The hot night air blows through the open window of the small house in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The curtains dance from the wind of the adjacent window fan. Ida Shelvin pushes the covers away from her as she struggles in her slumber, tossing and turning with the seeming realism of her tormenting dream. The same dream she's had almost every night for the last several years.
It's 1966 in Vinton, Louisiana. The late summer morning air is crisp as dawn slowly creeps upon the red, orange, yellow, and blue horizon. The muddy water from the Calcasieu River is calm as the fish jump out of the water.
Clyde Williams takes off his coat, throws it across the old blue Ford's worn seat and rolls up the sleeves of his white dress shirt as he removes his tie and throws it next to his jacket. Both smell of stale cigarette smoke from the juke joint party the night before. He pulls out the gold watch his daddy gave him from his right pants pocket and checks the time; 5:30 in the morning.
"Ida's gon' kill me when I get home, so I betta catch somethin' to bring to the house," he says aloud, scratching his head.
He pulls his straw fedora down on his head and grabs his green rubber boots from his trunk. He trades them for his black and white Stacy Adams wing tip shoes. He tucks his black pin-striped pants into his boots carefully, so as not to wrinkle them, and walks down the path farthest from the Nibly Bluff Park frequented by the Ku-Klux-Klan.
Clyde looks around as he walks through the dew-covered grass. He searches deep in the park by the moss-covered trees and finds a fishing spot in a small clearing. He sets his small Styrofoam cooler next to him as he situates his fishing poles. His bait and tackle box leans up against the old fallen pecan tree stump he sits on. He looks around and checks for snakes and alligators and sees none.
After baiting one of his lines and casting it into the river, he rubs his sore jaw. He had a fight with his younger brother, Benjamin, the night before at Too Sweet's Juke Joint. Benjamin is only a year younger than Clyde. They had an argument over the woman his brother was keeping acquaintance with. Clyde knew the young white girl was trouble for any black man in Vinton's small, segregated town.
Benjamin was drunk last night and when he's drunk he's as mean as a Louisiana water moccasin.
"That gal's surely gonna get him killed," Clyde says aloud, speaking to himself as he often does.
He tightens the line on the reel and props the pole between his legs as he reaches into the cooler and grabs a can of Jax beer. He rinses his hands on some ice he takes from the cooler, grabs a hand full of hog cracklings, and shoves them into his mouth, enjoying the foggy view from the sea-smoke that rises above the murky waters. He chews on his salty snack and takes a long swig of his beer.
His pole bends and as he grabs it he knows he has caught something big. As he struggles with the large fish, he suddenly hears something in the fog. It sounds like the low hum of a speedboat and a woman moaning and screaming. The noise gets closer and Clyde makes out the voices of several men. Some of the voices sound very familiar.
Taking hold of his pole, he puts his head down as the boat and the people on it come into view through the fog. They notice him and steer the boat in his direction. He takes a deep breath as he sees one guy holding a young white woman's arms above her head, on the deck of the speedboat and another tall fellow between her thighs, holding them and pumping her hard and laughing as another guy steers the boat. Her yellow flowered dress has been torn, exposing her breasts and thighs, as the young man holds her legs high in the air.
Her face is red and swollen. Her eye is blackened and her bottom lip is busted and bleeding. She looks to be 19 to 22 years of age. Her hair is a dirty-blond and she has deep blue bruises on her thighs and shoulders. The three young men wear white t-shirts, cut-off jean shorts, and have the Dixie flag tattooed on their forearms. All three also have dark brown hair and sunburned, reddish-brown skin. The other is not dressed like them at all. He stands back and keeps his head down. The others stare Clyde down with venomous hatred.
"Well, look a here; there go that damned Williams boy. You want some of this, darkie?" asks the biggest of the young men steering the boat.
Clyde looks away, "No suh, I don't want no trouble with y'all. I'll just get my thangs and find another spot to do my fishin'."
Clyde starts to reel in the fish that has snagged his line and gather his things. He can't remember the young mens' names, but has heard the rumors that the privileged kids of the meat packing plant are a trouble-making bunch. Their daddy has most of the town bought and paid for. He sees one of the young men on the boat jump ashore. He blocks Clyde's way and knocks the pole from his hand. The big fish he has been fighting pulls the pole into the water and escapes. Clyde wishes he could be as lucky.
"We didn't say you could leave, Nigger!" the man-boy spits out the chewing tobacco that he has stuffed in his lower gums.
Nervous, Clyde picks his other fishing pole up from the ground and looks around for another way to leave. The young man pushes him in the chest, sending his cooler flying in the air. It bursts open as it hits the ground. His bait of night crawlers spill from his can and the worms lay exposed amongst the clumps of dark dirt.
"Mister please, I ain't done nuthin' to nobody. I'm just mindin' my business fishin. I'll just be on my way and leave y'all to yo business," Clyde says as fear encompasses his entire being.
Another of the antagonizing boys jumps out of the boat holding an oar. "Well, you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, darkie. And you done seen way too much, boy," he says as he hits Clyde across the shoulder. The blow sends Clyde to the ground in pain.
The musty-smelling young men get on both sides of him. "Hey, bring that stank bitch over here," the medium built young man orders the taller brother as he pulls up his jean shorts after just having had his way with the girl.
The man-child slaps the young woman across the face and lifts her over his shoulder. He struggles as he jumps out of the boat and carries her through the water to where they are. He lifts her off his shoulder, rips off the rest of her torn yellow dress and pushes her naked body next to Clyde.
They stare at each other in horror and he recognizes her for the first time, as the troublesome three smirk and laugh. She pushes away from him and curls up into a ball on the muddy shore in shame.
"Well nigger, today is your lucky day. Get you some of that white ass and you better fuck her good or we gon kill ya, right here!" the smallest of the three rapists threatens as they grab hold of the young white woman, laying her against her back, legs spread in the mud.
Clyde shakes his head no and tries to get up and away from the naked, crying, young white woman. The middle-sized man-boy kicks him back down and he lands between her pale, white, muddied legs. The medium built man forces Clyde's face between her legs and the brothers' laugh as the young woman struggles to cover her face and cries harder into her small soiled hands
Clyde wearily forces himself up. He spits the salty, foul, bitter taste from his mouth and tries to wipe his face clean of the fetid secretion and mud that was between her wet bruised thighs with his shirt sleeve.
The finality of the situation forces itself through the tears that fall from his sober eyes. "I ain't done nuthin to nobody, and I ain't bout to do nuthin' to this here woman. So, if you don't mind, I'll be on my way," Clyde responds as he trembles with fear and starts to walk away from the young woman.
The oldest of the three brutes pulls a twenty-two-caliber handgun from his pocket. The raped girl screams. Three shots are fired. Clyde's body is pushed into the river as the sun burns the lake mist off the water. The sky is blue, the sun is hot, and time ticks away from Clyde's daddy's gold watch that has fallen from his dead body and sinks to the river bottom. Clyde's body floats down stream next to his fishing pole, leaving a stream of blood-red water in its path. The contemptuous brothers steer their boat in the other direction. The young, raped, white woman lies in the mud, bloody and unconscious.