The Reporter: Meet the Characters of Magnolia Bluff
July 23, 2022
He’s never written a newspaper story in his life. He simply cleans the press. Why does the editor want him to cover a murder?
Graham Huston is a drifter.
He’s a stranger in town.
No one knows why he came.
Works odd jobs.
Sweeps the floor and cleans the press at the Magnolia Bluff Chronicle.
There’s a two-bit murder in a two-bit motel.
In Eulogy in Black and White, Book 2 of the Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles, the newspaper’s aging publisher doesn’t want to go track down the story.
It’s a miserable night.
He sends Huston.
“I’m not a reporter,” the drifter says.
“You are now,” the publisher says.
“What do I do.”
“Just get the facts.”
“We’ll worry about it in the morning.”
It’s not a pretty scene.
An old man who’s probably not as old as he looks sits on the foot of the bed, making curious noises as if he’s been crying for a while. He sounds like he doesn’t have any tears left. His naked shoulders are wrapped with a frayed, flannel bedspread. His hands are cuffed to a bedpost. He’s wearing a pair of twill trousers Goodwill threw away, and his feet are knotted inside a pair of cheap white running sneakers. I bet he doesn’t even remember the last time he shaved. His hair is all curls and axle grease.
Behind him, a woman lies sprawled on the bed. Her blood has left the wall looking like an abstract painting created by Jackson Pollock on one of his worst days. The day has certainly not been a good one for her. I have no idea if she was pretty or not. Blood has smeared where the lipstick had been. Red is red, and sometimes red is shotgun ugly. A 12-gauge lies across a dresser beside Buck. Don’t know how many times it was fired. Don’t know how many shells it holds. But the shotgun sure did some damage at close range to a hundred-pound woman wearing a strapless dancing dress.
She’s is barefoot. Her shoes are nowhere in sight.
Sheriff Blanton Buck rolls the Tootsie Roll Pop from one side of his mouth to the other. He smells like cherry cough syrup and chocolate. He asks me, “You working as a reporter now?”
“Just gathering the facts.”
“There’s not a lot of them.”
“I’ll collect what I can.”
The room smells like drug store cologne, the kind of perfume you give a lady if you never expect to see her again, rye whiskey, vomit, and shag carpet soaked with rainwater and blood.
“What happened?” I ask Buck.
“Don’t know,” he says. “I wasn’t here when the shooting started.”
His face has no expression.
I know he’s laughing at me.
Buck nods toward the man perched on the edge of a dirty mattress. “Ask him.” He shrugs. “Near as I can tell, the little man saw the whole damn thing.”
I’m at a loss. No one has ever told me what to say to a man who has just killed a woman in a cheap motel.
I look at him.
He’s not much to look at.
He stares at the wall.
I stare at the dead woman.
It is already nearing midnight, and time is ticking away.
Buck grins. He likes to see me squirm. He already knows what it doesn’t take me long to figure out. Newspapermen are only playing games in a real world where men actually do put a shotgun to a woman’s chest and pull the trigger.
Crime of passion.
Crime of pity.
Crime of jealousy.
A crime, nevertheless.
The man looks as if he is ready to start crying again.
Too late to bargain with God.
Too late to repent.
I look for a place to sit down. There isn’t any.
I simply say, as politely and respectfully as I can under the circumstances, “Sir, what did the lady do to make you mad?”
He looks from me to the shotgun and back at me again.
I glance at Buck. “Don’t worry,” he says. “It’s unloaded.” His grin is wider this time.
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