Read The Rigel Affair
The Rigel Affair
L M Hedrick
© 2018, 2019 by L M Hedrick
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher or author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
ISBN: 978-0-473-47487-4 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-473-47488-1 (eBbook)
PUBLISHED BY CHEZ BLANC PUBLISHING 2019
Cover Design by NZGraphics
Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data is available upon request
One previous edition was published by Black Rose Writing
The Rigel Affair is printed in Chaparral Pro
Printed in the United States of America
Dedicated to my dear mother, Mattie
Firstly, thank you to my beautiful mother, Mattie, for her countless stories about Charlie while she sat and fondled his letters. And especially thank you to my kind and understanding father, Syd, for accepting Mattie’s long‑lost love for Charlie.
Thank you to my wonderful Agent, James Fitzgerald, for his edits and expertise. Thank you to my expert editors, Gillian Tewsley, Hillel Black, and Kathryn Johnson for their invaluable advice in my transit through many revisions. I give special thanks my beta readers, Sally O’Neil, Jean Bartosh, and Mark Hurley for their patient travels and comments on my early drafts.
Our journey to this novel started with my husband Bud’s idea and encouragement and endless efforts and support to write it. The next stop was Auckland’s Central Library to harvest every account of 1940’s history, especially daily newspapers. We had to know what Mattie knew. Thank you to New Zealand National Archives, and the fabulous museums in Auckland, Devonport, and Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. Additional pertinent Auckland historical information was supplied by Dale Court of George Courts, and Edward Bennett of the K Road Business Association. Huge thanks to the Australian Maritime Museums in Sydney and Brisbane for personal tours of their artifacts, records, and marvelous vessels. Thank you to the people of Nouméa and Vanuatu for guided tours throughout Charlie’s territory, and sharing their records and life accounts.
I offer a special thank you to Charlie’s shipmates, Leonard Anderson and Dave Jessup, for sharing a multitude of information on life aboard the USS Rigel, and its travels throughout the Pacific. I am forever grateful to Michael Dean, US Naval Sea Systems Command, for his total commitment to supply us with vast information on both the USS Rigel and Charlie Kincaid’s activities.
Finally, in my pursuit to know and understand Tippah County, Mississippi, and Charlie’s early life, I thank my now dear friends, Tommy Covington, Dennis Wolfe, Bobbie McDowell and Aunt Doris Butler. Their patient, endless interviews placed me at Charlie’s side.
The Rigel Affair
Whenever Charlie caught a moment, he snuck aside his clothes, and dropped them behind the bushes down by the railings of the old bridge below the
farmhouse in Falkner, Mississippi. It was the summer of 1937. He liked to watch the murky Muddy Creek waters ripple in the sunlight and bend their
way towards town. Charlie waited for the wind to settle, just to catch that safe glimpse of the bottom in his favorite swimming hole. With a splash, he
had the soft mud against his belly, a place of comfort, where for a short while nobody could find him or harm him. He pushed off the bottom, rising until
he hovered in the warm top layer, with the sun on his back, washing aside the fears of yesterday. He gulped air, and headed back to the bottom. The soft
mud soothed his wretched soul. Rising out of the water like a newborn seal, he scrambled up the steep bank and wriggled back into his overalls. His uncle
would be looking for him.
His impoverished Ma could not provide for him so when he escaped from the fire at the Jackson orphanage in 1927, her sister and Uncle Dee had taken
him in. They owned a cotton farm and a couple of shops downtown. He marched his uncle’s fields, gliding the sharp steel hoe down dark earth rows
in the hills northwest of Highway 15, the road straight through Falkner. The sweet dust clouded his senses, erased the days, and easily expanded weeks
into months with each turn of the soil.
Charlie knelt behind the bush, giggled to himself, and watched Uncle Dee crane his neck like a turkey squinting into the midday sun. Someday I’ll see the
last of that buzzard.
“Boy… how long does it take to piss?” his uncle called with a big hollering voice.
Charlie trembled, stood up and ran towards him. He knew he was in trouble.
“Damn boy… you piss your pants?”
“Like hell you did, you lying little bastard. Boys like you ain’t worth the day they were born,” Dee muttered through half-shaven chubby cheeks, and
spat his tobacco slime onto the parched ground.
Charlie heard the chaw spit whizz past his head, and stared at the splatter until it disappeared into dry clods. He rose up, grabbed the hot plow handles,
and shook the worn leather reins across his mule. Charlie watched Dee waddle away, back across the field to the old wooden farmhouse and sit down
on the porch.
. . . . .
Charlie was sixteen now and couldn’t wait to get onto the school wagon that morning. The townsfolk rebuilt Falkner’s twelve grade school after a tornado
stripped it down in 1909. The State paid for only six months of the year and each family paid for the rest. Students attended about nine months each year,
allowing for breaks at spring planting and fall harvest.
“Mind them wheels boy,” chuckled the driver as Charlie jumped one stride onto the wagon bed. He perched on an empty seat and fixed his stare
out in the rolling pastures, smiling to himself as the wagon rumbled onward, listening to the crack of the whip onto wet mule backs. The school wagon had
seats on both sides and part canvas cover; most of the children huddled close under the canvas.
“Mind if I ride next to you?” It was a girl, much taller than he was.
“It’s a free ride,” said Charlie, keeping his gaze across the horizon.
“My Daddy says I can quit whenever I want. I hate this damn school thing.”
“Then why go?” Charlie stared at her.
“What you chewin’?” he asked her.
Charlie grinned back out at the fields. Bet she’s trouble.
“Here, have a bit.” The girl put up her fingers, pulling some gum out of her mouth, rolling it roughly in her paws. She leaned around to catch his eye,
“What? You don’t think my spit’s good enough for you?”
Charlie twisted to one side. The girl gave him a shove.
“What if I was to kiss ya? Then you’d have my spit all over you,” she laughed.
Charlie looked round, snatched the gum, and popped it into his mouth. He watched her proud smile, but couldn’t see past the missing tooth. Her
gappy grin squibbed an unfortunate ornery look.
He tried to ignore her; he didn’t need any girls hangin’ about. He chewed her gum. The two of them sat facing the rambling pastures, watching the last
of the children step into their seats. The wagon rolled its way along beside the railway track, past the cotton gin and old Leroy’s repair store.
Dry dirt boiled up from the wheels as a steady reminder of that waiting hoe. Timber buildings, lonesome in the vast landscape, stood in a row parallel
to the track. The last building was Bill Rogers’ general merchandise store, adjoining the Bank of Falkner, with its wide-swept timber porch bearing the
hopeful message of Welcome in the break of day.
The wagon came to a sudden stop.
“What’s your name?” asked the girl, jumping away from the wagon.
“Owen, yarrr…Owen,” replied Charlie chewing on her gum, knowing he’d be rid of her and graduate from school before long.
“My name’s Roxy. I’m gonna be in your class, so you better be telling me the truth.” She stood staring at him with hands on her hips. What hips? She
didn’t have any, but a straight up and down boy’s figure, long legs and wild haystack hair.
Charlie leaped down and didn’t answer, just walked past her. He found his place amongst the many white faces of the classroom.
. . . . .
Mr Reed was one of their teachers, a serious-faced, obese man with a fob watch hanging from a large chest. Charlie sat in the front of the class and
fumbled his reading books, catching onto the words frothing from huge dentures that Mr. Reed seemed to have trouble keeping in place. Charlie
learned without difficulty, but lunch was the highlight.
“Hurry along now, do ya hear? …and don’t leave any scraps,” the kitchen lady scolded. She glared straight at Charlie. “You work for your lunch, Charlie
Kincaid.” She handed him an egg sandwich and a dish of baked beans without a smile. Charlie grabbed his sandwich and shoved a spoonful of beans into
his mouth, walking to the tables. He took no notice of the sniggering amongst the other students. They all knew he was the poorest of the poor kids.
“I thought you said your name was Owen. Who’s Charlie?”
It was Roxy, the tall girl, walking beside him, stuffing her mouth with a sandwich. Bits of egg poked out of her mouth, heaving outward with each chew.
“I have a brother. He’s the paleface in the other classroom. I don’t see him. I don’t live with him.”
“Look… you ask too many questions, damn you.”
“I heard things about your family…”
Charlie swung around at her, glaring as if his eyes had caught fire. He grabbed the collar of her blouse and stared right up against her, so close she
“How ‘bout I look in all your closets? Bet you got plenty to talk about.”
“I’m not frightened of you. It’s the sawmill, isn’t it?”
“Drop it, will ya?” Charlie stormed off, ignoring her. That’s why he kept to himself. He waited until they loaded the school wagon, then he began
sweeping the classrooms to pay for his lunch. It wasn’t long before the day’s dust swept up between Charlie’s racing feet. He cinched a belt over his books
and darted out the door.
He skipped along the railway track, eyeing the boxcars, and headed down past the bridge towards the farmhouse. Charlie slowed his pace to watch the
vivid yellow butterweed wave at him, as if to say goodbye as the breeze swept across the pastures in late afternoon shadows.
Around the coming bend and nestled in the trees, was the old farmhouse with its battered roof and white posts lining the covered wooden porch. It
was in need of repair, but to Charlie it was almost stately.
This is beautiful land, he visualized… God’s country they say round here. Even though I ain’t no church goer… I jus’ know God loves Falkner, and Miss
Billie… an’ Ma.
He went on walking towards the farmhouse, watching his feet stir into the dirt road, hands hanging in empty pockets. Gonna miss some of this
place; no cryin’… it’s here in my heart, it’ll never leave me.
It was summer and any hint of war didn’t deter the gaiety of the Blanc family’s celebrations. Their huge white villa was positioned on the crest of Pine Hill Road,
Dunedin, New Zealand, deep in the South Pacific. From the road, it was a steep climb up schist stone steps, past treasured roses and onto a wide wooden veranda.
Mattie walked down the passageway to the sound of George thumping the piano. Mattie was a gentle soul, of slender build, in her late twenties. She
stood at the entrance of the lounge, wearing a button-through striped cotton dress and beige cardigan. A gold pendant necklace hovered about her delicate
neck. Her brilliant blue eyes scanned the smoke-filled room with its white paneled walls and mirrors that reflected flowers overflowing from crockery
George stopped as he caught sight of her, “Hey Sis! Sing us that Suzie song.”
Mattie clutched the handle of the lounge door at the thought of an audience. She smiled across at him. It was his night, but secretly she longed for success and a
celebration of her own.
She glided over to join him. George led with a two-handed arpeggio, and her sweet soprano voice burst into song, “If you knew Suzie, like I know Suzie…”
Mattie’s hips swung in perfect timing, “Oh, oh, oh what a gal.” Her ebony waves bounced atop her shoulders. She was no longer shy, but a confident,
glistening performer. And when she finished, the room burst aloud with everyone’s hoots and applause. George spun around, “You’re a song’s best
friend, Mattie… tops.”
A hot breath whispered into Mattie’s ear, “How about a dance, Miss Suzie?” She spun to encounter Bernie.
There was something about Bernie that intrigued her. Was it his whimsical smile or was it something else? She was never sure of her brother’s
friends. They were well-educated pranksters. The kind of friends that visited their house, ate their food, sang their songs, and generally left behind hillocks
of empty whisky bottles and cigarette butts.
Bernie swooped Mattie into a twirl. For a moment she tingled with delight when his strong fingers rounded her waist, allowing her to fall into his arms; her body
gyrated exquisitely to the beat. She became the dance. Bernie sensed the end, and whirled Mattie into a deep backbend, with his leg between hers and his hand
supporting just above her buttocks.
“Can I get you a little of our Otago punch?” he asked when the music stopped.
“I’m not much of a drinker,” she replied, out of breath.
“Oh come on, Mattie… George wants us all juiced, you must be thirsty after all that dancing.” He discreetly let go of her and walked over to the drinks table. He
secretly slipped a vodka flask from an inside pocket, and splashed in some extra. Bit of persuasion for those beautiful hips, he imagined.
Mattie gulped the sweet drink and gazed everywhere in the room. She was sick of being the careful daughter. Audrey was sitting on the couch, preening herself, silk
stocking legs crossed, her eyes locked on Bernie. Maybe she fancies him more than my brother John, Mattie surmised. Mattie saw Bernie saunter over to Audrey and
whisper something in her ear. Audrey’s lips curled up and her dark eyes crinkled. Mattie knew Audrey was trouble from the moment she met her. Audrey was one of
her father’s secretaries. She was smart, and although of similar build to Mattie, her dark eyes had no soul. Mattie guessed she had one motive and that was to marry
money. John never suspected her real intentions, but Mattie knew. Mattie picked up a serviette and started fanning herself, but the floor was coming up to meet her.
Voices blended into a louder hubbub. Mattie stared at the now moving carpet. It was all too much, her head was spinning. She noticed Bernie coming towards her.
He must have been watching her; she looked in another direction.
Bernie crouched down beside her, “I’m sure with a bit of night air you’ll be just fine,” he said, rubbing her back. Mattie settled back. Bernie continued, “I’ve got the only
’32 Chevy Roadster in the South Island. It’s a Deluxe with radio, heater… the works! She’ll do sixty no worries.”
“My head’s already doing sixty… but the cool night sounds good,” Mattie reached for a cup from the tea trolley. The hot tea soothed her anxiety. She grabbed a
biscuit from one of Mary’s silver dishes and casually sipped a few mouthfuls trying to pretend nothing was wrong. She was tired of watching Audrey play her brother.
Perhaps if she went out.
She glanced across at her mother. “I’m going for some fresh air,” she said brushing the crumbs off her dress. Mattie stood up, trying to steady herself.
“Alone? Will you be alright?” Mary cautioned, staring across at Bernie.
“Yes, Mrs Blanc. She’s with me. I’ll take good care of her,” Bernie said with his best smile. Mattie had to get out of the room. She accepted his arm and they walked out
the backdoor. A sharp chill raced down her dress. She gripped her cardigan close and looked up at Bernie. Bernie’s eyes sparkled in the nightlight above the wash-
house, as he slipped his fingers into hers. Mattie felt safe and daring but there was something about his eyes.
“If we hurry, the best view in town’s at the top of the hill,” Bernie wide grinned.
She gripped his strong hand and ran with him. Their feet half danced to the fading music, along the narrow pathway and up the hill to Bernie’s roadster.
Mattie pulled apart from him, walking ahead to admire his car.
Bernie slowed a bit to enjoy the view of her swaying form, backlit by a streetlamp through her thin dress. Delicious…
The ’32 Chevy sat gleaming like a polished cougar. She stood beside the passenger door, running her fingers over its mirror finish.
“Your carriage, Mademoiselle. Monsieur at your service.” Bernie took a bow, swept his greasy hair across his forehead, and helped Mattie into the red leather seats.
Mattie giggled, inhaling the beautiful, rich leather aroma. Bernie hopped around into the driver’s door, smirking all the way.
Bernie reached up to pull over the convertible top. “Can’t have Mademoiselle cold now can we?” He slipped it into neutral, stomped on the start pedal, and they raced
to the hilltop.
Mattie’s hair blew in the wind. She felt the power and the vibration of the engine beneath her thighs. Her button-through dress opened at the bottom, showing her
legs with the sudden breeze through the window; but she welcomed the cool wind on her thighs and didn’t think to push her dress back down.
The roadster’s tires crunched over the gravel as they spun into a winding private road. A cityscape of twilight hills and puffing chimneys unfolded as they coasted into
the parking area, and came to a stop on a slope overlooking Leith Stream. Gnarled Tōtara trees anchored the cliff beneath, with limbs and prickly leaves stretching
upwards, as if waiting to catch a prize from the heavens.
Easing back into the pleated leather, Mattie enjoyed her favorite view of the winding shingle track into Woodhaugh Gardens below. She inhaled a deep breath and
slowly released it.
Bernie switched the engine off and lit a cigarette. “Isn’t this magic?” he said, offering her a cigarette.
Mattie half-grinned back at him, guiding his match to her cigarette. She relaxed back and breathed in the soothing smoke. She’d always dreamed of sitting on top of
the world in a flash car with a handsome man.
Bernie’s cigarette lit up with each puff in the dark; they shared the magic. Bernie stopped smiling as he admired her legs. He flicked his cigarette out the window and
turned towards her. His movement bothered Mattie. He was staring at her bare knees. She started to move her dress back down her thighs, but froze, shocked, at the
sight of the lust in Bernie’s wide eyes. She remembered her mother’s warnings about men.
He slid closer, put an arm around her and kiss-whispered into her ear, “You are beautiful.”
She cringed sideways, pushing with her elbow, trying to put a bit of space between them, without appearing rude.
He gave her a testing squeeze. “Did you think we were going on a picnic?” He tightened his grip and pulled her closer, “Or is it me you don’t like?”
Mattie didn’t know what to say. She was out of her depth. But her senses sharpened and she instantly glanced outside. Could she outrun him? She was trapped. She
stubbed out her cigarette and moved to open the door. But Bernie’s huge hand was too quick, now gliding over her bare thighs. She’d let him see her fear. Maybe
he’d take pity.
Mattie scanned outside into the darkness, searching for help, but there was none; merely the rustle of the pine trees. She opened her mouth to scream, but he
covered her mouth with one palm, while the other hand was now busy working up her thighs. Eyes wide open, Mattie bit his fingers but Bernie was ready and forced
her mouth closed with his thumb under her chin. All she witnessed was the black fury in his eyes as he moved ever closer. Eyes of an animal and she was his prey.
She fought like a cornered cat. She knew she couldn’t let him do it to her. But Bernie’s deft fingers were now ripping down her underwear, parting her knees. It was
no use. She saw he had lowered his pants and his tumescence was waving, ready, wanting her. His giant size pinned her down against the side of the seat. Her
muffled screams simply made it worse. She felt his hardness digging against her. Dreadful visions ran through her mind; she was going to die. The pain of his hard
penetration was so intense. She convulsed and vomited through his fingers. But he didn’t stop. Nothing would stop this maniac. No one would believe her. Bernie
was inside her, pumping furiously. She heard his groans in horrible rhythm with his thrusts. Mattie seemed to drift in a half state near death, wishing that somehow
mercifully, he would kill her. His thrusts now quickened and suddenly he came with a huge shuddering final deep thrust that made her wince in pain and revulsion.
Bernie gradually, haughtily, raised himself and stumbled out the car door with a final groan of satisfaction.
Terrified, Mattie glared into his laughing face, “You animal… you’ll be sorry.”
Bernie looked down at his pants covered in blood, and stepped back on the gravel. “Sorry? I’m never sorry… sorry is for losers,” he laughed. “If you tell anyone… no
one will believe you. I’m the family friend, who everyone loves. Are we clear?”
Mattie drilled her eyes into him, wanting her message of revenge to burn… yes, to scar. She was hurting deeply now, but concentrated on her courage.
Heading towards a tree with his pants partway down, Bernie swerved and called back, “Nothing like a long piss after a good fuck.”
Mattie watched him amble across the car park. Now was her chance to get away. She lurched up, and her knee crashed into the handbrake. Off-balance, her hand
slammed the free-wheeling button into the dashboard. The car shuddered, and started to glide towards the edge of the bank.
Bernie heard the gravel giving way. He glanced up in the darkness to see his 1932 Chevy Deluxe Roadster about to take wings. “What the bloody hell have you done?”
The roadster was in midair, about to have its first drink in the Water of Leith below.
Pulling up his soiled pants over spouting urine, he panicked and ran.