My Life A Bit South of Normal

Friday, December 29, 2017

Below the Mason Dixon Line

Terse was in the Tea Room the following morning picking up 2 dozen blueberry scones Hattie had made for his mother. Blanche was hosting her book club and Hattie's scones were just what she wanted to serve. While he was paying for them he said, "By the way Caroline, I'm giving you a heads up. My publisher has decided to send a writer for a magazine to Gallagher to get a 'feel' for the town. God, only knows what he will do with his time. My guess is he will be here several hours at most."

"You think he will want to stop by the Tea Room?"

"I would think so. Y'all's storefront makes quite the show here in town. "

"Well, I appreciate that. If we see a stranger in town walking around with a pad and pencil, we will be sure to tell him good things about you." She handed him the box of scones.

"Thanks Caroline, you do that," laughed Terse and he walked out.

While eating lunch at the Starlight, Terse told Wade and Sheriff Quitman about the possible visitor. Both said they would do what they could to make him feel welcome. They discussed Terse's new book and how it was coming along. Terse told them his only problem, at this point, was his publisher - who was driving him crazy. "Every time I turn around he has some lame brain idea of a TV show I need to be on,  an interview I need to do, or some fool thing like this reporter coming to Gallagher."

"Well it worked out well when all your fans were looking for Reginald Jackson," laughed Wade. "Too bad someone spilled the beans that we didn't know anyone by THAT name."

The Sheriff chuckled,"If he gets too obnoxious I'll get Mike to pick him up for disturbing the peace."

"If he gets bored, or you just need to 'entertain' him, there is always the Museum,"suggested Wade with a smile.

The bells on the front door jingled as Aunt Cordelia walked in. Everyone turned to greet her. She took a seat at a table next to Terse, Wade, and the Sheriff. "Good afternoon gentleman,"she smiled as she put her napkin in her lap.

" 'Miss' Cordelia, how are you doing," asked the Sheriff.

"I'm just fine. I understand that Mrs. Barker is back in town and doing very well."

"She is. In fact Dr. Magill said Mrs. Barker had mentioned she hoped to get more involved in the community. She is a totally new person. Since her past here has been fairly rocky, do you think you could invite her to join you the next time y'all have one of your hen parties?"

"Of course, I'd be delighted," said Cordelia with a smile.

"Her name is Iris," the Sheriff added.

"Well, I never knew that."

"I don't think anyone else did either."

Wade added, "Oh, and she is living in one of my cottages on Oak Street. I think it is 315 Oak. You can check with Della to be sure."

"I think I'll try to visit with her this afternoon."

They exchanged some pleasantries and were interrupted when the waitress came for Cordelia's order.

After lunch Terse took some time and called Anna Belle, Ed, Ike, Frank, Lavenia, and a few other local business owners to let them know about the prospective reporter. He did not want anyone surprised.

Back in Bay Minette, the State Health Department had closed the Sanatorium. All the remaining patients were medically evaluated, their families were notified, and they were moved to other (safe) facilities. The building itself was condemned and then the state and local authorities conducted a complete inspection. After talking with the families of the patients, Sheriff Smythe realized there was much more there that they had yet to find.

Meanwhile the records showed current bills for patients who had died a year or so ago, current patients at the time of the closing, and some who could not be accounted for. The Sheriff pulled the County Coroner in to compare his records. Some of the patients on record as currently being billed were in fact deceased and several others not accounted for were not listed as deceased according to the Coroner's records.

When an overall census was done, there were 26 patients alive and accounted for, 12 certified by the coroner as deceased but still being billed, 11 mystery names that were being billed yet were neither certified as deceased nor ever admitted to the facility, and Burdell Wells - who was in the facility, according to his family, billed for, yet never officially admitted, had any medical records to show, nor was accounted for when the facility was vacated.

In Gallagher, later that afternoon. Cordelia called Della to confirm that Wade had given her the correct address for Iris. He had, so she decided to pay her a visit. Cordelia stopped by Lavenia's to get some fresh flowers. Her mother taught her early on never to show up at someones door empty handed.

When Iris answered her door, Cordelia did not recognize her. The frumpy woman, Cordelia had only glimpsed about town in dowdy over sized drab colored dresses, was wearing a cute sweater over neat black pants. She introduced herself to Iris and handed her the flowers.

"Why thank you," Iris said, as she took the flowers. "Please come in."

"I know I should have called but I didn't have your number. The Sheriff told me that you were living here and wanted to get more involved in the community."

"Oh, I do," Iris said as she offered Cordelia a seat. "I realize no one in town knows me. And, that's my fault. I wasn't aware of it, but I have been suffering a severe depression for some time. Poor John, he was such a dear. I shut him out as well as the rest of the world. He didn't deserve that."

"Oh dear," Cordelia said with that soothing voice that sounded as comforting as it was meant to be, with no hint of judgment. "John was a good man. Someone everyone in the community misses. I'm sure he was worried about you, because no doubt he loved you dearly. But you cannot do anything about that now. We all need to move forward, I can assure you that is what he would want you to do."

She smiled with teary eyes, "I needed to hear that."

"Now that we have that settled, you can get on with your life. . . and be happy." Cordelia smiled.

Iris told her, in brief detail, what she had been through. By the time she was finished, Iris felt better about herself. It was the first time she had discussed this with anyone beyond Dr. Magill and the Sheriff. "I cannot tell you how much support Dr. Magill has given me. In fact talking with him on the way back from Bay Minette made me realize how much of life I had missed. It had been so long since I had spent anytime with anyone. Of course I attended church, but that was all. And I did not enjoy that."

"Well, Mercer is a special person. I have been amazed how well he has done since his wife, Meg, died. They were so close. But he has soldiered on. We are very lucky to have him here as our doctor."

"Oh, I agree."

"Iris, I came to invite you to tea Wednesday. Several of us are getting together at the Tea Room around 3:30 and I would love for you to join us. These are ladies I know you will enjoy getting to know. And, no doubt, they will find you as friendly and engaging as I have. Will you join us?"

"Of course."

"Great, I will pick you up at 3:15, if that suits?

"It does."

"Then it's a date."

"Thank you Cordelia. I really appreciate the invitation and the flowers." She smiled, "And most of all the visit."

Sure enough Wednesday morning the reporter arrived. Wade was the first to spot him. He wasn't hard to miss. With his city slicker clothes and odd shoes, he looked like a duck out of water. Wade crossed the street and introduced himself. "Looking for someone?"

"Not really. My name is Art, Art Nome. I'm a freelance writer from New York. Reginald Jackson's publisher asked me to come down here and get a feel for his hometown."

Wade offered his hand,"Wade Hampton, nice to meet you."

"Wade Hampton. Like the General from South Carolina?"

"No, Quinton Gallagher Hampton IV. They just call me 'Wade'."

"Who do you suggest I talk with to get a feel for this town and Mr. Jackson?"

"Well, a good place to start is over there," Wade pointed toward Ed's. "Ed's is where most locals get their coffee, and many get their breakfast. I'd start there. After that you can wander around and ask anyone you see. Everyone knows everyone else here. Or, just visit the Starlight Cafe," Wade pointed toward the cafe."Or the Tea Room, to get a ladies perspective. The local hardware store, Wells and Smith, can also probably give you some insight."

"Thank you sir. I appreciate your help."

"Any time. Welcome to Gallagher."

With that, Wade turned and walked toward his office. Art headed for Ed's.

When Art walked into Ed's he felt as if he was walking back into a 50's diner. Mae greeted him and told him he could sit where ever he wished. She was soon over with a pot of coffee. "You just visiting?"

Art introduced himself and explained why he was in Gallagher. Mae put the pot on the table and sat down. "Well I can tell you all about him."

"Really?"

"Oh, honey. He is the best looking thing we have ever seen here. And the funny thing is that nobody thought he would amount to anything, who knew he could write? We all just thought he would live off his trust fund. You know he's from a filthy rich Mobile family. That's why he always dresses the way he does." She smiled,"Oh, and my name is Mae, that is spelled M-A-E, in case you want to use it in your article."

Art was entranced. He wasn't sure Mae had taken a breath since she opened her mouth. "Is he popular?"

"I don't know anybody that doesn't love Terse."

"Terse"

"Terse. His Christian name is Reginald Beauregard Jackson III, but he goes by Terse. I never knew why."

While Art was in Ed's he had a chance to talk with several other town citizens. They basically said the same thing Mae had said. It made Terse sound like a saint. No one could be that good, Art thought, there must be some skeleton in his closet.

After breakfast, Art walked down the main street around the city park, taking the time to visit Frank at the jewelry store, Lavenia at the florist shop, and even Ada at Heddie's. Along the way he learned a few more stories about Terse, but nothing that he thought would really 'catch' a reader's attention.

He saved the Starlight for lunch. Meanwhile he decided to walk down the oak lined streets and look at the old homes. He found them elegant yet quaint. When he came upon the 'Hunnicut House' he stopped to read the  historic marker telling the background of Colonel Hunnicut and his heroic service in WWI. The large Victorian house was in wonderful shape with a manicured lawn. Then he noticed the sign, "Gallagher Gentlemen's Club". 'What the heck is that?' Art wondered. But he moved on, assuming it was a private club for members only.

He made his way to the Starlight Diner. There he found a fairly large crowd enjoying their lunch. He walked in and Walter, dressed in his white apron and friendly smile, greeted him from behind the counter,"Welcome, take a seat anywhere. Someone will be right with you."

Art decided to sit at the counter, that would be his best chance to interact with the towns folk who were enjoying their lunch. The waitress came over and handed him a menu. "You're new in town. Welcome."

"How did you know?"

"Gallagher's only so big, we know everyone." She smiled as she filled his water glass. "And Mae from Ed's called me this morning and told me you might be by. You're Mr. Art Nome, writing a story about Terse, right?"

"I am. What do you suggest from the menu?"

"Walter's known for his burger - best in town."

"Well, I have one and some tea?"

"I'm assuming you want cold unsweet tea?"

Forgetting for a moment he was south of the Mason Dixon line, Art laughed,"Yes, unsweet please."

"Anything else?"

"You can tell me about Reginald Jackson?"

"There's not much to tell. He's the best looking thing that ever set foot in Gallagher. No one ever thought he would amount to much. We all figured he would just live on his trust fund. Who knew he was a writer?"

"That's what everyone says."

"That's because it's the truth. Not much more to say." With that she smiled and walked off.

Just then the gentleman sitting next to him spoke, "Good afternoon, let me introduce myself. I'm Col Wadsworth Washington III, but my friends call me George." He extended his hand.

It was at that time, that Art realized the Col was dressed in a full Confederate uniform - head to toe, hat to boots. "Art Nome, writer from New York."

"Welcome to Gallagher. Heard tell you were here. You should take time to come visit our museum, it will give you a good perspective of the history of the area. Just go that way, 4 or 5 blocks," he pointed down the street, "and you will see it. Hard to miss. Called 'The Museum of Confederate Uniforms, Hats, and Paraphernalia'."

"Is there a reenactment today?" Art asked looking at the Colonel's attire.

"Oh, no." said the Colonel, oblivious to the reason behind Art's question. "But we will have one this weekend, if you can stay. It is a great experience. Especially for someone from your neck of the woods. Although I will tell you now, the Rebels win this skirmish. Not to give it away, but anyone who studies history knows how this little battle ends." With that the Colonel picked up his hat, stood up, and said,"Now, I hope to see you at the museum."

"Well, I hope to get there."

The waitress returned and brought his burger. As she set it down in front of him, he asked,"Does that Colonel dress like that for the museum?"

In a matter-of-fact fashion, as she poured his tea, she answered,"Oh, no. That is how he dresses everyday. His wife used to dress in period costume also. But since she went to work at 'Miss' Anna Belle's she doesn't any more."

" Miss Anna Belle's?"

"She owns the 'Gallagher Gentlemen's Club'."

"Oh, I saw that when I was walking around. A beautiful home. It is a private club, right?"

"Yes," she said curtly,"can I get you anything else?"

"No, thank you. But, what type of club is it?"

"A men's club, like the sign says?"

"Like a card club or a gambling club? I don't understand?"

The waitress just looked at him, "It is a private club where men go to do what men do."

"Oh! That type of club."

"I'm not sure what you mean." stated the waitress.

"If I understood you, you said it was a bordello?" He paused, then asked, "Is that legal here?"

"Mr. Nome, here is your check, you pay at the counter. We appreciate your business."

"Wait, the Colonel's wife works there?" Art stood up and followed her. "Now there's a story."

Knowing he was not going to learn anything else from the waitress, Art paid and left the diner. As he stood on the side walk, he saw the Sheriff, easily recognizable by his uniform, across the street looking at him. Before Art could cross the street to speak to the Sheriff,  a woman breezed by. She was tall and thin, wearing a gele on her head. Her long purple robe flowed behind her as if she floated. Art called to her,"Mam, can I ask you a question?"

Reeza turned and looked at him with her bright yellow eyes, and in a deep eerie voice said,"Why?"

"Well . . ."

"I know who you are. You are the reporter from New York who is here to write about Mr. Jackson." She stared at him and pointed a long bony finger, tipped with a fire engine red colored nail, toward him. "Be careful of the questions you ask, there are secrets here you do not need to know, and a ghastly price you will pay for that knowledge." She laughed with her loud cackle and disappeared before his eyes.

Stunned, he just stood there. He saw the Sheriff was still standing across the street looking at him. Art crossed the street. "Sir, who was that?"

"Who are you talking about?"

"That lady who was talking to me in the purple robe. The one with the yellow eyes who cackled like a witch. You had to see her."

"Son, I didn't see anyone but you."

"You couldn't have missed her. She acted like a  witch. She threatened me."

"Threatened you?" the Sheriff asked, holding back a laugh.

"Yes, she said something about being careful about asking questions, that there would a price to pay."

"Mr. Nome, it is Mr. Nome, isn't it?"

"Yes," Art said almost shaking.

"Everyone in our town is very friendly. Have you met anyone who has not gone out of their way to be welcoming. Now, I don't know what you saw. Maybe, your trip down here has been taxing, but if you are accusing us of having a 'witch'? " the Sheriff laughed.

Art stammered,"I'm not accusing you of anything, I saw a witch."

"Well, I'm afraid I didn't," the Sheriff could say honestly knowing Reeza was a Voodoo Priestess, not a witch. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine."

"Good, if you need anything, just holler." With that the Sheriff walked off leaving Art Nome standing on the sidewalk dazed and confused.

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