"That your expert opinion?" Sheriff Anderson laughed.
"Well, I'll do more lab work -- with your assistance -- if you like," she laughed as well. She then covered her mouth and nose with a handkerchief, opened the car door again and removed a note. "This was stuck in the skunk's mouth. The skunk may be funny, but this is not," she said, spreading the note on her hand.
"Skunks and faggots smell the same and come to the same end!" the note read and, again, the well-drawn picture of two men kissing and this time with two poorly drawn men, holding pistols, shooting the kissing men.
"Marc, I need to take your car. If you like, I'll have it towed to the dealership as soon as we are through and they can start work on it. Going to take some effort to get it cleaned up and the skunk scent gone. Hope you weren't planning on using it for the prom."
"Think John's springing for a limo. After all, there'll be six of us and we do like to do things together."
"I like that idea," he responded. "The way this thing is accelerating, I might have to come up with some protection soon. SBI will send an undercover agent as soon as I give the word, but hope it doesn't come to that. Will have a patrol car give your neighborhood special attention. Right now I'll have a deputy see that you get home," he said as he clicked on his shoulder mike and spoke into it.
The deputy was a 'good old boy' and talked about NASCAR racing on the way to pick up Justin. When we reached the store, Justin was in the process of locking the door when I appeared. "What have you done now that you need a police escort?" he joked.
"Need protecting me from strange characters," I said. "Tell you about it when we get home. Right now Deputy Redneck will 'transport you home,' as he said."
I knew Justin had a problem being in enclosed spaces and the back seat of a sheriff's patrol seemed to qualify as such so I climbed in the back, in the cage to keep dangerous outlaw residents of the county from attacking solid citizen law officers.
I hadn't planned on discussing what had been going on, but the deputy had other ideas. "Guess you fellows are as pissed as my grandson with them fairy boys taking over the school," he said as he pulled into the street.
"Fairy boys?" Justin said in a very innocent voice.
"Yeah, you know Pansies, Fruits, Cornholers, Fudgepackers, Cocksuckers, you know."
"Oh, I guess I wasn't thinking," Justin replied. As the deputy pulled up to a stop sign and looked to see if it was safe to proceed, I saw Justin reach up and flip a switch. "Haven't heard too much about it, I guess,"
Justin said. "Seems all I do is go to school and work."
"Won't kill you, that's what I keep telling my grandson. When I was a boy, boys were expected to do men's work. Now they just want to shoot hoops. Think they wuz darkies. Anyway, he said no way he was going to get involved, but told me a couple of queer fellows broke up a football player and his girlfriend. Some of his buddies are out to give the queers the same thing that kid got last year, you know that Allan kid. Look like any assfucking queer would have learned a lesson from that. Guess the county'll get rid of another family or two. Good riddance. Men fucking each other, spreading AIDS and all." He was getting pretty wound up and neither Justin nor I said anything to him, just let him ramble on.
"Yeah, had the nigger agenda and they just about took over, now we got a faggot agenda. They'll be wanting to have the same rights as good white Christian citizens first thing you know. Preacher talked about that last Sunday. Said if we didn't vote right we have Adam and Steve gettin' married right here in Elizabethton. Nip it in the bud, he said and you know he's right." He rambled on for five more minutes, driving at fifteen or twenty miles an hour.
"We'll not get the pig over the stile and we'll not get home until dark at this speed," I thought.
"What the shit!" he shouted as he slammed on his brakes. Only our low speed kept me from slamming into my seatbelt.
A sheriff's patrol car had given a blast of its siren, whipped around us and blocked the street ahead. "Now what is that nigger bitch up to?" Deputy Redneck exploded as he unbuckled his seatbelt and prepared to get out of the car as a female officer got out of the parked patrol car.
He was still struggling to get his bulk out of the car when a very attractive woman in a sheriff's department uniform walked up. "You can just stay in your car for the time being, Deputy Jenkins. Unlock the back. Gentlemen, come with me."
"These boys in trouble?" Deputy Redneck asked.
Deputy Jenkins? Jenkins!! Bells went off!
"They're not; you are. Gentlemen, I'm Deputy Johnson and I'll be transporting you the rest of the way."
"Who are you boys? What's going on?" Deputy Jenkins was definitely confused.
"I'm Cocksucker," Justin said with a perfectly straight face, "and he's Cocksucker's Boyfriend." Deputy Jenkins looked like he had been hit in the face with a sack of wet shit. "I hope you didn't take me seriously back there. I was just flapping my mouth."
"You don't need to worry about them right now," Deputy Johnson said, "but I can tell you Sheriff Anderson took every word you said seriously. Report back to him on the double and he'll explain everything."
When we got in the other car, Deputy Johnson said, "Smart move, Boys. You know I'm Deputy Johnson and I recognize you, Marc Porcher. Haven't seen you in several years. You did grow up."
"You know me?"
"Yeah, Cousin Clarisa used to bring you to family reunions when the Johnson clan was still having them."
"Thought you looked familiar. You do favor Clarisa. I'm Justin Smith."
"Knew yo'mama. Fine woman. Sorry about her death. You two boyfriends? That's none of my business. Forget I asked."
"No problem," I replied. "and yes, we are."
"Hard row to hoe. Maybe as hard as being black."
"Yeah, but as Clarisa keeps reminding us, we can hide being gay, but she can't hide being black."
"Can you see Clarisa trying to pass?" Deputy Johnson started laughing and soon all three of us had tears running down our face from laughter.
"Good to see you again, Marc. Nice to meet you Justin," she said as she pulled up in our drive and came back to let me out of the cage.
"Thanks for the lift and the laugh," Justin said.
"Yeah, I needed both, thanks," I added.
As we walked to the front door, I asked, "Just what did you do to get Deputy Jenkins ass in a crack. I saw you flip a switch."
"Saw a switch marked 'Transmit for record' and flipped it. Assumed it had some recording devise in the car, but apparently it was more than that. Man, did you see the look on Jenkins' face when Deputy Johnson walked up?"
"Yeah and I bet Jenkins is right unless he wants to be called Ex-deputy Jenkins."
"So what started all this?"
"Bit of a long story, but my car was trashed, maybe a clue, but it'll have to wait. I hear Clarisa giving orders. Can we help?" I called out as we walked to the kitchen.
"Fill the water glasses and we're ready," Clarisa responded.
The Clan had been visiting in the library, as though they hadn't seen each other a few hours ago. Clarisa called then and as soon as she got us all seated, said, "Tonight is Thai. We're beginning with a Thai appetizer -- Galloping Horses. Unfortunately, I don't know the Thai name. With that we'll have Thai style Bubble Tea. The main course is Neua Pad Kimao -- Thai Beef Flambe, accompanied by Phak tom kati -- Thai vegetables in coconut milk. Dessert, which will be served in the library, is Thai ice cream with ginger topping accompanied by Oleang -- Thai coffee.
I suspect the dinner could have gone either way, at least for me. Since the others did not know the latest and, after all, the threat was not to them, I was afraid I would be so down it would drag the others down, but it didn't happen. Good food and good company worked its magic and we had a grand dinner.
When we adjourned to the library, Justin and I served the dessert and coffee and when everyone was served, we sat down and I said, "I don't know whether you know it or not, but Justin and I come home tonight at county expense." I then told then about the dead skunk.
"Phew, the very thought is enough to make me gag," Bobbie said.
"Well, as soon as the sheriff's department finishes with the car, it will be sent to the dealership for cleaning. Not only will there be skunk smell to deal with, but also blood, blood on the inside and on the outside."
"Blood? Inside and outside?" John asked. "Wouldn't have thought a skunk had enough blood to do much."
"Neither did Sheriff Anderson and Miss Calhoun. Both suspect the blood is from -- I hope!! -- another animal. I mean, how desperate would you be to bleed a skunk? Something else... the deputy who started driving us home, I suspect, is looking for a job even as we speak."
Justin then told the crew about our adventure coming home. "Got picked up by a cousin of yours, Clarisa, Deputy Johnson. Funny, I didn't ask her given name. She remembers Marc from when he was a little boy and used to go to Johnson reunions."
"Name's Mattie May, named after our grandmother. She always hated the name and now goes by MM Johnson if she's out of uniform. Good woman. Married a good man and has a couple kids."
"Deputy Jenkins," Susan said, puzzled.
"Snake Jenkins, he's called," Clarisa said. "Was part of the old sheriff's crew. Blacks knew to avoid him. They kept falling downstairs at the jail, both steps, and being really bruised and broken up. Black folks been wanting him gone for years, but he has watched his step with the new sheriff. I guess he slipped up this time." Clarisa laughed and said, "Good news in the colored town tonight!!" The others were surprised at Clarisa's reference to the black part of the town as colored town, but I had heard her use it before. It was her way of celebrating a blow against those who had given the area that name.
"But Jenkins," Susan said again. "Do I see a pattern here? Kev Jenkins is a member of the Four Jocks. Sandy Jenkins, his brother, it appears, drew what has become their logo and Snake Jenkins is a bigot and what? The Jenkins boys' father?"
"No, uncle," Clarisa said. "The Jenkins Chapter of the KKK they used to be called. The old man is dead now, but the five brothers would like to carry on. Kevin, Kev's daddy, is the youngest and Kev and Sandy are years younger than their next younger cousin."
"You seem to know a lot about country folks, Clarisa," John said.
"Us African-Americans had to keep up with them the way you keep up with a bunch of mad dogs, otherwise they bite your butt."
When I finished, I said, "Anyone ready to study? Last chance before we die."
"Shut your mouth!" Clarisa thundered. "Don't tempt the devil."