PROLOGUE Warm syrup filled the little boy’s cheeks, flooding the corners of his mouth. He closed his mouth in time to catch most of the warm nectar. The rest of the viscous liquid dripped down his dirty face like honey. He bit into the squishy peach slice before flaking loose the golden fried crust with his tongue. His eyes rolled back into his head, savoring the gooey treat. He looked at the treasure near his hand. Should he try the apple, the pear, or the sugar and cocoa powder? Soon gritty sweet granules of chocolate displaced the peach syrup. Each grain exploded with flavor as they passed over his lips. His head jerked forward as he heard his mom call his full name. It was always bad when she included his middle name. He ran then stopped, turning back around. The board holding the pies was behind the trunk of an enormous magnolia tree. All he saw were limbs, trunk, and the slick, glossy-green long leaves covering each branch. He took comfort in the sight and began running again. His short legs were in full gait as he swung around the corner of the sun-bleached batten-board house. The house stood on brick piers and he almost slid under it, his tiny heart was beating so strong. It banged in his head and throat like a drum. He looked up at his mother. He swung his head up and back from the hem of her long violet dress to her stern face. Then he darted his gaze away. She stood above him on the top step of the porch. Behind her his Micheal E. Jimerson 4 father stepped into the doorway. Again, she called him by his full name. She had to know it was him. She was looking right at him. Then she asked, “Where are the pies? I had them cooling on the window sill.” He opened his mouth, yet words didn’t form on his tongue. He shook his head from side to side. She said, “You know you nail Jesus to the cross every time you lie.” The man behind her placed a huge hand on her shoulder. “The boy didn’t do it. I told you it’s the noaccount bum you keep feeding. You never should have let him do odd jobs around here. Told you it won’t do. Looks bad.” The mother looked through the child, and then turned to her husband. The man’s black eyes were cold. He slouched from a full day dragging logs with his mule team. The indebted farm needed the extra income. She had so wanted to reward his hard work and lift his spirits with his favorite dessert. The boy peered at her out of the corner of his eye. Her downcast countenance revealed nothing but anger to the boy. A more sophisticated viewer might have seen in her hazel eyes the raging debate to determine the lesser of two evils. The man’s gruff voice spoke. “I’m going to lie down before Thatcher and his boys bring the dogs. Instead of coons, we’ll hunt us your little pet tonight.” He turned, disappearing into the house. She descended the porch steps. The boy looked at his toes in the dirt. He moved to give his mother room to pass and then felt the stemmy Bahia grass stub his bare feet. Where No Man Pursueth 5 She reached around his back pulling his hands around to her. They were sticky, coated in gooey peach resin. The realization overcame the boy like a vibration riding down a current into his feet. She knew. There was no fooling momma. Why hadn’t he told her the truth? He might get punished, though it wouldn’t be a hard spanking, not like if his father caught him. He would have to find her a switch. After it was over, she might ease his stomach pain. She folded onto her knees, sitting in the grass so she was eye level with the boy. “Can you find the church?” “Yes, ma’am.” “You remember Tob? The old man. Remember, you asked me why he had no hair and only one arm.” The boy nodded. “Preacher lets him live in a shed behind the church. You’re gonna tell him I said, ‘Run.’” The boy continued looking at his feet, nodding. “What did I say to tell him?” “Run.” “Tell him the truth and tell him I said, ‘Run.' Now go, and when you get back put my board back on the window sill.” The boy hesitated. She turned him around and smacked his backside enough to put his small body in motion. He ran. His belly cramped, yet still he ran over rocky gravel digging into his bare feet, and still he ran. The boy raised his hands to keep from striking the door of the shed. The shed held yard tools and the occasional church decoration. The builder had made a door using unfinished two-by- Micheal E. Jimerson 6 sixes braced by two-by-fours. Bark remained on the edges of the lumber. The door swung inward revealing a thin man. Tob smiled, “Boy, what you doin here?” The child spoke in a series of snorts, drawing breath, and yelling at the same time. After a moment, drawing his breath, he recited his message. “Momma say run, run now.” “Can’t run, boy. Promised the preacher-man I would get those flower beds weeded and ready for fall.” He looked in the boy’s eyes placing his one good hand on his knee for balance. “Run. I ate the pies. Pa thinks you did it. Momma says run.” “So, your momma thinks your Pa will beat on me some.” The boy hadn’t put it together, though he nodded his head forward and backward. “Done nothing. I ain’t gonna run. Promised the preacher man. Man’s only as good as his word, boy.” The child shook his head from side to side, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’ll tell Pa the truth.” The old man slid his leg back, moving down to one knee. He put his thumb on the boy’s cheek, sliding the full tear from the mix of dirt, sweat, and peach elixir. His voice moved in a sentence rising from tender to firm. “No sense in that. Done’s done. No lookin back. Won’t be the first time I been beat on.” Tob lifted the child’s head. “You promise me boy. Anybody ever say anything bad about your momma, you don’t believe it. Lady’s like Jesus with skin on.” The boy nodded and Tob released him with a shout. Where No Man Pursueth 7 “Get.” He ran past the front of the church back to the road. As his foot touched the road, he felt a fear so strong it shook his shoulders. Why had his mother been so insistent Tob run? What would his father do? Why would his father hurt Tob? Tob had never done anything to anybody. Looking up behind him he saw the steeple. The preacher never locked the church and older children had already shown him how to reach the bell in the steeple. He folded himself into a corner from where he could see Tob’s shed. He leaned his head against a wall of the church spire, and he slept. Little wonder his mind filled with nightmares. His insides were a mish-mash of golden, warm, sweet, flaky, jelly filled pies. He knew he hadn’t fooled his mother. Still, instead of being mad her voice had trembled with fear. Was the barking of the dogs real or part of the dream? Other than the dogs no noise reached the spire. The boy looked down. Tob rolled on the ground trying to protect his body from punches and kicks. His father stood to the side, neither taking part nor trying to stop the beating. They were beating Tob over what the child had done, though the boy didn’t understand why the pies brought down so much wrath. He wanted to tell his father the truth. He knew what Tob said was true, “Done’s done. No lookin back.” There was no way to make them stop. No way to help Tob. No way to fix the mess he had made. The sour taste of bile invaded his throat. He was vomiting onto the bell. He scurried down. All the way home, his head pounded and his belly ached. The boy couldn’t look at his momma. He wrapped his arms around her legs. Her long dress caught his tears. PART I There’ll Be No Lynching, No Burning, and No Skinning 11 CHAPTER 1: The Murder Pine forest weave through the hills of East Texas before such trees give way to ancient oaks rising from sloughs and anchored by cypresses encased in Spanish moss. No trace marks the years, centuries, and eons. Only delving beneath the surface reveals the product of an imponderable chronology, crushing pressure, and massive heat. Oil is not the real treasure of East Texas. Her true gift to the world is a heritage handed down by generations who have proven racism, corruption, and greed don’t define the human condition. Rather, it is an unwavering belief that the image of divine justice within our souls is both our heritage and our future. Young Ray Elliott was standing in the lobby of the Halten bank in Nacogdoches, Texas. Soon, events would occur, driving the remainder of his life. In fact, he held no appreciation for the power of the crucible before him. He had meandered through adolescence without expectation for his life. Ray Elliott had heard racial slurs yelled out in anger. Although he didn’t use such language, it was commonplace. Why did the words take him aback today? It was the source. The source seemed so unlikely. The offending speaker was a handsome man wearing a blue suit and a high starched collar with a matching tie. Everyone in Nacogdoches was acquainted with the man. He was the bank owner’s son-in-law. Even while yelling, the man spoke with no perceptible accent, a rare sound in Micheal E. Jimerson 12 the Deep South. Moreover, because of his father-in-law’s wealth and standing, this man was akin to a celebrity. Ray Elliott shook his head, pondering the inexplicable incongruence. Such open bigotry from a man the accepted gossip claimed was carrying on an affair with a young black girl. Yet here stood Richard Watersong, disparaging another man in a vile manner for the color of the person’s skin. Richard Watersong added to his considerable tirade of racism, “… you have to satisfy your debts.” Ray Elliott interjected, “Always heard tell Lukas Halten built his banks on Christian values. Figured it was a bunch of lies.” He gestured to the man bearing the brunt of Richard Watersong’s yelling. Richard Watersong’s face indicated he was beyond perturbed by the insolence of young Ray Elliott. Richard Watersong reached his left hand out in front of him like he was catching some part of himself for fear he would leap upon the boy. “I am not doing this. I am not arguing with a white trash scrap of a boy over a colored who can’t pay his debts, so take your chickens and your eggs and whatever else you are going around selling and tell your momma and daddy they won’t be doing any more business with this bank. Tell them they better look to their own note.” Ray Elliott scanned the long wood counter topped by parallel iron bars extending to the ceiling. His eyes met the hired clerk, and he stole a glimpse of the young black woman who was the topic of gossip throughout the community. Ray Elliott’s family would face ruin, for what? Because he irritated the wealthiest man in town? Why had he made such an impetuous and stupid decision? Grappling with self-pity regarding the unfairness of Where No Man Pursueth 13 the universe only led to more guilt in the end. As his father had said, “He was old enough to know how the world worked.” The middle-aged black man was dressed similar to Ray Elliott. They were both wearing the uniform of a poor farmer. The black man begged for his home. “Mr. Richard, I paid the money back. That’s what I rode all the way from London to tell you. Please don’t take my land. It’s all my family has.” Richard Watersong said, “No receipt is no payment. I am sure you were told the same at the home bank in Henderson.” Richard Watersong appeared to be drawing a deep breath to complete the castigation of the debtor when the thud-dinging sound of a hammer hitting wood resonated from the back of the store. Richard Watersong turned toward the back of the bank. “Dock, stop tearing out the wall.” Ray Elliott looked toward the back of the store. He couldn’t see past the start of a narrow hallway. Then he turned his slumped shoulders in the other direction, toward the door, looking for fresh air. Ray Elliott decided somehow money must rot because banks always smelled musty. Richard Watersong swung back around, directing a long finger at the black farmer. “You get out of here before I have the sheriff arrest you.” Before Ray Elliott reached the door, it swung open, revealing an elegant lady dressed in a flowing series of emerald green ruffles which were set off by black embroidery. Her red hair was in a tall bun held in place by heavy dark comb. The dress drew out the green in her Micheal E. Jimerson 14 hazel eyes. Perfume like fresh-cut flowers divided the humid morning air. Behind her was a well-dressed elderly man in a dark suit. Ray Elliott recognized the old man. He was bank owner, Lukas Halten, and this must be his daughter, Richard Watersong’s wife. She was the second most talked about woman in town these days. Ray Elliott had to compare the two women. Everyone else did. He wondered whether Mrs. Watersong even knew she had a rival. Then he answered his own question. Of course she didn’t know. The younger woman, really a girl, busied herself in a corner with a broom. She was a vastly different kind of beauty. A petite and dark-skinned doll with a heart-shaped face appearing as if she were molded from chocolate, like she would melt at the touch. The rumors claimed she hadn’t melted at Richard Watersong’s touch. Her flower sack dress couldn’t diminish her. Lukas Halten’s voice boomed from the entryway. “Richard, we need to talk. Now, in the back.” The tone was in stark contrast to his frail appearance. “Queeny, get a cup of coffee and bring it to Mr. Halten.” Richard Watersong bellowed as he turned for the hallway. Ray Elliott looked at the large raised letters over the door. A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones, Proverbs 14:30. He stepped through the door, surveying the intersection of Pecan and Main Street. The square was crammed with wagons and mules. Across the traditional Spanish style square, he could see the Old Stone Fort decaying on the opposite corner. His mind was racing. What was he going to do? He heard the voice from over his shoulder and turned toward Where No Man Pursueth 15 the sound. “I appreciate you trying to do right. I’m Cecil Grant and I paid him back once.” “I don’t doubt you, Mr. Grant.” The big man’s dark eyes were pleading. “My father got the land from the Freedman’s Bureau. I am grateful he has been called to glory and didn’t live to see me lose it.” Ray Elliott gave the man some space. He looked out over a square crowded with wagons and mule teams. “I reckon you got a family.” “Four kids and a wife.” Cecil Grant offered his hand. “I want to thank you again for trying. Not many white folks would, especially not a young man like yourself. It’s odd, downright curious of you, but thanks.” Ray Elliott moved the plucked broilers from his right hand to join the basket of eggs in his left before shaking the man’s hand. “I will pray for you.” Ray Elliott really wasn’t much of a praying person, but it seemed like the thing to say. Besides, the man’s compliment was kind of a strange compliment, though the look in the Cecil Grant’s face conveyed sincerity. The tall man turned and walked toward a swayback horse. The old horse was a flea-bitten gray with a saddle, which looked like it might have served a conquistador on an expedition of conquest in an earlier century. The bridle was braided horse hair made in a style no longer in use. Cecil Grant’s tall gaunt frame echoed the announcement of poverty his horse and saddle made. Ray Elliott had the answer to why he had crossed a powerful man and put his family at risk with no thought as to the consequences. Cecil Grant had nothing material in this world, yet his head was high and his demeanor Micheal E. Jimerson 16 firm. Debtor or small-town king, black or white, young or old, man or woman, Richard Watersong had no right to any person’s dignity. Ray Elliott looked all around the square. There were shops, businesses, and residences in every direction. Still, there was nowhere presenting any better prospect of selling his wares than any other direction. His mother was trying to raise money to take one of his little sisters to the doctor. His youngest sister was born sickly and never seemed to get much better. Liza Jane was the most affectionate of his siblings, and the one to whom he was most attached. How was he going to tell his parents he had failed again? The square and the town looked the same as it had when he was fourteen, when he was ten, the same as long as he could remember: small, stifling, and mind numbing. There was no opportunity, no future, and no escape. His father let him plant his own patch of tomatoes this year. They had gotten the blight early in the season and rotted on the vine. The saggy skin of the tomatoes covering the slippery unformed pulp fell into a black decomposition. He looked down at his feet, half expecting to see the dark rot overtaking him too. His head snapped back at the sudden swoosh of the door behind him. A blur slammed into his chest. It twisted him sprawling onto the street with the chicken and eggs flying into the air. A boot landed next to his head in the warm mud and then it was up and gone. Ray Elliott looked toward the bank and caught the sunlight reflecting from Richard Watersong’s cuff links. He was hollering something. He was yelling, “Murderer.” “Stop him. He killed Lukas Halten.” Richard Where No Man Pursueth 17 Watersong’s fine suit was covered in a wide spatter pattern of blood. Ray Elliott strained his head to look between wagons and mules. He glimpsed a black man wearing a pair of light-colored overalls and a tan shirt running frantically. The man knocked over an old farmer and kept running. Ray Elliott jumped to his feet. He easily passed Richard Watersong, weaving through the crowded square. He continued chasing the man in overalls south onto Fredonia Street. He crossed the footbridge over Banita Creek. Ray Elliott put the route together in his head. He began running for Auggie’s livery as if he knew where the man must be going. A gunshot echoed through the street. Ray Elliot ran toward the sound. He crashed into the barn and caught movement past him in the corral. There was another gunshot and Ray Elliott looked himself over, surprising himself with the absurdity of his reaction. He was looking to see if he was shot. There was no blood, no holes. Ray Elliott saw the proprietor, the man he knew to be old Auggie. He wasn’t hit, though he was stumbling. “Smacked my head against the wall and beat me with my own pistol. Strong fellow, dark as night.” Ray Elliott towered over old Auggie, so it was easy to see the trickle of blood above the elderly man’s left ear. “Auggie, we need to get you to a doctor.” Old Auggie shook his head. “No, the scoundrel has the horse I just bought. He’s only green broke. Going to be the best with a little work. You got to get him for me or I’m done, cleaned out.” There was a loud voice from the street. “No one is going to ‘get’ anyone. It’s foolishness, nothing but a good Micheal E. Jimerson 18 way to get yourselves killed. I will probably telephone and wire the surrounding sheriffs and marshals, then the rangers. Someone will stop him along the way.” The voice belonged to a man wearing a shiny star on his dark waistcoat who was making his way through the street. He was pulling a small crowd of townsfolk behind him. His attire seemed more appropriate for a stage production. He wore stove-pipe boots with ‘Sheriff’ embroidered on the tops in grey, matching the wide brimmed Stetson hat. Ray Elliott’s attention was drawn to a large white tie pin made to mimic a diamond with the initials, I&GN in black letters. Old Auggie turned to the sheriff. “Take days to get lawmen here. He’ll be long gone. We got to go now.” Old Auggie was a tiny framed man who walked stooped, even when he hadn’t been injured. The sheriff shook his head with deliberation and then grimaced. “The man is well mounted, armed, and desperate. It is too late for Lukas Halten. A stolen horse and a pistol are not worth getting killed over. We got no good men to go chasing him. Even if he gets a little further down the road, we are not going to lose a crop over it.” Ray Elliott looked at Old Auggie. He couldn’t remember not knowing the man. Auggie had been old all Ray Elliott’s life. Despite an ever-increasing stoop to his shoulder and the obvious damage inflicted to his twisted hands by arthritis, Old Auggie never complained. So, for Old Auggie, the ask was akin to begging. Ray Elliott said, “I’ll go.” The crowd looked at the youth, and his words surprised him, too. The sheriff’s face tightened, and his mustache seemed to twitch. He waved a gauntlet encased finger at Ray Where No Man Pursueth 19 Elliott. “You are not going, boy.” Richard Watersong arrived, looking disheveled. He was out of breath. “The sheriff is right, boy. He is a coldblooded murderer.” The sheriff asked, “What is the killer’s name?” Richard Watersong answered, “Dock Baxter. He was remodeling my office. He stole some cash from the vault room but couldn’t get in the safe. I suspect Lukas Halten walked in on him.” While the sheriff continued to interview Richard Watersong, Old Auggie slipped to the back of the barn and saddled a blue roan. Ray Elliott put his hand over Old Auggie’s shoulder and stepped in front him. Ray Elliott found the stirrup and squeezed his legs. He was out the back door before the sheriff could yell at him. The powerful horse was loping in the general direction the murderer appeared to be headed. Ray Elliott had no experience chasing murderers. He had read a few dime novels. Actually, he read the same few until the covers wore off and the bindings broke. The long strides of the gelding were taking him further and further from town, further and further from the life he knew. Later, he would look back realizing he cast himself on the sea of a dangerous life without thought to the ramifications.