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A Chicken-Fried Mistake
About the Author: John H. Dromey has short fiction published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Crimson Streets, Flame Tree Fiction Newsletter, Gumshoe Review, Mystery Magazine, Thriller Magazine, Woman’s World, and elsewhere.

Ever since she was knee-high to a grasshopper, Magnolia Culpepper gave every outward indication of being a quintessential Southern belle. Inwardly, she was anything but. Maggie, her alter ego, had an independent streak a mile wide. Given her druthers, she’d forego the frills of high society in favor of an unpretentious lifestyle without rigid restraints of conformity in customs and couture.

Of necessity, to maintain familial harmony, Maggie suppressed her wildest desires. Indeed, she hid her tomboy tendencies so well her pappy thought only a true old-school Southern gentleman could ring her chimes … after walking her down the aisle, of course. He was not the least bit concerned about the possibility of a shotgun wedding. The double-barreled firearm hung over the dining room mantel was just for show. The paterfamilias felt no need to keep any shells for it in the house.

Both her ma and her pa were blissfully unaware their demure daughter Magnolia was not predisposed to say “I do” to any gentleman caller. Maggie might have considered saying “I do declare,” if only she could have found a filthy-rich suitor willing to let her write her own vows, get hitched in a simple ceremony, and move Out West. The chances of that happening were slim to none.

As a young adult, Maggie was sick and tired of being all gussied up and going nowhere. She wanted a change of scenery in the worst possible way—preferably before she was paraded in front of a large social gathering as a debutante. Her mind was made up to get away, but with only chump change in her pocketbook, how could she finance a long trip?

During her childhood, Maggie’s papaw had read children’s books to her and regaled her with tall tales. Sometimes, when Mamaw was out of earshot, her granddad shared tantalizing tidbits from his vast store of knowledge about infamous true crime escapades. In a heartbeat, he could switch the topic from Br’er Rabbit to Bonnie and Clyde or from Willie Wonka to Willie Sutton. On more than one occasion, Papaw passed along the supposedly-fabricated-by-a-reporter comment attributed to the latter individual:

“Why do you rob banks?”

“That’s where the money is.”

Knowing where a carload of money was available for the taking was not enough all by its lonesome. Without a driver’s license, Maggie was in dire need of a partner in crime. Her longtime friend Amanda neatly fit that bill. She, too, had a cunningly-concealed wild side and—as icing on the cake—access to an automobile.

Early in the planning stages for the robbery, Maggie and Mandy decided they needed to employ an unwitting accomplice as a fall guy to provide a diversion.

“How ’bout Luther Slade?” Maggie suggested.

“I don’t know. Just because he lifts dumbbells doesn’t necessarily mean he is one.”

“Aren’t you precious to say that? I wouldn’t think of badmouthing Luther. He may pretend to be a couple bricks shy of a load, but I’m sure that’s just to lull other people into underestimating his abilities.”

“If he’s smart as a whip, as you suggest, how can we pull the wool over his eyes? On top of that, Luther’s such a goody two shoes he’s unlikely to agree to do anything illegal.”

“Leave all that to me, Mandy. I’ll sweet talk him into helping us out.”

Pound for pound, Luther Slade was hands down the best rough-and-tumble wrassler for miles around. Anytime he entered the ring, even if it was only a circle drawn in the dust, all bets were off, friendly or otherwise. The winner was a foregone conclusion.

That longstanding certitude was called into question when the previously-undefeated wrestler agreed to take on a much bigger challenger with the added proviso that Luther literally have one arm tied behind his back.

Word got around and on Saturday morning spectators flocked to the fairgrounds in droves. They were anticipating a localized version of a fight of the century. Law enforcement personnel showed up in large numbers, as well, ostensibly to assist with crowd control.

The match was over almost before it began.

On the referee’s signal to start wrestling, Luther let out a rebel yell and charged. He caught the other fellow flatfooted and within seconds had him secured with a half-nelson.

Rather than risk a sprained neck or worse from Luther’s viselike grip, his opponent yelled uncle.

Some of the onlookers were joyful. Others were downright glum as they reached for their wallets.

This story appears in our FEB 2024 Issue
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