|Jim Fraiser is a federal administrative law judge, law professor, freelance journalist, book and theater reviewer for the Sun Herald, a professional actor (My Dog Skip, The River Pirates, Blind Justice, Mississippi Burning), and historian. He is the author of 8 produced plays, two of which will be produced at Bay St. Louis Little Theater in March, five published poems, and 17 books—four novels (including Shadow Seed, nominated for Best Fiction 1997 by Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters), one book of short stories, and 12 non-fiction books about the history, architecture and culture of the Deep South, including the best-selling French Quarter of New Orleans and The Garden District of New Orleans (University Press of Mississippi), and The Majesty of the Mississippi Delta, Vanished Mississippi Gulf Coast, Historic Architecture of Baton Rouge and Majesty of Mobile, with Pelican Publishing Company. A Greenwood native and longtime Jackson resident, he now lives in Pass Christian with his son Paul (7).|
In An Enemy's Country
The tall, angular, shaggy-haired man in a black open-collared silk shirt, balck designer jeans, and dark leather desert shoes intently eyed the woman seated on the wooded park bench before him.
She lifted the strands of raven-colored hair covering her eyes and forced herself to meet his baleful glare. “What exactly do you want with me, this time?” she asked solemnly. “Quit toying with me and tell me what you need me to do.”
When he didn’t answer, she lowered her eyes, fixing them on her shoe tops. “What must I do?” she asked again, flashing anger for the briefest moment before her eyes turned back into inscrutable obsidian disks.
“Thanks for coming. I’ve missed you.”
She blinked twice. “I know.”
He sat beside her on the bench.
She looked away from him, into the night. Dark gray clouds blotted the purple twilight sky, humidity choked the air. She thought she discerned a trace of magnolia aroma in the heavy air, but the fetid scent of urine the homeless had left in the park smothered the scent.
The clouds hung so low they clipped the tops of the massive live oak that dominated the four block square park. The great oak’s ponderous limbs thrust out in every direction, suffocating the smaller pin oaks and magnolias standing at vaguely twisted angles, proof of their life-long struggles for sunlight in the larger tree’s shadow.
She wiped beads of sweat from her brow. How could it be this hellish in December, she wondered, before reminding herself she now sat in the very heart of tropical Jackson, Mississippi.
Despite the humidity, or perhaps because of it, the tall man’s scent, dank, sour, unwashed, except for the recent change of unsullied clothes, assailed her with a vengeance. His breath reeked of something that reminded of carrion. It’s already begun, she realized with a shudder, feeling a sudden chill in no way connected to the weather.
She waited anxiously for him to speak, burrowing the pointed toes of her shoes into a soft patch of earth below the bench. But he remained silent, distant, peering straight ahead at the two Occupy the Park protesters in the distance, their large pasteboard signs stuck in the ground on stakes beside them, playing checkers on a concrete table beside a dried-up, weather-beaten fountain. Behind these men, across the street from the park, stood a granite replica of an ancient Greek temple with a triangular pediment and massive, gray concrete columns. Either a bank or church, she figured, neither of which offered her sanctuary at times like these. She had nothing invested in either.
“If I do this for you, whatever you want me to do….”
“Will you let me…” She felt his eyes searing irradiated fissures in her cheeks, sensed him inclining his head toward her in a malignant downward arc, his eyes coming almost level with hers. The fear, the rancid aromas, the heat simmering from his body, and the unexpected humidity stole her breath, choked off her words.
“Let you out of my life forever?” he murmured condescendingly.
She could see his wide, iniquitous grin in her mind’s eye, but dared not turn to look. Nothing good would come of his seeing the disgust in her eyes, or of her moving her lips any closer to his.
“Yes,” he said in a much kinder tone than she expected. This was his way of conceding her terms. At least that’s what she hoped, the way a fly hopes the sleeping spider hasn’t felt her crashing into his web.
She forced herself to face him. “What do you want me to do?”
Holding her gaze, he gave a barely perceptible smile.
She felt a tightening in her throat, more suffocating than if he had smacked her on the mouth. At least that would have made her feel more alive than his disconcerting, gangrenous smile.
“In a moment,” he said, turning to the man on his left. “And what are you prepared to do?”
The woman glanced at the thin man. Lurking in the shadows with a scraggly mustache and sunken eyes like a cadaver’s, he looked like an overcooked radish in his brown polyester shirt, raggedy jeans, and tattered work boots.
The gaunt man gave an exasperated look but spoke in a tone that could never be interpreted as aggressive. “I’m ready to go through with your plan, Ryan. You know that, don’t you?”
“But not overly confident of its success?”
Before the other could blurt his usual beggarly response, the man called Ryan said, “Not to worry, my friend. As a modestly popular writer once said, ‘the greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows.’”
The woman turned in amazement, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, unable to believe what she had heard. You’ve never done anything quietly in your whole damned life, she thought but didn’t say.
“What writer said that?” the thin man asked with more apprehension than curiosity.
“No one of consequence. Until now.”