The night after she saw the mummy, Luanne Skeens had her first
"Glory," was all she could say. "Glory glory."
Her husband Stivers interrupted his steady effort to ask what was
wrong, as she had never seemed to mind his brief incursions before.
"What's the matter, sugar?"
"I have had the origasmi."
"The origasmi, when a woman peaks out and blushes like there
were red diamonds in her blood. I have felt it from my womb to my
eyes and sprockets."
"I believe we should try again."
Afterwards, while Stivers smoked a Cuban cigar courtesy of Teddy's
Rough Riders and Luanne sipped spout water, they tried to reckon
what had been different, but he swore he'd just followed the
routine, right down to his antic warm-up dance and the stocking cap
with green stripes. It must have been something from earlier in the
day. Something new. Then she recollected what she'd seen at the
All afternoon they'd strolled along the riverside revetment in the
drizzle, gaping at the scurrying Christmas shoppers and gawking into
store fronts lit up with candles. Little elf dummies offered up
gifts with ridiculous prices showing, and somebody on a ladder would
dump confetti over the sorry-looking pine saplings every so often.
They stopped to hear a derbied street busker sawing his fiddle and
flat-footing in front of the Rose Five and Dime. At Waldo's, St.
Nick himself was perched on a runnerless sled pulled by two
ratty-looking spike bucks.
When they came to the arcade, they saw the new sign overhead:
VIEW THE MONSTER ASSASSIN: EDWARD BILBO PRESENTS THE CORPSE OF
LINCOLN'S KILLER, THE MAD ACTOR JOHN WILKES BOOTH. ADULTS A NICKEL,
Inside they studied the rusty pistol in its display case, a pair of
bent spurs and a prompt book for Henry V. Booth himself had seen
better days, but then who hadn't? In its shabby coffin boat, the
body was dark and shriveled in a black suit with a big cravat knot
where the Adam's apple would have been in a livelier specimen. The
rictus on his face seemed almost inhuman, but he had good cheek
bones. The fading signs all around explained how he'd been shot in a
tobacco barn, how the infamous Dr. Mudd and his cohorts had almost
spirited the fugitive away before the soldiers arrived. On a large
swing panel were photographs of Booth in his prime with a cane and
gloves and a smirk.
"It's missing the moustache, Stivers."
"I see, but you have to admit he still favors the
Luanne had registered a tremble in her heart, and the hairs on the
back of her neck felt like electricity.
"They say he was a handsome man and quick. He was a bonafide
Romeo on the stage."
"Yes, sugar. Not much like myself."
"Oh, you old bear. I wouldn't have you any other way."
They had eaten honey-sauced ham and smashed potatoes that evening at
the Hollow Log Café on Beale Street, and the stuffed fox next to
the till with a cheroot hanging out of his smile caught Stivers'
attention right off.
"Seems like there's dead things everywhichaway you gaze,"
he said. "I don't believe I care for it."
"Maybe. I don't know. It really doesn't seem to bother
After he finished the stoogie and switched off the gas but right
before they slipped away to sleep, the couple agreed it was likely
her memory of the preserved traitor in his lacquered ebony box that
had somehow unclenched her. Awareness of mortality, relief at being
alive, sense of fleeting breath and the clock's winged chariot from
Stivers Skeens spent the next three days trying to figure a way to
get into the arcade after closing hours. He scouted the doors and
windows, the alley coal chute and the roof without any luck. On
Saturday evening he loitered about the door as Mr. Bilbo was locking
up, but when he realized the impresario wore no coat or hat and was
about to go back into the chamber, Stivers caught his attention.
"Must get pretty eerie in there with that dried up killer of an
"Nossir," Bilbo answered. "I got a hide-cot I bring
out and sleep right in the room with him. I spend most of my life
studying the war history and tending to his modest needs."
"So you don't leave him alone?"
"Nossir. I got a guard spells me from time to time. Former
Pinkerton. Mr. Booth won't be doing any more murders." His
laugh was dusty and brief.
When Stivers asked how such a famous body might be obtained, the man
smiled, and when he said it was on a Federal license, Stivers knew
there was no hope to capture the prize.
The next night Stivers smashed out the back window of the Hollow Log
Café with a milk crate and crawled through, then slipped from the
kitchen to the long hickory dining counter. When he lifted up the
animal, he could see in the frail light that the absence of a
visible cod bag meant it was a she, but he abducted it anyway and
walked home with the creature snugged under his overcoat against the
In the bedroom, he set the fox atop the Edison Victrola under the
gaslight where you could see its wedge snout and dingy teeth from
the pillow. When he peeled back the quilt and whispered her name,
Luanne opened her eyes and smiled at him and at the fox. Everything
worked out just fine, while outside, Memphis shivered in the rain.