I began the long drive to Clayville . . . Meandering through the two-lane black top roads that mark the old Emancipation routes along the Chattahoochee River, I easily fell into the habit of throwing up my hand in greeting to each car I met. Old, unpainted shot gun houses sank into overgrown foliage beside unkempt single-wide trailers alongside the three bedroom Farmer’s Home Loan houses that had sprung up in the area during the sixties and seventies. Memories of my brother, Jim, made me laugh out loud when I recognized the old black juke joints he and I would haunt when we were in high school. I had never felt afraid in those places because everyone knew Daddy and wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me or my brother. We were accepted for what we were -- poor white kids who liked to drink, listen to good blues music and had a gun-carrying crazy-ass father.
I could hardly believe some of these places were still standing, especially J.B.’s, but there it was rusty roof and broken down porch overgrown with kudzu just as it had been in the mid-seventies. Two black men in beat up, dusty overalls lounged at one end of the porch drinking a clear liquid from mason jars and smoking cigarettes. J. B. was known for his signature moonshine which he called Peachy Pearl as it had a distinct flavor of peach and went down “smooth as a pearl.”
The last time I had been at J.B.’s Juke Joint had been just after high school graduation. It was a hot May evening and Jimmy Duck Holmes was going to play at J. B.’s because Duck and J. B, were old friends and Duck was particularly fond of Peachy Pearl. I had been looking forward to the night all week and had even passed on a graduation trip to Panama City, Florida. He was known for playing in the Bentonia style of blues created by Skip James and Jack Owens both Mississippi blues players. It was a style of blues that had a haunting, country sound, and I loved to listen to songs like Devil Got My Woman and Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues by Skip James. Daddy had a bunch of Delta blues records and there was nothing I liked better than listening to them when I was growing up. I had never heard Jimmy Duck Holmes, but I knew if he was anything like Skip James, it would be one fine night.
Jimmy Duck was as good as I had hoped and had already begun his second set when Gus burst through the front door with his usual assortment of strong-arm misfits. Gus owned the mortgage on J. B.’s and had decided to call in the note that night. He staggered over to the bar and put his pocket pistol on the counter while his crew positioned themselves by the front door. I slunk down as far as I could into the booth praying that Gus wouldn’t see me. My brother, Jim, pulled his old ratty Universtiy of Alabama cap down low and whispered, “Get ready to run like hell, Sis.”
J. B. Grimsley was not one to be bullied by a crooked businessman like Gus. He had known Gus since they were children when J. B.’s father had worked as a sharecropper on the family farm. J. B. must have seen this day coming from the time he signed the loan papers on the bar and had been waiting for the first opportunity to beat Gus at his own game.
J. B. pulled his shotgun from behind the bar, “Gus, just settle on down, now. Come on over here and let ole J. B. po you a drank. I gots somethin you needs to see ‘fore you shoots up da place.”
Gus drank down the shot of whiskey J. B. had poured for him, “Alright. What is it?”
J. B. reached under the bar and put some papers in front of Gus. “What the hell is this?” Gus growled, pushing the papers back toward J. B. without even looking at them.
“You knows what it is. You knows you signed this place over to me in that poker game las week. Now don’t be sayin you don’t remember. I’s been knowin you a long time, Gus. A long time. You knows and I knows what’s right.”
J. B. poured Gus another shot. Gus looked around at the bar full of people staring at him and let
out a, “Humph.”
Everyone in the place was frozen as if in a photograph. Most of the people there owed money to Gus or had kin that did. No one would dream of intervening.
J. B. nodded toward Jimmy Duck and he began to play Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues, a superb choice, I thought. Gus picked up the shot glass and tipped it at J. B. before drinking it and slamming it back down on the deed papers. He picked up his gun and put it back in his front pants pocket, got up from the bar stool and stumbled back out the front door.
“Son of a bitch!” Jim shook his head laughing. “J. B. that’s the coolest damn thang I ever did see.”
Jim stood up and took off his cap and gave a gentlemanly bow toward J. B.
J. B. scrowled, “Sit yer white ass down fer I tell yo Daddy you been in here ever night this week.” He picked up the deed papers from the bar and started folding them up. He indulged a momentary smile before putting them back under the counter and retaining his usual stern no nonsense stance.
That remains the only example I know of Gus ever coming out on the shallow end of a deal.
Copyright ©2012 by Kat Kennedy
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