He wasn’t talking yet, just driving out and away from the city. Sometimes Caleb could be an ornery cuss when he wanted to be. But I did as he asked, kept quiet let him finish his little charade, allowed him to take me to wherever it was that he would finally unload on me, tell me his thoughts plainly and without emendation.
We’d turned off of Highway 10 onto a watershed road leading to the break lines deep into the Atchafalaya swamp. It was a clear day and the sun beat down on us like an old man with something terrible on his mind. I kept thinking about Bethany’s homemade buttermilk loafs she’d been pulling out of that oven of hers, wishing I had a little of that sweet blackberry marmalade and a slab of butter right now. Instead I was chewing on jerky tougher than sod in a bad winter wondering how I’d let myself be talked into this affair by Caleb in the first place. I finally said: “What the fuck, Caleb, where you taking us? Old Man Jabon Choats place?”
Jabon was Redbone, part of that people that migrated long ago from South Carolina after the Louisiana Purchase. He and his sons lived in an old rickety cabin in these parts close by the bayou with his three sons. He did gatoring out there in those swamps. Made enough to keep him and his three boys busy, though; that is, unless poachers would snag his bait traps and abscond with his livelihood. He’d gotten himself in trouble a few times when folks went missing out here, but such was the way of the swamp; if you crossed the line, you’d have to pay it down if you were caught. People lived beyond such worlds as law and order in these swamps, they didn’t give a shit about your laws or your governments out here. They made their own sort of freedom, and death, too. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement kept a pretty good tabs on such things now, though. So most of the notions of killing had become just bunk and grist for tourists touring the region. Yea, even the tourists were getting in on these lands now. Dam.
Finally Caleb slowed down to a crawl and stopped by an old levee fallen in disrepair years ago. Long ago they’d tried to drain parts of this swamp and redirect its flows trying to absolve problems with the Mississippi river at that time. It hadn’t done much good for the river, and had caused havoc on the swamplands turning parts that had been dry wet, and wet dry. Real smart people they got up there in the Capitol. Yep, hired all those young scientist types who really know what their doing alright. Those boys and their books seem to know everything from what I hear tell. Well, I’m not keen on all that study, but I know a couple things here and there. I just keep my nose in front of me like an old coon dog and scent a trail when its odor comes my way. I’m full of shit, too. Still it’s funny how things always seem to run amok when smart men get together and think they can fix things up that don’t need fixing; nature has her own way, and man’s been interfering in her business for far too long now, and it may just come back to bite us one day.
“We’re here.” He said matter-of-factly like we was parked in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or some such place.
I looked around me and could see nothing but sugarcane and moss spun cypress trees running down into the backwash of swamps further in the distance. We were somewhere above Attakapas Island on the Atchafalacha river where Bayou Sorrel meets the Little Bayou. But who was keeping names, anyway? There was an overgrown footpath leading off toward a clump of birch and pine in the distance on higher ground. Further to the right I could make out a lone ibis, and what appeared to be a spoonbill in the brackish waters off and away from the dry ground. Up high, floating there like the hunter it is, was a dark hued hawk; most likely a red-shoulder with those white freckles on its feathers, hovering on the wind, at ease with life seeking a rabbit or squirrel far below. Hard to tell sometimes from such a distance. As a kid my Big Daddy took me out in the swamps all the time and would point out every single thing that was living, and even the things that weren’t. Sometimes I surprise myself at what stuck.
Caleb pulled up when we reached the edge of the shadows falling between the sun and pines, saying: “We’re meeting Jabon Choats boys down here.” Yea, here being in the middle of Iberville parish, meeting some cagy swamper’s that would just as soon shoot you for poaching as look at you. He yelled out: “Hey, Joel, you in there?”
A voice came out of the pitch black: “Nah, we ain’t in here. Go away!”
“Now is that a way to be, Joel, after we being so kind to come out here all this way just to chat with you and your brothers on a Sunday afternoon?” Caleb could be persuasive when he wanted.
“Who’s your friend, Caleb? I don’t ‘member Paps saying anything about other people tagging along.” He chuckled, and in the background one heard the other boys chuckling as well, as if it were all in a day’s fun.
Caleb got pissed then, “I’m going to kick you fucking fools from here to the other side New Iberia, boy, if you keep messing with me; you, hear?”
“Ok, ok,” Joel said. “Don’t get your gander in a tizzy, we’s just a joshing. You know that.” The other boys all agreed and mumbled.
So we proceeded into the darkness of those pines like we had good sense, to meet these swamper’s who had only the sense their Paps had laid down in them somewhere between being eaten by a gator or killing one. Of course they were a deal smarter than that, hell Joel himself held a degree from Louisiana State, but hated the city world so much, and the dead end jobs with their insufferable bosses and creep up the corporate ladder that he’d given up after three years and come back to home to live without all those plastic luxuries that life could afford. Yea, something about the smell of swamps seemed to ooze out of these boys. But it was their way, and sometimes I envied them, that.
* * *
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
Comments are welcome and needed. This is my getting wet in noir, a first stab at this genre, and all the insight I can gather (likes, dislikes, whether its too sentimental, gritty, etc.) will help out. Obviously as I’ve said before this is a fast storyline mode for the first run through. Just getting the ideas and story down day by day. I’ll come back on the 2nd draft and start filling in details of character and setting, but for now the story itself is driving things. So if you’d be so kind drop me a comment, tell me honestly what you think.
Read more: Flowers for Lobelia – Noir Novel in Progress