Life Is Change
The county is happy to convert most of the parking around the block into normal metered parking. Other businesses like the extra customer parking and walk-by clients, while their staff like the secure car-park in the old stables building which is set up with the top floor reserved for tenants to rent car spaces, the middle floor is all day parking for local workers, and the ground floor is hourly parking for customers. Both the lower floors are changed for use as all evening parking at 6:00 p.m. to provide parking for the local eateries in the area. Three of which are located in the Grey Block, and within easy walking distance of the parking.
Due to the major turnaround in the business operations the trust is doing very well. H J insists Smoky takes twenty percent of the quarterly profits as his salary; and that’s so much Smoky is embarrassed to take it, but he has little option when they direct deposit the money to his bank account after deducting taxes. H J is also looking at other properties to purchase and renovate now the trust has cash reserves to work with.
Smoky purchases top of the line photographic equipment for use in his studio, and for outside assignments. Although the trust pays him a very good full-time salary the work for the trust only takes up half a day a week, so he has a lot of time on his hands. He spends a lot of it out and about with his cameras while taking photos of the area and the people. He does manage to sell some of his photographs to various newspapers and magazines, and he’s soon recognised as a good photographer.
A few weeks after Fire Foods opens up Smoky is walking around the area on a Tuesday afternoon when he meets a County Commissioner on the street opposite the building he lives in. The man is looking at a two story building built of the same stone as Smoky’s buildings. Smoky stops to talk to the man, and says, “You look a bit concerned. What’s the problem?”
The man turns to look at Smoky, and holds out his hand while saying, “Mitch Hughes, Mister Grey. I own these two buildings, and I’m trying to see if I can use them for more than simple storage.”
Smoky shakes his hand while saying, “Call me Smoky, Mitch. Is there an issue with what you can use them for?”
“Not really. But I’m out of ideas on what to do with them. Both are two story buildings without any toilets, which I can put in. But a good portion of the upper level is unusable, due to rot in the woodwork. Way in the past something got spilled, but not well cleaned up. Over the years it’s not only damaged the floor, but also the beams and joists. I can’t use the upper level in the damaged areas, and I haven’t got much money to do major work with.”
“Mind if I have a look at them with you?”
“No problem. Let’s go in.” He opens the door, and leads Smoky into the first building. “Whatever damaged the upper floor didn’t damage the lower level. It happened so long ago no one knows what it was. But both these buildings have been used for general storage for a hundred years, or more.” While they walk through the upper level Mitch points at a section of the floor marked off with tape, “I’m told it’s safe to walk on, but I’m not prepared to trust it.” Smoky agrees with him, because it’s a drop of twelve feet, or more, to the next level.
Smoky takes a moment to look out the windows into the centre of the block, and notices an open area in the middle of the block being used as a car-park. He asks, “Who owns the rest of this block?”
“I do. Been in the family since it was built by the same people who built your buildings. It’s on a similar block layout, but the buildings are different sizes to your buildings. Why?”
“You’re using the centre as a car-park, but still have the boundary fences up. You can get more space if you do what I did to combine the properties into one. That’s all.”
“I’ve been thinking of that since you did it. I’ve also been thinking of selling these buildings, too. I’m waiting until I decide what to do with these two buildings.”
A little later they finish walking through both buildings, and Smoky says, “If I understand what I’ve seen the longer building has most of the middle of the top floor damaged, and the shorter building has all but one end of the top floor damaged. What isn’t damaged in the buildings is OK to use.”
“Yes, that’s right. And, the sewerage connection isn’t an issue.”
“Well, if these were my buildings the first thing I’d do is rip out the damaged floor structure. Then draw up plans to turn the smaller one into a nightclub. Put the offices upstairs with the bar and other facilities under it, and a stage at the other end. I’d put in good sound insulation so you don’t get any outside noises causing trouble. Tables and chairs spread through the main floor, and you’re in business.”
“Good idea, and not expensive to do. What about the other one?”
“Nightclubs are for the older people, so do the same for the younger people in the other building to make it a dance venue. Same deal with the office and disco DJ at one end, and have the bars at the other. You can have some VIP seating upstairs, and control access. Lots of sound insulation so the two don’t interfere with each other. Also, I’d only serve finger food snacks in the dance hall, and use paper or plastic plates. There’s enough restaurants nearby for people to eat dinner before they come over to dance, and the car-parking around here will be very empty after work hours.”
Mitch grins, “Both ideas don’t cost all that much, but they do offer a good use of the buildings at a decent profit. Thanks for the ideas. Why didn’t you just buy the buildings, and do that yourself?”
“If I’d bought the buildings and made them into instant successes how well would my next matter before the county have gone? Better to make a friend than a little profit along with an enemy.” Mitch laughs, and nods his agreement with the sentiment expressed.
“I think I’ll combine the properties, and do what you said.” They part company outside after saying their goodbyes.
Mitch goes ahead with the work. Both the nightclub and dance venue do well. Smoky’s car-park gets a lot of evening business with people going to Mitch’s businesses, and so do the various eateries in the Grey Buildings. Good business all round.
The improvements made on those two blocks spark an interest in the other property owners close by. Over the next few years buildings that had been left to rot are repaired, and a lot of new businesses open up in the area. They offer a lot of work to those living close by, too.
The refurbishment of the Grey Block sparks an urban renewal of the dying old business area. A large number of people credit Smoky with the growth, thanks to Mitch telling a lot of people where he got his ideas.
Smoky is often found down in Fire Foods talking with Mia. She also often joins Smoky on his walks around the area in the mid-afternoon. Their time together is looked upon favourably by her family.
Mia also talks Smoky into taking her to church on many Sundays, to the delight of her family, and the local priest. Smoky does donate to the church each week as well as buying vouchers for meals from Fire Foods which Smoky hands to the priest to give to the local poor who need a hand. Smoky also gives a regular supply of second hand clothes and blankets in good condition to the priest for disposal as he sees fit.
Most of the locals approve of the growing friendship between Mia and Smoky, while a few of the bigots don’t like it. Luckily there aren’t many bigots in their local area.
County Line Lunacy
Five months after arriving in the USA Smoky is in the large SUV he recently bought. It’s a new car, but the previous year’s model and stock, so he got a good deal with a new car warranty. He’s heard about some buildings in the next county to the south that are worth a visit to take photos of, so he’s on his way there. He starts his trip at 10:00 a.m., with a few planned stops along the way to take some scenic photos. There’s a good state road between his city and his destination, but he’s enjoying himself driving along one of the smaller county roads that’s said to be very scenic. It’s little more than a dirt track wide enough for a car to drive along easily, or for two cars to get a wheel off the dirt into the grass to safely edge past each other.
He’s about ready to stop for a late lunch when he drives around a corner, and hits the brakes. He comes to a halt about twenty feet from an old and paint faded red sedan sitting with its nose into a tree on the side of the road. The driver’s side front fender is damaged with black paint marks on it. Sitting in the middle of the road is a large black pick-up truck with its passenger’s side front fender damaged, and the paint on it is the same red as the sedan. It looks like they’d hit. But Smoky is more concerned about the people. Hanging from a limb of a tree on the other side of the road is an old black man, his clothes are shredded, and he’s bleeding from many places. Tied to a fence nearby are two black girls who look to be in their mid to late teens. Standing in front of the girls is one man, two are beside the pick-up, and one is beside the black man with a whip in his hand. All the men are in white Klan outfits.
Smoky stops with his car angled across the narrow road. He opens the door, and gets out. Standing behind the open door he draws his gun while looking at the men. One of those at the car shouts at him, “Git in ya car, and git outta here.”
The one near the girls starts to turn, he has a shotgun in his hands. He shouts, “Git going, or I’ll blast ya.”
Smoky replies, “Put down the shotgun, and back away from it.”
The shotgun starts to rise, and the other three start reaching for things in their pockets. In one fast and smooth action Smoky lifts his right hand up, takes aim, and fires. The man with the shotgun folds up, dropping the gun while he screams. Smoky tracks to the next man, the one with the whip. He aims, and fires, for a similar scream, and clutch at his stomach; the man drops a handgun when he falls. Move, aim, fire. The one at the car nearest him has a hand half up with a gun when he drops it, clutches at his guts, screams, and falls. Smoky tracks to the last man, aims, and fires at the same time as he does. The other man drops his gun, screams, and clutches his stomach at the same moment something burns along the outside of Smoky’s left upper arm. He looks down, he’s bleeding, but not much. Higher priorities first.
Smoky goes over, and releases the girls, because he’ll need their help with the man. They reach the man, and the man says, “Mister, please look after my family.” Smoky nods his agreement, the man half smiles, then he sighs. Smoky reaches up to check his pulse; it isn’t there.
The girls start to cry when they see the man is dead. Smoky sends them to sit in his car, but they detour to get bags from the back of the red car. They open his car, and put the bags in the back, then get a few more bags before closing the back of his car, and getting into the back seat.
While watching them Smoky takes out his cell phone, and pocket phone book. He looks up and calls a number, it’s answered, and he says, “This is Smoky Grey, I’d like to talk to Michael, please.” A pause, “Yes, it’s very important.” Another pause, “Hello, Michael, sorry to call you away from whatever it was, but I’m out on the Old Quarry Road. If I’ve measured it right I’m about a mile or two inside the county line. There’s a car nose first into a tree here, I’ve got five injured, with at least one dead.” A pause to listen, “Michael, there are issues here, serious ones. Ones we don’t want on the radio. Very serious political issues. You need to be here, and to be in charge before anyone comes along to screw it up, and cause you major headaches. Bring an ambulance or two, don’t send them.” A longer pause, and he hangs up.
Smoky goes to his SUV, gets out one of his cameras, and goes around the scene taking many photos. After he takes photos of the men he shot he kicks their guns away from them. Three are still making a lot of noise, and rolling around while he does this. Only the first man isn’t making any noise, but he’s lying in a large pool of blood.
At the Station
Sheriff Michael Mason hangs up the phone. He has half a mind to put out a general car call. He’s met Smoky Grey, and he likes him, he also knows he’s a significant player in the local business community, but he doesn’t like the way Smoky has asked him to personally come to a car accident. It’s while he’s picking up the phone to speak to the call centre he thinks over the official interactions with Smoky, and he realises this just may be something as delicate as Smoky says it is. With a sigh he tells his secretary, “Tell the mayor’s office I got called out on something urgent and important. The written report is on my desk if they want it.” She nods her understanding, and he leaves his office.
Passing through the main workroom he sees four deputies sitting around. He smiles, and says, “Jefferson, Davis, get a unit, and follow me. Baker, Lawson, you’re going with me.” They scramble to leave with him. Passing by the front desk he tells the sergeant there, “Bill, there’s an incident out on the Old Quarry Road, almost to the county line. I’m on my way there. Organise for an ambulance to follow me out.”
In the car-park he gets in his big SUV, and starts it up. Two deputies get in with him, and the other two get in a sedan cruiser. He puts on the lights, but no siren, and heads out with the other car on his tail. He’s going fast, but not too fast for the traffic, although the siren does come on a few times to clear the way. Reaching the edge of the urban area he speeds up. Before long the two vehicles are racing down the road.
On the Scene
A couple of miles from the county line Sheriff Mason slows down a little. He can see a man standing beside the road at the top of a curve. He slows down some more. When he’s close enough he can tell it’s Smoky, so he slows down while thinking, It’s probably just around the curve, whatever it is. He rounds the curve, and can see the three cars, then he sees the man hanging in the tree with the four men on the ground. The white garb on the four men on the ground stands out, and he says, “Oh, shit! Just what we don’t need.” The two deputies with him agree. He comes to a halt behind Smoky’s car, and the other car stops behind him.
Mason starts issuing orders while he gets out, “Davis, take that unit back around the corner to block traffic. Jefferson, get out the incident kit in the back of my unit. You take charge of the investigation. Baker, Lawson, help Jefferson.” The deputies scramble to do as told.
Davis turns the rear car around, and drives back to the top of the curve. He parks it on the side of the road where it can be seen. He puts his lights on, and sets up a couple of orange cones to block the road.
Jefferson opens the back of the Sheriff’s SUV, opens a large box, gets out a camera, gives it to Baker, and says, “Take distance photos of it all, then move in to take close-ups.” He takes out a clipboard, and hands it over while saying, “Lawson, write down everything you see, and everything we do. Make sure you place the time and our location beside every action.” She nods yes while she takes the clipboard. He pulls out a bunch of evidence bags, slips on a pair of latex gloves, grabs a tool-belt, slips it on, and heads to the scene.
Mason walks over to Smoky, and asks, “Any of them alive?”
Smoky turns to look at him, and replies, “I don’t know. I don’t care. And I hope not. The whipped guy died while I was talking to him.”
Mason simply nods his understanding while looking at the four still figures in white lying in large pools of blood. He turns to Jefferson, “First, check if they’re alive.” He gets an acknowledging nod in reply.
Mason turns back to Smoky, “I’ll let Jefferson get your statement.”
Smoky nods his agreement, and says, “They had two girls tied to the fence. They’re sitting in my car, at the moment. His last words were to ask me to look after his family. Which I’ll do!” Mason turns to Smoky, gives a slow nod, turns to look at the car, and nods again.
“Dammit! I thought I’d cleared the Klan out of this county.”
“Michael, it looks to me like they chased the car in from the next one south. How are they with the Klan?”
“They claim to have no Klan problems. But I hear different.”
“I was about to stop for lunch when I came across this. Want some?”
Mason nods yes, and the two go to Smoky’s car. He opens the back, and gets out his cooler with the food. Although he packed a large lunch it doesn’t go too far between the four at the car. They stay back, and watch the deputies do their work.
A little later an ambulance arrives, and Mason tells them what’s happening. They’ll wait around to take the bodies back, at least they’ll get some pay for doing that.
Neither Smoky or Mason miss the fact Jefferson confirms they’re all dead before he processes the black man first. Then the man with the whip. With each one he has photos of their faces taken, and he empties their pockets. An hour later all five are in the ambulance on its way back to the city morgue, and Jefferson is working on the pick-up truck. When he’s finished with that he moves to the red car while Mason puts in a radio call for two tow trucks.
Jefferson walks up, and collects the casings from Smoky’s gun after he has them photographed. He looks at Smoky, who simply opens his jacket while saying, “Still one in the chamber.” Jefferson removes the gun, drops the magazine, clears it, and drops it all in an evidence bag.
All the deputies grin when Smoky reaches around behind him, and moves his other gun to the hip holster. He has two, because he bought another one after the first shooting, and he got the first one back.
With all the physical evidence recorded and collected Jefferson has Baker and Lawson take one of the girls each to interview them in different spots while he gets Smoky’s statement on his involvement. Two hours after arriving on the scene Jefferson is packing the incident gear back into the kit when the tow trucks turn up. A few minutes to hook up the vehicles, and they’re on their way back to the city.
Smoky is standing beside Mason when Jefferson walks up, and says, “Sheriff, you’re not going to like this. The black man is Bill Jackson. Those are his two nieces in the car with him. He picked them up, and was running with them, because someone killed their father last night. The dead Klan are Peter Bailey, Lawrence Hawkins, Daryl Hawkins, and Harry Marlin. All have good ID on them.”
Mason’s response is a very quiet, “Shit! Well, now I know why all the reports say no Klan activity by our neighbours to the south.” He gets a frown from Smoky, and adds, “The eldest sons of the sheriff and judge are Klan members. Want to bet their daddies are, too? So they’d be covering up any Klan activity in their area, is my guess.”
Smoky slowly shakes his head, and says, “Well, I don’t think I want to go through that county for a long while.”
Jefferson grins, and says, “No shit! I don’t think any of us want to drive down that way for quite a long time.”
They talk for a few minutes, before they split up to head for their vehicles. As soon as Smoky and Mason turn around Davis heads back to go on a patrol while Mason takes the other three back to the station to finish the reports and other paperwork.
Smoky is going to the house of Bill Jackson to talk to his widow.
The Jackson Family
Smoky arrives at the Jackson house, only to find the Sheriff is ahead of him. They pass each other on the walk. After introductions, and a talk, Smoky has a car loaded down with bags and people. Mrs Jackson, her two kids, the two nieces, and all of their easily moved belongings are on their way to the house of another family member a hundred miles to the north. The house is listed for sale with contents, and the neighbours will clear the fridge and food cupboards for them.
When they pull away from the house Mrs Jackson says, “Thank you for making those murderers pay for killing my man. And thank you for taking us to my sister’s house.”
“I promised I’ll look after you. My contact details are on the card I gave you. If you need anything just call me. OK?” She nods agreement.
Two and a half hours later the Jackson family are settled in the large house of Mrs Jackson’s sister. All her kids have moved away with work transfers, so it’s very empty with just her and her husband, thus they’ve plenty of room for her sister and her family.
Smoky hands Mrs Jackson an envelope while saying, “Here’s some money to help you get sorted out and settled.” She goes to refuse it. “I made a promise to look after you. Please don’t make me break it.” She finally nods her acceptance, and takes the envelope. “Don’t just put that aside, spend it on you and the kids to make life easier for you all.” He gets a reluctant nod. A few minutes later he’s on his way home.