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Last of the Dixie Heroes

Last of the Dixie Heroes by Peter Abrahams
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Roy Hill married the girl of his dreams, dotes on his eleven-year-old son, and is next in line for a big promotion in the Atlanta office of a global corporation. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, everything starts to unravel. He losing control of his life.

When his best friend joins a Civil War reenactment group, spending his weekends in camps where the year is forever 1863, Roy finds the idea laughable . . . even though he is the descendent and namesake of a Confederate Civil War hero. But when he visits the regiment just to be polite, something unexpected happens, gradually opening Roy’s eyes to the secret of a distant conflict that never ended–and leading him down a path that grows more menacing at every turn.

With his job disappearing in a way he could never have foreseen, his whole life slipping out of control, Roy falls deeper and deeper into the Rebel past. A strange and powerful idea takes hold: that his life went wrong long before he was born, in the fateful campaigns that preceded the burning of Atlanta. Among the men, a hard-core splinter group is formed–with Roy at its center. On an ancient battlefield, the once-clear lines between reenactment and reality begin to disappear. When his son is taken hostage is it real? When the old muskets fire will they still fire blanks? Or will a bloody history come stunningly to life?

An extraordinary novel about the fate of men and women no longer in step with the rhythms of the modern world, marching back into Southern history to make things right, Last of the Dixie Heroes is Peter Abrahams’s most dazzlingly original work yet.


From the Hardcover edition.
Random House Publishing Group; May 2002
ISBN 9780345459534
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Last of the Dixie Heroes
Author: Peter Abrahams
 
Excerpt
Roy thought he heard his son crying in the night. He got up, went down the hall, opened Rhett’s door, smelled the emptiness inside.

And woke up. Must have been asleep until that moment. How else to explain it? Roy didn’t turn on the light.

Must have been sleepwalking, or something close to it, and dreaming uneasy dreams, because first, Rhett had never done much crying in the night, not even as a baby, and now he was eleven years old; and second, his empty bedroom had been empty for more than six months—Roy could probably have calculated the exact duration if he’d had a mind to. No need to turn on the light, no need to see last year’s posters left behind, outgrown clothes in the closet, how neat everything was. No one had switched off the air conditioner in the window. Cold air followed Roy back to his room.

Roy awoke for good a few hours later, alone in a bed meant for two. There’d been a time in his life, back when he himself was a boy and even after, when he’d awakened every morning with a bubble of happiness in his chest, when he’d actually jumped out of bed. He could remember that feeling; not bring it back, just remember.

Roy found an inch of coffee in the pot, left over from the day before, or maybe the day before that. Heated it up, drank it down. Alone in a bed made for two: a weepy kind of line that could have come straight from a country song, and not even a good one. Roy’s mother had loved country, he’d practically been raised on country, but Roy didn’t like it anymore. The truth was he’d begun listening to gospel when no one was around, a bit funny maybe, since he didn’t believe in God.

Six months, two weeks, seven hours. It was easy to calculate, because Marcia had walked out late on a Sunday night.

“What’s the meaning of this?” said Roy, climbing into the passenger seat of Gordo’s Altima. They took turns driving each other to work.

“Meaning of what, good buddy?”

Roy’s beeper went off; then Gordo’s. They checked the numbers.

“Do Mondays suck enough?” said Gordo. 6:09—not light, not dark, not warm, not cold. They pulled away from Roy’s house, drove a few quick blocks, hit traffic.

“The stuff in the back,” Roy said.

“Oh, that,” said Gordo; but he didn’t go on.

“Funny look on your face,” Roy said.

“Just the teensiest bit hungover.”

“Besides that,” Roy said. Gordo was the teensiest bit hungover most Monday mornings.

“Kind of sheepish,” Roy said.

“Sheepish?”

Roy twisted around, had a good look in back.

What Roy saw: a strange-colored jacket, not yellow, not brown, something in between, with wood buttons; heavy gray wool trousers with yellow suspenders; a funny little cap, like the cops wore in those Inspector Clouseau movies Rhett liked, but gray; a belt with a big metal buckle and a black pouch hanging off it; and a long rifle with one of those tamping-down things at the end, Roy couldn’t think of the name. With some difficulty—it was much heavier than he’d expected and too long for the car—he wrestled the rifle into the front seat. A kid stared down from the back of a Range Rover. The kid’s lips moved. Her mother, talking on a cell phone at the wheel, turned to look down too. The light changed to green and the Range Rover turned up Peachtree; Gordo continued straight ahead.

“It’s just a reproduction,” Gordo said. “You have no idea what the real ones go for.”

“The real what?” said Roy.

“Enfield muskets. That’s an exact reproduction of the 1853 fifty-eight caliber. Made in London, Roy. London, England.”

“It was?”

“The originals,” Gordo said. “This is from Italy.”

Roy sniffed the muzzle. “Is it loaded?”

“Course not. We don’t fire bullets anyway. Just black powder cartridges.”

“Who’s we?”

Gordo glanced at him, still sheepish, but smiling now. “Seventh Tennessee Cavalry.”

Roy didn’t get it.

“CSA.”

“CSA?”

“For Christ sake, Roy—the Confederacy.”

Roy looked at Gordo: sheepish, hungover, sleepless. Despite all that, he seemed pretty cheerful, which wasn’t like Gordo on the morning commute. Cheerful, and unaware of the blood seeping from a shaving cut on his neck, forming a tiny bubble that would soon overflow and stain the white collar of his shirt.

Gordo took the northbound 75/85 ramp, nosed his way into the mass of cars, all poised to move but none moving, like grains of sand in the upper half of a blocked hourglass. Roy checked his watch. It was going to be close. It was always close. The sky was getting lighter, light enough to see there wasn’t a cloud in it. Not a cloud in the sky, but it wasn’t blue, more like the color of brass, one of those red brass alloys with a high copper content. Roy felt that tightness in his chest and throat, realized he wasn’t getting enough air. Headlights blinked out, first two by two, then by the hundreds, thousands. But no one moved. This was the moment Gordo would say Monday sucked again, or work sucked, or life sucked; but he didn’t.

“Ever been up to Kennesaw, Roy?”

“Sure. With you—that charity golf thing. It was only last—”

“I mean the battlefield.”

Roy thought, Was there a high school trip? He had a clear memory of Mrs. Sangster, the history teacher, asleep on the bus, head back, mouth open, bad teeth; and a vague memory of headstones. Roy himself had good teeth. He brushed twice a day and flossed once. That had been one of his mother’s rules: Don’t you go ruinin’ that smile on me now. “Maybe,” Roy told Gordo.

“They had a reenactment up there this weekend,” Gordo said.

“Reenactment of what?” Roy’s mind had wandered: the thought of high school had brought Rhett to mind, Rhett who’d be getting ready for school at that moment. Roy could picture him getting dressed—it still took him a while to tie the laces of his sneakers, and there’d be that little shock of hair standing up at the back of his head no matter what he did.

“Not the real battle,” Gordo said. “There weren’t any Union men, not this time of year. It was more like educational—drilling, firing the artillery, that kind of thing. Anyway, it being Sunday, with Brenda’s ma in town—”

“Meaning church,” Roy said.

“Right. So I kind of drove myself on up to Kennesaw. And before you’d know it—boom.”

“Boom what?”

“I’m enlisted.”

“Enlisted?”

“In the Seventh Tennessee. You’re not listening, Roy.”

“It’s real?”

“The Seventh Tennessee? Fought at Chickamauga—what’s realer than that?”

“I meant now.”

“Course we’re not at 1863 strength, nowhere near, but everything’s as close to the same as it can be. Check out that shell jacket—identical down to the thread count. Just there’s no bullets and no horses, excepting the colonel’s.”

“And they gave you all this stuff?”

“Gave? You have to buy it off the sutler.”

“What’s that?”

“Like a store, but in a tent.”

“How much?”

“Eleven hundred.”

“Dollars?”

“Plus tax.”

“You were carrying that kind of cash?”

“Don’t be dumb, Roy. They take Visa.” “The official card of the Civil War?” Roy said; wouldn’t ordinarily have said that aloud, but he wasn’t dumb.

Gordo looked at him from the corner of his eye, then laughed. “I’ll have to pass that on.”

“To who?”

“The boys in the unit. They’ve got a good sense of humor about all this.”

“Does Brenda?”

“She doesn’t exactly know yet.”

Gordo didn’t look quite so cheerful anymore. Roy knew Gordo couldn’t afford that kind of money for funny-looking clothes and a reproduction musket. No more than he could. They worked the same job, made the same money: $42,975 a year. Roy tried to figure in his head what percentage 1,100 was of 42,975. That kind of thing didn’t come naturally to him, but it was good practice. He’d noticed that people who got promoted at work always had a head for figures. Traffic started moving. Gordo picked that moment to honk in frustration, so it must have been at Brenda, or something like that. Roy came up with a figure around four percent, but that didn’t seem right.

Their building appeared in the northwest, just off the connector. It was a shiny brass-colored tower, not unlike the color of the sky at that moment, with the word Chemerica in red letters at the top. Except this morning, when all it said was: hem.

“What’s going on?” Gordo said.

“Putting up bigger letters,” Roy said.

They parked in the employee lot in sublevel five under the building, got into an elevator containing two execs. “Up five-eighths already and it’s only—” one was saying. He stopped when he saw Roy and Gordo. Roy noticed that the execs had their weight on the balls of their feet, like sprinters. The elevator couldn’t go fast enough for them.

Roy and Gordo got off at sublevel one. A right turn led to shipping, left to receiving. Roy and Gordo turned right. No actual shipping or receiving took place in the Chemerica building; nothing went in or out but product orders, the weights, volumes, packaging protocols, routes, carriers, tariffs, handling instructions, and state, federal, and internationally mandated warnings, all coded in digital transmissions. Roy and Gordo worked in the Asia/Oceania section, a cluster of a dozen cubicles in the far corner of the floor. A sign overhung their section from one of the strip lights: the irregulars. The sign had been slung up at a Christmas party several years before by a shipper fired not long after. The name remained.

6:59. Roy entered his cubicle, B27. It had shoulder-high padded walls, a chair, a desk, a monitor, a keyboard, a shelf holding the reg books— tariffs, carriers, customs, rates, routes, safety—and a framed photo of Rhett in his Pop Warner uniform. Next to it was an empty rectangle of unfaded wall padding. Marcia’s picture lay in the bottom drawer of Roy’s desk.

Roy checked his screen. He had a ton of KOH from Mo- bile due at their subsidiary in Osaka in a week; calcium carbonate, amount unspecified, to Karachi, P. of O. unspecified, date unspecified; two ounces of radioactive uranyl acetate to the Ministry of Science and Engineering in Singapore; three forty-footers and one twenty-footer of—


From the Paperback edition.
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ISBNs
0345459539
9780345439376
9780345459534