To Ken Fairly, a father figure when I needed one. To Claude Stuckey, the truest friend I ever had. To all the agents who thought it would never end. To those who never let fear spoil the journey. To wanderers longing for home. — Merle Temple
The grizzled old crime reporter leaned back in his chair and turned the page on his notepad. Given to old habits, he wetted the graphite in his pencil with his tongue to get a darker line and make it flow like ink.
The springs in his chair creaked as he rocked back and forth and studied an old black-and-white photo of a young Michael Parker. He looked from the image to the old man sitting in front of him and then back again. James shook his head and thought about the high price time and trials exact.
“The first drug wars were a long time ago. Merle Temple has written all these books about your life. What do you think about them?” he asked, tugging at the chin whiskers of his gray beard.
Michael Parker laughed. “That guy is inside my head,” he answered.
“What was it like when the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics was brand new and still feeling those birthing pains? Y’all didn’t really think you could win the war on drugs, did you?” the reporter asked as he handed the old photo to a silver-haired Parker.
Michael squinted as he tried to find himself in the image captured in the faded picture when youth was his armor and innocence his currency. Time was growing short, the clocks ticked loudly, and the hands spun faster and faster. Here he was when his life was little more than a minor footnote in history.
“I can’t speak for the others, but I wanted to save the world, rescue damsels in distress, and slay dragons—errant knights, tilting at windmills, and all that. We were young, naïve, and thought we would outlive the stars. We didn’t know we were drunk on our dreams until the world sobered us up. Maybe they’ll wake us one day to say none of it was real, just a daydream or a nightmare. They say reality is overrated, but what do they know,” Michael said, with a sardonic smile.
“Some of your fellow agents died young, others ran afoul of the law, and some lost their families. Do you ever think of them?” the reporter asked.
“Their faces haunt my dreams. They gave all they had to give…so many temptations, living on the edge. We didn’t think about consequences or the end of the road. Everyone wanted to go to heaven, but no one wanted to die. My professor gave me a note when I left Ole Miss. I didn’t understand it, but I’ve kept it in my wallet all these years,” he said, as he read from a crumpled scrap of paper.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on guard; you’ll be handed over to the local councils and flogged…but when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:16.”
“I can see how that must seem prophetic to you now,” the reporter said. “But let’s get back to the undercover days…when it was fresh and raw, and you were in the thick of the brambles and briars and unbowed. The war, the corruption, the temptations, the casualties…what did A Ghostly Shade of Pale leave out?”
Michael clutched the yellowed Scripture and closed his eyes. Emotions and images from a prodigal life came rushing to shore, messages in bottles set adrift by the castaways of yesterday. The past washed over the present, the barricades of time were breached, and a police radio crackled in the fog of yesteryear: “Come in, 822!” “Michael, are you there?” “He has a gun!” “Look out! Get Down!”
He stumbled into the Last Chance Saloon where a hollow-eyed bartender told him he’d already had his last chance, and there were no second acts. The undertaker leaned against the gates of hell and licked his chops while Delilah cut Michael’s hair, but God came to where he was and fed him in the wilderness.
A man with a crown of thorns offered shelter from the storms as men cast lots for His garments. Weeds of sorrow were browned and frayed, flowers of youth wilted inside a ring of fire, and the lost begged for salvation and banged on the doors of heaven. Sparrows were falling, but God’s eye was on them all. And Michael forgave it all, as he was forgiven.
Michael whispered, “Give us eyes to see Thee in our hour of need.”
“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” —Louis L’Amour
“America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. I’ve asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of offensive.” —President Richard M. Nixon, June 14, 1971
“We rebelled in the late sixties. With us, it wasn’t an apple, it was heroin, but it was the fall all over again. The serpent didn’t tempt us, or at least we didn’t see him, but we figured Adam and Eve were the first hippies, just looking to throw off their shackles like us. We rejected the God of the Garden, evicted Him. If He created Adam and Eve, he must have created the serpent…maybe the Vietnam War, social injustice, and the CIA, too. It didn’t all work out as planned. Mistakes were made. Some, who we thought were friends, betrayed us with bad trips and dirty needles, that Cain and Abel thing, too. People overdosed and died. The blooms of flower power withered and wilted. People got sick, homeless and penniless, but we loved Communism. All that recoil, but we flocked like lemmings to the tree of knowledge and shook hands with the devil who was homeless like us. We wanted to be our own gods, knowing both good and evil. We smoked grass, and we wanted the green, green grass of a new Garden to cover the gravesite of America. We uncorked the jug and let the genie out of the bottle, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men...you know. We sowed the seeds of destruction and the red, white, and blue was twisted by the whirlwind.” —Milkwood Jones
“They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld Of Paradise, so late their happy seat…They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.” ― John Milton, Paradise Lost
“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” —C.S. Lewis
“I stand amid the roar of a surf-tormented shore, and I hold within my hand grains of the golden sand—How few! Yet how they creep through my fingers to the deep while I weep!”—Edgar Allan Poe, “Dream Within a Dream” “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” —Isaiah 43:18-19
As the world turned in 1972, the cost of the average home in America was $27,550, the average annual salary $11,800, gasoline 55 cents per gallon, and a new Ford Pinto was $2,078.
Jesus Christ Superstar was playing in New York. The endless ground war in Vietnam appeared in living color on American TV sets every night, courtesy of NBC’s peacock. Two-thirds of America's troops had returned home, but 20,000 North Vietnamese Army troops were massing near the DMZ to attack allied positions and force the South Vietnamese army into retreat and chaos.
The New York Times had published the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. The White House “plumbers” unit burglarized a psychiatrist’s office to find files on Ellsberg, and a group of shadowy figures plotted a break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
This is the 1st excerpt from Blood on the Ground by Lee County author Merle Temple. If you subscribe to The Lee County Courier, you'll naver miss another word from this manuscript.
Hope you enjoy. Jim Clark, publisher
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