A MINOR BLUES, CHAPTER 2

I got too much of nuthin’, can’t handle any more
I got too much of nuthin’, can’t handle any more
Now the sheriff wants to see me, he’s a knockin’ on my door

Too Much of Nuthin’ –D. Partlow

Not a bad picker, Jack, thought,  but I don’t hear Howlin’ Wolf.  J.B. Lenoir, maybe. The tune itself was a standard blues, must be hundreds of songs like it.

Jack pulled out the CD marked ‘Spoondog’, put in the one marked ‘Field
Recordings, Clarksdale, MS., 1933′. He forwarded past ‘Pick’ Bayles-Got
a Solution, I Just need a Glass
, past Jonah Wails’ Wailin’ Again Blues,

and let song #3, If Trouble Knew Me, by one William Geddie, play.

If trouble knew me better, I wouldn’t be in chains
If trouble knew me better, she wouldn’t cause me so much pain
Once trouble gets to know me, I think we could be friends

I never looked for trouble, it just seeks me out
I never looked for trouble, but trouble’s all about
I swam in trouble’s waters, and got hooked like a trout

Oh trouble, why do you do me so doggone mean?
You and luck gang up on me, I got nobody on my team
Cut me some slack, trouble, give me a another chance 
I wish I’d never met you, I wish I’d stayed in France

As bad as the recording was, probably done in a cotton field, Jack could
feel Spoonbill’s pain, his weariness, his longing for a better place.

Two days Jack had spent in the library in Hattiesburg. There he had
found a treasure trove of information, which is how he had learned of
Delaney’s mentor/father-figure. The historian had let him burn some songs
and interviews onto several discs. He had even found a photograph of the
two, Geddie (no mistaking that nose) playing guitar, and Delaney, maybe
nine or ten, dancing. Both were smiling as a well-dressed black man
dropped a coin into the open guitar case. There were several whites in
the crowd, including a young boy about Delaney’s age.
 ————————————————

October 19, 1930

Hey boy look at your shirt
It done got smeared wit’ Miss’ippi dirt
Hey boy, where’s your shoes
gon’ blister dem feet, dancin’ dese blues

Delaney sang his part

Dat’s okay Spoon, I don’ care
feels so good i’se walkin’ on air

It was a good day. They were back in Euclidean, after working the cotton
fields up towards Kosciusko. Sheriff Tully was nowhere to be seen, the
October air was cool, even at three in the afternoon. The after-church
crowd was feeling generous. There was even a yankee photographer there
taking pictures as they performed. Spoonbill was glad he had relented,
and let the boy sing some. In spite of, or maybe because of his atonal
voice, people were charmed. Their tips had near about doubled
wherever they played of late.
Reverend Martin threw a quarter into Spoonbill’s guitar case. It
bounced once, and disappeared into a tear in the lining. A crumpled
dollar followed. Spoonbill followed the dollar’s arc back to the hand
from which it was thrown. It was Frank Hatton’s hand. The boy never said 
much, but he was always good for a buck or two of his daddy’s money. 
More changed clinked and rattled in the case. It was raining money.

“Bless you, young man. Thank you sir. Ma’am, thank you so much. Boy! Say
Thank you, like I schooled you.” On cue, Delaney said, “Thank you, like I
schooled you”. The crowd laughed. From the edge of the gathering, Grandy
remarked, “Lookee dere, Spoon’s dog lernt a new trick”. Another round of
laughter. Spoonbill started picking out an old ‘track lining’ song he’d
learned on the work farm. It was a good day.

——————————————-

Jack hit the pause button, started to talk, then decided to wait until
the road straightened long enough to pass the tractor in front of him.
The green-and-yellow behemoth had kept him below thirty for the last ten
minutes. He got his chance and hit the rented Grand Prix’s accelerator, 
felt that satisfying push of G-force pressing him into the seat, and glided
around the International Harvester, the chains on the discing attachment
rattling as the old machine bounced down the road. Money was no object,
she had said, she being one Melissa Highland, his client du jour. Du
month, actually. Jack had figured when he talked to her earlier, with
his latest progress report, she might be inclined to call him off the
case. Happily, she was still willing to spend her estranged hubby’s
money on this snipe hunt, this search for a secular grail.

Jack had called his client an hour ago, while there was still a tower to
receive his signal. He explained to her his doubts about the likelihood
of Partlow’s residing under the oak trees of Upper Pulaski County.

“The guy I talked to said it was a closed casket ceremony, naturally. No
relatives, no friends, just a minister and two mourners from the local
A.M.E. church. The cemetery records were destroyed several years ago. I
couldn’t find any mention in the archives of the town paper, and no
coroner’s report.” I did find a death certificate, unsigned, at the
County Hospital, no attending doctor or administrator mentioned. Cause
of death was listed as accidental burning.” He listened for a moment. “I
agree, Ms. Highland, one man dying two deaths by fire is weird.
Sorry, Melissa it will be. Yes, I am on my way there now. I will call
you once I find out anything either way. You too, Melissa. Good day.”

Jack tried to picture Melissa as they talked. He saw her sitting at the
same barstool, swirling a swizzle stick in a cocktail glass as he gave
her his latest report. A green sundress to match her eyes, emerald
earrings. Open-toed sandals with glittery stuff on the straps. He
wondered if she was handling the break-up of her marriage well, if they
might get to have another drink together….

THREE WEEKS EARLIER….

Jack had seen nicer houses, but never from an interior vantage point.
The foyer was as big as his office, the living room as big as his parent’s
yard. As Mrs. Highland walked across the marble floor to greet him,
the sound of her footsteps echoed off the walls and the three-story
ceiling. The maid who had let him in disappeared without a sound. “Gotta
be the shoes.”, Jack thought inanely.

“Mr. Moonlight, I’m Melissa Highland. I’m so glad you could come on
such short notice.” Jack took the proffered hand, which could have been
designed by Fabergé, in his, which in comparison could have been one
tossed aside by Dr. Frankenstein.

Jack looked around once more before replying, “No problem at all. I
never miss a chance to play a little handball.”

Her laugh was spontaneous and unaffected. “Father had mentioned you
were a bit of a smart-ass. I see he had you pegged.”

“I’m sorry. Did I know your Father?”

“You testified in a case in which he was a defendant. Westberry v.
Hatton. Apparently, it was your testimony that cost him quite a sum.”

Jack remembered the case. It was actually Westberry v. Hatton, et.al.
One of the et als was Puma Pharmaceutical Sales, and they had sold Dr.
Hatton a batch of Mexican knock-offs of a cancer drug that were of
insufficient dosage. Jack had been hired by the plaintiff’s lawyer to
follow the paper trail back to Mexico, and prove the drugs were not part
of a legitimate shipment. He had done so, and when he testified, the
defense tried to discredit him by bringing up Jack’s predilection for
wagering on the horses. Not only did Jack fail to be discomfited, he
knew for a fact that the lawyer questioning him used the same bookie.
When Jack mentioned that fact, plus the name of the horse, Fairweather’s
Friend, on which they had both lost a bundle, the poor guy was
visibly shaken. When Jack got dismissed, he asked audibly if the
rattled attorney had heard any good tips lately. The courtroom burst
into laughter, except for the defense table and the judge, who pounded
his gavel and got the proceedings back on track. But it was over. Two
Puma executives went to jail, and Dr. Hatton, though cleared of criminal
liability, was found negligent, culpable and several other expensive
words.

 “So why recommend me?”, Jack asked his prospective client. “I wasn’t
that funny.”

Again with the laugh. “Father said if I ever needed a good PI, to call
you. He said you followed the trail that his lawyer’s investigators
could not. Had they done their job, there would have been a settlement
reached out of court, less embarassment, and much less costly.” A little
glow left her face as she continued. “Father died two weeks ago. And now
I find myself in need of your services. Come with me, please.”

Jack followed her into a den of sorts. He wasn’t sure of all the names
rich people used for rooms that the unwashed rabble had no need for. But
there was a bar, and Jack was waved toward a pair of stools. He took
one, and checked out the single-malt selection while Mrs. Highland
settled her sophisticated self into the other. She slid a letter in his
direction, indicating that Jack should read it.

“Sorry for your loss of your Father. I have lost a good friend. I would not
be writing this had Dr. Hatton not saved my life. More to follow.

Yours sincerely,

Delaney, although your father may have referred to me as
Spoondog.”

Jack looked at the return address. Atlanta, Georgia. A P.O. box.
He looked at the postmark. Hattiesburg, Ms. He looked at Mrs.
Highland.

“Has more indeed followed, Mrs. Highland ?

“Please. Call me Melissa. I am divorcing, and will be taking my name
back. And no, more has not followed.”

“Who, or what is Spoondog?”

“A dead man, Mr. Moonlight. That much I know. Or thought I did.”

And she explained that her Father had known the struggling musician
since childhood. That they had met once or twice over the years. Dr.
Hatton had told his daughter little, except that in some way, he owed
the man more than he could ever repay.

“Once Father cried, Jack, when he was talking about Delaney. He was drunk,
which was a rare enough occurrence, and said that we all owed this man.
He never explained what he meant, and he never mentioned him again.”

“And he’s dead, or presumed so.”

She held up three fingers. “Three times he’s died. The last time
declared so by my Father. That was in 1955. I wrote to the Atlanta
address, but I have yet to hear back.”

“What do you want from me, Melissa?”

“Find him, Jack. Money is not an issue. I want some answers, and I
can afford to get them.”

Jack was intrigued, and also thirsty. He looked at the bottles lined up
so beautifully, soldiers with their buttons polished, shoes shined,
ready for inspection, willing to die for the cause, whatever it was.
“Shall we seal the deal over a drink?”
———————————–

Jack’s audience was good at listening, but not much on feedback, so he
put the recorder back in his shirt pocket, and gathered his thoughts.
Spoondog was Euclidean’s only celebrity, due to his one hit, “What’s My
Name?”, an upbeat boogie recorded live somewhere in Georgia. Jack
figured Spoon’s fame might have cemented otherwise forgotten facts of
his life in the minds of some of the older residents of the small town.

The sign was so small Jack almost missed the turn. No ‘Welcome to
Euclidean’, Home of the Least of the Delta Blues Singers
. No ‘Voted Best
Barbecue south of Memphis’
 sign. Just ‘euclidean 12 miles’ on a post

that pointed ambiguously toward either of two forks in the road.
Furthermore, there was no gas station, nor a promise of one in either
direction. Jack had passed the last chance for gas a good 45 minutes
earlier, as the needle dropped under the quarter-full mark. Maybe a more
economical, less fun car would have been the choice of a more
economical, less immature private eye.
———————————————-

 

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