Chapter 13: The Revenuer, the Bootlegger, and the Priest
Saturday morning Ginny went up onto the Montgomerys' creaky porch and knocked on the door, but no one opened it. She knocked again and waited, but no one answered. It was quiet, a rarity at this house. She knocked a third time and waited for what seemed an unusually long time before she gave up. When she turned to step off the porch, she was startled to find J.D. standing by the bottom step.
"Dang it, J.D.! You 'bout scared the tar outta me! How long you been standing there?"
"A minute. They ain't there, ya know. Not none of 'em."
"Coulda told me that instead of standing there all creepy-like."
"Well, where are they?"
He hesitated. "When we got home yesterday, the Priest was sitting right where you're standing."
"Yeah. I reckon the sheriff told him."
"Told him what?"
"Ginny, the revenuers found their daddy's still yesterdey. They took him in."
It took her a minute to absorb what he'd said.
"So...what was the Priest doing here?"
"He took 'em home with him. Reckon they're staying there 'til the county comes to take 'em off somewheres at least."
"What about Andy and Freddy?"
"Dunno. They asked the Priest but he didn't know."
"How horrible. They must be so shook up."
"Yeah. They didn't say much yesterday, kinda like it come as a shock to 'em."
"I'd say so...Don't reckon they'd wanna do much today, huh?"
"But we should go check on 'em."
"Yeah. Should prob'ly swing by Becky's on the way over."
It seemed a bit like Becky's fondness for J.D. might not be so unrequited.
They headed into town uncharacteristically solemn. When they reached the store, they went around back and up the stairs that led to the Kelly's apartment, and knocked on the door. The noise coming from inside was in stark contrast to the silence of the Montgomerys', with the usual chaos that Ginny always associated with Becky's home. Her weary, red-headed mother answered the door, a dirty-faced toddler on her hip. Several other children of varying ages, most with red hair, were sitting at the kitchen table or running around the apartment; Becky was among the well-behaved ones at the table, attempting to quiet a squalling baby.
"Good morning," Mrs. Kelly practically sighed.
"Morning, Miz Kelly," said Ginny. "Can Becky come out?"
"She hasn't done her chores yet. When she has, yes she can play."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Becky frowned and waved to them pathetically as the door shut. They turned and went back down the steps and headed toward the houses across from the schoolhouse. The light blue one where the Priest lived sat further off the road than the abandoned gray house with the broken upstairs window. They followed the shaded gravel drive up to the screened front porch then argued over who should knock on the door. As they stood bickering, the front door opened. They froze, expecting the Priest to emerge, but instead Danny walked across the porch and pushed open the screen door.
"Did ya hear us?" J.D. asked, surprised.
"No. Been watching the window. Reckoned y'all would show up."
They stepped up onto the porch about the time Tommy appeared in the doorway and all stood awkwardly silent for the next few moments.
"So, um, is the Priest nice enough?" Ginny finally asked.
"Reckon so," Tommy replied. "He don't say a whole lot. Made us read from the Bible before bed last night and before breakfast this morning, but didn't nobody else in town offer to take in a bootlegger's boys, even if only for a little while."
Ginny noticed they had had baths and were wearing clean clothes without holes. She couldn't remember having ever seen them so before.
"Heard from Andy or Freddy?" J.D. asked.
Tommy shook his head.
"I'm sure ya will," Ginny assured him.
Another uncomfortable silence passed before J.D. asked, "So...are y'all allowed to play outside?"
"Rowdy gets to. Don't see why we wouldn't." Tommy disappeared back inside the house and returned a few minutes later with two baseball gloves, one of which he tossed to Danny as he flung open the screen door and made a B line for the dirt patch.
Kody fiddled with the treasures in his pocket like he always did when he was anxious. Maybe he should knock again. That first knock had been rather soft; maybe she hadn't heard it. A curtain pulled back and he caught a glimpse of a blonde blur before it was quickly pulled to again. He held his breath for what seemed like an eternity until the door opened and Leslie stood there smiling up at him.
"Afternoon. Come to talk?"
He shook his head. "Came to listen." A crooked little grin appeared on his face. "But I'll talk, if that's what you want."
Her smile widened. "Would you like some sweet tea?"
"No, ma'am, but thank you anyway."
"Well, OK then."
She stepped out onto the porch and lightly closed the door behind her, then plopped down on the top step. He seated himself on the step just below her.
"What did you come to listen to?"
Her voice. Anything she had to say.
"Whatever you choose to speak of," he replied.
"I don't have much of importance to say."
"Hate to argue, but I disagree."
She blushed, making no attempt to hide it, and sat quietly for a moment, as if in thought.
"The dumplins turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself."
"Next time you'll have to save me some."
"I hope there's not a next time I come begging to borry flour."
"Well, I'll keep a sack in the cupboard, just in case. But next time you make chicken and dumplins..."
"I'll bring you some."
He smiled and they both looked down at their hands, trying to think of where to steer the conversation. Her eyes drifted to the house next door. "How are your friends? Have you talked to them since, well..."
"I hope they're alright."
"So you haven't talked to them."
"Yes and no."
She raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
He hesitated then took a deep breath. "Right after it happened, the sheriff came by the station, told Andy what'd happened and told him the county would be coming to pick up him and his brothers. If he wanted to see them, he'd best do it then because when the county came, they'd all be split up." Kody cleared his throat before he continued. "This ain't their daddy's first dance with the law, not by a long shot. And considering how much 'shine they found at that still, he won't be out of jail for a long while."
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and stared down at his clasped hands. "Andy asked me would I take him and Freddy across the mountain to the bus depot. He reckoned they could go somewheres and get a job in a factory or something, since they're not old enough to work down in the mines."'
"And so you did?"
"Couldn't say no."
"Where did they go?"
"I don't even know. I just dropped them off and wished them well."
"You know, Dr. Riley took in the two youngest boys."
"Wow. He's running a doctor's office, a mission, a boarding house,and a home for orphaned boys outta that house, huh?"
"Well it's good they got to stay together." He stared off into space. "I'd 'preciate if you didn't share with your brother or anybody about Andy and Freddy. I don't want those boys to get a second- hand account; rather tell them myself."
She made like she was locking her lips and tossed the invisible key over her shoulder. She waited for him to say something else but he seemed to be finished talking.
"You know," she offered, "Awful as it sounds, that really was the best thing that ever happened to those boys. I'm sure you miss your friends and that's understandable, but they're so much better off now."
He was watching his hands again.
"The sounds that used to come outta that house...." she continued with a shudder, "Daddy went over there with the shot gun many a night. Seemed to be the only thing to make the hollering stop."
She thought for a moment before adding, "It'll be nice to have new neighbors."
He looked up from his hands to catch more movement in the window. "I think we have an audience," he whispered.
She rolled her eyes. "My mama is so dang nosy."
He laughed. "I reckon it comes with the territory. If we were on my porch, my mama'd be sittin' right out there with us."
"Oh, is she home now?"
"No. But if she was that's where she'd be. Me outside talking to another human being instead of inside reading would be a red-letter day for her."
"It's OK to like books."
"Yes, but I tend to like books more than I like most people."
She laughed. "I woulda guessed that about you. But that's fine, too, understandable even. People can be ugly but books are right lovely. They take you places you'd never see and let you know people you'd never meet without ever having to leave your house. In case you couldn't tell, I'm a bit of a lover of good stories myself."
He shook his head. "I don't know why that surprises me."
"So what is it you're reading in lieu of interacting with other people?"
"Anything really. History, the news, biographies, philosophy, fiction, even pure non-sense fantasy. Whatever I can get my hands on. What about you?"
"I like poetry, all those beautiful words. And fiction. Funny how it's sometimes easier to love people and places that don't even exist than it is to love those that do- oh my goodness! You must think I'm horrible."
"Not even a little bit."
They talked at length about their love of good stories and he was surprised to learn she was not only well-read in literature but that she also had a pretty good grasp on the ugliness that pervaded their very non-fiction world. They talked and talked, stopping only on the occasions that they noticed the conspicuous crack in the curtains, and lost track of time. When the first groups of coal-dust covered men appeared in the street Kody said, "Reckon I oughtta be getting on home"
"Goodness, I didn't realize it was so late!" Leslie gasped.
He stood and dusted off the seat of his pants. "Miss Williams, it's been an absolute pleasure-"
He looked out to the street to see a small, filthy, hunched man approaching the house. Mr. Williams stepped up onto the same step where Kody stood and gave him a good looking-over.
"Daddy, this is my friend-" Leslie began.
"David Paserella's boy," he cut her off. "Couldn't be none other."
"Yes, sir," he affirmed.
The door opened and Mrs. Williams finally showed her whole face, not the half of it they'd seen all afternoon peeking through the curtains. It was clear where Leslie got her good looks.
"Helen!" Mr. Williams exclaimed. "Would ya look here? David Paserella's boy, uh-"
"Kody," he said quietly.
"Kody," Mr .Williams repeated, "All growed up." He shook his head in disbelief. "Law, just the spittin' image, I tell ya."
"I get that sometimes."
Mr. Williams put his black hand out and shook Kody's. "I knowed your daddy right well. He was a damn fine miner and good man. I's proud to know him."
"Thank you, sir."
About that time J.D. appeared, bounding up the porch steps behind his father. "You was almost late!" Mrs. Williams scolded him as he passed her and slid through the door. "Sorry, Mama," he mumbled as the screen door shut behind him. She watched him through the screen with narrowed eyes then seemed to snap back to her previous train of thought after a moment. "Won't ya stay for supper?" she asked, smiling at Kody. The savory smell drifting out the door made his mouth water and having not eaten since the morning, his stomach was growling viciously.
"Thank you, ma'am, but I can't impose."
"Son, it ain't imposin' once't ya been invited," Mr. Williams informed him.
Whatever was cooking smelled amazing; he'd be a fool to turn down a decent meal. He looked at the three of them, all wearing the most welcoming smiles, and accepted.