The night air was warm. After all, it was summer. And Arthur Smakes got out of his car in the parking lot in front of the auditorium and adjusted his tie. These Chamber of Commerce types were a bunch of stuffed shirts, but they were the perfect audience for his palaver. He could lay on the bullshit heavy and thick and they would eat it up, their fat bel-lies already full from a catered dinner. He did not notice the sound of a truck pulling into the lot.
Inside, a white-haired man stood at the podium. “It is with great honor and pleasure that the Wilson Chamber of Com-merce welcomes to our podium the estimable Arthur Smakes, model citizen of Baton Rouge, and real estate investment expert. This evening, Mr. Smakes will speak to us about navigating the treacherous shoals of the residential and com-mercial real estate business, even during a severe downturn. It is little surprise that while the subprime market is in a virtual shambles, Mr. Smakes has managed to profit, indeed, get filthy rich at the expense of those less savvy than he. And so I give you, gentlemen, Mr. Arthur Smakes.”
The applause was hearty. And in from the wings came Smakes, with prepared three by five index cards which he probably wouldn’t need. He had a gift for speaking extemporaneously and capturing an audience quickly. He also had a gift for turning crooked real estate deals, with half the politicians in the county neatly tucked in his hip pocket.
“Good evening, gentlemen all. And I do believe I am in
The august presence of an admirably select and impressive group of gentlemen, the very upstanding men responsible for keeping the economy of this region flourishing and well fed even in the most difficult of times.”
This brought cheers from the overstuffed idiots in atten-dance. Far back, however, someone else was hardly cheering. He was smiling and plotting his next move.
“I’d like to begin with a little anecdote. There once was a princess who lived in a castle -- ”
Katt Hall, the stranger thought, he could only be describ-ing Katt Hall.
“Well, as you might imagine, that princess was not well versed in the finer nuances of the rules of land or property taxation.
She longed only to rule over her kingdom. What she failed to realize was that the deed to the very land upon which her castle stood belonged to someone else.”
The audience booed and hissed. How dare someone own the
“And therein lies the moral to our story, my friends. He or she who holds the deed to the land, holds the keys to the kingdom -- the kingdom of wealth. And what do you think happened to that princess when the crops failed, when her loyal minions could not provide the taxes she needed to upkeep her lavish lifestyle? That’s right, our princess was bounced out of her glorious digs on her rather pretty little keister. No more castle, no more kingdom to call her own, to-da-loo honey. Of course that, my friends, will never happen to you. And that is why I am here tonight.”
The stranger smiled. Nobody ever threw the Big Katt off her land, but the Big Katt had been known to throw men out of her bed, and he was one of them. For once, he had possessed the Big Katt in a far-off land. Agreed to love, honor, and obey. Or vice versa. But now, she was someone else’s wife. And in his motel room were hidden a pair of that man’s jockey shorts lately separated from him, shorts that would serve as material for the planting of a voodoo curse.
Smakes’s lecture was winding down, and now the stranger was able to make his way backstage, where he would wait to shake Smakes’s hand. Little did he suspect the presence of the police in an unmarked car in the parking lot. However, the stranger was not stupid.
“Loved the lecture.”
“Staying in town?”
“Why, no. I’m driving back to Baton Rouge.”
“Anyway, great talk. I’m going to buy myself a little fixer upper one of these days, just because of what you said.”
The stranger shook Smakes’s hand and exited into the parking lot.
The eyes of the cop in the unmarked car dully watched but hardly noticed the stranger slip behind the wheel of his truck. But rather than pull out of the parking lot, the stranger waited. And watched.
Half an hour later, Smakes emerged and walked to his car. The cop was just alert enough to notice, and he got out of his car and approached the lecturer. He flashed his police badge.
Smakes threw him a puzzled look.
“The Stephens and Hazelton murders. You never know who or where this nut might strike next. You and the Katt knew each other pretty well in high school. Police precautions.”
“Well, I appreciate that.” “Where you headed?” “Home.”
“I’ll tail you, just in case.” “Really, is this necessary?”
“Yes.” And with that, the cop returned to his car. He watched as Smakes drove out of sight. Others had begun to appear in the parking lot, fat middle-aged men, many of them a bit groggy from food, drink, and Smakes’s lecture.
The noise generated by the businessmen drowned out for a moment the sound of the stranger’s truck as it roared to life and followed Smakes’s car out of the parking lot.
As the cop started his car, other cars were also starting, and a number of them queued up to make their exit, blocking his path.
Meantime, on the road, Smakes loosened his tie, rearranged his shoulders, and relaxed. Those fat idiots had eaten up every word of his. They’d go out first thing the next day and make stupid investments in depressed properties, properties that would never bounce back. And he and his cronies would be only too happy to sell them those properties, pocketing the difference from what the banks would be willing to pay to get these hopeless parcels off their ledger books.
Yes, Smakes smiled. Behind him, the headlights of a truck were slowly gaining on him. The road was dark and twisty, overhung by cypress, and the night was thick with the sweet scent of magnolias.
Ah, the South, he thought. This was as close to the earth as a man could get. The sweetness of magnolias, and taste of fresh pecan pie and hominy grits, the phony cordiality of one neighbor to another, of white to black and black to white. Yes, this was as close to the earth as a man could get, or so Arthur
He never considered he could get closer still, indeed, very pos-sibly as close as six feet under, in a hard wooden crate.
The stranger gaining on him from behind was smiling now.
He had the real estate weasel and former Katt Hall paramour right where he wanted him.