Bo reached inside the window of the fire damaged house and pulled the end of extension cord out and silently moved through the chilly darkness toward the side door of Willie’s garage, some forty feet away. He crept up to the old dilapidated building and very slowly turned the door knob, kind of surprised to find it unlocked. He stepped inside and felt around to the left of the door to locate the receptacle, the one they had been tethered to previously. As he fumbled with the prongs of the cord he heard the unmistakable “click” of a pistol being cocked; he stood stock- still, not daring to move a muscle.
Bo knew damn well who was on the other end of that gun – it was Willie Sigmon – and he also knew damn well that Willie Sigmon meant business, and that he WOULD shoot your ass.
“Whatcha doing there Bo?” came the voice behind the short barreled .32 pistol.
Willie Sigmon was a real character in the truest sense of the word. He hailed from Baltimore, and delighted in calling people from there, including himself, Balti-Morons. To further add to his comic demeanor, he spoke in a feigned British accent, even throwing in a “pip pip” and a “tallyho” once in a while; Willie Sigmon was a most unusual and entertaining critter, but at this special moment, Bo was not feeling very entertained at all; in actuality he was about to shit his pants.
“I’m so sorry, so sorry,” blubbered Bo. “Rick made me do it; you know he has that down comforter and all I have is one old thin blanket, and he won’t let me under his cover – he says people would talk.”
Willie Sigmon cackled and said, “So Rick is afraid of bein’ called queer,” he said derisively. “He would probably be better off branded queer than people seeing that ridiculous assortment of maimed and nutty females he consorts with.” In particular Willie Sigmon was referring to two of Rick’s steadies, one having a prosthetic leg and the other being an uneducated paranoid schizophrenic.
Willie always thought of it being ironic when the crazy girl was visiting Rick, since Willie’s garage sat directly across South Saunders Street from Dorothea Dix Hospital, usually referred to as Dix Hill. The facility was established in the nineteenth century and was both a treatment facility and a housing situation for those deemed criminally insane.
Willie pondered a moment, holding the cocked pistol at the back of Bo’s head, while Bo dared not turn around, afraid that Willie might react and pull the trigger.
“Alright Bo,” Willie said, releasing the hammer on the .32.
Bo sighed deeply, the breath rushing out of him, and turned toward Willie Sigmon with a pitiful look.
“Willie, please let me plug in; that little heater will keep me from freezing, and I swear we’ll get caught up on the power bill.”
Willie had been allowing Bo and Rick to “plug in” at the rate of a dollar a day, but due to a spate of extreme drunkenness combined with not working, the duo were a week behind.
Willie eyed Bo and said, “Okay, here’s the deal, you all get caught up within a week, plus the new rate is a dollar and a quarter per day.”
Beauregard immediately assumed the role of the servile minion and assured Willie Sigmon “up and down” that both he and Rick were going to work the next day and many, many days afterward for Dick Hoffman He was their most frequent employer, a small general contractor who did mostly repair work, additions, and a house now and then.
Bo felt confident in this heartfelt statement for just this very afternoon Dick had shown up to drink a few beers around the fire barrel. It was then that he had told them that he had a “pretty good sized” addition that he had started, and was ready to start framing it right away.
“The masonry foundation is done, Bo. I finished it yesterday, and I am going to put in the floor system on the morrow, even if I have to do it all by myself – but I need you all’s help,” Dick had said.
He had brought Bo and Rick a twelve pack, and with the six pack of Miller Lite he had for himself they had enjoyed a good hour and a half of congeniality on the banks of Pigeon Creek, which ran right in front of the burned out house Bo and Rick were staying in and Willie’s Garage.
The creek also fronted the Liquor House operated by Miss Mary Smith. Miss Mary sold liquor by the shot, having the quintessential “shot house.” So happened it was strategically located adjacent to the local project, which being mostly inhabited by people “of color” made things very convenient. It also did not hurt that Miss Mary was also “of color.” Her abode looked like a small flat roofed frame house, but if one looked at it carefully you could see the Trailways Bus Lines logo on the sides – it was in actuality two Trailways buses pushed together with the common wall removed. This setup afforded Miss Mary Smith an approximate square footage of eight hundred feet of shot house delight. How it ever passed any building code or was ever able to get power from Carolina Power and Light was unknown, and the wise never questioned along this line.
But when Dick Hoffman was there Bo and Rick told him how Willie Sigmon had unceremoniously “pulled the cord on them.” Dick suggested that they try to talk to Willie and get a little time since they were going to be employed for a while. But they either decided against that tack or forgot about, and thus the confrontation between Bo and Willie Sigmon.
Bo told Rick the extension cord tale once he got his breath back, and Rick said it was okay and to get some rest ‘cause Dick Hoffman would be there at seven.
The two drifted off in the now warming room. They had run duct tape around the two doors leading to the rest of the house and hung an old blanket over the only window, so it warmed up pretty nicely after a while.
At six o’clock the two of them were up and getting cleaned up a little at the outdoor spigot at the garage. Rick never had any trouble waking up early, no matter how drunk and stoned he got, and he was a champion in both endeavors. He also could do psychedelic drugs and go to work; he said it was a matter of mind control. Whatever it was, one would never know anything was going on unless he took his everpresent sunglasses off and you could see how screwed up his eyes were.
Rick was a tall red headed raw boned boy from Angier, in Harnett County. Harnett County had a reputation for wild people, and he was one of the wildest. Dick Hoffman, who Rick had worked for off and on for ten years, described the phenomenon as being “totally untethered,” and Rick was a prime example of this reckless freedom.
He married a thirty-year old woman when he was a senior in high school, and they spent their two day honeymoon fishing off the pier at Carolina Beach. The marriage lasted two months. Then he had played football at East Carolina for a couple of years, and managed to eventually graduate as a medical technologist. A hospital was probably not a good place for someone like Rick to be around, and he had lots of stories about ingenious ways to secure restricted drugs.
His last job in that field was in Asheville, where he worked for two years in the Buncombe County Hospital. His duties were varied, the most interesting one being assisting the medical examiner during autopsies. Rick called it “find the bullet,” for the M.E. would just tell him to locate the slug. Of course this was only in homicide cases where for some reason an autopsy had been ordered; however, Rick seemed to have had a healthy sense of the macabre, for he described it in great detail, and you could tell he enjoyed it.
During his tenure in Asheville Rick, true to his non-tethered nature, was a hard charging partier, and eventually discovered that he was quite addicted to cocaine. Rick determined that the path of least resistance to fuel his expensive addiction was to sell marijuana. This worked quite nicely for him for six months, until it turned out that one of his newer and larger customers was revealed to be an undercover detective with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department.
So he got a lawyer, who assured him probation, for five-thousand dollars (which he borrowed from his mother) and who was just as surprised as Rick when the judge gave him a year at “Old Craggie,” what they called the local prison.
The time he spent there Rick did not talk about much, only once mentioning a “rap buddy,” which apparently was what they called a friend you could confide in in such environs. Anyway, he was never the same after he got out. Being “untethered” became a very benign term in describing him; it was like he had to push the envelope ALL THE TIME. His mother, Mae Barbour (who never got her five-thousand back) said the experience had broken him.
“Rick ain’t got no self respect no more, not one lick,” she had said.
It appeared to be an accurate assessment, for in addition to the rough and altered women Rick consorted with he hung out with an assortment of miscreants, the common bond being having served time.
Maybe Mae Barbour had it right after all. The only person she was aware of that was not of that ilk was Dick Hoffman. She liked him from the beginning, and he had come to her and Layton’s house a few times with Rick. She worried so about her boy, and one time when Dick was down there helping Rick pour a garage slab, she took him aside and asked, “Dick, if there is any way you can help Rick, please do it ‘cause I have done everything under the sun and nothin’ seems to work.”
Dick reassured the worried old woman, and did her the favor of not telling her what he was satisfied was the truth – that there was no hope for him in the realm of what she would like for him to be. As Rick liked to say with great regularity he was “on the highway to hell,” and then he would grin and add “and they ain’t no stoplights, not even a friggin’ caution.” But Dick held his tongue and told Mae Barbour he would help him out any way he could.
After Rick and Bo had cleaned up the best they could with their limited facility they walked up to the sidewalk on South Saunders Street and went into R.B. Scopes Supreme Broasted Chicken. This little restaurant was directly across Pigeon Creek from Willie Sigmon’s Garage, and boasted the “best chicken in town.” They were right. R.B.’s had this pressure frying process called “broasting” and the chicken turned out crisp on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. It was a favorite on the rough south side of town; additionally, they had the best chicken livers and gizzards, according to the local South Side Shopper. They were open at six-thirty in the morning and offered a full breakfast menu.
When Bo and Rick walked in the door they were greeted by Mae Wilson, who everyone who had ever been there agreed baked the best biscuits around. When she gave you one of her biscuits, and inserted the fluffy scrambled eggs and either country ham, bacon, or sausage, you really had something.
Mae greeted them with her characteristic giant smile, the right incisor missing.
“What can I get for you boys?” she beamed.
She had known them for years, and had even tried to get them to go to church with her at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion on Edenton Street. Both had politely declined.
They both ordered an egg biscuit with country ham and coffee. She had it to them in just a few minutes and they went out the door.
It was just the stroke of seven a.m. when they walked out and beheld the familiar routine of owner R.B. Scopes lining up his men for the morning service.
There were twelve black men lined up side by side, each wearing gray shirt and pants with their first name stitched on the right front pocket, R.B. Scopes Concrete stitched on the left pocket, and an elaborate color rendering of Jesus carrying the cross, complete with the crown of thorns encircling his head on the back.
R.B. Scopes had been a hell-raiser, drunkard, and womanizer for thirty years before he had “come to Jesus,” and when he fell for Jesus he fell like a ton of bricks.
“Jesus and pouring concrete, Jesus and pouring concrete; that’s all the hell that man thinks of,” Willie Sigmon had said one morning as he and some of the usual cadre of misfits to be found at the garage were having an eye-opener around the fire barrel. But this particular morning it was just Bo and Rick looking on.
R.B. was a man of about fifty-five, short and wiry with thinning red hair. His fair freckled skin was a testimony to his decades of sun exposure; his arms and hands had the texture of alligator skin and the appearance of worn leather – you could almost hear it crack as he walked in front of his men.
R.B. Scopes looked at the men lined up in front of him on the gravel lot and remembered how it all had started, the glorious day of salvation, the moment he had accepted Jesus Christ the Lord into his heart as his Savior and Redeemer.
R. B. had been over in Miss Mary’s Liquor House across Pigeon Creek, where he had been drinking a couple of hours when a young black man had come in. He was a stranger, and being in her chosen vocation Miss Mary was dubious of him. The police had tried to catch her before, but she had always been tipped; Arthur Chavis over in the project had an uncle on the force, so she always knew when to clean things up.
But this day she had received no warning, so she just continued on as usual. The stranger had a couple of drinks and he and R.B. struck up a conversation. Turned out his name was Sammy, he was from Long Island, and he was visiting an aunt in southeast Raleigh.
After a while Sammy and R.B. walked out of the shot house and were just standing around when Sammy reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of Bayer Baby Aspirin, or at first blush that was what it appeared to be. R.B. watched as Sammy unscrewed the lid on the bottle and poured a bunch of red capsules out into his hand.
“What’s that?” he had asked.
“This is Seconal, really good stuff, want one?” Sammy replied.
“Well, what does it do to you?” R.B. asked, looking warily at Sammy.
“Just loosens you up,” said Sammy, “bet you like it.”
R.B. took the proffered Seconal and chased it with vodka. As the two of them stood out there for the next hour R.B. decided that Sammy was an okay guy, as they talked about Sammy’s life in the big city juxtaposed to R.B.’s hard scrabble upbringing and his tough ass life as a concrete contractor.
R.B. noticed he felt more relaxed than he normally did when he was drinking; in fact, when he was loaded he was as likely to get in a fight as not. But today he did not have that edge, it being replaced by a feeling of well being like everything was right with the world.
He mentioned this to Sammy and Sammy said, “Now here is something I think you will really like.”
Sammy reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a small envelope, pouring its contents into his palm. R.B. Scopes watched as Sammy held the small blue tablets; they were about half the size of a baby aspirin.
“Now this will really make you feel good – go ahead and take one,” Sammy said, smiling at R.B.
R.B. was feeling so good at this point that he didn’t even ask what it was, and wasn’t even paying attention as Sammy was saying that it was a “tab” of mescaline and that he was satisfied that R.B. would like it.
It was almost dusk when Sammy said, “Wait here a minute,” and shortly thereafter returned with two straight back chairs from Miss Mary’s porch. Sammy situated the chairs on the bank of Pigeon Creek, facing R.B.’s Supreme Broasted Chicken Restaurant. It was still lit up, for they stayed open til nine.
“Just sit here and enjoy,” said Sammy.
R.B. Stokes could handle a lot of vodka, for he was a hard core alcoholic and had been for a long time, but as he sat in the straight back chair, the kind with the lattice work leather bottom, he began to feel quite a bit different from his usual drunk.
It had begun with that first pill Sammy had given him, and after about a half hour of sitting there on the creek bank he was starting to feel downright euphoric. This was very new to R.B. Scopes, for on a day off he was usually passed out by six p.m., but here it was past eight and he was flyin’.
R.B. looked at Sammy and said, “Damn, I feel good.”
Sammy just looked at him and grinned.
R.B. stood up and walked around the creek a little. “Son of a bitch if I don’t feel like I am walkin’ ‘bout six inches off the ground,” R.B. said excitedly, and then laughed real big. “Man, this is fun,” he exulted,” Sammy nodding in agreement.
Then R.B. sat back down, for it was getting pretty dark and there were some wondrous things beginning to happen across Pigeon Creek. As R.B. gazed across the creek at R.B. Scopes Supreme Broasted Chicken it occurred to him that he did not remember his place having so many lights on it, and he sure did not recall adding any colored ones. But there they were, orange, green, and purple, and they were beginning to pulsate a bit. R.B. figured he must have strung some lights out there and forgotten about it; a man who worked his ass off pouring concrete all day long and then drank a quart of vodka EVERY night might could be forgiven if he forgot a few non-essentials occasionally – least that was the way R.B. saw it.
And he was feeling better and better all the time, taking a drink out of his cup of vodka once in a while, but he had become so preoccupied with the transformation of the chicken restaurant into a kaleidoscopic wonder that he tended to forget that he had the drink in his hand. After some time, R.B. could not be sure how long for he was having great difficulty keeping up temporally, as he stared at his place the lights grew more intense and then they all began to revolve, just like a carousel.
At this point he was speechless, and was sure his mouth was hanging open with wonder. “I don’t doubt that I put some strings of lights out there and dismembered it, but I’ll be damned if I can figure how I rigged all that stuff to spin,” he thought as the lights got even brighter.
Then R.B. saw something growing; it was like a spire emerging from the middle of the carousel as it slowly revolved. He watched in wonder as the vertical extended above the carousel and a podium formed at the top – a round flat place that just appeared. And then R.B. Scopes saw a kind of cloud form above the podium, its shape was irregular and all of the colors on the carousel were in it.
Then the irregular form began to take a shape, slowly, until R.B. could see a head, and a body; it was the visage of a man in a white robe that was torn asunder. As R.B. watched he saw that there was something on the man’s head, some kind of crown. Then R.B. Scopes realized it was a crown of thorns, and he sat dazed as the remainder of the man came into clear focus, and he could see that he was carrying something on his back.
“Look,” he hollered punching Sammy. “That man is haulin’ a cross,” R.B. shouted, punching Sammy on the shoulder.
Sammy just smiled and said, “Right, R.B.” Sammy had been down this road many times and he knew no two people ever saw the same thing. In fact Sammy was seeing “Wheel of Fortune,” and cute lil’ Vanna was spinnin’ the hell out of that wheel.
R.B. Scopes did not know what to think; he knew that he felt better than he ever, ever, had in his life, he knew that he had never seen anything like this in his life, and more than anything he knew that he had figured out what was goin’ on – R.B. Scopes was havin’ him a genuine religious experience.
The final realization of this came as he was watching the man in the torn robe and the crown of thorns rotating slowly atop the carousel; the slow moving carousel had gone around a few times with the man on top and as the man came back to face R.B. on the bank of Pigeon Creek the revolution eased, and the figure perched aloft looked across Pigeon Creek, its banks and water strewn with used beer cans, used liquor bottles, used rubbers and the varied detritus of all the possible sins than man could perform, and he looked dead at R.B. Scopes and smiled at him, motioning for him to come to him.
R.B. walked toward the figure, for he had finally come to know it was Jesus; he walked across dirty Pigeon Creek and climbed the bank and stood on some wooden pallets and pulled himself onto the carousel and looked Jesus Christ dead in the eye and passed out.
The next thing R.B. Scopes remembered the sun had come up and he found himself lying on the flat roof of R.B. Scopes Supreme Broasted Chicken, but he was in a curious position, for he was on his knees, pitched forward on his elbows, with his hands held together like he was praying. It was at that moment that he started remembering what had happened, and how he had seen the beautiful carousel, and then Jesus Christ carrying a cross atop it.
He stood up and backed toward the edge of the roof, trying to figure out all the lights he had seen. Having no luck there, he did notice that there was the remnant of an old television antenna on the roof.
“Could that be what I thought was the cross Jesus was carryin’?” he pondered as he sat back down.
He decided then and there that he did not need to try putting all the lights and stuff together to make some sort of logical sense out of it; all he needed to concentrate on was the undeniable fact that he had seen Jesus Christ, that Jesus had beckoned to him, and from that moment forward R.B. Scopes was one saved son of a bitch.
Once this was accepted a great calm descended upon R.B., and as he climbed off the roof of his restaurant he wore a beatific smile, and in his heart he had hit upon the phrase that would guide him from that day forward: “Pouring concrete to the Glory of Jesus Christ.”
R.B. Scopes looked hard at the twelve workers in front of him and lit into this morning’s sermon. R.B. kept his time to about five minutes, but it was a fiery five.
“You know, it is no mistake that there are twelve of you, twelve of you pouring concrete to the glory of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. And as God and Jesus are my witnesses, and they most assuredly are, I never have more than twelve of you, and I never have less; that is because Jesus had twelve disciples, and I am going to have twelve men as long as I work, to be a constant reminder of Jesus and his saving grace, his bounteous love and devotion to me, and all of you, and to keep fresh in my mind what happened to me on that roof five years ago.”
Then R.B. pointed to the rooftop where he opened his heart to his Saviour, and then walked down the line of the concrete men of color, behind them, tapping them on the back, on the color picture of Jesus, haulin’ the cross, his head encircled by the crown of thorns.
Then he moved back in front of them and said solemnly, “Let us pray. Dear God in heaven and his only Son, Jesus Christ, who he sent to take away all of our sins, please smile upon us today in our concrete work, just as Jesus smiled at me from the rooftop of R.B. Scopes Supreme Broasted Chicken five years ago. Amen.”
Then the twelve disciples of concrete all went inside and got their free biscuit and coffee, which Miss Mae had waiting for them, and carried it out to the R.B. Scopes trucks, pulled down the tailgates, and ate.
As soon as R.B. went into the restaurant to do his morning paperwork, all the disciples broke out the wine bottles, some MD 20-20 but mostly Richards Wild Irish Rose, and passed them around.
“King Richard,” as they called it, was the favorite; in fact, they had all been up the street at Sandy’s Superette just last month when to much fanfare and anticipation “Miss Wild Irish Rose” pulled up in a chauffeured white limo. It was a much publicized promotional tour, hitting all the convenience stores in Southeast Raleigh, and the crowd of winos waiting for her when the limo arrived at one o’clock sharp on that Saturday afternoon filled the superette parking lot.
When the sleek white car arrived, a well dressed chauffeur in long coat and cap jumped out and opened the door for Miss Wild Irish Rose. She popped out of the back door of the limo, long chocolate legs unfolding, and stepped out onto the gravel lot.
She was a busty beauty with a small afro, long legs, and breasts the size of honeydew melons. They were cinched up tight, with lots of reveal, and short shorts completed the outfit. As she stood the chauffeur produced a silver tiara and placed it on her head.
Then he gazed at the breathless throng and proclaimed, “Gentlemen, I present Miss Wild Irish Rose.”
The crowd of drunks went nuts, and got even louder as the chauffeur unloaded two large baskets of “King Richard” which he and Miss Wild Irish Rose started passing out. It was pint bottles of the elixir, and the grabby crowd had to be reminded several times that it was “one per customer.”
The concrete disciples drank hurriedly, for they knew that R.B. only stayed in there for about thirty minutes; they downed every ounce, including the “corner,” that little bit of wine at the point of the bottom and the side of the bottle when you held it up at an angle.
“Hey, gimme that corner, don’t throw ‘way that corner,” they would shout. Then they would clean up the bottles and wait for R.B. Scopes to come out and send their saved, half drunk asses to work.
Willie Sigmon had pulled up in front of his garage there on Pigeon Creek across from R.B.’s. He sat in his car and sorted out the license plate stickers he had collected last night. He had managed to “obtain” eight year stickers; Willie had a portable hair dryer which, if you held it on the sticker for about a minute would loosen the glue enough for it to be peeled off. With all the used cars Willie had lined up along the creek bank he was always having one go out of date, so he would pull one of his little “sticker raids” when needed, being careful to check out the targeted area for dogs beforehand. Willie had also found that a heavy tea cozy wrapped around the battery powered hair dryer was a great muffler.
As Bo and Rick walked over from getting their food Willie called out in his English accent “Pip, pip, old boys, did you keep your sorry arses warm last night?”
They both grinned sheepishly, for although little spats erupted once in a while, the three genuinely liked each other and had spent a lot of time together down in “The Bottom,” as Willie Sigmon called their little paradise.
“Now ya gonna get paid up today, right old chaps, so get Hoffman to go by the bank when you’re done, right old chaps?”
They readily agreed and went over and sat down on the porch to wait for their ride.
Willie presently had a stable of six cars parked there, their windshields facing S. Saunders Street and proclaiming their prices in soap. “Cream Puff, $500.00” Willie had written on an old Dodge, one of the vehicles that was awaiting a long overdue sticker transplant. In addition to selling a car now and then Willie would do various repairs.
One of his most successful tasks was frame straightening – restoring a car’s frame to essentially the shape it was in prior to an accident. Regular repair shops were stocked with hydraulic jacks that could attack a stricken car in various ways, but Willie had devised a cheaper way to solve the problem. He had dug two holes four feet deep and three feet square in the shop; then he had attached a one-inch thick rod to a large tire rim and suspended it a third of the way from the bottom of the hole. The rod reached just above the ground level and was topped with a heavy duty hook.
Willie installed this set-up in both holes and then filled them up with concrete. Once this situation “cured out” Willie was able to attach heavy duty chains to the hooks and then using jacks to raise the frame of a car could get it back reasonably in line. It was not a perfect job but for the reduced rate Willie charged the customer wound up with a “driveable” vehicle.
Willie Sigmon had been spending a lot of time at the garage the last little while. The garage was his chief means of support, along with his wits, for over twenty-five years, but about seven years ago he had decided he wanted to have something steady, and through some friends who had contacts with some people in the Department of Transportation, was able to secure a job as a courier. This job involved picking up satchels of documents in one location and ferrying them to another. Willie loved the job, for he was a very social critter and met a lot of different people.
He worked at this position for five years, long enough to be vested in the state retirement system, and then came up with a different idea, a new approach to state employment. This came to him one Thursday afternoon after work when he had hurt his back pushing one of his cars out of the garage. It was quite painful, and the next day about eleven o’clock he called his supervisor and told him how just that morning he had “stepped off a curb wrong” holding a heavy satchel of documents in each hand and had hurt himself.
The supervisor, following protocol, told him to report to Dr. Mask at Rex Hospital, one of the state approved physicians. After he was examined and x-rayed Dr. Mask told Willie Sigmon that he could not really see anything wrong but that “back situations can be very deceptive and tricky” and that he was referring him to a state approved orthopedist.
Willie took the news hard, asking Dr. Mask if he would ever be able to pick up a heavy satchel again, his eyes brimming with tears, for back situations were not the only things that could be “deceptive and tricky.”
As Willie left, now being on paid sick leave, he knew the challenge before him, that he must put on his best performance ever for the orthopedic man. He also knew that he had strained his back before and that he was always fine after a few days; in fact, he was feeling purty good right now but knew that he needed to get into “character.”
So as he left Dr. Mask’s office he complained mightily of the pain and adopted a new style of walking in which he moved his shoulders about twenty degrees forward. Adding a very subtle shuffle in his departure, he felt like he had made an impression on the doctor.
The appointment with the specialist was not until Monday, so Willie spent the weekend drinking, smoking dope with Bo and Rick, and even sold the old Dodge on Saturday to a drunk Mexican.
But Sunday night he did go over to Miss Mary’s Liquor House and borrow one of her walking canes. He then practiced limping around and using the cane, deciding that he would be most afflicted on his right side.
On Monday morning Willie got one of his sons, Doug, to drive him to the doctor’s, figuring he would point out that he had not been able to drive a vehicle, the movement of the feet on the pedals bringing about excruciating pain.
Willie Sigmon and his son Doug arrived at Dr. Bingwalla’s office twenty minutes early, which allowed Willie plenty of time to complain in earshot of the receptionist, talking about his restless night and how he hoped he could get some relief from the horrific pains shooting down each leg.
When his name was called Doug assisted his father to the door, per plan, where the nurse took over.
“You’ll be okay Dad,” Doug said, per plan, tears welling up in his eyes. Doug made sure the nurse saw his face; like father, like son.
The nurse assisted Willie to the examining room, helping him as best she could as he hobbled along with Miss Mary’s cane. Willie Sigmon kept up a constant chatter of pain complaints as they walked down the hall and he was seated in the room.
Once alone Willie reviewed a little – shooting pains, down legs, back pain, excruciating back pain – “Will I lose my ability to work, or to even walk?”
Dr. Bingwalla listened patiently to Willie Sigmon’s complaints, ordered more x-rays, and wrote a prescription for Percocet. Willie held his weeping jags to two sessions, not wanting to be overly dramatic, and the good doctor scheduled him to come back the next week after the x-rays. Willie thanked him profusely and was helped out of the room to where Doug was waiting for him.
In view of the nurse Doug took one look at his father and burst into tears, blubbering, “Are you gonna be alright Daddy?”
With the nurse still standing beside him Willie bent over a little more and managed to croak, “Oh, don’t cry son, your daddy will be okay,” as he visibly winced.
Then Doug helped his dad out, the two of them being careful to stay “in character” until they were out in the parking lot.
“Good job, Dougie, you were ‘spot on’ my boy,” Willie chortled as they headed back to the garage.
Once they got back there Willie quickly sub-contracted the sale of the Percocet to Rick; Willie had no pain anyway, and it would help Rick, who, like most of the people residing in the bottom, was always needing money and always looking for a way to make a buck, legal or not.
“You keep 40%, okay Rick,” Willie had told him. Rick readily agreed, knowing that with his contacts he would have fifty bucks in his pocket and Willie would have the rest.
When Willie Sigmon went back the next week, and for two more successive weeks, he kept up the previous routine, just making his movements a little slower each time, and his winces more pronounced; additionally, he decided to soften his voice a little, so that he would sound weaker.
As Willie matriculated through the system, he was told over and over by government orthopedists and chiropractors that they were unable to pinpoint any particular injury, but quickly would add that they were not doubting the level of his discomfort. This went on for four months, and culminated in a visit to another doctor, this one a psychiatrist.
The night before this visit Willie spent considerable time rehearsing what he was going to say. Just like the other visits to the other doctors Willie had Doug accompany him, except this time Willie employed the assistance of a walker he had bought at the Good Will Store for ten bucks. He even installed new bright yellow tennis balls on the back legs.
When Doug got Willie into the doctor’s office and then departed to the waiting room Dr. Glasstein got up from behind his desk and walked to where Willie was sitting, extending his hand. Willie shook it feebly, looking up at him with just a hint of a tremble in his lower lip, a mannerism he had been working on for a week and was satisfied that he had perfected just last evening.
Dr. Glasstein returned to his seat after the weak handshake and put his attentive gaze upon Willie Sigmon. The doctor was a slight, wiry man with a heavy black beard, the thick type that had the five o’clock shadow at three-thirty, that was blue-black like the bluing on the barrel of a pistol – like Richard Nixon’s beard. He was shiny bald on top with a dark fringe around the edges.
“Now what may I do for you, Mr. Sigmon, how may I help you?” Dr. Glasstein asked Willie, smiling pleasantly as he did.
Getting into “the moment” quickly, Willie stared at the doctor, then cast his eyes toward the ceiling, holding them there for thirty seconds. He let them descend slowly to the level of Dr. Glasstein’s eyes and then burst into tears.
“Oh, Dr. Glasstein, I have no idea why they have sent me to see you,” he wailed, choking, weeping, pulling his handkerchief out to dab at his tears. For good measure he shuddered twice, convulsing his chest as if he were in sub-zero temperature. “Do they think I am crazy, just because they can’t figger out why I am in such horrible pain?” Willie screamed, purposely raising his voice, and then lapsing into silence and lying back in the chair, his brimming eyes again cast upward.
Dr. Glasstein looked at Willie Sigmon, no expression visible, but plenty going on in his head. For one thing, he knew Willie was faking after sixty seconds; he had seen plenty of them come and go in his twenty years with the State. The second thing was that this was his last week, he was going into private practice, and his “give a shit” level was less than zero. So although he was totally satisfied that the man was lying through his bad false teeth, and he was totally satisfied that his physical ailments were a total fake, he took the path of least resistance, and looked at Willie Sigmon and said quietly, “I am going to report that there is no indication that the patient is not in excruciating pain.”
Willie tried to control himself when he heard this, and recovered quickly enough to blurt out, “Well Dr. Glasstein, I have no idea why they have doubted me.”
“You may go now, and I will file my report promptly; good luck Mr. Sigmon,” said Dr. Glasstein, smiling benignly as Willie Sigmon managed to pull himself up to his walker and make his way out of the office.
Dr. David Glasstein watched Willie Sigmon shuffle out the door, breathing a sigh of relief that he had dodged one last bullet; if he had contended that Sigmon was goldbricking the amount of paperwork would have been staggering, and he had much bigger fish to fry.
But just for fun, Dr. Glasstein included a very terse entry near the end: “This report recommends minimal surveillance.” This phrase was code for there being a slight chance of chicanery going on, and was pretty much standard procedure in cases where there was no overwhelming evidence of physical disability – x-rays, MRIs and such.
Doug assisted Willie when he made it to the waiting room, consoling his smiling father as they went out the door and made their way to the car.. Once they were on their way Willie was beaming and telling Doug how he had hoodooed Dr. Glasstein and what a performance he had put on and how Doug had been so much help and how everything was coming up roses on East Street from now on.
And so it was, Willie Sigmon settled into a delightful routine of collecting his monthly disability check while continuing to work on and sell cars, even getting in an occasional frame straightening.
Nine months passed and then Willie received a registered letter from the state.
“Probly some back pay they missed,” he mused as he opened it. But it was not money; moreover, it was not anything pleasant at all. Willie’s hands shook as he read that he was to appear before the Disability Review Board the following week for a review of his case. All that was frightening enough, but the last line was the one that really got to him. There in boldface type it said, “You may desire to bring legal representation.”
Willie began blubbering and walking in circles on the bank of Pigeon Creek; it took three shots of vodka from Miss Mary’s Liquor House before he could settle down. The old black bootlegger tried to calm him, even fed him a plate of collards and pork chops, but he remained very upset, and pretty much stayed in a tizzy until the next Wednesday morning when he and Doug made their way to the hearing room on South Salisbury Street.
Willie was dressed shabbily for effect and of course had Doug assisting him, along with his walker. There were three members of the Review Board and after introductions the spokesman said, “Mr. Sigmon, we have some film we would like for you to see; please give us your thoughts on it.”
With that they dimmed the lights, inserted a tape into a player, which Willie Sigmon had not even noticed when they entered the room, and began showing a film. To Willie Sigmon’s utter amazement he watched for ten minutes a succession of videos, each with a date and time, and each displaying none other than the poor disabled Willie Sigmon hopping around the outside of the garage, jacking up cars, crawling under them, even one clip of him and Doug pushing a car into the garage.
When the lights came on the board spokesman, Mr. Alvin Moore, asked Willie if he had any comment.
Willie Sigmon just shook his head slowly and stared at the floor. At that point Mr. Alvin Moore laid out the re-payment plan that he would need to follow, pointing out that any late payment would culminate in “immediate legal proceedings.”
Willie accepted the proffered terms and carrying his walker departed.
After this most unpleasant encounter with authority Willie Sigmon knew he had to work harder, what with the repayment and all, but it wasn’t long before he recovered his old zeal for life; why within a week after the “review,” he was “pip pipping, tallyhoing and “spotting on” just like before.
Willie was standing out in front of the garage about five o’clock when Dick Hoffman’s pickup pulled down the rutted road delivering a worn out Rick and Bo. In addition they had Steve with them, another habitué of Pigeon Creek and occasional employee of Hoffman. They piled out of the truck with six packs of beer, and Steve immediately began gathering wood and old shingles, anything that would burn, for the fire barrel, which sat right on the creek bank.
Rick busied himself with handing over some cash to Willie. “Pip pip, Tallyho, you’re getting’ there, keep up the good work Rick,” Willie chortled as he shoved the bills into his pants pocket. Then he pulled a plastic baggie of marijuana out of his shirt pocket and twisted one up. Willie lit the joint and passed it around, everybody taking a good deep hit. When it got back to him it was a tiny roach, so he pulled his bag out and rolled another one.
“Pip pip another one, just like the other one,” he caroled, fully involved in his best English accent endeavor. This one did not quite make it around the barrel, for Donnie Hall had joined the group. Donnie was known for two things – his boyish good looks and his enormous appetite for any kind of drug. In fact his buddies down at Willie’s had begun calling him “Mikey,” referring to the little kid on the cereal commercial who would eat anything. “Give it to Mikey,” the older boys on the commercial said when they were dubious about something. Just like Mikey, Donnie Hall would try anything.
Donnie had red hair and freckles and a good nature about him; he was quite impish. One day last summer in the middle of the night he and Steve had visited a hog farm and firing two twenty bullets into his head had loaded up the 150 pound pig into Donnie’s van, thoughtfully slitting his throat before they loaded him to keep the mess in the van to a minimum.
The next morning a makeshift barbecue pit was hastily put together on the bank of Pigeon Creek and the party was on. Miss May over at R.B. Scopes gave them a big tub of coleslaw at a great price and Miss Mary cooked up a big pot of beans. That day every man of color making his way to Miss Mary’s liquor house got a big plate of food if they wanted it.
There was a joke about the distance to and from Miss Mary’s liquor house. They said it was two hundred yards going but three hundred yards coming back, because of the zig-zag walking pattern of the imbibers.
It was getting dusk and the crew became wary as an unknown car came down the drive; but as soon as they saw who got out everything was okay; it was Tattoo Tommy.
Tattoo Tommy showed up occasionally and he always brought his book of different tattoos for ideas and his bottle of India ink. Additionally he had his tattoo needle, which was powered by two D batteries taped together.
Tattoo Tommy had supplied tattoos to several of the guys, most notably a “Little Mikey” caricature on Donny Hall’s forearm and a Gothic MOM on Willie Sigmon’s shoulder. Tommy was also prepared to do whatever anybody wanted and his price was always reasonable.
This evening Steve had grabbed Tattoo Tommy’s book and was leafing through it excitedly. Willie had noticed that when people got tattoos it was typically spontaneous and even more typically directly related to their intake of pot and beer. Steve had the glint in his eye and having downed five beers and the better portion of one joint he was about ready to take the plunge. Finally he handed the book back to Tattoo Tommy and announced his decision; “It’s either going to be ‘shit stinks’ or ‘shit happens.’”
This choice was met with lots of laughter, especially when Steve explained that he did not have to make the final decision until the first word was done.
“Will give me a little while to think about it,” he reflected.
So TattooTommy cleaned his needle and unscrewed the top off his India ink bottle, pouring some into the cap.
Steve continued to smoke dope and drink beer as Tattoo Tommy wove his magic with the needle, dipping it into the ink frequently and then working on the first word. When Tattoo Tommy finished “shit” Steve announced that after much consideration he had decided that the second word would be “happens,” feeling that “stinks” was just too gross.
Things began to slow down after a while, the only other moment of excitement coming when Miss Mary pulled her .22 pistol on Mike Chavis and marched his ass up to his momma’s apartment. Seems Mike had forgotten his money, and neglected to mention this matter until after downing 5 shots of Popov vodka.
The fire barrel gang laughed raucously as Miss Mary walked behind Chavis, pushing the long barrel of the pistol into his back, her big black wig slightly askew on her head. They had seen this scenario for years, about once a month. Mike Chavis was not quite “right in the head,” and the old lady was always laughing as she pushed him up the road. Miss Mary appreciated humor and liked to entertain the boys and Willie Sigmon.
As the crowd dwindled, Willie shut off all the inside lights of the garage, just leaving the exterior spotlight on. Then he watched as Bo “plugged them in” at the side door.
Willie Sigmon headed home to get some rest; tomorrow was going to be a busy day. He had told the guys about his plan and they had all agreed to help.
By eight o’clock the next morning everyone had gathered, all of the guys who had been there the night before, including Steve who was occasionally dabbing “shit happens” with Neosporin, per direction of Tattoo Tommy.
Willie gathered them around and quickly went back over what he had signed them up for last night. Willie had almost delusional ideas of his little plot of land, and when he found out that the state would be buying it up to widen the road, he became obsessed with “improving” his shop. So with “increasing his value” he had stockpiled wood siding, nails, and paint for six months, getting most of the material from contractors he knew.
The guy Rick and Bo worked for, Dick Hoffman, had contributed a lot of stuff left over from jobs, and he also had shown up for the work day. Willie essentially just turned them loose on the job, for they had all the know-how and tools, and Willie kept up his end of the bargain by keeping them supplied with beer and pot and getting them a big lunch from R.B. Scopes Supreme Broasted Chicken.
Even a couple of R.B.’s concrete workers came over after their work day to help out, but mostly just drank beer and smoked Willie’s dope; Willie didn’t care for they were good guys and had helped him out when he had poured the concrete for his frame straightening operation.
By late afternoon the drinking, dope smoking crew of misfits had pretty much used up all of the material and were finishing up the painting, Donny Hall, aka Little Mikey, running the show. For all his wildness Donny was a good painter, and by dark the garage was looking the best anyone could recollect. Even Miss Mary was impressed so much that she gave everybody a free shot.
The whole bunch was pretty worn out from the day’s work and festivities, so no night -time partying on the bank of Pigeon Creek was in order.
The appraiser from the State Department of Transportation was slated to come out the next day, Monday morning at ten o’clock, thus the big push. They said their goodnights, smoked one more “doobie for the road,” and everybody headed home, Willie Sigmon with dollar bill signs floating in his mind.
The next morning Willie was there early to do some last minute straightening up, and promptly at ten o’clock saw the state D.O.T. car pull down the drive. Willie Sigmon was pretty fired up, what with all his ideas of how much he was going to sell out for, and even actually saluted the guy as he got out of the car.
Henry Hunt, state real estate appraiser in the Eminent Domain division was an amiable soul, and laughed out loud when he saw Willie Sigmon’s salute, and even returned it. They said hello, and after introductions Willie started showing Henry Hunt around the property.
First Willie pointed out the frame straightening hooks set in all that concrete, explaining in great detail the size of the excavations and the yards of concrete involved. Then he pointed out all the new siding and paint.
“And look at the landscaping,” Willie spouted, pointing out two puny bushes on the creek bank.
But D.O.T. Appraiser Hunt seemed to be more interested in the used cars, and asked lots of questions about how long he had been there, and how much repair work he had done on site, and how he disposed of the used oil after an oil change.
Willie did not pay a lot of mind to these inquiries, trying to focus Mr. Hunt’s attention on his valuable building. In fact, Willie was of such a single -minded interest, he did not even realize some of the things he said; for example, when Appraiser Hunt asked about the disposal of the used oil Willie had said, “Oh, we just let it run out on the ground.” And when Willie had described how they tossed the old oil filter into Pigeon Creek, Mr. Hunt had about all the information he needed.
Being very friendly, he told Willie Sigmon that he would receive a letter within 5 working days detailing his appraisal and any other extenuating factors.
“Oh, just any issues that may be involved with the property,” Henry Hunt said, smiling broadly. “We include such in all appraisals.”
This was enough to satisfy Willie Sigmon, and he sent Appraiser Hunt down the road with a “Pip pip, Tallyho,” and a salute.
Henry Hunt chuckled and saluted Willie from his car as he pulled away.
Willie Sigmon was in a high state of anticipation until the registered letter from the N.C. D.O.T. arrived. His hands were shaking as he opened the envelope, and as he read down the page his face dropped further and further, until he finally trudged over to one of the lawn chairs on the bank of Pigeon Creek and dropped into it.
In utter disbelief he read the letter again:
Dear Mr. Sigmon,
After taking into account the tax value of your property and analyzing the assessed values of other comparable properties within a three mile radius I have come to the following conclusions.
- There is no value attached to the structure on said property, it being in such poor condition.
- The appraised value of the .7 acre plot of land is $9,500.00.
- My observation and investigation of the soil on this property indicates a high presence of oil and gasoline, which the State of North Carolina will be cleaning up subsequent to the condemnation proceedings relative to the North Carolina law associated with eminent domain.
- My experienced estimate of the cost of this hazardous cleanup having been in this position for 28 years is a total of $8,500.00.
- Please find enclosed a check for the difference.
It was a pleasure chatting with you.
Henry Hunt, Chief Appraiser
Eminent Domain Division, Department of Transportation
State of North Carolina
It was late in the day, and as the usual crew drifted in and heard the sad news they all commiserated with Willie. Miss Mary the Bootlegger fixed up a bunch of collards with a pork shoulder, Bo and Rick and Steve pooled their money and bought two cases of Budweiser, and Miss Mae from R.B. Scopes brought over a big box of chicken livers and gizzards. Even her boss R. B. came over to extend condolences, for everybody in the bottom of Pigeon Creek was aware of Willie Sigmon’s dream.
So they partied the night away, eating and drinking; Willie Sigmon’s cheeks were not the only ones with tear stains. About ten o’clock, before anyone departed Willie called for order and addressed the group, telling all of them how much he thought of them, and how he would never forget them.
And as the fire barrel began to burn low, Willie Sigmon walked toward his car, turning as he got there, and smiled at the crew; holding a Budweiser high in his hand in the direction of the restored garage.
Willie said “Pip, pip, tallyho,” and the group responded in kind and Willie Sigmon slowly headed for home.