Excerpt for Soutee by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





SOUTEE

Part One

© Dale Wiley, 2017

www.dalewiley.com


Other works by Dale Wiley:

There Is a Fountain (Paperback)

There Is a Fountain (e-book)

The Intern (Paperback)The Intern (e-book)

The Intern (audiobook)

Sabotage (Paperback)

Sabotage (e-book)

Southern Gothic (Hardcover)

Southern Gothic (e-book)


Coming Soon:

The Jefferson Bible



Copyright © 2017 Dale Wiley

All rights reserved.

Distributed by Smashwords

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Ebook formatting by www.ebooklaunch.com



CONTENTS

Soutee

Suggested and Approved Playlist



SOUTEE

We was drunk as trainrobbers by nine in the morning as we glided on down the highway heading for Mt. Vernon. It was me, my secretary Janice and little Donna Phelps. I had had the pleasure of Donna’s company the night before, but had picked up Janice before we left for good measure. Nothing like having a spare just in case. I had the top down on my red 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, and the sun was terrible hot. I imagined it wouldn’t be long before one or the other of my companions would be taking off some of those cumbersome items of clothing that they were currently wearing, and they was already plenty uncovered.

Donna kindly favored clothing skimpy enough that if a disco broke out, she would be right in style. Her cut-off shorts were right and left little to my over-taxed imagination, and the halter top told the rest of the story. Janice wore jeans and a blouse that looked elegant and timeless.

“This,” said Janice, making sure she would be compensated, “Is a helluva way to spend a work day.”

It was a glorious morning, towards the hind end of April, and the world was as green as the felt on a poker table. My clematis was goin’ crazy back at the house, and so were the magnolia blossoms, although I was highly disappointed in my attempts at orchids. They was making me look kind of shabby, and I didn’t appreciate that. I was half-beginning to think they just wasn’t going to grow in southern Missouri, and that would mean I owed a lot of apologies among my friends with green thumbs, who had been telling me that very thing for a whole year. If they didn’t work out, I would try some Rattlesnake Plantain orchids next, which were supposedly native to our region.

The year was 1978, I believe, or maybe ‘79. Donna put the Waylon Live album in the eight track, and there we was transfixed by Waylon singing Jimmie Rodgers. T for Texas, T for Tennessee. If there’s a better album in the world you tell me what it is and I’ll fight you for it. I know that one by heart, and I’m especially partial to that song, when Waylon is tellin’ you about that damned old Thelma, the one who made a wreck out of him. Waylon is playin’ those loud, syncopated lead runs all low down on his guitar, and ol’ Mooney - who once wrote “Crazy Arms,” the Hillbilly National Anthem, takes the steel lead and runs away with the thing. I can’t sing but I sure tried. Donna gave me a kiss on the cheek, and Janice looked all jealous. I pretended to tip my cowboy hat to her, which I had removed due to the convertible, and she blushed. All was good. Least, I hoped it was, because the Judge was behaving all unusual.

All I knew was that he wanted to see me, and that he was goin’ to send me to Memphis. That was all right by me: it was Friday, and I didn’t intend to work anyway. I believe that any work done on a Friday is arbitrary, capricious and communistic, and if I did much of anything other than sit around and pour a finger or two of Maker’s Mark for my lawyer friends, you can be sure it was a jury trial or something terrible important. Otherwise, I’d try to high-tail it on out, to Okie City, or Hot Springs, or somewhere where there was cold beer and warm women, my two main requirements. I have a few others, like the aforementioned good country music and the Cardinals on the radio, but a man must have his core values. Mine are cold beer and warm women, not necessarily in that order.

I guess I was half-curious, because, like I said, it was a little strange for Judge Pinnell to ask me over like this. I had gotten the message the night before: Get the hell over here when you get up, and be prepared to be gone this weekend. Sounded like my kind of assignment.

We pulled into about three parking spaces on the square, and I slithered out from behind the wheel. The girls were going to stay and play the radio and sun themselves, which was all right by me. I snuck a peek at them as I headed in. Boy, they was shiny! Donna was showing off her blond hair, somehow managing to keep that blue halter top up where the State of Missouri wanted it. Janice’s dark brown hair and darker eyes melted my heart. I always say don’t ride your breedin’ stock and don’t breed your ridin’ stock, but Janice had been hunnin’ up to me a little more lately and I just might make an exception. If you’re goin’ to make a mistake, make sure it’s a hell of a good story. Trouble is, even with that extra hunnin’ Janice made it really hard to tell if she’d really go through with it. She always played it close, and that made her all the more desirable.

I put my cowboy hat on, then just as quickly took it off when I came to the threshold of the courthouse, a marble edifice of considerable importance to me. I had tried jury trials, settled personal injury cases and otherwise been a defender of the accused in that place. A “defender of the accused” is just a defense attorney, but somebody told me that, and I just thought that sounded a lot more influential, so I adopted it into my vocabulary. The place had been built around the turn of the century, back when we could build impressive places that fit their function. I don’t think we can do that anymore. Just give us wood paneling and air conditioning and we’re all fine. My boots caused a scene every time they hit another oak stair, and I sounded like I was trailing a dozen head of cattle, but I finally made it up to the second floor, where I got to play to my audience.

I stopped in the clerk’s office and tipped my hat to all the girls. Most of them was glad to see me, but Patty still wouldn’t look at me. She was either mad or embarrassed after what had happened at my Kentucky Derby party the spring before, but she wouldn’t speak to me to tell me which.

“Eleanor, you look pretty as a lily,” I said, which made her straight out blush. I thought that for the right kind of evening, or weekend, Eleanor would be an ideal companion. She was young and still impressionable, but she held herself with the free grace of a lady. The year before, she had caked up a little, but all them cookies had slid right back off, and she looked magnificent.

“You never fail to suprise, Steve.” She said, shaking her head, but happy to play along.

“Well, let me know if I do. That will mean I am not on my best behavior, and need to be reprimanded.” She laughed at that, but her look lingered for a second too long. I needed to come back and see her again. “Maybe even spanked!” She playfully slapped me on the shoulder and I was on my way.

“Well, the judge told me vociferously to come and visit his quaint abode,” I said, waiting for them to respond.

“English please?” Eleanor loved to tweak me.

“He told me loudly to come up and complain about the Cardinals!”

I hopped on around them, towards the judge’s office.

Judge Pinnell kept an office just behind the clerks, and he barked out something or other as I knocked. He was the only judge in the circuit that rated a window air conditioner in his office, but he ran it so much that it was starting to warp the new paneling. His law school diploma sat kinda crooked, but he had moved his autographed Stan Musial picture so it could hang straight.

I came in to find him behind a dozen thick files on his desk, looking like he had just bitten into something sour. He was staring at a half-empty tumbler of scotch. In other words, things was about normal.

“Soutee,” he said, “I saw those girls out there. Did I say anything about bringing girls on this trip?”

“You didn’t say I couldn’t,” I pointed out, and I could see the corner of his mouth twitching, but he avoided smiling.

“God, I want to die and come back as you.”

We small-talked for a while, about baseball, and a case or two that Judge had been involved with when he was a young man. I have learned more about the law from a bunch of half-drunk judges sittin’ in their offices than I ever did from any law professor. Somewheres in there Judge poured me a drink or two (okay, it might have been three. Math was never my strong suit. Old Tom Strong once told me, he was a trial lawyer. All he knew to do was divide by three), and I kindly accepted each one of them. Can’t turn down the Judge, now can you? Whatever this assignment was, I figured it didn’t require too terrible much sobriety.

“I’ve got a problem,” he finally said.

“I do too. It’s my orchids. They ain’t a bloomin’.”

The judge rolled his eyes. “I can’t help you with that, and I didn’t ask you to come over here to talk about your flowers.”

“Well they’re shamin’ my garden anyway.”

He sighed deeply and changed the subject. “Damn it Soutee! It’s Smitty.”

I could hardly think of anyone who was less of a problem. Smitty had been the bailiff in Lawrence County for a hundred and twenty years, a nice guy who everybody liked. He didn’t mess around that I knew of, even though he had a wife even a drunk man would turn down, and went to church on Wednesday and Sundays.

“Now Judge. Smitty can’t be a problem! I’ve known him all my life. Used to shoot out street lights so him and Sandra could park. Now what could he have done?”

“The son-of-a-bitch ran off with $25,000, that’s what.”

For once, I was silent. I couldn’t imagine it. I looked at the Judge and saw he was takin’ it hard.

“What? I don’t believe it.”

“In that jury trial that Walt and Bonnaker had yesterday, there was some money from a drug deal that was evidence.” He shook his head. “Walt didn’t want the defense to have it, and they didn’t want the prosecutor to have it, because one of the issues was whether there were any fingerprints. So I sent Smitty to take it back to the evidence room, across the street. That was noon yesterday and I haven’t seen him since.”

He shook a pill out of a bottle on his desk and washed it back with some whiskey. I slammed back the whiskey the Judge had given me, knowing I would need more. This was sobering me up way too fast.

“Now Judge, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, because I very much appreciate the invitation, but why in the world would you ask me to go and look for him? I’d probably take the money from him and tell him to go on to Mexico, and lie about how much I got back.”

He grinned all gnarly at me. “That’s exactly what I want you to do. I’m not gonna stand in the way of justice, but I also wouldn’t be alerting the Mexican authorities.”

“What do you think brought this on?” I asked. It still surprised me greatly.

“His paycheck or his pecker. Always one or the other.”

*****

We was headed to Memphis because that’s all Smitty could talk about of late. His son was about the only person around our parts who ever got to play minor league baseball, and he was currently starring in his second year with the Memphis Chicks. Smitty was real proud of this and would tell everyone about Mark being there for a second year, not really realizing that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, being on the same team for two years. It generally meant you wasn’t getting’ any better, or that someone up ahead of you was gonna keep you from goin’ any farther. We just smiled and listened to all of Smitty’s stories, cause hell knows none of us had gone that far.

Judge and I had talked about was there any other place that he might be, but we couldn’t think of any. The night before, Judge had gone and visited Smitty’s wife right after she had talked to the Sheriff , talked to her real solemn, and asked her was there any place he might be. She told him the same thing she told the cops: She didn’t have no idy, that Memphis was all he ever talked about. “That car of his could practically drive itself there,” she told Judge before breaking down in his arms.

So I was headed down Highway 60 at 10:30 in the morning, potentially hours behind the Sheriff if he had gotten up and dusted off the donut flakes on his lap and headed out (which I kindly doubted) and five or six stiff drinks ahead of most Americans. Janice took out the 8-track of Merle Haggard playing Bob Wills and to give us somethin’ first rate to listen to. I think Merle sings those songs every bit as good as Tommy Duncan. That probably ain’t a popular opinion, but I sure feel it. His “Right or Wrong” sounded just as good as ol’ Bob and I’ll stand before Congress and swear to it.

We made it into West Plains and gave a salute to Jan Howard, Preacher Rowe and one of our crowned jewels, the Thin Man From West Plains, Porter Wagoner. Normally I would have stopped and had a drink, but I was on a mission and falling behind. I just still couldn’t believe that Smitty was behind all of this. I began to wonder if we were barking up the wrong tree by going to Memphis. We passed into Arkansas and right around where the road starts to get twisty around Hardy, I had an idy. I pulled over, made sure the girls didn’t need something to top them off, and went to the payphone just up from a store offering a Wilburn Brothers special t-shirt. The Wilburn Brothers are from Hardy, if you didn’t know that. But I’m assuming you do.

I called the judge’s office. Collect. Something I’ve never had to do even with the escapades I’ve pulled. He answered on the first ring, and accepted the charges.

“Judge, I’m gonna keep on heading towards Memphis, but I want you to see if you can find a number for Mark. Memphis is a big place, and I need to know what he knows.”

“I’ve got the number right here. It just rings. But I’ll be happy to give it to you.”

I was glad he was ahead of me, and wrote down the number. I tried it before I left the phone, but he was right. It rang like a salvation army pro, and I finally got back in and continued our journey.

But oh those mountains! Oh the glory! The road takes you right through all of that scenery that had handled Indians and settlers and all of those creatures that lived just beyond the lip of the road. I always wondered about the scene unfolding on the other side of the hill, maybe a hunter making a play on a spring turkey, maybe a majestic buck giving a look of deep need and animal desire to a pretty little doe who was buying what he was selling. The fall leaves that had looked so vibrant just months before had now just become a carpet for the whole thing, and that glowing green, almost gaudy in its perfection, dominated nature in those hills, making us all bow to its perfection. Or at least it did that to me.

You don’t have to get far out of Hardy, though, before the landscape changes. The verdant mountains of my sweet Ozarks home changes into the flat delta land as the path gets closer to the Mississippi River. The winding mountain roads go by quicker than you think, and then you’re left with all that farmland, the cotton fields and rice fields. Just thinking about that labor made my back hurt, but Donna was in the middle of a whiskey-induced nap, and Janice looked puzzled.

“Do you have a theory?” I asked.

She shook her head. “It just doesn’t make any sense with what we know.”

I was influenced by my surroundings. “Maybe he’s been plowing a different field down here in Memphis.” I winked for good measure.

She rolled her eyes. “I just never got any indication he had one thought of that in his head. My picture of him is probably going to Mark’s game and keeping score, just sure he had discovered heaven.”

I hoped she would say some more, so I used that lawyerly trick of staying quiet.

“I used to go to church with them, and Smitty seemed to be someone who was thoroughly happy with his life.”

Jonesboro came into view. There was a Holiday Inn on the left where I made the acquaintance of Mrs. Nancy Privett, who I heard recently is back to being a single lady, where she belongs. I remember the way her set of pearls set on her neck, and the way she bit her lip when she wanted a kiss and knew I needed to find her number and renew the acquaintance. I saw Elton’s Palace, an old beer joint that fancied itself a cut above, a couple of streets down from the motel, and was transported to a night of drinking and debauchery that led to our night of exquisite ecstasy time I was doing a deposition on the chief of police there. We rolled through the town, but those little memories, like shots of whiskey, gone as quick as a taste but the effect still lingering, played out like a silent movie as I rolled down the road. We was only about an hour from Memphis.

I looked at Janice awful serious and told her the most important news of the day: “We’re this close to Memphis. We are constitutionally unable to play any music which is not made by the great Mr. Sam Phillips.”

She playfully tossed a wadded-up tissue at me. “What does that even mean?”

“Sam Phillips is one of the great musical geniuses of the world. He discovered my favorite, Jerry Lee along with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash and” I removed my cowboy hat to pay the proper respects. “The dearly beloved and equally departed Elvis Presley.”

Janice made a full salute, and as the wind blew her hair and her big brown eyes held the light for a second, I could see the incredible beauty this woman possessed. I had never had the pleasure of her bed, and now, sitting with her, Donna so out of it she hardly even mattered, I realized I could fall for this woman. On one level, I fall for every woman I try to spend time with, but there was something different about her, something delightful and maybe not easily attainable. I invited her because I wasn’t sure she would lead me into her garden, and that was intoxicating. She smiled at me, and maybe sensed what I was thinking. We let the moment linger as Carl Perkins sang “Honey Don’t” like it was a command performance.

*****

We was coming down 55 straight into Memphis. That ol’ dog track was staring me in the face in West Memphis, begging like a cheap whore for some of my money and attention. I thought about giving it some, but then that trifecta that failed for me the last time and the thought of Smitty in some sort of mortal danger kept me away. He needed to be in mortal danger to keep me from straying, but it worked. As we were almost back in town, Janice jumped back over into the back seat. Donna had been stirring, but when she woke up, she was ready to go.

“Are we almost here?”

“We are, little darlin. We was just talking about you.”

Janice shook her head. “We were not.”

“Janice was just saying how much she loved them little perky breasts of yours and how she really wanted to see them.”

“Soutee! I said nothing of the sort!”

When I turned around, without further prompting from anyone, Little Donna put that halter top to its best and highest use and slid it down, to let Janice (who quickly turned away) and me and everyone else riding on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interstate highway system going south on I-55 at that exact moment see them. And they were marvelous. Truckers honked, and at least one pimple-faced kid riding in the back seat of his mom’s wood-paneled station wagon got his first taste of manhood that day, with the look on his face. I am often prone to hyperbole and puffery, but it was inspired and glorious.

*****

We rode into downtown, past the majestic bridge and the waterway that separated the west from the east. We rode past the little park, which held a Civil War cannon and started to see the streetcar loop and all the pent-up excitement of a big city on a Friday afternoon. We turned another corner, and there I found my favorite alley. I pulled my shiny car in and asked the “valet” to please park the Cadillac as we walked into the Rendevous. It was one of the most glorious holes in the wall America has to offer. The ribs have this rich dry seasoning and don’t need a drop of barbecue sauce to be the best thing you’ve had all day, and the yellow glow from the old saloon style lights mix with the deep red from the neon beer signs made the place seem homey and comfortable.There were all kinds of trinkets on the walls and in the cabinets, including a couple of rather vile statues gratuitously displaying the love between a man and a woman in the Greek and Roman times. They was my favorite. Finally, there were a few music posters that reminded me of how many legends had felt the same love affair for this place that I did. I had had a few nights in this place where the beginning was considerably easier to remember than the end, and at least one night ended up with the most elegant and stunning woman who had the coloring and the bearing of a Shawnee princess accompanying me across the alley to the Peabody, where we lost everything but our desire and our passion. The food was divine, the atmosphere was always alive, and there was always someone to strike up conversation as long as the place was open. I never got tired of coming here, and now, on a Friday night with the clock was ascending into the expanse of weekend time, it seemed like where the universe meant us to be. We sat down and ordered a pitcher of Budweiser, and I realized I probably wasn’t going to get much more detecting done that day. I took one long swig off the first mug, and decided I at least ought to try to call Mark one more time.

Before I could even make it to the pay phone, a little redheaded bird got in my way and stared me down. It took me a second, but I think I mighta remembered her, sort of.

“Soutee.” The way she said it sounded more like a straight-out curse word than the way I’m used to hearing my name out of a woman’s mouth. Her green eyes peered into me, and I was trying to remember how I had royally pissed off this woman.

I tipped my hat and gave her my best introduction. She stared right through me. She was determined to play this out and exact whatever revenge she thought was deserved. And I wasn’t denying that it was. It could have been. But I wanted right then to get that phone call made and get back to the beer and ribs and bullshit. This was slowing me down.

I couldn’t say what I wanted to say — Do I know you? — because I obviously did. But I should remember this one. Her green eyes sparkled like a neon sign and she carried herself like the Queen of the Silver Dollar. She wore a denim long-sleeve shirt with some daisies embroidered on it and I couldn’t see her backside, but given the view from the front, I imagined it would be glorious. The way she glared made me thing I had done something really bad. And that might very well be good.

“I can see you don’t even remember,” she said, looking down for the first time since she met my eyes.

I tried to be noncommital, but I knew I was failing.

“Two Christmases ago. Your pilgrimage.”

Then it hit me. Some of my podnuhs and I had come down to Memphis, just months after Elvis went off into the starry realm and brought our Elvis records and a couple of bottles to do some shots from. We camped out in front of the wrought iron gates of Graceland and got numb enough for the dentist to work on us free gratis. When the local constabulary ran us off, we found a little home on second street. I remembered extolling the virtues of this young lass. I appealed to her beauty and her inebriation, gave her my phone number afterwards, and then promptly failed to ever talk to her again. Being face to face with her again, I couldn’t say why I had made that mistake.

“Why hello, darlin,” I said.

“You don’t remember my name.”

She had me.

And Janice, who had seen the whole scene and probably knew exactly what it was about, saved me. She came up beside me, and literally brought me to the table.

“Sorry,” she said to my green-eyed admirer. “But I’ve gotta borrow Mr. Steve for just a second.”

She grabbed me and whispered close into my ear. I grabbed her waist and pulled her closer, while looking at Little Green. She seemed to be mixing a cocktail of jealousy and confusion. When my gaze lasted too long, it seemed to slowly turn to anger.

“What was that about?”

“It seems to be about a night of amorous passion gone awry.”

“Soutee, that doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”

I really wanted to get to the phone. But I’d have to walk right back into a talk with my old friend, and I really preferred to sit and let the alcohol massage my brain before I went back over there. I ordered a rack of ribs from the delightful waitress looking after me, and enjoyed the familiar flavor of Missouri’s finest while I waited for my ribs in Tennessee. Gradually, Little Green looked away and left her sentinel post. Without saying a word to the others, I saw my opportunity and went to the phone.

I dialed, and the phone rang and rang. I was about to hang up when a woman answered.

“Why hello there, darlin’,” I said, equal emphasis on each word.

She picked it up. “Hello,” she said in a voice that showed … interest.

“To whom am I having the pleasure of speaking?” I asked, realizing that my code of ethics wouldn’t allow me to bird dog Mark’s girl. But who said it had to be Mark’s girl?

“This is Melissa,” she said, friendly and inviting. “What I want to know is, who am I talking to?”

“My name is Steve Soutee,” I said. “I’m a friend of Mark’s. I figured he’s probably at the ballpark, but nothing I’ve done today has been normal, so I figured I’d check and see if he’d answer.”

“He’s at the park, just like you thought.”

“Well, maybe I need to go down and see him. Are you a close and affectionate friend?”

“Not of Mark’s. It might be fun to meet you at the park.”

I looked over at Donna and Janice and wondered how I’d deliver that information.

“Well, I guess you could say I’m ‘accompanying’ Mark’s dad.” She said the words like they conveyed a prison sentence.

“That doesn’t sound like it suits you too well.”

“If you like smelling Old Spice and a lot of onions, it’s just fine.”

Clearly, Smitty wasn’t there.

I started singing a little Waylon. “Saw your picture in the paper …” I hoped she’d get my point.

She laughed. “‘The Door Is Always Open’? Now you’re just teasing me.”

“Indeed I’m not. Waylon is a personal favorite of mine, and that album is a special all-time classic in my book.”

“Yes, that’s my story. I’m taking up with the old man.”

“Why?

“He’s loaded. We’re about to have a hell of a party.”

My heart sank a little. I really wanted to find the judge to be wrong.

I looked over. My conversation was taking longer than I expected. Donna and Janice were doing okay, but Green Eyes had regained her focus on me.

“Can I come join this party?”

“You and I might have to have our own. Do you know him too?”

“Indeed I do. And we’ll need to keep this between us, if this is going to work.”

The words slid out of her throat like a phenomenal promise. “I’m an expert at that.”

“Well, when shall we commence our party?”

She thought about it for a second.

“They’re both at the ballpark. Game won’t even start for an hour or more. Meet me at the Peabody in an hour.”

I thought about putting her on, telling how far I was from there, but I was literally around the corner.

“I’ll see you then,” I said. “I always love making the company of a beautiful woman.”

She hung up the phone without another word. I kindly liked that.

*****

I’d like to say that the girls took my news well, but they did not.

“You seriously did not invite us down here to leave us at the hotel.” Janice looked at me like I grew an extra eye.

“Darlin, I need to find out what’s going on here. To make sure that’s why he’s acting this way.”

“I’m getting drunk, and I’m going out on Beale Street,” Donna said. “I don’t care if Soutee’s here or not.”

Janice hadn’t looked at her the same since she flashed the teenagers and everyone else. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

Donna sneered. “You can come with. I know that if you have enough drinks, that stick will eventually come out of your ass.” They both glared at me. I kindly liked the sparks flying.

I gave em each a hundred dollar bill. “Let’s plan to meet up about nine. I’ll know a lot more by then.”

Janice looked straight down my soul. “I’m sure you will.” She grabbed my hand and dutifully escorted me out of the building. Green Eyes wanted to tear my heart out. I could see it. But that was a problem for another day.

*****

The Peabody Hotel is one of the leading ladies of the south. The bellmen met you outside, the first sign of the forest green that pervades the place. They lead you inside and the scene is everything elegance should be. The lobby is big and majestic, a soothing combination of that ever-present stately green and a rich walnut. There are flowers that outclass the work of the most regal florist. That day, they featured the violet and lavender colors of the irises blooming locally, one of my favorite flowers, and their crepe paper delicacy was more entrancing than a dozen bouquets of more exotic blossoms. A bald pianist, pulling at his collar between every song, clutched the melody of “Moonlight in Vermont” a little too tightly, but I was partial to those classics as well as my country, and maybe a little picky. I looked around for my new friend, but no one came even close to fitting the description. I ordered a whiskey and water from the bar, and got deep into it. I saw the comely call girl in a sundress sitting at the bar, running a finger around the lip of her drink and looking for company, saw the heavy-set former Marine who didn’t know how to ask sitting not far way. I saw the couple so happy they couldn’t have been married, and saw the ever-steady bartender presiding over it all. Finally, I saw her walk in.

She had black hair, shoulder length and with a curly perm that meant business. Her skin was light as china, and the whole look reminded me of a sexy evil queen from a children’s movie. Her burgundy spaghetti strap dress showed a voluptuous figure, and the ever-lovely braless look made it clear she was happy to see me. As she approached, I willed my eyes back up to her face.

She recognized me immediately, and boy, I was glad she did. I thought of old Sandra at home, and was semi-heartbroken that this woman had set out to ruin Smitty’s life. I grinned as I stood up, giving her a gentle bow and looked into her hazel eyes. She had a look of naked desire, a woman who was unsatisfied, clearly looking to money and other pursuits and using her sex for something that wasn’t satisfying her.

“Mr. Soutee,” she said finally. “After I got off the phone with you, I began to believe I’d heard your name before.”

“If they’re bad things, they’re clearly lies.” I said.

“No, I remember Mark and Smitty talking about you.”

“Well, I sure like both of them,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t inquire much more. I wanted to say I had known Smitty for long enough to hate what was going on, but I kept my tongue tamed, and looked her up and down.

“What brings you to town?”

“My eternal quest for an audience with Jerry Lee Lewis, and my love of good barbecue and fine women,” I said. “Does there need to be another reason?”

“Those sound like fine reasons to me.” She ordered a rum and coke, and looked longingly after the waitress who carried her drink order away. She hadn’t made up her mind about me, and I was fine with that.

The drink came back within minutes, and she scooted her chair in closer, then put her hand over mine, tracing the lines of my fingers while we talked. And oh, did we talk.

She was from up north, Minnesota. I told her it wasn’t her fault. She wanted to retire somewhere near the equator, and she was working every day to make sure she could do it. I wanted to ask her if wrecking homes and freeloading was a part of it. But what I learned about Melissa, quickly deigned from her manner and the gentle touch she ran across my hand like a constant reminder of her sensuality, is that her being just exuded that languid confidence. She didn’t need to work Smitty. Her talking to him would be more than enough. This woman was good at her job. I felt good that I could tell the judge that if he had been conned, it was truly by a star.

“Why Smitty? I’d hate to think an old man like that is your type.”

“Oh, he’s nice and harmless and like I said, he’s loaded.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You ought to see the cash he’s got on this trip. Gotta be ten or twenty thousand bucks. He has it in a satchel.”

“Well honey, that ain’t yours!”

She frowned and drew her hand away, offended by the truth I had just offered.

“I don’t think he brought a satchel full of cash just for his health. Tomorrow we’re going shopping, and he’s made it clear who’s getting spoiled.”

“So why are you here having drinks with me?” I smiled in a beguiling way, trying to keep the facade up, when I clearly didn’t fully feel it.

“Look. If a man of the world like the judge wants to spoil me, I’m gonna let him. How he spends his money is none of my business.”

I swallowed hard. I could see the attraction, but I didn’t know he’d lie and tell her he was a judge.

“Well, I’ve gotta ask. Have you been sleeping with the judge?”

“Hell no. I’ve told him I’m a virgin.”

I looked her up and down. She was about as pure as a dirty sock.

She could tell what I was thinking.

“Does he think he gets to pop the prize?”

She smiled. She was trying for sweet, but the effect was hideous. “Is it gonna kill him to dream a little?”

I realize it may well be a character flaw, probably is, but now I wanted to violate her in so many different ways, for myself, for Smitty, and frankly for America. I wanted Mark to know who this woman was, and I wanted to keep that money intact, having bought no Jordache jeans and no watered down perfume.

“I hope you’re not a virgin,” I said, trying to keep my real feelings out of my voice.

She put her hand back on me. This time it was on my thigh, underneath the table.

“I hope I won’t disappoint a man like you.”

The moment was there. I told her to wait for me, and paid for a room at the Peabody in cash. I didn’t want to humiliate her, so I wasn’t going to go to some cheap hotel, but I was sure gonna give her all I had. I looked back at her and told her so with the look in my eyes.

And at that moment, with Lady Fortune smiling on me, crooking her finger and spreading her legs, who decides to walk over across the alley from the Rendevous, still spitting lasers from her eyes, all of them directed at me? Ol’ Green Eyes.

One of the first things you have to learn about practicing law is never to give away your emotions in a courtroom. Never show them what you’re thinking. You might outright act, but you can never show that they’ve wounded you.

I remember one time being in trial with Judge Pinnell. It was a divorce case, and I was facing one of my great podnuhs and a fantastic American, Joe Woodcock, who has about the best name a man can be bestowed. Joe had the husband in a divorce, and I had the wife. We got to trial and found out that the wife had a little of the “wanting,” as Faron Young might say. Joe brought an ol’ boy and put him on the stand. I didn’t know who he was, but I looked at my client, and she clearly did. Her eyes dropped, and I touched her knee and whispered to not give anything away. It couldn’t be that bad.

Well, it was. This little backwoods Lothario said that he came and picked up the woman (I won’t mention her name to protect the less-than-innocent). They was headed from Aurora to Monett, which ain’t very far. Maybe twelve miles. All good road. It wasn’t much of a stretch to make it in a quarter of an hour or so. But my client couldn’t wait. She told him to pull over, somewhere near Verona (that’s how I picture it, anyway). He obliged. She came over and gave him that loving gaze that only means one thing, and with cars passing on the highway, proceeded to unzip his pants and give him a little pre-dinner present, one which was clearly and equally unexpected and appreciated.

It did not present a pretty picture for the judge, I was sure. My client looked rottoner than an old worn-out truckstop whore, and Woodcock might has well have had a golden goose feather hanging from his lip. He grinned like he had just eaten it.

I had to think fast, or my intention of getting fair value out of this divorce for my little Lawrence County Jezebel was going to be dead on arrival. Woodcock looked at me with light in his eyes, and said, “Your witness.”

I took a moment, picked up a notepad, and breathed. I looked at Judge Pinnell, and halfway through that look, I knew what I was going to say, and made sure it was going to be heard. I nodded at the judge, and stood up. I walked behind ol’ Joe, and in a voice the whole room and half of Mount Vernon could hear, I said indignantly:

“Sir, are you always that easy on a first date?”

Pinnell roared. Woodcock looked like I had just kicked his puppy. And order was restored.

I needed one of those moments right now. I looked over and didn’t think Melissa had seen my new friend, but I knew it wouldn’t take long. I put the hotel key in my pocket and puckered as I thought of what to say next.

*****

I just figured the best answer was the simplest, and the most likely to produce a fit of jealousy pheromones. I introduced them. I did it smooth enough that Green Eyes finally admitted her name was Cara, which was good.

I had been hearing about this thing in French called Menage a Trois where you get two women to sleep with you at the same time. I had suggested it a couple of times, and had a couple of nasty slaps across the face for my troubles, but I wondered with the strangeness of the situation and the fact it was Memphis and I had an unlimited budget for alcohol if maybe this time I could make it work.

Each of the women was looking at the other, figuring out where they fit in the occasion. Green Eyes was tryin’ to figure out how to say whatever it was that she needed to say, and Melissa was sizing her up. She sure was a girl you’d remember, what with those emerald eyes and her red hair. Her look was intimidating, but there was something she couldn’t figure out how to get out. Just as she was about to, I looked across the room and saw Janice and Donna comin’ our way. I might have been able to get two of them in bed, but I knew my chances were dead when they was four.

“Well look who the cat dragged in,” I said and pulled up chairs for both of em.

“We needed more excitement than the Rendezvous,” Donna said.

I looked at Melissa, and she was running skittish. I needed to figure out how to pull her back out.

I smiled at the other ladies, and excused myself with Melissa for a second. Naturally, Green Eyes stuck daggers into my torso. Janice rolled her eyes. I gave her a look that said I knew what I was doin’.

“Are you rounding up every hussy in the neighborhood?” she asked. Hussy. I had never thought of that word. Kindly liked the ring of it.

“I don’t know what the green eyed girl wants, and the other two are merely traveling companions. But here’s my question.”

I looked her in the eye and gave her the hard sell.

“You don’t want to spend that money with Smitty. You don’t want to do the things you’d have to do to wind up with its highest and best use,”

She toyed with the burgundy belt on her dress. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know if you know, but he’s not a judge. He’s got a wife. He stole that money to impress you.”

Her eyes widened. “No. He did not.”

“Darlin’ I’ve known Smitty for as long as I’ve been collectin’ baseball cards. And I’ve traded recipes with his wife. The only thing he judges is the Kiwanis chili cookoff.”

“Well, I can’t be responsible for that.”

“I agree. But there’s nothing to say that money couldn’t disappear, along with you and me.”

She glared at me. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Bet me.”

From over at our table, Janice was frantically gesturing at me to come rejoin them. “I mean it,” I said.

We came back to the table. Janice said, with a half-grin on her face. “Soutee, I think you may better sit down for what Cara has to tell you.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.

She looked straight at me, her green eyes blazing.

“Soutee,” she finally said, “I want to know if you want to come meet your son.”

I thought my eyes were going to roll out the back of my head.

“Well, of course I do, little darlin’!” hoping I was sounding at least a little convincing.

“Let me just have a word with Melissa here, and if it’s okay with you, let’s go meet him.”

I made sure to look as stricken as I needed to when I took Melissa a few strides away.

“If I thought I wanted to do this a few minutes ago, I sure as hell want to now. How long would it take you to get the money?”

She did the math in her head.

“To pack a bag and get the money? Maybe an hour?”

“Do you have a passport?”

She nodded.

“Bring it. Let’s meet back here in an hour. I’ll be alone.”

I gave her the Soutee wink and was back to the other table.

*****

There was very little conversation on the way there. It felt all tense, like a ride to the police station, nothing like the mood from earlier in the day. Cara sat up front by me. Donna was crestfallen in the back, looking like her pet butterfly died. Janice had a big smirk on her face, enjoying this too much. We went down I-255, then turned onto a lower-class street near Mendenhall. The streetlight had that high-beam quality right before they burn out. We jumped out of the car. I noticed a large Daddy Long Legs spider about the size of a biscuit climbing the screen door.

And there, sitting with a woman who I guessed was Cara’s mom, was a little jelly bean eater playing in a playpen. He had a darker complexion than me, but it wasn’t impossible to rule out he might have some of them Soutee genes.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Roland,” she replied.

Named after Roland Janes, Jerry Lee’s first guitar player?”

Janice laughed and hissed. “Soutee!”

“No,” Cara said, trying to gauge my mood.

“Well darlin,” I said, “There’s only one problem. I reached in my wallet, which had my initials, SRS, carved into the soft, buttery leather, and pulled out a well-worn piece of paper, folded over several times. I made a production of handing it to her.

“That is the medical record of one Thomas Morrison, a doctor in Aurora, Missouri, one of the finest sawbones around. It signifies that on the first day of April, 1975, he performed on me a vasectomy. I think he did it as a community service, but he’s nice enough to say otherwise.” I looked up. Her mother looked horrified, and Cara looked sad. “Do the math. Your little nipper wasn’t even born until 77.”

“Mistakes can happen!”

“Why do you think I got it? And yes, I have follow-up testing to show that I’m as sterile as a surgical suite.”

Donna tried to hide her glee. Janice finally cracked a smile.

“Very nice to see you again, and good luck in your search for the pater familias.” That’s Latin for baby daddy.

We went back out, careful to not disturb the daddy long legs and headed back to town.

*****

“Why didn’t you just tell her poor girl at the bar?”

“I needed to get away from Melissa and have her get the money. And I figured it wouldn’t hurt to see what she was trying to pull.” I grinned at the girls as I said this.

We was close to the old Cotton Exchange, just a few blocks from the Peabody. I realized that I had a room at that fine establishment, so I’d just get another one. I checked my watch. I valeted the car, and we all went back to the car to wait.

I had paged Mark at the ballpark, and told him and Smitty to come meet us at the bar after the game. I didn’t leave any better of a message than that. I didn’t want Melissa getting skittish, in case Smitty tried to call her.

The clock went past nine, then 9:15. Mark and Smitty came in, and Smitty’s face told the story of his plight; he looked like someone had rubbed the hide right off of him. I gave him a grin and a wink and told him I was gonna take care of him.

But Melissa still didn’t show.

We had a couple of drinks, and almost forgot what we was doin. when a black bellman came up and handed me an envelope. I looked at the neat handwriting, all pointed back and leaning to the left. The envelope simply said, “Soutee”.

Dear Soutee:

I thank you for a wonderful evening, and I appreciate your offer, but I’m gonna take your idea and put my own ribbon on it. I’m gonna take that money and go on down river with it.

You were bragging on Jerry Lee, but my Sun guy is Johnny. You know what he says about that “Big River.” If this ain’t a set-up, you should follow me on down. If it was, tell Smitty I said hi, and don’t get him in too much trouble. Tell him I never meant him any harm.

But if you want to meet up, just listen to ol’ Johnny’s words: Take that woman on down to New Orleans.

I would have loved to spend the night in your arms and without all of those many distractions.

Come join me. Who doesn’t love a caper?

Love,

Melissa.

That name will do for now.


I looked and looked at that letter. And I didn’t know what I was gonna do.

But I was greatly intrigued by all the possibilities.


SUGGESTED AND APPROVED SOUTEE PLAYLIST FOR THIS STORY:

“T for Texas” - Waylon Jennings - Waylon Live (RCA, 1976)

“Pick Up The Tempo” - Waylon Jennings - Waylon Live (RCA, 1976)

“Crazy Arms” - Ray Price (Columbia, 1956)

“High School Confidential” - Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun, 1958)

“Four In The Morning” - Faron Young (Mercury, 1971)

“Right or Wrong” - Merle Haggard (Capitol, 1970)




AUTHOR’S NOTE


Writing this story has been an interesting adventure. Writing myfictional Soutee has brought more interest to the real person. In that light, I will be introducing a podcast based on the real Steve Soutee. Everything from interviews to court hearings to tell the story including some details that I never knew. You can visit www.dalewiley.com or www.soutee.net to subscribe and follow the story.


Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-24 show above.)