This is another episode from the files of Max Fly, Private Eye, President and CEO of Max Fly Private & Nefarious Investigations and Pest Control Services located in downtown Burnt Corn, Alabama. Max and his employees have been protecting the innocent people of Burnt Corn from murder, narcotics distribution, robbery, extortion, loansharking and other nasty mafia behavior as well as unwanted rodents for over ten years.
It was a Tuesday afternoon and Burnt Corn was hot. A lone man with dark eyes and a hawkish nose was standing with a toothpick clamped in his wide mouth under the sign of the Burnt Corn Discount Diamonds and Formal Wear Boutique. He wiped sweat from his brow while he gazed at the enormous white tent being erected down the street in a large field behind the Fist and Fury First Primitive Baptist Church of Burnt Corn, pastored by Hal L. Ujah, his longtime friend.
The lone man’s name is Ben Dover. He was wearing a white suit, with white suspenders holding up his white pants with white shoes topped off by a white snap brim fedora he purchased off the rack at the Big Lot’s Store in Mobile. His white shirt was beginning to soak through with sweat. He tossed the soggy toothpick in a nearby trash can and walked off toward the large white church. Ben Dover is a traveling evangelist, a member of the revivalist’s sawdust circuit, a phony, and a con man if there ever was one. By the time he was a teenager he had figured out the scam of the traveling evangelists who set up shop in tents, barns, and occasionally, even, in real churches, like the Fist and Fury First Primitive Baptist Church, so he became an evangelist himself. He was barely able to see over the podium but he had the people writhing in divine ecstasy. He had a tactic for every Holy Roller. He didn’t need a hymn book-he knew the words to all the standards such as “Are You Washed in the Blood?” He’d raise his hands, asking the crowd to rise and he would belt out the hymn through the closing lines. “Are your garments spotless? Are they white as Snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
Ben Dover would signal everyone to sit and the flock would do as told, except that one time when a young 16-year-old girl, named Eileen Wright remained standing and, without a hymnal, launched into the refrain once more, “Are you washed in the blood?” Eileen Wright had a bit of con man, or woman, in her as well. Evangelism was in her blood and she had an eye for a certain kind of man and Ben was that kind of man. She claimed that her grandmother was the only woman who slept with Liberace, which was a lie, of course, but it got her the attention she craved.
She continued to follow Ben Dover on his circuit and continued to launch into song after he requested everyone to be seated. Finally, he made a deal with her that if she would go away he would pay her $5.00.
Ben Dover was a full-blooded southern sinner, eaten up with all kinds of sins such as gambling, drinking, and womanizing, to name just a few. He attended Snead State Community College in Boaz, Alabama, completing one semester before realizing his true calling was behind a pulpit instead of in a classroom.
He finally realized Eileen Wright may never go away, even by paying her $5.00, so he asked her to marry him.
The service was performed by Fist and Fury First Primitive Baptist Church’s senior pastor, Hal L. Ujah and the song, “As Man And Woman We Were Made: was sung by Ben Dover’s boyhood friend, Kerry Oki, accompanied on the organ by Eileen Wright’s former babysitter, Lucy Furr. Following the service and a short honeymoon at the Dunham Inn, located in downtown Burnt Corn, they hit the circuit, as they say, and became an Evangelistic husband and wife team well known throughout the south as, The True Children of God, the Ecclesiastical Duo, Ben Dover and Eileen Dover from Burnt Corn, Alabama.
Eileen was sixteen and Ben was twenty-seven when they tied the knot. Eileen’s childhood ended that night, in more ways than one as she found out that her husband, besides being a con man, was also active in robbing banks and jewelry stores in small towns throughout the southern United States. Instead of causing her concern, it excited her more than evangelizing did.
Ben decided they should put down roots somewhere and the place he chose was Burnt Corn. He and Eileen purchased a tract of land just south of town about three miles off State Highway 84 and opened Burnt Corn’s first and only cemetery, opened to the public, well, the deceased public, to be more precise. He decided it wasn’t going to be a cemetery, but a memorial park, where the bereaved and forlorn might find hope and solace. The name he graced it with is “God’s Garden” and promoted it daily on the Burnt Corn Country and Western Radio Station “God’s Garden, as unlike other cemeteries as sunshine is unlike darkness, as Eternal Life is unlike death.”
He told Eileen that it wouldn’t be long until people would be dying to get in. Eileen didn’t see the humor in that.
Pretty soon, true to his word, people began to fill up the new “God’s Garden” just as he predicted.
One evening, Eileen cooed, “When can I get a gun, Ben?”
Now it was Ben’s turn to be surprised when Eileen told Ben her preference was a .44 Magnum. A Ruger, if available.
“Honey, we just want to heist a few banks and jewelry stores. We don’t want to blow no one into the next county.”
The following day Ben went to the local Walmart out on State Highway 84 and purchased a ..44 caliber Ruger Super Blackhawk Single-Action Revolver for his new bride.
On this particular scorching hot day in July, Eileen Dover was sitting in the Burnt Corn All Night Diner and Laundromat, enjoying a raspberry caramel skinny latte, after finishing a breakfast that consisted of a large stack of twelve pumpkin pancakes, two sausage links, and a bowl of cheese grits followed by a piece of rhubarb pie, a la mode. She was keeping an eye on the office of Sheriff Wyatt Hertz and deputy Hiram Firam who were at the Greenetrack Racino, a combination race track, and casino, operating in Eutaw, Alabama. They were there spending free vouchers provided to them compliments of the shady evangelist, Ben Dover.
Eileen and Ben Dover had been in the town of Burnt Corn the past three days, providing the good residents three days of coming to Jesus moments and now they were close to packing up their tent and belongings for a trip to Foley. But before they left, they planned on making a visit to the Burnt Corn Discount Diamond and Formal Wear Boutique; an unauthorized after-hours visit.
And that is where I came in; my name is Max Fly, Private Eye and I am a damned good one at that. Our office was hot in spite of the oscillating fan that was set on high, blowing in the afternoon’s humid air around the room, mixing it with the thick blue cigar smoke that was still floating near the ceiling from the Cohibas we smoked during our recent game of Canasta. Tommy “Sneakers” Corona, head of our Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Division, and Luigi “Lip” Licavoli, V. P. Operations, had just left to go to the Burnt Corn All Night Diner and Laundromat, to pick up our lunch, one of my favorites, Cream Possum, and sweet potatoes garnished with Coon fat gravy.
I began to reminisce about a former girlfriend, named Jacklyn Hyde while staring at a poster on the wall in front of my desk of Bear Bryant being carried off the field by his players after his final victory at the 1982 Liberty Bowl where The Tide beat the Fighting Illini 21-15. Jacklyn Hyde and I were at that game and it just so happened to be my last victory over Miss Hyde as well.
The head of our Displaced Persons & Pest Control Divisions, Chico “Zippy Doo” Rodriguez, our token illegal immigrant, was sleeping at his desk and Wanda Winchester, who heads up our Reconciliation Division, had just thrown back what was left of her shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and was now sweeping up cigar ashes that were under Zippy’s feet, that fell from Zippy’s now unlit cigar, while I was trying to recall where Jacklyn Hyde went when our phone rang. It was Mo Lester, Director of the Burnt Corn’s Little Tyke Daycare and Animal Rescue, located in downtown Burnt Corn, a mere two blocks from our office. Mo is a defrocked former Catholic Priest who moved to Burnt Corn two years ago and opened up his daycare and rescue.
“Max, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me, who’s this?”
“Mo, Mo Lester,” he yelled. Max, do you know those two Jesus freaks that have been in town the past few days, that husband and wife team of evangelists?”
“Yeah, what about them?”
“Well, they are standing around on Main Street looking suspicious, I mean more suspicious then most come to Jesus types usually do. They have been standing next to Lois Price’s Discount Diamonds and Formal Wear Boutique for a good thirty minutes now. They are staring at the front door and then looking in the direction of Sheriff Wyatt Hertz’s empty office, which is empty most of the time, by the way.”
“There is nothing illegal about standing around on Main Street, Mo. I mean if Sheriff Hertz wanted to, I guess he could pick them up for loitering, but why? They appear to be God-fearing and upstanding citizens.”
“I’m telling you, Max, there ain’t nobody that is as God-fearing as those two charlatans claim to be. Not even Jesus himself.”
“What do you want me to do about it, Mo? I’m not a law enforcement officer.”
“Hell, Max, you enforce the law better than Wyatt Hertz and that worthless Deputy Hiram Firam. Can’t you go down there and just badge ’em and let ’em know you have been watching them?”
“But I haven’t been watching them.”
“I know that, but they don’t. If they are planning on doing something illegal, it may give them second thoughts. They announced at their last come to Jesus meeting that their next stop is down in Foley. Why ain’t they leaving?”
“I have no idea, Mo. But I am not going down there to confront them. Have you tried reaching Sheriff Hertz?”
“Of course, but all I get is his answering machine. What kind of sheriff has an answering machine? Who elected that guy?”
“Well, you know he has a big family. He has nine brothers and sisters. It seemed like his momma, Estelle Hertz, was dropping a kid every year there for a while. And then he married into that Nutt clan when he and Hazel Nutt got hitched. That about covers most of Burnt Corn right there. You’d have to pay that Governor of California, what’s his name, Jerry Brown, to import some of his illegal aliens into Burnt Corn before you could garner enough votes to defeat him.”
“Hey, Max wait. They are walking across the street toward the discount jewelry store. Whoa, that skanky woman just took out a gun from a large bag she is carrying. It looks like a .44 Magnum. Wow, that’s a pretty big gun for such a little woman. It could put quite a hole in someone. Hey, Max?”
“I think you should get down here. I think they are about to rob the store. They went into the alley and I can see Ben Dover scaling the wall. He’s getting on the roof and now she is climbing up too and she’s handing him her bag. Oh, Max, he’s got a big saw or something and he’s cutting into the roof. He just took out what looks like a big rope. Wow, he’s now going down the rope into the store. Now she’s going…wait, I think she’s stuck in the hole. Okay, okay, he’s cutting the hole larger and she’s now going in; you gotta get here, Max.”
“Okay, we are on our way, I replied as I slammed down the receiver and grabbed my Stetson hat and the rigging holding my .357 Smith and Wesson. Zip, grab your gun we got us a situation.”
“Okay, Max, I’ll get the Fly Mobile.”
“The boutique is just around the corner,” I replied, spinning the cylinder of my .357. “We can walk there faster than we can drive the Fly Mobile.”
“Okay, Max,” Zip replied tossing what was left of his Cohiba in the ashtray on his desk.
“Wanda,” I yelled, “call Tommy and Luigi and tell them to meet us at the bank and then try to get Wyatt Hertz on his police scanner and tell him we need him home as soon as possible, if not sooner. When you finish, come down to Lois Price’s place. We will need you to help apprehend and question Eileen Dover.”
“Roger, that, Max, do you want Luigi to bring your lunch?” Wanda replied as she picked up the phone and punched in the number for the Burnt Corn All Night Diner and Laundromat.
“Yeah, why not. I gotta eat.”
About the time Zippy Doo and I arrived at the front of Lois Price’s Discount Diamond and Formal Wear Boutique, Tom and Luigi turned the corner, carrying the Cream Possum, and sweet potatoes garnished with Coon fat gravy lunch I ordered. I removed my .357 from its holster and held it barrel up as we walked toward the boutique. I motioned for Tom and Luigi to go around to the back.
Zippy Doo cupped his hands around his face and peered inside the window.
“Max,” he whispered, “I think I see someone.”
I turned and looked inside. “Where?” I asked.
“There, next to the counter,” Zippy replied.
“That’s a dummy, you dummy,” I responded.
“It sure looks real enough. Should we bust it down?” Zippy asked.
“Bust what down?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why?” Zippy asked.
“Because I have the key. When we signed on to monitor the calls for the Burnt Corn Good Humor Alarm and Security Systems we were given keys to all their client’s places of business and houses,” I replied as I inserted the key into the lock.
I pushed open the door and deactivated the alarm as we walked into the front of the store. We could hear Eileen Dover whispering from behind the long showcase, where Lois Price displayed her discount diamonds.
“Can’t you hurry up? I’m getting nervous. Pretty soon someone is gonna show up, I know it.”
“Hush up, now, you little dimwit. I’m going as fast as I can. It has been a long time since I ran an electric drill. It ain’t exactly easy, you know.”
Zip, Tommy, Louigi, and I converged on the counter and watched as Ben Dover, lying face up, drilled a hole into the bottom of the counter when a tray of diamonds crashed down, striking him between the eyes.
“Oh, aren’t they beautiful?” Eileen asked as she bent over to gather them to her bountiful bosom.
“Drop the diamonds, Eileen and you put down that drill, Ben, and both of you get up and turn around slowly.”
“I told you to hurry up, you bonehead,” Eileen spat, “Now, what are we going to do?”
“Is that you, Max?” Ben asked.
“It is Ben, me, Zip, Tommy, and Luigi. Wanda will be here in a moment. Now I want the two of you to lie face down on the floor with your hands over your head. The jig is up and the both of you are going to jail.”