On a Thursday afternoon, November 13, 1941, Carolina and Butch were sitting at their usual table, discussing business, when the bartender approached and said, "There is a man up front. He says his name is Ed Mason and he needs to see Butch and Carolina. I have never seen Ed Mason. Do you think that it is really him?"
"What does he look like?" asked Butch. The bartender was good at recognition recall, which is why Carolina had her working the bar. She was the eyes, and sometimes the warning signal, at the front door.
She closed her eyes as she answered, "He is about 6'2" tall, with thick salt and pepper hair, dark brown eyes, and wide shoulders. He stands very erect and looks muscular, but not bulky. He is wearing a long sleeved, white shirt, black pants, and black boots. He has a long black coat over his left arm and, in his right hand, he has a large black hat. But what is most noticeable is his stare. His eyes are hard and intense. He doesn't so much look at you as he stares into you."
"Yep. That is Ed Mason," said Butch. "That has always been Ed Mason. It is uncanny."
Butch and Carolina looked at each other in wonder. They never thought that they would see the day that Ed Mason walked into Carolina's. Carolina said to the bartender, "Tell him to meet us in the conference room of The Travel Agency in ten minutes. Give him directions to find it."
As Butch and Carolina walked out the back, he asked her, "What do you think he wants?"
"Maybe someone died or is sick. We will know soon enough."
When Butch and Carolina entered the conference room through the alley door in back of The Travel Agency, they saw not only Ed Mason, but also two other men, one white, large, and one light walnut colored, spare, fine featured, standing to one side of the table.
As soon as Carolina saw Mayor Wallace and Randolph Mason with Ed Mason, she knew it was not a social family visit. She knew that they wanted something. She knew that Ed Mason wanted something. She knew that he wanted something from her. She had longed for this moment. Oh, how she had longed for it.
What Ed Mason did not know was that the small woman he saw before him had a near genius IQ, an analytical mind that would put a chess master to shame, and an understanding of men that would have been the envy of Madame Pompadour. He also did not know that this former teenage prostitute was as fierce as a badger, and she loved Butch, his younger brother, with all her being. It hurt her that the Masons had ostracized the hulking brute she knew to be a beautiful, vulnerable little boy. She knew that Ed Mason thought she was the beauty and Butch was the beast, but she was about to educate him as to the errors of his ways. She smiled demurely and relaxed her hands as she imagined her fingers tightening around his balls. She was about to introduce him to the world of the castrato.
Ed said, "Butch, it is good to see you again. This must be Carolina. I have heard a lot about you. I am Ed Mason. This man to my right is Mayor Wallace and to my left is Randolph Mason."
Carolina said politely, "Nice to meet you gentlemen. Please be seated."
After everyone was seated, Butch and Carolina across from Ed Mason, Mayor Wallace, and Randolph Mason, Ed began,
"My name is Mrs. Mason, just the same as your wife's," said Carolina sternly, clipping her words tersely.
An awkward silence followed. The air seemed to have thickened, coldly. She clenched and unclenched the fingers of her hands resting in her lap under the table.
Butch was embarrassed. "Carolina, Ed is my brother."
"I know that," she replied evenly between clinched teeth, "but does he?"
Silence. Menacing silence. Carolina's calm steady gaze engaged Ed's hard direct stare, her fingers clenched, then as all watched, his eyes softened and moistened. He said, "I understand. You are right. Yes, of course."
Ed was not slow witted. Turning to Butch, he said, "We were wrong to ostracize you. We tolerate, accept, and even facilitate things others do, things which we do not do. So why did we not accept you, one of us whom we loved, just because you are not like us. I have often thought we were wrong. I am sorry, and I hope you will forgive us."
"You said forgive US, not just you. So, is Butch back in the family?" inquired Carolina.
Butch said, "I am glad. I have really missed everyone, the family reunions, birthdays, Christmas, the Fourth of July."
Carolina knew what he did not say. She knew what he had told her. The nights when he won fights by staying on his feet, taking beatings no other man could have endured. The nights none of his family came to watch. The nights none of his family came to congratulate him. The nights he went back to his motel room alone, his torso severely bruised, his lips split, his eyes swollen almost shut, to lie alone in his bed willing his physical pain to mask the pain of his solitude. But it never did.
Carolina's stomach contracted as she felt like crying, but her face showed no emotion. She uttered not a sound. Her hands contracting and releasing, contracting and releasing, were silent.
"As a matter of fact," said Ed "Why don't you all come to dinner on Sunday. I will have everyone there. It will be a family reunion."
"You ALL?" asked Carolina pointedly.
"Yes. You are Butch's wife. You are a part of the family, too."
"That will be very awkward for me and your wives. Perhaps I shouldn't come. I am sure they know who I am. They will shun me."
"No, they won't."
"You are a man, and like most men you do not understand women. I am no longer a prostitute, but I used to be. I know men don't hate such women, but other women do. To them I am a leper, an untouchable, an outcast, one unclean. They will not allow me to be among their men. They will not allow me to be in their homes."
"Did not Jesus embrace Mary Magdalene? Did not he allow her to anoint his feet? Was not she with him at his crucifixion? Was not she with him at his resurrection? Who are we to judge Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Who are we to judge Butch and Carolina? God save us from the damnation of such antichrist-inspired self-righteousness. I am the acknowledged leader of the Mason clan, and I welcome you both into the family. I guarantee that you both will be accepted fully and completely with love and respect."
"He is right, Carolina," said Butch. "That is the way it has always been. Once the Mason clan leader makes a decision, it is accepted and followed fully, without reservation," added Butch.
"Will everyone be there?" asked Carolina.
"Yes, everyone will be there," replied Ed.
"Butch likes his bourbon before dinner."
"We will have bourbon for Butch, and what would you like to drink?"
"I don't drink. I never have."
Then she asked with a devilish smile, as she relaxed her hands,
"Should I wear a red dress? Show some cleavage?"
Ed knew she was being facetious, so he replied, "I think you would look lovely in white, cleavage optional."
"Fine," said Carolina. "Now that we have taken care of that, tell us why you gentlemen are here."
Ed turned to Mayor Wallace. "I think you should tell them."
"Yesterday, I received this letter."
He pulled a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket, unfolded it, and slid it across the table to Carolina and Butch. It was dated November 5, 1941. It read,
"Dear Mayor Wallace:
I will be in South Point the first Friday and Saturday in December to view your site for the possibility of building a large plant to produce ammonium nitrate explosives for the war effort. Your site will be the last of the six I visit, and the decision will be made by me immediately thereafter. The plant must be built as quickly as possible. Do not fail to accommodate me or your site will be eliminated from consideration.
Head of The Department Of War Procurements"
"So?" asked Carolina.
"We want you to get that plant for South Point."
"What's in it for Butch and me?"
I will tell you the land Wellington is considering and then you can go buy it and resell it to them at a profit."
"Mayor Wallace, are you trying to blow smoke up my skirt?"
"What do you mean?"
"The Federal Government does not negotiate. They take from you what they want and give to you what they want. All you can do is bend over and say, "Thank You." They won't even take you to dinner first. So, what is in it for Butch and me?"
"Mrs. Mason," interjected Randolph Mason.
"You can call me Carolina, and it's pastor Randolph Mason, isn't it?"
"Yes, Carolina. South Point and Burlington are becoming ghost towns. We desperately need this plant to save our villages from extinction. There are no jobs here. After the war is over, our young people will not return home. They will go to the big cities to find work. The old people who remain behind will wither and die.
"We will starve, but not physically. They will send us money for food, whatever they can, whenever they can. We will starve spiritually. We will starve for the sound of their voices. We will starve for the glimpse of their smiles. We will hunger for the feel of their touch. We will never know our grandchildren. We will never see them run and play in our yards. We will never hold them on our laps. We will never hear the words 'Grandpa, I love you.' Their imagined kisses will fall into the void of our separation and disappear with the death of our dreams. We will wither, we will starve, and we will die alone in solitude to be forever forgotten in the dust of time, which will sift down to cover our abandoned villages."
Carolina was impressed. "Ah, finally a man who understands the art of seduction. Damn you are good. You are really good."
"I have an advantage. I am a Negro. We are closer to God. We don't have to overcome the pride, the arrogance, and the feeling of superiority that handicaps you white people. We have been spared the wealth, the dominance, and the pretentions."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Carolina. "Are you saying that we white people bear the mark of Cain? That we are cursed?"
"I don't know," said Randolph, "but consider this. We live hour after hour and day after day in a world subservient to yours, where we constantly pass through the eye of the needle."
"Well," said Mayor Wallace, "if you two have finalized indulging yourselves in spiritual speculation, could we address the earthly issue at hand?"
"I presume that you gentlemen are asking me to honey trap and blackmail a Federal government official on a matter of national security in a time of war. If it goes down badly, I will go to prison. If it goes well, I will get nothing. Is that about it?"
All three men looked down at the table trying to think of what to say, but nothing came to mind.
"Fair enough. Let me think about it. I will let you know."
Outside, Mayor Wallace asked of his companions,
"What do you think?"
Ed Mason replied, "She is a Mason now, and I suspect the most formidable of us all. I think she can do it."
Mayor Wallace said, "No offense, Ed, but you know she is just a madam and Butch is just a thug. Your premonitions are nothing more than wishful thinking. But having said that, I hope you are right. What do you think, Randolph?"
"She doesn't know it, but she has been chosen. God's hand will guide her. She will get the plant for South Point."
"Right," said Mayor Wallace. He hung his head in despair.
After they were gone, Butch asked, "You aren't going to do it, are you?'
"I don't know. They must be really desperate to come to us, hats in hand. Let's go back to the club. I need to talk to Murdock as soon as possible."
"Carolina, don't do this," implored Butch. "Don't put yourself at risk. You don't owe the Masons anything. I would sacrifice all of them for you."
"I know, Butch. But wouldn't it feel good to do something for others without any pay back. It would be like the universe owes us. We would be more than we are, forever."
Murdock was a private investigator who did background checks for Carolina. He specialized in providing her with all of the information the subject wanted known and all of the information the subject did not want known. He was expensive, but he was good, quick, and discreet.
Murdock looked at the name and title. "Do you want the usual and when do you want it?" he asked.
"Yes, and yesterday," replied Carolina.
Twenty-four hours later, Murdock reported, "I know what you want, so let's cut to the chase. Reginald Wellington is from a prominent, but recently impoverished, family. His father drank and gambled away the last of the family fortune, which was reputedly to be ill-gained. Reginald graduated from Princeton. He was a legacy, not much of a scholar. A few years later, he married well. His wife was older and ugly as homemade sin, but very rich. A couple of years later, he divorced her and took a lot of her money.
"A few years after that, he married the second Mrs. Wellington. She was also extremely wealthy, but about his same age and not too bad looking. However, some thought she was not too bright and somewhat naive. Nevertheless, due to substantial campaign contributions made by her recently deceased father, she also had political connections. She got him a place in the FDR administration. Two years after their marriage, he divorced her, as well, and also took a lot of her money.
"I would say he is now on the hunt for the third Mrs. Wellington."
Carolina left the club immediately and went to the Huntington, West Virginia public library, where she spent the afternoon pouring over past issues of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.
The next morning, she made a call to a Manhattan penthouse. She spoke to the woman there for a long time and in great detail. In the end, they had come to an agreement with only one remaining contingency.
After she hung up the phone, she wrote a note, addressed an envelope, and sent for her administrative assistant.
"Take this to Pamela Morgan in Huntington. The address is on the envelope. Wait for a response."
Shortly thereafter, at a mansion high on the hill above Ritter Park in Huntington, West Virginia, the butler took the note and said condescendingly to Carolina's administrative assistant, "Wait here."
Pamela Morgan read the note from Carolina Mason.
What did the note say?
Did South Point get the plant?
If so, how did Carolina do that?
The answer to all of those questions and more may be found among the pages of my book. Click here: “The Burlington Agreement.”