“McHeard is the Word” (2000)
Posted: 25 July 2007 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The Grey Area:  Truth as Entertainment
Publisher:: Forbes Magazine, October 2, 2000 ?
Elmore Leonard
McHeard is the Word
The next novel is just a headline away.

Elmore Leonard has written more that 30 books, including BANDITS, TOUCH, FREAKY DEAKY, KILLSHOT GET SHORTY, OUT OF SIGHT, CUBA LIBRE, and, more recently, PAGAN BABIES.  He and his wife live in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.  His next novel may very well have George McHeard III in a supporting role.

Last April I received a newspaper from a Mr. Harris Oswalt of Mobile, Alabama, saying, “I am a big fan of yours and thought this article so amazing that you could write a book about it.”

The headline from the Birmingham News tells the story:  “21-Year -Old Shooting Victim Leaves Behind 16 Children.”

On April 3 a young man named George McHeard III was sitting in his Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Pratt City, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama.  At about 5:45 P.M., according to police, a masked gunman walked up to the car and shot McHeard three times at point-blank range, killing him instantly.

The mothers of the children turned out to be at least nine young women from different parts of the city.  LaDrea Campbell, mother of George’s 8-month-old daughter, LaShundrea, said, “I didn’t plan for him to leave.”

Audrey Williams, George’s mother, said that he began siring children shortly after he turned 14.  She had often asked his girlfriends “not to have babies for my son.”  But her pleas, for the most part, were ignored.  George’s mom went on to say, “He loved his children and took care of them, bought them whatever they needed,” essentials like milk, clothing, and diapers.”

For all 16 kids? How could George afford it?

According to Audrey, whose nickname for George was Punchie, her son made a living as a self-employed car salesman, and independent dealer who sold all makes and models, not off a lot bur from their home in Ensley Highlands.  Audrey said he loved cars so much he named two of his daughters Mercedes and Infiniti.

She also mentioned during that during the week leading up to her son’s death, he was unusually quiet.

Posted: 25 July 2007 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s doubtful I would want to build an entire novel around George and his kids, as Harris Oswalt suggests in his note.  But I would be tempted to use George in a supporting role just to see him in action and hear him talk:  George coming on with sweet talk, street talk, always confident.  That fact that you might not believe a word George says is beside the point:  I don’t make judgments about my people.  You’ll see that George lives by his wits, but isn’t very bright.  He struts through the world of his own, a little Big Daddy in a gray area of activity, playing the role of provider.  My books thrive on gray areas, where truth is not seen in a clear light but can be interpreted and turned inside out to suit a character’s needs.

One fictional scenario that might be drawn from the news story:  George was involved in a hustle of some kind, perhaps in his role as a car salesman; the deal went bust and George got popped.  Robbery did not appear to be a motive.

I hear his mother saying. “Punchie. the Lord helps those who help themselves.”  And George has to agree.  “Yes, indeed, the Lord has shown me the way to take care of my kids.  Was like getting hit by lightning.  I mean it was getting hit by lightning.”

You’ll see what he’s talking about in the following treatment of how a fictional character based on the real George might stumble into one of life’s gray areas to find temporary happiness.

Here’s George McHeard III, at age 12, thinking, What kind of stupid, old-man name is George?  He’s wanting to change it to Jamal or Ju-wan, until his mama tells him the original George, his grandpa, had to come to Alabama from Jamaica; least it’s what she heard.  Little George says, “Yeah . . . ?” thinking of Bob Marley and Lady Saw, hearing reggae in his head.  Never mind the great Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations was from Ensley, where they live, that Motown jive was old.  George bops his head to reggae, and in two years has grown out his dreadlocks and taken up ganja, going around now as George III, the Reggae Kid, has quit high school, and gone to work for Homeboys Catering.  Never mind Domino’s and Pizza Hut.  They’re to scared of drive-bys and armed robberies to make deliveries in Ensley and the projects.  “LET YOUR HOMEBOYS DO THE DRIVING” is the slogan where George works.  He picks up orders and delivers ‘em anywhere.  A cute girl answers the door, George makes his eyes soft and says in his Jamaican lilt, “Sweet chile, ride with me to the country.”  His first two children are conceived at the same time, the twins, Toni and Tawni, over by Bayview Lake.  His daddy writes from McKean Correctional, “You just a boy.  What you doing making babies?”

By the time he’s 18, George has a dozen kids living in hoods from Pratt City to Bessemer, and the cute mamas who loved his locks and Rasta way of speaking are getting on his ass, one saying cold pizza and food stamps don’t make it, baby; another saying a child needs shoes, a child needs toys, and a child’s mama needs a few things, too, mon - giving him back his island sound with an edge.

George will tell you is isn’t easy being loved by so many women.

He hooks up with an ex-con named Cochise Patterson, from around here but staying in Detroit, the stolen car capital of the world, and George’s burden is eased some.  Cochise boosts cars on order, has a boy drive them down, and George sells them for in the projects - any luxury car you want 10 Gs - mostly to entry-level drug sellers.  George sees his role in a somewhat dark gray area:  He doesn’t steal the cars himself or see them being stolen, does he?  No, all he does is sell ‘em to people who don’t care where they come from.

Posted: 25 July 2007 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Here, an event that actually happened, two years before the real George McHeard met his end in the parking lot, is used to turn the plot.

On April 8, 1998, a Force 5 tornado swept across three Alabama counties, touched down in Birmingham’s west side, and tore several neighborhoods to pieces.  On of the hardest hit was Pratt City.

And here’s 19-year-old George on that day, only minutes before the tornado rips through.  He’s delivering, free of charge, a Lexus with gold trim to Cochise’s brother, Andre Patterson, released from prison up north and now dealing drugs from his great-grandma’s house on Miles Avenue in Pratt City.  THe granny is this little wisp of a woman, barely able to hold the door against the wind, who lets George into the kitchen and disappears.  He finds Andre unconcerned with the weather; something else is troubling him.

“You hear?  Cochise got his parole violated account of a dirty urine and he’s back in the slam, has to finish his time.  Man, two more years.”

The news comes as a shock to George; he sees himself out of business.  The only consolation is the tip Andre offers for delivering the car.

“Some fine blow.  Sell it and buy toys for the kids.”  Andre looks up then, puzzled.  “What’s that noise.”

“Sounds like a train coming,” George says.

As the roof is ripped from the house, George will remember the terrible sound screaming in his head as he’s slammed against the wall, and then the dead silence as he picks himself up.  The refrigerator has flattened Andre, who’s lying dead.  George looks around, sees money all over the place - currency, 20s, 50s, 100s, dope money Andre’s hid away and the tornado finds - like a sign coming in a crash of lightning, the Lord helping those who help themselves, and George does.  By the time he’s collected the bills in a plastic bag, a hundred Gs easy, he hears the granny’s plaintive cries for help.

Here are the storm damage photographs clipped form the Birmingham News:  one of George the hero coming out of what’s left of the house, the granny cradled in his arms; another one eight days later, George shaking hands with President Clinton, who has stopped off in Pratt City to commiserate and promise some federal aid.

Here are George and his mom at their house in Ensley handing out toys to his kids, to Toni and Tawni, to Charmaine, Coretta, George Junior, his second set of twins (Jamal and Ju-wan), Mercedes, Infiniti, LaDonna (they call her Peaches), Robert Marley, little 2-year-old Ziggy, Rochelle (they call her Shell), Tanisha, Martin Luther, and the last one so far, his baby girl LaShundrea, here with he mama - the only mama who came - on account of she’s nursing.  George is saying to a child, “No, honey, that’s Tanisha’s doll.  You play with your doll and let Tanisha play with hers.”

Posted: 25 July 2007 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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George is now living in the grayest area of his life.  What’s he supposed to do with the money but spend it?  Give it to the police?  “Oh, here some drug money I happen to find in a friend of mine’s house.”  The house is gone and any trace that money was there.  Give it to Andre’s brother in the joint? Why? It ain’t his.  How would he even know about the money there? George doesn’t consider the granny an heir - that nice old woman taking drug money? He does buy expensive gifts for the mamas, has to, the only way to keep ‘em off his back for a time; and buys himself a Chevy so nobody will think he has money.  Still, people notice things and they talk, especially the mamas.  Damn.

Here’s George, 21 now, picking up the phone to hear Cochise Patterson’s voice saying, “Hey, Dog.  I call to tell you I got my release.”

George does not want to talk to this man, but he can act, sound cool when he has to.  “You back in business?”

“Pretty soon.  Listen, you know that picture was in the paper, you saving my old granny from the tornado? Yeah, different ones sent me the picture,” Cochise says, “and I been keeping it the two years since.  Was the day you dropped off the car, huh? YOu can see it all busted up in the picture.  Lexus with gold trim.”

“Yeah, was the same day.  Man, I’m sorry about Andre.”

“He tell you anything before he died.”

“The man was already gone.”

“He give you anything?”

“Some blow.  I sold it.”

“Was in that bag you carrying in the picture?”

“That was your granny’s things she wanted.”

“See, I talk to Andre just before.  Tell him my parole been violated.  We talking, he happens to mention he laid off six keys, must’ve been right before you got there.”

“Yeah . . .?”

“Cleared a hundred fourteen thousand.”

“Never saw it.  I walk in, man, a tornado hits the house -”

“See, what I hear’s you been spending money.”

“What I made off the blow, yeah.”

“Like around a hundred thousand?

“Come on, man, if it’s gone was the tornado took it.”

“You afraid to talk to me?”

“I am talking to you.”

“How about to my face?”

“Tell me when you be down.”

“I’m here, Dog.  Saint Charles Villa Apartments.  Get in your Chevrolet and come on over.”

About 5:45 that afternoon George is sitting in his car in the apartment parking lot.  He sees Cochise Patterson come out of the building some distance away, the man too far off yet to recognize, though George can tell by his size and the way he walks it’s Cochise, coming across the pavement now, something wrong with his face.  No, something on his face, covering it, the man liking to to goof around.  George grins.

He calls out, “Yo, man, you think it’s Halloween?”

According to the Birmingham News story, during George’s funeral, a brawl erupted involving three of the children’s mothers.

Posted: 01 August 2007 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That’s good stuff.  Only seven years removed.  Maybe Elmore will yet find use for it when he writes a full treatment of the Cochise Patterson story.

You guys want to venture guesses on what happens to old Cochise?  Maybe continue his story from where Elmore left off?