The Blue Heron By Howard Moore (serialised) Part 19

Chapter 25 Got you at Last!

Jeb Clarke opened up his e-mail for the morning, he was in a good mood, it had rained again the previous night as it had done several times in the last couple of weeks and the morning air was relatively cool and crisp. He scanned his inbox, not much of interest until halfway down the screen his eyes caught on an e-mail titled Objection Alligator Farm. He paused for a moment, this would be an annoyance he would need to deal with but nothing out of the ordinary as most applications attracted some low level objection. He continued scanning down his inbox, another Objection to the Alligator Farm application, then another , then another and another until he had fourteen letters of objection sitting in his inbox awaiting his attention.

“God dam it.”

He shouted as he  slammed his right fist down onto his desk, in the process spilling coffee across some files.

“Shit.”

He continued as he swept up his coffee mug in one hand and scanned the office for something to mop up the mess with. Before he could find anything suitable his phone line beeped and flashed, replacing the mug on the desk he lifted the receiver and answered

“Jeb Clarke.”

“Missuh Clarke I heb a Missuh Donald Chadwick from Akendo Corporation on da line fer yo.”

A calm female voice announced from reception.

“Ah….. Yes, please put him through.”

Jeb asked as he continued to look for something to mop the mess up with.

The line clicked and a voice came through loud and clear.

“Mr. Clarke, Donald Chadwick here.”

“Good morning Mr. Chadwick.”

Jeb replied as he started to soak up the spilled coffee with a paper tissue he had found in one of his desk drawers.

“I was wondering if you could do me a favour Mr. Clarke …., it’s actually one of your colleagues that I have been trying to contact, a Mr. Meek, regarding the highways implications that arise from our development proposal.”

Donald Chadwick paused for a moment before continuing.

“I have been trying to contact Mr. Meek for a week now at his office, by e-mail and I have also left messages on his cell phone but I am having difficulty in reaching him anywhere…. ,Would you be good enough to pass on a message and ask him to contact me immediately……., I have left a couple of message with his office but to no avail, so I was hoping that as the you are the local zoning officer that is working with us on this project that you might be able to get him to contact me….. I know he is not one of your team but I hope you might be able to help.”

Jeb was silent for a moment as his mind raced, as far as he knew Clive was at work, yes he was, he had seen him enter the office only a couple of days ago, ‘why was Clive being so evasive and what did Mr. Chadwick want with him?’ He thought as he quickly formulated a polite response.

“Of course Mr. Chadwick, it would not be a problem at all, I know Clive has been extremely busy lately.”

He lied.

“But I am sure I can get a message to him today for you, if that would help.”

“That would be great Mr. Clarke, thank you very much for your help, goodbye.”

Mr. Chadwick was just about to hang up his phone when he heard Mr. Clarke’s voice again

Not being a person who liked to be out of ,’The Loop’, Jeb’s slippery, devious senses picked up on something.

“Ahh… Mr. Chadwick before you go, out of interest is there anything that I need to know about regarding the project and Mr. Meeks involvement?……. What is this situation you mentioned?”

“Well it is no state secret Mr. Clarke but we just wanted to inform Mr. Meek that we had received confirmation from the Interstate Highways team which had been agreed by The Federal Highways Administration, that a certain Mrs. Angela Flores, a very senior member of  the Interstate highways team has been directed to solely manage the highways planning for our proposal and Mr. Meeks services at a local level would not be required.”

“Oh I see, well I’ll do my best to contact him for you Mr. Chadwick and get him to call you.., Goodbye.”

Jeb replied, he hung up the phone and sat staring out of his window trying to think why such a thing had been done. He knew only to well local input, knowledge, experience and advice  was always required and secondly and more importantly why had Clive been ducking the issue? He obviously would have read the e-mail from Mr. Chadwick by now and was doing his best not to acknowledge Mr. Chadwick’s contacts by e-mail or phone. Another aspect of the situation regarding Clive suddenly dawned on Jeb, not only had he not returned Mr. Chadwick’s calls and messages but he was also trying to deceive, Aaron, Benjamin, Kendrick, Herbert and himself. He was obviously trying to ignore the fact that he no longer had any input into the Akendo Project so that he kept his cut of the money that the six of them had all hoped to make from this massive development project. For the second time in five minutes he slammed his desk with his right fist, again spilling coffee across his desk.

“Fuck that little worm Meek.”

He breathed through clenched teeth as he picked up his phone and dialed a number. He first spoke to Herbert, then Benjamin, then Aaron then Kendrick to explain the situation before putting a call in to Clive’s Cell phone.

It rang only twice before being answered.

“Clive Meek speaking”

“Good morning Clive, Jeb here, is it possible to meet later this week, I’ve had a new application come in that I need your help with… looks as though it could be a reasonable earner for us both.” He lied.

Clive was in a good mood that morning, his beloved car was ready for collection and he was on his way to pick it up, he could at last get rid of the little turquoise car that had made him the butt of everyone’s jokes and a general laughing stock, the e-mail from Donald Chadwick that he received a week ago was not even in his thoughts.

“Yeah, course Jeb, where and when?”

Jeb told Clive where and when to meet him but failed to mention that Aaron, Benjamin and Kendrick would also be there.

Now that he had arranged the meeting with the other three and Clive, his temper cooled and he sat back in his chair, he then sat forward and mopped up the spilled coffee for the second time and thought for a moment about the Clive Meek situation before his eyes alighted on his computer screen, sending his pulse soaring. ‘Objection, objection, objection’, he leaned forward and opened the first e-mail, it was from a Mr. Samuel Kennedy, he thought for a moment, yes he was right he had received a letter of objection from Mr. Kennedy to the last doomed zoning application for the Alligator Farm in Lokchapi. The one and only that time and from what he could remember and a well written and considered letter but nothing that would have caused any disruption to the zoning application’s success if Jeb had wanted it approved. With this thought in mind he clicked on the file attached to Mr. Kennedy’s e-mail and waited a couple of seconds while a Word document opened.

The document that opened contained a very well presented and polished professional document that ran to thirty eightpages, he scan read its first few pages and each pointed statement read raised his pulse and blood pressure a notch at a time. By the time he had reached the start of page five, his face was flushed red with anger. He controlled himself this time and instead of spilling cold coffee for a third time, he pushed his chair backwards from his desk with a jerk, stood up and with a well aimed kick sent his small metal trash can flying across his office to clatter against the opposite wall spilling its contents of screwed up bits of paper across the floor.

“Shit, shit, shit.”

He shouted out aloud, his nice, calm morning was quickly dissolving into on of stress. He sat back down at his desk and started reading the document from the beginning, slowly and carefully taking notes as he went. Forty five minutes later he had read the document completely and made a long list of notes.

Sitting back in his chair he scratched  the side of his head, ’Mmmm’, he thought to himself, ‘We have a bit of a problem here, actually it is a big problem’, he continued thinking as he read through his notes. Not only was the document well laid out but it had methodically pulled apart the zoning application in minute detail. It logically critiqued the input of all concerned, himself as the responsible zoning officer, and also the professional consultative opinion and advice of Clive Meek for highways, Benjamin Carouse and Aaron Gant. It had identified all of the areas where it would be in complete non-compliance with local, state and national zoning and development policies and identified inconsistencies and inaccuracies with the information that the applicant with the aid of Aaron had provided. It also identified detailed historic issues that would put an immediate stop to the application.

Jeb immediately called Aaron at his offices and gave him a brief overview of the letter telling him there were also thirteen other objectors, Aaron tried to calm Jeb by saying that this was something that he was more than used to dealing with but Jeb was not to be calmed and to underline his point forwarded on Mr. Kennedy’s e-mailed document to Aaron and then awaited a phone call back. Thirty minutes later his direct line beeped and Jeb answered the call. For the first time in a number of years Aaron lost his cool.

“For fuck sake Jeb he’s nailed us on everything… not only can this be a very hurtful to us all financially but I also have a reputation to uphold…. A reputation of getting zoning and development certification and approvals through no matter what and I’ll be dammed if I am going to loose.”

The line went silent for a few moments before Aaron spoke again, this time with a little more composure back in his voice, he asked,

“What do you think Jeb?”

“I tell you what I think Aaron, the first thing is that this will now be taken out of my hands to decide its outcome and will go in front of the monthly committee, the second is he has nailed all of the salient points and that does not leave us much wriggle room and the third is that if it goes to committee then who knows how it will end up.”

“Mmmm…. thought as much…. I can handle most of the application side, detailing, information provision etc and as ever I assume that you can navigate us around and through all the local, state and national zoning and development policies, but I am anxious about the highways safety implications, all of Mr. Kennedy’s information seems very accurate on first reading.. Is Clive up to it?…., especially in light of what you told me earlier  about him being cut from the Akendo project.”

“Don’t worry about Clive he will be even more eager for this to succeed once we tell him he will be loosing his cut from the Akendo project…. ,it’s the logical and accurate  discretion of the whole application and supporting reports that worries me… It’s plain to read that there are so many areas of inaccuracy, falsehood and non-compliance that I don’t know how we will push this through committee to get approval.”

“Well I think that I can help things through committee with four votes, I’ll have to speak with the applicant to secure additional funding, these votes won’t be cheap though… If I get this additional funding which I hope I will then were’re on again, do you have any leverage Jeb?”

“Not really Aaron, there is one person that may listen to a considered opinion but I am not holding out any hopes.”

“Well we only need five, they are a nine person committee and my four with your one and then we will be successful.”

“That sounds great Aaron, but as I said I cannot guarantee my contact and we want to go into committee with all the cards stacked and I mean stacked in our favour.”

Aaron was silent for a moment before coming up with a proposal.

“Jeb I have an idea, if I remember rightly between now and the fall there are usually only about seven members on that committee and I have known as few as five due to annual vacations and everyone trying to escape this oppressive heat and humidity for a week or so on interstate parish exchanges…. So I was thinking could we arrange this to go to committee, if that is where it is destined to go to, in a week when there were fewest people on committee with the maximum number who would be in our favour?”

“You may have something there Aaron.”

Jeb replied as he thought through the logistics of such a scenario.

After thinking for a moment or two Jeb continued.

“Yes I could probably find out three weeks in advance who would be available for the committee with relative ease, and could come up with a solid excuse to rearrange our committee date for the one that would be in our favour. To do that though I would need to know who your contacts were on the committee; I would need to know who you were buying off to ensure they would be on committee on a particular date to make it happen for us.”

Aaron stayed silent on the other end of the phone for a long time before answering.

“Ok, you are probably aware of two of these but the other two I am sure you will not be aware of, and I require the strictest confidence.”

He finally said before delivering all four names.

Jeb nodded to himself as the first two names were announced but was completely bowled over by the second two, the first of which a Ms. Cynthia Still, a person he had known in local government for over twenty years and he had though her to be the straightest laced person he had ever met. A highly principled religious woman who he had thought was dedicated to her public service. The second was Celestin Arsceneaux a rather bellicose man who was the deputy head of the parish, had worked in some form or other for Evangeline Parish for over forty years and maintained a plush office in Ville Platte. He was also chairman of the Zoning and Development committee and had been for over ten years. If anything this was more of a surprise than Ms Still, This information gave Jeb more power in Town Hall and he would see to it that over the coming years he would use this information to his advantage.

“OK Aaron got it, I will do some digging and get our application scheduled for the right day for all of us, don’t you worry…. and trust me your information is safe with me.” 

He lied convincingly.

“Thank you for the call Jeb and I‘ll see you as arranged.”

Aaron said before ending the call and searching his contact list for the Johnsons of Malase.

The next call Jeb made was to Clive.

“Clive Meek speaking”

“Good morning Clive, Jeb here again.. just a quick one we have got a few problems with the Lokchapi Alligator Farm Zoning application, I’ve spoken with Aaron and sorted some things out, we just need you to be on form with your advice and stand your ground, I’ll e-mail you a document from one objector I have received…, can you concentrate on the highways concerns raised?”

“Sure thing.”

 Clive said as he blasted his good as new bright red 2009 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS south-east out of Ville Platte along highway 10. The engine purred as he roared along in the bright morning sunlight.

“See you as arranged.”

Jeb said before ringing off.

Clive closed his cell phone and concentrated on the job at hand, driving his beautiful gleaming car as fast as he could, he opened up both front windows and let the air rush through as he put his foot down. After an exhilarating ten minutes he had driven sixteen miles out of town and he had blown the cobwebs out of his mind, no more was he the driver of a small turquoise faggot car, he was back behind the wheel of his muscle car, he was Clive Meek a somebody. With this last thought in his mind he made a u-turn and headed at a more respectable but still fast seventy miles per hour back towards Ville Platte, he was feeling hungry so he pulled off of the road into Rooster Browns diner and ordered a burger to go and a coke, in no time he was back on the road and now heading toward Spicebridge and his office.

As the bright red 2009 Chevrolet Camaro pulled out of the car lot of Rooster Brown’s diner in a cloud of dust, a bright red set of manicured nails gripped a pencil tightly scribbling down a couple of notes and a license plate number on a check pad. The owner of the bright red nails had only seen the driver of the car briefly while he waited for his burger to go, but something in her mind crackled and flared, a thought raced through her brain, neuron connecting with neuron, more out of a natural inquisitive instinct she watched him leave and noted down his license plate and a couple of other details. At that moment she did not know why, she just did it.

The License plate was white with blue lettering with ’Louisiana’ written in red at the top, the plate was “DVL 666” and underneath in smaller lettering it said ‘By any means’, also there was a sticker in the side rear window that said in bright red writing ‘Evangeline Highways Dept, We look after you.’ The top sheet was then torn off of the check pad and stuffed into the waitress’s back pocket of her jeans before she returned to serving the two new customers who sat at a window table expectantly awaiting her attention. While she took the order from the middle aged couple seated at the window connections were being made in her subconscious, connections that ignited a spark of recognition and realization that bloomed into her conscious mind just has she was handing the order through the hatch to the kitchen.

It was the man who had been really nasty to her weeks ago and who had made her cry, the man who Jerome had unceremonially ejected from the diner out into the car lot and it was the same face of a man she had seen only briefly at the counter just prior to Jerome getting sprayed in the face with some kind of pepper spray. It had been awful, he had screamed in agony all the way to the hospital and not stopped until and his eyes had been thoroughly rinsed by the medics and he had been sedated with morphine. Jerome had had to stay in hospital for three days before he was discharged and was told by the consultant treating him that in thirty five years of practice she had never seen symptoms as severe as he suffered from a pepper type spray of the Capsaicin variety used. He had suffered sever respiratory inflammation of both his nasal passages, throat and lungs which had initiated a chemical pneumontis, blistering of his upper and lower eyelids, a temporary  heart arrhythmia, and also permanent nerve and cell damage to his eyes that unfortunately was irreversible which included blepharospasm (an involuntary twitching of the eyelids) and a slight blurring and slowness to focus in both of his eyes. All in all he was a very lucky man to have received treatment so quickly, but any soothing words he had received from his medical team did nothing to quell the tempest of rage that had roared within him.

Back in his office Jeb opened and read the remaining thirteen letters of complaint about the Lokchapi Alligator farm zoning application. He laughed to himself , ‘Who do these people think they are… objecting, complaining, a load of village idiots and probably inbred’, he concluded before moving on to dealing with the work that was meant to be his first action on what had been a  cool stress free morning.

As soon as Rebecca had finished her shift at Rooster Brown’s diner she ran out of the back of the kitchen, down the steps and across the dusty back car lot to her old  black 1966 302 cubic inch V8 Mustang. She threw her bag onto the back seat through the open windows and jumped in. In a tornado of dust she spun around in a circle before heading off out across the front car lot and sideways onto the highway, roaring off west to drive the couple of miles into town, once in Ville Platte she headed southwest along the local road to Spicebridge. Rebecca lived with her parents and three brothers in a tidy suburb of Spicebridge her parents were both hard working, her mother ran a small fashion boutique in town and her father was a mechanic with his own garage and recovery business, two of her brothers drove the recovery trucks while the third was also a mechanic in her fathers garage.

Rebecca was supporting herself while she studied journalism on a distance learning course with work at Rooster Brown’s as well as at Claudine’s Kitchen,  a diner just a minute’s walk from her house. She had the intelligence to have gone to university if she had wanted to but after high school and couple of years at college the need to experience the world first hand and forge her own path overrode any desires to continue studying.

So far in her embryonic journalistic career she had managed to get articles published by Evangeline Today.com, The Ville Platte Gazette, The Lafayette Advertiser, The Advocate Baton Rouge and The Times Picayune New Orleans. She was also becoming a regular visitor to the Ville Platte Gazette’s offices on Court Street in Ville Platte and was being mentored by William Ashlock, a great grandson of the paper’s 1914 founder T.G Ashlock. She had approached the paper while at college to do some intern type work for them on a part time basis and had quickly shown her flair for journalism and a real eagerness to learn. William had found her mind to be very inquisitive and logical in its approach to researching a subject. Two of her best pieces that had published so far had been investigative journalism based on local issues in Evangeline. She had picked up on them herself and investigated and researched both stories without any support to deliver two sublimely written pieces of journalism. She had a flair for investigation and a natural affinity with the written word being able to entice a reader into a story with a clever use of the English language that was both elegant and also focused on delivering the facts of a story.

She arrived home just as her mother was leaving in her fathers beautiful burnished maroon 1937 Lesalle sports coupe, a car which he had lovingly restored and only allowed his wife to drive. They both waved in the street outside her home. Rebecca stopped on their wide driveway, snatching her bag from the back seat she leapt out of her car and ran into the house, along the hall and up the stairs slamming her bedroom door behind her. She then pulled out her chair from her desk, switched on her computer and waited while it loaded. In her mind she was planning out her next move, she fished the crumpled check from the back pocket of her jeans and straightened it out on her desk. She had another lead now and it was possible that she could cross reference this information with what she had discovered over the last couple of weeks.

The day after Jerome had been attacked Rebecca sat in a back room of the diner and reviewed the CCTV footage of the previous day. She looked at the footage from the two front and one rear cameras for one hour before the attack and immediately after. She had seen the rear of a man leaving the diner, down the steps at the front at the time of the attack from one of the front cameras’, and that was followed some forty six seconds later with the image of a small turquoise car speeding past from the rear of the diner towards the front car lot that was captured by the rear camera. Then from the second front camera in the front car lot another side view of the turquoise car throwing up dust as it sped past the parked cars and off towards the highway. It had been relatively easy to identify the car but unfortunately none of the camera footage showed the license plate. Even more annoyingly the camera that watched the entrance to the diner caught the man arriving some time before the attack but his head and face was completely obscured by a cobweb across the top half of the camera’s lens.

She had also noticed by looking fame by frame at the footage a small window sticker in the rear window of the turquoise car that said ‘Ville Platte Car Hire’ and a phone number, she had been hoping to see his face at least side on through the drivers window as he dove past but the sun reflecting off of his window again hid his face. This sticker was the only firm lead that she could follow up. She had immediately phoned the company and pretended that someone had left a very expensive camera at the diner and asked for the contact details of anyone driving a turquoise 2009 Honda Fit on the day Jerome was attacked. To her initial dismay she was informed that they stocked forty cars of that description, ten where available for immediate public hire and the other thirty were out on long term contract to local garages as courtesy vehicles.

Not being one to be put off easily Rebecca  persevered and with a bit of gentle persuasion managed to get put through to a manager at the hire company and persuade him to impart the names of their own customers who had hired a car of the same description on the day she was interested in. With a bit more gentle questioning and prodding she was informed that on a monthly basis they were updated by all the local garages the insurance and personal details of all of the garages customers who had used the courtesy car service available in the prior month. After waiting two weeks Rebecca had received a list via e-mal of seventeen names that covered the day in question, eleven men and six women and as agreed it was names only that she received. There were no other personal details, the manager had said to her that he could do no more because there were laws protecting people’s personal data. But at least by just providing names he thought there was no harm done and she could continue her search, at least it would give her somewhere to start and he had thought that if it helped reunite an owner with some expensive camera equipment then it was a good deed done.

The opening notes to ‘People are Strange.’ by The Doors announced her computer had loaded and was awaiting her contact. She looked up, selected Google and typed in ‘Evangeline Highways Department. Nine point four five million results were returned, Rebecca scrolled slowly down the page and selected the ‘Evangeline parish’ web site then selected, ‘Highways’. The screen blinked as it brought up a corporate looking page that described the services that The Evangeline Highways Department provided, its mission, its goals and responsibilities.

‘Typical corporate bullshit’, she thought to herself as she continued reading, finally her eyes alighted on a line of hypertext that plainly said ‘meet the team’. She selected this with a click of her mouse and another page opened up in front of her. There were five inanely smiling faces staring out at her from five separate photographs, each had a small amount of text under it. She took out her notebook as she scanned the text underneath each picture for a name. The first was a Mr. Lionel Vincent, Department Manager, The second was a woman so Rebecca skipped down to the third photograph, a Mr. Peter Rambin, Highways Engineer, the fourth was a Mr. Clive Meek, Highways Engineer, and the fifth and Final was a very young looking man called Eugene Labot,  Junior Team Administrator. With these names neatly noted down on her note pad, Rebecca selected a folder named Jerome, when this opened she then selected a file called hire car customers. With her note pad in her right hand with the four male names clearly written she scanned down through seventeen male names, both car hire customers and courtesy car customers. In an instant her eyes stopped at a name on the screen then quickly darted down to the right to read her pad, then back up to the screen, the name Mr. Clive Meek matched,

“Got you at last!”

She screamed as she leapt from her chair,

“Got you, you fucker!”

She screamed again in triumph as she started too danced around her bed room singing a song out loud.

“I hev cawt heem, I hev Cawt heem … , now he’s in trouble, he’s in trouble… an he won’t like it, he won’t like it…. I‘ll tell Jerome now, I’ll tell Jerome now… an……, an he will get him…. he will get him.”

As her impromptu short song came to an end her dancing subsided and she sat back in front of her computer. She typed out an e-mail, it simply said ‘Found him LOL, I’ll just do an address check and e-mail you with his address later Rxx ‘, with that completed she pressed send and of it went into the ether, destination Jerome Tassin.

Chapter 26 Tightening the screw

As Mary-Jo and Ethan sat on their porch each drinking a luke warm beer Billy-Bob’s cell phone rang besides them.

“Get that Mary-Jo”

Billy-Bob called from inside their shack as he fetched three cold cans of beer from their refrigerator; he replaced them with three from the cupboard and for good measure squeezed in two more six packs to cool. The summer was past its middle now and even though they had been lucky enough to have had more than the average amount of cooling rains over the recent weeks, the last couple of days had seen both the temperature and humidity rise alarmingly. It was getting on towards late afternoon and everyone was hot, bothered and lethargic, not just in Malase or Evangeline but across all on central and southern Louisiana. The atmosphere was now so hot and heavy it felt as if it an oven would be a good place to sit and cool off. Where in early to mid summer the heat had been rising with the humidity at a steady pace that could be handled, now as the summer moved past its middle towards its end both the heat and humidity entangled themselves into a stifling, strength sapping, clawing vapor, that draped itself around and within any living thing. As with the unusually hot start at the end of late spring and early summer the heat was breaking records across the state.

Sometimes thinking was a struggle and it was generally accepted medically but unbeknown to many people they were probably suffering the symptoms of the neurotoxic effects of the high levels of moulds and fungi that grew, proliferated and produced billions of spores in such conditions of extremely high humidity. This was more than true in the swamplands where the damp was an ever present neighbor. The families that lived in wooden houses and shacks without any kind of air-conditioning where more prone to succumbing to these neuro toxins and in Malase where there was little sun or breeze the moulds and fungi had an ideal habitat to initiate a population explosion.

The phone rang four times before Mary-Jo lethargically stretched out her hand and picked it up.

“Hey, Mary-Jo here.”

She answered before taking the last swig of her warm beer.

“Ah,… good afternoon Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Gant speaking, and how are you this fine afternoon?”

He asked in a smarmy manner

“Auh’s mighty fine thankin yuh Mr. Gant, just tarred with the heed, sure is hawt idenid?… An how is yuhsel?”

Billy-Bob appeared out of the gloom of their shack and tossed Ethan a cold beer can, Ethan’s right hand shot up and caught the airborne can expertly as he to empty the last warm dregs from the bottom of his can.

“Who’s that?”

Bill-Bob mouthed to Mary-Jo in a whisper.

 “Mr. Gant.”

She whispered back, cupping her hand over the phone as Mr. Gant continued to speak to her

“I’m very well and thank you for asking… Um … do you have a moment to discuss your zoning application,… I have been doing more work on your behalf and have recently been contacted by the Zoning Officer.”

“Yeah sure, Auh’ll put this cell on speaker an we all can listen an tawk.”

Billy-bob sat down next to Mary-Jo placing her cool beer can on the floor in front of her, he cracked open his can and gulped at its cooling foamy liquid.

“Well Mr. and Mrs. Johnson we have come across some problems and there are a significant amount of local people objecting to  your application.”

He paused for a moment then continued.

 “Mr. Clarke who is the zoning officer has identified some areas where your application may not be in compliance with his rules and I need to employ legal expertise to overcome this problem also it will probably be taken out of his hands and decided by the zoning committee so things have just got a lot more difficult for us………… Oh yes you will probably be notified that your application will be decided by the zoning committee soon, I should think a letter will drop through your door within the week.”

“Don’t soun that good, we knows Mistuh Clarke an have meeted him before.”

Billy-Bob confirmed as he shouted into the cell phone that lay open on a low table in front of the three of them.

“Good, good then we all know Mr. Clarke, which is good …., now as I see it these problems can be overcome but there will be an additional cost both for my time and the legal advice and to prepare for the committee meeting”

“Uh hu.”

Billy-Bob acknowledged.

“I have estimated that it will cost an additional ten thousand dollars.”

He said  wincing as he awaited a reply.

Mary-Jo sprayed a mouthful of beer out across the porch and choked as Billy-Bob replied in an in exasperated voice.

“Tin thousan dolluhs, ourne bill is goin up an up, Is yuh sure that we’ll get ourne ci-tifurcate with anutha tin thousan dolluhs?.

“Yes that should suffice.”

Mr. Gant started to reply before being cut off by Billy-Bob.

“I ain’t some kind’a rich man, we so po-wah we got tumble weed as a pet so don’t yuh go an think that Auh is ignert, ……..If youze  tryin tuh get me all addled…. What Auh mean is don’t yuh go playin fast an loose with me or I’ll beat you so bad you’ll feel like you was ate by wolves and shit out over a cliff.”

“Now Mr. Johnson, please, I am a respectable honest man just trying my best to get your zoning application approved and we have come across some problems”

He smarmed.

“….Now if you want to let it all go and withdraw your application then that is entirely up to you,… but don’t forget you have signed a contract with me and if you do wish to withdraw then that is your choice… all the monies agreed will still be payable to me with immediate effect…. the choice is yours…. I am just trying to be helpful.”

Mr. Gant lied again, leaning back in his chair as he twiddled his fountain pen between his fingers awaiting a reply.

Mary-Jo slapped Billy-Bob around the head and mouthed to him ‘Shut the fuck up you dumb fuck.’, before responding to Mr. Gant in her most respectable and polite voice.

“Oh no Mr. Gant, Billy-Bob was just flyin off the handle an some about the money,… yuh see he ain’t got no bawhs to give him extra money becawse he bin retard from alligator farmin as we told yuh. We be mush obliged if yuh can wait some while we sees about getting the money.”

Aaron Gant smiled a thin slimy smile, just as he though he had them hooked and he knew how much they wanted their zoning application, all he was doing was turning the screw a little. It also helped him to know that they had an investor who hopefully could find the extra ten thousand dollars. It was just more money for him, he would pay the committee members fifteen hundred dollars each, tell the others he paid them two thousand five hundred each and pocket the difference, a nice cool four thousand dollars.

“Fine, fine Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, I understand, ten thousand dollars does sound like a lot of money but I will be using the best legal representation for you to overcome these problems and before you know it you will have your zoning application approved and the certificate in your hand………..how does that sound?”

“Uhh.. that souns mighty fine……, thankin yuh Mr. Gant.”

Billy-Bob said rather dejectedly into the open cell phone.

“When do you think you will be able to provide the funds so that I can proceed.”

Mr. Gant swiftly continued, ‘Always strike while the iron’s hot’, was a favorite saying of his, so true to this he pushed to get a confirmation.

“Um ..,  we will speak with ourne investor today an get back to you later to confirm.”

 Mary-Jo replied trying to sound business like and professional.

“That sounds good to me, speak with you later,”

Mr. Gant replied before hanging up his phone and rubbing his hands together, without knowing it he did an exceptional impersonation of Scrooge as he sat at his desk counting the extra four thousand dollars and putting them away in his minds safe.

Billy-Bob immediately called Cuzn Luke but there was no reply, forty minutes and seven calls later they still could not get through to Cuzn Luke, Billy-Bob was getting agitated as he paced up and down.

“Not like Cuzn Luke to be not answerin, probably fried his mind on shine again,…… c’mom lets get drectly over tuh his an tell him we is needin mowa money….., we can’t sit here all day an hope Cuzn Luke wakes up at some point.”

Billy-Bob went into his shack and reappeared some thirty seconds later with his pickup keys in his hand.

“C’mon Mary-Jo lets get goin.”

Mary-Jo followed Billy-Bob off from their porch, over to his pick up and climbed in. She handed Billy-Bob his can of beer and settled herself into the seat, taking a large swig from her can as she rested her right arm out of her side window.

“Eth if we ain’t back for seben thin youze feed them boi’s ok.”

Billy-Bob shouted as the pickup swung backwards away from the shack, stopping momentarily before driving in a wide arc forwards and out of Malase in a dusty squall.

“Ok pa.”

Ethan replied as he stood stretched and loped off into the shack to get himself another beer.

To their surprise Cuzn Luke was not at home when they pulled up outside his shack, they had been expecting to see his liquor laced body snoozing away the hot afternoon on his porch, but no, nobody was home, Mary-Jo had looked in all of the windows, Cuzn Luke’s pick-up was there but no Cuzn Luke, she quickly scribbled a note on a piece of paper Billy-Bob had in his pickup, ‘Please call us when you get in MJ and BB’. The note said, she then went back over to the shack climbed the stairs onto his [porch and put the note under a bottle of shine that stood proudly on a small table next to his chair.

‘He’s sure to see that there’, she thought to herself as she walked back down the steps and over towards Billy-Bobs pickup.

It was gone eleven at night  when Billy-Bob’s phone rang, it was Cuzn Luke, he had just got home and seated himself in his favorite chair on his porch when he saw Mary-Jo’s note under the bottle.

“Billy-Bob, what’s new?”

Cuzn Luke asked as he held his bottle of shine between his upper thighs and with his strong left hand de corked the bottle.

“Hey Cuzn Luke thanks fuh the call.”

Billy-Bob replied pleased to hear from Cuzn Luke at last. They had had to call up Mr. Gant at his office just before six pm and apologize because the hadn’t been able to discuss the situation with their investor yet but insisted that by the following afternoon that they would be able to confirm that the extra money needed would be made available.

Mr. Gant had accepted their apology with grace and assured them that as long as he had confirmation within the next forty eight hours that another ten thousand dollars was available then everything would be fine. He had put enough pressure on the two of them earlier and thought it prudent to relax a little and give them more time to find the money.

Billy-Bob spent the next fifteen minutes explaining all that Mr. Gant had told them, including what the extra money would be used for. By this time of night with the amount he had drunk since the afternoon he was struggling to keep his mind straight and his voice slurred out each sentence in a sideways slow motion diction that sounded like and old vinyl record played at the wrong speed.

Cuzn Luke listened as he gulped his way though a quarter of his bottle of shine before Billy-Bob had finished. He had had to stop the conversation twice and ask Billy-Bob to go back a sentence or two then repeat them again more clearly because even Cuzn Luke was having difficulty understanding a very drunk Billy-Bob.

 “Thas it,… hi..ccup… hi..uup…. hiuup.”

Billy –Bob said finally

Cuzn Luke replied.

“Souns like  Mr. Gant is certainly doin the right thing an if problems is occurrin an he needs fancy lawyers to fix them problems, then lawyers is what he’s needin so Auh’ll find that extra money fuh both an Auh’ll go speak with Mr. Gant hissel in the morning an make arrangements.”

Cuzn Luke heard Mary-Jo scream an appreciative thank you,’ the cell phone had obviously been in speaker mod’, he thought, so he replied,

 “Not a problem Mary-Jo, now get yourne ol’ man t’bed as he souns like he’s so confused he doesn’t know whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass an I am mighty thir-isty an wants tuh finish this here ol’ bottle a mine.”

With that Luke hung up his phone and sat back in his chair guzzling at his bottle. He awoke in the early hours just as the sun was peeping over the horizon at six twenty seven. His bottle of shine lay empty at his side, he turned over onto his other side in the chair and tried to get back into his alcohol induced sleep but was uncomfortable, he wriggled around trying to get comfortable without success. A ‘Caw’, sound echoed out over the land to be joined by another single ‘Caw’, then another, then another until the air was filled with the morning calls from the murder of crows that had taken up residence in the tree line some one hundred and fifty yards behind Cuzn Luke’s shack. As Cuzn Luke stood up and scratched, his attention was caught by a pair of crows who chased a red tailed hawk off across the sky, arcing and circling around the large bird as it retreated across fading stars towards the sliver of yellow blue and the rising sun. He watched as the black silhouettes dived and circled around getting smaller and smaller until the hawk’s tormentors broke off their chase and turned back towards the roost. They flew tightly side by side, low and fast like two world war two fighters returning from a successful mission, as they neared the roost the calling heightened as if to congratulate them and welcome them safely back.

Cuzn Luke shuffled into his shack and through to the back where he turned the faucet on full blast, bending forwards and cupping his hands under the gushing water he splashed handful after handful up into his face, then finally bent completely forwards so that the back of his head was under the faucet’s stream. Hair soaked he stood up and shook his head, rubbing his eyes, tiny silver flashes or stars darted across the backs of his eyelids, he opened his eyes but they continued and grew like the crescendo of a fireworks display. He steadied himself against the edge of the sink before trying to focus his eyes. His head ached mildly and his throat was dry, as were his lips, ‘a nice strong coffee should help things’ he thought to himself as his conscious mind started to escape the foggy shine stupor that he had awoken into.

At nine fifteen sharp Cuzn Luke strode into Mr. Gants office, his foggy stupor had evaporated and his mind was as sharp as a razor. He sat and talked with Mr. Gant about the application and the problems that had arisen for some fifteen minutes. Once he had received assurances from Mr. Gant that with the legal advice the application should be approved he handed over ten thousand dollars in cash. The bills were crisp new one hundred dollar bills that Cuzn Luke had just withdrawn from the bank only fifteen minutes earlier, three doors past Mr. Gant’s office.

Cuzn Luke reached out and accepted the hand written receipt that Mr. Gant held out to him, he tucked it into the seat pocket of his pants and shook Mr. Gants hand.

“Mr. Gant I done told you twice an don’t you forget that that is the end to my bill.”

“Of course, ….. of course the Johnsons should get their application approved and their certificate for the Alligator farm in due course. Now that we can afford the legal expertise it is just a matter of time now for the application to work its way through the process at Town Hall,…. It should all be done and dusted within six weeks now at the outside.” 

Mr. Gant replied as he escorted Cuzn Luke out of his office.

I hope you enjoy your reading. It is available on Kindle and a free copy can be borrowed for download at https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Blue-Heron-Howard-Moore-ebook/dp/B00KK6BWLK..

Howard Moore