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Broken Branches Chapter 9

Posted by Jerry E Beuterbaugh Labels: ,

Chapter Nine
Although conditions at the Alabaster orphanage were wonderful in comparison to the way they were while Hank’s father was living there, it was still not a place that any child would want to live if there was a choice of staying with a good family.  On the other hand, it seemed to be much more of a shock to my system than Hank’s.

It is naturally arguable, of course, that Hank had no frame of reference to base an accurate comparison upon.  For he never met his father, and his mother had spent more and more of her time just staring out of the window in her room before her death.  His grandparents, Henry and Hannah, were there with an abundance of love to give until they died on the same day around six months after he was born, but just how much of a memory could he have had of them?

The children were adequately fed on a regular basis, but the orphanage was severely short-staffed, which did not allow for much time to be spent with the very young.  Heads were threatened to be rolled when surprise inspections by state regulators found toddlers wandering around the grounds unattended.

Adding some laudanum to the soups fed the children was proposed by a member of the orphanage staff, and the regulators were delighted to find all of the children under the age of five taking a nap in their beds on the next surprise inspection.  No, the regulators were not informed of the fact that those naps usually lasted for most of each and every day.

Yes, overall living conditions were certainly now better at the orphanage than they were when the Methodist minister and his wife were in charge, but becoming addicted to laudanum did make it very tough on some.  Hank was among them, and he spent two weeks in one of the isolation cells located in the basement of the main hall while going through the agonizing throes of withdrawal.

Hank came out of that cell sullen on his best days and violently angry on the rest.  To their credit, the administrators of the orphanage did not want to give up on him, but with so many other children to care for without enough staff to adequately do it, something had to be done.  So, back into an isolation cell he went, and there he stayed for the next ten years.

Hank was released from his cell and discharged from the orphanage when the state of Arkansas closed it in 1933.  The whole country was in the grip of the Great Depression by then, and there was no longer enough money to fund its operation.  Very young children were transferred to other institutions, and older children like Hank were put out to fend for themselves.

Amazingly, Hank had found some peace during his years in isolation.  However, the prospect of having to be around people again scared him.  So, he headed for the swamps of southern Louisiana in the hope of the snakes and gators keeping most people at bay.

He did not count on there being as many Cajuns and other types of people living in the bayou as there were, but he came to find most of them as being not bad neighbors.  For they were content to just acknowledge his presence from a distance when within sight of the boy.

It was a different story with Charlie, however.  For the old man wanted to know who had set up camp in his neck of the woods.  Now, he did not rush things, but after Hank observed Charlie observing him enough times, he came to the conclusion that the old man would not be content to leave him completely alone.

Hank wanted to make his acquaintance at a time of his choosing, but one of his wilder neighbors made arrangements for the meeting to be held much sooner than Hank was planning on.  Charlie shot the razorback that had made the arrangements, and he made a fine meal out of the feral hog for him and Hank to enjoy later that evening.  This was after convincing Hank that it was now safe for him to come down out of the tree he had climbed to the top of when he saw the length of the razorback’s tusks as it charged out of some thick brush at him before Charlie could get off a clean shot.

Hank was most appreciative of the rescue—especially after Charlie told him that more swamp people were killed by razorbacks than gators each year.  For gators tend to keep their distance from people while feral hogs have been known to actually hunt for people at times.

When Hank asked him why they were called razorbacks, Charlie explained that it was on account of the stiff ridge of longer hair that would grow down the spines of second and third-generation feral hogs.  Hank asked him what feral meant, and Charlie went on to explain that these hogs were of a domesticated breed that had turned wild after running off from a farm.  He further explained that feral hogs were not the same as wild boars and javelinas and that it was because of retaining some genetic memory of their domestication (even in litters born in the wild) that they had little natural fear of people.

Hank was really impressed with the way Charlie explained it, and he was even more impressed with him taking the time to do it after being given so little personal attention at the orphanage.  It started him to thinking that some people might be worth getting to know better, and seldom was there a day when he and Charlie did not spend at least several hours together for the next five years.

There were several nights when Hank would stay over at Charlie’s place.  These were usually when a very early start was needed to make for a successful hunt, and Hank really enjoyed his hospitality.  Although, he still wanted to maintain his independence, which Charlie understood and respected,

Aside from the best ways to enjoy living a good life in the bayou, Charlie was also well qualified to teach Hank about such things as readin’, (w)ritin’ and (a)rithmetic.  For Charlie had been a highly respected high school teacher in New Orleans before a dead stranger at a friendly card game forced him to seek refuge in the swamps.

The rest of the story is that Charlie enjoyed playing poker with his friends at a club down in the French Quarter on Friday nights.  For the stakes were never high, and it helped him cope with the loss of his beloved wife to the same swine flu pandemic that had claimed the lives of Hank’s extended family.  The stakes were raised considerably higher by a stranger one night, however.  Charlie and his friends did not want him at their table, but the owner of the club said he would consider it a personal favor if they would let him play.  The stranger appeared to have all of the luck in the world until Charlie saw him pulling an extra ace out of his vest.  Charlie grabbed the hand that held the extra card, and the stranger pulled a dagger out of his right boot with his other hand.  When the stranger went to stab Charlie in the side of his neck, Charlie made a move he learned while serving as a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders during the Spanish-American War.  The owner of the club told Charlie that he had better get out of town in a hurry.  For the dead stranger was the son of a powerful judge, who would surely see him hang, with the details of what really happened that night notwithstanding.

Hank also learned about history and culture under Charlie’s tutelage, along with all sorts of scientific subjects.  Hank proved to be an excellent student, who hungered for more and more knowledge, and when Charlie came to the end of what his memory held, he started searching for where access to school textbooks could be safely obtained.

Tales of people in the backwoods not being much for book-learnin’ are greatly exaggerated.  Well, at least they are when it came to many of the people living in the swamps of southern Lousiana back then.  For Charlie found both regular books and school textbooks on everything from French fine art to advanced physics.

Hank often accompanied him on the book hunts.  On one of them, Hank also found a sly smile upon the face of a very pretty young woman, who was looking at him from the front porch of an old plantation mansion that was built upon more solid ground around five miles from the edge of the nearest swamp.  Her name was Abigale, and she was the great-great-great-granddaughter of the man who had his slaves build the mansion in 1832, as well as the daughter of a man who fervently believed that the antebellum south would rise again.

His name was Richard Aloysius Tompkins, and Charlie considered him to be too dangerous to have much to do with.  For he was the pastor of a radical Primitive Baptist church, and rumors had him as the grand dragon of a Ku Klux Klan sect.  Since he had once asked Charlie what he thought of some Yankee educators claiming that black people are generally capable of learning as much as white people generally are, Charlie felt like the rumors may very well be true.

Charlie had successfully ducked the question, and that was the end of that.  Still, the mood of such a twisted man could change to be far less congenial without much warning, as far as Charlie was concerned.

Nonetheless, Charlie actually knew that Richard had an extensive collection of books, including many great literary works.  For he had borrowed his copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations before he heard of his possible night-time activities, and when he returned it, Richard had graciously invited him to come by for a visit anytime he liked—regardless of whether he wanted to borrow another book or not.

I was screaming at Charlie to take Hank and get out of there as quickly as possible.  For I could clearly see that Abigale wanted to teach Hank some things, herself.  I also suspected that her great-great-grandfather may have done some business with Hank’s great-grandfather’s owner, but Charlie could not hear me, of course.

I am not so sure that Charlie would have listened even if he could have heard me.  For he did not think that Richard would let his precious daughter get too close to someone like Hank, but even if the odds proved to be much slimmer, he believed that the benefit to Hank from reading many of the books in Richard’s collection greatly outweighed the risk.  Besides, he could not see Hank becoming the member of any group—certainly not one like the Klan.

So, Charlie walked up to the front porch and asked Abigale if her father was home.  She told him that he was and asked if he wanted her to go get him.  Charlie told her that he did, and she smiled broadly at Hank before she went into the house.

Hank felt something stirring deep within when Abigale smiled at him, but he had no idea what it could be.  For the biology lessons he had received from Charlie did not included anything on the birds and the bees.

Richard stuck his head out of the front door and invited Charlie to join him inside.  Charlie told Hank to wait on the porch, and Hank sat down where Abigale had been sitting while stemming a big bowl of freshly-picked strawberries.

Hank started removing the stems from the strawberries, and Abigale stormed out of the house to tersely inform him that he was doing it wrong.  He blushed from embarrassment, and she let out a loud giggle.  Yep, the poor boy was sure enough a goner unless her father put his foot down, and from the look in her eyes, I would lay odds that his stomp would do little to deter her intentions.

A few minutes later, Richard came out to see what had his angel so tickled, and since Hank did not show a bit of his Jewish, Persian, Arab, African and Mexican roots, he was invited to join him and Charlie in the library, as well as stay for supper.  Needless to say, Abigale beamed when Hank told him that he would like that if it was all right with Charlie.

Supper was served by three young black women promptly at seven, and it was a feast for both the eyes and the stomach.  For in the middle of a long table was a roasted suckling pig—complete with a shiny green apple stuck in its mouth and dark red cherries stuck in its eye sockets.  There were also platters heaping with everything from fried catfish to fried okra, along with a big bowl of poke salad, which was one of Hank’s favorite things to eat.

After consuming a massive amount of food, a big slice of fresh strawberry pie was placed in front of Hank.  When he protested that he already felt full enough to burst, Abigale looked very hurt and told him that she had made the pie while he, Charlie and her father was in the library.  Hank relented, and Abigale started beaming again.

It was the first of many portions of fresh strawberry pie that Hank ate as a guest in the Tompkins mansion.  His visits started out to be just once every week or so, but it did not take long before it was an everyday occurrence.  Charlie made it quite clear that he did not like it, but Hank was smitten by Abigale’s charms, as well as her potions.  For that was the secret ingredient in Abigale’s fresh strawberry pies.

Be assured that I am not trying to make light of what was a very serious situation.  For unbeknownst to her father, Abigale had been practicing witchcraft for quite some time, and she had become very good at such things as preparing potions to get people to do her bidding and keep her secret safe from her father.

No, Richard was not the grand dragon of a Ku Klux Klan sect, but he did serve as pastor to many Klansmen.  For he preached that champions of a pure white race were destined for glory as the elect of God while all others were destined for destruction.

Part of that glory was the resurrection of the antebellum south, which could only be accomplished with the help of God.  Since practicing witchcraft was considered evil in the eyes of the Lord, Richard would have been obligated to hand his daughter over to be burned at the stake if he ever found out what she had been doing or be killed himself.

Abigale was not worried about being burnt at the stake.  For she believed that she was powerful enough to protect herself from whoever would do her harm.

She had good reason to feel so confident.  For Abigale had once refused to bow down before a Voodoo queen in New Orleans, and the queen sent fifty of her minions to teach Abigale that she should be more humble when in the presence of someone greater than herself.  They caught up to Abigale while she was out in the middle of large field picking herbs a few days later, and as they slowly approached from all directions, Abigale lifted her arms up parallel to her shoulders and began to spin in a counterclockwise direction.  A vortex formed around her, and the queen’s minions ran away in sheer terror.

Nonetheless, her father truly believed in what he preached, and the look of bitter disappointment on his face was not something she wanted to see.  So, keeping her secret safe from him was a very high priority for Abigale.  Besides, it would make him easier to manipulate if he did not have a clue.

Abigale’s manipulation of her father eventually cleared the way for her marriage to Hank.  For Richard had made it quite clear that only a strong supporter of the cause could have her hand in marriage, and Hank could not care less about the resurrection of the antebellum south.  Neither did Abigale.  So, she made her father think that Hank was strongly on his side, and on May 1, 1940, Hank and Abigale became husband and wife.

Charlie declined his invitation to the wedding.  For their relationship did not feel quite right to him, but he was hopeful that he was just being a foolish old man.

Around eight months later, Charlie’s uneasy feeling proved to be correct.  For Abigale was very pregnant with triplets by then, and the Voodoo queen had been making careful plans to insure that she would have satisfaction.

When the queen heard that Abigale was on her way to New Orleans to be examined by a doctor to appease her father’s concerns over whether or not his future grandchildren really were in good health, she summoned no less than eight dark spirits to cover all of the cardinal compass points when they intercepted Abigale before she entered the city.  The dark spirits were commanded to hold Abigale until she arrived and cut the babies out of the witch’s womb.  As a reward, the dark spirits would be given Abigale and the babies to do with as they liked.

Be assured that I have had my doubts about someone being able to actually summon a dark spirit—let alone convince them to do their bidding, but the Voodoo queen’s plan went off without a hitch.  Abigale’s car simply stopped running in a secluded area outside of New Orleans, and Abigale became unable to move a muscle as she lay across the backseat.  The queen arrived, and after making sure of Abigale fully understanding why this was happening to her, she took a large knife and cut open Abigale’s belly.  Three of the dark spirits pulled the babies out and took them into a fogbank that had formed around the car.  Abigale stopped breathing and her eyes glazed over.

By the way, Hank was driving the car.  He was also frozen in place, but that was all that happened to him.  That is, at least until it was too late for him to save Abigale and their babies.  For watching what happened to his family drove him mad in every sense of the word.

Watching the wheels turning in his head was scarier than seeing what the Voodoo queen did.  For as far as Hank was concerned, an evil black woman had killed his darling wife and babies, and for this, they would pay, with they being the entire black race and anyone in support of them.

No, Hank did not immediately become a devotee to the cause.  For he still could not care less about the resurrection of the antebellum south, and he did not want anyone getting in the way of the plans he was making.

Hank’s first attacks were upon black people living in the bayou.  When a group of Cajuns organized to go after him, he killed all of them, as well.  Charlie was a part of that group, but Hank was well past the point of caring about such things as honor and loyalties.

His next targets were small, mostly-black hamlets outside of the swamps.  If it was not for the wrongness of his crusade, Hank’s actions would be something to be very impressed with.  For he would strike in the middle of the night and be safely back in the swamps before daylight while sometimes leaving dozens dead in his wake.

Although Hank always had an old machete with him, he preferred using something on the scene to kill.  He once bashed in the heads of an entire family of six with a cast iron skillet from their own kitchen.

Hank’s rampage went on for two years.  Since he was mostly killing just poor black people, the authorities were loathed to use too many resources to stop him, but when he started killing more and more white people around Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette, the governor ordered a company of Lousiana National Guardsmen to bring him in dead or alive.

Hank helped to prove that at least that company of the Lousiana National Guard was not ready to engage the Japanese in jungle warfare.  For he took out forty of them before one of their bullets took off the top of his head on December 14, 1942.  This was on his surviving son’s second birthday.

Yes, one of Hank and Abigale’s triplets actually survived after the dark spirits dropped them in a swamp just south of Hammond, Lousiana.  His brother and sister were ate by gators before a kindly old black man found him in a patch of swamp grass growing out of the water.

The kindly old black man immediately took him to a friendly white preacher out of fear of what might happen to him if caught by the authorities with a white baby and without a good explanation of how that came to be.  The friendly white preacher took the baby to a local doctor’s office, and the doctor took him to a state-run orphanage in Baton Rouge.

A feeble attempt at an investigation to determine the identity of the baby was launched, but as to be expected, the investigation turned up nothing.  Workers at the orphanage gave him the name of Billy Bayou, but his official name was John Doe 3874.  I would rather go with Billy, if you do not mind.

Yes, Billy was alive, but it was certainly not much of a life.  For he was in a catatonic state.

A blind was kept over Billy’s eyes because of him just staring blankly out into space twenty-four hours of each and every day really gave the workers at the orphanage the creeps.  He would swallow when something liquid (or at least not requiring chewing) was placed in his mouth, and his leg would jerk when poked with a pin.  Other than that, Billy was just there, lying in a bed without any indications of him being aware of anything.

When Billy was around twelve years old, he was moved to a sanatorium outside of New Orleans, and this is where life became quite interesting (in a sick sort of way) around him a couple of years or so later.  Not that he appeared to notice, but it did cause quite a stir for quite a few when the news broke.

Cutting to the chase, some of the staff at the sanatorium supplemented their incomes by making and selling pornographic films, and an extremely attractive and quite insane female resident by the name of Suzanne was the star of many of these films.  The more perverted staff members used to joke that she was a natural.  For part of her diagnosis was acute nymphomania.

When it was noticed that Billy became aroused while being bathed at times, it was suggested that it could be a blockbuster to have Suzanne dressed like a nurse and taking his bathing all the way (so to speak).  The film did indeed sell very well, but it also served as the key piece of evidence in the prosecution of the sanatorium film buffs.  It also helped to establish who was the father of Suzanne’s baby.

Oh yeah, the stuff really hit the proverbial fan when Suzanne came up pregnant.  Several attempts were made to cause her to abort the baby before more responsible members of the sanatorium staff discovered that she was with child, but the kid hung in there (quite literally).

After Suzanne gave birth in a hospital in Baton Rouge, the state of Lousiana took custody of her son and put him up for adoption.  An inquiry from a couple in Missouri caught the attention of the state officials in charge of adoption placements.  For they felt like it would be better for everyone if the child was moved out of southern Lousiana.

There was something strangely familiar to me about the couple when they arrived at the hospital to take home their newly adopted son, but the reason why alluded my grasp.  They looked like they were both in their late twenties, and my ears really perked up when I heard the woman explain that they had been unable to have children of their own due to her husband being severely wounded while serving as a Navy corpsman during the Korean War.

Alas, but it was not until the birth certificate was filled out that I caught on.  For there in black and white was the name of Daniel Alan Newman, born at 3:17 a.m. on November 24, 1957.  For that is the same name and date on my birth certificate—right down to the exact time of my birth!

Whoa, talk about being slow.  I mean, come on, I even knew that I had been born in Baton Rouge while my (now known as adoptive) parents where down in Lousiana on some business.

Giving them the full benefit of my considerable doubts, I suppose it was not a lie to tell me that they were down there on business.  For picking up an adopted son could be considered a business decision.  Of course, I am not a business analyst, and I am rather slow.


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2 comments:

  1. Shadow

    Whaaaaaaat?!?!?!

  1. Jerry E Beuterbaugh

    Thanks for stopping by, my dear Shadow!!! Yep, there it is. (LOL?)