________Lost Souls_______
Scuff Maladicta and The Ghost of Beale Street

Corey Mesler

--Beale Street a street of ghosts.

--Thas what I'm sayin.


--Just so.

--You gonna tell me bout it?

--Sure sure.

--You gonna tell me whas different bout this ghost?

--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.

--Uh huh.

--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?

--Callie Pidgeon.


--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.

--I'm here.

--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.

--A whatsit?

--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 knowin yet.

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.

--Matt Smiley.

--The one.



--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?

--Thas right.

--You gonna tell me he killed Andrew Malacat?

--Maladicta. Lissen.


--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 flesh.

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 chicken.

(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.

--You betcha?


--All right.

--You betcha.

Whatchoo gonna do, Matt Smiley rightly wanted to know.

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 that busboy?


--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 death.

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?

--Don know.

--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.

--I imagine.


--And Callie?

--You know that. Became a stripper, mobster's moll, disappeared hersef some years later.


--Thas right.

--The ghost of Beale Street.

--One of.

--One of.

--Thas right.

Copyright Corey Mesler 2003

Corey Mesler is the owner of Burke's Book Store, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country's oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.  He has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals including  Pindeldyboz, Orchid, Black Dirt, Thema, Mars Hill Review, Poet Lore and others.  He has also been a book reviewer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal.  A short story of his was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, edited by Shannon Ravenel, published by Algonquin Books.  His first novel, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue appeared in 2002.. A poetry chapbook, Chin-Chin in Eden, is just out from Still Waters Press. Most importantly, he is Toby and Chloe's dad and Cheryl's husband.


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