Posts Tagged ‘murder’

The first Chapter of Reveille In Red, Bill Travis #16, coming soon. I’m such a tease.
CHAPTER ONE 

 

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.
 So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.
 The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfectly true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday every year, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents. 
 “Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”
 “Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.
 I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.
 “How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”
 “Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get for the sale of your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”
 I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.
 “You won’t regret it,” Constance said.
 As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.
 I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.
 She gave me an envelope in return.
 “What’s this?” I asked.
 “It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”
 “Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.
 Time. My life was all about time.
 And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”
 “All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”
 “Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”
 “Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.
 I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on the envelope Constance had handed me, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.
 I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.
 Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:
REVEILLE
 There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.
 This jogged a memory.
 It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.
 I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”
 “What newspaper?” she asked.
 “I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”
 “I have no idea. For what day?”
 “I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”
 “The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”
 “Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.
 “I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.
 “You’re kidding.”
 “I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened her buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.
 She handed it to me.
 I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.
WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING
 “This is it!” I said.
 “What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.
 “Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.
 “Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.
 “A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”
 “No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”
 “So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”
 I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.
 “Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.
 “Bye,” she said.
*****
I went home.
 I live in a commune, or so it seems. The garage—converted into a spare bedroom several years back—was where my old friend and client lived. Hank’s old Ford pickup was parked out front, so I knew he was home. Inside, I had two little kids chasing each other around in the squashed circle of hallways and doorways that comprised the path through the kitchen, the front hallway, the living room and the dining room and back again to the kitchen. It was Michelle and Claudia. In the living room, Jessica sat on the couch, rocking the baby in her arms—my new youngest, Bill Jr. My oldest natural daughter, Jennifer, sat at the dining room table doing her homework in an effort to get it out of the way so that she could do anything she wanted with her weekend. Julie was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up behind her, put my arms around her, and kissed her on the cheek.
 “What did you do?” she asked.
 “What? Can’t a guy be affectionate to the love of his life?”
 “He can, if he has ulterior motives. Do you want to chop some onions?”
 “I’d rather walk on broken glass,” I said.
 “That can be arranged.”
 Michelle flew past me, followed quickly by a giggling Claudia.
 “In this house, nothing surprises me.”
 “So,” she said, and put the lid back on the pot she’d been stirring. Whatever it was, it smelled good. “What’d you do?”
 “Oh, nothing. Just, I got a couple of tickets for a tour for two of wine country.”
 “Napa Valley?” she asked, incredulous.
 “No. Not that wine country. Our wine country.”
 “What, exactly, is our wine country?”
 “Oh. Fredericksberg, Trantor’s Crossing, Center Point, Luckenbach.”
 “Hmph.”
 I held the envelope out in front of her, between her and the cook pot. She took it from my hands.
 “What’s the catch?”
 I thought about it. She turned around and kissed me, then looked deeply into my eyes.
 “Tell me,” she said.
 “I…there’s this thing.”
 “What thing?”
 “Somebody was killed—possibly it was murder—at one of the wineries we’ll be touring.”
 “And you have to go and poke around.”
 “I don’t have to do anything. I just thought—”
 “You thought you could do several things at once: one, keep me happy, and two, keep yourself happy by stirring up trouble.”
 “Something like that,” I admitted.
 “When do we go?” she asked.
 At that instant, Claudia slammed into the back of my knee head first. I very nearly went down to the floor, but Julie saved me in time.
 Claudia giggled, pulled herself up and resumed the chase.
 “Not soon enough,” I said.

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Sometimes the most fun writing these things is the dialogue. Here’s a little snippet from the forthcoming The Lone Star Express:

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Apparently anything can go wrong.

The train was slowing. Not majorly slowing, but the vibration and the rocking seemed less, and the lights passing in the night seemed to go by more slowly. I had swept most of the broken glass—all that wasn’t beneath Frank—into the corner where I had gotten the blankets, and Frank was trying to get to his feet.

“You want to help me up?” he asked. He had his left arm braced on a bar, trying to lever himself to his feet.

“I want you to lay there,” I said.

He faltered for a moment and lay back down. “I’m gonna try again in a minute. By the way, you make a terrible nurse.”

“I do.”

“Bill? Over!” The voice over the radio JoJo’s.

I picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “Yeah? Over.”

“Get up here. I need an extra hand. Only came with two of them. Charlie’s coming back there to spell you because he can’t…”

I waited. “Can’t what? Over.”

“Never mind that. Can you come on over?” Then, uncertainly, “Over.”

“Come over where? Over.”

“Come forward until you find me. Over.”

“Can we stop saying ‘over’? It’s getting old. Over.”

“Sure. Over.”

“Okay. I’m coming…uh, over.”

There was a beat of a pause, then, “So when are you going to stop saying ‘over?’ Over.”

“Right now,” I said, and released the mic. I waited, then keyed the mic again. “I’m also leaving off the ‘out’.”

“Uh huh.”

With that done, I looked back down at Frank. “You gonna be okay there for a few minutes? Charlie’s coming back here.”

“I heard.”

I turned to go, but then heard him whisper, “Amateurs.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just go.”

I opened the door onto the narrow brim beneath my feet, and for a moment began to doubt where I was going anywhere. The problem was the blackness of the night outside the caboose. The dim lighting from inside cast my shadow onto the rear of the refrigeration car in front of me. When I stepped a little to the side, I could see the brim of the car three feet in front of me and the faintly illuminated rungs of the later, but the problem was that when I stepped back in order to prepare myself to lunge forward, the ladder vanished into the darkness.

JoJo saved me with a squawk over the radio: “Bill, there’s a light switch by the door.”

I flipped it, but at that instant it decided to burn out. The flare was brief, and I knew if from all the times I had turned on my closet light or my back porch light and the tiny filaments in the bulb of glass decided to take the opportunity to check out.

I keyed the mic. “Just burned out. Here goes nothing.”

“It’s a piece of cake,” she said, and silence ensued.

“I now officially miss ‘over’,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Will you two can the chatter?” Corky’s voice came over the radio. “We’re losing pressure fast.”

“I know. I know,” JoJo said. “Give us a minute.”

“Or five,” I said.

“You’ve got about four, and then this thing is coming to a stop and we’ll have to bank the fire.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“Starve it of oxygen,” Leo’s voice stated.

“Just aim and jump,” JoJo said.

“Okay,” I said. “Everybody shut up. Here I come.”

I turned the radio off, put it in my pocket, stepped to the side to let the dim light through.

Behind me, Frank shouted, “Just jump!”

“All right, already. Everybody’s a critic.”

I studied the rung I was going to grasp, and where I would have to put my feet. I counted from ten to one, then decided to start all over.

It came unbidden into my mind at that moment. One time Jessica and I were playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway and she was standing her ground from well past the free-throw line, and I couldn’t get past her. I dribbled, held the ball, dribbled and stepped, held it again, and then a feeling came over me. It was a sense of rightness. Why was I trying to get closer to the basket when all I needed was that feeling? I had height on Jessica, and I knew there was really nothing she could do. I dribbled once more, made as if I were going to step again, but instead leapt straight up and threw. The ball sailed up in a beautiful slow motion arc, as if what I had done was the laziest thing in the world, then went through the net without touching the hoop. It was game point. Jessica’s shoulders slumped and she said, “How am I supposed to defend against that?” to which I replied, “You don’t. There’s no defense against that.” “What do you call that?” “It’s a thing wonderful and rare. It’s called a sense of rightness.” The next morning I was awakened by the sound of a basketball banging off of the backboard. I looked out the window, and there was Jessica, practicing from past the freethrow line. She would jump straight up and throw, miss, try again and miss. Finally, as I watched, she got it. Then she stood there and I watched as the implication sunk in. And that was my gift that day to her.

I stood there in the night and waited. When it came, I recognized it and didn’t hesitate. I jump forward and my overly large shadow in front of me shrank. The rung of the ladder came into my hands at the same moment that my feet came down exactly where they were supposed to land. I started up without a second thought. There’s something to be said for rightness.

It’s coming down the embankment at you with a full head of steam! Here’s a taste:

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Our reverie was interrupted by a blast from the horn.

“Do you think…?” I began.

“Probably just coming to a crossing and he’s giving it the horn. Have to do that by law.”

The horn blasted again, was cut short, and then once more.

“Crap!” Corky said, and was suddenly in motion. “Something’s wrong.”

I dropped Perry’s baseball on the nearest seat, tucked the note in my shirt pocket and followed.

We went hurriedly through the next car—an even more dilapidated passenger car—through a door and across to the engine. I followed Corky up a small flight of steps. At that moment the brakes began to engage.

Out the front window, about two hundred yards away, was a truck sitting across the track. The single headlamp from the train speared it and light reflected back at us off the driver’s window, the hubcaps and the front bumper.

“I’m not sure I can stop in time without…really stopping.” Charlie said, and there was fright in his voice.

However sharp Charlie’s eyes were—and they had to have been terribly sharp to pick up the truck from more than half a mile back—my vision has always been excellent, particularly my night vision.

Several other vehicles were stopped off to the side of the tracks, a little closer to us than the truck that was blocking our path. I noted two figures closing in toward the tracks ahead of us, and then a third running up. They had rifles or shotguns in their hands.

“Don’t,” I said.

“Don’t?” Charlie asked. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t stop. The truck won’t hurt this train, will it?”

“It might scratch the paint, but that’s about it.”

“Then don’t stop. We won’t even feel it, will we?” I asked.

“No, we won’t,” Charlie said. “Why not stop?”

“Because, it’s a trap. They put the truck there to scare us into stopping. And those guys are gonna start shooting the minute they realize we’re not. Stopping, that is. But if we stop, then they’ve got us for sure.”

“Damn.” Corky said. “Up, Charlie. Let me do this. Ya’ll get down.”

The side window was open, and the second Corky hit the driver’s seat, he stuck his head out the window and squinted.

“Yeah, they’re gonna shoot,” he said.

Then he poured on the juice. I had to reach a hand out to check myself from tumbling back into Charlie.

The first shot was a pang off of steel somewhere on the exterior. Charlie and I ducked and Corky hunkered down in the driver’s seat. The front glass picked up a spray of buckshot, but it merely chipped the glass. Then there were many such sounds, like someone setting off a string of firecrackers.

“We’re gonna hit it!” Corky shouted, the excitement in his voice both fearful and amused in the same instant. Then he stuck his arm out the window and shouted: “Go to hell you sonsabitches!”

His arm came back inside and there was the sound of something crumpling, not unlike someone clapping a paper bag full of air between their hands, followed by the spectacle of a large object coming up over the windows and onto the roof above us. The truck tumbled across the steel roof like a giant eating its way through a stack of steel fifty-five gallon drums. An instant later there was a loud, shrill scrape as what was left of it fell off to the side. Which side, I wasn’t sure. I realized then that Corky must have given them his middle finger in conjunction with his words.

I stood up, went back down the steps to the deck and went through the doors of the first passenger compartment. I was met by JoJo.

“What the hell was that all about?” she asked.

“You okay?”

“Yep.”

“Someone tried to stop us. The put a truck in our path, we ran over it, and they started shooting at us.”

JoJo laughed. “They tried to attack a train? With a pickup truck and some guns?”

“Yeah.”

“Idiots,” she said.

“Yeah. Only, I’m wondering who the hell those guys are, and what they want?”

“Hmph.”

We exchanged nods and passed each other.

A bit more on the Antarctic mystery:

No fires were to be lit upon the ice. This was well understood by Gleese, by Tomaroff, and Kroones, but a few of the Argentinians started a fire and this nearly unhinged Kroones, who cursed them and made a show of stamping it out. The language barrier was thus overcome by example.

From the story that Gleese had, Kroones was missing two of his toes to frostbite. He was on one of the early Arctic exploration teams with Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, who had found the northeast passage during the Vega expedition of 1878, and after a falling out with Palander of the Swedish Navy, had become an explorer in his own right, albeit a penniless one.

Gleese liked the Dane. He was a hard-bitten soul of few words, preferring the company of dogs to men, and could abide no ignorance or foolhardiness in any man other than himself. Gleese had found him alone —but for a small pack of dogs—in a room above a tavern in the extreme northeastern Greenland village of Qaanaaq, that launching point for many of the early Arctic expeditions, including the trips to Prince Patrick Island where the fabled graveyard of the whales was believed to lie. He had put the question to Kroones by way of a local Inuit interpreter: was Kroones searching for the valley of the whales, the place where the great behemoths went to die? Gleese could not get a verbal answer out of the man, so he’d removed his necklace and showed him a small golden locket. Upon opening it, the scent of ambergris filled the room and the dogs began to howl. Kroones’s eyes grew wide in wonder.

Gleese assuredly had been looking for the mother lode of ambergris, and hired Kroones on the spot.

They found no ambergris—the strange, cancerous growth found in the guts of sperm whales which was the base of all perfumes, more valuable than gold or diamonds. Instead they had found death and all but bankruptcy. But that was seven years before.

Antarctica, Gleese believed, was made for men like Kroones. If there was any man alive who could see to it that he made it to the pole and returned, it would be the strange Dane.

 

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I know I’m a bit of a tease, but here is Chapter One of The Lone Star Express!

CHAPTER ONE

Invest heavily in ammunition. That’s the flip-side of the warning on seeking revenge—the one about first digging two graves. When vengeance seeks you out—as opposed to the other way around—it’s wise to be locked, loaded and ready. But you have to know it’s coming, first.

With me it’s always something like that.

I’m Bill Travis, and apparently I’ve never met a problem I didn’t welcome to come on in and pull up a chair.

It began, innocently enough, with the performance of a good deed. Which brings up the second warning that I somehow bypassed during all the sturm and drang of Governor Richard Sawyer’s final disposition: no good deed goes unpunished.

Here’s how it started.

*****

Former Texas Governor Richard Donegal Sawyer was born in the Louisiana canebrakes back in the dark days of World War II. As an infant he was brought to the Texas Gulf Coast and raised by his father, his mother having died in childbirth. At age sixteen, or thereabouts, Sawyer and his father had a falling out over the fact of the elder Sawyer’s being a bloodthirsty killer and crime boss. The junior Sawyer’s feet carried him all the way to West Texas where he settled down at a life of hard labor as an oil field worker in the Permian Basin—Midland and Odessa. With his passing, at the ripe age of eighty, someone had to go looking for his will. I got that duty, at the request of his granddaughter, Elizabeth.

I was no more than a few days back from Mexico when she asked me. The next morning, I got up before the crack of dawn and drove Julie and a whole truckload of kids down to Houston, and stopped by the Sawyer home.

Julie rocked the baby in the rocking chair in Sawyer’s living room while Elizabeth and I commiserated at the dining room table, thirty feet away. There were a couple of banker’s boxes open on the glass tabletop and the contents—old papers, invoices, random things like insurance policies and old hospital bills—were poured into each box so tightly that both were apt to burst at the seams. I understood the filing system. It’s easier to throw it all in a box, especially after you realize that every single scrap of paper would need its own separate file, and office supply stores don’t typically carry fifty-thousand file folders. At least not in the economy pack.

“Do you mind?” I asked Elizabeth, and gestured with my hand over one of the boxes.

“Please do. I’m afraid to touch any of it. I’ll get immersed in it and won’t see daylight for days on end.”

I nodded and pulled out a thick sheaf of papers, about a reams-worth, and dropped it on the table-top. What spilled out was expired insurance policies, licensing agreements for trucks and tractors, old pay stubs going back to the 1950s and 60s, random photographs; a lifetime’s worth of the detritus of those things that, at the time, could not be simply thrown away. The things a person keeps!

“Yuck,” Elizabeth said.

“Everything here tells a tale,” I said. “If you were to piece it all together, maybe put it in chronological order, you’ve got a piece of the story of your grandfather’s life, which is another part of the story of Texas.”

“I know it’s not all trash, but some of it’s trash,” she said.

“No doubt. Okay, we’re looking for his will. And you say that it’s not tucked away in a safe-deposit box somewhere?”

“Uh uh. I cleaned those out. It wasn’t in there.”

“Then it’s here. Let’s keep looking.”

It took thirty minutes, but I found it. Oddly enough, it was fairly recent and tucked into the front end of the second box, right where you’d put something recent, if you were archiving it. The will was signed, witnessed and notarized roughly six months previous.

I began reading aloud.

“He leaves the whole kit ‘n kaboodle to you, Elizabeth,” I said.

“Let me see.”

I handed it to her and she read it to herself, her lips moving soundlessly and her eyes going back and forth.

“It’s a lot of responsibility for a woman your age. But I’m sure you can handle it.”

“There’s a list of stocks, bonds, all kinds of…”

“Financial instruments,” I finished for her.

“Yeah. Those.”

“It’ll take some time to find out what they’re all worth. No doubt the bulk of them were in the safe deposit boxes.”

“There was a bunch of that stuff in there, but I didn’t understand any of them.”

“I’ll take a look at them for you. For now, I suggest you get your own safe-deposit box and put them away. But after you make photo copies of everything. I’ll need a copy of it all, and I can get Penny at my office working on it in her spare time.”

“Ha. If she works for you, Mr. Travis, I doubt she has very much spare time.”

I chuckled. “You’re probably right. Never thought about it. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m naming her a full partner on Monday.”

“Then she’s been paying her dues all these years.”

“She has.”

Elizabeth turned a page, moved her eyes down and then struck upon something. She frowned.

“What is it?” I asked.

“A heading: Disposition of Remains.”

“Oh. They’ll need to know about this down at the funeral home. And pretty quick. Before I left Austin, I had a call from the Texas State Cemetery. They’re expecting to bury your grandfather there. It’s where we bury our Governors.”

“Not according to this, it’s not.”

“Crap. I’d better see it. Those guys may have already set aside a plot for him.”

She handed me the will.

“You’ll need to get this filed with the Probate Court as soon as—” I began, but by then my eyes were already taking in the bad news. My own name jumped out at me from the page:

DISPOSITION OF REMAINS

Since I buried my heart in Midland a long time ago, it is my wish that my body be buried there beneath the ancient mesquite. I purchased the plot in 1969, knowing full well that men can easily lose their lives in the oil patch. Further, I request that my friend Walter M. Cannon accompany my body by train to its final destination. If Walt Cannon predeceases me or, due to issues of health or availability, is unable to fulfill this wish, then I request that my dear friend, Bill Travis, should do so.

For many years I have been a supporting member of the Big Thicket Steam Association, headquartered in Palestine, Texas. I request that those old boys—those who have survived me—get the old ‘19 running for one last trip out west, and that I travel each mile between Austin or Houston and Midland by whatever rail line the boys may take. I pray that I may find my rest there in Midland.

“What’s the ‘Old ‘19′?” I thought, then realized I had said it aloud.

“I have no idea.”

“It’s okay. Tell you what, why don’t you ride with us down to the copy store where we’ll make three or four copies of this, then we’ll scoot by the funeral home, drop this off with the director and let him know how to contact me.

I detected a presence at my elbow. It was Julie, gently bouncing the baby.

“What’s going on?”

“It looks like I’m going to West Texas.”

“When? And how?”

“Soon,” I said, thinking all the while about bodies, temperature and steel boxes. “And by train.”

*****

I took the family back home to Austin after making certain that everybody on the Houston end of things was on the same page. The plan was for Governor Sawyer’s body to be transported to the State Capitol, there to lie in state for two days time where all Texans who wanted to might stop by and pay their respects. It’s a time-honored practice, and Sawyer’s will didn’t preclude it. I’m not certain it would have done any good if it had. In the final analysis, while we may suggest what should happen after we’re gone, it’s the family’s wishes that are usually honored, and at any time those wishes may be trumped by the state, particularly in the instance of a dignitary. In the end, we all render unto Caesar, right down to the toenails.

In the meantime, I had a ton of phone calls to make and correspondence to get out in preparation for what was to come—an event to which I was decidedly not looking forward.

I spent an entire day at the office, mostly listening to and receiving updates on Penny’s progress on the stocks and bonds.

At the appointed time—pre-arranged between my partner and me—Nat Bierstone came by the office. He was dressed in a blue jeans, red checkered shirt and suspenders. Penny gasped. She had never seen him in anything other than a business suit.

It had been three weeks since he had come by the office. Both he and I knew that he had already retired, but he was in to make it official.

“Mr. Bierstone, you look like…a real person!” Penny said. I listened from my office, having already glanced out my window when Nat pulled into circular driveway that runs behind the office and out the other side.

“Why thank you, Miss Taylor. Is Bill in? Thought I saw his car.”

“Come on back, Nat!” I called. “Penny, you come in here too.”

I waited. When they were both inside, Nat reached behind him and closed the door.

“Something is happening, isn’t it?” Penny asked. “Are you two about to fire me?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Nat said. She started to protest, but he raised a finger, then gestured to one of the two chairs in front of my desk. “Hush now and have a seat.”

“Yes sir,” she said.

Nat took the other chair, and by way of stretching the moment out interminably, fumbled in his blue jeans pocket for the front door key and the key to his office. He removed them from the key chain and said to Penny, “Hold out your hand.”

She did, and Nat placed the keys in it. “Don’t lose them until after you’ve made another copy. This is the only one to my office in existence.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nat’s retiring,” I said, “effective today.” I picked up an envelope from the counter and handed it to him. He took it.

“What is that?” Penny asked.

“A check,” I said. “I just bought Nat’s half of the business.”

He looked at the envelope, poked a finger at the inside of the crease, as if he was about to open it with his finger, then instead handed it to Penny.

“You want me to open it for you?” she asked.

“I want you to keep it,” he said. “You can do whatever you want with it, since it’s yours.”

“I—I’m not sure what you mean.” Her voice trembled and had become very small.

“You know what it means,” I said.

“Let me do this, Bill,” he said. “I’ve earned the right.”

“This is where you fire me,” Penny said. She opened the envelope delicately and removed the check. The amount was eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Her eyes stared at the thin slip of paper.

“She’s gonna burn a hole in it,” I said.

“You can keep that and cash it,” Nat said, “or you can give it right back to Bill, keep that key of mine, and start worrying about who is going to replace you and become your secretary. Or rather, yours and his.” He hooked a thumb at me.

She looked across the desk at me. “How much is half the practice worth?” she asked me.

I laughed. “Spoken like a true accountant and financial consultant.” I leaned back in my chair and interlaced my fingers over my head. “Worth a hell of a lot more than twice eight-fifty.”

Penny handed the envelope back to me. “Then I suppose we’ll need to start interviewing applicants.”

I stood up and extended my hand.

“Welcome to Travis & Taylor,” I said. She stood slowly, then took my hand and shook it. And then she started crying.

Nat stood. She let go of my hand and threw her arms around his neck, her face disappearing from view. Nat grinned at me and patted her back.

When she released him, she stood and wiped the tears from her eyes, then slowly handed the check back to me.

“Go ahead and re-deposit it in the practice account. And make an appointment at the bank. You’re to be signatory to that account from now on, so consider that you just paid yourself back.”

“Who’s idea was this?”

“All three of us,” I said. “Nat, me, and Julie as well.”

“I wish she were here.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “She made me promise to give her the play-by-play tonight.”

“I don’t know what to say,” she said.

I laughed. “There’s a first time for everything.”

“I’ll try to be a good partner for you, Mr. Travis.”

“Penny, now that it’s official, you are required to call me Bill. I won’t have a partner who can’t say my name.”

“Mr. Bierstone calls you William.”

“He can get away with it because he’s older than I am, he’s the former Lieutenant Governor of Texas, and worse than that, he’s Julie’s uncle.” I grinned at her. “You can’t.”

“Okay, Bill,” she said. And you could have knocked me over with a feather.

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                                           Coming Soon!

Here’s another little (or not so little, maybe) snippet from Sentinel In Elysium:

Before they were out to M.L. Harper’s cruiser, Yonner said, “Chief, I’m powerful hungry. How about you?”

M.L. stopped at his car, looked over the roof of it at the old black man and nodded. “Yeah, I’m hungry too. Tell you what, I’ll spring for a hamburger over at the Dairy Delite. I need to talk to Landry Perkins at the supermarket next door anyway.”

“Uh, Chief. Do black folks eat at the Dairy Delite?”

“Yes they do, Mr. Cole. You need to get out more often.”

“I reckon I do. I cook my own food.”

“I don’t,” Harper said, and climbed inside his car.

*****

The Dairy Delite had started operation along about 1957, when sock-hops, Elvis haircuts and drive-up soda fountains were all the rage. By 1975 the Dairy Delite was a muted throwback to a time that was as dead as the Devonian Epoch. The fifty-foot tall cartoon cowboy with his Roy Rogers style pistol and lasso still cast a long shadow over the parking lot, and the few patrons that still came there for greasy hamburgers and even greasier french fries and gloppy ice cream shakes, hawked those parking spots that would remain the longest in the shade of the eerie obelisk. The cowboy—whom the locals referred to as ‘Roy’—bore a tinge of rust. Eighteen years will do that to sheet metal, even in dry Central Texas. The entire parking area up close to the burger stand had once been covered, but the tornado outbreak of ’67 had taken the awning away and deposited it in a pasture half a mile away where pieces of it still remained. The tornado had left Roy alone, as if it were leery of riling him.

M.L. Harper pulled his cruiser into Roy’s shade and got out. Yonner Cole remained in the car. He walked up to the window and placed an order and paid for it, directing the young lady to take the food out to the black man sitting in the patrol car. The girl nodded.

He then walked next door to the Elysian Fields grocery. Inside he passed by the three operational checkout stands, only one of which was manned, and to the raised Customer Service bullpen. This was where checks were cashed and credit was extended.

“Landry,” Harper called.

“Chief! Say, I heard somebody killed the Childresses. Any idea who done it?”

“No. I had an odd visit from Clyde Purtee. He insinuated that the City Council didn’t want me pursuing the double-murder. Do you know anything about that?”

Landry Perkins had a cigarette in his lips, held up by the adhesion of dried spittle and rolling paper alone. Somehow he talked around it without it falling. Instead it bobbed up and down like a cork in the river with a perch nibbling on the line. His hands held small stacks of two-dollar bills. M.L. waited for Landry to look him in the eye for more than a second. The balding man was still trying to count the stack.

“Oh crap. You made me lose count.” Landry dropped the stacks on the counter and covered one with the other.

“Sorry about that. You got any idea about Clyde’s problem?”

“Clyde’s got recto-cranial inversion.”

M.L. laughed. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s where your optic nerve gets crossed with your anus and you wind up with a shitty outlook.”

M.L. slapped the counter. “I’ll have to remember that.”

“Clyde called me about an hour ago and was trying to get me to say that we should push you to drop the investigation.”

“Did he say why?” M.L. asked.

“No sir. He didn’t say. He tried to act like it was the mayor’s idea. I doubt that very seriously.”

“Why?”

“Because Mayor Fry hasn’t had an original idea of his own since about World War II.”

Landry snapped his fingers suddenly.

“What?” M.L. asked.

“I just remembered. I was going to talk to you about this. Get your take on it. Walk outside with me, will you?”

“Sure.”

M.L. waited while Landry doffed his grocer’s apron and hung it on a hook. When the man stepped down from the side door of the bullpen, M.L. walked with him to the automatic door and outside to the parking lot. M.L. glanced over to see the carhop girl handing Yonner his food, meanwhile he kept pace with Landry.

“Where are we going?” M.L. asked.

“Right here.” Landry stopped at the edge of the street and pointed north along Austin Avenue toward the distant hill and the wilderness beyond the main thoroughfare. “Tell me, Chief. What do you see?” A cigarette lighter magically appeared in Landry’s hand and he re-lit his cigarette. The thing had gone out in transit.

“I see a whole load of nothin’.”

“No sir,” he said and shook his head. A grin had stolen over his face. “It ain’t nothing. It’s a far sight from nothing.”

“You just swallow the bird of paradise or something?”

“Tell me, Chief, that you don’t know about what’s going on in this town?”

“Apparently I don’t. But now I think you’d better tell me.”

“I happen to know that there’s a little secret deal in the works. All that land over there belongs to the Air Force.”

“The old base. Yep. I knew that. Used to know some of the flyboys that did touch and go landings here from San Antonio. They would fly in from Lackland, Randolf and Brooks. That was fifteen or twenty years ago. Used to make ‘em sleep off their drunks in my jail.”

“Yeah, I suppose you did,” Landry said. “I have it on authority that it’s about to be sold to an outfit for a dollar. They’re going to put a junior college there. A two-year school.”

“What the hell for?” M.L. asked.

“Education, Chief. It’s going to put Elysium on the map.”

“They’re going to bulldoze the place?”

“Yep. And they’re going to put up a bunch of buildings—administration building, dormitories, classrooms. All kinds of shit. And I’m getting in on the ground floor.”

“How are you getting in? You’re a grocer!”

“Not for much longer.” Landry turned and regarded the Dairy Delite. He pointed. “That thing there is on its last legs.” Landry pivoted again as if he were about to bowl a perfect ten, brought his arm up and pointed to the west side of Austin Avenue. “I’m about to buy the Blakely Place. Also, I’m buying the Dairy Delite and shutting it down.”

“What in the hell for?”

“Because I’m building a real burger stand on Austin Avenue. The real estate closings for both are in two weeks.”

“You’re either crazy or you’re a genius,” M.L. said. “I suppose time will tell which it is.”

“You’ll see I’m not crazy,” Landry said. The wide smile on his face had not faltered the whole time.

“This what you wanted to tell me?”

“Sure. That’s it.” Landry held out his hands palm up to the sky.

“Okay, what are you going to call this divine, genius hamburger stand of yours?”

“That’s the beautiful part of it, Chief. I’m gonna call it The Blitz!”

M.L. nodded.

“Okay, Landry. When it’s up and running, I’ll come try one of your hamburgers. But they damn well better be better than the Delite’s, or I’ll arrest you for sheer meanness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got business to attend to.”

M.L. walked back toward the Dairy Delite and Yonner Cole.

“And that’s why they call him Mucho Love,” Landry said to himself. He shook his head, grinned widely, threw a kiss behind him to the acreage of overgrown brush, and started back toward his supermarket.

New release! Murder In Elysium. Out Now!

GET MURDER IN ELYSIUM HERE

It’s murder in paradise.

Who killed local debutante Delores Fogel in the sleepy, Central Texas town of Elysium? Benjamin LeFren was exonerated for the crime and released from jail thirty years after the fact, thanks in part to Shane Robeling, former FBI Agent and now Elysium’s Chief of Police. But now Shane is not so sure of LeFren’s innocence. When LeFren shows up in Elysium, Shane must now guard LeFren from the townspeople he has sworn to protect, and the only way to do that is to hire him as his ranch foreman, thus—in theory—keeping him out of harm’s way. But then the psychological warfare begins. As the local death toll begins to mount, Shane must discover whether it is LeFren carrying out the killings, or someone else from thirty years dead and gone.

George Wier is the author of the popular online Bill Travis Mysteries and co-author of Long Fall From Heaven (Cinco Puntos Press, 2013). He writes noir, crime novels, science fiction and steampunk.

ACCOLADES for Murder In Elysium:

“George Wier has done it again! Murder in Elysium is the multi-layered, dark tale of a decades old murder in this small, picturesque Texas town. Police Chief Shane Robeling still searches for the killer, and his association with Elysium is…complicated. Razor sharp, distinctive characters and a wicked, twisting storyline; these are Wier’s forte, and he is at the top of his game in this tale of murder, secrets, and lies in a town whose surface beauty hides both violence and depravity underneath.”
—Billy Kring, author of the Hunter Kincaid Mysteries

“There’s a reason George Wier ranks among my favorite authors. The man is a first class storyteller who never fails to entertain me with his captivating tales of Texas intrigue and mystery. He’s done it again with Murder in Elysium, the story of an old murder in a small town where secrets and betrayal lurk just below the calm surface, and you never know what skeletons hang in the closets of the folks you nod to on Main Street or sit next to at the counter of the diner. Don’t start this book until you have time to read it all the way through because like all of Wier’s books, you won’t be able to put it down!”
—Nick Russell, Author of the Big Lake mystery series.
There will be more to come.

GET MURDER IN ELYSIUM HERE

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Here’s the inside skinny on Sentinel In Elysium: (You heard it here first!)

It’s 1975, two years before the murder of Delores Fogel shocked the Central Texas town of Elysium, setting up the chain of events that would lead to the post-millennium conclusion to the mystery in Murder In Elysium. Michael Lee “Mucho Love” Harper, Elysium’s Chief of Police, has a double-murder on his hands–but this is the strangest killing of his career. The Childresses were wealthy and they had their fingers in every slice of local pie. They were, however, hermits, hoarders, and the owners of a chain of funeral parlors that stretched from the Gulf Coast to El Paso. Mucho Love, Elysium’s sentinel, must delve into the minds of the killer and the victims if he intends to keep his job–a monumental task, because the powers-that-be want anything but a resolution.

Sunrise in a thick deep dark forest with fog in autumn

I wasn’t there that cool March night in 1977, but it plays like a movie sometimes in my dreams.

A man is walking up the outside steps that lead to Apartments 2B and 2D, but the one he

wants is the first one: 2B. He wants in there. He wants in there so badly it burns him. It burns in

his ears and in his eyes and gutters against the outside cold in the darkest hollow of his chest.

One of the bulbs is burnt out on the landing, so anyone looking this direction from Austin

Avenue or from the open Intramural Field on campus sees a whole load of nothing. Nothing but

blackness in the inkwell shadows here. But this man, this man here is at home in the shadows.

The faint sound of his footfalls are close and loud in his pulsing ears. He feels every bump in the

lead paint of the metal stair railing. Every breath of air he inhales bites at his lungs and every

exhale is the breath of a dragon.

He comes to the door and pauses for a moment, assessing the silence and the dim light

within as seen through the tiny hole of the door-peeper.

He knocks. He knocks like he knows to knock so that she’ll know it’s him. And she knows

it’s him but she doesn’t know yet why it’s him. And right here, outside her door, he’s not about

to tell her. He wants inside there. He wants what she has.

It’s there at the door that I always wake up.

***

I dressed and got ready for work. I’d been dreaming about the Fogel Murder again. Dreaming

into the light morning hours about ancient history.

On the way to work coming down North Austin Avenue, the sun in my eyes as I rounded

the curve past Central Texas Community College, I saw the apartments over on my right where

the killing went down all those years ago.

For some reason my Chevy pickup wanted to pull into the parking lot. I let the truck idle

for a minute and sat there, looking at the landing.

The apartment landing was unchanged, thirty-five years removed from the crime and in

the full light of day.

Inside, I knew it was a different story.

That much time wipes away the last molecule of evidence. People move in and live

in a place with or without the knowledge of what occurred there, and over time the place gets

repainted, new carpet is laid and gets torn up. The floors get re-tiled and made over. Walls get

taken out and moved. But the walls in Apartment 2B speak. If you’re patient enough to listen to

them you can hear some of what they have to say.

I was thinking about the apartment, seeing it again in my mind’s eye as I’d seen it the last

time I was in there, nearly a year ago, when I felt that someone was watching me. I looked to see

Leslie Beauchamp regarding me from her apartment door on the ground level. She brought her

left hand into view and held up something. She gave me a smile.

It was the key to 2B.

I got out.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Mornin’, Chief. Here’s the key for you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “But what makes you think I want it?”

“Oh. I don’t know. Maybe the way you’re lookin’ up thataway.” Leslie smiled and held

out the key.

I took it.

“Just leave it under the mat,” she said. It was what she’d said last time. Another ritual?

There were far too many rituals in my life already.

I walked up the stairs, listened to them creak.

I unlocked the door. The key turned so easily it could have been turning tumblers of hot

butter.

The fight began at the front door and moved to the front bedroom. I left the door open

and I took four steps to stand in the bedroom doorway. Several minutes I stood there. Traffic

moved sedately along Austin Avenue out front. Someone was honking a horn somewhere.

Distant music, altogether unrecognizable, intruded.

The blood began in this room. Some of it was on the wall there underneath the paint.

The conflict moved around the room and then through me and into the living room. I took

a step back and watched it pass.

I followed them into the living room. She was running from him but he got hold on her.

Her blouse ripped in his hands. She fell and left blood from her face right there on the floor.

His hands clutched at her thighs, leaving what would have been purplish bruises had she lived

beyond the next five minutes, but instead only left very faint fingernail marks. She kicked out at

him, connected, and then got her feet under her again in a mad scramble.

I followed them into the kitchen. She was making for the sliding glass door and the

balcony beyond. Would she have done it? Would she have leapt from the balcony into twelve

feet of space and the asphalt beyond, or would she have simply stood there and screamed bloody

murder?

She never made the balcony. He pressed her against the glass with his full body weight

as he clutched for her flailing arms and in the process left a full thumb print on the glass. The

two of them went down and his feet became entangled with one of the chairs at the table and sent

it backwards onto the floor where one of the dowels that composed the back of the chair came

loose. It rolled towards her and she grasped it and tried to strike him with it. He wrestled it from

her hands and began to beat her with it.

She kneed him, kicked him and managed to get him off of her for a mere moment and

regained her feet. She was in front of the kitchen sink.

A knife was there. She had cut up the chicken for her evening meal with it. The chicken

parts were still there, all bloody and cold and congealed on the drain board.

He came at her again, crushing her against the sink and her elbow sank into the chicken

parts and took some of them away with her. The drain rack that held the plates and saucers and

glasses there tumbled onto the floor and shattered.

The knife was in his hand. He cut her with it. Very likely he cursed her as he did so, his

head full of red fury.

Delores spat blood. It gurgled from her throat and was borne across the room with her

exhaled breath.

And then the death throes began—

“Chief?” Billie Marsh whispered, startling me.

“Hi Billie,” I said. I hadn’t heard her come in. I’d left the front door to the empty

apartment wide open and there was nothing but carpet between there and where I stood,

surveying the kitchen.

“You okay in here?”

“Yeah. Anything happening?”

“No, sir. Just the usual. A fender-bender on Highway 281 coming into town. I blue-
formed it.”

The moment was awkward. Billie knew exactly what I was doing. It was 9:15 in the

morning, and I should have already been at the station.

“Good,” I said. “Why haven’t you changed shifts yet?”

“I was just heading in, but I saw your truck outside…”

“And you thought you’d check up on the old man. See if he’d mislaid any of his marbles

in the Fogel Murder apartment. That about it?”

She nodded, then gave me a faint smile.

I adored the hell out of Billie. She was one of the best cops I had. But then again, they

were all good. Anybody who could last in this town was worth their salt.

The rumor was that Billie was a lesbian, but I had never seen any evidence of it,

nor would it matter one way or the other if it was true. She was a good cop, and that’s all I cared

about. Billie had shot a kid while on patrol late one night on the east side of Austin when she

was a cop there. Originally, Billie was a local to Elysium, born and raised, but had gone off to

Sam Houston State immediately after high school. The kid Billie shot was a twenty-one year

old kid named Lonnie Earl Campbell. She fired on Campbell when he refused to put down his knife in

the parking lot of a seedy bar, just after closing time. After a full court press against her and the

Austin Police Department by the leaders of the black community for what they deemed to be

racial profiling and a propensity to shoot first and ask questions later, Billie was suspended

“pending a full investigation,” which is police public relations-speak for, “We want to give her

the benefit of the doubt without ticking off every person of color in Austin.” During her leave,

Billie came home to Elysium, making it permanent. Austin’s loss was my gain. In my initial

interview with Billie four years back, I asked her about what happened that night with Lonnie

Campbell and she told me the story. The kid had been hopped up on something dreadful—likely

crystal meth—and when she finally pulled the trigger he had been a second from slicing her

throat.

“The Fogel Murder was over thirty years ago, Chief,” Billie said. “Just sayin’.”

“Really,” I said. “I didn’t know you could do higher math.”

“LeFren’s been free for the past nine months,” she said. “He’s been all over the talk show

circuit, running down the prison system and law enforcement in general. Makes me sick, him

acting all innocent like that. Everybody knows the son of a bitch was guilty. I guess it doesn’t

matter. It’s all over with now.”

I nodded. Sure. Everybody knew. But who was everybody? The citizens of Elysium,

Texas, that’s who. Almost everyone else in the outside world was convinced of LeFren’s

innocence in the murder. He’d finally walked out of prison based on a federal judge’s overturn of

his conviction. There would be no new trial.

“I suppose you’re right,” I said, when the silence grew too thick for the room.

“This place gives me the willies,” Billie said.

“Me too.”

Billie chuckled. “You’re all right, Chief. Come on. Let me buy you a frickin’ cup of coffee.”

Get your copy of Murder in Elysium here.

Sometimes this happens to me in the night (dreaming) and I have to get up and write it down. Not often, mind you, but often enough that I’ve learned to go with it. This involves one of the characters from my upcoming publication, MURDER IN ELYSIUM, which is slated for publication late this year by Cinco Puntos Press. So, hot off the press from the strange, cobweb-filled mind of Yours Truly:

Mucho Love was only ever afraid of one thing. This one thing was foyers that had multiple exits. Once when he was seven, he’d nearly gotten himself irretrievably lost in such a room after the ritual hanging-of-the-coat in the foyer closet. The closet began underneath the stairs in the house of the people his parents were visiting, and Mucho Love—or Michael Lee Harper; which was his real name—had become intrigued when he found that the width of the interior of the cloak closet far exceeded the wall against which from the outside it appeared to be buttressed. No, the cloak closet continued and wrapped itself around in the darkness and emerged into a disused downstairs bathroom that itself boasted, oddly enough, three exits. One of those exits took a very young and impressionable M.L. Harper into a quasi-living room area complete with Franklin stove and a couch enclosed in a framework of dark Masonite with gold lame that itself had odd cabinets set on each end that likewise led…elsewhere. At this point, with the adults chatting away in the now distant wood-paneled foyer and making sounds that bounced around in hollow places and somehow morphed into an alien language, and while finding that the home of these disturbingly odd and perhaps distant kinfolk, had no actual end within its maze-like walls, Michael Lee Harper began crying. What had begun as an expedition into the dark and the unknown had somehow become a descent into hell.

But this was at age seven, a virtual lifetime ago.

When he first entered it, the home of the Childresses was like that mobius-loop house from long ago. And to top it off, the Childresses were dead.

Mucho Love—he knew that’s what they called him behind his back; sort of a bad joke, because of his tough, take-no-crap exterior and his propensity to make unpopular snap judgments that had the potential to end with people waking up on the floor with blood coming out of their noses—was certain that life itself was a mobius loop. The secret was to figure it out such that he could control it, and like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, go back in time at the moment when he was too close to death for comfort and relive portions of his life, thus achieving some semblance of immortality. The Childresses, apparently and however, had not discovered the answer to this arcane mystery. They were both deader than Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington and Emperor Ming.

The call had come in from a neighbor who had been woken up by the multiple gunshots in the middle of the night, had brooded about it for several minutes, then called it in.

Mucho Love had been an officer in the Elysium police department for the previous nine years. He’d seen his share of bodies. Few though, had been like this.