Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

Woke up this morning from a dream and started writing. It’s been a long time since I wrote pure horror. I suppose this will be a short story or a novella. It’s temporarily entitled The Navigator. Here’s a taste: (and please forgive any errors–it’s hot off the old press)

In a small desert town along Interstate-40 between Barstow, California and Kingman, Arizona, a woman is brutally raped and left for dead behind a row of dented and sandblasted garbage cans that someone long ago had forgotten to continue filling. But this was forty years ago, and her son, the bastard who was conceived that horrific night, is midst his election campaign for United States Representative. Maybe he will win. Who knows; possibly someday he will become President.

Between St. Louis and Kansas City, up along I-70, a young woman of sixteen is certain that Christ has not only risen, but has returned. She knows this to be so because He came to her as a child and spoke things to her—things that no other living human being has ever heard.

In Harrisburg, Virginia, along the I-81 corridor, an almost ancient city councilman goes through the ritual of committing suicide. He has done this every night for the past thirty years, but has never been capable of summoning the nerve to put an end to his existence. Instead, he puts his grandfather’s Navy Colt pistol back into the holster in the closet where it has hung for his entire life. And then he cries himself to sleep.

Along the long, lonely stretch from Clovis, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas, there exists a town named for a long dead Major in the Civil War. In this town each night a man awakens from a lurid, disturbing nightmare. What awakens him is the sound of his own voice, screaming. It is the same dream, the dream in which the gleaming bus comes to a stop, there is the brief, piercing, teakettle scream of pneumatic brakes being released, the doorway trundles open, and then he emerges.

***

Some believe that interwoven into the cosmic fabric of the universe are fine, spider’s silk threads that form a certain pattern. While it could be so that this pattern is set and held unbreakably in place by the stars and galaxies, there are a few who postulate that it is not the light at all that determines the woof and warp of these myriad skeins of thread, but instead this pattern is set by the night; the hidden and unseen. For them it is the black holes, the dark neutron stars, the postulated dark matter itself and other cosmic censures, unnamed and unnameable, that constitute the influences that marshals fate. To them, it is the cold night that is prevalent in the universe at large. It is the night that reigns supreme over the faint, hot little cinders of light.

For all that he has visited, this is most assuredly so.

His name is Christopher Pettibone. He is a diminutive-appearing man with a disarming smile, rumpled clothes, and a seemingly endless supply of cash. And when the bus comes to a stop and he arises, others wait for him to exit first. They don’t know why they do this, but they wouldn’t bother to question since they are not actually aware of him in the waking sense. Instead, they pause and shiver as he passes, and when he is gone, they shake the weariness and dread off of them as if they are shaking off the many miles behind. Just like on every trip Pettibone has taken, there will be one who is unable to bring themselves to climb back onto the bus before its departure. Pettibone knows this. He expects it, and in fact, cares not an iota. Caring is a human thing, a frailty. And he is much farther from human than other creature living on the Earth.

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Here’s the Author’s Note to Buffalo Bayou Blues. I reserve the right to change or add to it prior to publication, for which I’m staring May 1st dead in the face:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

When I was very young, my father took me on a tour of blues joints in the Houston area. You see, my father was one of the original Hellfighters. He worked directly under Red Adair, and Boots and Coots. Some of my earliest memories are of him going off for weeks at a time to fight oilwell fires in the Gulf. I would throw a wall-eyed fit whenever he’d go off like that. Later, while working for Brown & Root, he had his back broken on an oilwell platform during a hurricane, and thus had to “slow down” a bit. Therefore, he went from longshoreman to truck driver, and drove a rig for Skerlock Oil Company, headquartered out of Houston. And before all of this—I don’t remember any of it, because I was far too young—we lived down in La Marque, right on the Houston Ship Channel. So, I suppose it should be no surprise that my father would know Houston, and know it well. Maybe a little too well, if you take my meaning. If you’re an old-timer, and lived during those times—you would have to be in your eighties or nineties, but I’m sure there are a few of you still around—and were around the Houston area, chances are you met him, and if you met him, why, you knew him. His name was Nelson Wier, and he was a force of nature.

When I was no more than seven, my father took me to some of the back street dives, little more than juke joints, with clouds of blue cigarette smoke and loud “colored” music filling the air. My father loved those places. For my own part, I was instantly enthralled.

Since that time, I have loved The Blues.

From my point of view, it was a matter of course that I would be accepted by the many people I visited in those back street blues joints, even though, technically speaking, I’m whiter than an unbaked flour cracker. At that early age, I suppose I was already closing my eyes and moving my head to the backbeat, lost in the mood, ducking with the changes, and showing it all on my face—that other place, apart from my sleeve, where I wear my heart for all the world to see. Possibly, I looked ridiculous. But I felt the music. It was the most real thing I’d ever heard, and it literally moved me.

My father passed away on September 12, 2007. He never got to hold one of my published books in his hands. He never met nor got to hold his great-granddaughter. He never got to see me sign a book or speak before a crowd of fans. But all that’s okay. You see, he got to know me, and he instilled in me so many things that without him, there would be no Bill Travis. There would be no great love for Texas. Without him, life would have been dull, beyond belief. Instead, because of him and his influence, life has been indeed rich.

Far from a simple tribute to my late father, I wanted to convey, here in this little Author’s Note, a little something more than is evidenced by the foregoing story.

The blues isn’t simply music, or a genre of music. It is a way of life for many—and that path is not limited to people of color by any means.

Fast forward to about 2003, when I laid down the titles to no less than twenty-one Bill Travis adventures. When I got to Trinity Trio, the alliteration bug set in, and the next one had to be alliterative as well. My whole life was right there in front of me that day. I could pick and choose anything. But one thing came through at that exact moment. The blues. I had to write about the blues. Houston, of course, sprang into mind. Those old blues joints with their blue cigarette smoke and gently clicking billiard balls, and…that wonderful sound. You can’t think long about Houston without thinking about Buffalo Bayou, and thus the title sprang full-blown like Athena from my forehead. I wrote it down without batting an eye.

And guess what. Just the other day, I unearthed that original piece of paper with all those titles on it. The order may have changed, somewhat, and a few of those titles have changed a little, but they’re basically still there, and Buffalo Bayou Blues is written there, plain as day. Would anyone like to have that piece of paper? I’m thinking of either framing it or auctioning it off.

So what’s there to write about the blues? Well, for one thing, a good half a dozen mystery writers have made writing about the blues part and parcel of their career. Guys like Tim Bryant, whose Dutch Curridge character hails from Waco during the heyday of the blues era, specifically the later forties and early fifties. Then there’s Ricky Bush, whose books have ‘blues’ right in the titles, such as Howling Mountain Blues and The Devil’s Blues. And there are many more, but these two come to mind most readily. So, the blues have not only been done, they’ve been done well. And wouldn’t you just know it, the blues are rife with such sentiments as, ‘My woman done gone and done me wrong’ and ‘He kilt her right then and there.’ That is to say that lust and betrayal, heartbreak, suicide, murder and a host of the world’s other evils are inherent within the blues. The blues sing out with them. They tell the story of—well, Houston, and Texas, and everyone who has ever drawn a breath in either or both of the two. But mostly, the blues just sing.

I find it the easiest thing in the world to write about this topic. It’s sort of like breathing. It just flows on out there, and I don’t even have to think about it.

So, I hope you enjoyed this little excursion to a side of life that is seldom written about, seldom visited, and even rarer, brought up to the surface and exposed. Because, as Bill would likely tell you, there’s nothing done in the dark that won’t sooner or later be exposed to the light of day.

Okay, that’s about it.

For the die-hard among you—the faithful ones; those who keep coming back for more, and more, and still even more—this book was for you. It’s my privilege to know you and to write for you. Thank you for giving me every chance along the way to make good my word. You’ve been good to me, and you have my undying devotion.

Therefore, all my love to you and yours.

And as always, all the best!

George Wier
Austin, Texas

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.

 

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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.

 

Mexico Fever

Here’s the Author’s Note for Mexico Fever. The book is coming soon. Look for it this May.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’ve taken a number of trips down into the interior of Mexico, interspersed over a great many years. My first excursion was in 1991, around the time I got married for the first time. That one was a simple border crossing, and my fiance and I enjoyed a meal in Nuevo Laredo at the famous Cadillac Bar. That one sort of doesn’t count, you know. I was never more than a stone’s throw from Texas, and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were waiting for me there in the middle of the Rio Grande. Many years later, around 2004, after I had moved to Austin and gotten a different wife, we took several trips down into the interior of Mexico. The first was a road trip to San Miguel de Allende, and we spent a week there. That’s the Mexico I know and love. If you ever get the chance to go to Mexico, go to San Miguel. It’s unforgettable, and you will likely fall in love. Since that time we’ve only been to Gaudalajara, a city with the largest concentration of American expatriots in the world. But Guadalajara is…Guadalajara. It’s not what you’d call a tourist destination. It’s raw and unforgiving. It is, simply put, Mexico.

I approached my decision to take Bill Travis out of Texas—and to drop him like a fish out of water into Mexico—with no small degree of trepidation. First of all, it would have to be real, and I knew I would be drawing on every experience I could recall. Second, I am not so fluent in Spanish as I should be. Chalk that one up to—as is the case in many things—me never finding the elusive Round Tuit, as in “I’ll get around to it.” No, I have a number of books and cassette tape courses on learning the language, but can you see me even for a moment tooling down the Interstate conjugating verbs in Spanish? I can’t, and maybe that’s part of the problem. You see, like most people, I walk around fooling myself. “Oh, I want to do this thing here. Oh, I’ll do that!” Right. Best to smile and nod, and quickly move on to another topic when someone starts talking like that. You know—and deep down they know—it’ll never happen. All by way of saying, “Nope, I haven’t learned Spanish. This is gonna be interesting.” So, to compensate for that, I had to keep the Spanish references down to the common ones that most people—especially yours truly—could wrap their wits around. Second, Bill knows no more Spanish than I do, so I decided that, as a writer, I would use that deficiency in the story. I would make it an asset, which calls for no slight measure of literary legerdemain. Oh, the possibilities that went flitting through my head as I began.

There’s another thing I try to do when I’m writing. I try, at every turn, to only use those places I have actually been in the story. For instance, when I wrote Caddo Cold, Sallie and I had to make three trips over that way. And yes, I did change the physical universe around just a tad to make it conform with the story, but at the very least, I had been there, and I knew what those changes were. But while Sallie has decidedly been down to Cancun and to the Chichen Itza site, I haven’t—or at least not during this lifetime. I don’t know what you believe on that score, and I don’t really care, but I do remember. I remember far more than I care to. And no, I don’t really care to return. There are too many negative associations with the place, and most of us don’t like returning to a place that once brought us great pain. That’s the nature of living life, and human beings are at least predictable in that respect. So, no, we didn’t go to Chichen-Itza before I wrote this book. It’s about the same reason I’m reluctant to visit the Alamo. Will I never see Chichen-Itza this lifetime? I’ve found it’s not a healthy thing to go around saying, “Never.” That’s usually where the trouble begins. So, my apologies on that score. I didn’t go. And I don’t plan to. Sorry for having to say so. But—and this is a rather large ‘but’—I’ve discovered that Bill Travis is no less than my avatar. I can send him places I no longer dare to tread. It’s true, many of the situations in the earlier adventures were situations I have been in (for instance, I have landed a plane with the wind, instead of against it, I have been in some knock-down drag-out fist fights, and prior to my current marriage, I have been known to dive into relationships on the first date). But for once, why not break out of the box—the box in this case being Texas—and send Bill abroad? Why not send Bill to Mexico? And doing so, why not give him the best reason in the world for jumping in an airplane in the dead of night and heading out? And while we’re at it, why the hell not make it the greatest white-knuckle adventure of all time? There! The defense rests!

You know, this one sort of makes Bill an international man of mystery. Just sayin’.

Since we’re down the list on book twelve at the moment—and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you hanging with me for this long; I mean, that’s a special kind of devotion, and I am forever indebted to you—you have by this time noticed that some of these books are “a bit out there.” As the famous mystery reviewer, Kevin Tipple, said when he reviewed Ghost of the Karankawa, “Often he gets into cases where one can almost hear The Twilight Zone theme music playing in the background…” and “George Wier again strains reader suspension of disbelief at a couple of points, but the read is very well worth it.” Yes, guilty as charged, and I throw myself on the mercy of the Court. I confess that I do love a fantastic tale. They attract me, they pull me right on in, and I have no power over them. (For instance, I just got back from a trip last night to San Antonio, where I got to meet Charles Hall, the author of the Millennial Hospitality series—five books, thus far, about his experiences with the Tall White extraterrestrials while serving in the Air Force. Goodness Grief, it’s wonderful stuff, whether you believe him or not!) So why should I not include the fantastic in my own fiction? For those of you who don’t write, I offer the following explanation: a good writer doesn’t choose his story—the story chooses him! That’s right, you’d think I’m the arbiter of this particular universe; the world where Bill and Julie move around and have their being, and where Jessica is on patrol with the Sheriff’s Department, and where Perry Reilly is yet again hitting on his new young receptionist, and where Hank Sterling takes up karate. No. I don’t have much say there. Don’t look so surprised. You sort of knew it all along. The truth of the matter is these books write themselves. I’m just the conduit. Is this actual channeling? I dunno. I sure hope the hell not. But it is, at the very least, honest work. It’s like…it’s like Bill. He says no more and no less than what he means to say. And that makes me glad.

Okay, that’s about it. That’s about all I have to offer.

I hope you like book twelve, and I hope it doesn’t overly infect you with Mexico Fever. Or at least no more than you can easily ward off by diving into another book and leaving this one behind you.

All my best to you and yours.

George Wier
April 29, 2016
Austin, Texas

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.

Here’s a short story, penned by my late friend,  Milton T. Burton, that about summarizes my attitude for this day. I hope you enjoy it.

THE WATCHERS
Milton T. Burton

I was coming out of the Wal-Mart Supercenter yesterday when an earnest-looking fellow who appeared to be in his mid thirties came up and tried to hand me some kind of lurid religious tract.

“I can’t accept that,” I told him.

“Why not?”

“I’m an Alpha Prime.”

“Huh?” asked in obvious confusion. “Alpha what?”

I decided to take the time to explain it all to him. “Prime,” I said. “Alpha Prime. Surely you know as well as I do that there are only three types of people in this world. Alpha Primes, Control Agents, and Subsidiaries.”

“Subsid. . .”

“That’s right,” I replied. “And I know you’re not an Alpha Prime because we always recognize one another. And you don’t look focused enough to be a Control Agent, so it’s pretty obvious that you’re just a Subsidiary.”

For some reason he seemed to find this mildly alarming, so I moved in closer and put my arm around his shoulders and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “You see,” I said, “the sole purpose of Control and its agents is to keep us Alpha Primes from detecting the Pattern. That’s the reason they try to annoy and distract us as much as they possibly can. But I’m onto them.”

“You are?”

“Right,” I said, giving him a conspiratorial wink. “I became aware of the Pattern a long time ago.”

“The Pattern?”

“Right again. Let me give you an example. I’m sure you’ve seen that insurance ad that features the British rock guitarist, Peter Frampton. . . Right? It’s on TV all over the country.”

He gave me a hesitant nod, and his eyes were growing ever wider.

“Well, surely you realize that there is no such thing as a Frampton.”

“No?”

“Absolutely not,” I said firmly. “Can you imagine anything more absurd than a Frampton? I mean, have you ever actually met one yourself?”

He shook his head. “No, I can’t say that I—”

“Of course you haven’t. You see, the Control Agents just gave that guy the name because they realize that ‘Frampton’ is one of those words that we Alpha Primes are genetically predisposed find utterly loathsome.”

Here I stopped speaking and gave his shoulder another squeeze and then continued in a knowing whisper. “And if we’re all bent out of shape about ‘Frampton,’ then we’re sure as hell not going to notice the Pattern, now are we? And that’s any Control Agent’s whole purpose in life. Obscure that Pattern. Get it?”

“I, I’m not sure,” he said dubiously. “But I really have to go.”

“But you haven’t given away all your tracts.”

He shrugged. “I haven’t had much luck here, anyway.”

“Luck?” I asked. “Why, my friend, there’s no such thing as luck.”

“No?”

I shook my head gravely. “Of course not. There’s only the Pattern. For example, have you ever been about ready for bed and then realized you just had to have a soft drink or something? So you find yourself dragging your shoes back on and driving a couple of miles to the convenience store and dealing with some Pakistani idiot who can barely make change. That’s because you had to be in a certain place at a certain time, either to cause something or to prevent it. A car wreck or whatever.”

“Well, I. . .”

“No doubt about it,” I said and gave him a resigned shrug. “The grim truth is that we’re all slaves to the Pattern, whether we realize it or not. Even the Control Agents. But you should be grateful that you Subsidiaries only get the small assignments. We Alpha Primes get the big jobs. Why, I once had to fly all the way to Budapest and eat a liverwurst sandwich in a certain café to prevent a dormant volcano from blowing up in Iceland. And I hate liverwurst.”

At this he bolted and sprinted to his car and then sped quickly from the parking lot. No doubt he was eager to fill his friends in on what he’d just learned about the Pattern. I regretted that I hadn’t been able to tell him about the Watchers, but there’d be plenty of time for that later on. I’d memorized his license plate number, and I have a helpful friend in motor vehicle registration.
It was a lovely day.

Desperate Crimes

When Jennifer Travis’s piano teacher, Todd Landry, goes missing, Bill Travis has to pull out of all the stops to find him before her upcoming piano recital. Along for the ride is not only Jennifer herself, but also her pet ferret, Morgan Freeman, and Bill’s old running buddy, Hank Sterling. Zig-zagging all over the map on the trail of an elusive Todd (whom people keep calling “Sam”) the team encounters a host of interesting characters including the members of a dynastic millionaire family with enough skeletons in their collective closet to fill a boneyard. It’s murder, mayhem, conspiracy and intrigue at a fever pitch for Bill Travis and company. Desperate Crimes is the 11th installment in the Bill Travis Mystery series.

GET YOUR COPY NOW!

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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.