Another one of my hitching adventures.
I have no idea where I was when this story started. All I know is I was north of Atlanta, somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia. I had been hitchhiking in from California, going home to Miami for a visit. I fell asleep in the passenger seat of the car in which I was riding, and the next thing I knew, the driver of the car was shaking me awake. We were stopped, and he said, “Here it is. I turn down that rural road. You wanna’ stay on this here county road. It’ll get you to 301, then its south right into Florida. Good luck.”
I didn’t say the obvious, like, Why the hell didn’t you let me off before we got to the boondocks? Instead, I thanked him for the ride, got out of the car, and watched him disappear in a cloud of dust down some godforsaken gravel road. So there I was. Where I was, I did not know. All I knew is that it was getting dark—and not a car in sight!
I thought I better scout out a place to unroll my sleeping bag before it got too dark. It looked as though I was going to be stuck there for the night. Just about then, I saw a pair of headlights coming my way—heading in the direction I wanted to go. So I do my part and stick out my thumb. Now if only the driver of the approaching car would do his part and stop. But no, the car sped right on by me. Guess you’re here for the night, Andrew. Might as well get used to it. These were my thoughts as I turned away from the road and went about my search for soft ground upon which to lay my head.
Because I was busy looking for a place to bed down for the night, I did not notice that the car had stopped about three hundred yards down the road. For all you folks out there who have never “hitched,” three hundred yards is not the normal stopping distance. When I finally noticed the car, I became a little apprehensive. I’d been hitchin’ around the country for a few years by then. And it’s been my experience that cars pass you by or stop relatively close to where you are standing. If a car passes you, and then stops further down the road and just sits there, it usually means trouble of some sort.
I’ve been involved in scenarios like this on more than one occasion. In the past, this is the way it played out. The driver was speeding to God knows where and he passed me by thinking, “Fuck him.” But in the back of his mind he’s thinking, “I may be able to make use of that guy.” By the time that thought enters his head, he’s a good piece down the road. But he stops anyway. His nefarious plan had not yet crystallized, so he sits there a moment or two before backing up, which always meant they had decided what they wanted of me. Those kinds of rides never picked me up to help me; it was always about them.
The majority of the time it was some poor closet queen. You must remember, this was 1970 and in the Deep South. Nobody in that neck of the woods, at that time, was out of the closet. And a “stop” like that usually meant a sexual proposition. However, there were times I had to run for my life. So what to do? If the car stopped for the former reason, then I’d get a ride, and the subject slowly broached. And by the time it got around to my polite but firm refusal, I’d be miles down the road. If, on the other hand, the car had stopped for the latter reason, given the locale and the fact no one else was around, then I was in deep shit. These thoughts were coursing through my mind while the car and I maintained a kind of Mexican standoff. We stood there looking at one another, neither of us making the first move.
Finally the brake lights went off and the car started to back up. Now it was my turn. Do I stand my ground, or run into the woods? The car had been stopped for an inordinately long time. But the percentages were with me that the man in the car was just trying to get laid. So with that reasoning, I stayed where I was and waited for the car to reach me. As it got nearer, I noticed that the lid to the trunk was missing, and that it was “army” green in color. I also saw that it was a 1950 V-8 Ford. The V-8 Ford of song and legend.
When the car finally got abreast of me, I was surprised to see that there was a family inside—a man, a woman, and two of the most adorable little girls I’d ever seen—and not the solitary man as I had expected.
I leaned down to the passenger side window and said, “Howdy.”
The man leaned forward, past the woman so I could see his face, and in form of a response said, “Need a lift?”
Now before I can go any further, I must convey something to you kind folks. And in this day and age, it should not be necessary, but it is germane to our story, so it must be stated. The family that had stopped to give me a ride was black. In 1970, they were “black.” Today they would be referred to as African-Americans. And good for them! It’s about time these people got a little fuckin’ respect. Please excuse my language, but I am passionate about the way people of color have been treated, and still are treated, in this supposed “Land of the Free” in which we live.
Okay, back to my story. The man had just asked if I wanted a lift. My answer was an emphatic “Yes!” to which the man replied, “Then get in.” The woman, who I assumed was his wife, moved over towards the driver to make room for me. So there was nothing left for me to do but open the door and get in—after depositing my sleeping bag and suitcase in the back with the children.
Before I even had the door closed, the car lurched forward with a squeal of tires. One thing about those V-8 Fords … they could sure move when they wanted to.
As we sped down that lonely county road, the man said to me, “My name’s Lonnie. This here’s my wife Michelle. And the two in the back are our little girls, Anita and Suzy.”
“Glad to meet you folks. My name’s Andrew.”
For the next few minutes and the next few miles, there was no conversation. It was completely dark now. The Ford’s headlights lit up the road, and the only light inside the Ford was from the speedometer, which illuminated Lonnie’s face. As the car raced down the two-lane, I had a chance to observe my hosts. Lonnie was thin, about thirty, and a rather handsome man. I inferred that because his wife was a knockout. And I didn’t think anyone as pretty as Michelle would hook up with someone not in her class.
After a while, Lonnie asked me, “Where you going?”
“I’m going to Miami. How far are you guys going?”
“Hey man, we’re going to West Palm Beach to stay with my sister. We can give you a ride all the way there.”
I thought that was great news. But, as with everything else in my recent life, there was a catch. And man, what a catch this was. However, let’s progress slowly, and in the order of events as they played out. It’s more fun that way.
We had gone about five miles when Lonnie said, “I’ve got to make a little run first, then we can head south.”
I told him I was cool with that. After all, he was taking me practically to my front door. West Palm Beach is fifty miles from Miami, but when you’re coming in from three thousand miles out, fifty miles is your front door. And when Lonnie said, “run,” I thought he meant a short errand. No, he meant run as in a moonshine run.
We must have been way out in nowheresville because we didn’t see another car, coming or going. After a while, I turned to Lonnie and asked, “Where the hell … oops … sorry Michelle … where are we?” Lonnie answered that we were in Pickens County, halfway between Jasper and Tate. Thanks, Lonnie, now I know just where I am. Wherever the hell Jasper and Tate are.
Finally, Lonnie slowed and said under his breath, “I know it’s here somewhere.” He was looking out of the right side of the windshield. (I’m sure not many of you remember the particulars of the 1950 V-8 Ford, but the windshield was actually two pieces of glass separated by a metal bar in the center.) We crept along at twenty miles per hour for a mile or so until Lonnie exclaimed, “There she is!”
What she was, was a dirt road, and not a very pretty one at that. From the little I could see in the car’s headlights, she consisted of only wheel ruts in the earth. We pulled off the county road and onto the side road (well, it was more like a trail than a road). However, what was to come next would make this mess seem like the brick-paved road leading into the Emerald City of Oz.
After bouncing along that “road” for what seemed like forever, we made a left onto something that no man in his right mind would call a road. The car could make only about five miles per hour. There were tree branches that were windshield high, and holes eight inches deep. I don’t know if the 1950 Fords had lousy springs, or if the ones on this particular Ford were just shot, but every single hole was felt by each of the five occupants of this particular 1950 Ford.
At that pace, it took a while to reach our destination. Through the trees, and a little to our left, I saw three small fires about a hundred yards before us. When Lonnie saw the fires, he sighed and said, “We’re here, folks,” and pulled into a small clearing in the forest that surrounded us.
When the Ford came to a halt, Lonnie said, “Ya’all stay here. I gotta let ’em know about you, Andrew, and explain why I brought the family along.”
As I sat in the front seat next to Michelle, I saw three men emerge from the shadows, each holding a shotgun pointed toward the ground. They converged on Lonnie, and entered into what seemed like heated discussion. After a few minutes, Lonnie came back to the car, leaned his head in the driver’s side window, and said, “It’s cool. I told ‘em I’ve known you for a long time, Andrew, so don’t blow it for me. They don’t exactly trust white boys. Michelle, you and the girls are gonna have to wait here for me while I make the run. Come on, get out. I’ll introduce you guys around.”
I slid out the passenger side door and held it for Michelle. The girls wasted no time in effecting their egress through the back doors. They each availed themselves of one of the two.
With Lonnie herding the girls into our little collective, we moved as one to the three men who stood before the fires, looking somber, and non-welcoming.
Lonnie tried to put a cheerful face on things by lightly saying, “Boys, this here is my family and my friend Andrew. We’re all goin’ down to Florida after I make this run for you. Michelle, Andrew, girls, I want ya’all to meet Sonny Boy, Slim, and Peetie.”
Michelle said, “I am very pleased to meet you gentlemen.”
The only thing I could think of to say was, “Howdy.”
The boys—Sonny Boy, Slim, and Peetie—didn’t look too happy having a white boy, a woman, and a couple of kids in their midst. In case you haven’t cottoned to it yet, this was strictly a black moonshine enterprise. I was the only white face in the crowd. Man, how I did get around in those days.
The one called Slim raised his gun, and using it as a pointer, said to me, “You, white boy. Ya see them boxes over there? As long as ya here, ya might as well work. Them boxes go in the trunk of the Ford. Lonnie will help ya.”
Now that my eyes had become adjusted to the night, I could make out that the three fires I had first seen were firing three large vats with copper tubing spiraling down into five-gallon plastic buckets. What I was looking at were three very large stills. They are call stills because they distill corn mash into an almost 200 proof concoction of pure mountain dew.
But first things first. Michelle and the children had to be taken care of. Lonnie told me he’d be with me in a minute, right after he got his family situated. It was then that I noticed there was a small shack back behind the stills, in among the trees. It was there that Lonnie shepherded his flock. When he returned, I was standing by the boxes that Slim said had to be loaded in the trunk of the Ford.
I asked Lonnie, “Will you please tell me what’s going on here?”
That’s when I got the skinny on the whole shebang. It seemed as though I had stepped … no, that’s not right … it seemed as though I had been picked up and driven right into the middle of a moonshine war. And to make matters worse, it was a white versus black moonshine war—in the backwoods of Georgia, circa 1970.
This is how Lonnie explained it to me, as we loaded his car with pure, 190 proof liquor.
The sheriff of Pickens County was a man by the name of Bob Cole, and he received a percentage, or a “cut,” from every illegal activity that took place within his county, from prostitution, to gambling, to moonshinin’, even from the sale of marijuana. The drug trade was fine with Bob Cole as long as he got his cut and it was confined to the black sections of the county. Until the drug culture of the 1960s exploded onto America, and the children of the affluent white populace started doing drugs, every police department in the country knew of, and tolerated, drugs being sold in the black areas of their cities, counties, and towns. In those days police departments were made up of all white men. I believe they thought drugs would help keep the black population docile, and besides, Who cared if a few niggers became drug addicts. Not my thinking, I just report the way things were.
Man, I do go off on tangents, don’t I? Back to the story: Sonny Boy, who owned the stills, decided one day to stop paying tribute to Sheriff Cole. Believing he would be safe from the sheriff’s reprisals the further removed from civilization he was, he moved his operation to where we now found ourselves.
Now, Sheriff Cole and his brother-in-law, who was his partner, his enforcer, and his collector, have to make an example of Sonny Boy. To allow his revolt would only encourage others to follow suit. By the way, Cole’s brother-in-law’s name was Ed Williams.
The “shine” that Lonnie and I were loading as he was telling his story was to be the first consignment since Sonny Boy went independent. Word had gotten around that Cole was gunning for Sonny Boy, and anyone foolish enough to be caught with a load of his hooch would be in serious trouble. And I’m not speaking of trouble with The Law. No, this kind of trouble meant your next of kin would be shelling out money to the local funeral home. So Sonny Boy had trouble recruiting a driver for this inaugural run.
This is where Lonnie enters the picture. His V-8 Ford was the fastest car in the county. He had built the engine from the ground up. The car could reach speeds of over 150 miles per hour. There was nothing in the county that could catch her. Or so I was told.
Sonny Boy offered Lonnie a thousand dollars, plus the proceeds of the run, if he’d take the chance of running Sheriff Cole’s blockade. As Cole had a point to make concerning Sonny Boy, Sonny Boy also had a point to make concerning Cole. He would get his shine to his customers in spite of Cole’s best efforts.
Lonnie took the job because he wanted to start a new life for himself and his own down in Florida. Which was good, because even if he could outrun Cole and Williams, they would know his car, and he wouldn’t be safe in Pickens County for a very long time. Those boys, Cole and Williams, did not mess around, as you will shortly see.
As the trunk began to fill, I noticed that there were a lot more boxes than there was trunk space. I mentioned the discrepancy to Lonnie, who told me not to worry about it, just keep stacking until the boxes were even with the roof of the car. That explained the missing trunk lid. After we had everything stacked roof high, we filled the floor in the back (V-8 Fords had plenty of legroom) and the seat right up to the headliner. Then we put the last two cases in the front seat.
Just then the one known as Peetie walked up to us carrying a rope. He handed it to Lonnie without a word, turned, and walked away. Lonnie took the rope and tied one end to the rear right door handle. Then he brought it around the opposite door and looped it through the handle, and then back again to the other door. He did this a few more times, and with each pass, the boxes in the trunk became more secure. When he had tied off the end of the rope, he went back to inspect the boxes. He tried to shake them loose, but to no avail. He turned to me with a big smile and said, “That oughta hold ’em.” He continued, “Okay, you can stay with Michelle and the girls while I’m gone.”
My retort was, “Hold on just one cotton pickin’ minute. If you think I’m gonna sit with the women and children when I have the chance to go on a moonshine run in the middle of a moonshine war, then you’re crazier than I am.”
I had just finished speaking when Sonny Boy and Slim walked up. Sonny Boy said to Lonnie, “Ya ready to go?”
Lonnie replied, “Sure am, but this crazy white boy wants to go along.”
Sonny Boy said nothing right off, he just looked me over. At length, he said, “Why ya wanna go?”
“Because when I’m a grandfather, I want to tell the story to my grandkids of the time I went on a moonshine run.”
“This ain’t no game, boy. This here is serious business.”
“I know that, Mr. Sonny Boy. Lonnie explained things to me. But Lonnie’s my friend; I may be of some help. Hell, he can’t even see out the back window. I can spot for him, you know, tell him if anyone is coming up fast behind. You never know when two men might be better than one.”
“You ain’t no man, boy, but ya got spunk. Okay … you can go.”
Lonnie said, “If it’s cool with you, Sonny Boy, then I’d love to have him along. Let me go tell Michelle I’m leaving. I’ll be right back.” As Lonnie walked to the shack, the three of us—Sonny Boy, Slim, and I—stood there staring at one another. I felt uncomfortable with them just standing there staring at me. So I said something only a young kid who was out to prove his worth would say. “You know if I had one of those guns, it might prove useful if we run into trouble.” Both men still had their shotguns tucked under their arms and pointed toward the ground.
Again, Sonny Boy looked me over as though he’d never seen a twenty-year-old white male before. He then turned to Slim and said, “Give him your gun.” Slim made no movement to comply with Sonny Boy’s order. After a few seconds, Sonny Boy said to Slim, “Look, he don’t talk like us, he ain’t from ’round here. He ain’t one of Cole’s stooges. He might just help git this load through. I got a feelin’. And Slim, ya know my feelin’s ain’t never wrong. Give him the gun.”
It took a couple of seconds, but Slim slowly raised his gun, and though it wasn’t pointed directly at me, it was pointed in my general direction. And he spoke for the second time that night, “If’n anything goes wrong, I’ll know who to come after.” With that cheery thought, he turned the gun around and handed it to me butt first.
Sonny Boy asked me, “You ever fire a shotgun before? You look kinda city to me.”
“Nope, never have. I reckon I just pull the triggers.”
“Ya might want to shoot just one barrel at a time so you don’t shoot ya load all at once. And it might be easier if’n you pull the hammers back first.”
So that was it. I was now officially riding shotgun for the Sonny Boy Express.
When Lonnie got back, he did a double take at me holding the gun, but said only, “Mount up, we’re ridin.”
As we got in the car, I had to arrange the two cases in the front seat so I could get my butt in there too. Lonnie saw me fighting with the cases while holding the shotgun and jumped out of the car. He walked around the front to the passenger side where I was still doing battle with the cases. He tapped me on the shoulder, and when I straightened up and turned to him, he politely, but very firmly, took the gun from my right hand.
“This, until it’s needed, if it’s needed, will lie on the floor. Please do not touch it unless I ask you to. I’ve got enough problems with Cole and Williams. I don’t need you blowing my head off because we went over a bump in the road.” He laid the gun on the floor of the V-8 Ford, the business end facing me—of course.
All that took place with Sonny Boy and Slim watching. They said nothing, but I could tell they were mentally shaking their heads. Now that the gun and the cases were taken care of, Lonnie and I got into the car, and he turned her around so that we were facing the direction from which we had come not so long ago. To me it seemed a lifetime ago.
As we started down that non-road road which we came in on, I said to Lonnie, “How the hell are you going to get your booze out of here without breaking every damn bottle?”
“Well, Andrew, first of all, they’re in jars, fruit jars, not bottles. And we came in at five miles per hour, but we’re going out at two miles an hour. And don’t you worry. I can’t afford to lose even one jar. Right now, it’s my shine, and I get $15.00 for every jar I deliver intact.” Made sense to me, so I just sat back and enjoyed the tortuously slow pace we were making.
Eventually we got to the county road, and were my kidneys glad. Once on the smooth surface, Lonnie showed me what his V-8 Ford could do. Within a very short time, we were cruising down that road at a hundred and twenty miles per hour. I couldn’t see the speedometer, so as we accelerated, I had to keep asking Lonnie how fast we were going. I think my constant asking annoyed him a bit, but he was so proud of that car he put up with it, and told me every time I asked.
Now, my dear friends, we come to the crux of the story, the place where we got to meet up with Ed Williams and friends. In my hitchin’ career, I’ve been in a lot of scrapes, but I must admit, this was one of the better ones.
We stayed on the back roads as much as possible. But then we pulled onto what seemed to me to be a main thoroughfare. So I said to Lonnie, “Is this cool? Maybe someone will spot us on this road.”
“It can’t be helped. We’ve got to cross the swamp up ahead. It’s this road, or a twenty-mile detour down south. And I’m itchin’ to get this over with and get my ass to Florida.” Well, as it turned out, the detour would have saved us time after all.
We’re haulin’ ass across this swamp. I mean, it was pitch dark, but you still knew there was water on both sides of you, just from the spread of the headlights out to the sides of the road.
Then we saw it, a car across the road up ahead. Lonnie and I saw it at the same time. I said nothing. Lonnie said “Shit!” There was no way we could go around it, so Lonnie said, “Hold on, I’m turning her around.” Just then, and I don’t know why, I stuck my head out the window and looked back, and I saw headlights coming up fast. I told this to Lonnie and he said the bastard must have been tailin’ us with his lights out, using our taillights to light the way for him.
The obvious question was, What do we do now? And you want to know something? That’s the very question I put to Lonnie. His answer was not very reassuring. “I don’t know. Let’s play it by ear and see what happens.” He saw that I was reaching for the shotgun and added, “No, not now, maybe later.” As he said that, he brought the V-8 Ford to a halt about twenty feet from the car blocking the road.
Lonnie and I sat in the Ford, while two men came out of the darkness to be illuminated by the Ford’s headlights. They both carried shotguns. The bigger of the two ambled over to Lonnie’s side of the car. The other one was going to be my date. Before they reached us, I asked Lonnie, “Are these the bad guys you told me about?”
“Yes, I recognize Ed Williams; he’s the big one.”
“Alright, Lonnie boy, I’m getting an idea. Don’t pay any attention to anything I may say. Just keep your eyes open.” Who said that? I’ll be goddamn … it was my twenty-year-old self that said that!
Before the men could reach us, I opened my door and sprung out of the car. They both raised their guns at this unexpected motion, but before they could think to fire, I said, “Thank you, thank you! That crazy nigger almost got me killed. He was goin’ over a hundred miles an hour. I asked him to slow down but he wouldn’t. I was just hitchhiking and the son-of-a-bitch picked me and wouldn’t let me out.”
I guess because of my age, and the fact that I was white, was the reason I didn’t get my head blown off, coupled with the fact that I had called Lonnie a “crazy nigger.” I hate that word. I don’t even like using it now, and believe me, if it wasn’t for what I perceived as a matter of life or death, I would not have used it that night.
As I was going through my little act, the car that was following us pulled up behind the Ford. Only it wasn’t a car. It was a flatbed truck with wooden slats on the side, but not the back. Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time. The only thing I knew at the time was that the headlights shining from behind the Ford gave more emphasis to my performance.
The man closest to me lowered his gun a bit, not by much, but just enough to show he had bought my act. The other man, after hesitating to review my dissimilation, continued on to his objective, which was Lonnie. Then a third man came out from behind the Ford. He was the one who had been driving the truck.
The big man, who was Williams, said before he reached the driver’s side door, “Keep an eye on the kid until we know what’s goin’ on. Put him in front of the car, and keep him in the light.” I had ears, I heard what he said, so without being told, I walked over to the hood of the Ford and leaned my butt against it, facing out into the darkness.
When Williams got to the left-hand door of the Ford, he peered in and, upon seeing Lonnie, said, “Okay, boy, outta the car.”
In no time at all, both Lonnie and I were ensconced between the headlights of the 1950 V-8 Ford.
Once Lonnie was next to me, the three men congregated in front of us. Williams was obviously in charge, so he spoke for his little aggregation. “What have we got here? An integrated, illegal moonshinin’ outfit?”
That was my cue to continue with my Oscar-winning performance. (I’m not putting the TM after the word Oscar. If the Academy of Motion Pictures, or whatever the fuck they’re called, wants to sue me, please go right ahead. My next story is about those assholes.)
As I said earlier, it’s hard to keep me on track. Let me try that again.
Williams alluded to an integrated moonshine ring. And as I said, that was my cue. So here’s what went down:
“Sir, you got this all wrong. I was just trying to get home when this here nigger picked me up. Hell, I’d ride with the devil hisself if it would git me back to my mama. She’s sickly ya know.” At that age, I could play the mother card quite effectively. It worked every time, except in one hellhole of a town in Louisiana, though that’s another story.
Man, I tried, but Williams was a hard audience to crack. He only said, “Hold on, boy, we’ll git to you in a minute. Right now I got me some questions for the nigger here.”
He asked his questions without, I might add, waiting for a reply. “What’s in the boxes, boy? Why did you feel it necessary to kidnap a white boy? You got anything to say for yourself?” He might have gone on in that vein if the guy from the truck didn’t say, “Hey, Ed, let’s git the shit transferred to the truck, then we can have us some fun with the nigger.” Ed thought that was a great idea and said to Lonnie, “Git loading your illegal liquor onto Jim’s truck.” Oh, so that was the asshole’s name … Jim.
But ol’ Ed Williams wasn’t forgetting Yours Truly, no way José. “You, boy, you help the nigger. You two hand them boxes up to Jim. Jim, you git up on the bed and arrange ’em so they don’t fall over. Don’t stack ’em. Keep ’em all flat on the bed.”
As Jim climbed up onto the truck to await our deliveries, and I stood next to Lonnie as he untied the rope, he whispered to me, “Man, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were King Cracker.”
Whatever the hell that meant.
Before we were joined by the two original assholes, Ed and What’s-His-Name, I had just enough time to tell Lonnie, “I’m going for the gun first chance I get.”
I noticed that Jim didn’t have a weapon, and if the other two kept close together, as they had been, I might be able to pull something off. They might, after the booze was loaded, relax their watch over me. I knew that no way in hell was Lonnie going to get a chance at the gun.
We loaded the moonshine onto a vehicle for the second time that night, all the while under the watchful eyes of Ed Williams and company. When we had finished, we were told to go back to the front of the Ford and get between the headlights. It was now time to assert myself. I rehearsed my lines, and then went upon the stage and spoke so those in the cheap seats could hear me.
I addressed myself to Williams, “Sir, if you’ll just loan me your gun for a minute, I’d be happy to blow this here nigger’s brains out all over his car.”
“Calm down, boy, we don’t do things like that hereabouts. No, we have our own way of doin’ things. When a nigger gits uppity like this one here, we use a rope. We ain’t had a decent lynchin’ in I don’t know how long. But we sure as hell gonna have us one tonight.”
Okay, from his demeanor towards me and his speech, it looked like I was winning Williams over. So I asked an obvious question. “Excuse me, sir, but I don’t see no trees hereabout, how are we (notice how it has now become we) gonna lynch the nigger without no trees?”
“We’re gonna take him to my brother-in-law. He’ll want in on the fun.”
Quite abruptly, he said, “Time to go. Hey, boy, can you drive the nigger’s car? You follow us. You’ll be between the truck and us. So you cain’t pull nothin’. And if you try, we’ll have us a double lynchin’. We’ve lynched nigger-lovin’ whites before.”
“Yes sir. And I’d like to be the one that puts the rope around his goddamn neck.”
“Okay, boy, just stay with us and maybe you can.” Then Williams turned to Lonnie and said, “Come on, boy, it’s time to meet Sheriff Cole … and your maker.”
At that instant, the three assholes were surrounding Lonnie, and the sons-of-bitches were really enjoying themselves. I was momentarily forgotten. I’d been waiting an eternity for this moment. I ran around to the driver’s side door, which was already opened, leaned down, and grabbed the stock of the shotgun. I had it out before anyone, including myself, knew what was happening. I yelled, “Lonnie, move.” I think he was expecting something because he was out of the line of fire before the others even lifted their heads to see what was going on. I trained the shotgun on all three of ’em. Their guns were pointed earthward; hence, they were no good whatsoever in a situation like this.
I said, “Gentlemen, if anyone is going to meet his maker tonight, it’s gonna be you three assholes. So, how do we play it? You want to die now, or do you want to lay your guns on the ground and live for a few more minutes?”
If nothing else, you can say definitively that racists are the biggest bunch of cowards on the planet. The two with the guns meekly put them on the ground. And I could see that all three were shaking down to their BVDs. I told them to move back, and when they had gone far enough so as not to cause any mischief, I asked Lonnie to pick up their guns. What a waste of breath. Before I had finished speaking, Lonnie was beside me, holding a shotgun on our three friends.
So now that I’m the hero and saved the day, I didn’t know what to do next. I turned to Lonnie and asked, “What now?”
He says, not to me, but to the three assholes, “Gents, if all of you can fit into the trunk of that car that is blocking the road, you’ll live through the night. Anyone not able to fit in, we’ll just have to shoot.” He then addressed Williams. “Where are the keys?”
“Fuck you, nigger.”
I think that was the wrong thing to say to Lonnie at that particular moment because he discharged a round of buckshot into Williams’ leg. The son-of-a-bitch crumpled to the ground with a yelp of pain that I am sure was heard in Jasper, wherever the hell Jasper is.
Lonnie then asked the other asshole that was not Jim where the keys were, and you know what? He received no smart mouth in return. He was told that they were in the ignition. Lonnie told me to go fetch them and open the trunk. When the trunk was opened, Lonnie told Jim and asshole number two to pick up the big piece of shit that called himself Ed Williams and put him in the trunk. When they had done that, Lonnie said, “Now you two climb in after him, and remember anyone not in the trunk will find himself in the swamp … and dead.” Somehow they managed to fit themselves in, though I don’t think they were very comfortable.
As soon as the lid was shut and locked, Lonnie grabbed the keys and got into the car. He started it and backed it off the road. After throwing the keys as far out into the shallow water of the swamp as possible, he asked me “Can you drive the truck? I’ve got a little brake problem, so I’ll have to drive the Ford.”
“Yeah sure, but where are we going?”
“The drop is just a couple of miles from here. We’ll give ’em the truck and the liquor. We won’t have to wait around for no unloadin’. We’ll just get our money and vamoose.”
So that’s my story. We dropped off the booze, Lonnie collected his money, and we hightailed it back to pick up Michelle and the girls. When we left, we had one shotgun, but when we returned to the clearing in the woods where the stills were located, we had three.
As we drove up, Sonny Boy, Slim, and Peetie came out to meet us. Before any questions could be asked, I got out of the Ford carrying the three guns and walked up to my old buddy, Slim. I gave him all three, and said, “I don’t remember which one is yours.” Then I went back to the Ford to await Lonnie and company. The look on Slim’s face was worth everything I had gone through that night.
Of course, we couldn’t get out of there until Lonnie gave the boys the highlights of the evening. When he had finished, Slim walked over to the car and stuck out his hand saying, “White boy, you is the first white person I’ve ever stuck my hand out to and meant it.”
Well, with a preamble like that, I had to shake hands with the man. In fact, I was glad to do so.
Just then, Sonny Boy walked up and said, “Did you remember to pull the hammers back?”
“No, sorry. I forgot.”
“That’s alright, son, you done good, thanks.” Without another word, he and Slim walked back to tend the fires, as they had been when we drove up.
Lonnie came back with his brood and herded them into the car. And off we went—Florida bound.
The only other thing of interest is that when we got to West Palm Beach, rather than let me off on the highway, Lonnie asked me to stay with them until we got to his sister’s house. He said he would see to it that I got back to the highway alright.
When we got there, and after I said good bye to Michelle and the girls, Lonnie turned to me and said, “I want you to have this car. The papers are in the glove box.” I started to say something, but he cut me off. “I’ve got no more use for her. You saved my bacon back there and no way around it, you’re takin’ her or you’re walkin’ the five miles back to the highway. There’s just one thing, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but every time I put on the brakes, I have to pull the pedal back up with this here rope. He then showed me something I had missed entirely. Lonnie demonstrated the mechanism for me. He depressed the brake pedal and then released it. It did not rise as brake pedals are wont to do. He had to pull it back in place with the rope. He had become so proficient at applying the brakes, and then pulling the brake pedal back into place, I hadn’t notice a thing the whole trip from Georgia.
I’m getting tired, so the short version is that I humbly accepted Lonnie’s gift.
One last point of interest:
A few weeks later, I found myself on I-95 in Miami, and traffic was stop and go. Well, I stopped, but couldn’t get the brake pedal up right away. I fumbled with the rope, but because I didn’t move the Ford along fast enough, a semi-trailer plowed right into me. He hit me hard enough to give me whiplash to my neck for a couple of weeks. But you want to know what damage my V-8 Ford suffered after being hit by an eighteen-wheeler? None! That’s what. Not a dent! They just don’t make cars like the old V-8 Fords anymore.
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