Chapter 1: The Plan

PART I 

CHAPTER ONE

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My name is Clinton Moore. I am a lawyer born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. I almost made it to my seventy-second birthday—invited over a hundred guests to my party—but a client, and then a stranger, wrecked my plans the day before my cake was to go into the oven.

Mike, who I’d been defending for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, was helping me build my new house at the edge of Clarksdale, my hometown, in trade for legal representation on his latest screw-up. I was carrying a lot of money that day—my part of a settlement in a case against a giant Memphis gas company. It was a tough win and having the money on me felt pretty damned good.

“That’s a mighty big wad of cash you’ve got in your wallet, Mister Clinton.” Mike grinned as he watched me pull out a couple of bills to pay for construction supplies delivered on site. I smiled back at the kid and returned to work. Didn’t want to lecture him, but one day he might grow up and stay out of trouble—at least I’d hoped.

We worked under the blazing Mississippi sun a few more hours, then I looked up at him from my posthole digger, deciding it was time to lay off for the day.

“Hey Mike, it’s starting to get late, and we’ve been moving this dirt for hours. Let’s you and me go back to my place and catch a shower,” I winked. He was a good-looking young man, old enough to be legal, and we’d already been together.

I liked men more than women. Since junior high, I’d shielded my family and most colleagues from this secret, but my closest friends knew I wasn’t straight, including Tom and Karen, my minister and his wife.

In the late 1950s and 60s, you had to keep this hush-hush. Back then, you could be killed for being queer, especially if you were black and lived in Mississippi. But, in my later years, I didn’t have to be so careful, and society’s change to openness had made life easier.

I thought I knew Mike and looked forward to the next few hours in bed. He was young and firm, with muscles that rippled in the sun, and we should have had a pretty good time together. When we got to my house, I thought Mike followed me upstairs. I was already naked, shedding my clothes on the way up to my bedroom.

I didn’t see him grab my 9 mm Glock from a table next to the stairwell. Like all my guns at home, the office, and in the trunk of my car, I kept it locked, loaded, and safety off. I’d reached the top landing, making a quarter-turn of my upper body to the left, to smile down at him. Mike aimed the gun straight at me.

“Oh, God. Don’t do this, Mike!” I screamed.

He pulled the trigger, and the bullet entered my left forearm and lodged in my right shoulder, traveling up through my neck. I dropped to the floor, and as my blood spilled onto the white hall carpet, Mike ran up the stairs, found my pants where I’d dropped them off, and reached into the pocket to pull out my fat wallet and take my money.

Then Mike surprised me. He apologized before leaving me there, bleeding. He acted shaken and cried. “Sorry, dude. I didn’t really mean it. He made me do it, that man. I didn’t want to, but I had to. Oh, shit!”

Mike ran back down the stairs, grabbed my keys, and fled out the front door. I heard him drive off in my new Cadillac. I always knew the kid had no impulse control. This was obvious all along. But who was the man he’d talked about? The man who told him to shoot me?

Once Mike left, everything slowed down and became quiet. I heard my lifeblood draining, and with the little strength I had left, I crawled over to my bedroom door, propped myself up against it, and waited to die. No one would find me; I knew it was over.

Twenty minutes or so later, a strange man slowly opened my front door and crept up the staircase. He found me struggling to breathe. Through the haze I could see he was tall, his body well-toned. Older than I, his steel gray head was closely shaved.

As he bent over to see if I was dead, I noticed his gaunt face, his sharp nose, and his high cheekbones. I tried asking why he wanted to kill me, but could not get my lips to move. The last thing I remember was his strange eyes peering down at me, one green and the other blue. He raised his pistol, and the bullet drove into my left temple, traveling down to my neck. Then my lights went out.

I have no earthly idea how much time passed, but when I tried shaking off the fog, there was nothing left of me to shake. My body was gone. I sensed a slight growing buzz and realized I must be dead, whatever dead was. I began to pay attention to where I’d landed, guessing it was some afterlife I’d constructed for myself.

 

*****

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*****

Would I see my longtime friend and serious lover who was killed two and a half years earlier? Joe’s murder had sent me into a sheltered life. I’d been so scared, after seeing that he’d been physically tortured, that I’d quit going to my law office and hung out around my church, where I was the minister, building membership and fixing up the place. I did all of my legal work there and at home instead of my regular office, after Joe’s murder.

I could talk about my new state of being for eons, but it’s important to look at what was happening back in the physical world shortly after I was killed, since the man who murdered me was still hanging around my house. Perhaps I could figure out who he was!

I hovered over him and watched as he messed up everything, digging through drawers and closets, tearing up cupboards, knocking over a lamp or two, looking for my secrets. All of my important records—including documents showing a racist Mississippi U.S. senator’s involvement in assassinations—were stored in the locked safe at my office. Apparently, my killer didn’t know this, or he would have gone over there and blown it open, once he finished his work at my house. But he didn’t.

*****

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*****

When my killer couldn’t find what he was looking for, he put my house back in order. That was weird, but I figured he was trying to keep the heat on Mike by cleaning up his own mess and restoring my house to what he thought was normal. This way, it would look like Mike and I’d had a lover’s quarrel that ended in a shooting, and nothing else. After killing me, Mike would have had no reason to search my house for anything in particular.

The more I thought about this strange man’s actions, the more I believed he probably was the same man who’d told Mike to shoot me. He’d come in behind the kid to make sure Mike did exactly what he’d been told to do.

It was all so crazy, but I followed my murderer around the house while he washed, dried, and stacked my dirty dishes, picked up my dirty underwear and socks, and swept the kitchen floor. I was still wobbly at moving around, but got better as we traveled together. Once, I sat on his shoulders, and he tried to flick me off like a booger, not realizing it was me going along for the ride.

Picking up my magazines and papers from the floor, he neatly placed them on the coffee table—straighter than I’d ever kept them. Later, I’d hear some of my closest friends saying that my house was way too clean when they found me, and that something wasn’t right.

When the man who killed me finally put my house back neater than I’d ever kept it, he slipped out the side door and drove off. Curious, I floated along, having no idea where we were going. But I left him at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport before dispatching myself back north to the Delta.

Morning came, along with my sister Betty, who started knocking at my door at 7:45 a.m. My family always had been nosey about my life, especially after I moved back home in 1971. I’m sure they wondered why I didn’t have a wife or date women. They never directly asked me any questions about this, but always seemed to be looking in on me, especially Betty. She had this habit of waking me up in the morning with a phone call to see if I’d left for work. It was silly of her. She didn’t need to do this, since I always showed up to work on time, but on this particular morning, I appreciated her usually unwelcome intrusion.

When she couldn’t get any response to her wake-up call, she walked a couple of blocks to my house. I heard her knock, trying to get my attention. I was already frustrated because I couldn’t answer her earlier phone call and was annoyed that my message machine kept bleeping I wasn’t home.

“Clinton! Wake up! It’s Betty! You’ve got to get to work.” She pounded hard a couple more times, then opened my front door—that I never locked—and walked inside. Normally, Betty would never have called Chief Jim Billy for help, not on her life. That cracker belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, like so many other white Delta cops. But in this case, after seeing my house abnormally clean, and not being able to wake me up with her yelling, she must have felt terrified, so she dialed 911 from her cell phone.

Within two minutes, Chief Billy raced over in his squad car—siren blaring and lights blazing. It had to be his fastest response to any crime scene, ever. He walked inside and swept the room with his muddy eyes, then bounded upstairs where he tripped over my dead body. I was there on the carpet staring up at him and saw the chief’s lip curl into a sneer. I tried to wink, but couldn’t. Billy had hated me since junior high school. Years later, he’d spread rumors that I was starting house fires around town so that my legal clients could cash in on their homeowner’s insurance.

Billy trotted back down the stairs and lost no time telling Betty I was dead as a doornail. “You’ll have to leave the house right now, Missy Betty. I got po’tant work to do, and you’ll get yo’sef in the way.”

After Billy bum-rushed her out the front door, he did a quick investigation of the crime scene. Three minutes later, Billy dispatched an officer on his two-way radio to haul off what used to be me in the county ambulance while he stayed inside tearing up the floorboards and walls, looking for who knows what! There was nothing hidden in my house, and Billy had to realize this, but he went ahead anyway and tore the hell out of it.

Eventually, Billy walked out to his squad car, carrying a small paper bag, and drove off. He probably didn’t want to appear empty-handed when leaving the crime scene, so he placed a few pieces of flooring into his sack. I floated along in his police car to see where he was headed. He stopped off first at the local Rebel’s Roost Grill, which we all called “The Grill,” where he started spreading gossip that I’d been pushing drugs and child porn. Always was a pitiful little man, that Chief Billy.

I hovered around my friend Walker, owner of the Grill, who after growing disgusted with Billy’s mean-spirited talk, sneaked into the kitchen and called up an old white liberal county judge on his cell phone, telling him what Billy was up to. Judge Asher Roy promised he would issue a gag order, while apologizing in advance to Walker that it probably wouldn’t do much good. The judge went ahead with the paperwork; to this day, the order has never been lifted.

Later that afternoon, I heard my body drop on a steel table at the state medical examiner’s morgue down in Jackson, 172 miles due south of my home. The examiner gets $500 per examined body and knows how to work the system. He’s sloppy and slick. He didn’t examine the contents of my stomach or look for venous punctures. Didn’t check my scalp or feet. He included no ballistics report in his final narrative on me so no one ever questioned the two unique wounds from two distinct weapons delivered by two different people.

I was riding around with the Chief a couple of days later when we caught up with the first shooter, Mike, in another little Delta town forty-five minutes south of Clarksdale. All my money turned up in my Caddy’s glove compartment; my Glock, two rifles, and shotgun were still in my trunk.

When the ADA questioned Mike, she bluffed the kid into pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Otherwise, she threatened, Mike would face capital murder charges. When she warned the kid, “You’ll get a needle in your arm if you don’t agree to this,” Mike looked damned frightened. I felt bad for him and disgusted with her. She would do anything to wrap up a case real quick! But I was dead. What could I do?

I tried to defend Mike because he didn’t kill me. I heard Mike screaming that a strange man made him shoot me, and that when he left my house, I wasn’t dead. But no one listened to him. Floating across the room and waving my phantom arms, I shouted to no avail. No one could hear me, no matter how hard I worked, so I finally gave up.

If none of this makes sense, or if it sounds too ridiculous, it would not be the first time things were screwy in the Magnolia State. I’d been secretly collecting evidence on cold cases—murder and other violent atrocities against black people, and some white folks—for my entire legal life. Obviously, someone wanted me to stop what I was doing, and to steal or destroy my secret files. To keep the documentation I’d collected from causing them problems. Don’t bother thinking it was Chief Billy who did this to me, since his radar wasn’t usually plugged into the socket, if you know what I mean.

When the Chief left the Grill, I’m sure he was thinking this would be the end of it. And, for most people around Mississippi, especially the white politicians, law enforcement officers, most journalists, and state archival librarians, and even my closest friends and colleagues and family—once I was dead—that WAS the end of it. Except my name still pops up every so often.

Keep Reading The Plan (available now at Amazon, print and kindle - Also available at Barnes and Noble-NookSmashwordsePub/iTunes and Other Online bookstores)