First Chapter of Cold Rains

Posted: December 13, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Here’s the first chapter of COLD RAINS:

[ 1 ]

My daddy always used to say that no good deed goes unpunished. He also used to say that looks can be deceiving. Put those two together and I believe he would have seen right through Melissa Sossville had he known her. I know I did.

I was in Bud Parkins’s office when Sossville’s old man came through the front door in search of a bail bondsman. That’s what Uncle Bud does—bails people out of jail. But unfortunately for Bud, he didn’t have either my daddy’s or my own powers of observation when it comes to people or he never would have advanced a quarter of a million bucks to get Miss Sossville sprung. Instead of turning the old man and his little girl down flat, he went ahead and handed the Sheriff’s deputy a cashier’s check for a quarter mil and waited around for twenty minutes in the booking room while someone rode the elevator back upstairs and fetched her. I should know, because I was there the whole time, looking things over, watching and waiting. Bud wouldn’t look at me. He knew where I stood, and he didn’t like me being in the middle of his business. Except I had to be there as part of my agreement with his company.

I’m Jim Rains, and I’m a bounty hunter.

But let’s back up here. When Sossville’s old man came through the front door of 911 Bail Bonds, he spilled a pint of water from the brim of his hat onto the welcome mat inside the door. It had been raining in Austin and across most of Central Texas for the last two days, and having just come off of one of the worst droughts in the State’s history, the rain was certainly welcome. What wasn’t welcome was the face of the man under the brim of the straw Stetson. It was a face that was so used to seeing tractor-trailer loads of misery and defeat that he must have decided to invest heavily in the stuff. The seams in his face had cracks running across them like the surface of one of the ice moons taking its turn going around the planet Jupiter. His eyes were red like he’d not had a wink of sleep for years on end and had instead closed off the wide-awake portion of his mind to wait out the insomnia in earnest—along about 1980. Probably he drank half a dozen cups of coffee a day—with possibly a jigger or too of Tennessee whiskey stirred in for good measure—and smoked four or five packs of cigarettes. When the door opened and revealed his drawn and careworn face, the smell coming through the door wasn’t that of rain and ozone from the lightning show going on outside, but was instead the brutal odor of collected and dead cigarette butts from an old pickup with ashtrays brimming. By the way he moved I pegged him for not a day over fifty-five. I loved the son of a bitch immediately.

He looked at me, meeting my gaze with those red eyes.

“I need someone to bail my little girl out of jail.”

I hooked a thumb in Bud’s direction.

Bud is big man. That’s a nice way to say it. Bud’s waist size is close on to sixty inches, and let me tell you, not all of it’s fat. The man stands six-foot-one, and there’s a betting pool among the courthouse crowd as to how much he weighs. I’ve known big people before, and I’d say Bud weighs in a little over 475. Bud is nearly twice my age—almost sixty—and sports a buzz cut that leaves a sprinkling of black among the gray. I imagine that in order to maintain that constant buzz cut he measures upward from where the follicles emerge from his white scalp and puts the setting for his electric shears a micron higher than that. I have suspected for years that he runs the razor through his hair every Monday morning before coming to work. Bud doesn’t own a pocket comb, and disdains men who do.

“Come on in,” Bud said. “What’s your daughter’s name, and what are they saying she’s done?”

“Sossville. Mellisa Ann Sossville. They say she tried to kill somebody. I know my daughter. If she’d wanted to kill him, the fellow would be stone dead.”

While the old cowboy took a seat across from Bud at his desk, I looked up at the ceiling as if it was suddenly interesting. Bud ignored me.

“What’s your name?” Bud asked him.

“Erran. Erran Sossvile.”

“How much is the bond?”

“Two hundred fifty-thousand.”

Bud whistled. “When’s her trial?”

“How the hell should I know? I got the call in the middle of the night last night. Come to find out she’s been in there two days. I didn’t know or I woulda been here sooner.”

“It’ll cost you twenty-five thousand to get her out. Can you cover that?”

The man paused and removed his hat from his head. He was mostly bald underneath it. “I can cover it. It’ll set me back.”

“I don’t doubt it. The twenty-five is completely nonrefundable. You’ll never see a dime of it again.”

Erran Sossville nodded.

Bud thrummed his fingers on his desk for a few additional seconds, like he was tapping out the last measures of a piano tune, then said, “Tell you what. I’d like to meet her, first. You think she’d be up for that?”

“Why?” Sossville asked.

“Because. First of all, it’s company policy. Second of all, I wouldn’t bail out my own son without taking a look at his condition.”

“I just came from there. I’m telling you, she looks fine.”

Bud nodded. “Still. I have to do it. It doesn’t cost a cent more.”

“Shit,” Sossville said. “Okay.”

*****

By the time we got outside, the rain had slackened enough that we weren’t drenched until we were halfway across the street. The Travis County Criminal Justice Center looms five stories high above San Antonio Street in downtown Austin. Visitors have to go in the front door of the place and go through red tape to be able to see anybody. Bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, however, function ostensibly as officers of the court. While technically we’re not peace officers, the functionality of the criminal justice system demands we have access to the jail. Therefore, after crossing San Antonio, we stepped across a narrow strip of grass to the sally-port of the jail and were buzzed in by one of the booking officers, who saw our faces more often than we saw our own in our bathroom mirrors.

I didn’t tell you that I used to work for Bud. That’s how I got my start. Nowadays we’re more or less partners. He bails ‘em out, and I go and pick them up when they don’t show up in court at the appointed date and time. I didn’t like doing it when I started out. That first time was pretty rough, and maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime, and while the amount I was paid wasn’t nearly enough for all the hell I had to walk through to deliver, it was yet enough to bring me back for seconds. All by way of saying that I had it all calculated out before my boots hit the rainsoaked street: the twenty-five thousand that Sossville would have to pony up would go into a non-interest-bearing account, and if his daughter didn’t show up for her appointed court date, the twenty-five thousand was the bounty. That’s all that ten percent is, really. It’s a surety to the court that the accused will appear, and if they don’t, the bond company’s two-hundred and fifty thousand is forfeit until someone like me makes them appear. And that’s about the whole computation. Well, most of it, actually. Bud and I have a little side agreement that we split the bounty, me receiving seventy percent and him thirty. It’s not a bad racket. I get by on it.

I knew something was wrong when Bud gave Lance Boscum Sossville’s daughter’s name and the man looked from Bud to Sossville and then to me and his eyes did this little flicker thing. Lance can be downright tight-lipped about things, but I read a whole book in that faint flicker.

Lance nodded, turned his head left and called out to Ben Cooley, “Sossville. Bring her down.” Then to us he said, “You fellahs can have a seat if you’d like. Be about ten minutes.”

There are a couple of chairs available in the Travis County Jail, but none that I’d care to sit in. Bud demurred and Sossville—who looked as though he needed a bed far more than a chair, and a few months in close company with it at a minimum—shook his head slowly.

Ten minutes, my ass. It was twenty minutes if it was two. I don’t wear a watch—hell, I don’t carry a cell phone around either—but I have a good sense of time passing on by.

When Melissa Sossville emerged from the elevator wearing an orange jumpsuit three sizes too big for her and her delicate little hands in chains, I knew there would be trouble. She couldn’t have been more than a hundred and five pounds, even with the five pounds of iron on her hands and around her ankles, and the chain from waist to floor between them. She had startling blue eyes, straight dirty dishwater blond hair, freckles like a cornhusker’s dream of heaven, and a little upward lilt at the corners of her delicate mouth that bespoke of devious plans and intentions left forever unsatisfied. Even in the oversized orange county issue, I knew what she looked like underneath. She was young, she had not an ounce of fat on her, and she was a hellion. I wanted to keep her. We always want the bad ones, don’t we?

I could see right off that Bud was undone by her.

“Miss Sossville?” he asked her.

She nodded, and looked up at him with the eyes of utter innocence.

“They treating you okay, Punkin?” Erran Sossville asked his daughter.

“I’m okay, daddy,” she said. “Really.”

“Me and this fellah are gonna get you out of here,” Sossville said.

“Daddy, we can’t afford it. I’ll ride it out. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

Melissa Sossville hadn’t so much as glanced my direction, but still I was aware that she was fully cognizant of the gaze of every man in the room. She didn’t have to look. She knew. This was her stage and she was in the starring role. And bit players be damned.

Bud Parkins turned to Lance Boscum across the booking counter. “The charge, and the bail?”

“Attempted murder. Quarter million.”

“Drug screen?”

“Hold on a sec.” Lance punched away at his computer screen for a minute, seemed satisfied when the correct thing came up, then swiveled the monitor around for Bud to see it. “Negative tox.”

“Priors?”

Lance swiveled the screen back for a moment, tapped a few buttons, and then came up with a screen that had only two entries, from where I could see.

“Huh,” Bud said. “Both juvies. Okay. Thanks, Lance.”

Bud turned back to gaze down at Melissa Sossville. “What happened in court? Did you do or say something to…tick off the Judge?”

She shook her head slowly. “I didn’t hardly get a chance to say anything at all. I still don’t understand it.”

“Which judge?” Bud asked, as if the answer to this question could potentially explain all miscarriages of justice since time immemorial.

“I don’t remember her name,” the girl said, and then her voice trailed off, as if she were lost and forlorn and trapped in a vast maze with no apparent way out.

“Her. Had to be Martinez. Okay, we’re going to get you out of here. It may take us an hour or two, but we’ll get you free. Then you’ll have to come across the street and we’ll finish all the paperwork up there.” I knew what that hour would entail. Bud would take Erran Sossville to his bank, wherever the hell it was, and stand there while the man withdrew the twenty-five thousand. Then he would bring him back to the office and get him to sign it over to him on a dotted line. Along with the money would be numerous indemnity clauses, and an agreement to assist in making sure the girl met her court date. It was all pretty much folderol, and meant less than nothing.

The girl turned to her father. “Are you sure, daddy?”

“I’m sure. You’re coming home.”

“But I…” and then the crocodile tears came, and even I was moved by the seeming sincerity of them. I say “moved,” but no more than any man is moved by a woman’s tears. I wouldn’t have ponied-up twenty-five thousand bucks for the right handkerchief to dry them with.

Sossville stepped forward and the jailer accompanying the girl started for a second before recovering. But the old man wrapped his arms around the girl and hugged her tight, rocking her back and forth as if she was an eight year-old child.

“It’s okay, Punkin. It’s okay. It’ll all be better soon.”

Bud and I watched. Hell, there were six men in the booking room watching, all told, but none of us had the power to stop the reunion. Finally, Sossville let go of her. He held her at arms length, his powerful hands on her delicate arms.

“We’ll be back in a bit. Don’t you fret none.”

Melissa Sossville nodded. She turned and slowly trudged away, her chains rattling.

Bud then looked at me, his eyes searching. Sossville was turned away, watching his daughter as she stepped back onto the elevator.

As Bud’s eyes bored into mine, I did the most damning thing I could possibly do. I shook my head slowly. No.

His face sagged for a moment. He tilted his head and his eyes narrowed, as if suspicious of something.

I suppose my eyes widened in disbelief. I quickly shook my head again. NO!

He shook his own head then, the tiniest of motions, but in negation of my own negation. And that meant everything. It meant, “Yes.”

And so goes the story of men, ever the effect of a woman.

But not this man.

 

 

[ 2 ]

Well, maybe this man, too.

 

 

Get Cold Rains here.

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Comments
  1. Stephen Brandon says:

    If this runs like the Bill Travis series, Jim is in for a ride. She is going to be one twisted bail jumper with more moves than the law allows. I can’t wait to get hold of it!

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