31 July 2000:
Maddie’s, the local watering hole for Fort Pixie, Mississippi was jumpin’. Men and women, all dressed in the Class A’s, crowded into the honky tonk, swelling past the posted capacity, all slapping high fives and patting each other on the back, whether they knew them or not.
Except for the two men sitting at a small table across from the dance floor. Both men watched the commotion with dead eyes. Walt took a sip of his drink and nodded to the rowdy crowd.
“Look at these fools. You’d think they weren’t leaving for Africa in the morning.”
“Mmhmm,” Jake said. “Ain’t nothin’ like a hangover and a long flight to remind you why you shouldn’t be stupid.”
“Won’t be any hair of the dog to help ‘em get right.”
“Nope,” Jake muttered, as he sipped his Dr. Pepper, his eyes never wandering from the crowd. A lifelong Southerner, his accent added color to any word he said. ‘Nope’ came out NAW-P. Walt got a kick out of his friend’s accent. Even when he tried to speak in the king’s English, his accent tripped him up.
“You’re gonna be the only redneck in Africa, Jake. It won’t matter how you dress; they’ll know it’s you by your talkin’.”
“Walt, get off your brother. You don’t sound any better.”
Maddie, or Mads as Walt and Jake called her, was owner and proprietor of her namesake. She was a lifelog Mississippian, proud of her heritage and her business. At 34, she’d been in business for seven years, gotten married, and went white-headed. Mads claimed her hair changed because she spent all her free time worrying about ‘her boys.’ Walt and Jake were about as close as she would come to having sons of her own. Maddie was barren. Her empty womb was the bane of her existence. Walt once asked her why she had never adopted.
“Why would I want to raise someone else’s heathens, when I can’t have my own?”
Her rebuke informed Walt that the conversation should never be breached again. Jake finished his Dr. Pepper, stood, and kissed Mads on the forehead. She gave him a wink and a warm hug before he pushed his way through the crowd.
“We’ve got an early flight, Mads,” Walt said.
“I know. You guys be careful over there, take care of Jake for me.”
Maddie hugged Walt tight, and he returned her squeeze. Of all the people who knew Mads, she and Walt had a special bond, and it had nothing to do with shared skin pigmentation. Walt had defended Mads from grade six up to graduation. Jake had grown up in the southeastern portion of the state, Mads and Walt in the northern tip.
Still, the trio made up for lost time and their friendship was solid. Walt and Mads knew if trouble should ever arise, all they had to do was tell Jake the name, and he’d handle it. They may not like how he handled it, but it would get taken care of.
After all, that’s what friends do for each other.