This is a bit different from most of what i post here. When i find i’m not applying myself to other things , especially when i’m hung up on writing my book about women at sea, because of many reasons and become frustrated, i now am weaning myself from going to playing spider solitaire mindlessly. Instead, i turn to this group of stories i began probably in high school about a fictional town called “New Palestine.” i am fully aware it may never be finished. i’m not even sure what to call it, a book? It is just something in my mind with no connection to anything other than they are ideas i want to write about. Just write.
i again would caution folks from my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee they should draw no connection to the characters in these stories. Although the people and the locations are drawn from folks and places i know and love, the connection stops as soon as they become part of my little town of fiction. When Maureen read this one last night, her comment was she was surprised, that it was a bit different. It is different for me. Don’t know where it came from other than when i was top-40 deejay at WCOR a young girl called me and did invite me to come to her house and meet her (i did not do that and have forgotten her name). i hope those that read this enjoy it, but i put it here more to be an archive for me. i do like it.
Well, I am going to tell you it was all in my head. I mean I didn’t know whether it was real or not, but I was a’thinking all the time it was all in my head.
I just don’t how I got that way, thinking about them things like that, but it scared the bejeezus out of me, and I just didn’t know; I just didn’t know what to think, or even if I was a’thinking.
It all happened on the wrong kind of night for things like that to be happening, you know. It was early September. The hot, humid summer had finally given away to those crisp, dry, autumn days with a breeze: Tennessee autumn at its best.
I was back home after that one forlorn, lost, and pretty well misguided idea I was going to be some academic wonder kid. Duke and I didn’t get along. They expected me to study, and not go all slobbering after all those educated and prominent-family skirts with the long legs and blond hair and big tits, and join in all the hell raising to excess when I had pretty much been banned from any kind of that shit from knee-crawling, snot-blowing, diaper -crapping, upward bound redneck upbringing because that was who I was.
And I went all ga-ga and chased the women with no success and raised hell and drank like there was no tomorrow, and picked up a book every two weeks or so to flunk the exams and laugh and have another bottle of Jack Daniels before crashing in the dark night and getting up and starting all over again because I had gone too far from what I was and where I come from and who I is then and now.
So they told me to go home because there weren’t no way in hell I was a gonna get a degree in engineering because I didn’t know shit about math and calculus and physics especially only working on it more than a couple of hours a week, and they were right, and I tucked my tail between my legs, bowed my head down low hoping no one could see me, and took that long Trailways bus ride over the Smokies back to the heart of Tennessee. I had hung on for that last summer hoping to get the grades up to at least go to college somewhere, but I pretty well screwed that up too because I still was attracted to those skirts and long conversations with Mr. Jameson of Irish whiskey fame because I had told Mr. Daniels to go bite himself and his charcoal.
So I wasn’t functioning all that well and looking for a job in New Palestine and my momma talked to the radio man and he said I could work FM at night if I got a license, so I did and back then, FM wasn’t much more than classical music and public service announcements till I showed up and started playing all kinds of music and talking about the music and where it came from and such and some people – I really don’t have a clue as to how many – started listening and occasionally called in, especially when I left my mic on and cussed, and I did a good enough job that the radio man put me on the AM on the weekend afternoons. It was a hick station all right, and they played news and religion and county music , not necessarily in that order, except on the weekends when they let me play Top 40 stuff from noon to sunset, and I did even though I didn’t like that bubble gum rock shit and I snuck in a lot of blues. While I was at it, I went back to college. New Palestine Junior College. Got my associate degree and was in my last year at Jordon River College.
But it was hard work commuting to college and working because it was just me most of the time in the station ’cause that third class radio engineer license allowed me to turn the whole station on and off and no one else was there on the weekend, so I was working both AM and FM, putting on some bullshit light classical LP on FM and running down the hall to do the AM show and rushing into the back breeko block closet where the AP news wire was and ripping it off and reading the headlines and the weather (which was always wrong, but I read it all the way it was except for the temperature when I would run outside and look at the big thermometer and notice there weren’t no clouds like I was going to read about and did) and run back in and read the news and after the commercial put on a forty-five knowing I had two minutes to run up the hall, play an public service spot and put on another LP and run back down in time to do my thing when the forty-five was over.
But it was fun in a way because I could talk about shit while I played music I liked (most of the time), and I didn’t really care who was listening.
After a while, people would call in every once in a while and ask for a song, and I would hunt through the stacks of forty-fives and find it and play it and make some joke like “This is the Four Seasons’ hit ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and even though I think that’s a funny place to be ‘cause I imagine it itches like heck, but we’re playing this as a special request for Betty Jo,” and things like that.
This had been going on for about a year, when one Sunday afternoon, the phone call started it all. She had a sweet voice when she called that first time.
“You sure have a great show on weekends,” she said, “I love the music you play.”
“Why thank you,” I said, “Is there a song you would like me to play?”
“No, I like everything you play,” she said.
Then she said, “I really would like to meet you.”
“Oh, that would be nice,” I lied, not knowing quite how to respond.
“My name is Mary Beth Perkins,” she said, “Would you like to come out to my house after you get through with the show today?”
“Uh, I’m not sure,” I fumbled.
“Our house is behind the Route 127 Motel and Cafe,” she went on, “My daddy owns it. You just take the drive before the motel coming out of town, go up the hill, park out front, and knock on the front door.”
I was a bit flummoxed ‘cause no girl had ever asked me out before, and I just flat didn’t know what to do. I also was wondering what she looked like.
“Hey, can you call me back?” I stalled, “I’ve got to read the news and work FM.”
“Sure,” Mary Beth laughed
I’m thinking she ain’t gonna call back. I knew Elmer Perkins was the guy who owned that diner and the motel where a lot of clandestine and shady deals happened, not too mention it was a place where frowned upon copulations occurred. That girl is just blowing smoke, I thought. So I just cued the 45’s and ran the cassette ads. As a Motown hit was playing, I remembered her from a high school football game I attended. A looker; a real, young looker.
Then about two forty-fives later, the phone rings and it’s her.
She said, “Daddy’s out until late tonight, and I got some beer and sandwiches if you would like to come on out.”
And I guess that’s when I lost all of my senses and said yes, dreaming of things happening that never would.
When the sun set, because back then, some AM stations due to FCC rules had to shut down, I guess to eliminate interference with the more powerful stations. I mean I really don’t know, but that’s what one of the other deejay’s told me, and I headed out route 127.
I drove around the diner and the motel and drove up the gravel road to the house on the top of the hill just as it was turning dark. Mary Beth was on the porch a’waving at me. I got up and went inside. She offered me a can of PBR out of the refrigerator, and there weren’t no way I was gonna pass up a big blue. She guided me to the couch in the living room and after one sip of my beer, she took it out of my hand and laid a wet, tongue probing kiss on me before I knew what she was doing.
Well then we got serious, but I kept a thinking, calculating how old she was and if I was gonna get in trouble I couldn’t get out of. But I gave in and we started getting real serious.
We still had our clothes on, but were down to humping on the couch with me feeling her up and she grabbing my junk.
But her daddy had a deal go sour and came home early, really early. Seeing my car, he was ready when he slammed through the front door.
“Mary Beth, what is this son-of-a-bitch doing to you. Get to your room, right now.”
She collected her stuff and quickly shuffled out the hall door toward what I presumed was her room. I was watching her go and then turned to see Elmer pointing an Army .45 caliber pistol at me. I knew the weapon well, having learned all of its capabilities at my ROTC courses at the military prep school in town. I could still take it apart and put it back together while blindfolded, although I never figured out why I needed to do that until my daddy told me about trying to clean his carbine in a dark corner of the carpool on Luzon when the Japs were hitting his Seabee unit and the power had been shut off.
But this was no drill.
Elmer shook the pistol and motioned for me to get up.
“Come on, boy, we’re going for a ride.”
I was pretty sure it wasn’t for a pleasant look at the country side.
He directed me to the shotgun seat of his Ford pickup and climbed into the driver’s seat, holding the 45 pointing toward me and the steering wheel with his left hand, turning on the ignition and working the stick shift with his right. We drove east, toward the old Bethlehem stone quarry, which they had mined to death and left a cavernous pit, now filled with squalid, dirty water about forty or fifty feet deep and another thirty or forty feet below the top.
Old Elmer didn’t say a word, and I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood to start a conversation. He turned off the old highway onto the gravel past the long-abandoned operations tower and pulled toward the rim.
I was a’thinking. I remembered this crazy characteristic of those 45’s Sergeant Tilley taught us in that sophomore year of ROTC about the safeties on the pistol. They all made sense to me except one, which was if you pushed the barrel back, the gun wouldn’t fire. And I thought that was about the craziest thing it could be ‘cause who the hell who push the barrel back, presumably with their palm and risk getting their hand blown off.
But at this point in time with Elmer a‘fumbling with the steering wheel, the brake, the clutch, and the gear shift, I thought that crazy safety might be my only chance. If i could keep the gun from firing, i might be able to get it out of his hand and me out of the car and run like hell. So I reached across the bench seat, shoved my right palm at the barrel hoping to enable the safety.
Elmer turned and jerked the 45 away from me. My hand hit the side of the barrel pushing it up and away from me. Trying to recover control of everything, Elmer pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the bottom of his chin and out the top of his head. Blood and brain spattered everywhere as Elmer, or what was left of him and his head, slumped to the steering wheel. I recoiled and sat there for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. I got out and found an old towel behind the bench seat. I wiped the blood and stuff off of me and my clothes as well as I could. Then I wiped as much of the truck I could where my fingerprints might have been. After I thought i had gotten my prints off of everything, I sat down on the rear bumper and thought about what to do.
I knew Elmer ran with a bad crowd, bootleggers, johns, and who knows what. I decided I would just leave him there. But the gun; what about the gun? I wasn’t sure I had gotten any of my prints off of it. So I walked up to the quarry pit and threw the 45 into the deep dark pool below.
With that, I started a long walk. I had to get back to town and circumvent the square where I surely would be seen and turn northeast to 127. It was about a ten-mile trek. I kept a’thinking how I was going to explain what happened to Mary Beth. But when I got to the diner and motel, I walked up to the back and only my old Vauxhall was outside. Elmer’s ’59 Plymouth, his other go-to-meetings car was gone. I went up on the porch and called. When there was no answer, I took out my bandana I always carried in my back pocket and tried the door handle. It was locked.
I called a couple of more times and when there was no answer, I got in my car and drove home.
They found Elmer in his pickup the next afternoon. Then, Mister Blaylock, the bus station manager, said a pretty young girl calling herself Mary Buford had bought a ticket to Pensacola, Florida late the evening before. He remembered her because she had three suitcases and needed help boarding the bus. The New Palestine police found Elmer’s old Plymouth in the parking lot behind the bus station. The authorities traced Mary Beth to Pensacola but never could figure out where she went after that.
They finally decided Elmer had gotten into a bad deal with one of his whiskey partners who killed him. They never found the gun. They never found the killer either.
I worked at the radio station until I got my degree almost a year after the incident. Knowing the draft was going to send me to Vietnam as a ground pounder, I applied and was accepted to Navy OCS.
I left New Palestine and never came back.
copyright jim jewell 2020
1 thought on “Clay Wilson: A Story of New Palestine”
Loved this story.