Dead Man’s Hat Excerpt (Video)

Everyone on the block heard the shots, but nobody saw anything. Nobody ever saw anything.

Inspired by “Small Change” by Tom Waits

Lenny heard the shots. Hell, everybody on the block heard the shots, but nobody saw anything. Nobody ever saw anything, not even those who were there, looking right at whatever was happening. They were the ones who especially didn’t see anything because they knew what would happen to them if they did. Lenny knew, so he made an extra effort to not see anything. Like when Artie went by and entered the arcade. Lenny knew it was only a matter of time before he’d need to look away. So, he did.

Arthur Desanto had been in town for about a week, from Chicago, he claimed. Lenny hadn’t met many people from Chicago. He’d get a lot of New Yorkers asking him if he knew where they could find the Times, but Artie was the first one from Chicago, or at least the first to say so. Artie got really quiet when Lenny asked why he was in Atlanta, and Lenny knew not to press him. Other than that, Artie had been pretty talkative, asking about the night life, such as it was. Lenny told him about the San Souci and the Domino, but Artie had already found them and didn’t seem too impressed. There was also the Clermont over on Ponce, which Lenny mentioned to Artie.

Artie was staying in the Grady Hotel, which was why Lenny had the opportunity to get to know him a bit. Artie never seemed to have anything to do from two to four, so he hung out near the diner, chewing an enormous wad of gum and quizzing Lenny about baseball players on cards he had in his pocket. Artie was a collector, he said, though Lenny couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to hang on to those things once the gum was gone. As a kid, Lenny had been a fan of the Crackers and went to games with his father when they played on Ponce but didn’t follow the sport on a national level. He didn’t know much about this new team they brought in from Milwaukee and hadn’t yet been out to the stadium they built for them south of town last year. Artie was fairly knowledgeable, but Lenny got the strong sense Artie was just showing off, which didn’t really impress Lenny all that much, but he didn’t want to seem rude. Lenny figured Artie just needed someone to talk to and Lenny didn’t have a whole lot to do until the afternoon edition came out anyway.

Lenny was a news boy, hawking the Journal in the afternoons on Peachtree between Ellis and Cain Streets downtown. He’d been doing it for about a year, among other odd jobs, after dropping out of Brown High School to help his Mom make ends meet following his father’s death. Lenny was the oldest of two boys and two girls, so he saw it as his responsibility to step up once his father was gone. He liked working for the Journal, even if he was just selling papers, because his dream was to be a writer, covering the mean streets of his hometown of Atlanta. Because of this, he always kept his eyes and ears open, and only turned away when he knew it was in his best interest to do so. He liked to study people, how they dressed, how they carried themselves. He could usually guess someone’s profession by what that person was wearing and working outside a hotel he encountered a fine mix of people from all over.

Excerpt from Fables of the New South.

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