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Dancing to Ray Charles: Ch 08, Boudreaux Family Values

"This chapter contains racist dialogue, including the 'N' word, some may prefer avoiding."
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“Hey, good lookin’, what ya got cookin’ tonight?” At the sound of Darrell Ray’s cocky, teasing voice, Bebe gave him an unhurried glance. Then she took her time putting away an unread folder, turning off the fluorescent desk light and covering the typewriter. When everything was in order, she leaned back and met his gaze.

It was way past the lumberyard’s two o’clock Saturday closing time. He was always the last hourly employee to pick up his paycheck and the one person who did so in the office.

Darrell Ray didn’t have the title of foreman. That still belonged to old Stuffy Gossdin, a long-time employee of Pierce Lumber who her father had kept on after buying the business. But the old man would be retiring soon, and Darrell Ray never missed a chance to act as foreman-in-waiting. That’s why he’d taken on the task of checking to make sure everything was in order before locking-up the yard. This meant he was the last employee to leave and, on Saturday’s, the last one to get paid.

Bebe knew there was more to this than just his wanting the foreman’s job. It was even more than hoping her father might have left early and they’d be alone in the office. Over the past few weeks, she’d come to realize that Darrell Ray was in awe of her father. She was too, of course. But that was different.

There was no doubt Darrell Ray wanted her. But she knew he also wanted the attention and praise of her father. Maybe it had something to do with his own father having run off when he was a kid. Bebe didn’t know. But being the last one to get paid meant he sometimes got to spend a few minutes alone in the office with, “Mr. Jack.”

Today’s extra-long session had been exasperating. With her car in the shop, she’d come to work with her father. That meant she couldn’t leave until he did. But then Darrell Ray came out, strolled over to her desk, and asked if she had anything planned for that evening.

With those words, Bebe’s mood turned cheerful. Ever since she started going out with Mark Cahill, she’d been waiting for this moment. Now it had arrived gift-wrapped with Darrell Ray’s question. Tilting her head to one side, she gave him a smile.

Damn, if he didn’t look good. Those tight jeans were riding lower than usual, and his sleeveless shirt made it hard to miss the well-defined muscles in his shoulders and arms. For just a moment, Bebe almost wished her father had left early. That’d happened once last summer and led to a lot of fun. But even if he weren't here, fooling around would have to wait. Right now she had to get something settled with Mr. Darrell Ray Sims. “Why are you asking? Did you have something in mind?”

The startled look that flashed across Darrell Ray’s face was brief, understandable, and very satisfying. After all, it was the first time she’d responded this way to one of his veiled invitations.

“Well, I was, you know, wondering. Sam says he ain’t seen you at the Rooster in a while. And well, the Country Boys are playing there tonight. Anyway, I was just wondering if you’d thought about going.”

“Are you asking me for a date?” Bebe’s question was much more than a simple request for information. The two of them had been running around together for years. But they’d never been on an official date. Except for one prom, he’d never even asked her out. And he never stopped by for her up except with a crowd heading for some honky-tonk or party.

That had all been before she and Mark started dating. Since then, Bebe had sensed a growing jealousy in addition to his long-standing contempt for Mark. But she didn’t care about the motivation. The important thing was he seemed ready to give in and break with tradition.

It was an awkward pause, but Bebe didn’t mind the wait. After all this time, Darrell Ray had come out the loser in their battle of wills. Now he was standing and looking uncomfortable in front of her desk, preparing to surrender by asking her for a date. It was hard to suppress a gloating smile.

She didn’t even have to worry about an answer. It would be a polite but firm, no. There was no way she was going to let him think he could wait until the last minute to ask her out. Besides, she already had a date, with Mark. So she waited and watched him, savoring her victory.

“Oh hell, I guess I am.” He gave her one of his charming, little-boy grins. “So what about it?”

“It sounds like fun. And maybe if you’d asked me earlier in the week like this other guy did--.” She paused to let him consider the other guy. “But, Darrell Ray, it’s Saturday afternoon. Believe it or not, I already have plans.”

Unaccustomed to having his charm rejected, Darrell Ray’s response was instantaneous and intense. “With Cahill?”

“That’s right. With him.”

“What the hell do you see in that--? I mean, I can’t believe you’d be caught dead with that nigger loving, ass-hole.”

“Mark’s, uh, a very nice guy.” The crack about Mark being a nigger-lover had hit a nerve. But Bebe managed to keep her voice soft and reasonable. “What’s more, he acts like being with me is something special. Not just a last-second after-thought.”

“So I guess until the candy-assed, rich kid goes back to college,” sneered Darrell Ray, his words tumbling out in a mixture of hurt and loathing, “you’ll be with him and his country club crowd all the time.”

“Not really. I mean we’re not going steady or anything like that. Our dating is just a week-by-week deal, so far.” The way Darrell Ray’s face twitched told Bebe he’d picked up on the implications of, “so far.”

Just then her father came out of his office. “What are you two carrying on about?” he asked while pulling the door shut.

Jack Boudreaux was a short, energetic man. He had dark, thinning hair, intense eyes, and skin a shade darker than Bebe’s. A small, livid scar on his left cheek gave his face a certain swagger. He’d gotten that scar, he often said, along with the Japanese sword hanging on the wall in his office, from a Jap he’d killed with his bayonet.

“I was just telling Darrell Ray here, how it’s a good idea to plan ahead and not wait ‘till the last minute,” she said while reaching for her purse.

After standing, she sat it back down and began to straighten her blouse, tucking it in tight. As intended, the gesture emphasized her breasts and small waist. All this time, she continued looking at her father while directing her comments toward Darrell Ray. “For instance, it might be important to know that you and I are going to be out of town tomorrow. Or maybe that someone else, someone like, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, Mark Cahill, is going to be in Baton Rouge next weekend.”

Jack Boudreaux let his usual business voice slide into the exaggerated, Cajun drawl he used when tired, mad, or teasing people. “I gor-on-damn-tee you I ain’t got no idea what da hell you’re talking about, girl.” The sly, knowing look on his face contradicted his words. “What’s more, I’m damned glad I don’t.”

By then he was holding the back door open, waiting for them to leave first. “You sure you locked up all the other doors?” he asked Darrell Ray when they were all outside.

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s fine,” he said, back in his business-like voice. He glanced down at his daughter, then up at the tall, muscular boy who seemed a little uncomfortable. “Call me later if you change your mind about that business we were discussing. I still think you’re the best man for the job.”

Darrell Ray seemed to force a grin and promised to think it over. After saying good-evening, he headed over toward his yellow pick-up in the employee’s parking area.

“Daddy, what was all that mumbo-jumbo about?”

“Tell me the truth girl, you been giving that boy a hard time?”

“No more than he deserves.”

“You didn’t maybe slip-up and tell him about where we’re going tomorrow, did you?”

“Of course not.” Bebe’s voice betrayed just a touch of anger and injured pride. “I know better than that. I’ve told him, and everybody else, that we’re going to a one-day family get-together. He hasn’t heard anything from me about the boys having a big meeting down in Denham Springs.”

They walked over and got into his white Chevrolet pickup. Both doors carried the words, Pinefield Lumber & Building Supply. “I didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers,” said her father, cranking the ignition. “It’s just that I asked him about doing a job for me tonight, and he seemed a little shy.”

“And that job is?”

Her father backed out of the reserved parking spot next to the back door. “Oh, the boys kinda decided it’d be a good idea to remind that nigger lovin’ lawyer, Frank Williams, that real white men still run things around here.”

“What’s he done now?” Bebe had known and supported her father in his Klan activities for years. When he’d joined the local group, it had been little more than a big, ineffective, redneck social club. In her opinion, now that he was in charge it had a sense of mission and a little discipline. True, the membership was a little smaller. But the ones left were dedicated. Whenever needed, money could be raised, manpower found, and votes delivered.

With so many FBI informants around, he insisted it be referred to as, “the boys,” never by its more familiar title, Ku Klux Klan. “Oh hell, he’s using all kinda legal crap to keep dat nigger, the one Tobias arrested up in Rollins for being a Peeping Tom, from being convicted and sent to Angola.”

“Is that the same guy you told me worked for Ike Carter’s oldest son, the bootlegger?”

“That’s him. We figured nailing his sorry hide would help Tobias get re-elected sheriff and might hurt Ike Carter and that voter’s registration crap he’s pushing. The problem is Williams keeps stringing things out.” Turning left, he cruised past the courthouse. He smiled and waved at a group of old men sitting on a bench in the shade of an oak tree.

Having no interest in men that old, Bebe paid them no attention. “So you and ‘the boys’ decided to leave a little present in front of Williams’ house. But you think it’d be safer if a non-member, like Darrell Ray, did it.”

Jack Boudreaux, who viewed everyone as a potential customer, waved at a couple in a passing truck before nodding. “You got it. He’s always talkin’ a good fight. So I figured he’d jump at the chance to show his stuff. But when I brought it up, well, as I said, he acted kinda shy. Still, something tells me that after whatever you just did to him, he’ll do almost anything to make a good impression—most of all on you.”

They stopped at one of the few traffic lights in town. “Daddy, let me ask you something. What do you really think, you know, as a man, about Darrell Ray and, well, Mark?”

“All right, you asked, so I’m gonna tell you. I like Sims a lot more, of course. He’s a good worker and seems to understand what the niggers and communists are trying to do to this country. That’s why I was a little surprised when he put me off this afternoon.”

The light turned green and Jack Boudreaux, whose driving habits bore a close resemblance to those of his daughter, gunned the engine and accelerated through the intersection. “As for Cahill, well, I can put up with him. But I’m not sure he’s the type you could count on in a foxhole if you know what I mean. Still, for a country club, college kid, I guess he’s okay. And I suppose you’ve heard talk about him maybe running for state representative next time around?”

Bebe hadn’t but nodded. “Just some talk.”

“Well, some of the boys figure we might be able to work with him. I don’t know about that, and your dating him don’t have nothing to do with things, not really.” He gave her a quick grin. “I’m gonna be keeping an eye on him, on how he acts, try to find out how he thinks deep inside. You might do the same. The thing is, your stepmama's family just about runs the union at the Rollins mill. So if we say he’s okay, the boy’ll just about be a shoe-in.”

He turned into the parking lot of Mack McCallum’s Chevrolet dealership, pulled around to the service entrance and stopped. Before Bebe could get out, he reached over and touched her arm. “Now speaking as a daddy, neither one of those redneck peckerwoods is good enough for my petite minou.” Bebe smiled at the old, familiar nickname.

“No child, I’m serious. Darrell Ray’s a good kid but I think he’s a little ashamed of his family and that’s just no good. But I figure it’s why he’s always putting on like he’s got everything all figured out when even he knows he don’t.

“Now I don’t know Cahill near as well, but he seems to be just the opposite. I mean he don’t have to go around acting cocky and tough and all because he knows he belongs. But, maybe ‘cause of that, he don’t seem anxious to stand up for himself or have a whole lot of push or hustle.”

Bebe opened her door, then leaned back over and gave her father a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Daddy. I just wish one of them was more like you.”

A pleased grin swept over Jack Boudreaux’s face. “I’m afraid you’ll have to do what your sweet mama did. Pick yourself out some no-account boy and start breaking him in.”

 

# # #

 

 

Later that afternoon the, “one of dem,” named Mark Cahill pulled up in front of the Boudreaux’s ranch-style house. After checking his hair in the rearview mirror, he got out of his car, a white, 1959 Ford Galaxie.

Against all his expectations, that first date with Bebe had been followed a string of similar weekend outings. This, in turn, led to some, “I told you so,” remarks from his friend. But he kept telling them this was just a summer thing.

By now, he’d come to Bebe’s several times. But he still didn’t feel comfortable enough to use the de facto main door on the garage side of the house. Instead, he headed up the narrow concrete walkway which almost disappeared between dense growths of hydrangeas flanking the seldom-used front door.

Bebe was not ready, said her stepmother, after she let him into the house. In her quiet, steel-edged, country voice, Martha Jones Boudreaux asked about his family. Once the formalities were complete, she suggested he wait in the living room and watch TV.

A phone began to ring as she left. From his perch on the edge of a rust-colored couch, Mark could see her move down the polished wooden floor of a narrow, windowless hall. He looked away before she reached the phone nook. But he could hear her answer and say something in a low voice before walking into a nearby room.

In the silence that followed, Mark studied the big, floor-model TV squatting on the other side of the living room. It was an impressive piece of furniture. But the sound was off, and the image on the screen was rolling. That should be easy to fix, but he hesitated. The Boudreaux’s might be the type who felt protective toward their television. On the other hand, he didn’t want them to catch him staring at a rolling picture with no sound and think he was some kind of idiot.

After more indecision, he got up and hurried across the room. From his kneeling position in front of the big color Philco, he could no longer see down the hall. But moments later, he had no trouble hearing footsteps on the hardwood floor, followed by someone picking up the phone. Then he heard Jack Boudreaux’s voice. “What can I do you for, Darrell Ray?”

Boudreaux had been out or busy the other times Mark came by to pick up Bebe. Tonight, his luck had run out. But the bleak prospect of facing her father seemed trivial once he heard Darrell Ray’s name. Any scruples about eavesdropping were forgotten. Leaving the sound off, he started fiddling with various controls while listening to the conversation.

Jack Boudreaux was talking about niggers and a meeting at work. Mark had been afraid they were going to talk about Bebe or him. He didn’t care what they said about work. But he decided to leave the volume off, just in case, and began trying in earnest to stop the rolling image on the screen.

Down the hall, Boudreaux was saying, “I’m glad you decided to handle tonight’s job. Remember, Buddy will have everything you need at his place. Make sure to wait until about dark to pick the stuff up. And be sure the job’s finished before ten.”

None of that made any sense to Mark. But he was still struggling to get the damn picture to stop its endless roll and just half-listening. The next time Boudreaux started talking, there seemed to be a touch of exasperation in his voice. “Look, I already done told you all that at the office. Nobody’s ever there on Saturday nights. Ever. They never, ever come home before eleven. Odell’s boys have been checking the place out for weeks. All you gotta worry about is bringing a lighter. Okay?”

After another short pause, Jack spoke in a kinder tone. “You’re going to do fine. You know about how I’m leaving town early tomorrow morning, so don’t call me tonight. Tell you what, come in a few minutes early on Monday and give me a report.”

It occurred to Mark that if Boudreaux headed for the living room after hanging up, he’d be caught either messing with the TV or eavesdropping. The former would be embarrassing. But the later could be fatal to any future dates with Bebe. So he began turning up the volume while working on the controls.

Moments later, he heard Boudreaux say, “Hello,” in a normal voice from across the room. It seemed like a good idea to ignore the greeting and act both deaf and dumb. With a beer jingle blasting into his ears, “Hello, mellow Jax, little darlin’,” it was an easy act.

Just as the jingle ended, Boudreaux once again said hello. But this time it was in a loud, booming voice that originated a few inches behind Mark’s head.

He’d been expecting something like that. But the abrupt shout still made Mark jump. He turned around and looked up into the smirking face of Jack Boudreaux. “If I’d been a Jap, you’d be graveyard dead, boy.”

“Good thing you guys won the war,” said Mark, as he got to his feet. “Hope I didn’t make things even worse. But I couldn’t make the picture stop rolling.”

“It always does that this time of day, but just on that station,” said Boudreaux. He reached down and changed channels. “It’s just a damn good thing it’s not the one that carries the Porter Wagoner Show. I suppose you’ve seen that new singer of his, the one who took the place of ‘Pretty Miss’ Norma Jean?”

Mark nodded. Everyone seemed to have heard and seen the new singer. Dolly Parton possessed a massive amount of teased, blonde hair and a voice that was every bit as impressive as her gravity-defying bosom.

A short series of Dolly Parton jokes followed. “Why are her feet so small? Can’t nothin’ grow in that much shade.” This kept conversation going until Mark managed to reclaim his spot on the edge of the couch. Boudreaux took possession of the large recliner that seemed to be his domestic throne.

The safest thing for two men unsure of each other’s attitudes and opinions to talk about is sports. Boudreaux began, “You’re going to LSU, right?” Mark nodded. “So how the Tigers gonna do this year?”

They spent the next few minutes talking about LSU football, “that Bradshaw kid,” up at Louisiana Tech and how the Saints might do in their second season. Then just as Mark was beginning to relax, Boudreaux changed the subject. “How were things in Baton Rouge after old, Martin ‘Lucifer’ Coon got killed?”

Mark knew Boudreaux was referring to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. He also knew he was on thin ice. “It was a little tense for a while. There were some marches and protests, and everybody was on edge. The students at Southern University are a lot more militant than the ones up at Grambling. No one was sure what might happen. But Baton Rouge hadn’t been a real hot spot, at least not in comparison to some of the towns over towards Mississippi.”

Mark wasn’t sure what, but something he said must have flipped a switch inside Boudreaux. “They can yell and scream all they want, we still control things down here, and we’re gonna make sure we stay in control. What worries me is out there in California, in faggot land, and up north, in places like Jew York City. Hell, all those jigaboos up there do is scream about their rights, collect welfare checks, and chase after white women.”

“Well, maybe so. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never been to any of those places myself.”

“There’s no damn ‘maybe’ about it.” Boudreaux almost shouted. “Niggers carry the curse of Cain. It’s in your Bible, look it up. They’re a sub-human, jungle race being used by the ACL-Jew and all those other commies and queers to take dis country away from the white, Christian race. And by God, they'll do it too if we don’t stick together.”

Mark considered trying to ease the intensity by making a joke about how white folks aren’t all that white. But he shelved the idea. It was time to fish or cut bait. If he had to risk pissing Boudreaux off, he didn’t want the issue to be some imagined insult regarding the color of the Cajun’s tanned skin.

“Mr. Boudreaux, I’ve got a lot of respect for you, for what you did in the war and all that. And I know I’m just a kid and you’ve seen and done a lot more than I have. But Mr. Boudreaux, one of my best friends is Willie Carter, and he’s black. And I’m sorry if this disappoints you or makes you mad at me, but he and I have been friends forever. The thing is Mr. Boudreaux, Willie might be black, but he’s not a nigger, and he’s not sub-human.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. When Boudreaux spoke, his voice was a little softer. “I’m not saying there’s not some decent colored people. Hell, there’s always an exception to every rule. If you’ve known this boy all your life, then maybe he’s one. Maybe he’s got a little white blood that’s brought out the good in him. It happens. But what about that troublemaking daddy of his, the one who keeps going around stirring up the niggers? And what about his brother, the bootlegger? Hell, I guess it’s a family deal. One juices ‘em up on Saturday night, and the other stirs ‘em up Sunday morning.”

While Boudreaux laughed at his own joke, Mark tried to force a smile. It wasn’t easy. He ached to shout, “For the love of God, would you shut up! I’m so tired of acting polite while idiots like you rant and rave all this brain-dead racist shit. All you sad-ass losers have managed to do is discredit the South and the flag my ancestors fought and died under. Why the hell won’t you just go away!”

But he couldn’t say that to an adult, not to someone from Pinefield, and most of all, not to Bebe’s father while sitting in his living room waiting to take her on a date. Sometimes, he felt certain the losers would never go away. They were like the poor. They’d always be around. Now as he looked over at Boudreaux, all Mark could think to do was make a non-committal shrug.

To his surprise, the shrug seemed to make Boudreaux even madder. “So tell me, son, what are we supposed to do? I’m saying we can’t just let the Commies and coons come in and take over. We gotta fight for our rights, for our way of life.”

Mark looked at the floor, ignoring the challenge in the older man’s eyes, and considered his response. “I’m a southerner, Mr. Boudreaux. Dad’s grandfather fought the U.S. government from Shiloh, where he lost a brother, to Stone Mountain and beyond. The thing is, he and a bunch of my mother’s relatives and all the rest of those men fought long and hard. But we still lost. And now, I’ve got it on good authority; those same Feds have the A-bomb.”

Much to his relief, Boudreaux’s face broke into a small, pleased grin. “Does make it seem like a stacked deck, I guess. But just you remember, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog.”

Before Mark could frame a reply to that old football cliché, Bebe swirled into the room wearing a short, white, summer dress that accented her long, dark hair and olive complexion. Even before she pirouetted and asked how she looked, all other topics of conversation had ceased to exist. After receiving the accolades of her male admirers, she gave her father a quick good-bye kiss and hurried out with Mark.

 

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