This time the prompt comes from a headline from 1913 in a Detroit paper: MICHIGAN MAN'S TASTES GET HIM INTO TROUBLE. I have no idea what the story was about because the print is so tiny. And I don't want to know, nor should you. Make it your own story. Feel free to change Michigan to whatever state or place you want. In fact, I suggest it. Maybe the places will factor in heavily. So the title of every story will be the same except for the place.The locales can make it zing.My story plays in Mississippi--I have to set a story here at least once. Even though the place is still very much a mystery to me, I get what locals love: the coast, the mild-ish winter, nature, the boating. Oh, and I got to swim with the bat rays at Horn Island once, which is pretty amazing. So I had to work that in there.
Anyway, here's my (kid-friendly) story...
MISSISSIPPI MAN'S TASTES GET HIM INTO TROUBLE
It wasn’t a good day for fishing. Junior knew this before he even made it to the pier, so he took a detour. He walked the adjacent boating docks, like he always did with Daddy. Well, until last April’s bad Sunday anyway. Daddy didn’t like to go fishing much anymore. Not even on Sunday mornings, when Momma was busy with church.
The water was too flat, the sun too harsh, the air too thick with Mississippi humidity. Had to get out in the Gulf a few miles for good fishing, past the barrier islands, where the water was fresh and clear. If you lived on the Mississippi coast, you needed to have a boat. Everyone knew that to be true. Especially Daddy.
Junior walked the docks, past the boats that bobbed gently in the water. It was busy for a Sunday, lots of folk buzzing about, getting ready for next week’s boat show. There were sales people in suits, tanned men with slicked back hair and too-white teeth, and boaters minding their vessels. Junior clutched his small cooler, the one with his name in washed-out Sharpie letters on the bottom. He was sorry now that he spent his last few dollars on bait. Nothing was going to bite on a day like today.
Daddy would’ve known it too. Junior always hoped he’d run into Daddy on the docks during these Sunday morning trips.
Glad I caught ya’ll here, son. Gonna be a tough day for angling, but we’ll get ‘em.
And then they’d walk to the adjoining pier. Catch ten fish, like the one time last year, or nothing—Junior really didn’t care. He just liked listening to Daddy talk about the water, the fish, the boat he would buy. They’d take it out to Horn Island where the beaches were white and the water was clear. You could swim with the bat rays, Daddy said. Here in Gulfport, the water was so murky, you couldn’t see your line past an inch once it got into the water. Hard to know what you were catching. And nobody in their right mind went swimming here.
No more dreaming of a boat or Horn Island trips now. Not after it had turned so sour.
Junior just about reached the end of the dock, but saw a cluster of adults blocking his way. He was about to turn around and head to the pier, when he smelled it. The cigar smoke—sweet, acrid. Only a whiff, but Junior knew it was him.
Tucker Williams. Or whatever the guy’s name really was.
“Got the cash, baby.” That was his voice—Tucker for sure.
Junior clutched his cooler and fishing pole. Felt the sweat drip down the side of his face as he turned. And he quickly walked back the way he came, trying to forget that voice and the cigar smoke. But the smell got stuck up his nose.
Junior stopped. Could practically feel the soles of his worn flip-flops melt on the hot wood planks of the dock.
All our savings! Junior could hear Momma yell at Daddy like it was yesterday. You done got yourself swindled. That boat wasn’t even his! Didn’t you think to check the papers?
Of course Daddy reported the theft to the police—after he got arrested on the boat not an hour later. All their life savings for a vessel that belonged to a couple in Florida with no interest in selling. The papers that this Tucker fellow had given Daddy were fake. And Daddy had handed him all their money, in a small cooler like Junior carried today. Tucker had told Daddy to bring it like that. Safer that way.
The swindler was gone. Happened all the time, police said once Daddy explained what happened. Not much to do, not with a cash deal on the docks. Murky business. That’s what the policeman called it.
Junior turned back around. Felt the fire lit under him, like a hot Mississippi July day. He made his way past the crowd, to the far end of the dock. There was that smell again. Stronger this time, lingering in the humid air.
The low morning sun’s glare made it hard to see, but it was Tucker Williams alright. He sat on a bench, away from all the boats. Talking on the phone, smoking one of those thin cigars. Tucker shot him a glance, but looked away. To him, Junior was just another kid with a fishing pole.
He doesn’t even remember me. Junior bit his cheek.
“I’m done here now, sweetie. Comin’ your way right quick—we can have a late breakfast at that place you like.” There was a cooler, sitting on the bench next to Tucker.
Junior forced himself to walk over. He sat down next to the guy, pretending to get his line ready for fishing.
Tucker turned away a bit, lowered his voice. “Or lunch. Whatever you want, hon.” He reached behind him, touching the cooler with his fingertips. “It’s on me.” Then Tucker dropped his arm back to his side.
Junior took his chance. He switched the coolers quickly.
Got up. Disappeared into the crowd.
Junior’s feet flip-flopped fast as he hurried away. He found his favorite secluded fishing spot on the adjoining pier before opening the cooler. Wads of hundreds, rolled neatly. Junior couldn’t tell how much was there, but it had to be a lot. At least as much as Daddy lost. Maybe more.
He smiled, and imagined Tucker Williams finding that stinky bait inside the cooler. Turning it over, reading the faded black letters on the bottom, knowing he’d been double-crossed. By a kid.
Junior stayed in his hiding spot, even threw out a line without the bait. There was a breeze now. The air was lighter.
Turned out it was a good day for fishing after all.
***You can find links to more stories here at Patti's blog.***