Sam went to Kilby Correctional to visit Curtis. Besides checking on him, Sam hoped to confirm some information he heard about a possible Todd assailant.
He didn’t expect the gift Curtis had waiting for him.
“Good to see you. It was a rough night with old peckerhead in the next cell. He had panic attacks and was screaming all night long,” Curtis said, looking through the cubicle glass. He was in customary orange, had a fresh buzzed haircut and black framed glasses.
“How you holding up?” Sam asked.
“We been having cake. A bit of a celebration. First white on black killer to get the chair,” Curtis said.
“Yeah, I read that this morning. It was down in Atmore. It was the only time a klan member was executed for the murder of a black man in the 20th century. My mother knew Michael Donald’s mother back in the 70s” Sam said.
“Small mercies,” Curtis said.
“Curtis, remember a while back before all this, I’d asked if I could interview you? Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Curtis nodded affirmative.
“We are ready to deliver an updated black history curriculum for teachers,” Sam said. He purposely held Curtis’ stare for an inordinate amount of time. His hope was Curtis would remember, years ago how they agreed on a way to communicate if he ever got arrested.
When Sam was a teenager, Curtis taught the neighborhood boys a trick he’d learned in his Navy days. By communicating using double entendre or something that could have more than one meaning.
Sam would ask Curtis about his work, hopefully in a way Curtis would understand the hidden question and provide the real answer. This way, if they were overheard the transcript of the recording would be vague.
“We want to train our teachers our history in practical terms. Give them more information than what is generally known. Does that sound alright?” Sam asked.
“Sure thing. Whatever you need kid,” Curtis said.
“When you were a lad, had you ever heard of black folks saying anything positive about the klan?” Sam asked.
“Jeezus Sam, what kind of question is that?” Curtis looked genuinely surprised.
“I apologize. Allow me to read a short piece from the curriculum to give some context. These historical quotes speak for themselves,” Sam said.
No, I think the Ku Klux was a good thing at that time. The darkies got sassy (saucy), trifling, lazy. They was notorious. They got mean. The men wouldn’t work.
At fu’st I though dat dey was ghosties and den I wuz afeered of ’em, but atter I found out dat Massa Bennett wuz one of dem things, I wuz always proud of ’em.” Leroy Day thought the Klan initially served a good purpose.
“Got it,” Curtis nodded, with recognition, “there were some, who I wouldn’t say supported the klan but rode with them, looking to snitch on lazy slaves. So I guess you could say they didn’t think the worst of them. They were probably out for any perks they might get in return. Don’t forget it was the wild west. The klan were like vigilante police,” Curtis said.
Sam’s opinion of them now was all hate and bullying.
“So how about a black man joining them? As if! Right?” Sam said, in an effort to sound casual.
“There was a police sergeant in Colorado Springs who went undercover as a black member a bunch of years ago. He did all his stuff over the phone, so the klan never seen him. He sent in a white cop partner in person to pose as him,” Curtis said.
“How did he keep that under wraps? Is it possible to have a black klansman and not hear about it?” Sam asked.
“Naw. Around here if a guy was to pull that, he wouldn’t get past state round-up, where they initiate all new members,” Curtis said. He closed both eyes tight but kept talking, “I swear I got me some allergies today. To answer your question, I don’t see how there’d be interest in that. Times are a changin’ for state round... up.” he said.
“I might have tired you out! I will leave you to it,” Sam said. He wasn’t sure if he got actual answers using double entendre.
Curtis chuckled, “You know Sam, if you get out to that Texaco on Sprott Road, before Martha’s dinner time, the gas’ll still be cheap,” he spoke quietly. “Now go on, you don’t have much time,” Curtis abruptly signaled for the guard to escort him back.
In the parking lot, Sam was jittery with excitement shaking as he got the keys out. If he understood correctly, Curtis had something waiting for him at the Texaco at 3:45. Martha’s dinner time was always fifteen minutes before The Young and the Restless.
Eunice has come back.
Fifteen minutes later Sam pulled into the Texaco parking lot. Dougie Barnes was standing by his vehicle. Bingo!
“You Sammy boy?”
“Yessir,” Sam said. He might have met him before but wasn’t sure.
“Dougie here, she’s ok is all I’m saying to you. She done forgot all about y’all back in Alabama. You might want to move on with your life. Forget about her Sam,” Dougie said.
Sam’s mouth hung open. He felt a mixture of relief and confusion. It didn’t sound right.
“You know the song, Under the Bridge or Over the Bridge or something?” Dougie asked.
“I think so …Uh, one more turn at the rodeo…” Sam said.
Dougie looked at him funny.
Sam felt stupid like it was a practical joke.
“Anyhow, it’s a big country hit on Memphis radio. When I went to get her outta the hospital a few months back she told me she wrote and recorded that song. I gotta believe her. All she did was sing and carry on most nights till the wee hours. Good singer though!” Dougie said.
“You mean you know where she is now? She’s alright? How can I get to her?” Sam had so many questions. After all his therapy, he knew this was not a healthy way to be letting go.
“Listen Son, I dunno what’s in this envelope but our friend asked I get it to you. I gotta get back before dark,” he said, putting the letter in Sam’s hand.
Dougie got into his Aerostar minivan and drove off.
Sam, You and I make quite the pair. I have a big broken hole inside of me and you fill a lot of it but not all. Even though I don’t have a lot to give in return I loved receiving what you had. At least until I woke up to it.
I was selfish. I didn’t know I was selfish, I was just really unhappy with my life and I was looking for that exact right thing that would fill the hole.
When I first met you, well later at musicology, I knew you were a gentle and loving person. You gave me a great lift and made me feel wonderful. I just didn’t have it in me to return the favor, even though I actually did want to. Eventually the emptiness in me returned and I questioned the value of our love. I started looking for a new lift with the posse crew activism. I didn’t do it consciously but I did do it to you.
I thought I was justified when I was angry but it was abusive. I left you when I wasn’t getting what I needed from you anymore. I know you hate me now and that’s your right.
It wasn’t until my experience in Memphis and the people I met here, did I realize I was self absorbed. I’m sorry that I took your light to feed myself and didn’t give anything back. I’m sorry that I confused you and made you vulnerable. I realize I can’t go through life using people without it catching up to me.
The thing is I didn’t mean to hurt you. I never actually realized that I was. I was just trying to get through the world in a way that made it bearable for me to manage the emptiness inside.