Falling Beneath the Magnolia

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Oxford Town.

Chapter Three.

Sunday September 30th.

1962 9:30 pm.

Tri Delta house.

3A, Bruce Point of View.

Stuffy and cramped dozens of people crowd around the small television set in the center of the sorority houses living room. Bruce’s arrival had spread fear throughout the hen house.

Alice had all but collapsed when they entered the foyer. Mrs. Catherine the house mother had to call the doctor, due to the circumstances they normally would have been out of luck, but the doctor is also Mrs. Catherine’s brother.

Entering the house with a bloodied Alice had made Mrs. Catherine forget Bruce’s presence. Normally she would never let a boy in the house after 8:00pm, but tonight she made an exception. The doctor came by and gave Alice medical attention, he stitched up the cut on her head and offers her aspirin for the pain. And ordered her to bedrest.

During the chaos of Alice’s condition Bruce forgot his arm, which had completely soaked through Alice’s torn up shirt. With the doctor busy Lindsey, a nursing student and friend of Callie Bee stitches up Bruce’s arm.

On the TV Bruce can make out the image of National Guard soldiers, he cannot make out the sound from his location, giving up on knowing what is happening outside, Bruce decides to give his house another call.

Going into the hallway he finds the Tri Delta house mother, Mrs. Catherine. Mrs. Catherine is a brute of a woman, with large jowls and squared shoulders more defined than Bruce. She is a no-nonsense woman, as stated earlier the events of the day had made her more lenient.

“Mrs. Catherine, may I please try my house again?”

The woman had been staying by the phone to prevent the girls from tying up the line.

“Sure, try and not be too long the University may call with an update.” Says Mrs. Catherine, she leaves Bruce to check on the girls in the living room.

Bruce uses his index finger around the phone’s turn-pad. As soon the right sequence of numbers are pressed, Bruce hears the phone line connect. Finally, there is another answer on the other end, the background is full of static, the lines in town must be overwhelmed.

“Hello” Says the Appalachian American dialect of his friend Chuck.

“Chuck what the fuck is going on in town? I have been trying to get through to you for the last hour!” Says Bruce frantically.

“Sorry man it is total chaos out there! This is the first call to get through on this end all night. Do you need me to come get you?” Replies Chuck.

Bruce thought about where Chuck could meet him.

“Yeah I do, meet me at the corner of Depot and Van Buren, I’ll be coming out of the woods from the direction of the sorority house. Get as close as you can, I’ll meet you there in thirty minutes.”

“You got it man, see you soon”

Bruce hangs up the line.

As he places the phone onto the receiver Mrs. Catherine enters the room trailed by Callie Bee.

“Were you able to get in touch with anyone?” Asks Mrs. Catherine.

Bruce nods his head, as he nods he spies the look of alarm that spreads through Callie Bee’s face.

She had seen the state that Bruce and Alice returned in, the gash on his arm had dripped blood all over the floor, it was so deep and nasty. Callie Bee did not want him to go back out into the danger.

“Yes, I did Mrs. Catherine. I have a friend who is picking me up outside of campus.”

Her fears suddenly realized Callie Bee frantically pleads with the housemother.

“Please Mrs. Catherine, Bruce can’t go back out there, it is too dangerous! They just said that the situation has gotten so out of hand that the President has ordered the National Guard to campus!”

Bruce looks at the housemother, she is determined to stand her ground, Bruce understands that the woman is only trying to do her job. Callie Bee didn’t recognize this fact, and it didn’t stop her from further pleading.

Bruce steps between the women, he places his right palm onto Callie Bee’s face. Tonight, she wears no bow, so her hair flows down below her shoulders. He traces her pretty face with his thumb attempting to comfort her, his voice is low and easy.

“Bee please understand, Mrs. Catherine has a job to do, and that is to keep all the girls in this house safe. I will be fine, I can take care of myself, but I have overstayed my welcome. Please thank Lindsey for stitching me up.” Says Bruce.

Callie Bee heard nothing he said and is determined to keep pleading.

“Please, Mrs. Catherine, please let Bruce stay the night, he can sleep in the dining room, please!”

Mrs. Catherine bares down at the girl and in a cold stern voice she says.

“Miss Parker that is out of the question! There is no exception to this rule, the University has a standing policy against boys in sorority houses after eight. I gave him time to get in touch with someone given that he saved Alice Reardon. It is now after nine, Mr. McKean must leave the house and he must leave now!”

Tears continue pour out of her strained blue eyes. Bruce wipes a big tear away with his thumb. He lifts her chin with his fingers and places a kiss onto her soft pillow like lips.

“I will be careful” he promises.

She kisses him back as if he is on his way to war. Indeed, going off to war is how he felt, stepping out onto the porch he is met by the sounds of the riot all around him. Sirens and gunshots ring out into the foggy dark night. Jogging behind the Tri Delta house he bounds through the woods.

Unsure of what lay ahead Bruce removes his revolver from his holster. Gun in hand Bruce pushes through the woods. Like earlier in the Grove the woods are spooky, the visibility inside the woods is made more difficult by the smoke trapped in the thick branches from the fires burning around the campus.

Bruce presses through the brush as he moves through the thicket his ears pick up the cries of someone in pain ahead. Stalking up to the scene, Bruce narrowly avoids tripping on an exposed tree root.

Luckily he did avoid it because he would have given away his position. In a small clearing he makes out the huddle of two bodies. One Whiteman holds the arms of a Blackman while another Whiteman works over his midsection.

At the men’s feet Bruce sees a rope tied into a noose. Bruce knows he must act, cocking the hammer of his pistol back, Bruce runs from cover aiming the weapon in the air.

As one of the men drives a punch into the Blackman’s stomach, Bruce fires into the air! He shouts.

“U.S Marshals!”

The two men drop their victim and runoff in the direction of the Grove. Bruce runs over to the man and rolls him on his back to look at his bloodied face.

Despite the man’s beaten and swollen face Bruce recognizes the man as a University employee, his name is Farris Caruthers, Farris is a gardener with the school. The man is hardly conscious as Bruce pulls him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Keeping his pistol in his left-hand Bruce is ready to meet the next challenge.

Bruce comes to the road that runs through the center of the woods. Looking up towards the right he can make out the bridge that he and Callie Bee crossed hours earlier.

A large object is flipped over the bridge by a dozen men. The vehicle crashes below fifty feet in an explosion, Bruce can feel the heat of the explosion on his face as he darts across the road into the next section of woods.

As he is on his last stretch of wood, the corner Depot and Van Buren is a hundred yards away through this patch of trees, hearing the voices of men, Bruce ducks behind a thick cluster of bushes, he holds his pistol at the ready his hammer is primed, and he waits...

Seconds later dozens of men enter the clearing Bruce can’t see their faces in the dark. He only had four rounds remaining, he wouldn’t have enough for all of them, so he hunkers down and watches. He can hear the voices clearly from his hiding place.

“We don’t even know where he is held at! That coon could be hiding in any building on campus!”

The men seemed continue arguing their course of action.

“We know he isn’t at the Lyceum some people saw a group of Marshals headed towards the dorms across from the Cafeteria.”

“Fuck that coon, everyone’s wasting their time on that lost cause, I know they got plenty of perty girls in them sorority houses.” Says one of the men.

Hearing there mention of the girls causes Bruce to tighten his grip on his pistol in frustration.

“You idiot the Troopers have that area barricaded and blocked off!”

The moon pokes through the clouds and clearing, illuminating the men’s faces. To Bruce’s anger the one who suggested raiding the sorority houses, is the same fat boy who attacked Alice. He also sees that at least four of the men are carrying rifles. Then Bruce hears footsteps approaching the group, the men rise their weapons in a challenge to the newcomers.

“Hold your fire” shout the newcomers.

Two men run into the clearing out of breath, these men are different from the men who tried to lynch Farris.

“Grand Wizard and Brothers we have confirmation that Meredith is in one of the dorms across from the Johnson Commons Cafeteria. Also, the Marshals are running out of teargas the crowd is advancing!”

The group of men hurry off in the direction of the Lyceum trailing at the heels of the men who delivered the news.

When they pass Bruce picks up Farris and carries him out of the woods. Across the street under a light Chuck stands outside of Bruce’s Red Chevy 150. Under the glow of the street light Bruce sees Cuck puffing away at a Lucky Strike. On his right shoulder a pump shotgun rests.

As Bruce runs to the car a large group up men with blunt objects walking towards campus turns the corner onto Van Buren. They spy the Blackman being carried by Bruce.

“Look there is one” Shouts one of the men.

As the group runs towards Bruce, Chuck aims his pump shotgun into the air and fires one round into the sky. The group of men think twice and scatter into the woods. Chuck had slid the front seat forward and Bruce tosses Farris into the seat, Jumping into the drivers side he speeds away from the curb.

“What the fuck were you doing carrying a spook around, those guys would have lynched us with him!” Chastises Chuck

“Chuck I had no choice, I found him in the woods about to be lynched, I had to do something.” Bruce soon turns onto South 18th Street.

“What the fuck are they doing” asks Bruce as they pulls into the driveway.

Two pledges from his fraternity stand on the front porch holding shotguns.

“Pledges make good guards” Laughs Chuck before explaining.

“They came over to buy pot from Ashley, when the shit on campus broke out they wanted to go and see what it was all about, I kept them here out of trouble.”

Bruce gets out of the car and shouts to the two boys on the porch he takes cash from his pocket.

“Pledge!”

“Yes sir”

“Is that your car parked on the street?”

“Yes sir”

“Get down to the nearest store we need painkillers and more bandages.”

The two boys leave once given the money, Bruce and Chuck carry Farris into the house, Ashley watches their TV set. Her eyes are red as pokers, she looks confused seeing a Blackman enter the house.

“Ashley boil some water, Chuck inside the linen closet are clean sheets bring some over!” Barks Bruce.

It took Bruce, Chuck and Ashley twenty-five minutes to dress his wounds, during the entire ordeal, Farris remained unconscious. Just as Bruce finishes placing the bandage on Farris’s head, the front door opens. Leaving Farris, Bruce walks out into the living room to find that the two pledges had returned.

“We got what we could”

Bruce hands the painkillers to Ashley who returns to look after Farris. The pledges had news for them.

“We heard on the radio that State Senator Yarborough under the orders of the governor ordered the Troopers from campus. The remaining ones will pull out before 10pm.”

Bruce is alarmed, earlier he observed that apart from half a dozen of deputies from the sheriff department, most of the Sorority Row barrier was made up of officers from the highway patrol. Chuck had overheard what was said and looks at Bruce.

“What is wrong?”

“I have to get back to campus.” says Bruce.

Astonished Chuck looks at Bruce like he has two heads.

“Are you fucking crazy, you hardly made it off campus alive, look at your arm!”

Bruce looks at his bandaged arm, even with the stitches he can see spots of blood staining through the white cotton of the wrap.

“I have to go, I heard some men in the woods, they spoke as if they were coordinating members of the mob around campus. They had intelligence of the Marshals movements and had even had men with guns”

Chuck shook his head with hesitation and apprehension.

“You said that there are men in that group with guns? Bruce this is situation is beyond us man, we are better off staying here.”

“Chuck, I got this injury rescuing one of Callie Bee’s friends, one of the guys I saw in the woods was also one of the four men that I fought. He remarked at how it is pointless to go after Meredith and that ’the houses were full of perty women’. Chuck her house is the first one off Sorority Row. The men wouldn’t have chanced sneaking through the woods with the Troopers all over the street, but now that they are leaving campus what is to stop them?”

“Bruce there is only two of us, I am sure the Marshals can handle the situation.”

“Chuck it is going to take hours for the National Guard to get here, even then the full contingent of soldiers won’t be here until dawn, that leaves 400 Marshals to deal with a growing horde of thousands.”

One of the pledges interjects himself into the conversation.

“I thought they were only upset about integration, what would they want with the girls?”

Bruce turns to the clueless boy; he stares down at the boy with a look that makes the kid take a step backwards.

“Fool, these men are not protesting anymore, they are full-blown armed mob. Mobs steal, murder and rape. I am not going to stand aside and watch, they can destroy my campus, but I will be damned if they think they are gonna hurt my girlfriend.”

Chuck finally found his courage; he places his hand on Bruce’s shoulder in a gesture of solidarity.

“I am coming with you!”

Mimicking Chuck one of the pledges volunteers.

“I will come too; I want to see what the campus looks like.”

“Yeah me too!” Says the other pledge.

The irritation on Bruce’s face is apparent and he snaps.

“What do you think this is a class field trip? We are not going for some hayride through the woods, we are going to be sneaking into a war zone. You two are going to stay in this house, you are only going to get in our way!”

Bruce moves quickly down the hallway towards his room. He can hear Chuck from the hallway.

“Look we know you guys want to help, but he is right, we have no idea what we will be walking into, you guys will be better off here, I still have a case of beer in the fridge from the game last night. Drink as much as you can but stay put, Ashley will set you up with pot, stay out of her way and under no circumstances are you to fuck with that spook, leave him be if he needs anything Ashley will take care of it.”

Inside of his bedroom Bruce reaches for the top shelf in his closet. His hand closes around something metal, he pulls the box down and opens the lock with a key from his key ring, inside is a black Browning 1911 holstered. Bruce removes the firearm and swaps it for his revolver.

Bruce didn’t know how things would turn out on campus, but he figured it would be best not to carry a murder weapon around a giant crime scene. In the corner of the room he spots his lever action Marlin, he resists the urge to bring it with him, Bruce places the lockbox back in his closet locked inside is the murder weapon. Once his shirt is snuggly tucked over his 1911, Bruce leaves his room. Entering the living room Bruce finds Chuck pulling his shirt down to cover his holstered pistol.

Lastly before Bruce leaves the house, Chuck grabs a Louisville Slugger behind the front door. Bruce uses side streets to get across town.

“How are we gonna get onto campus?” Asks Chuck.

“With the roads blocked off we will have to use the tunnels. With the bars closed we won’t be able to use the tunnels on the Square. We are going to use the tunnels located near the cemetery.”

“Bruce, we used the Cave once before and we got lost down there for hours...”

“I made sure to get all the right details on the map after that time, this will be the most direct way to get to campus.”

The town cemetery has two tunnel entrances, one is called the Cave. It is located on the southeast side of the cemetery. The Cave is a well-known entrance to the tunnel system.

The Cave isn’t practical to use, most of the forks in that system lead to the town or out to the countryside. The Cave is a large essentially a storm drain that eventually worms into the school and town tunnel systems.

They will use the other tunnel entrance. That tunnel is located outside of the cemetery stone retaining wall, near the sidewalk along Black Diamond Rd. The red Chevy pulls into a driveway across from the cemetery. Bruce cuts off the engine and he and Chuck proceed to the trunk of the car. Bruce takes the tunnel map, crowbar, and a lantern from the trunk.

As Bruce closes the trunk he hears footsteps approaching the car.

“Bruce? Chuck what are you doing?”

Chuck steps forward the Louisville slugger resting on his shoulder, the lantern is in his right hand.

“Carter, the thing is?”

Carter’s eyes spy the lantern and he cuts Chuck off.

“You two are trying to sneak onto campus aren’t you?”

Bruce nods his head and Carter tosses his hands in the air in disbelief.

“You both are retarded, have you been watching the news, that place is total anarchy! You are going to get yourselves arrested or worse…”

Bruce walks between Carter and Chuck.

“Carter we aren’t going there to riot we are going there to keep an eye on the Tri Delta house. Look I walked Callie Bee home tonight, as we approached Sorority Row we witnessed Alice Reardon walking unaware towards the mob. By the time I reached her four men had her on the ground, they tore at her clothes like animals. I barely got her away.”

Bruce shows Carter his arm, blood has seeped through the white cotton bandage.

“Bruce that is all the more reason to stay away and let the police handle them.”

Bruce continues to plead his case to Carter.

“As I was escaping the forest I came across a dozen men, they were apart of some organization. They were hanging back, watching the Marshals movements. They were arguing about how to get to Meredith, then one of them mentioned the sorority houses. He was part of the same group of bastards who gave me this!”

Bruce points again to the bandage, Chuck speaks up trying to back Bruce up.

“The Troopers posted on Sorority Row were the reason the mob wasn’t trying to break into the houses. Now the Troopers have left campus. That means there is a score of deputies left to watch the street. The National Guard won’t be here for a few hours the remaining Marshals will be used to replace the Troopers, at some point the will be moved away from Sorority Row.”

“Carter I will stand on the fucking Tri Delta lawn with this crowbar if need be, we could use your help.” Says Bruce with a defiant tone.

Carter looks uneasy and then with effort he says.

“Okay… I am in, just wait a second.”

Carter runs to his passenger door and opens his glove box and inside is a holstered 1911. The weapon is chambered in .45 caliber like Bruce’s, only Carter’s is stainless steel.

Lastly Carter runs up his driveway a few feet. He takes an ax handle, there is no axe head as he broke it splitting wood. Carter follows his friends across the street into the cemetery.

Following the sidewalk, they walk between the graves, the smell of the fires from campus can be smelled from the cemetery.

“How are we getting to campus? The Cave will only take us as far as the basement in Hume Hall. The would bring us up right in the thick of the fight.” Carters questions were valid.

“We aren’t taking the Cave, over on Black Diamond road, outside the stone wall is one of the tunnel grates.” Informs Bruce.

They had crossed half the cemetery and they begin to move among the tombstones towards the road. Near the stone wall they come across a freshly dug grave. Empty glass whiskey bottles are placed around the grave. One of the bottles has been left outside the grave on the path.

Carter nearly rolls his ankle on the bottle; he braces himself on the ax handle.

“What the fuck, why is there trash all over this grave?”

Bruce answers him while helping Carter to his feet.

“They are grave markers; the wind must have rolled it over here.”

Bruce picks up the bottle, there is a sips worth of liquor. He pours it onto the soil of the grave and then neatly places the empty bottle of Pappy Van Winkle near the tomb stone.

“This is the grave of William Faulkner”

Bruce climbs over the stone wall.

“His fans come to pay their respects to him this way.” Says Bruce helping his friends over the wall.

Outside the wall Bruce walks ten paces and near a tall tree by the road he sees one of the tunnel access grates. Bruce kneels down and places the teeth of the crowbar into place on the padlock. Applying pressure, the lock bursts open, opening the tunnel entrance. Bruce lets his friends head down first. Last one to go, Bruce climbs down a rusty rebar ladder.

Once down he sees that Chuck has lit the lantern. Bruce takes the map out as they move forward with Carter on point. They will have to walk in a single file line all the way there. Bruce’s bare elbow brushes against the damp wall. Following his friends Bruce hopes Callie Bee would be alright,

‘Don’t worry’ he thought

‘I am coming for you!’

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