Wednesday, December 16, 2009

32 Drop the Needle


North Carolina, 1941. Eleven-year-old Cleo Holmes has accompanied her sharecropper grandfather, Grandpa Lum, to the house of the William McDuff (“Boss Man”) from whom Grandpa Lum rents his house in exchange for working the corn & tobacco farm. Cleo, having accidentally come across Grandpa Lum’s monthly receipt the previous day, had noticed an error on the receipt; Boss Man had shortchanged her grandfather by $200. Boss Man almost finagles his way out of it, but his wife, Elizabeth, just happens to be walking by the parlor and overhears their discussion.

“William, go on and pay the man. You’re not prejudice are you?” She didn’t give him time to answer. “Because if you are, I will pack right now and go back to Daddy’s. And believe me, he will not be very happy about that.”

“Now look here, Elizabeth. You best not go threatening me. Just because your daddy lent me some money for that farm.”

McDuff glanced at Grandpa Lum, realizing, Cleo guessed, that he’d spoken too soon.

He opened his mouth, then closed it tight and dug down deep in his pocket. “Here you go, Lum,” he said patting Cleo’s grandfather on the back like they’d been boyhood pals. “You know I’d never cheat yer.”

“Thank you, sir.” Grandpa Lum inclined his head, careful not to make any direct contact with his eyes. “I ’preciate it, sir.”

McDuff turned to his wife, “See, Lizzie? It’s all taken care of,” he said, smiling.

But the smile never reached his eyes, Cleo observed.

“Mr. Covington,” said Elizabeth, nodding toward Cleo, “you should be right proud of your granddaughter here. She’s one smart girl.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Grandpa Lum said, bowing his head, again, careful not to make any eye contact. He nodded to Cleo. “Come on, gal, let’s get on home.”

“Yes, you better get on now, Lum. And be careful.” McGruff nodded as if he’d come to some conclusion. “Be very careful.”

The look in McDuff’s eyes gave Cleo the willies. She couldn’t wait to leave his house—and the South.


  1. I can see by the last two sentences that you want us to feel the threat behind McGruff's--and I have to say I sniggled at that name because I kept thinking of McGruff The Crime Dog--warning to be careful, but I don't feel any danger.

    If later in the book McGruff actually does something to Grandpa Lum or Cleo, then that would've been a better scene to submit for this Drop The Needle.

  2. When you say spoken too soon do you mean said too much?
    Nice ending paragraphs. Could you describe the look in McDuff's eyes? It might add more tension.

  3. Oh, it's so difficult when we're dropped into the middle of things. Aaacchh.

    I feel the threat at the very end, but I'm not sure if we're to the danger section yet. Obviously, the guy is a jerk, but is he really bad? I just don't have enough yet to know.

    One thing that I wondered about was the reference to his wife's father loaning him money to buy "that" farm, rather than "this here" farm. Maybe that's explained somewhere else in the text.

    I would keep reading, though, even without the obvious danger feel here.

  4. I'm sure McDuff plans on getting even--later. This scene doesn't produce immediate danger to any of the characters. It's more foreshadowing of evil yet to come.

  5. I like the story, the writing, the characters, but like the others, I don't feel alot of danger. Tension yes. And I suppose McGruff can't threaten too much in front of his wife (odd relationship that one- why she'd marry the guy?) but I didn't feel McGruff was so scary as just a scumbag.