“And a motorcycle. Indian, by the looks of it.”
Edgar nodded, then returned his gaze to his heavily bandaged hand. His scrambled eggs, slathered with half a bottle of hot sauce, were half finished.
“Barge operator saw it, too. Tried to avoid it.” Bill shook his head, and stared into his coffee cup.
“Shame about the old bridge.”
“So the barge operator ran into the old Vicksburg Bridge because he was trying to avoid a submarine? In the Mississippi?” My orange juice sat untouched.
“And a motorcycle.”
“Stars and bars on the sub,” Bill added, “12-pound Napoleon mounted on the nose, look like.”
“Like that one they used to have down in the park in Success?”
Bill and Edgar fell silent. “So, this submarine, surfacing in the Mississippi near the old Vicksburg Bridge, had a Confederate battle flag and a Civil War era artillery piece mounted on it?”
“Snagged the Indian.”
“Nice bike, just wedged there under the barrel.”
I soldiered on. “And the barge operator lost control and rammed the bridge piling trying to avoid it?”
“That, and the catfish.”
Bill rolled his eyes. “Nobody saw that but you, Ed.”
Ed glared and raised his bandaged hand. “This look like imagination to you?”
“Probably cut it on that old water heater.”
I must have looked confused. I certainly was. Bill explained.
“We was noodling in the shallows.”
“Had ahold of a big old flathead, musta been 100 pounds at least.”
Bill looked unconvinced. “We’d dropped an old water heater down there last year, ’cause the big catfish’ll take up residence in ’em sometimes.” He looked away from Edgar. “Not every time.”
“Had my arm up to my shoulder down that old boy’s throat, grabbing at his gills, came up for air, dragging ‘im out, right when the submarine surfaced. ”
“I must’ve missed it.”
“You was looking at the sub!” Edgar looked hurt. “But the bargeman saw it!”
“Right. He’s looking right past a Confederate sub at some catfish. Sub’s old hat. Don’t see catfish everyday.”
“Confederate sub?” I was trying to piece this together.
“Beauregard Forrest Jones. Of an old family hereabouts.”
“Always a bit crazy, the Jones.” Edgar shook his head.
“1861. Jones gets a look at Hundley’s American Diver.”
“Old Jones was not about to let some dandy from N’Orleans show him up.”
“Has to one up him.” Edgar shoveled some eggs. “Confederacy had a $50,ooo reward for a working submarine.”
“Greybacks. Worth about a buck fifty.”
Edgar and Bill chuckled.
“Then Hundley drowned and the war ended on him.” Bill sipped his coffee.
“Union woulda taken it, if they’d a known it was there.”
“Jones was a proud man.”
“And crazy.” Edgar finished his eggs, pulled a handkerchief from his pocked, and wiped his face.
“We’ve established that.” Bill put down his empty cup, and waved off a thin, older woman in a plaid apron who was coming to refill it. “No thanks, Velma, honey.”
“So the story goes Jones hid the thing in some backwater around here.”
“Took it out at night, once in a while, when the old rebels would get together to reminisce.”
“Would fire off that cannon.”
“Yep. The South did occasionally rise again, if only from two fathoms down.”
They laughed again.
I tried to process this information. “So a crazy old man had a home-built submarine from the Civil War hidden in the Mississippi, that he took out at night for old time sake – and nobody noticed?”
“That’s what I heard.” Velma cleared the formica table. I put a hand over my still-untouched orange juice.
“Left it to his son, who left it to his, and so on down the line.” Bill mopped his brow. The day was growing hot, humid, and still.
“Asked ol’ Caleb Jones about it, one time, he weren’t sayin’ nothin’.”
“Last time anybody owned up to seeing it was maybe, what, ’87?”
“Until last week.”
“The barge pilot will confirm this?” I asked.
“Hank? Hell, no.” Bill asserted. “It’s his barge, he’ll want to pretend nothing happened rather than own up to running into a bridge like the damn fool he is.”
“Maybe he’d confirm that catfish,” Edgar mused. “A big ‘un. Huge.”
“Right. That somehow disappeared just as I turned around.”
“Couldn’t hold ’em! I got distracted by the submarine!”