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Arlette Lees
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chickensforcharlie.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2012

CHICKENS FOR CHARLIE

 

by Arlette Lees

 

 

I stand beside Sheriff Buford's chicken coop trying to wipe blood from my hands and making a real mess of it.

          Horace Rochon, the sheriff's worthy opponent in the upcoming election, lies bleeding out at my feet which pretty much assures the sitting sheriff a second uncontested term.

          At the moment I'm not thinking about political futures. I'm thinking about mine and if I have one. The fact that I'm only twelve years old will not get me off the hook. I live in St. Martinville, the only place in America where a child went to the electric chair twice.

          On May 3, 1946, just five years back, an innocent 16-year-old boy, Willie Francis, was strapped into Gruesome Gertie. When they pulled the switch, poor little Willie received a painful jolt. The chair skittered across the floor but the juice fizzled out and Willie lived. Despite nationwide appeals for leniency, the sentence was carried out the following year. Willie didn’t kill nobody. He just paid for it.

          This is the way I see it. An innocent nigra boy like Willie and a questionable little cracker like me are equal under the laws of Louisiana. We're both going to fry. Folks will come from miles around on execution day and spread their picnics on the lawn outside the jailhouse. If it weren't for fire-and-brimstone preachers, snake oil salesmen, and Gruesome Gertie, there wouldn't be any kind of entertainment in these parts.

          If me and my four brothers hadn't gone to bed hungry for three nights in a row, none of this would have happened. I slipped out of our shack on Alligator Bayou when everyone was still asleep and headed for the Buford place. Cecil Buford and his pretty little wife Goldie would be on their way to New Iberia to hear that tent preacher everyone is talking about.

          The Bufords are well off by local standards so I figured they wouldn't starve if I bagged a fryer or two from their backyard chicken coop. The problem is, things don't always work out the way you plan.

          I'm jimmying the catch on the chicken yard with my fishing knife when Goldie Buford throws open the upstairs bedroom window. Seems she didn't join her husband at the revival after all.

          Goldie is the kind of gal likes to flaunt what God gave her, so for a second or two I'm distracted by her lovely state of undress. That is until she points a finger at me and starts yelling like a crazy woman.

          "Get him, Horace!" she screams. "That no good Charlie Nicolet is after my chickens again."

          Holy shit! Horace Rochon?

          Goldie has something on her mind other than getting saved by the tent preacher this morning.

          Horace comes busting out of the screen door. My brain tells me to run but my feet are frozen to the ground. His fly is open wider than a barn door, the ends of his belt flapping around his hips as he runs at me.

          What the hell does a beautiful lady like Goldie see in Horace? He's just as fat and ugly as old Cecil.

          "You sonofabitch white trash!" he yells, his face red as a boil.

          "Wait! Wait!" I say, as he comes at me across the grass, pulling his belt out of the loops. I see a pair of lacy pink panties peeking out of his jeans pocket. He cuts a right comical figure except I'm too scared to laugh. I wasn't counting on all this excitement so early in the day.

          As he winds up to flay me with the brass buckle, he gets all twisted up in the legs of his jeans which are now down around his knees. He stumbles forward impaling his prodigious gut on my fishing knife. He drops with a groan, the knife still inside him, and flops around at my feet like a big white fish until he's all flopped out.

          After the initial shock wears off, I try to pull up his pants to preserve his dignity but he's too heavy, and I pull my hands back full of blood.

          Hell, I never meant for this to happen. It was an accident, pure and simple, but given my record for chicken stealing and other harmless mischief, nobody's going to take my word for it.

          As if things ain't bad enough, Cecil Buford pulls into the driveway in his pickup truck. Seems like he's back mighty early from New Iberia like maybe his head is full of suspicions regarding the fidelity of his wife.

          "What the hell!" he says, slamming his truck door.

          Now Cecil's running toward me from one direction and Goldie's flying out the back door. She's slipped into a flimsy nightie as transparent as cigarette smoke.

          "That man dead?" says Cecil, looking down at the motionless figure. "Holy shit! That’s Horace Rochon. What the hell is going on here?"

          Goldie rushes over and clings to Cecil's side.

          "I'm so glad you're back, Cecil darling. This dear boy saved me from a violent attack at the hands of this madman.”

          She looks up at Cecil, the picture of wounded innocence with her big blue eyes and soft blonde hair.

          I'm glad she's a fast thinker because I'm mute with shock.

          "Is that true, Charles?" he asks, wiping sweat from his face, his tobacco-stained teeth clamped tight around his cheap cigar.

          My mouth is dry as cotton but I swallow hard and find my voice.

"It's just like she says, sir." I bend over and pull the lacy panties from the dead man's pocket.  “I stepped in just as things were getting out of hand.”

 

"Give me those," barks Cecil, snatching them away from me and handing them to his wife.

 

          I can already see the wheels turning between Cecil's ears. Now that his competition has been dispatched, he has to consider his wife's reputation and his standing in the community. Our fishy story might just work to his advantage.

 

          As he ponders the situation, I make note of his flabby gut and pungent b.o. Then I look at his pretty young wife all fluffy and perfumed.  He ain't likely to find another fancy dime-a-dance lady from Kansas City willing to move south to a bayou filled with gators and snakes.

          "What you want for a reward, boy?" says Cecil all magnanimous-like. "A nice crisp dollar bill? A slingshot from the Five and Dime?"

          Fatso must think I just fell off the turnip truck.

          "I'd like five of them nice roasting hens for my Mama," I say, eyeing the fattest ones in the flock.

          He thinks I'm damn uppity but he forces a painful smile, the kind politicians carry in their back pocket beside their fat wallets. I smile at him, all innocent and wide-eyed like Goldie. He knows I'm mocking him and I can see how bad he wants to slap me silly.

          "You'll get your five chickens," he says, "but you ain't been here today, Charles. This is a small town and there's only room for one hero in a case like this. That's me, protecting my wife's virtue. You read me, boy?"

          "I do, sir."

          “Then wash up at the pump, go on home and keep your mouth shut.  I’d hate to see anything bad happen to an upstanding boy like yourself."

          I wash up and pick up my gunnysack of cackling hens. Before I get to the back of the property, I hear a moan. I peek around Buford's garden shed and see Horace Rochon pull himself up on one elbow. I guess he ain't quite as dead as I thought.

          Cecil removes the knife from Horace's belly and Horace yelps like a dog been hit by a car.

          "Get yourself inside, woman," says Cecil.

          As soon as the back door closes, he looks around to make sure no one is looking, then punches the knife into Horace's heart. He gives it a vicious twist for good measure. That's what happens when you go to a man's house with more than stealing chickens on your mind.

          I run all the way home.

          I don't know nuthin’.

          I ain't seen nuthin’.

          Mama turns from the sink when I come into the kitchen.

          "You been stealing Cecil Buford's chickens again?"

          "No, Mama. He give me them birds."

          "Don't lie to me, Charles. If it wasn't Sunday, I'd take a switch to your behind." She smiles and pats my head. "Be a good boy and bring me the ax. We're going to have a nice chicken dinner when we get back from the tent revival.”

 

Arlette Lees began her writing career several decades ago in the Confession Market and has since found a permanent home in pulp fiction. 

 

          She is a regular contributor to Hardboiled magazine, edited by pulp fiction veteran, Gary Lovisi.  One of her hair-raising tales appears in the anthology Deadly Dames from Bold Venture Press and a story with a real knock-out punch is included in the anthology Battling Boxing Stories.  Blood Bayou, her twisted tale of passion and murder in the Louisiana swamp appears in Whodunit from WILDSIDE PRESS. A collection of her short stories, Cold Bullets and Hot Babes from Wildside Press is available as a "double."  The other side, titled Crawlspace, is stories by her sister, Lonni Lees.

 

          Arlette writes from northern California on a typewriter that is older than many of her readers.  She is also an award-winning poet who is widely published both here and abroad.

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