“Charlie French” is an excerpt from Coyote Jack and the Bluebirds by Paul Bisson.
The full e-book is available on Amazon.
Extract Two from Coyote Jack and the Bluebirds by Paul Bisson
“Ha. Say Charlie?” Coyote lays his left palm flat on the table, takes a final drag from his roll-up and flicks it into the road. “When will ah be getting my money for tonight? Six hundred pounds, right?”
“Later on, I guess. Need to speak to Len Powell at the Mule.”
“He’s good for it, yes?
“Course he is mate.” Mate. Charlie hopes that Coyote doesn’t mind being addressed in such a manner. What’s the American equivalent? Buddy, he supposes. Bud. Maybe he’ll slip one in later.
“It’s just ah don’t have a lot of spare cash on me, you know? Not sure if my cards work over here in the UK.”
“They should do. We have a Western Union not far from here if that helps?”
“Maybe, maybe.” Coyote folds his hands across his lap and looks up into the sky. “Plus ah gotta get my agent to top up my account n’all, you know? Big birds you got here, by the way. Damn big birds.”
Two more feathered scavengers have joined the first beneath the waste bin. Greased paper rips; cold chips fly.
“Seagulls. Yeah they’re huge.”
“What do you feed ‘em on?”
“Foreigners, man.” Coyote grins, as though returning to himself. “Foreigners. Ah likes that. Maybe I’m gonna get me a big bucket of Fried Seagull and teach ‘em all a lesson.”
The two men laugh, Charlie chuckling quietly to himself, Coyote releasing a huge bray that turns the heads of those nearby. The bluesman is still grinning to himself as he polishes off the remainder of his pint.
“So the rest of the band comin’ along to this practice, yeah?” says Coyote. “The Bluebirds.”
“There’s five of you, yeah?”
“Cool, four. Been playing together long? Ah sho’ dig the shit you got on Facebook, by the way. Real groovy. Not bad for a bunch of white kids.”
“We’re black, really,” laughs Charlie. “We just white up every time we come off stage.”
Coyote freezes, his face and eyes locked on some indefinite space before him. His whole body stiffens, so that when he turns to Charlie the metal legs of his chair scrape against the stone.
“What you say, boy?” he asks, his voice low and cut with menace. “What you say? Did you just say that you and your band were really…black, that you all just ‘whited up’? Did ah hear that shit right? Did you really say that shit?”
Mortified, Charlie begins to speak, though his words are cut short by a curt wave of Coyote’s hand. The bluesman’s features have solidified into an expression of absolute fury now, eyebrows lowered, nostrils flaring.
“Tell me, boy. Have you and your white-ass band known two hundred years of slavery? Were you and your honky friends snatched from a foreign shore and dragged across the world to be beaten and raped and lynched so that the white man could live a life of luxury and sin? Huh? Have you and your ‘band’ ever worked in the cotton fields, Charlie? Ever picked cotton ‘til your hands bled, Charlie? Ever worked fifteen hours solid with the bone showin’ through?”
Coyote is swelling as he speaks, growing louder, his hands and arms becoming more animated with every sentence. Heads are turning within the bar; a young girl passing by on the pavement quickens her pace, eyes averted.
“Coyote…I,” starts Charlie, though he is swiftly cut short by a sweep of the Texan’s hand, a jab of Coyote’s index finger that almost reaches his forehead.
“Do you and your little white boy band play the blues out of the need to simply survive? Is it a matter of life and fucking death to you, Charlie? Is the blues a rebellion to you little paleface fucks, a celebration of yo’ roots, a lone sounding echo of the womb from which you was ripped?”
Coyote is on his feet now, leaning in and over Charlie’s seat, his words thundering, spittle-flecked.
[pullquote]Coyote is on his feet now, leaning in and over Charlie’s seat, his words thundering, spittle-flecked.[/pullquote]
“Or is the blues just some nicely packaged product sold to you by some honky-run record company, something else to be stolen from the brothers and copied and exploited, just another luxury for the white man to enjoy?”
“No, really, I…” No use. Charlie can only raise his hands in a gesture of futile pacification and listen on in stung-eyed horror as his world collapses around him.
“And now you trying to steal our skin as well? You say you’re really black? Is that so, Mr Charlie? You want me to get on my knees and pick your cotton, for you, Mr Charlie? You want me to pick some cotton, mass’r?”
“Please, seriously, stop,” cries Charlie, his face blistering. He hadn’t meant it like that, seriously, it was merely a joke, nothing more, there was no way he’d imply that…
“You want me to pick some o’ yo’ cotton, mass’r? ‘Cos ah’m fine with that, Charlie. Ah’m fine with that! But first…”
Coyote Jack drops back into his seat and taps his empty pint glass. “…can we get another beer?”
There’s a moment of stunned silence, a zone of pure bewilderment that extends out from their table to encompass the dropped jaw of a young man watching from his van, the shocked frozen tableaux of a couple drinking at the front of the bar, even the seagulls, who for a moment have forgotten their chips. The zone holds, human and avian eyes remain fixed…and then Coyote collapses in hoots of laughter, sinking back into his chair, his finger jabbing the air before Charlie’s face, his other hand slapping the side of his leg.
Reality breaks around them like a sigh. One of the seagulls screeches, flaps its wings.
“Oh man! Oh man,” hoots Coyote Jack. “I gotcha man. I gotcha there!”
“Yeah,” says Charlie, face pale, his guts beginning the slow, uncomfortable process of disentanglement. ‘You sure got me there.”
“Shoulda seen yo’ face my man! You was ready to shit yo’ self!” Coyote tips back his head and roars with laughter before wiping his eyes and turning back to a relieved though red-faced Charlie.
“Now on a mo’ serious note,” says the Texan, straightening in his seat, his eyes still dancing with mischief. “How’s about you wring the piss from yo’ panties and go get me that beer?”