Old Dan Tucker
In the eyes of the men in the brass band I could see they were smiling. They did their best to play “Jump Jim Crow” and paid little mind to the black-faced minstrel singer named old Dan Tucker. He kept coming close to knocking into them. Dancing so crazed, he looked like a fighting cock. I guzzled another glass of spiced rum, and then squeezed through the audience of farmers in scrappy suits and their families, who were pressed close to a rowdy bunch of lubbers. Those goons seemed to swallow something rotten as I pushed pass for a better look.
Now up in front I had a clear view of old Dan as he whipped his hands like they were on fire, kicked out his feet and then made scissoring motions with his legs. He also forced a wide smile from one corner of his mouth. Up close, it looked like I was watching a headless chicken scurry before young children. Even more remarkable was Dan’s voice. He sounded like a quacking duck.
But only minutes after I reached the front, there came an explosive round of applause, and old Dan bowed like a flapping flag. The minstrel show had ended.
Some of the players packed up their instruments or went to the bar. Old Dan took a few minutes to wipe off the charcoal makeup, and then quickly made for the back door. A few of the lubbers stood in his path, wagging their hands, trying to copy Dan’s movements. They were drunk and wouldn’t let him pass. I thought they wanted to start a fight, but they launched into the tune, “New York Girls.” And Dan gave a wan smile, threw out his hand and sang along.
“‘I took her out to Tiffany’s, I spared her no expense. I bought her two gold earrings, they cost me fifteen cents. And away you Johnny, my dear honey. Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money…'”
As Dan sang I took a closer look at his face, which was still surrounded by a ring of black makeup. Like a seafaring man, he had blotched brown skin prematurely aged by both the sun and too much drink. He had scruffy black whiskers and dark eyes that rarely held one focus. They were so flighty, they reminded me of the starry light which had drawn me to him in the first place.
“‘Your hard-earned cash will disappear, your rig and boots as well. For Yankee girls are tougher than the other side of Hell. And away you Johnny, my dear honey. Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money…'”
Old Dan turned away from the howling men and cried with what seemed a mouth full of spittle, which was how he sang. “Don’t you see him?” It seemed he spoke to no one in particular. Then he raised his voice even louder. “He’s over there,” he said, though now lighted upon me with eyes that raged with both madness and concern. “He’s with the real pretty one. O’er there,” he said and pointed toward a comely group of families by the front door.
“See who?” I cried, moving closer to Dan. A few of the drunkards gave me odd looks like I was the crazy one.
“He’s with the pretty virgin,” Dan replied. “Loves ’em pretty ones. You haven’t spotted him?”
“Who?” I said, flustered. The old school house was thick with tobacco smoke. Faces across the room were clouded.
“O’, he’s gone out. Follow me,” Dan said, frowning, and slipped between the men and out the door before I hardly took a step.
Once outside under a moonlit firmament, I thoroughly enjoyed a breath of warm and fresh spring air. I jogged to catch up with old Dan. He was walking fast and turning every which way. Off in a field of long grass were two motioning silhouettes. There came a muffled cry. I was about to sprint to them, when old Dan grabbed my arm. His grip was surprisingly strong for a thin and gangly man like himself.
“Can you smell it? It’s too late,” he said.
“Blood?” I said, yet could smell only grass and peat.
“You can’t save her, and you can’t fight him, especially when he’s slaked his thirst.”
“He’s a blood sucker?”
“She’s dead,” old Dan said, and then looked at me with a crooked gaze. “You should have been onto him.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re the demon slayer. One sent by Jack Jefferies.”
“I’m with Jack, but he didn’t send me,” I said.
“You’re here now, and a young woman is dead. Are they sending other more capable assassins?”
“No one sent me.”
“Yes they did!”
“I’ve followed the monster all over the country. He was in love with African blood, now he fancies European. He told me so himself, and that he was on his way to New York in search of the best supply. Last month I sent a letter to the man in Manhattan who handles such matters. I let him know the demon was on his way, and I was in pursuit. The response was from a man named Jack Jefferies. He said he was employed in the service of God and Country. It was a very nice letter. Very official.”
“No one sent me,” I said, wiping Dan’s spittle off my face.
“Jack sent me a telegram last week. Don’t know how he found me. I didn’t even know where I was! The telegram said Joe Harris would meet me upon my arrival and see to my every need.”
“I’m Joe!” I said and ruminated over what I had said to Jack just a few hours ago. He had been grumpy and distant, though knowing Jack, such moods were always followed by bright and cheery ones. Yet I had took it upon myself to say how I didn’t know if this killing business was the life for me. Jack’s sour mood had prompted the comment. He grumbled in response, then minutes later when I had said I was going out for a walk, he looked up with a long face. “Try and run from me,” he said. “You won’t get very far.”
Once again I was amazed by Jack’s insight and foreknowledge into coming events. If he didn’t outright direct my path to old Dan Tucker, he had foreseen how our paths would cross.
“While I performed tonight,” old Dan said, “I saw the demon eyeing the women and children. He was smacking his red lips and smiling. He wanted me to know how he would soon be drinking all their blood.” Old Dan looked to where the woman had been killed. All was silent. “In a few days he will need to feed again, and he will look for me. He says I attract the best victims.”
“Just a minute man,” I said.
“How do you know I’m me–Joe Harris?”
“You’re covered in blood,” he said with the craziest eyes. “The type that don’t wash away so easy.”
I looked deeper into old Dan’s eyes, thinking his madness would surely be mine some day. Just like the demon blood…
(“Old Dan Tucker” performed by Jack Nuckols, Mark Meadows and Stephanie Meadows)
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Forty-Three
To be continued in Episode Forty-Four…