Quincy smiled. “Did you know Madge’s Speakeasy got raided last night? She was selling bootleg liquor again to get out of paying the taxes. The fool. You’d think she’d have learned by now that the law is the law, and that’s it.”
Queen laughed, her eyes sparkling. “That woman don’t know what’s good for her is all. No surprise there.”
“No, I suppose she doesn’t,” Quincy said.
“Well, look where she come from. Her people are just no dang good. That Walter Calhoun. With a daddy like that, she had no
chance to start with,” Queen said.
“No, I suppose not,” Quincy said. He sighed.
Everybody in town knew Madge and her daddy had lots of criminal connections in Chicago. They knew some pretty bad men.
“I can’t believe how the men in this town react each time they see her walking down the street. They follow her like dogs in heat. It’s downright disgusting,” Queen said.
“Yes, I suppose it is. She is right pretty, though. You got to admit that, Momma.”
“I don’t got to admit nothing.”
Madge had a notorious reputation around town, and in a way, her wild doings intrigued Quincy. They always had. Her latest brush with the law in selling shine just added to her bad-girl appeal. Queen had told him Madge had always been a spiteful child who acted badly in church. She didn’t have any respect for God’s house or anything else for that matter.
“I knew she’d grow up to be the kind of woman a man should avoid at all costs,” Queen said. “You need to stay clear of her kind.”
“I understand, Momma.”
“I hope so. For your sake.” Queen got a far-off look in her eye. She leaned back in the bed and seemed to think on something, but Quincy had no idea what it was. It pained him to see her like this, here one minute and gone the next.
Queen yawned. Then she coughed.
“You okay, Momma?”
“No, but there’s not much either of us can do about it.”
“I know,” Quincy said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“You know,” Queen said, “don’t be too hard on Madge, because her father was also the talk of the town. That man had his hands in all kinds of corruption. There’s an old saying—contempt breeds contempt.”
“But you just told me to steer clear of her. Now you’re saying don’t be too hard on her.”
“Nothing’s black or white in this world.”
“I know, Momma.”
Although the Calhouns had lived in the county as long as Queen had, Quincy didn’t know much about them, except for the gossip, which he seldom listened to. “I guess the old saying—an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—should fit Madge’s personality,” he said.
“Just like you’re like your daddy,” Queen said.
She went quiet again. He thought about letting her nap, but he was curious about Madge. It was strange; he’d never paid much attention to what people had said about her, but everything was mixed up these days. Nothing seemed quite right.
“Momma, what do you know about the Calhouns? I mean, I know the usual stuff. Who doesn’t? But you know pretty much everything there is to know about this town.”
Queen nodded. “Uh-huh. I sure do.”
“So tell me,” Quincy said. “I’m curious.”
“Be careful of what makes you curious, son.” Queen sat up straighter and leaned forward, looking Quincy straight in the eye. For a moment, he felt as though she was her old self. She began to talk, and the details came one after another. She told him about how it was common for blacks to own land even as far back as the 1940s. Others were sharecroppers, but there was always work. When Calhoun came to town, everyone thought he was another white man cheating people out of their land. When Madge was born, the midwife who assisted in Madge’s birth said the baby looked like a fly in a bowl of milk. Madge’s parents were fair-skinned, and their baby was dark as the night. That revelation was the talk of the town for weeks. That’s how the Calhoun race-mixing secret came to light.
Queen paused briefly, and then she continued telling the story. “No one knew the story behind old man Calhoun’s birth. Tall tales were flying all over the place. Once I heard Calhoun’s biological mother was white, and she fell in love with a man from Louisiana. When his grandfather found out, he threatened to disown her if she didn’t break off the affair. Calhoun’s mother was white, and the father was a fair-skinned man passing for white.”
Quincy raised an eyebrow. He shook his head and said, “So Calhoun isn’t white, and Madge isn’t all black.”
“Like I said, son, nothing is black and white in this world. Everything is mixed up real good.”
“I’d say so, by the looks of it.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
Quincy nodded. “So then what?”
“Calhoun’s mother returned home in disgrace and pregnant. Since Calhoun was his only grandchild, her father raised him in Chicago. He didn’t do it out of the kindness of his heart; he wanted to keep people from finding out about his grandson’s ancestry. According to Judge Masters, Calhoun’s grandfather was a very powerful man. That was how Calhoun had so many criminal connections in Chicago. That’s why he still does. Walter Calhoun is every bit as nasty as his granddaddy. I don’t know for sure whether any of the tales are true, but I reckon they are. Seeing Madge strutting around town, she’s most definitely like the fly in the ointment. In her ancestry, there was some colored folks for sure.”
“No harm in that,” Quincy said. “People are people.”
“Some people don’t see it that way.” Queen coughed again. She whispered, “Old man Calhoun has a dark side. Folks often gossiped about his ‘forbidden tendencies.’ To date, I’ve never known the extent of his illegal propensities. He’s a strange man who people avoided. Madge’s father has been in and out of trouble with the law. He reminds me of a reprobate soul. The Bible speaks often of people with reprobate minds. Calhoun will be the first one in church on Sunday and will profess he knows God, but in the whole kit and caboodle, he denies the Lord. Calhoun is repulsive and disobedient. In Titus 1:16, it tells you a reprobate mind is one that is corrupt and worthless. That describes old Calhoun to the letter. All I can say is this: Stay clear of Madge Calhoun. That woman reeks of a reprobate soul.”
Queen closed her eyes for a brief moment. “Folks around these parts often talked about Calhoun for his unsavory loaning practices.”
“What kind of loans was he offering?” asked Quincy.
“Calhoun would loan some farmers money to purchase seeds during the spring planting season. In prime real estate areas, he would call in the notes before the harvesting season. If the farmers didn’t have the money right then to pay him, he’d force them to sign their land over to him until harvesting was completed.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” said Quincy.
“It wasn’t. But, then again, not much is. Old man Calhoun usually went after land that had streams or some other water rights on it,” said Queen. “If farmers were experiencing drought in their own areas, he would charge them to have water delivered to their property. He even installed an irrigation pipeline to keep people from stealing. Now, let me get back to the land problems. When the farmers did harvest their crops, and they delivered the crops or the cash to him, he would accuse them of breaching the contract.”
Queen went on talking, saying that she knew Calhoun had altered the signed loans. She told Quincy that most of the farmers never received a copy of the contract agreement. After Calhoun had all the loans in his possession, he must have added more money to original loans. None of the farmers had a leg to stand on, because they didn’t have any proof of the transaction. Quincy had heard some of these stories before but never in such a clear and concise way. He shook his head and said, “Sounds like that man is so crooked that, when he dies, the undertaker is going to corkscrew him in the ground to keep him in the grave.”
“Serve him right.”
“What happened to the farmers?”
“They became tenants on their own farms. He would charge them room and board, plus take control of half of all their harvested produce. The farmers could never get ahead enough financially to buy back their farms. Then on a whim, he’d evict them without cause, just to get control of their land.”
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