--Beale Street a street of ghosts.
--Thas what I'm sayin.
--You gonna tell me bout it?
--You gonna tell me whas different bout this
--Thas what I'm tellin you.
--Was Squiggly Pete firs tol me.
--So you said.
--Lemme get on.
--Was Squiggly Pete firs tol me. Says, Rolly
tol him an Styx tol him, an back an back. So the story not so fresh anymo, I'm sayin.
--But there was a cat back then, musician, of
course. Big man with the winds, I'm hearin, blow em like kingdom comin, any of em, big or small. Blow a barrel full.
Got him a gig at one of the clubs, easy back
then, lotsa clubs. Was sittin in with some of the best, yes, played with Lady Day I'm hearin, once anyway. On Beale tho he
soloin lots, got himsef a rep, started regular work, name on the markee, that sort of thing.
Course the ladies comin roun, back then, heh,
they all over the musicians, musician bein bout the highest a black man get to, leastways on Beale, not sayin anything against
your gangster, your club owner, your ball player. Musician bout the best, you know.
--One particular gal, you mighta heard tell,
name Callie Pidgeon, took a real professional shine to this cat.
--Whatchoo mean, naw?
--She Ricky Romito's gal.
--This before that.
--Anyway. Callie and this cat, Andrew Maladicta
by name, called him Andy or Scuff, cuz he always scuffin his shoe to the beat, got one leg goin nineteen to the dozen, like
he couldna sit still, like he got the devil in him, some say, took up with each other and it was fine, fine. Scuff and Callie,
like it was meant to be.
Then Scuff's rep got bigger than Scuff, so to
speak. Took him a high payin job at the best club on the Street, at Daddy's, his name on the sign as big as Daddy's hisself.
He was king of the Street, see, and Callie, she relegated to minor status, sorta, a jewel on his finger, somethin on his arm
for the end of the night, when the music was over. And Callie she a patient woman, she adored her man and didn't rightly care
too much about the talk, the talk what said she was jes a toy for the king and not his only toy.
Well, things proceeded all right for a while,
status quo maintained and all, and one afternoon Callie came home early and there was Scuff in the all and all doin one of
the barmaids from the club, he blowin on his tenor sax and she on somethin else altogether, making music twice at once, see
what I mean.
Callie she jes walked out. Thas all she did,
she that strong. Didn't look back, didn't need to. She cry all right. She cry two, three days straight. But it was over and,
far as she concerned, that club, that hornblower now off limits.
She moved on, our Callie did.
Then somethin happened.
--You gonna tell me?
--Yeah, yeah. Jes makin sure you still listenin.
--Somethin happened. Somethin dreadful.
They found that hornblower, that Andrew Maladicta,
with his head stoved in. Found him in that high falutin apartment with his head stoved in, beat to death he was with one of
his own horns, a sousaphone I think they said it was.
--Sousaphone, I think they said.
--Don know it.
--Me neither. Big horn, I'm thinkin, cuz his
head was right stoved in.
--Couldna been no accident.
--Dead he was, murdered in blood colder than
the world's heart. Some of his things missin, sure, some rings and what, but ruled it a passion crime they did. Fingered Callie
quicker than snatch, took her down to the jail and put her there and forgot her like she was a song from befo the blues.
And there she woulda stayed but for some right-thinkin
detective who put the T-O-D at bout the exact time Callie was workin her twelve hour shift at the restaurant. Did I say Callie
was a waitress?
--Naw. You sure this is Callie Pidgeon? She
weren't no waitress, she a stripper.
--This before that.
--She was a waitress at the BrownTown Downtown,
Matt Smiley's place.
--I hearda it.
--She was there anyway, couldn't a murdered
that sax player, you see. And, bless them, they let her go. Tol her to watch herself anyway for good measure, but set her
free as the breeze. She almos celebrated, cept she still blue over Scuff an all, she did love the cheat.
Went back home, brooded a few mo days and then,
was back at Matt's like nothin ever happened. She a tough one, Callie was.
Coupla weeks later, it was, Callie was closin
up the restaurant one night, sent the dishwasher on home and stayed by herself to lock up, doin the last minute addin up of
the cashbox, and the restaurant quiet as a tomb. She sittin there at a table, hummin "Mississippi Lowdown Blues" to herself,
scratchin on the pad with a pencil stub, when she hear a whisperin somewhere behind her. Sound like the wind through a tin
can, somethin like. Sound like someone sayin her name, a thin soun.
She look around, no one there, course. She go
back to figgerin.
Again, a whisperin. And, this time, the trinkle
of metal pots, like a windchime music.
This time Callie stood up, peered back through
the openin there into the kitchen. The swingin door movin maybe ever so slightly.
Callie not the spook easy type, she felt, still
the little hairs on her neck a-dancin. She put her hand there like you do at the end of a hard day an she stood there thinkin
to herself. You ol fool, Callie said, sorta half to comfort herself and half to think somethin other than spectre speculation.
An shortly after she locked up and went on home.
It was there, in Callie's apartment over the
pawn shop, when she had slipped down to her finer things, she heard the whisper again, this time closer by, and somethin like
a cat's whisker against her forearm.
She jerked back, spoke out. --Who there?
She standin by her bed, nothin on her but those
teddy things, light as spider web, an she there in the moonlight, can you picture it?
--An she hear the voice, the whisper sayin clear
as night, Mm, mm, you shor look good.
Well, she shrank back from the bed from where
that voice emanatin and she could make out there in the dim a shape under the quilt there in her bed, the shape of a man.
And then, like her eyes were just adjustin to the dark or more like he just appearin out of the ether, there was that polecat,
Andrew in her bed. His ghost mindja.
--Yeah. And he was naked, there, this undead
thing, and seem like he tryin to coax her into the bed, like the line between this world and the next not pronounced enough
to hinder a man when he longin for some of the good stuff, like this saxman so horny Lucifer hisself coulna hold him.
--Wha she do?
--She backed off slowly I tell you.
--Keepin her eye on that lascivious devil. She
backed all the way across the room till her rear hit the divan and she sat down slowly like she need to keep him in her sight.
Took her a few minutes, understandably, fore
she could speak, but when she could she did.
She said, You come back jes to get back in the
sack with me, Andy?
He say, Good enough reason, sugarpie.
She say, Naw, man, you ain't conquered death
for a slap an tickle.
He think a minute and say, You right. I come
back for larger business. I needs to catch me a murderer.
Who done it, Andy, she say, and checked herself,
cuz she could already hear her sweetenin up to him again.
Caynt tell you yet, sweetheart. Gonna catch
him, make him fess up.
Why can't ya tell me, she say.
Don want him warned, sugarpie. Don wan no one
Needless to say she say she won tell and he
say he playin it safe and after further ranglin, him trying still to get her to climb into her warm bedclothes with him, uncovering
his ghostly mantool, showin her the ol tricks still apply, that sorta thing, all in vain, she strong as I said befo, he drifted
out into the night, like a wispa smoke.
Callie she stay up all night that night so when
she gots to work the next night she was draggled and spent and she had missed all the commotion and she was muzzy headed and
needed to be sat down and tol twice everything but the jist of if was that Matt Smiley had absquatulated outa there. He gone
on the evenin stage. He didden even leave a bad smell.
--Wait. I heared that, nows you say it. Some
mystery where he went. Left his store and things behind and never heared from again.
--You tellin me that mixed up with this parable?
--You gonna tell me he killed Andrew Malacat?
--Matt Smiley was gone allright. Gone like the
sunset and it was years befo anyone put 2 and 2 together and pieced together what transpired.
Sometime in the early hours of that mornin,
the story goes, Matt Smiley was in the Browntown, jes him and a busboy name of Jonny Dingo, makin up the soupa the day or
somesuch, when they heared the bell tinkle on the front door like someone come in, though they both knew they locked that
door. Matt looked at Jonny and Jonny looked at Matt and both managed weak smiles.
They checked out front and there wasn't nobody
there that they could see.
--That they could see, heh.
--You got it.
They turned and toddled back through the swingin
doors into the kitchen to re-commence their ministrations on that soupa the day or somesuch and he was there.
--The ghost. The dead man.
He was a-standin next to a big table they used
to roll out their dough and cut things up and stuff and he was holdin a big kitchen knife like they used to debone hams and
such and he was smilin a smile straight from the firey place and both employer and employee like to do number two right there.
Matt Smiley spoke first cuz he was used to givin
the orders not takin em. He say, Maladicta.
And Maladicta say back, Here, in the deterioratin
Cuz now that he say that they see that sure
nough he one rottin specimen, patches round his cheeks, on his forearms, betwixt his fingers, fairly hangin there like raw
(Not what Callie saw, see, cuz he was shape-shiftin,
using what needs be when needs be.)
An his toothy grin was rotten too, grey like
tombstones, and the stink comin off him was like grim death itself, cuz it was.
And Matt Smiley say again, Maladicta. You come
back fo me?
You betcha, the dead sax player say.
Whatchoo gonna do, Matt Smiley rightly wanted
Gonna skin you like a lamb, Matt Smiley say,
or leastwise, what Jonny say he say.
--Ize gonna ask you that? All this come from
--What happened to him?
--He hospitalized for long time. They put his
ass on the thirteenth floor till he stop talkin constant fool talk--they say he talked for eight straight years, bible talk,
hellfire, Jabberwock, till one day he just stopped, looked around and they call for the doctor and he say you in charge? to
the doctor and the doctor allowed as to how he was and Jonny stood straight up and said I got a story to tell.
--Huh. So this all come from him.
--This part, yeah.
--So where was I?
--Skin you like a lamb.
An Matt Smiley picked up a cleaver nearby and
said, Devil take me.
An Maladicta say, Yessir he will.
An Matt lunged at the phantom an course his
thrust with that bloody cleaver passed through the airy body of the dead musicman and Matt did now tremble with the fear of
An now, so Jonny tells it, the ghostly Mr. Maladicta
swelled up like a parade balloon, grew twice his normal height and stood over that cowerin restauranteur with his bonin knife
raised high. His putrescent flesh bout drippin off his bones, his mouth a maw of hellishness, teeth like a torture rack dribblin
spittle. He rose up above him like a shade's shadow, obliteratin all around, he say.
--Thas all we know.
--Whatchoo mean, thas all we know?
--Busboy passed out. Woke up his boss was gone.
Absquatulated. Started right in to ravin, off his head jes like that.
--Smile run away? Or dead? Eaten by that ghoul?
--Aw, man. They never found him, no?
--Naw. Never a trace, not a hair.
--Why he do it?
--Not for certain, suspect he in love with Callie,
suspect he defendin her honor, in his way.
--An his way entail stovin in heads.
--You know that. Became a stripper, mobster's
moll, disappeared hersef some years later.
--The ghost of Beale Street.
Copyright Corey Mesler 2003