The Story Behind the Stories: Alligator Stew, Freddie, and the Kegerator!

27 Jan

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The Story Behind the Stories:
Alligator Stew

This story has many different influences and sources of inspiration, and I hope I don’t forget any of them. Our family had several close friends who were also like family. I guess in a way they were family of sorts, as they were usually related by marriage to my uncles or aunts or cousins. One of the most fascinating of these people is a man I will simply call Mack.
Mack farmed a large acreage out on the St. Francis River. He hunted and fished with our family for years. I will never forget going frogging with Mack, my father, and my Uncle Phil when we got stuck in a deep mudhole and Mack walked out of the woods and brought back a big, dual wheeled John Deere tractor to pull us out. I remember another night running trotlines on the Blue Hole.  We finally gave in to the cold weather. But when we got back to Mack’s farm, he stripped naked and used the water hose to shower before going inside the house. I still don’t see how he avoided hypothermia. But if he was trying to impress this young boy, he did a good job of it.

But what fascinated me most about Mack was his lack of fear for snakes. My boxing coach, Robert Lowrimore, was the only other person I knew who simply had no fear of snakes. Mack once told me he used to catch cobras in Vietnam with his bare hands. Most people who would make such a statement would be liars, but I firmly believed Mack would do it!

So I wanted to write a story about Mack and the St. Francis River. Much of the history of the river that I give in this story was given to me by Mack while we were fishing the Blue Hole. His tales of river boats and huge cypress trees and bears and panthers never bored me. I knew I had to write a story about this man, but how to go about it was a problem.

I read a newspaper article of a local incident where a young ladies boyfriend had called her parents. After advising that he was about to kill their daughter, he put the young lady on the phone to say goodbye. Her father had feared something like this was about to happen and had bought her a .25 automatic pistol a short time before.  When she got on the phone, the father told her to kill the bastard. The boyfriend took the phone away and said goodbye.  He later drove the girl out to a secluded spot in the county. When he came around the car for her, she shot him three times.

Another influence on this story was a man from Hogeye, Arkansas, (Yes, it is a real place) named Gerald Koonce. Gerald kept a “Kegerator” in his house. He had two refrigerators. One held an extra keg of beer. The other had a tap ran through the door and a line out the side to a CO2 cylinder so his beer never went flat. The top of the frig was filled with quart Mason jars. I emptied many of those Mason jars. I haven’t seen Gerald in years, but I plan to make a trip to Hogeye and give him a copy of this next book. I hope he’s still alive and doing well. The refrigerators in Freddie’s barn in the story are exact replicas of Gerald’s set-up in his kitchen.

            The mention of the alligator killed at Coldstream is a reference to an event published in our local newspapers. Apparently while seining the ponds the employees realized they were being followed by an eight foot gator. They killed it. But they made the mistake of taking pictures of it and having them processed at Wal-mart. Wal-mart reported them to the game warden who wrote them a ticket. This was told to me first-hand by a nameless soul, who shall remain a nameless source.

The story also has connections with the Atchafalaya basin, voodoo, Creoles and Cajuns, and much of that was to lay a foundation for a novel to follow. There will be a collision between witchcraft, voodoo and christianity–I promise!

The story was submitted to dozens of journals and was roundly rejected. But then I saw a call for papers that wanted stories that reflected the true, gritty south. I made a revision to the story that I had been resisting for sometime. The main character’s history involved family ties with the Klan. But his daughter was dating the only black man in the county, and he had a secret in Louisiana, a black son by a Creole woman, and he travelled south to see them both every summer. I was hesitant to use the word “Nigger” for all of the reasons we all know. But the story did not ring true given the background I had created. So I revised the story and used the word one time and submitted it to John Dufresne who was then serving as the Fiction Editor for the inaugural issue of Real South.

He accepted the story, and even suggested the characters would make a great novel.

I have included the story in this collection, and even made it the title story. The characters are continuing to live on as I work on my novel involving the characters in “Karen” another story in this collection and “Flying Lessons,” the last story of the collection and the first chapter of the novel to follow. The novel will involve the running of sex slaves and illegal immigrants as well as guns, drugs and nerve gas by river boat up the intra-coastal waterway from Brownsville and up the Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio Rivers.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

 

 

Alligator Stew

The ringing phone brought Freddie straight up out of bed. He recognized Lee’s voice on the other end.

“You been half-way right by me, you asshole, so say good-bye to your daughter before I blow her head off.”

“Lee, send her on home and forget this shit.” But Lee was already off the line and Charlotte came on. The tenor of her voice when she said, “Daddy,” brought Freddie to his feet. She was scared.  Mattie sat up from where she lay next to Freddie and turned on the overhead light.

“Charlotte—”

“Help me, Daddy.” She was crying.

“Listen, Charlotte. Have you got your pistol?”

“Yes, Daddy. I do,” she said between sobs.

“You kill that black bastard tonight.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“He’s a dead man. I won’t let him live another day. But you can’t let him take you with him. Put a bullet between his eyes. Do you hear me?”

“I will, Daddy—”

“That’s enough, old man. I got some business to take care of.”

“I’m comin’ to find you, Lee. Right now.”

“Don’t bother. I know I gotta kill you, too. I’ll be right out, soon as I’m done with her. I’ll stick you in the same hole, if I can find you.”

“I’ll be right here—”

The phone went dead. Freddie eased the receiver back to its place, while Mattie stood in front of him, wringing her hands. “Lee says he’s gonna kill her, but he wanted her to say good-bye first. She says she has her pistol with her. They never said where they were.”

“You can call Wilson. He can go out there,” Mattie said.

“Go out where? If Lee kills her, he’ll do it somewhere besides his house, and he said he was coming straight out here to get me next.” Freddie got up and pulled on his clothes. Out of the bureau drawer he pulled a Ruger Redhawk .357 and a snub-nosed Dan Wesson .38. The Ruger was in a shoulder holster he put on, and the Dan Wesson he stuffed in his hip pocket. Mattie had gone into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

“Hey, Mattie, has Charlotte got any clothes here?”

“Her closet is full of stuff from last time she was out. I washed and pressed them all.”

“Bag’em up and throw ‘em in the truck with my stuff.”

“What?”

“If she kills that boy, we’ll have to leave for a while. I can take her with me.”

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