From the acclaimed author of All Her Little Secrets comes yet another gripping, suspenseful novel where, after the murder of a white man in Jim Crow Mississippi, two Black sisters run away to different parts of the country . . . but can they escape the secrets they left behind?
It’s 1964 and Violet Richards is in more trouble than she’s ever been in her life. It was an act of self-defense against her white rapist, Huxley Broadus. But with the color of Violet’s skin, there is no way she can escape Jim Crow justice, not in Jackson, Mississippi. Before anyone can find Huxley’s body or finger Violet as the killer, she decides to run. With the help of her white beau, Dewey Leonard, a lovesick boy intent on marrying her up North, they make it to Birmingham before she sneaks away and catches a Greyhound bus bound for Washington, D.C. But desperation has her winding up in the small rural town of Chillicothe, Georgia.
Back in Jackson, Marigold, Violet’s older sister, has dreams of attending law school. But she is in a different kind of trouble: she’s pregnant and unmarried. Working for the Mississippi Summer Project, Marigold has been trying to use her smarts to further the cause of the Black vote. But after the Project’s lawyer—and her baby’s father—abandons her and news of Huxley’s murder brings the police to her door, Marigold sees no choice but to marry another man and leave Jackson behind. After a quick marriage, they move to Ohio seeking the promise of a better life and no more segregation.
Two sisters on the run—one from the law, the other from social shame. What they don’t realize is that there’s a man hot on their trail. This man has his own brand of dark secrets and a disturbing motive for finding the sisters that is unknown to everyone but him . . .
Release date: October 25, 2022
Print pages: 384
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Anywhere You Run
Wanda M. Morris
MY OLDER SISTER, Rose, had been dead for almost eight years, and still, she was bossing every part of my life like she did the day she died. After her funeral, I swore I wasn’t ever stepping foot inside another funeral. All those tears and heartache to spill over a dead body, the soul of which was long gone. Brown bodies that were tired and worn out, their earthly usefulness ended. Or the other bodies mangled from the wretchedness of living too close to white folks who killed us for sport.
The Richards family had had too many funerals, and I didn’t go to any of them after Rose’s. That included Papa’s death a few years after Rose, and Momma’s passing last fall. Even now folks around town still talked about that shameful Violet Richards gal who wouldn’t go to her own momma’s and daddy’s funerals! After all those funerals, I was fresh out of tears. I was the reason for all them deaths. And the guilt of it scratched and picked at my heart as if it was a tender scab on a days’ old gash.
Now it was just me and my sister Marigold left. Seem like after Momma died, the two of us wandered about aimlessly in the little lives all that death and loss left us with. I dreamed of being anywhere but here. Both of us desperate to leave Jackson but forced to stay by the fear of wandering out in the world without our parents. Even as old as we were, losing both Momma and Papa had left us barely holding on. Death can cut you like that. Everyone—aunts and uncles, deaconesses from church—made promises to be there for us, to fill in and pick up where Momma had left off. But in the days after her death, everybody went back to their own bills and kids and troubles. Maybe they thought me and Marigold was grown women and that we’d figure it all out somehow.
We talked and pretended like everything was okay. But it wasn’t.
Last year, after Momma’s funeral, everything sorta spun off in a blur. There was the houseful of people sadly shaking their heads and speaking quietly about how there was no finer woman in all of Jackson. But Momma’s upstanding reputation among the neighbors and friends wasn’t enough to dull the swollen pain of my having contributed to putting all those people I loved—Rose, Papa, and Momma—six feet under.
A couple weeks after Momma’s funeral, I pulled out a bottle of Cutty Sark I’d stashed behind my bed and convinced Marigold to split it with me, liquid courage for us to get through the task of dividing up Momma’s things. The scotch numbed us, but it didn’t make the task any easier. Marigold kept Momma’s Bible, with its worn leather cover, and I kept her old Timex watch, with the mother-of-pearl face. Marigold said it was fitting that I should have her watch, since Momma spent so much time looking at it to see if I would make curfew. I also kept Rose’s old diary that we found among Momma’s things. I guess if I was the one responsible for Rose’s death, I should be the one who kept the reminder of what I’d done.
All them funerals cut a hole deep down inside me that I kept trying to fill up with all the wrong things. For almost a year, I’d been staying out and dancing until all hours of the night at Snooky’s Joint, smoking reefer and drinking gin like it could quench my thirst. When Momma was alive, she used to warn me: Ain’t nothing open after midnight except hospitals and legs. Now Marigold had gotten to the point where she stopped asking where I’d been or who I’d been with. I guess she probably didn’t want to hear the answers. Or maybe she was too busy grieving all those deaths I had caused.
Sometimes I think the only thing all that partying did was make me forget my common sense. I guess that’s why I didn’t even see Huxley Broadus’s truck when he pulled alongside me the night I walked home from Snooky’s. Before I knowed what hit me, he had blocked my path and was headed round the side of the truck after me. I kicked and fought back the best I could, even left a few fingernails and bite marks in him. But it didn’t do me no good. Me, running and screaming like somebody would come and save a colored woman out in the middle of the night. Nobody saves colored women like me. The best we can do is to save ourselves. Too bad for me.
Too bad for Huxley, too.
* * *
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, WAS a big enough place that if you didn’t go to church or work for any of the white families in town, maybe you could hide out, disappear among the crowd. I didn’t fit into either one of them categories. I was simply a colored woman who’d killed a white man in Mississippi. It didn’t matter that I’d gone to the police about his attack days ago. I needed to get out of town. Fast.
Now, a few hours after I’d killed Huxley, I waited in the humid breeze under a sprawling magnolia in the front yard at 2:30 in the morning and smoked a cigarette. Each puff crawled down my chest and smoothed out my fraying nerves, making me believe I could really pull this off. I might finally be leaving Jackson and all the ghosts I had created. I hadn’t even told Marigold what I was planning. If I did, she’d either think I was crazy as a loon or try to help me, and I didn’t want no harm to come to her.
I waited. A chorus of crickets, and barn owls rustled and hooted out into the night darkness, restless, like me. Moonlight fell around our old clapboard house in a bright bluish glow. Maybe it was the moonlight or maybe it was all those ghosts hovering over the house and wishing me Godspeed or good riddance. Papa used to call this “our palace,” with its chipping paint, squeaking floorboards, and all those ghosts. I closed my eyes and could see the inside, walls covered with the lingering reminders of what we used to be—pictures of Momma and Papa on their wedding day, his bushy mustache, her hands clutching a small bouquet of wildflowers, as they stood in front of a house. There was a picture of Marigold from the first grade, missing two front teeth, and another of Rose dressed for her first school dance with Silas Monteque, his jacket too big and her with a bashful smile. And in the middle of the wall was a picture of Momma, Papa, Rose, Marigold, and me in front of the Greater Saints AME Church.
I gazed up at the porch. Me and Marigold still hadn’t taken down that puny string of holiday lights from last Christmas hanging along the porch banister. I hadn’t wanted to put up a Christmas tree or any kind of decorations after Momma died, but Marigold insisted, saying it was what Momma would have wanted. I didn’t argue with her. Marigold was always smarter than me and it showed whenever we argued.
After Rose died, folks always liked to compare me and Marigold, like we was two different shoes. Like I was a harlot’s high heel and she was a sturdy oxford. Marigold was the smart one. I was the pretty one. Marigold was the one who made good decisions. I was the one who made fast decisions. Marigold worked hard at getting rid of what she called her “accent.” Me? I just talked the way I talked. Marigold, with all her dreams of going to college and becoming a lawyer. And then there was me. I didn’t have no dreams unless I was asleep. So maybe I enjoyed a social outing more than I did a schoolbook. But that didn’t make me a bad person. Why people always think things got to be this way or that with nothing in between? Hell, me and Marigold was more alike than we was different.
She would understand my leaving.
I was doing this for both of us. When I got settled somewhere, I would call Marigold and explain everything. Maybe I could send for her, and we could live together again. She’d understand. She was the smart one.
I tucked myself behind the magnolia. There weren’t any cars out this late at night, but I couldn’t be sure someone wouldn’t come along and talk the next morning of having seen me out front. I looked up at Marigold’s room. Her light was still on, but I knew she was asleep. She was twenty-two years old, one year older than me, and still afraid of the dark. What ghosts had she created to be afraid of?
Here in Jackson, everything between colored folks and white folks was throbbing hot like a tinderbox about to blow. Marigold told me about that new law the president signed in early July that meant colored folks could go wherever white folks went, and through the front door, too—restaurants, hotels—no more Jim Crow. But the president could sign as many laws as he wanted, it still wouldn’t stop the evil inside the hearts of Mississippi white folks. That new law came too late to stop them from probably killing those poor boys up in Neshoba County about a month ago. It came too late for all them colored bodies that had been tossed in the Pearl River, an open grave of warm water and hungry fish. Ever since they assassinated Medgar Evers last year, white folks was bolder now than they’d ever been before. But colored folks were bound and determined to fight back any way they could without winding up dead.
As for me, I was finished with Jackson, Mississippi. I packed Momma’s old carpetbag with the few belongings I owned, along with Papa’s .38 pistol. The gun Papa showed me and my sisters. He used to say, All that marching and peaceful protesting is fine. But if somebody come up in here messing with me and mines, they gonna catch a bullet in the ass. This was the same gun I used to take care of Huxley.
Finally, a beam of light rounded the corner. I ground my cigarette into the trunk of the magnolia tree and quickly pulled a stick of Beemans gum from my purse. I popped it in my mouth and hoped it would do the job. I brushed the front of my green shirtdress and plumped my hair a bit. I’d straightened it and wore it down on my shoulders. That’s the way he liked it. Gravel crackled underneath the car as it cut across the driveway. I peeked from around the old magnolia.
Dewey Leonard pulled up in his brand-new Bonneville Coupe, all candy apple red and chrome, beside the house. He flipped a lock of strawberry blond hair from his eyes. Dewey was the kind of guy who always got what he wanted. I met Dewey while I worked at his daddy’s feed and supply store. Over the past couple weeks, I’d made him some promises. Dewey was all lit up like he had come ready to collect on every single one of ’em. Marigold would kill me if she knew I had been messing around with a white boy.
I tossed my bag in the back and slipped inside the car. It smelled like new leather seats and Old Spice aftershave. He looked all wide-eyed, full of excitement, as if we were off on our own Bonnie and Clyde adventure.
He stroked my hair. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered before he kissed me. “We should be in Birmingham by sunrise. Maybe you should try to get some sleep?” he said.
He smiled at me. “I love you, Violet.”
I nuzzled my head on his shoulder. “You already know how I feel about you, Dewey, honey.” I wasn’t no ways close to being in love with Dewey, but I could put on a good show. And just because he was whisking me away up north didn’t mean I would start to act any differently.
“Did you tell your sister . . . you know, about us leaving?”
“No, Dewey. It’s better this way.” I hadn’t breathed a word to Marigold or anybody else that me and Dewey was together. Colored folks would think I was crazy, and white folks would kill me with their bare hands. “What about your daddy? Did you tell him you was leaving town?”
“Don’t worry about my daddy. I’ll take care of him when we get up north. You can be sure of that.”
“What do you mean?”
Dewey patted my hand. “Violet, I’ve got a plan to take care of everything. Just trust me.”
“Okay.” I nervously glanced around the neighborhood. “We better get going.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and I didn’t care, either. I just wanted to get out of town, and Dewey was my ticket.
“You pack some sandwiches or something?”
“Uh-uh. Sorry, we ain’t have nothing back at the house. Let’s just stop and get something along the way.”
“Well . . .”
I already knew what he was thinking. We both knew there was no way any restaurant south of the Mason-Dixon Line would let a white man and a colored woman step foot inside as a couple and sit down to enjoy a meal together. It was just the way the world worked down here, no matter how many laws the president signed.
“It’ll be okay, Dewey. Really, I don’t mind.”
Dewey cranked the handle on his door to lower the window before leaning his elbow out. A warm breeze rushed into the car. Dewey squeezed my hand. “Why’d you finally change your mind and decide to marry me?”
“Dew, ain’t it enough that I’m here?”
He gave me an understanding nod. He was like every other man, always asking questions and looking for me to tell him what he wanted to hear. The first time Dewey asked me to run away and marry him, I thought he was joking. A white man wanting to marry a colored woman was like a man walking on the moon. Things like that didn’t happen in Mississippi, but Dewey said he had a plan for the two of us. He had gone to college up north for a year but came back south right before I met him. Rumor had it he flunked out. He said his daddy had been against his going up north, and after his return to Jackson, his daddy considered him a “solid failure.” I knew the real reason Dewey wanted to marry me was because he and his daddy didn’t get along. Dewey was always trying to prove something, like he was a better man than his daddy. I didn’t want no parts of their family feud. All I wanted was a way out of Jackson, Mississippi.
“I just hope you know how much I love you, Violet. I’d do anything to make you happy. Things will be better up north. Trust me.”
I hadn’t told Dewey what Huxley did to me. Or what I did to Huxley. I didn’t need Dewey fighting my battles for me. I just needed him to get me as far away from Jackson as possible.
“You all set?” he whispered.
I took one last look at Papa’s “palace” and that string of Christmas lights sagging across the front porch banister. Marigold’s light would be on for the rest of the night.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
Dewey pulled off onto the street. I prayed to God to forgive me for what I’d done to Huxley and for what I was about to do to Dewey.
THE CAR QUIETLY hummed along the road, straight out of Mississippi and the white-hot hell that it was. I turned up the radio and we rode in silence for a little while, listening to Patsy Cline warbling out a song about falling to pieces over some man. The country music station finally faded out. Dewey chimed up, talking nonstop about his big dream of the two of us living up north, getting married and having a bunch of sweet brown babies underfoot. I listened and smiled occasionally like that was my dream, too. Men always like to make plans for a woman as if she ain’t got dreams and a mind of her own. Nearly every man I’d ever met talked to me like I was four years old and didn’t understand English. Maybe men pretend to be smart so they can keep up with the women who really are.
We were probably fifty miles inside the Alabama state line when Dewey’s ramblings came to a halt. The whirl of flashing red and blue lights and the wailing siren of a police car right on our tail. My heart darn near jumped up inside my throat. Had they found Huxley’s body already? How did anyone know I was in this car with Dewey?
“Shit!” Dewey said.
I blinked back at the bright beams and the spinning lights of the police car. All my plans might be ruined. “Were you speeding? What’s going on?”
“Quick! Slide back over to the window. It’ll be okay,” Dewey said. I coulda swore his voice cracked.
Dewey slowed down. The tires rumbled over rocks and gravel as he pulled the car to a full stop on the side of the road. Dewey ran his hand through his hair and cocked his head toward the window, waiting for the cop. From the wide-eyed look on his face, he was probably as scared as me. Neither one of us had any business in this car together. What we were doing was against the law. He was a white man out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, with a colored woman. Even he wasn’t sure whether he could protect me from the spiteful hate of another white man. All it would take was this cop figuring out we was a couple and Dewey could go to jail; it could be even worse for me.
He turned to face me. “It’ll be fine. Just don’t say anything. Not a word.”
Dewey didn’t have to give me no instructions. I had no plans to talk to this cop or any other cop after the last time I stood inside a police station. Momma was the one who taught us girls how we should address the police. But it didn’t matter none when me and Marigold went to the police station after Huxley attacked me. The police back in Mississippi wasn’t the least bit interested in protecting and serving people like me. And from what I knew about Alabama, it wasn’t no different here, either.
The cop took his good and sweet time walking up to the side of the car. Dewey pulled his wallet from his pocket and sat it on the seat between us, ready just in case the officer asked him for identification. I was in trouble if he asked me for the same. By the time he appeared at Dewey’s window, my hands trembled slick with the sweat of fear. I sat calm and quiet like Momma had taught us—No fast moves, don’t make eye contact, be polite, yes sir and no sir. Momma had taught us to become invisible in the presence of white people. In other words, she had taught us to stay alive. Never give them a reason to harm you, even though they might still hit you over the head with their billy club just for good measure, she would say.
The officer peered inside the car. “Young man, you realize you were swerving awhile back there?”
“I’m sorry, Officer. Just a little tired, I guess.”
“Uh-huh.” He pointed his flashlight inside the car and it landed directly on me. “What we got here?”
I suddenly remembered Papa’s gun in my bag. No fast moves.
“This here is Alberta. She works for our family. I’m driving her over to Virginia to take care of my sick grandmother,” Dewey said, as cool as a cucumber.
“Uh-huh,” the policeman said flatly. He steered the flashlight across the back seat of the car. “That there’s yo’ bag?”
My stomach churned and I could feel the first inklings of sweat pop up along my hairline. But I didn’t answer him. If he looked inside, I would be off to jail faster than I could blink—unless I got to the gun first. And if I did, I might have to leave more dead bodies. I could feel Dewey staring at me. My only thought now—Get Papa’s gun.
“Hey, nigger, I’m talking to you!”
“Yes, sir.” I never looked at him. No eye contact. My heart pounded inside me like a locomotive barreling through my chest.
“I asked you a question. What’s in the bag?”
“Just a few things for the trip. Clothes, shoes, sir.” I stared down at my hands. I was scared as hell, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of bringing me to tears. I mulled over what to do next once he found that gun. Run? If I could get to the gun first, could I get a shot off? I’d save myself before I let this man cart me off to jail. What about Dewey? He didn’t know about the gun or Huxley or who I really was. The cop leaned in toward Dewey, maybe to get a better look at me.
Dewey cleared his throat. “Officer, I’m really sorry. I guess maybe it’s been a long drive. ...
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