Muletrain to Maggody

BOOK: Muletrain to Maggody
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Also by Joan Hess
THE MAGGODY SERIES

Maggody and the Moonbeams

[email protected]

Misery Loves Maggody

The Maggody Militia

Miracles in Maggody

Martians in Maggody

O Little Town of Maggody

Maggody in Manhattan

Mortal Remains in Maggody

Madness in Maggody

Much Ado in Maggody

Mischief in Maggody

Malice in Maggody

THE CLAIRE MALLOY SERIES

Out on a Limb

A Conventional Corpse

A Holly, Jolly Murder

Closely Akin to Murder

Busy Bodies

Tickled to Death

Poisoned Pins

Death by the Light of the Moon

Roll Over and Play Dead

A Diet to Die For

A Really Cute Corpse

Dear Miss Demeanor

Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn

Strangled Prose

SIMON & SCHUSTER

Rockefeller Center

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2004 by Joan Hess

All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Simon & Schuster and colophon are registered trademarks
of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hess, Joan.

Muletrain to Maggody : an Arly Hanks mystery / Joan Hess.

p. cm.

1. Hanks, Arly (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Maggody (Ark. : Imaginary place)—Fiction. 3. Police—Arkansas—Fiction. 4. Police chiefs—Fiction. 5. Policewomen—Fiction. 6. Arkansas—Fiction.

I. Title.

PS3558.E79785M79 2004

813’.54—dc22           2003059134

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-4969-0
ISBN-10: 0-7432-4969-0

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

O
kay, listen up: This is not a book about the Civil War. If you want a book about the Civil War, mosey over to the nonfiction section and find something written by a historian and published by a very earnest university press. This is a book about Civil War reenactors. It contains references to the War, but the more scholarly of you will no doubt swoop down on numerous errors and inaccuracies. Please do not feel any obligation to share them with me.

W. C. Jameson’s
Buried Treasures of the Ozarks and the Appalachians
(Promontory, 1993) planted the seed in the nether reaches of my mind some years ago. Although lacking documentation, romantic legends of lost Confederate gold have always abounded. One significant battle took place in my area of Arkansas, which meant my premise, although improbable, wasn’t totally implausible.

Confederates in the Attice: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War
(Pantheon, 1998) by Tony Horowitz, provided me with wonderful insights into the attitudes of those who, in one way or another, have never recovered from the War of Northern Aggression (as it’s still known in some pockets south of the Mason-Dixon Line). Mr. Horowitz’s encounters and experiences with reenactors, good ol’ boys, and genteel ladies with vintage pedigrees were enormously useful. It’s also a highly entertaining read.

Amy Alessio, a reenactor from Illinois, patiently fielded my questions and did her best to guide me through the wacky battlefield of muskets by day and cell phones by night. We even discussed how reenactors capture that authentic patina on their brass buttons.

Dewey Lambdin, an author and historian from Memphis, did his best to educate me in matters of caissons and cannons. All the inaccuracies in the book are of my own doing, not his. Sorry, Dewey. I still wouldn’t know a caisson if it bit me on the ankle.

Tim Whitbred of Maryland offered invaluable advice, particularly in matters of Confederate gold coins and the logistics of transporting them.

Linda Nickle, a local friend, loaned me her collection of Civil War material so that I could do my best not to make a total idiot of myself. If I did, it was not her fault.

In my unschooled opinion, the Civil War was the worst tragedy the United States has ever suffered. In this work of comedic fiction, I had to downplay the realities of what happened and focus on those who continue to put on stifling wool costumes and relive those horrible times. Their motives are mixed. Some participate to preserve history and educate those who have only a vague sense of the history of the period. Others participate as a hobby, an opportunity to live for a few days in a simpler environment and visit with old friends. And others, dear readers, are crazier than loons.

For Ken Smith

with fondness and respect

Contents

Cover Page

Colophon

Also by Joan Hess

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Dedication

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

O
nce again I found myself trudging toward the high school cafeteria for a meeting. The last one had been courtesy of the school board, and mayhem and murder had followed within a matter of weeks. That, I believe, is a pretty damn good reason to ban all meetings, especially in Maggody, Arkansas (population 755 or so, depending on what you count). I don’t object to the Missionary Society getting together at the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall to grumble about the heathens over coffee and cinnamon rolls, or the Wednesday night potluck suppers where paper plates runneth over with ham, green bean casseroles, and lemon squares. The ladies of the County Extension chapter are welcome to their weekly discussions of the blatantly biased judging of pickled okra at the fair every fall. For that matter, what business is it of mine if Mayor Jim Bob Buchanon huddles with his cronies to play poker in the back room of Roy Stiver’s Antiques Shop?

But this was an official town meeting, and my appearance as chief of police was mandatory—or so I’d been told by Mrs. Jim Bob only that morning. She’d refused to say what the meeting was about or why I had to be there, but I had a feeling I was neither going to be fired (who else would have my miserable job?) nor presented with a raise (miserable and miserly have a certain similarity). When I’d slunk back to Maggody after a nasty divorce from a Manhattan advertising hotshot who appreciated the finer things in life—as long as they were blond and mindless—I hadn’t expected much more than a semblance of sympathy and a whole lot of home cookin’ from my mother, Ruby Bee, proprietor of a bar & grill of the same name. I’d declined her offer to let me live in one of the units in the Flamingo Motel out back and had instead rented what was supposedly an efficiency apartment above the antiques shop. It was cold and clammy in the winter, and steamy in the summer. The cockroaches thrived in both climates, and I doubted global warming (or an ice age) would deplete their numbers.

Ruby Bee didn’t have a clue about the reason for the meeting, and she knows darn close to every last thing that happens within the city limits, including sneezes, wheezes, and sexual trysts outside the confines of holy matrimony. Her best friend Estelle Oppers owns Estelle’s Hair Fantasies out on County 101. What Ruby Bee doesn’t hear about in the bar is gleaned there during perms and manicures, when a mere hangnail can lead to sobbing admissions of unrequited love or shoplifting at the supermarket. Growing up in Maggody was always a challenge for someone of a teenaged persuasion who liked to drink a little beer on the banks of Boone Creek and count the lightnin’ bugs.

If you don’t know what that means, settle for a literal interpretation.

I caught up with Ruby Bee and Estelle at the front door of the high school, and we walked down the corridor together.

“You still don’t know what this is about?” I asked them.

Ruby Bee growled. “No, I don’t reckon anyone in town except Mrs. Jim Bob knows. Lottie Estes said all the teachers were ordered to attend. None of them’s happy about it.”

“But this ain’t a school board meeting,” Estelle pointed out, waggling her red beehive of hair for emphasis. She and Ruby Bee make a very odd couple, since one resembles a fire hydrant atop a fencepost and the other a short stack of un-baked biscuits.

We continued into the cafeteria and sat down at a lunch table in the back of the room. Quite a few folks were already wiggling uncomfortably on the plastic benches, muttering among themselves about how some damn fool meeting was interfering with their constitutional right to vegetate in front of the television. Earl and Eileen Buchanon nodded at us, as did Elsie McMay and a visibly disgruntled Lottie Estes. Darla Jean McIlhaney sat with her parents, Millicent and Jeremiah. Larry Joe Lambertino, who’s the shop teacher, and his wife, Joyce, were hissing at each other, which they did a lot.

At a table in the front of the room sat Hizzoner the Moron (aka Jim Bob Buchanon), his wife Mrs. Jim Bob (aka Barbara Ann Buchanon Buchanon), Roy Stiver, and a stout woman with steely gray hair and the expressiveness of a bass beached on a gravel bar in the midday sun.

Ruby Bee nudged me. “Who in tarnation do you think that is?”

“How would I know?” I said, still scanning the room to see who all had been bullied into attending the meeting. A fair percentage of them were Buchanons, but that was not remarkable, since there are more Buchanons in Stump County than flies on a dead possum. Most of them have protuberant foreheads, thick lips, and yellowish eyes, and there’s nary a college grad among them, mostly due to the dropout rate long about eighth grade. Nevertheless, a few of them are as wily as pole cats. Raz Buchanon’s been running his still up on Cotter’s Ridge since the dawn of time. When I’m truly bored, I pack a picnic lunch and go looking for it, but the sumbitch stays a step ahead of me. The Arkansas two-step, I suppose.

Jim Bob banged his fist on the tabletop. “Okay, I’m calling this meeting to order. We’re gonna skip the minutes from the last meeting and the treasurer’s report and all that crap. Mrs. Jim Bob has the floor, so y’all listen up.”

Even though Mrs. Jim Bob has plenty of Buchanon blood, her lips are thinner than paper matches and her eyes are dark and beady. She has never risked eternal damnation by painting her face like a common floozy, and her hair was reminiscent of a style predominant in 1960s high school yearbooks. As usual, she was wearing a starchy white blouse buttoned to the top despite the lack of air-conditioning.

She stood up and waited as her audience settled down for what well might be an interminable session. “Thank you for coming,” she said with a brief smile. “A most exciting thing is about to happen right here in Maggody, and it’s going to require full cooperation from all our Christian, law-abiding citizens. I am pleased that so many of you put aside your self-indulgent and slothful ways to attend this evening.”

“Good thing Raz ain’t here,” whispered Ruby Bee.

Mrs. Jim Bob frowned at her, then continued. “Now I’d like to introduce Miss Harriet Hathaway, who lives over in Farberville and is the president of the Stump County Historical Society. Let’s give her our full attention.”

She began to clap, so the rest of us dutifully followed suit. Once the pitter-patter faded, the woman stood up and said, “As you were told, I am Harriet Hathaway, and I’ve been the president of the Stump County Historical Society for fifteen years. The society manages the Headquarters House, which was controlled by both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War. We also publish a quarterly digest called
Remembrances of Stump County’s Past,
provide programs for schoolchildren, and sponsor an ice cream social in the summer. I’d planned to bring slides, but I was informed that a projector and screen could not be made available.”

“Hallelujah,” mumbled someone off to the side of the room.

“Excuse me?” said Mrs. Jim Bob, rising to her feet. “Do you wish to contribute to the discussion, Earl Buchanon?”

“No, ma’am, it’s just that there’s a baseball game what’s already started, and I was hopin’ we’d be done right soon so I can—”

“Then you’d best stop interrupting. Now, Miss Hathaway, if you’ll tell us your exciting news…”

Miss Hathaway appeared a little flustered, probably because the historical society meetings were exercises in tea and cookies. In Maggody, we’re more into RC Colas and Moon Pies.

“Well, then,” she said, “as I’m sure many of you know, this year will be the one hundred and fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Farberville, fought primarily on the hillside above the Headquarters House. Over three hundred Confederate troops died or were wounded before the Union forces prevailed.”

“Damn Yankees,” said Jim Bob, then ducked his head as his wife stared at him.

“So what’s this got to do with Maggody?” asked Estelle.

“Three days before the battle, a small unit from the Arkansas Fifth, garrisoned in Little Rock at that time, arrived at the edge of Stump County after an arduous six-day trek. They were bringing two saddlebags of gold to pay the soldiers of General Lambdin’s brigade, which was coming from the west to halt a Union attempt to secure the Arkansas-Missouri border. They rode mules because they were pulling a cannon on a caisson and a wagon filled with munitions. Their numbers had been depleted due to swollen creeks and the muddy conditions of the road. Also, according to a journal entry made by a young private named Henry Largesse, they’d gorged themselves on green persimmons and many of them had to remain behind as the rest moved north.” She paused for effect, but no one seemed overwhelmingly entranced by the narrative. “When they arrived not too far from here, the lieutenant decided to camp near what is now called Boone Creek and allow the men a full day and night of rest before what would surely be a bloody battle.”

Ruby Bee flapped her hand. “So this is what we’re all supposed to be so excited about? They came, they camped, and then went and got theirselves shot?”

“If you will please allow me to continue,” said Miss Hathaway, her voice as steely as her hair, “I’ll be succinct. It seems the soldiers found a small, squalid farm and took a pig back to camp to be roasted. Despite the fact this was an unfortunately common practice on both sides, the rightful owner was so incensed that he threatened them with a shotgun and was severely thrashed for his lack of patriotism. He was quite lucky not to have been hanged. In retaliation, he rode to the Missouri border and informed a Union general named Alessio of the proximity of the Confederate unit, although most likely not in those exact terms. General Alessio immediately dispatched a cavalry troop to ambush the unit from Little Rock and take possession of the cannon, wagon, and mules. It is unlikely that he was aware of the gold in the saddlebags.”

Estelle elbowed me and whispered, “This is gettin’ kind of interesting, ain’t it? One side’s got gold and a cannon, and the other side is aiming to bushwhack ’em. I wonder why we never heard any of this before.”

“Could be because no one’s written a comprehensive history of this meadow muffin of a town,” I whispered back. “Remember when that genealogist tried to chart the Buchanon family tree? Supposedly she had an accident after driving away, but I’ve always suspected suicide.”

“Chief of Police Hanks,” chirped Mrs. Jim Bob, “please save your discourteous behavior for a more appropriate moment. My apologies, Miss Hathaway.”

Miss Hathaway nodded at her. “Yes, of course. During the night, while the Confederates were sleeping off their fine feast, the Union soldiers took a position in a field near the road and waited for sunrise.” She picked up a notebook and flipped it open. “I will now read the pertinent entry from the private’s journal, written several weeks after the incident. The journal itself only came to light a few weeks ago, when a family member found it in a trunk and donated it to the historical society. Here is an excerpt: ‘Come dawn we got the gear stowed and the mules saddled, then headed out. The lieutenant, scared as the rest of us, said we’d most likely meet up with General Lambdin’s troops by nightfall. My second cousin from down by Booneville was one of their gunners, so I was looking forward to seeing him and swapping family news. I found out later he’d died of dysentery only a month earlier, likely without never hearing about his sister’s baby.’ ” Miss Hathaway looked up. “He now digresses about family affairs, and then continues. ‘We’d gone mebbe not a quarter of a mile when out of nowhere comes musket fire from a field off to the east. We hunkered behind a low stone wall and tried to figure out where the Yanks was. Custiss volunteered to scout ’em out, but was shot square in the back afore he could take three steps. Some of the boys was shaking so hard I thought they’d pass out, but somehow we all grabbed our muskets and returned fire. This goes on for most of the morning. We could see the bastards, but we was already outnumbered and couldn’t seem to force them back. By noon, we were down to six boys and the lieutenant, who was getting mighty grim. He ordered Emil Jenks to take the gold up on the ridge behind us and hide it in a cave so it wouldn’t fall into Yankee hands if we dint make it. Soon as Emil got back, all covered with mud and panting like a coon dog, the lieutenant took a hit to the side of his head and took to bleeding like a stuck pig. He ordered us to git ourselves on the mules and get the hell out afore we was all slaughtered, saying we should come back for the gold later. Emil was trying to tell us where he’d hid the saddlebags when a minié ball took him in the throat. I don’t reckon I can ever forget the look on his face when he fell. The rest of us lit out like Satan was snapping at our heels and didn’t ease up till we was a good mile away.’ ”

Miss Hathaway stopped reading and said, “The entry goes on to describe how the young private was shot in the thigh during the Battle of Farberville and had his leg amputated by a field surgeon. He managed to survive long enough to make it to his home, where he eventually died of complications from the surgery.”

“So what about the gold?” asked Earl Buchanon, who’d clearly forgotten all about home runs and double plays. “Is it still up there?”

Miss Hathaway shrugged. “According to the journal, the private was the only one of the Confederates involved in the Skirmish at Cotter’s Ridge to survive the Battle of Farberville, and he was in no condition to be sent back to find the precise location. All he could tell General Lambdin was that there were a few dirt-scratch farms, a creek, and a ridge. That description could fit many of the communities in Stump County, even today.”

“We got us a stoplight and a fine supermarket,” said Jim Bob.

“I’m sure you do,” she said, not turning to look at him. “In order to commemorate the Battle of Farberville, the historical society has received a grant for various projects. We can hardly stage a reenactment of the battle itself, since the hill where it took place is now cluttered with homes and power lines. Therefore, we have decided to make a documentary film of what took place here. With meticulous camera angles and editing, we feel as though we can end up with a reasonably accurate depiction. It will be shown at the Headquarters House as an important part of our educational program.”

BOOK: Muletrain to Maggody
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