The town of Beaufort was dark and still. Jim Williams drove along the main street, passing the great old houses that faced across the harbor toward the Sea Islands—eighteenth-century mansions of brick, tabby, and wood. Halfway between Savannah and Charleston, Beaufort had once been a major shipping center, but it was now an almost forgotten, perfectly preserved, gemlike little village. We cruised along the narrow streets, passing rows of handsome white houses gleaming in the darkness. The tidy, well manicured section of town gave way shortly to unpaved streets and tiny rundown cottages. We pulled up in front of a wooden shanty with a swept-sand front yard. The house was unpainted except for the door and windows, which were a light blue. “Haint blue,” said Williams. “It keeps the evil spirits out.” The house was dark. Williams knocked lightly and then pushed the door open. The flickering light from a TV set was the only illumination in the cluttered front room. Pungent cooking smells of pork and greens filled the air. A man lay asleep on a daybed. He stirred as we entered. A young black woman came into the room through a curtained doorway carrying a plate of food. She nodded toward the back of the house without saying a word, and we walked on through.
Minerva was sitting in a small room under a bare lightbulb. She was like a sack of flour. Her cotton dress was stretched tight over her round body. Her skin was a pale brown, and her face was as round as a tranquil moon. Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun except for two little pigtails, one hanging over each ear. She wore a pair of purple-tinted, wire-rimmed glasses. The table in front of her was piled high with bottles, vials, twigs, boxes, and odd bits of cloth. The floor was littered with shopping bags, some bulging, some empty. When she saw Williams, she broke into a broad, gap-toothed smile and motioned for us to sit down on two folding chairs.
“I been waitin’ on you, baby,” she said in a half-whispered voice.
“Well, how’ve you been, Minerva?” Williams asked.
Minerva’s face clouded over. “I been dealin’ with a lot a graveyard dirt.”
"Not again!” said Williams.
Minerva nodded. “Mm-hmmm. There’s a lot a grudgefulness and deceitfulness.” Minerva spoke in a faraway voice. It came from so deep within her that the words sounded as if they had been uttered eons ago on a distant planet and were just now reaching the earth through her. “My son’s ex-wife. She had three children with him. She drive by and throw graveyard dirt on my porch. I gets it by the bucketful. That’s how come I be blocked a lot. Business gets po’. Then my boy gets in trouble with the police. I can’t sleep. And I been raisin’ hell with my old man that’s dead.”
“Yeah, him,” said Minerva. “I need to git me some money, and I been playin’ the numbers, so I can git some. I always go to him and I pay him a dime for him to give me a number. But he won’t give me one for shit. I cuss he ass out. I don’t know why he don’t want me to git no money.”
Minerva put aside a small wax doll she’d been working on. “Well, it looks like we’re back in business again, you and me, don’t it?”
“Yes,” said Williams. “Now we’ve got a second trial to work on.”
“Yes, I know that.” Minerva leaned forward and brought her face close to Williams “He’s workin’ hard against you, baby!”
“Who is?” Williams was startled. “Not Dr. Buzzard!”
“No, no,” Minerva said. “The boy. The dead boy.”
“Danny? Well, it doesn’t surprise me. He planned this whole thing. He knew I was getting tired of his damn games. He knew I had $25,000 in cash at the house that night, because I was going to Europe on a buying trip. It was his big chance. He could kill me and take it.”
Minerva shook her head. “That boy is workin’ hard against you.”
“Well, can you do something about it?”
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