The Cottoncrest Curse
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
Many people have given me guidance and encouragement. Marc Staen berg’s continuing enthusiasm and assistance have been invaluable, Michael Adams read early drafts of the manuscript and gave many helpful comments, and the late Les Phillabaum’s confidence in...
Nobody blanched as she described the gruesome event. They were captivated. “It happened right up here,” said the docent, a thick-waisted woman in an antebellum costume complete with lace collar, crinoline skirt, and double petticoats. The tour group, which had been wilting while...
Part I: Chapter 1
The sun cut through the scraggly pine tree, its green needles pointing aimlessly in every direction. Not much shade here around the small cabins on the edge of the Cottoncrest plantation. Perhaps a thick cloud would pass by. No matter. Concentrate on business. Jake turned the wheel of his grinding stone, pumping the levers at...
“Even though your great-great-grandfather’s death certificate read ‘Jake Gold,’ that’s not the name he was born with. “Yaakov Gurevich. Now, that was a name. Jake remade his name, just as he remade himself. Yaakov Gurevich. Jacob Goldenes. Jacques...
“It’s the curse, ain’t it, Raifer? The curse that done ’em in.” Deputy Bucky Starner, sweat dripping from his forehead onto the fine rug on the upper landing and mingling with the drying pools of blood, was looking at the bodies with a combination of fear and excitement. Fear that the curse was real. Excitement because this was the...
“You all right there?” “Yeah, Raifer. It just startled me a tad, that’s all.” Bucky was sitting on the edge of the veranda, his heart continuing to pound, the glass of water that Jenny had brought him half drained. Jenny had retreated back into the house to care for Little Miss, who...
As he pushed his cart down the road toward the bayou, Jake felt very satisfied. The last two days had gone better than he expected. Why, just this morning Mrs. Brady not only had gotten three blades sharpened and traded a nice raccoon skin for two yards of gingham...
The pistol in the Colonel Judge’s hand was old and rusty. Raifer hadn’t noticed that fact the first time he had looked at the scene, but now that he was bent over the old man’s body, he could clearly see it was not like any weapon the Colonel Judge kept. The Colonel Judge had been meticulous. If you went to see him in...
“First I buy needles and thread and two, yes two thimbles for my Jeanne Marie. That should be enough, I think. But now you tell me,” Trosclaire Thibodeaux was saying in French, “that this knife, she is one beautiful piece of work and that she could slice through anything like it...
Dr. François Cailleteau flicked the ash from his cigar. When Bucky came into town to get him and dragged him away from his afternoon appointments, he hadn’t been happy. But, he had ridden out here. Raifer wouldn’t have disturbed him if it hadn’t been important, and anyway...
Trosclaire Thibodeaux had built a large fire next to a trench he had dug. They still had an hour or more until it died down enough to start cooking; they needed a good bed of white-hot ashes. In the meantime he had hung the big pot, full of bayou water, over the fire. The dry hickory...
The sharecroppers were still under the trees when Marcus came out of the house, another bucket of bloody cloths in his hand. Marcus already had used up all the old sheets. His wife, Sally, was doing her best to rinse them out as quickly as possible in the big old tub on the side of...
Trosclaire admired the way that Jake bled the suckling pig. You had to bleed it before cooking anyway, but why did he cut the throat so deep? All that was needed was a point in the knife in the jugular vein; let the pig squeal as it bled to death, and you’d preserve the head so that...
“So, it’s clear that the bullet went straight through,” said Raifer, as Dr. Cailleteau set the Colonel Judge’s head back down on the board. “But the question is, where is the bullet?” “Damn it, Raifer, you didn’t drag me all the way out here, away from...
The gathering for the cochon de lait had begun. More than thirty people were at Trosclaire Thibodeaux’s house, resting on the porch, sitting on logs in the yard, standing near trees and talking. Trosclaire’s oldest daughter, who was not yet fifteen, was frying...
Marcus and the others were still cleaning. Although dusk had not yet settled, it had gotten so dark inside that candles had to be lit. Sally had made sure that Marcus had not used the good beeswax candles. They were for special occasions, although with the Colonel...
“Woe! Oh, awful woe! Oh, terrible woe! She is dead! She is dead! My loving wife is dead! What have I done?” Bucky was now fully in character, and his arms waved wildly in the air. He added embellishments. He pulled at his hair. He rolled his eyes...
“Monsieur Jake,” Tante Odille chuckled as she pointed to the skinny boy next to Jeanne Marie, “for Étienne, what could he do once there was a poudre de Perlainpainpain, no?” Étienne reddened and, embarrassed, turned his attention to the boiling lard, using the big wooden spoon to scoop up the now crispy...
“Sometimes I don’t think you got half the sense God gave a horsefly. Lord, the way you rattle on to them white folks.” Sally was sitting on the back steps with Marcus, the big door to the hallway closed behind them. The half-moon was hanging low, and the stars glistened in the...
Bucky was having a wonderful time. Tee Ray could not have been nicer. Tee Ray had just bought him another drink. Tee Ray wanted to hear all that Bucky had to say. It had all happened just as Bucky had imagined, from the moment...
The sky was clouding up by 10:00 a.m. It was going to rain by evening. If Jake didn’t hurry, he was going to get soaked. The wedding had been held at sunrise in Lamou’s tiny Catholic church. The cochon de lait and fais-do-do had lasted all night, and everyone...
Cooper was out in his garden, picking fall tomatoes and pinching the green, leafy suckers off the plants, when Jake rolled into Little Jerusalem. Cooper stopped, the muscles rippling in his massive arms as he held up a ripe tomato in his hand. “I’ve been done growin’ the finest...
“I don’t understand why we just couldn’t get them darkies to do this!” Bucky was on his hands and knees, examining every square foot of the vast hallway that ran through the center of Cottoncrest, dividing the house in half. “Because I told you to do it. That’s why.” Raifer was concentrating...
Tee Ray held a big torch and touched it to the ground again. It was so dry that flames rose up immediately. The fire spread from stalk to stalk. Billows of black smoke roiled upward. To Tee Ray’s right and left, as far as the eye could see, other men...
It was damn unfair. That’s what it was. Unfair. Go look for this, Bucky. Go there, Bucky. Go get it for me, Bucky. Here he was, having figured out what happened, having told it all to Raifer and Dr. Cailleteau, having everyone listening to him now, and...
The old lady sat in a wide, wooden rocking chair on the veranda. The shade from the tall columns, and from the protruding second-floor porch and the even higher eaves, shielded her from the intermittent sun that peeked through the gathering clouds. She could smell the rain...
“There they are, Tee Ray. See, I told you.” Tee Ray and Bucky had sidled around through the back door. The fields far behind the barn were now masked by the smoke, and if the wind shifted again, the soot-filled dark mass might even roll toward the...
“Jenny, you were in the house all night. Marcus and Sally have their own place out in the back, but you were in Little Miss’s bedroom the whole time. So, you must have heard or seen something.” “No, Mr. Raifer. All the doors were closed. The door to the back...
“And where did you leave your horse?” “ ’Bout a mile and a half back, in the woods beyond the cane fields, Raifer.” Raifer was furious. Bucky and Tee Ray were standing below them on the ground under the oak trees, a shallow trench scraped through...
Marcus trudged down the road cautiously. He had been careful to slip out the back of the big house. Jenny and Sally were right. If anyone saw him, it would be all over. It had been a good life. Not a great life, but a good life. No money...
The rainstorm, as was typical for Louisiana weather, had been both localized and torrential, its power concentrated in a small area. The low black clouds blanketed and darkened Little Jerusalem, but where Cottoncrest sat, there was blue sky smudged by the gray-brown smoke...
Nimrod saw the lanky figure moving from out of the woods, across the road, toward the cabin. Although his eyesight was bad and he couldn’t make out the man’s features, Nimrod recognized the gait. The fact that the man was coming from the woods rather than down the...
Part III: Chapter 32
“I don’t know why Grandpapa Jake came to Louisiana, but I do know why I came the first time. I was young, almost as young as you. The nation was in turmoil. President Kennedy was in the White House, and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba had just happened and was a huge failure...
Dr. Cailleteau left Cottoncrest and headed northwest, back toward Parteblanc, his buggy squeaking with every slow step of his horse. The weather was changing. Soon the temperature would drop dramatically. Dr. Cailleteau could feel it coming. Underneath his vast folds of...
He hit her in the head with the back of his hand. The blow was so strong it knocked her down to the floor of the small cabin. She didn’t whimper. She didn’t cry. That would only make it worse. She wiped the blood from her split lip with the cuff of her blouse and...
The late-afternoon sun setting in the west did not give much illumination to Jenny’s tiny third-floor room, with its low ceiling and small window facing south. Jenny did not dare light a candle. Jenny’s little window on the topmost floor of Cottoncrest could be seen for miles...
Marcus raised his arm toward the northern horizon, in the direction of Cottoncrest. Jake, the bearskin over his shoulders, looked up and saw what Marcus was pointing at. It was worse than either of them had feared, and it had come faster than they...
As he urged his horse on, Bucky’s hair flew in all directions. His hat had been blown off by the combination of fast gallop and the strong winds that continued to whip at the flames in the sugarcane fields, but Bucky was not about to pause to retrieve it. Bucky rode with abandon...
“now,” yelled Marcus with urgency, as the Knights came down the ridge, whipping their horses into a frenzied gallop. Marcus and Jake turned due west, away from the river, and ran at full speed, toward the smoke and flames, into the cane fields...
“I don’t know how you did it. I been scared ever since it happened. When we found the Colonel Judge and Miss Rebecca, my skin was crawlin’ like crawfish dumped in a boilin’ pot, and my wits were as fidgety as a grasshopper, and yet there you was, calm as calm could be...
“Hell, Tee Ray, there ain’t no one here and ain’t no one been here for a long time. Don’t know how these niggers live—don’t got hardly nothin’ in their cabins. Nothin’ worth takin’ anyways.” Jimmy Joe, his sandy hair blowing in the gusty wind, stalked out of Cooper and Rossy’s cabin, a half-empty bottle of the Colonel Judge’s...
Keith stood, gun in hand, barring the way. He had moved out into the swamp beyond the woods because he and Peggy wanted to be left alone. They wanted to be someplace where they didn’t have to talk to anyone but each other. They wanted to be someplace where small children...
Marcus cautiously pushed aside several charred stalks and peered down a trench that ran between the rows of cane. No one was in sight. He listened closely. No noise of horses. Just the crackling of the flames in the field as it swept away behind them and the crinkling of the fire...
Cooper unwrapped the blanket on the ground. The infant was dead. She looked to be about six months old, a little younger than his and Rossy’s daughter. Cooper had carried the child out of Keith’s cabin with Peggy wailing and moaning and leaning on Keith’s arm. Tears dampened Keith’s...
They had drunk all the liquor in Forrest’s saddlebags and were ready for more. The Knights were in the Parteblanc bar, laughing and carousing louder than ever. All of them. All of them, that is, except Jimmy Joe, who had ridden out of Little Jerusalem in a huff, not speaking to...
The baby had colic. Maylene was walking around the small house, baby on her shoulder, trying to comfort the child. The cries continued. “Shut that kid up, Maylene,” Jimmy Joe demanded. He sat at the table. His large frame took up almost the entire long wooden bench...
The temperature had dropped precipitously. Sally and Jenny had been walking briskly for hours, but even these exertions were not enough to keep them warm. The cold penetrated through Sally’s coat and Jenny’s cloak, and the two hurried faster. Their goal was in sight...
It was still dark outside. It was at least an hour before dawn. The gas lamp cast a flickering glow as Raifer put the cup of steaming coffee on the deputy’s desk. Bucky reached for it. It was so hot he could hardly hold the cup, but he brought it to his lips and sipped slowly, letting the chicory flavor roll...
Part IV: Chapter 48
“So there I was, in New Orleans in 1961, and although it was only May, the heat was already awful. There was no central air-conditioning in those days. In New Orleans you took a bath before you went to bed, just to cool down, but you still went to sleep sweating despite the overhead...
The frost crunched under his boots as Jake made his way through the marshy woods. The sky had cleared as the temperatures had dropped, and now, an hour or so before dawn, the moon cast a bright blue glow. Jake had slept the night only in fits and spurts. It wasn’t that he had been cold. The light October freeze was nothing...
The children had woken before dawn and silently slipped out the door. They knew their tasks. The older ones went to the lean-to shed, retrieved the scythes, sharpened them on the whetstones, and headed out into the fields to...
The sun was clearing the horizon and the early-morning light cast long shadows as Dr. Cailleteau hitched up his horse to the buggy. He moved slowly. His joints were stiff, and the cold weather made them ache. He grunted as he cinched the horse into the fittings. When he...
Marcus broke off a small portion of the long baguette and handed the remainder to Sally, who in turn broke off a piece and passed the crusty end to Jenny. As they sat in the old cabin, their first stop, they dipped the bread in the wooden bowl of butter that Ganderson had left...
Part V: Chapter 53
“Anyway, there I was, without a whole lot of money, and I had to rent a car. I knew that if I didn’t rent one soon, I’d spend all my money wandering around New Orleans, for I found the city, in all of its crass gaudiness and mildewed decrepitude, endlessly fascinating. “Back in those days there were lots of little places you could rent...
As soon as they reached Cottoncrest, Raifer ordered Bucky to head out immediately to Tee Ray’s cabin. Raifer didn’t want Tee Ray and Forrest going to Lamou on their own. The Knights hated the Catholics almost as bad as they hated the coloreds. Bucky was to make sure that...
Bucky proudly rode at the head, followed by Tee Ray, Forrest, and four other Knights, armed with pistols and rifles, who had decided to ride with Tee Ray. The rest had stayed back to harvest the cane fields. Bucky preened at the way Raifer had treated him once they had gotten...
“I don’t believe it. You got huckleberried by Cajuns! Walked square into it, didn’t you. Didn’t think about splitting up the men, trying to flank Lamou, did you?” Bucky slumped dejectedly in his chair behind his desk, trying to...
Ganderson had told them to wait. They had followed his instructions, but the sun had risen and set, and they were still in the brokendown cabin with its partial roof and collapsed walls and no real protection from dropping temperatures. They didn’t dare light a fire. The sky...
“Monsieur Jake,” Jeanne Marie asked in French, “why is it that the Knights hate Catholics and Jews so much?” Jake sat in the middle of the pirogue wrapped in the bearskin, while Jeanne Marie paddled in front and Étienne steered through the seemingly...
Bucky stared out over the railings in wonder. He had imagined what it would be like, but he hadn’t imagined half hard enough. The paddle wheels turned endlessly, water cascading from them as the batons reached the top only to plunge down into the river once...
“Now who could be knocking at this hour! Zig, if I’ve told you once . . . this isn’t a respectable area. We should have bought that house next to the railway line, right on St. Charles Avenue. But no, you said, this area is less expensive and would be just as nice. Well, less expensive...
“Slow down, Bucky, we’ve got another full day tomorrow. He’s either here already, or he’ll be here shortly. He’s gonna fall right into our hands, that’s for sure. And when he does, remember, you’re gonna get all the credit.” Bucky finished off one final mouthful of beer and put the half-filled...
“You know I’m glad to have you, but it’s not safe. Sooner or later they’re going to come here asking questions.” Even at this late hour, Louis Martinet was dressed immaculately, his high starched collar in place, his string bowtie perfectly knotted, his...
“And the Acadians brought you all the way here in a pirogue?” “No, Zig. They got me to Des Allemands. I gave the bearskin to those two young people as compensation for their getting me that far, and there I met up with Otto Schexnayder. He and I have been doing...
Dr. Cailleteau ignored the woman who was still screaming. His attention was elsewhere. “Hold that lamp up higher,” he commanded. The man—his shirt in tatters, his skin black as polished ebony, his face turned away from the woman—extended his arm holding the lantern...
By the time Jake had walked the few blocks from Zig’s house to the Lafayette Cemetery, the gates had long since been locked. Zig had told him they were shut down at 11:30 p.m. every evening to keep the voodoo priestesses out and to prevent this uptown cemetery, several blocks...
Inside, facing the entrance to the Red Chair, was a wide bar behind which stood a giant of a man with olive-colored skin and jet-black hair. He was at least seven feet tall. A scar ran from his left ear across his cheekbone to the corner of his mouth. Where his left eye should be...
PART VIII: Chapter 69
“Off to my right, behind the big impeach earl warren sign, was Cottoncrest. “What? You don’t know who Earl Warren was? He was the chief justice of the Supreme Court when Brown versus the Board of Education was decided. He had taken a divided court and had fashioned a unanimous...
“The minute I saw the Freimer blade, I knew that Zig must have sent you here. No one in New Orleans—that is, no one who’s not working for me—has such a blade. I know that Zig only wholesales them to one other person. The Jew Peddler who told him about the Freimers in the...
Where the Mississippi River makes the huge curve that gives the Crescent City its name, it curls back northward in an eight-mile loop as if it wants to take one last look at the vast continent through which it has flowed, and then, at the foot of Canal Street, at the very place...
“You got your badge out?” Bucky showed Tee Ray that he had it in his hand. “Don’t want you diggin’ in your pocket again. You’re a deputy. Got to act like you’re in charge at all times, understand?”...
“You want me to get Sooley to fetch you a fix-up, sugar? You give me another four dollars, and I’ll get you anything you want. And then,” she said, spreading her legs wide, “I’ll give you anything you want, sugar.”...
Bucky’s feet hurt inside the rough boots. He hadn’t had time to put on his socks as he dashed out of the bedroom and down the steps of the Red Chair and out onto the street. He ran at a gallop, trying to button up his shirt as he went, holding his coat in his teeth. His belt buckle...
Lafayette Cemetery had many more crypts in it than the last time Jake had been there. It was dark, and Jake could not read the inscriptions, but he could see the newly built ones that were laid out with mathematical precision on the grid of pathways. Line after line of diminutive...
“You sound like an old woman with that yelpin’. Just hold on, and I’ll be done in a moment. Don’t be such a flicker.” “Don’t call me a flicker, Tee Ray. I ain’t no coward. I done proved it to— ouch!—night, didn’t I?” Tee Ray kept on wrapping the long gauze bandage around Bucky’s...
Jake saw a shadowy figure slip through the Poydras Street gate of the Lafayette Cemetery. Jake looked up at the stars. It was, he judged, almost midnight. The figure, wrapped in a cloak, moved cautiously through the cemetery. As it got closer, he could tell that it was a woman. She wore a...
Part XI: Chapter 80
“Matthews and I sat under that big oak tree, right over there. At the time it was right next to the impeach earl warren sign that he had put up on old telephone poles. The top of that sign was almost as high as the third-story roofline of Cottoncrest. “He had poured some bourbon for both of us, although he was on his...
“They’re both safe, Mr. Jake. Rebecca and the Colonel Judge’s children will grow up separated. The boy and the girl won’t know who their real parents were. Won’t even know they were one of two. But the twins will be alive, and that’s the most important thing.” “You’ve accomplished a miracle, Jenny. When Rebecca began to...
“Since Hank Matthews said he had bought Cottoncrest for his dead daddy, I told him he must have loved his father very much. “ ‘Loved him? Don’t know if you could call it that. He was a tough man. Big in every way. Big beard. Big arms. Big voice. Big strap of a...
“Do you think it will work, Mr. Jake?” “I don’t see why not. Have you ever taken a train?” “No. Never.” “But it’s true what Antonio told me, isn’t it?” “Sure is, Mr. Jake. That’s what Louis has been spending all his time...
“I pretended at first not to know anything about Kenneth Ganderson. I asked Hank Matthews who Ganderson was and why he spit on Ganderson’s grave. “ ‘A meddler,’ he said. ‘My Daddy didn’t want any handouts. He didn’t want any sympathy. All he wanted was to do a day’s work for a day’s...
Part XII: Chapter 85
The railway station was crowded. On the engine a worker was stoking up the coal-fed fire. As a head of steam was being built up, sparks drifted down in the early morning, a light snowfall of red and black ashes. Tee Ray, badge pinned on his coat, rifle at his side, scanned the...
Outside the train’s windows to their left, the marsh that curved around the northwestern edge of New Orleans stretched out to the horizon, and to their right was a vast expanse of water. The tracks, atop miles upon miles of wooden pilings, skirted along the edge of Lake...
“Get up, nigger!” Tee Ray commanded Jenny, approaching her, rifle held level at his waist, its barrel pointing directly at her chest. Tee Ray ignored the woman in the seat next to Jenny, obviously so terrified of him that she wouldn’t turn around. That was as it should be. Let them...
Part XIII: chapter 88
“ ‘So,’ I said, ‘you got Cottoncrest. And yet your father was not around to see it happen. What about Ganderson? Did he live to see you get this place?’ “Hank Matthews just sat in his chair and stared at me with the most unusual expression. Couldn’t figure out what it was. I was too young to...
The trees whipped by, and the soot from the engine’s smoke, seven cars ahead, swirled in their faces. “You cut me!” Tee Ray screamed, swinging his fist into Jake’s face and breaking his nose. As soon as Jake released his grip, Tee Ray fell to...
Long after the train had rumbled out of sight, Tee Ray dragged himself, with great effort, out of the now blood-filled marsh and onto the raised mound of earth the railroad had built for the tracks. Tee Ray was in pain, but he was alive. He was losing blood, but he...
“I don’t know where he is. When I woke up, he was gone. I assumed he was at the train station.” Bucky sat in the chair, his wrapped foot propped up on a big pillow. “He wasn’t at the train station. And he didn’t come back to check with us,” the man said. He hadn’t given Bucky his name. He had just...
The coffin was still on the wagon. Bucky had not left Tee Ray’s body since it had been loaded on the riverboat for the ride upriver to Parteblanc. Bucky had sat in a chair in the hold, next to the coffin, the whole trip, not once going on deck to view the river or the sights. The odors of the hold were now imprinted in...
“We’ve got to do it, Doc.” Raifer and Dr. Cailleteau were sitting in Dr. Cailleteau’s parlor in front of a low fire. The twilight outside was giving way to the cloudy dark of the October evening. The funeral had been a long one. Mona Brady and the children had...
Part XIV: Chapter 94
“Hank Matthews was starting to turn the conversation away from Ganderson, but I stopped him. I had that file folder with me, and now I opened it. ‘Mr. Matthews,’ I said. ‘I think I have something you might be interested in. It’s a letter.’ “He asked me why the hell he should be interested in any letter that...
Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014
OCLC Number: 885122107
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Cottoncrest Curse