Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Alpha Newberry

It was late, the office was empty. The rest of the boys were out celebrating a job well done, I was on my way to join them but I could still hear the sound of a type writer from down the hall.

It was coming from Jack’s office. We’d been transferred to this branch of the FBI together, worked a lot of the same cases, our jackets were pretty similar.

His love of paperwork was something we did not share, however.

“Can’t you leave that ‘til the morning?” I asked.

“We blew through most this year’s budget on just this operation. All those fingerprints…Hell, I’m just glad the Brits didn’t put up any kind of any extradition fight and that the crazy bastard didn’t decide to go to some place that looks less favorably on capital punishment. That could’ve been a real legal scrape, let me tell you.”



“We got James Earl Ray, got him cold. We did our job. Come get a drink and let the guys in Washington worry about paying for it.”

I flipped the light off to his office, leaving him in the dark.

He joined us at the bar not much later.

Memphis Note
The manhunt for James Earl Ray was, at that point, the largest and most expensive investigation the FBI had ever run. Tens of thousands of fingerprints were examined, hundreds of thousands of passport were scrutinized and over three thousand agents were involved. For the Memphis branch, the hunt for Ray has never been topped.

Scott Brown

James slammed the sweaty bottle of champagne down in the middle of the coffee table.

“No one touch that.” He said, pointing to the bottle and tossing his motorcycle helmet onto an empty chair. “If the vote comes back, we’ll share it. If not, I’m chugging all of it myself then driving off the de Soto bridge.”

“Sounds like a crappy way to spend Thanksgiving.” Joked George, ashing his cigarette.

“Yeah, well, winning might be an even bigger pain in the ass.”

“Hey, shut it!” Shouted Charles from the couch. “The news is coming on.”

The men, potential business partners, crowded around a small transistor radio. Waiting, hoping, praying, that fate would smile down upon them.

“Good evening.” The voice from the radio crackled and hissed. “With the last of the precincts reporting in, we are predicting that the measure has passed. Starting at the first of the year, the residents of Tennessee will once again be able to order liquor by the drink.”

A deafening whoop of joy went up from the five of them. They were in business.

“Now you jackals can open it,” laughed James. “And some one, for the love of God, start writing some checks!”

Memphis Note
Before November of 1969, restaurants in Tennessee were unable to serve you alcoholic beverages with your food. Which put a damper on the profitability of nightlife across the whole state. But, with repeal of the measure on the horizon, five friends were plotting something…big. They’d lined up the investors, had the restaurant license ready to go, and all they needed was for the vote to go in their favor. If it did, then they could open up TGI Fridays and get the party going in Overton Square.

Laurel Amatangelo

For me, it was one of those moments in time when everything froze, crystalizing into memory. I was on the floor, on my knees, moving to cover my head.

Above me, a window was in the process of exploding inward, shattered by a canister of tear gas. There was a terrible banging coming from the door, rattling it so hard it seemed ready to burst apart.

Across the room, one of the Invaders was helping pull my mother and sister out of the living room as another fired a shotgun wildly out the window at the police.

It was the Invaders that had brought us here. They said they were going to do what the pig’s corrupt, racist housing authority refused to do: put a roof over our heads. They moved us into an unused housing authority building, got us beds, got the water working again.

The papers called the Invaders militant negro thugs. Momma called them saviors. The Invaders said they just wanted to illuminate the world to the plight of the black and poor in America.

But as the room filled with rotten-egg color smoke that burned my eyes, all I wanted was a place to sleep.

Memphis Note
The Memphis Invaders was a local answer to the national Black Panther Party. They were militant where other civil rights organizations were peaceful, unafraid of conflict, sometimes violent, with police. Such was the case in the late 1960s when they took over a Memphis Housing Authority building and gave it over to families that had been languishing in MHA bureaucracy. When the police arrived to remove them, things went downhill fast.

Alpha Newberry

Rain beat down on the roof of the dark sedan, the droplets sounding like the snare drum Ernest Withers used to march to back in the service. All those years ago, when things were so much simpler. When his photographs, and only his photographs, were the thing that mattered.

“Oh, don’t be like that, Ernest.” Said FBI Agent Lowe from the driver seat, eyes shooting back at Ernest through the rear view mirror. “We’ve been over this. It’s just like taking your pictures. They’re just subjects, and you’re just letting us know if happenstance brings you anything interesting.”

“You’re helping us to clarify things.” Followed up Lawrence, the other agent, giving an arthritic thumbs up. “So we can leave your people alone.”

“Our people?” Muttered Ernest, without thinking.

“What? What was that?” Snapped back Agent Lowe.

“They’re our people.” Ernest said, this time so they could hear him. “Yours and mine. They’re Americans. They’re not some Communists come to take our freedom. They don’t have to be. We’re doing it for them. We’re the spies here. We’re the traitors.”

Then Ernest Withers stepped out into the rain, knowing that it wouldn’t wash him clean, but still praying all the same.

Memphis Note
Ernest Withers was a photographer during the Civil Rights Movement, probably the photographer of the Civil Rights Movement. But, he was also an informant for the FBI, and an ex-cop that got busted for taking a bribe. No one is ever as simple as historians want them to seem, and Ernest was no exception. He wasn’t a sinner or a saint, just a man trying to get by and keep his family fed.

Scott Brown

Cal Alley wiggled the handle of the nib pen in his teeth like it was a cigarette holder. It helped him think, though that kind of thinking often led to him walking down to the newsroom and bumming a smoke. He really meant to keep his promise to his wife to quit, but what else was he supposed to do to pass the time until inspiration struck?

Flippantly, Cal had once told a reporter that it took him ten hours and twenty minutes to finish a strip. Ten hours to think of the right joke, twenty minutes to draw it. Most days he wished he hadn’t been so exact.

Ok, I need a break, he thought, getting up from a desk to find a smoke.

As he walked down the hall, hands frustratedly stuffed into his cardigan pockets, a lanky twenty-something rockabilly hippie mash-up disaster sauntered past him. His perfectly quaffed pompadour bounced as he walked, love beads jangling atop his parka.

Cal’s mind immediately snapped to. He saw the guy as a chicken, feathers and all, dressed like a hippie, sign in hand, protesting the war.

Suddenly this was a day when it wouldn’t take ten hours.

Memphis Note
Cal Alley was a second generation newspaper cartoonist. His father had won a Pulitzer for his creation of the strip Hambone, which his son worked on after graduating from art school. Cal made a name for himself taking over his father’s position as the Commercial Appeal’s editorial cartoonist then creating the strip “The Ryatts” which ran almost thirty years after his sudden death of cancer in 1970.