By Chad Pollock
For 33 years, Cantaloupe served barbecue and beer in his garage off rural route two-four-four. He ran below the level, having never seen the need to be sanctioned by the State.
Every day at the barbecue pit was wild, awash with beer, pulled pork, red sauce and pool. Lot’s of pool. Some said that the amount of money exchanged over the pool table in Cantaloupe’s garage accounted for half the Gross Domestic Product of Lafayette county.
This is surely an exaggeration.
Whatever the amount, it was enough to alert the new State’s Attorney General, a young man from the uppity Northwest corner of the state, a boy really, whose idea of manhood was to button his starched shirt to the tippy top and then choke himself with a full-windsor.
This boy, who surely never appreciated a good pool game and who probably didn’t know that coleslaw goes on top of a pulled-pork sandwich, this boy, tricked up into man by virtue of his office, came down on Cantaloupe for tax evasion, racketeering and fraud.
Faced with the loss of his livelihood, Cantaloupe threw a party — the last barbecue. He intended to liquidate his stock and head to Louisiana where his people came from, maybe plant a patch of greens and raise pigs.
The party started early Sunday morning with the lighting of the hickory. Cantaloupe spent five hours preparing the red sauce and watching the coals. Catfish Jones, the wastrel, was there, and so was Willie Bone. They paced about the spit, saying nothing, but looking intently at Cantaloupe stirring the sauce. Cantaloupe was their best friend, and the thought of Lafayette County sans Cantaloupe turned them sour with rage.
Night came. All the folk of Lafayette arrived for a final taste. Those inclined toward hoodoo speculation saw an omen in the sky. It was the color of congealed red sauce.
By the flaming coals, Catfish took a pool cue and held the tip in the fire ’til the plastic that covered it flared and fell off. Willie took the stick from Catfish and sharpened the newly bald end. Catfish did the same with another cue, and Willie sharpened this one, too.
Now they each had one.
No one expected the State’s attorney to show up personally, certainly not on a Sunday. But there he was. He arrived with a phalanx of officers, men not unfamiliar with Cantaloupe — they had won and lost money at his table. The party circle opened to include the newcomers. The officers looked to the State’s attorney. He looked at the ragged people ringed ’round him, saw the sauce on their lips, and he gave the nod to take Cantaloupe.
Willie took the first swipe, blindly and in rage. The cue pierced the ear of an officer, and Willie ripped off the lobe with a swift downward motion.
Catfish was more calculated. He tried to pierce the boy attorney’s heart, but missed by 3 inches, sinking his cue into the soft shoulder of the child-man.
“Stop,” Cantaloupe shouted. And they did.
He picked up the officer’s detached lobe and threw it on the grill. He removed the cue from the child-man’s shoulder and stanched the flow of blood with his own finger. The State’s attorney was trembling from the shock. Cantaloupe stuck one of his sauce-stained fingers in the man’s mouth.
“Why you want to mess up good barbecue, boy?”