Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

I don’t know what this is, nor where it’s going, but…hmmm…here it is:

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands were already gnarled with great strength and abrasive and harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways such that no one thought of it as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

Just a little bit on this Antarctic story:

CHAPTER TWO: THE SHELF

The Antarctic
September 16, 1888

The Invincible lay at anchor before the blue and white cliffs. The first rope, attached to Gomez’s harpoon, was fired up and over the ice shelf by the twelve-pounder prow cannon—which equipment was the last vestige of her fighting past, but which the navy could not easily remove from the prow emplacement before her auction—and the breathless spectacle of watching Manuel Ortega shinny up the rope with three other rope bundles and an additional forty pounds of steel spikes bound about his form made for the single-most riveting moment for the passengers and crew during their brief voyage from The Falklands, apart from the bloody taking of the narwhal the previous day. If the harpoon, embedded somewhere above in the implacable ice, were to give way, then Ortega’s fifty-foot climb would be his last, this everyone knew.

When he disappeared over the cliff’s edge, a cheer went up.

“Hurrah! Ortega!”

“Mr. Gleese,” Captain Kuralt stated, “you and your men may now disembark, and with my compliments.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Gleese said, and shook the Captain’s hand. No wind blew here beneath the cliffs of ice, and as the cheering about them ceased a silence stole like death across the deck as the men returned to their work.

The cargo hold was thrown open and the supplies were hoisted forth.

Mr. Kroones—Gleese’s Danish dogman—led the pack up from the stern stairs and onto the deck. The pack was composed of a mix of grey Huskies, white Lapps, and black Alsatians—and it was a marvel that Kroones somehow kept them all from tearing one another to pieces. At night the man sang them to sleep, his melodious and nearly falsetto voice reverberating off the interior of the hold as if he were in some grand Opera house. Kroones waved to Gleese and Gleese nodded. Kroones and the dogs would be first up onto the ice after Ortega.

“You’ve marked the coordinates well, then, Captain?” Gleese asked.

“Yes. Hmph. We’ll see you here on December fifteenth, sixty-nine degrees, fifty-fourth minutes, forty-nine seconds south by sixty degrees, twenty-nine minutes, fifty-five seconds west. And Godspeed, Mr. Gleese.”

“Godspeed, Captain. I shall reach the pole and return.”

Kuralt nodded, but did not speak further. He had meant to say, “See that you do,” but he could not bring himself to tempt the Fates, or otherwise put voice what he felt in his chest—a disquieting foreboding, much like the coming onset of some malady that might prove a challenge to the doctor, if not to the clinging hand of life itself. Instead, he turned his eyes from the already tired explorer, placed his hand on the railing and gazed down upon the men at work.

*****

Twenty-five men and forty dogs watched as the Invincible belched steam. Her whistle blew a shrill goodbye as two sets of men who had been intimately intermingled for the past week waved to each other across the Antarctic air.

“Let’s move a bit towards land, shall we?” Gleese stated. “I wish to be away from these cliffs before we make camp for the night. Mr. Tomaroff, how far off is the land mass, would you say?”

“Fifty kilometres, no less,” Micail Tomaroff said. Tomaroff opened his pocket watch, then glanced up at the southern stars, as if confirming his calculations—a nod to the seemingly arcane science of celestial navigation. The sun was on the horizon, and would not quite disappear below it for several months to come, or at least not until the Antarctic fall, which would commence sometime in February, long after they were scheduled to depart this desolate and forbidding land.

“Very good. Mr. Kroones, please prepare the sleds for travel.”

“Sehr gut, Herr Gleese.”

Danish, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese were four languages that Gleese had not learned, or at least not well enough to carry on a conversation beyond an exchange of idiotic pleasantry. He could read Latin, some Greek, Gaelic, Chinese and Nipponese, and could speak some pidgin of the two Asian dialects—which was necessary in the far away Arctic—but English was his native language. While the language of Tennyson, if not of Chaucer and Mallory, was his favorite reading, he was forever mentally tethered to the American dialect of New England; that of Washington Irving and Thoreau, of Thomas Paine if not Thomas Jefferson, was how he best thought. That few of his own expeditionary party could converse with him intelligently could ultimately prove costly if luck refused to hold, as Kuralt had pointed out to him when the Argentinians had signed on en masse, lured as they were by the legendary weight of Gleese’s purse. He had largely and single-handedly depopulated the Falklands of male Argentinians, and all for filthy lucre. Some might die during the expedition, particularly if they did not heed the regulations—no wandering away from camp solo, even to relieve themselves, and not without rope.

The most dangerous foe, if it were not the ice and the wind itself, was the stealthiest, most hidden quarry imaginable; that of crevasse. He had personally witnessed a man swallowed whole by an opening in the ice that had not existed a moment before. Swallowed so utterly and completely that it was as if the man had never existed. And it did so even more abruptly than a cry could escape the lips.

No. He would not allow this to be. He resolved to spend a portion of time each evening learning Portuguese, Danish and Russian.

Mexico Fever

 

 

Here’s just a bit of teaser from Mexico Fever:

Piste came up ahead of me about five miles away. From the maps, I knew the airport was to the southwest of the city by no more than a few miles, and the Chichen-itza plaza was a mere stone’s throw from that. I banked to the south and scanned for the opening in the jungle—a mere rectangular swath—and found it. I cut the power by half, brought down the flaps ten degrees and shed both altitude and airspeed. I made the obligatory call to all Piste air traffic, but received not so much as a blip in acknowledgment.
“That’s fine,” I said. “Bill’s coming in, so everybody had better get out of my way.”
The runway turned out to be a small canyon in an ocean of jungle. The runway was so much hardpacked dirt. I brought Lola in with the landing gear grazing the palm fronds and set her down. I cut the engine all the way back, jumped on the pedals to keep from slewing into the jungle from the rough dirt runway, and rolled to a slow stop.
I scanned the airport. There was a lone building with the tanker portion of a rig parked outside, and a small car sandwiched between them. A lone Mexican man walked out on the porch, doffed his hat and waved at me. I brought the engine back up and rolled slowly over to him and off the runway. I cut the power and climbed out.
“Buenos Dios,” I said.
“Gringo,” he stated. “How long are you here?” While his words were English, his accent was thick. He appeared to be in his late twenties, or perhaps early thirties. Sometimes people age differently closer to the Equator. He had black, curly hair and a thick mustache. His clothes appeared slept in.
“I don’t know. A few days, maybe.”
“Come to see the pyramids?”
“No.”
He shook his head.
I offered my hand and he frowned and slowly took it and shook. “I’m Bill Travis.”
“I see,” he said. “I am Phillip. You may call me Phil. I run the airport for twelve hours every day. I sell fuel. Do you need fuel?”
“Not now,” I said. “I will need to gas up when I’m ready to leave. Is there some place I can tie down?”
“Tie…? Are you camping?”
“No. The plane.”
“What for do you need to tie the plane? We have no wind here. We have nothing here, just in case you did not know.”
A chicken walked by and Phil made as if to kick at it. The chicken sped up and moved along.
“You have chickens,” I said.
“We have chickens and we have eggs. Do you wish for either?”
I shook my head again. “No. What I need is a ride into town, and the recommendation for a good hotel.”
“Oh.” Phil turned his head toward the jungle that lay in the direction of town, as if that might jog his memory. “Well, you need a ride.”
“That’s right. I need a ride.”
He regarded me again. “We do not have rides here. But, if you can make it into town, go to the center of town. There they will have hotels.”
“How should I get to town, other than by walking?”
Phil frowned again, as if framing the question seriously to himself. He peered at the ground at his feet, as if consulting it. After a moment he looked back up. “Well, you can walk to the gate to the Pyramid Plaza and wait for the autobus. Or, you can take Senor Burro.” Phil pointed and I followed his gaze.
There, tied to a tree, was my worst nightmare. A burro, or what we commonly refer to in the states as a donkey.
“If I take Senor Burro,” I said, “which road do I take to town?”
“There is only one road. You just tell Senor Burro where you want to go. You say, ‘Senor Burro, take me to Piste,’ and he take you. You say, ‘Senor Burro, take me to aeropuerto,’ and he take you. If you don’t need him anymore, you tell him ‘Go home, Senor Burro,’ and he go home.”
“How much will you rent him to me for?”
Phil raised his hand and gave a dismissive wave. “For nothing. I hate Senor Burro. Maybe you will kill him. Will you kill him and poke out his eyes?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Okay. You…mucho consado.”
“What?”
“How you say? Tired.”
“Oh. Yes. Mucho consado. Tell me, Phil, is there another gringo in Piste? An old man?”
“There are many old gringos in Piste. Gringos may no go home, or have to go to old people house.”
“Nursing homes. You’re referring to nursing homes.”
“Si. Si. Who is this gringo?” he asked. Very clearly, this was the most exciting event of Phil’s entire day. A tired gringo who looks as though he’s been ridden hard and put up wet comes flying in on a single-engine prop, needs a ride to town, and starts asking questions.
“A friend,” I said. And then I thought about Dick Sawyer, his eyes boring into me, telling me about a revolutionary named Sunlight. I was in enemy territory. It was time for me to shut up and get to town. “Don’t worry. I’ll find him. He’s an old man who drinks too much. I need to take him back to the United States. He has a room in a nursing home waiting for him.”
Phil shook his head, as if I had just confirmed his entire world view.
“Si. That is what I say about the old gringos, but no one believes me.”
“No one believes anything anymore,” I said.
Phil shook his head in complete agreement.
“I’ll take Senor Burro.” I noted that Phil was about to speak, so I decided to cut him off. “And no, I will not kill him.” Phil shrugged, turned around and went back into the office.

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Billy Gostman climbed the last few feet to the top of the rock and sat himself to gaze out over the city as the last light faded from the sky. The shadow of Pike’s Peak here from the Garden of the Gods hid him in effective absolute darkness. He extracted the field glass from his jacket pocket and aimed it at the lights of the town below.

Billy was twenty-nine years old, and beginning to feel his age. He’d been out of shape for the climb up the rocks, but he had to see Merkam’s secret. It had taken him days to figure out how he was going to see inside the thirty-foot walls around the two-block compound, and had struck upon a view from the heights west of town as the only possible solution.

While the town itself was lit with dim gaslights, the Merkam compound shone brightly—the new-fangled electric lights cast a pillar of illumination into the otherwise darkening Colorado night sky.

“Got you!” he whispered to himself.“Jumping Gilas. That thing is huge.”

A broad, silvery cone poked a needle-like spire above the surrounding rooftops. That’s all anyone else could see from anywhere in the town or within a mile or more outside it: the needle. The whole town wondered what it might mean.

The rumor running around the saloons and markets and even the churches was that Merkam was going to blow them all to Kingdom Come with his invention. He’d destroy the whole town and everyone in it. But the other rumor, the one that few but himself had heard, was that Merkam had constructed a vessel that would not only fly, but that would fly to the moon and back again. It was such an incredible whopper that Billy believed it. It was always the biggest lies that seemed to have the most truth in them.

“I’m hitchin’ a ride with you, Dr. Judah Merkam. The Kid is going to fly.”

He could see far more of the immense ship at this height, although it was indistinct. Beside it, a zeppelin unloaded its wares.  The black figures of the stevedores moved crates by chain and rope from the blimp to the ground, where they were lifted by winch into the yawning side door of Merkam’s ship.

He caught a new sliver of light in the darkness of the door. Billy moved the glass to it and saw a figure inside, holding what appeared at this distance to be a blade of focused light. Nothing like the gas street lights or miners lamps with their diffuse rays, but one so bright and clean-lined it almost seemed solid. It wasn’t, because the light didn’t have a finite end. As long as something didn’t block it, the beam continued, never widening, just continuing. Billy’s heart thumped once when the light wobbled above the walls and, even at so great a distance, lit his position brightly enough that he cast a shadow on the rocks behind him. It stayed only a second, then continued its drunken, weaving path down the mountain and once more became secure inside the enclosure.

Billy watched it until the light blinked off. At the last instant of visibility, the beam lit the figure holding it. Billy’s eyes widened, “Huh.” It was a woman. A beautiful woman. He smiled and collapsed the tube of the small brass monoscope and put it in his coat pocket.

Billy had always had a way with the ladies. When he slipped into Colorado as an undersized youth on the run, it had been the good will and affection of women that bolstered him, kept him alive. Over the years his luck improved in the class of women who wanted to take care of him, and in 1885, when John Jacob Astor’s favorite illegitimate daughter, Cynna, put her head on his shoulder, everything changed for the better. She pampered him, clothed him, and taught him proper etiquette. Her mansion had a library of five thousand books and Billy practically lived in the room. With Cynna’s personal chef preparing meals and treats six times a day, Billy’s stature also increased. He grew three inches in height, bringing him from short to average, and his musculature improved so that the emaciated look was no more.

But the biggest change was when Cynna sent him to Denver to her personal Doctor of Dentistry. A genius in his field, the Doctor spent two days measuring and calibrating every facet of Billy’s lips, teeth, epiglottal depth, and tongue length. He spent hours on the front teeth, the ones he tsk-tsked as “those bucks”. Billy held his mouth open for so long that his jaw joints creaked when he finally closed them.

When the Doctor showed him the Dental Regravitator—his own personal invention—that would realign enamels to an Adonis-worthy symmetry, Billy almost pulled his Colt Peacemaker from the shoulder holster. The Regravitator was a plaiting of thin brass wires and numerous small gears no larger than the eyes of a small mouse. The Doctor said, “Once attached to your teeth, the kinetic action of talking and eating will transfer your mandibular movements through the gears and wires to adjust your teeth to their desired placement. It will take place slowly, over a period of three months. And it will be painless, I assure you.”

The good Doctor had been so wrong on that point.

Four months later, after the Dental Regravitator was removed and the sore mouth healed, Billy looked at himself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the man looking back. His teeth were even and white, and his lips no longer pushed out like a duck’s, but looked nice, full. The weight gain made his cheeks fill to give his facial shape a pleasing look. His eyes were the same, though. Blue and clear. And from all his time in the sun here in Colorado, his hair was now a dark blonde. He looked nothing like the scruffy, buck-toothed youth holding the barrel of the Winchester and posing in the tin-type photo taken in 1880.

Cynna had been delighted. She cooed and patted and touched his face, saying “I may have to call you my Adonis.” She slipped her arm in his, “But I am glad your voice is the same. I could listen to you read the most atrocious passages ever written and still be enthralled.”

Billy didn’t know about enthralled, but women did like to listen to him. He thought it was because he listened more than he talked. The change in his smile also started the change in their relationship. Cynna became more possessive. That progressed to jealousy, and from that to her thinking wealth and power allowed her to order him to do this, or not do that.

Being on the streets for the last three months was still better than having someone boss him. Billy had a good work ethic and was dexterous with his hands, small as they were. He used the knowledge gained from Cynna’s library to tinker with mechanisms that others, with larger hands, less nimbleness in the fingers, could not. The wages were enough to feed him and buy drinks when he needed.

Albert, the bartender was a friend and let him sleep in the storage room when weather was bad, so there was that, too. But he could not continue this way of life. So it was either befriend the woman he’d just seen through his telescope and use her to get on board as a hand, or find a way to become a stowaway. It didn’t matter which way, because he would be on the ship. And no one would stop him.

Billy headed back to town. He checked the Colt in the shoulder holster to make sure it came out fast and easy, then he walked down the street to a place where he could watch the guarded gate until the woman with the light emerged.

Once in town, he leaned against the wall of the mercantile and watched the zeppelin lift above the walls as the crew peered over the edges of the frigate dangling below the projectile-shaped, gas filled ascender. Painted in shamrock green letters on the side was Bonnie Brae. Billy knew this old ship and her owner, for it was the air-ship of Irishman Sean O’Bannon, a drinking friend. Billy said to himself, “If the woman won’t passport me, I may have another way.”

The huge gate opened at that moment and Billy caught a glimpse inside the compound. It was a bustle of activity, and nobody was going to walk in uninvited. Two enormous, bearded men guarded the gates, armed with the newest Velociter-Magnus rifles. The brass and copper shone on the weapons as if newly forged, and the multiple barrels looked as deadly as a dozen spitting cobras. No sir, Billy thought, I won’t be charging in there all bravado and horns and pawing the earth.

At that moment, the woman emerged from the compound. Billy stared, then caught himself and tried not to look directly at her. This was a female of heroic proportions, and not some frail waif or one prone to the vapors in moments of tension. Her bare arms and shoulders were muscular, but not manly by any measure. She was dark- haired and olive-skinned and carried a hint of far off places. The brass-studded brown leather corset showed a trim body. She wore no blouse under the corset, and the tops of her bosoms were full and high. A small pistol rested on the front of her right hip for a cross draw, and Billy realized she was left handed. A brass cylinder, maybe a foot long, hung by a leather loop from her belt. Billy thought it might be the strange light lantern he had seen her use. His eyes continued down and saw that her slim canvas pants disappeared into the tops of black, knee-high lace-up boots.

As she walked closer, Billy could see she was two inches taller than he was. He couldn’t see her eyes because of the brass goggles. She pulled a folded paper from her pocket and pushed the goggles up on her head when she was two steps from him. She stepped onto the boardwalk beside Billy and looked up from the paper.

Billy looked into liquid brown eyes flecked with gold, and with whites so clear they had the faint bluish tinge that indicated exceptional vitality. He smiled and tipped his hat, saying, “Howdy.”

She looked at the side of his jacket that hid the Colt, then glanced at his face before entering the mercantile.

Billy’s eyebrows rose and his respect for her went up a notch. He said, “She’s no pilgrim, this one.” When he turned to go into the mercantile, Billy noticed he wasn’t the only one following her. Two men wearing dusters were paying her a lot of attention.

The woman talked to the store clerk, who nodded and went to the back of the store.  He returned with a plain brown box about two feet wide and a foot tall. She paid him and picked up the box, which took both of her hands. Something clinked inside when she turned with it to go out the door.

The two men stepped in front of her. One had a red beard and said, “Hold on there, missy, we’ll be taking that.” The second man, younger and smooth-faced, started to say something, but Billy was already moving, and so was the woman.

She dropped the left side of the box and let it swing down as she snatched the brass tube from her side, all the while trying to hold the box with her right arm, but failing. Billy changed direction and slid across the wooden floor on his legs and back. He caught the bottom of the box with one hand as he drew the Colt with the other. But it was already over with the two men.

The woman had pointed the end of the brass tube toward the men’s faces and flipped a lever. A blaze of light hit them and was so white and strong it seemed to punch the men backward. Both turned their heads away and covered their eyes. The woman blinked off the light and hung it back on her belt. She drew her pistol, and waited until the men regained their vision.

Billy held the bottom of the box and he knew she was aware of him, but she didn’t look his way. When the red bearded man blinked and looked her direction, she said, “It will be best if we never meet again, do you understand?”

The man blinked, trying to see her better, and said, “We won’t bother you or him no more.”

She didn’t lower the pistol, “You misunderstand. Let me make this very clear for you and your friend. If I see you again, I shoot. On the street, in a restaurant, riding by, I will shoot.”

It soaked in. “Maybe me an’ him will go visit Californy. I hear it is nice out there.”

Billy spoke, “People live longer out there, that’s a fact.”

The red beard glanced down at him and paled when he saw the Colt. “Californy it is.” The two men left, with the red beard leading the other out the door.

The woman put her pistol in the holster and picked up the box in both hands. Billy rose to his feet and said, “Glad to be of assistance, Miss…?”

The woman looked him over and, although she didn’t smile, her eyes crinkled an atom’s worth at the corners. “Ekka Gagarin.”

Billy reached for the box, “May I?” Ekka let him take it and they left the store, walking to the compound.

“You’re part of this assemblage?” Billy said, nodding his head to indicate the compound.

“Yes.”

“Rumors are rampant about what Doctor Merkam is constructing in there.”

“Yes.”

“You’re just a little jaybird aren’t you? Can’t shut you up.” He grinned.

They reached the gate and it opened without Ekka hailing those inside. She turned to take the box and said, “Thank you.”

He gave it to her and said, “Any chance I could come in?”

“Not something I can allow. Only those who work here or are delivering supplies are allowed inside these walls.”

“How about hiring me? I could use some work.”

She shook her head no, and started inside, then stopped and turned back to him. “What can you do?”

“You name it.”

She nodded towards his coat where the Colt resided. “Can you shoot, or is it only for show?”

Billy smiled and held his hands out to his sides, “I’m the best there is.”

Ekka said, “Come by tomorrow morning at ten.” She nodded to the guards and they closed the gate.

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“I was at the Indian Head.”
The Indian Head was no longer the Indian Head. It was an old tourist court motel across the highway from the Municipal Airport, bought and sold and bought again over the years until it came into the hands of an emaciated-looking Pakistani named Koothrapally, who, according to legend, was so averse to the sign out front that thrust itself seventy feet into the air that he climbed it the night after the real estate closing and dynamited it to Kingdom come. Truth be told, the sign had not said “The Indian Head” but simply bore the cartoon-ish image of a portly Sikh complete with beehive turban and with his fat legs crossed atop a flying carpet, supposedly giving passersby the impression that one would sleep in the beds of the establishment as if they were floating among the clouds. But among locals the place was and forever after will be “The Indian Head,” dynamite-toting Pakistani hostlers notwithstanding.

=====

Just a taste.

Okay, one more excerpt.
—————–

About that time our food arrived and we dug in. We made light but pleasant conversation as we ate, and then when I realized it was full dark outside and both our bellies were full and I needed to stretch my legs something awful, I invited Polly Rabathorn for a walk along the Llano River.
And, of course, she accepted.

*****

How to speak of that which is unspeakable? How to describe the feeling of the right person at your side while you walk along the quiet water’s edge on a cool night with the bright coin of a moon limned in azure as your only lamp? And how to relate the sense of both wonder and dread–wonder for the feeling stirring beneath each breath and the absolute dread of the misplaced step, or, more horrifying, the misplaced word–anything that could break the spell. So to stave off any danger there I spoke little.
She took my hand and we walked more closely to the water. Damned if I couldn’t feel anything but a fatalistic thudding in my chest, the closeness of her and the light scent of the shampoo she had washed her hair with that morning. I couldn’t, for the life of me, feel my feet.
After perhaps half a mile of walking we came among a stand of pecan trees, the beginning of private land, and the moon hid itself above high branches. The leaves crunched beneath us.
She stopped and so I stopped. She pivoted around in front of me, her hand touched my cheek in the darkness and her fingers drew softly across my face, no doubt feeling razor stubble.
“Kiss me, Shane Robeling,” she whispered. “It’s either that or start talking to me.”
There were no words to say, and so I selected the finer, sweeter alternative.