BY: MARK R. LOWERY
Decades after migrating north to Cleveland, Ohio, from rural Louisiana, Tobias Winslow has made an uneasy peace with the past, including his own mistakes that led to a prison stint, and has found a way to thrive in the inner city. News of a murdered son, and the daughter that son left behind, forces Tobias to reassess his past and restructure his plans for the future. Christian Taylor and Joey Breaux, meanwhile, are students at a Cleveland-area historically black university who have vastly different worldviews, but are drawn together by an appreciation of family and, ultimately, a senseless, violent act. All three—Tobias, Christian, and Joey—are unknowingly tied together by a racially motivated killing in Louisiana decades earlier.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Wilfred’s Dream by Mark R. Lowery, Wilfred Foster disappears in 1964, and his disappearance was never solved. His kin and descendants have fought long and hard to bring justice for him, but to no avail. Now in 2017, Tobias Winslow, one of Wilfred’s distant kin, gets drawn into the fight, becoming a “Wilfred’s Dreamer,” almost inadvertently. Tobias owns a barbershop in Cleveland, Ohio. He takes his aging and dementia-afflicted aunt to the Dreamer’s gatherings, and thus becoming a Dreamer by “association.” Then Tobias discovers he had a son, whom he never knew about, but the boy has been murdered, leaving behind a young daughter who seems to have no family other than Tobias, turning his life upside down.
Well written, fast paced, and poignant, the story is thought-provoking as well as intriguing—a definite must read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Wilfred’s Dream by Mark R. Lowery is the story of bigotry, family pride, and revenge. In 1964, Wilfred Foster disappears and is presumed murdered. It is a crime that still remains unsolved in 2017. Because Wilfred was black and lived in the Deep South, his family believes that the police did not try very hard to solve the crime. His extended family has formed an organization called Wilfred’s Dreamers, and they meet regularly, trying to bring pressure on the justice department to solve Wilfred’s murder. Tobias Winslow, a member of Wilfred’s extended family owns a barbershop in Cleveland, Ohio, and takes his aging aunt, who can barely remember his name, to the local Dreamer gatherings, getting drawn into the Dreamers almost against his will. Then Tobias’s world gets turned on its ear when he discovers that, not only did he have a son who was recently murdered, he has a granddaughter now with no parents and no place to go but to Tobias.
Thought provoking, intense, and deeply moving, I think Wilfred’s Dream is a book everyone should read.
Vidalia, Louisiana, 1964:
A strong breeze from the Mississippi River dominated the July night, planting a fishy smell on everything within reasonable distance and launching small, flying pests everywhere, including onto Wilfred Foster’s blue and beige 1958 Buick. Still, no one emerged from the Dew Drop Inn.
“C’mon, man,” he mumbled to himself, glancing at his watch as he stood outside the bar. “C’mon.”
He didn’t want to go inside. Black folks weren’t welcomed at this establishment. But if his client didn’t emerge soon, Wilfred wouldn’t be able to complete the rest of the work chores he needed to finish before the end of the day. With reluctance, he walked slowly toward the bar’s entrance, pausing to steady his nerves. He walked through the door and took a single step before a burly man with a handlebar mustache and a motorcycle tattooed on one bicep halted his progress.
“Got business here, nigger?”
Willie scanned the room before answering, making eye contact with the man behind the bar. “I’m here to pick up Mr. Thornton,” he announced aloud. “I was asked to take him to the Cloverleaf.” He stared at the large man blocking his path. “Ain’t looking for no trouble, Jimmy.”
The bartender pointed to a lone patron near the back of the bar.
Jimmy slowly backed away from Willie without taking his eyes off him. The bartender snickered.
“Ought not to get involved in ’em nigger card games if you don’t want to lose money, Jimmy,” the bartender gloated. “Told you not to.”
“I’ll have the last laugh,” Jimmy promised. “Wait and see.”
Willie moved rapidly toward the diner. “Mr. Thornton?” he asked upon reaching him.
“Who wants to know?”
“Wilfred Foster,” he answered, extending his hand. “Friends call me Willie. I was sent here to give you a ride to the Cloverleaf.”
“For your appointment with Miss Missy.”
The bartender smiled.
“Oh, yeah,” Thornton replied. “My appointment. Don’t want to miss that.”
“My car’s out front,” Willie continued. “If we hurry, we can get to your appointment while your time is still available. I can’t make any promises if we don’t leave now.”
Thornton placed a few bills on the table and followed Willie outside. As Willie held the car’s passenger door open, Thornton removed his straw hat, adjusted his suit pants, and then sat down in the car.
“How long you say it’ll take, boy?”
“A few minutes, sir,” Willie answered. “Not long at all.”
Willie started his car and turned on the radio. Jackie Wilson was in mid-song.
Thornton smiled. “Ain’t nothin’ like that jig-a-boo music. Nothin’ like it.”
When they arrived at the motel, Willie parked outside a two-story row of rooms. “Did you have something for me, Mr. Thornton?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Thornton said.
He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a white envelope. Willie took it and peered inside.
“Miss Missy’s waiting for you in Room Two-Twenty-Three. Right up them steps and to the left.”
Thornton excited the car and headed to the steps. Willie drove to the motel office, parked outside, and then headed in. He handed the envelope to the manager behind the counter and then turned to leave.
“Willie,” the manager called out.
“Yes, Mr. Caigny.”
“Do you like your job, boy?”
“Why yes, Mr. Caigny,” Willie answered. “Why would you ask that, sir?”
Caigny eyed the sign outside. Above a brick column, a green clover leaf rested above the words Cloverleaf Motel. Below it, on separate rows, were the words “air-conditioned,” “telephones,” and “vacancies.” The “t” in “motel” looked like a lowercase “i,” as some of the bulbs had burned out.
“Sir, I’m sorry,” Willie offered. “I’m sorry. Got caught up at the bar waiting for a customer and didn’t get to that. I’ll fix it right now.”
“No, no,” Caigny said. “Tomorrow morning will be fine. Just remember, I’ve got plenty of young men looking for work. Gave you this job as a favor to your momma, Vernita. Don’t make me regret it, boy.”
“I do appreciate that,” Willie assured him. “And I’ll take care of that first thing in the morning. You have my word, sir.”
Caigny handed three envelopes to Willie.
“Deliver these, and then go pick up Mr. Sam from his office,” he instructed.
“Yes, sir,” Willie answered. “Right away.”
Written on each envelope was the number of the room to which it needed to be delivered. Willie knocked on Room 40 and waited. After a few moments, he heard the chain on the door being removed. A tall, strawberry-blonde emerged, peering out the door from under a large cowboy hat.
“Evening, Billie Joe,” he said, handing her one of the envelopes.
“Thanks,” she replied.
He heard another woman’s voice inside the room.
“That Trisha?” he inquired.
Before Billie Joe could answer, a chubby woman with curlers in her hair appeared at the door. Willie gave her the second envelope.
“Thanks,” she said.
No one answered the door at Room 67, but Willie could hear the television playing and water running in the bathroom. He assumed Betty was busy with a customer. He was walking away from the room when the door opened slightly, and Betty summoned him back.
“I have something for you,” he announced, poking his head into her room.
Betty sat in front of a mirror combing her hair and checking her makeup.
“Put it over there,” she directed, softly. “On the nightstand.”
He dropped the envelope near the lamp and then turned to find Betty standing between him and the door. She was wearing an oversized shirt that barely covered her underwear. Her straight hair rested just above her shoulders. Walking to him, she gently ran one of her hands down the side of his face.
“What’s your hurry, smooth?” she asked. “I do love me some fudge. Seems like every time I see you these days, you in a hurry. Trying to tell me something?”
He eased her hand away. “Working three jobs,” he pointed out. “That’s all. At times, I can’t tell whether I’m coming or going. Got to do what I got to do though. Sure you understand.”
She unbuttoned the top of her shirt and leaned toward him. “Maybe it’s time to take a break,” she whispered. “Let Miss Betty make you feel good all over. Spend a little of that hard-earned cash here.”
“Can’t do that,” he retorted, gently pushing away.
“You sure?” she asked, slightly opening her shirt. “You ain’t had no complaints the last couple times. Couldn’t seem to get enough as I recall.”
She pressed her lips softly against his cheek. He caressed her smooth shoulders momentarily.
“That can’t happen again,” he warned.
“People talk,” he muttered. “Folks ’round here don’t take kindly to race mixing.”
“How folks ’round here gonna know ’bout our business?” she asked. “You telling folks?”
“Ain’t just that, Betty. I’m engaged now,” he informed her. “Saving my money so Addison and I can get married.”
She laughed. “Is that your dream, Willie?” she asked. “Marry some black Southern belle, buy some shack in the Colored section, and live happily ever after? Like in them books in school?”
He pushed past her. “Ain’t planning on staying ’round here any longer than I have to,” he insisted. “Gonna move north. To one of those cities with factory jobs. Milwaukee, Chicago, perhaps Cleveland. Got a cousin up there who told me there’s plenty of work for anyone who can get there. And they hire blacks.”
“Let me tell you something, smooth,” she said, smiling. “I ain’t been to any of them cities up north you mentioned. But I have been to Washington, Baltimore, and Philly. Dealt with plenty of men, both black and white. Do you know what those white men in those factories call black men?”
“No, Betty. Reckon I don’t.”
“Niggers,” she replied. “Just not always to their faces.”
He closed the room door as he left. Across the way, at the diner attached to the motel, two men watched intently as Willie left the room.
“That coon got some pretty big britches,” one of the men said.
On the back road into town, Willie’s Buick created a sizeable dust trail that prevented him from seeing anything out of his rearview mirror. So, it wasn’t until the driver of the unmarked police vehicle leaned on his horn twice and turned on his flashing light that Willie noticed him and slowed down.
He pulled his car onto the shoulder of the road and watched the officer through the rearview mirror. The officer exited his vehicle and circled the Buick, raising his dark sunglasses slightly as he did.
“License,” the officer demanded.
“Is there a problem, sir?” Willie asked.
“Shut up, boy!” the officer demanded. “Did I ask you to speak?”
The officer snatched Willie’s license from his hand and walked back to his vehicle. Willie lifted his eyes to the rearview mirror and watched the officer speaking into a police radio. After a few moments, the officer exited his vehicle and walked back toward the Buick. As he did, another car carrying three men pulled behind the officer’s car.
“Get out,” the officer demanded.
Willie tried to face the officer as he stepped out of his car, but the officer violently forced his head in the other direction.
“Walk to the front of the car,” the officer instructed. “And keep your hands up where I can see them.”
Again, Willie tried to turn and face the officer, but one of the men from the second vehicle struck him on the side of his face with a baseball bat before he could. A second man took another bat to Willie’s kneecap, forcing him the ground.
© 2019 by Mark R. Lowery