Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Cameron Harper

That a was the sixth time in the last hour the negro waiter had walked past them with a tray of beer mugs on his shoulder.

Three times he’d walked past them to the polling station, mugs filled to the brim. Three times he’d walked back to the saloon he’d come from, mugs drained to the bottom.

“Should we do something about that?” Thompson said, pointing his nightstick at the waiter as he turned into the saloon.

Shrugging, Leopold pointed out that this might be the last time for anyone gets a decent drink in the whole state.

They’d been pulled from their regular beats to keep an eye on the polling station during the state’s prohibition vote. With the exception of rattling beer mugs, it had been completely uneventful.

“I’m tellin’ you, we really should do something about that,” Thompson nagged.

“Fine, fine, fine.” Leopold said, pulling a handkerchief from his breast pocket. “Waiter! Over here!”

The waiter stopped, looked anxiously at the two white patrolmen and walked over, slowly.

“There a problem, mister?”

“Your fermentation is showing,” Leopold said with a smile, draping the handkerchief over the mugs. “Bring two more for us next time you fill up.”

Memphis Note
One of the few things Tennessee has ever been ahead of the curve on was the prohibition of alcohol. The state dried out close to a decade before the rest of the country. Or, at least it was supposed to. But thanks to the loose politics of Boss Crump and select enforcement of state laws, Memphis stayed wet much longer than the rest of the state.

Matt Farr

The yellow-white smoke of the tear gas drifts down the streets. Police in riot gear moved like dark specters through the clouds, the crowd scattering before them.

For a moment, I lock eyes with one of them. He’s as scared as we are.

Another volley of gas canisters pirouette through the sky, as if in slow motion. One hits a man with a megaphone next to me, knocking the glasses off his face.

It does nothing but instill him with more rage. He turns, shouting encouragements to the mob to retaliate on the police with anything they can get their hands on.

I move away from him, he’s turned from protestor to inciter. The police will not be kind to him.

In my head, I can still hear the voice of the Klan Grand Wizard from before, mocking the crowd as the police escorted him and his racist cadre to safety.

They never got a chance to start their protest.

All they needed to do was occupy a space, and their very presence turned us feral against each other.

Tensions rose, nerves frayed, individuality broke down, and the mob took over.

And the mob is a dangerous, dangerous fool.

Memphis Note
In 1998, the Klu Klux Klan scheduled a protest downtown. They went through the proper channels, and were protected by the Constitution, so the city had to let them. However, over 500 counter-protestors and curious onlookers showed up, turning a non-event into a mob scene. Things got out of hand, tear gas was used, and the situation turned into a full on riot. All without the KKK even getting started. They’d managed to enflame racial tensions and create a full-blown riot by just showing up.

Kristin Young

“Not our normal beat,” remarked Officer Daniels as he let the patrol car glide to a stop in front of a multi-million dollar mansion.

“Parents could at least pay some one to make sure their kids gets to school.” His partner, Officer Grant, grabbed the sheaf of paperwork from the dashboard, and they started walking up the long drive to the house.

The man who answered the door was barely dressed, and entirely drunk.

“Do you know where your son is, sir?” Daniels asked.

“Aspen? I dunno.” The man slurred his words, leaned against the door to stay upright. “Wait. Is that next week? What’s this about?”

Grant held out the paperwork for the man to take. He waved it away like a fly. “You’re son’s been suspended, for being truant.”

The man answered with a guffaw. “So what? He’s got a trust fund like me. What the hell’s he care about school?”

“Least that’s a different answer.” Grant said to Daniels with a shrug.

“What’s this got to do with me?”

“In this city, parents are responsible for a child’s attendance. See, the school board suspends him. And us? We arrest you.” Daniels said, holding up the handcuffs.

Memphis Note
In Memphis, parents are held accountable for their child’s school attendance. If your kid misses too many days with out explanation, the truant officer is going to come looking for you.

Mark Dinstuhl

Her eyes flashed fiery defiance.


“Miss,” the uniformed police officer began, leaning heavily on the table, trying to be as imposing as possible. “I don’t think you realize the sort of trouble you’re in here.”

She smiled up at him, like a feral cat that’s learned to slip a trap. “And I don’t think you realize just how wrong you are.”

There were four of them in the room: the woman, the leaning officer, a younger patrolman guarding the door, and a well-dressed but very anxious man.

“You stole from this goodly gentleman. You’re a woman of vacant morals. Precisely what part do I have wrong?”

Her smile widened.

“Well, yes, I did steal from him. And, yes, I am a whore. But you’ve got this futile idea that he’s going to do anything about it.”

She turned away from the officer and addressed the well-dressed man directly.

“I stole your watch and your wallet. I looked inside both. I know where you work, which church you attend. I’ve seen your chubby little wife. And if you prosecute me for taking a bit more, they’ll all know about me, too.”

The woman was released within the hour.

Memphis Note
There’s a line from WC Handy’s Beale Street Blues that goes “If Beale Street could talk, married men would have to take their beds and walk.” The lady in the story above just realized how she could swing that to her favor. Story’s based on a real case, too. She got of scott-free.

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.