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Flotation Jones
and the Watermelon Man

by Ron Van Sweringen

Chapter 13

When Tucker had safely delivered the last girl across the pool of quicksand, Flo and Rosie were left alone at the far end.

“You goes next,” Flo said to the girl.

“No,” Rosie, answered, “I’m last.”

“Hurry,” Tucker urged, “before they catch us.”

Flo looked at the fallen log snaking its way across the quicksand. It was almost two feet wide at the beginning, but less than one foot wide at the far end. The thick dark mud oozing at its edges made Flo feel sick.

“Come on, girl,” Tucker called, “you can do it.” The urgency in his voice made her move forward. The first step was strange, as Flo tested the surface of the log. It was wet and slippery in some places where the bark had fallen away, but felt secure under her feet.

“I can do it,” Flo said to herself. “It ain’t no harder than walking the fence posts in the back yard.” She had lost count how many times Mammy switched her over the years. “Chile, you gonna break yo’ neck doin’ that,” Mammy used to scold her. “Get on down here ’fore I whop ya.”

The thought of Mammy brought tears to Flo’s eyes. “I loves ya,” she whispered as if praying, while she slowly worked her way along the log. In the center of the pool, she hesitated at the place where a large limb jutted out. She suddenly felt panic and froze, afraid to move.

Tucker recognized the fear on her face and began talking. “I’s comin’,” he said softly. “Stay still till I gets yo hand.” Suddenly there was a roll of thunder and the rain became a downpour. A jagged streak of lightning split the sky and Flo could barely see Tucker moving toward her through the rain. “I ain’t leavin’ ya, girl,’ was the last thing she heard before the gunshot.

* * *

Mammy lit the coal-oil lamp at the kitchen table. Flo had been gone for three days and the old woman was heartsick. No one in the vicinity of Black Water Town felt comfortable talking about Flo’s disappearance. Especially since Oggie Phelps had been found murdered. It was too dangerous, spreading rumors or getting involved, so Mammy learned nothing.

Dressed in her best clothes and new straw hat, she had gone to the police station to report Flo missing the first day she didn’t come home. A white detective in shirt sleeves with large sweat rings under his arms listened to her story. He wrote a few things down as she talked, but said very little to her. Mammy knew the reason. Black didn’t matter.

* * *

“Mrs. Jones?” a woman’s voice called through the screen door. Mammy recognized her next door neighbor, Lulu Watson, standing on the porch.

“Come on in, Lulu,” Mammy answered, sitting down at the kitchen table, a worn look on her face.

“I brung ya some chicken soup,” Lulu said, setting a large mason jar on the table. “Done got tired of puttin’ up with Old Red, so’s I wrung his neck.”

Mammy shook her head and started to laugh. Big Red was the meanest rooster in town and had gone after her more than once.

“Serves him right,” she smiled, “but yo’ hens gonna get lonesome now.”

“Nope,” Lulu laughed along with Mammy. “Done took care of that. Got me a new cock, bigger than Big Red and it’s white.” Both women collapsed with laughter and Mammy had tears in her eyes. It was her first release of emotions since Flo disappeared. Lulu put her hand on Mammy’s shoulder. “Trust in the Lawd, honey,” she said softly. “He’ll do right by you.”

Mammy made them both a cup of coffee, and after a few minutes began spilling the story of her trip to the police station. She described the detective she’d spoken to and what a waste of time it had been. Her voice sounded discouraged.

“He didn’t give me no notice, ’cept fo’ one thing,” she said looking at Lulu. Then she repeated herself: “’Cept fo’ one thing.” A strange look crossed her face.

Mammy took Lulu by the hand and led her to a dresser in her bedroom. A bible lay on the dresser, its black cover worn and dog-eared. She picked the book up carefully, pressing it to her chest.

“Maybe this is the answer,” she said, hardly above a whisper. “Maybe my prayers done been answered.”

* * *

The bullet struck Tucker in the shoulder and spun him around. Flo turned to see May pointing the revolver at her through the pouring rain. She had her arm around Rosie’s neck, pressing the girl to her in a choke hold.

“Now what?” May shrieked. “Let me see you sing your way out of this one, Miss Blackbird,” as she pulled the trigger.

Proceed to Chapter 14...

Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen

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