Read an Excerpt
Old Times There Are Not Forgotten
The boys, Joe and Chad, were drunk. So drunk they passed out in the alley behind the Rebel Yell, a popular bar on the square in Oxford, Mississippi, a mile or so from the Ole Miss campus. The bartender, while taking out the garbage forty-five minutes after closing, found them on their backs, their heads propped up against the Dumpster.
“Car keys,” he said, kicking first at the sole of Joe’s foot, then Chad’s.
“What?” mumbled Chad, the first to wake up.
“Who do you think that cab out front is for?” said the bartender.
“We’ll walk,” said Joe, also awake now, his stomach queasy, thinking about how he might end up puking in a cab.
“Give him the keys,” he said to Chad.
Chad managed to get to his feet and leaned against the Dumpster for support. He smacked his cheeks a couple of times to clear his head. “Want to see me walk a straight line?” he said. “No problem. I can do that.”
“Just give him the keys,” said Joe.
The bartender held out his right palm and waited.
Chad tried his front right pocket, then his left, before remembering that he’d zipped the device into the side pocket of his windbreaker. “It’s a fob, bro,” he said, handing it over to the bartender. “Not a key. A fob. Okay?”
“It’s the black Lexus convertible, in front of the courthouse,” said Joe.
“Chi Sigma forever!” shouted Chad. “We’re number one. Say it, man. Number one.”
“Come on,” said Joe. “I need to get away from this garbage smell.”
“We open at eleven,” said the bartender. “You can pick up your fob anytime after that.” He watched as the boys stumbled down the alley, trying to keep their balance. “Chi Sigs,” he muttered as he hefted the last of the fifty-gallon garbage bags over his shoulder and into the Dumpster. “It figures.”
The walk in the fresh air helped Joe’s stomach settle some but not enough. He and Chad made it three-quarters of the way back to the Chi Sigma house, as far as the Ole Miss Grove, the leafy expanse of lawn that served as the site of the massive pre-football tailgating parties. Once in the Grove, Joe propped himself against a live oak. Facing the pavilion, he bent at the waist and proceeded to vomit.
Chad stood ten feet to the side, laughed his ass off, and tried to shoot a pic of the disgusting episode on his cell, but was too drunk to get the timing right. “You puked like a dog,” said Chad. “Like a coon hound throwing up possum guts.”
Joe finally made it to his feet, and the two continued their journey home, heading up University Avenue toward the Lyceum, the oldest building on campus.
Chad belted out a chorus of “Dixie” as they stumbled along. At the end of the song, he shouted, “The South shall rise again!” followed by an awkward high five, missing most of Joe’s hand. “I still can’t believe those a-holes in the administration won’t let the band play ‘Dixie’ at games, just ’cause a few people complained,” Chad said. “‘Dixie’ is like the Ole Miss anthem. Okay, not officially, I know, but still. And ‘The South shall rise again’—that’s our battle cry. ‘Dixie’ ain’t about slavery, dude. It’s about football. It’s like taking down the state flag. They’re robbing us of our pride.”
Chad lifted his middle finger skyward in the direction of the administration building. “At least Mississippi ain’t turned its back on the Confederate flag,” he said.
As they reached the midway point of the Circle—the lawn leading up to the Lyceum—the boys came upon a sight they took to be a prank.
“Look at that, dude,” said Chad. “That’s some sick joke.” His eyes fixed on the figure hanging from the tree.
“It’s those dicks at Phi Delta Phi,” said Joe. “They’re always pulling stuff like this. They’re going to get caught one of these days, and the chancellor will throw their asses off campus.”
“It’s racist and all, I know,” said Chad. “But looking at it, I’d have to say it’s pretty damn cool, reality-wise. Like if you were doing a Halloween thing, except it’s not Halloween.”
Another ten feet and they discovered why the figure looked so realistic. What they were looking at wasn’t a prank.
“F***, Jesus f***ing Christ,” said Joe, unable to take his eyes off the African American girl hanging from the oak tree, her neck twisted, her swollen tongue protruding from her mouth, her eyes bulging out, her body limp.
It was Chad’s turn to puke. “Shit!” he said when he was done, spitting to get the taste out of his mouth.
“My God. You know who that is, right?” said Joe.
Chad made a point of looking the other way. “I don’t know,” he said, “and I don’t care. Let’s just leave. Just get out of here, bro.”
“She may be alive,” said Joe, sobering up in a hurry. He raced to the oak tree and began digging his fingers into the bark, searching for any place on the trunk where he could get a grip. He was intent on climbing up.
Scared that someone might see them, Chad took off in the opposite direction but kept half stopping, turning around and looking back at Joe and the dangling corpse. The weight of her limp body was bending the branch and crazy-ass Joe was trying to shimmy up, without success. Finally, Chad stopped running for good. He just looked at the girl and shook his head. Then he started walking back toward Joe and the tree, but not all that fast, in case he was spotted and might have to make a run for it.
As Chad reached the tree, Joe said, “You got a knife of some kind on you? I’ll try to cut her down. Hurry up, for God’s sake. Give me a boost, will you?” His voice was frantic.
Chad still wanted no part of it. “Look at her eyes, man,” he said. “Her body is all puffy-like. She’s dead. Leave her, dude. You don’t want your prints on her. Come on. What if she’s getting ripe? I don’t want to puke again. Besides, this is Klan shit.”
Ignoring him, Joe tried again and again to shimmy up the oak, without success. Chad, meanwhile, stood and watched, but kept a lookout, in case someone saw them and got the wrong idea.
Huffing and puffing, muscles aching, Joe at last gave up. He turned away from the lifeless form, slumped against the tree, buried his head in his hands, and began to sob. “I need to think,” he said at last. A few seconds later he took out his cell and dialed 911.
Chad listened as Joe gave the operator their location and told her what they’d seen. Afterward, Chad cupped his hands over his mouth, blew into them, and inhaled. His breath still smelled like puke.
“What’d they say?” he asked Joe. “Did they believe you?”
“We’re supposed to stay here until the police come,” said Joe, looking scared.
“You think we’ll be suspects?” said Chad. “My old man is a lawyer. I mean, just in case, I guess we could call him.”
“We won’t be suspects,” said Joe. “Figure it out. Why would we call? But we’ll get booted out of the Chi Sigmas for being here. You know how they are about this kind of shit.”
Chad looked up at the girl, straining his neck. “Oh, yeah. Now I remember her. Holy crap. That’s the black chick that was in the Mississippian today. The one they let into the Delta Betas. You know who her old man is?”
Chad walked around the tree a couple of times, with even more interest, checking out the corpse from different angles and paying attention for the first time to the girl’s clothes, and the shoes, how expensive they looked. “I know it’s kind of cheesy to think about it,” he said, “but we’ll probably get on TV for an interview kind of thing. We may even get some kind of a reward.”
Joe shot him a dirty look.
“Come on,” said Chad. “Her old man is loaded. We found her before the police, didn’t we? We’re, like, heroes, dude. Why not? I mean, you tried to save her, climbing up the tree. Even though you didn’t make it. And I helped, didn’t I? We need to figure out what we’re going to say when the reporters get here. Who tells which parts of the story and all.”
Joe still had his eyes on the girl. His body released a hard shiver. He felt weak in his legs and had to sit down on the grass. “Shut up, will you, Chad. Just stand there and be drunk and totally shut up until the police get here.”