Darkest Journey (Krewe of Hunters #20)(6)

“I can’t believe no one mentioned it all day today.”

“The news just broke this morning, so most people on set probably don’t know about it. I wasn’t on call until later in the day, and that’s why I heard about it. It’ll probably turn out to be some family thing, a fight between friends, or even some idiot playing around with a firearm. It’s sad, but something terrible happens somewhere every day.” He paused and looked around. “And, as your dad once told me, we just never seem to learn our lessons about cruelty and violence.”

“I’ll bet my dad knew him,” Charlie said. “The victim, I mean.”

“I didn’t realize it would upset you so much. I’m sorry I told you.”

“Why? I had to know.”

“But we’re making a movie, and that needs to be our focus. Yours, especially. And Brad’s calling,” Jimmy said, brushing a smudge of caked mud off her face. “Let’s go see that footage.”

“Hey, guys, come on,” Grant Ferguson—another friend who was working as one of the ghosts—said, joining them. “Let’s hurry and see what Brad’s so excited about, because after that we get to bathe.”

Grant was playing a soldier who’d been gruesomely wounded before his death. On top of that, his face prosthetic was peeling off in the heat, which made him look all the more ghastly. At forty-two he was older than most of the others, which was a plus, because soldiers of all ages had fought in what, down here, was still called the War of Northern Aggression.

Charlie struggled to shake off the news she had just heard and tried to smile. “Grant, you look horrible,” she said. “And I mean that as a compliment. Jennie outdid herself.”

It was true. Jennie McPherson, the makeup artist, had worked wonders on a shoestring budget.

Despite the fact that they were all unpaid, every person involved in the film was glad to be there. In exchange for volunteering their efforts, they were all shareholders in the film. Of course, it needed to achieve a pretty broad distribution and earn a fair bit if they were to make any money, but they were all friends, along with a few friends of friends. Most of them had gone to school together and most of those had even graduated in the same class. Some had become friends through other acting jobs. Charlie had met Grant when they’d filmed a spot for a local car dealership. And he, like many of the other extras, had a day job. He was an accountant when he wasn’t acting. That had proved to be a huge asset, because he was also an associate executive producer and kept the books for the film, making sure they spent the budget wisely, especially the state’s money.

Louisiana had made a concerted effort to woo the film industry, and Brad had received a state grant to help him cover expenses for props and equipment.

Charlie and her friends weren’t tabloid names—yet. But most of them were making a decent living at their craft, just like thousands of other actors who weren’t yet household names and might never be. This film was her first chance at a lead role, and since she hailed from St. Francisville herself, she was also in love with the historical incident on which Brad’s script was based.

It had occurred one day in the middle of the Siege of Port Hudson during the Civil War. Port Hudson had been incredibly important to both sides, since it was at the junction of the Red and Mississippi Rivers. Admiral Farragut from the North wanted it taken, so the US Navy was determined to take it.

In that effort, they shelled Grace Episcopal Church.

But one day, suddenly the shelling went silent. And a small boat, bearing US Navy men and a white flag of truce, made its way to the shoreline below the bluffs.

The commander of the Albatross, one of the ships involved in the shelling, had died by his own hand. Since he’d exhibited no signs of depression in a loving letter written to his wife just days before, it was later assumed that he’d grown despairing during a fit of delirium, perhaps due to yellow fever. A good commander and a Mason and a kind man full of concern for the wounded of both sides, he had been well loved.

Two of his officers and best friends aboard ship hadn’t wanted to consign his body to the waters of the Mississippi, so they’d gone ashore to find out if there might be brother Masons anywhere near, and if there was any way that Commander John E. Hart could be afforded a proper service and burial. One of the largest Masonic lodges in Louisiana—Feliciana Lodge #31 F&AM—was nearby. The White brothers, who lived in the area and were touched by the plea of Hart’s friends, set out to see what they could arrange.

The Grand Master of the lodge was serving in the Confederate Army. But the Senior Warden, William W. Leake, also with the Confederate Army, had his “headquarters in the saddle” and was in the area. The White brothers found him and explained the situation, and Leake said he couldn’t imagine any military man—not to mention a brother Mason—not having a proper burial.

Word was sent back to the Albatross, and the ship’s surgeon and a few fellow officers made their way, carrying the body in the June heat, swearing and determined, up the bluffs to the church. They were met by the White brothers, W. W. Leake, a number of other Masons, the Reverend Lewis and a company of Confederate States Marines.

For a few precious moments in time, on June 12, 1863, there was peace. Commander John E. Hart was buried with full military and Masonic honors in the Grace Church graveyard.

Of course, the war went on afterward. Vicksburg fell on July 4, Gettysburg turned the tide in the East on July 3, and Port Hudson was surrendered on the 9th, following the longest siege of the war. There were five thousand Union casualties and more than seven thousand Confederates. Once Vicksburg had fallen, General Gardner felt that to continue to hold out would simply cause more useless bloodshed and death. He was right, but he was overruled by his superiors. From then on it was more blood and the tragic loss of life for both sides until the day at Appomattox Courthouse almost two years later when, for all intents and purposes, the country was reunited.

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