Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
Carroll Jenson lived somewhat closer to Leanna, but still out in the country. It turned out that his place was just a few acres – perhaps five, I judged from a look at the fence around it. The house sat squarely in the middle of the place, and it was square itself, a modern construction with a little cement stoop barely large enough to stand on, and what a quick touch proved to be vinyl siding. The siding was white, and there was black trim around the windows. The house was neat and clean, at least from the outside, and the expanse of grass that covered the land – except for the gravel driveway – looked like someone had mowed it recently. I didn't see a mower, but it was entirely possible that it was behind the house; indeed, all sorts of things could have been behind the house, where we couldn't see.
As I turned off the engine Cecelia opened the glove compartment and pulled out her fighting gloves, which she then put on. I raised my eyebrows and said, "What's those for?"
"Hitherto," she said, "I have used them only when hitting the speed bag or the heavy bag, to save myself from bloody knuckles. But I have a presentiment that they may be useful here – as a deterrent, I devoutly hope, for I have no wish for fisticuffs, but if it does come to blows, they will again protect my hands."
They would, too. They were the sort of fingerless gloves that a professional wrestler called the Undertaker wears – padded over the knuckles to protect the wearer's hands, and enable him to hit harder without damaging himself. Since she's been working with me Cecelia's added practice with self defense to her workouts, though she has to go to a gym to hit the bags since there's no room in her weight shed to install anything else. She can hit, too – she's got the strength from years of lifting weights, and with instruction on how to apply that strength she's become pretty competent, at least as far as I can tell without seeing her in an actual fight, which I hope I never have to.
I shrugged, and opened my door. Cecelia closed the glove compartment, leaving her gun there, and we climbed out of the Blazer. We walked to the stoop, which I mounted with that quick touch on the siding, and knocked on the storm door, there being no visible doorbell. It was just a few seconds before the door opened, and then the storm door – it's not as easy to talk through glass as it is through an old fashioned screen door.
The man who stood there was about my height, but broader. He didn't seem fat, just solid, and I hoped it wouldn't come to fighting, for if he knew what he was doing he could probably take me, if only because of his greater weight. He glared at us, first at Cecelia, who was standing on the grass beside the stoop, then at me. "What in the -- do you want?" he asked.
I glanced at Cecelia. "Your estimate appears to be accurate this time," I said. I turned back to the man in the doorway. "We're looking for Carroll Jenson."
"Well, that's me, and I'm not buying."
"That's okay – we ain't sellin'," I said. "We here about the cross burnin' the other night at the Johnston place."
He stepped out of the door, forcing me to step down off the stoop. He stayed there, which put him six inches or so above me. "You know what?" he said. "I'd like to know who did that, in order to give him a medal."
"I'd like to know who did that, in order to give his name to the cops."
"The cops, huh?" Jenson's English was better than mine, and his accent was milder than most of the people around there, but he obviously could be casual. "Now why would you—" He looked at Cecelia. "Well, I guess I know why, don't I?"
I bit my tongue on that one, though it was tough. "I guess you do. But it's more than that – there's the fact that burnin' crosses in people's yards is illegal."
"It was illegal to drink tea without paying the British tax, too, so the colonists threw it into Boston Harbor."
"An' you're gonna compare some hateful brain dead idiots to the patriots in the days leading up to the Revolution? You might want to think before you say stuff like that."
Now Jenson stepped down off the stoop. "Mister," he said, jabbing his finger into my chest, "I don't know who you are, but you're beginning to irritate me."
Cecelia spoke up, trying, I suspected, to defuse the situation. "Though we did not introduce ourselves – the opportunity we might have seized, but only with difficulty in the flow of the conversation – surely you must have guessed our names. There are not, after all, a great many men who dress as my husband does, and who have a black wife."
"Most white men wouldn't lower themselves."
"Darvin!" Cecelia said sharply.
I looked at her. "You're earnin' your pay today, keepin' me from clobberin' people who deserve it." I looked back at Jenson. "Look, I ain't here to fight. I got better things to do than beat on people an' have 'em beat on me. I don't have time for that kind o' childishness. I just want to know if you know anything at all about that cross burnin'."
Jenson took a step toward me, and I took a step back – what I'd told him was true. "If I knew anything, do you think I'd tell you? You've been mixing with mud people, you've betrayed your race, and—"
He didn't get any further. I reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt with both hands and jerked him toward me. "If you ever speak of my wife in that way again, I will hit you very hard in the face about 24 times. Am I clear?"
He knocked my hands loose. "Don't touch me. You've been consorting with them, and I don't want any contamination."
"Mr. Jenson," said Cecelia, and put her fist under his nose. "Do you see this? You insulted me, and my husband took umbrage. Then you insulted him, and I find that I too am irate. I will have no compunction about striking you repeatedly, should you persist in your calumny."