Kracker Flats is a fun, quirky story of a family trapped after a hurricane. It's an easy read and promises to keep you engaged.
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Twisting the reluctant wedding band from her trembling finger, Marci Lindum's chest tightened; her stomach tumbled. To protect her son, she'd already acquiesced to doing the unthinkable. And before she could recant her next decision, to barter the solid gold ring, the arthritic seamstress snatched it away.
Kracker Flats is Marci Lindum's tale of survival after Hurricane Kate, the most destructive hurricane ever, strikes Tampa Bay. Her brat daughter is missing. Her inept husband is attacked by an alligator. Hoarding neighbors are selfish, while others have gone crazy.
To find her daughter and to seek help, Marci takes charge and ventures on a journey that leaves her stranded within a band of odd, and at times colorful, indigents—Krackers, who by design are remarkably well prepared.
Marci pursues the most capable Kracker, the dominant male, Dale Carter, who can provide for her every need, including the safety of her son. She learns that Dale holds close to his broken heart a secret that only Marci could ever answer.
Matador Room ♦ Hacienda Hotel
New Port Richey, Florida
The extended minute hand on the antique wall clock flicked to 3:45 am. The escapement gear cranked out the partial St. Michael’s chime. Cledus Rosewood flitted his jittery bloodshot eyes toward the bothersome tavern clock. And for some reason, as the poker game drew toward closure, the lengthening, ever-complaining knell became annoyingly amplified.
When the Pasco County Commissioner glanced back to the card table, his opponent, Florence Carter, had fixed her beady brown eyes upon his ball-nosed pumpkin head.
“Well, Cledus,” wiry Florence said, burning her stare a bit longer. “Looks like darn Hoinky won all our money tonight.” She referred to a third player on her right sitting with neatly stacked piles of cash.
Cledus shoved back his chair. But he was too fat; the weight on the legs wouldn’t allow the oak caquetoire to budge. He tried again. This time the shorter leg gave way and scratched along the warped plank-board that had stabilized the distracting rock, but it still sat at an uncomfortable tilt. Clasping the splayed seat, Cledus lurched and locked the short leg onto the warp again.
Florence dropped her eyes and needled her fingers, fixing an undone blouse button. “I guess it’s that time,” she said, purposely avoiding eye contact. “Anyone want to chicken out and call it a night?”
The Commissioner smiled. “Florence, I’ve waited the whole damn night for this hand to come into play. And can’t wait to send your scheming, land-grabbing, scalawag Kracker ass back to the Virginia highlands where you belong.”
Florence’s wrinkled expression refused a response.
“Dale, wake up!” barked Cledus, projecting his voice across the weakly lit room toward the dark hotel lobby. “Get over here, muck rat!”
Sleeping on a wooden bench just outside the arched entryway was young Dale Carter, Florence’s son. The dark-haired, deeply tanned Florida flats boy emerged from the blackness.
“Go wake Judge Grady,” Cledus demanded, as if Dale was his servant.
Florence turned toward her drowsy son and nodded, sanctioning the unacceptable directive. “Go ahead, Dale.” She winked her left eye so Cledus didn’t see.
The fit boy vanished into the hollow blackness of the hotel and scurried up the grand staircase.
Rolling her narrow shoulders, Florence hunched her thin frame over the raised lip of the poker table and gathered the scattered playing cards. She’d lost all her money.
“It’s always the same bet, hain’t it, Hoink?” Florence said to the third player at the table, confirming what he’d wager as his final hand.
Bobby “Hoinky” Mack was the owner of a large track of isolated gulf coast property on the south side of the Fivay rail spur. Where, years ago, after drifting aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico, Hoinky’s houseboat had finally washed ashore. To survive, he bred a deformed pet sow named Elnora by tying her to a banyan root-drop in a nearby oak grove to lure local wild boars whenever she was in heat. Then roasted Elnora’s mutant offspring over cedar woodchips and sold them as a tasty pork barbeque to migrating Florida-bound snowbirds.
To get them to stop at his shabby roadside food stand along a desolate stretch of Highway 19, Hoinky yodeled his trademark yelp, which sounded like a simultaneous car honk and pig oink. The curious noise slowed south bounders long enough for the smoky smell of sizzling sweet cedar pork to fill the cavity of their Michigan-made Oldsmobiles.
Sitting with stacks of fifties and hundreds neatly squared, frosty-haired Hoinky produced a ragged, folded document from the thigh pocket of his baggy fishing shorts and tossed it as his wager into the center of the octagon table. The black calligraphy read Certificate of Marriage. At the bottom were three signature lines with two names scrawled, his and Florence Carter’s. The third line, the certification, awaited Judge Grady’s official seal.
“Ya ain’t winnin’, Hoink,” Florence said. “Ya ain’t getting married this morning.”
Cledus chuckled. “One day you’re going to lose to ol’ Hoinky. I hope it ain’t tonight though. Cuz I want that piece of property you and your lad Dale are squatting.”
A compulsive gambler, the commissioner never missed the concluding play of what Florence called The Barter Hand. But little did Cledus know, Florence had worked as a chambermaid at the Hacienda for many years; and the Matador Room, where they regularly played poker, was her dominion. It was no accident Cledus was uncomfortable. There was a bothersome glare that deflected off an enormous glass-covered painting of a dominant bull munching the greenery of a palmetto pasture with its dangling testicles about to snag the briars. And as long as Cledus’ chair sat just right, ironically positioned on the warped plank-board, the glare forced him to dodge the reflective distraction by hunching into the table to view his playing cards.
“What will it be this time?” said Florence, reaching beneath, verifying the presence of the wedged cards she’d pilfered from the poker deck.
Ducking the glare, Cledus saw her hand disappear and was about to call her out when it emerged with two cigars. His eyes grew large. Cubans were his weakness.
“Cigar?” Florence asked.
Snatching the skillfully hand-rolled tobacco, Cledus rotated it beneath his bulbous nose and inhaled the rich, aromatic freshness. His thick rubber lips, the distinctive trait that had elected him, lifted into a broad, pearly grin. Striking a match, he extended his fat arm and politely lit Florence’s stogy. A sweet-smelling haze filled the simple, yet historic room, where it was rumored Gloria Swanson once practiced her acting.
Overhead, creaking bedsprings followed two hefty foot thumps. Yellowed particles flaked from the chipped ceiling paint and drifted as aged dandruff onto the velvet-covered table. Young Dale’s lighter footsteps scuttled along the upstairs hallway. Judge Grady’s heavy gait followed.
“As miserable as the judge gets for waking him,” Cledus said, “he’d be more miserable if he missed watching this hand play out. Besides, this is how we play the barter hand anymore. No waiting for the courthouse to open on Monday to finish the wager.”
Sitting silent, arranging his winnings, Hoinky had nothing to risk but his cash this time.
“Hoink, what is it you want from me in case you win?” Commissioner Rosewood asked.
Opening his mouth as if he were about to yodel, Hoinky drew in a gasp of air. With two fingers he pressed against his vocal cords and expelled four rough, odd-sounding words from deep inside his throat. “Building. . . Permit . . . Flea Market.”
“That’s fine and dandy with me,” Cledus said. “If you win, Judge Grady will assign you the permit right here on the spot. But I’m warning ya, Hoink, don’t put that pile of money you won into building your flea market. If I win Florence’s swampy track with that nasty suffocating banyan growing in the center of the oak grove, I’ll be asking the county to condemn your property next to it.”
Blowing a thick cloud of smoke toward her opponent, Florence spoke. “Cledus, what the hell do you want with my piece of swampland and ol’ Hoink’s palmetto scrubs? They ain’t worth nothing and flood all the time on the full moon tide. It’s your elevated property upside ours that’s the sweetest to own.”
Florence stoked her cigar then finished what she needed to say. “Ain’t no hurricane surge going to ever drown your property under, Cledus.”
“Sheee—it, Florence, what da ya think, I’m stupid or sometin’?” he called her out. Cledus was well aware of sly Florence; she’d homesteaded her property by hoodwinking Judge Grady after befriending his gospel-worshiping wife.
“You know what I want—that property for Florence. It ain’t no secret. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to finish dredging the channel that links with the rail spur. Pasco County wants snowbirds to settle here and pay taxes. With the rock from the limestone mine I own on the topside, your swampland, and Hoink’s property, I’m going to build a development into the ocean and sell waterfront winter homes to Yankees who want to live on the Gulf of Mexico.”
Cledus leaned back and folded his fat arms. “I know what you and your dead old man Buck did years back. You filled in patches of your swamp with limestone stolen from my mine and rented trailers you stashed in that mosquito-bitten marsh to those indigent transient Krackers that keep arriving from all over.”
The cigar’s nicotine had elevated the commissioner’s heart rate and given him a burst of adrenaline. He couldn’t resist running his mouth. “And listen here, Florence, Pasco County ain’t ever issuing you a liquoring license for that barroom your lad and his dead poppa built to gin up my quarry workers.”
As he flicked his cigar ash, Cledus’ rosy lips dissolved into a confident, content smirk. “I’m going to call my development Tropical Harbors,” he said with pride.
Judge Grady’s heavy footsteps crunched down the complaining staircase. Dale had left the hotel as previously instructed by his mother to ready a quick getaway.
“Ya know, Cledus,” Florence said, “don’t bet all your dimes on that cockamamie idea you hatched. Someday, a badass hurricane will scrub your sorry-ass waterfront development from the face of the earth.”
“Florence”—Cledus blew cigar smoke directly at her—“I’ll take that chance. Everyone knows this part of Florida ain’t never gotten struck that bad. You’ve been preaching about that big blow to keep anyone from buying coastal property, so you git it for free by homesteading like you always does. I ain’t buying any of your hurricane bullcrap, you cantankerous dung beetle.”
Cledus slammed his round fist onto the card table. “It’s your deal, Florence.”
Patiently, Florence Carter shuffled the deck. She wasn’t ready yet. The annoying wall clock hadn’t ticked off enough minutes.
Judge Grady arrived and hadn’t bothered to wear pants, just a long-tail button-down white shirt which extended over his bulging stomach to cover his blue pinstripe boxers. As Grady moved past the poker table, his attention drew to the unusual painting behind Florence. He adjusted the waistband of his loose-fitting briefs before he sat.
“Making sure your oysters got some room to breathe, ain’t ya, Judge.”
Scratching his gray stubble, Grady didn’t respond.
“Did you hear ol’ legless Moog cut a deal with Cledus to open a strip joint over on Grand Boulevard?” Florence asked.
Halfway between drunk and a hangover, the judge grumbled, “I ain’t heard nothing of Moog’s plans to move one of his lap-dancing joints over the county line.”
Florence’s tactful query had suddenly put Cledus in a difficult spot. Grady’s God-fearing wife opposed any construction of Pasco County strip clubs and would make the judge’s life incredibly miserable should he allow it.
Beads of sweat started to drench Cledus’ prickly jowls. He leaned forward, his large stomach shoving the table toward Florence. “No, Judge, that’s a rumor Florence keeps spreading; like that doomsday hurricane bull crap she spouts off about all the time.”
After snuffing her cigar, Florence slowly slid the shuffled card deck forward. “It’s your cut, Hoink.”
“Go ahead, place your wager, you flat-chested, dried-up skank,” said an agitated Cledus.
Florence didn’t react to the nasty insult. Instead, she produced a yellowed, trifold property deed.
Judge Grady spoke as if he were sitting in his courtroom. “This time I want you to sign it, Florence.”
“Not until Cledus signs the deed to the limestone quarry,” she snapped back.
Swiveling his bald head, the judge eyeballed the commissioner. It was Florence’s comment about Moog’s strip club that made him seek a signature from Cledus this time. Even though Cledus was his crony, Grady didn’t trust him when it came to underhanded deals with Moog.
Scribbling his name, Cledus angrily tossed in the document as his wager.
Florence scrawled her signature and slid the deed far enough so it was within reach.
“Hoink?” said Cledus, bobbing his head trying to avoid the painting’s reflective glare. “You got all the luck tonight. What ya going to do if you win? Take Florence back to your houseboat and boink her right away? I’m sure she ain’t gotten laid since her old man died after fallin’ into my quarry.”
Again, Florence showed no reaction. He’d used this tactic before. If she showed no sign of hurt, it pissed him off even more.
“Your bet, Hoink,” Cledus said, squinting.
Thumbing his money, Hoinky sliced the winnings into thirds then pushed one stack into the pot.
Florence spoke for Hoinky. “Is that enough for you, Cledus?”
Nodding, Cledus accepted the cash bet. He was more interested in winning Florence’s property. She was a thorn and he wanted to send her packing for good.
“The game, as always, is five-card draw.” Flicking her wrist, Florence skillfully spun cards toward each player. “And it’s agreed Judge Grady will tender the winning document as legal.”
She paused, laced her fingers, and looked directly at Grady. “Or one of us will tell his wife about the lap dances Moog’s girls give him in the judge’s chamber.”
The judge scowled. Squealing was the guarantee that Grady would sign the wagered document the moment the hand was laid down. That’s what made gambling with Florence so addictive. She had a way of managing everyone.
After studying her cards, Florence’s facial expression suddenly showed emotion. For the first time that night she became flush. She set the cards against her chin and tried to settle her quivering hands. With a crack to her voice, red-faced Florence glanced over at the wall clock and asked, “Hoinky, who’s watching Elnora? I heard she’s in heat again.”
Hoinky rasped his words. “Two cards.”
There was a pause. Both Grady and Cledus drew sharp looks at Hoinky. It wasn’t an acceptable response. The courthouse had received several complaints from angry constituent wild boar hunters, because they’d shot several retarded piglets on the north side of Cledus’ limestone mine recently. And complained the mutants came from Elnora.
Hoinky took a deep breath then rounded his mouth. Out came that unfamiliar sound in the form of a sentence. “I tied Elnora in Florence’s oak grove.” He inhaled. “It’s cool there. Don’t like Elnora baking on the houseboat all day while I’m gambling.”
Considering the ramifications of his reelection, Cledus rolled his plump lips inward to form a thin purple line. The boar hunters had banded with the orange grove owners and threatened to replace him next election if he’d not dealt with Hoinky’s pig by then.
“Hoink, I’m telling ya!” yelled Cledus, frustrated.
Cledus’ stomach shoved the table forward. Florence reacted by dropping her cards into her lap to block the table from crushing against her.
“The locals are gnawing my hind-side, Hoink. Elnora’s contaminating the wild boar population with her mutant gene by dropping litters in the groves. Those retarded piglets are surviving on fallen fruit and living long enough to get knocked up again.”
Cledus’ eyes bulged. “And those half-pint wetbacks refuse to pick oranges, cuz they think those mutants are some Mayan voodoo monster. Spooks the hell out of them. And that osprey that built its nest in my disabled dragline shovel at the mine is snatching those damn piglets and dive-bombing them onto my workers when they walk to work in the morning.”
Judge Grady felt he needed to end this before Cledus erupted and flipped over the table like he’d done in prior games.
“Hoink, I warned ya not to let that sow off your boat when she’s fertile. I’m sending the sheriff over to shoot Elnora first thing Monday, when the courthouse opens.”
Hoinky said nothing. Tactfully, he handed the politicians the rest of his cash, buying them off once more. His love, his sympathy, for Elnora bankrupted him, once again.
The timing of Florence’s question had upset the game. The hefty good ol’ boys were livid and sweating profusely.
Little did they know the heat that absorbed during the day within the hollow ridges of the barrel tile roof had sunk into the room, replacing the escaping cooler air that exited through the darkened hotel lobby, because young Dale Carter had wedged an exit door wide open.
Holding two pairs, Cledus yanked one card from his hand and spun it on top of the signed documents.
“I’ll take one,” he said angrily.
Florence tossed him a card. She looked toward the wall clock. The longhand ticked to the hour.
Cledus got the card he wanted, a full house. His posture relaxed just as the annoying clock started to grind its gears, gonging a tune that ended with four prolonged bellows, disguising the sound of young Dale starting a motorboat docked behind the hotel on the Cottee River.
“What ya got?” Cledus growled, his ears ringing from the chimes, confident he’d finally own her land.
Stone-faced, Florence fanned her playing cards in front of her.