Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14258288_1267033433306978_3367555607759318926_o

 

Here’s the Author’s Note to Trinity Trio, comin’ atcha soon!

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The Catholics say that confession is good for the soul. This must have some truth to it, or else I wouldn’t be so inclined to unburden myself, or at least not so easily. And it didn’t take any prompting either. Here’s the confession: I have to feel a certain way to slip into Bill Travis’s world.

There. I said it.

There can’t be any music playing, nor anything seriously going on. I have to be fairly well-rested and in equable health. And if these conditions are just right, and if my little mind’s eye GoPro cam into Bill’s world is turned on and tuned in, why then I can follow what’s going on and report it. Otherwise, uh uh. Which is the real reason why I have to have several projects going at once and also the real reason why these books are trickling out there like black strap molasses a week after New Years.

Mind you, now, once I’m “over there” in Bill’s world, and things are hopping and popping, why, I can just let it roll and it sluices out of the old barrel in one hell of a hurry, but that’s not typical until somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third of the way to the halfway-finished area of the book, not at the beginning. If I’m anywhere in those first knuckle-dragging neanderthal thirty to fifty pages, well, sometimes it’s slow going. I don’t know why that is, it simply works out that way.

So, like I say, multiple projects are called for.

While writing this one, my main “other” project has been what I call a “serious” work entitled Neptune’s Forge, an Antarctic mystery. And man, is that mystery dark. Also, it’s written in a completely different vernacular than anything else I’ve ever written. All the action takes place near the end of the 19th Century, and it started writing itself in the prose form of that era—sort of a melding of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, and Jack London. I’m not sure what or who I may have been channeling during that book—the ghost of Henry James, possibly?—but, oh man, if you read it, you’ll see what I mean. Between that book and this, it’s not only different continents and disparate times, it’s different worlds.

Here’s another confession, of sorts: I have interesting dreams.

This book is the only book I’ve ever written which appeared entirely in the course of a single night; a lone episodic saga. I was able to remember that dream—no, not in its entirety, but in its depth, its intensity, and in its feel. I’ll tell you, the dream was nowhere near as funny as certain passages in this book.

Humor, to my mind, is the knee-jerk reaction to “things that ain’t right.” It’s that plus the fact that you got the joke. You saw and understood it wasn’t right, and can therefore laugh at it. I heard a speaker once say that, “If you’re angry, then you haven’t gotten the joke yet.” I kind of appreciated that when I heard it. In fact, I laughed out loud.

Most of the humor in the Bill Travis books is unintentional. I’ll be in here (in my office, on my computer) writing, and Sallie will be in the bedroom across the way, reading what I wrote just a few minutes before (I’ll sometimes dash off a page or two and get them to her so as not to interrupt her reading of them by allowing her to reach the abrupt end) and suddenly she’ll laugh out loud. I’ll get up, go in there, give her a funny look until she notices I’m standing there, and then I’ll ask her, “What’s so funny?”

She’ll say, “Oh, it’s this part here,” and then she’ll read it aloud to me, and I’ll be shocked to find out it was actually kind of humorous. I mean, I’m sort of stunned by that. I hadn’t set out to do it, this I promise you, it’s just that it sometimes works out that way.

And another thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t happen like that if I’m feeling the least bit off. If I’m having to force it, then it’s usually simply not right. I will, in fact, find myself backing up (a painful word here, but since we’re being all sober and truthful, the actual word is “deleting”) to where it first started going south and re-writing it, or even stopping and waiting until it feels right to proceed. Running that red light (by which I mean, writing when I shouldn’t be—when I have to expend effort to do so) can sometimes result in a pretty bad wreck.

All this by way of saying that if there’s not some real life humor on the printed page, then it’s just not a Bill Travis mystery the way it should be. Now, I know, sometimes things can get pretty dark. They can get downright real and dicey and the old pump is thudding in the chest and that old battery acid taste of adrenalin is coating the tongue, and man, even I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But even then, even there in the pitch blackness with the bad people running around in the dark trying to kill our friend Bill, there had better be something to laugh at, somewhere.

I suppose, in the final analysis, this is why Bill and I are still hanging together, and he allows me to ride along in the back seat with him and Hank up front. It’s because we both know these old back roads, we know this neck of the back woods like the backs of our hands. We’ve both been there, we’ve dodged fate and lived to fight another day, and we’re able to laugh about seeing the elephant. (By the way, that’s what the old campaigners used to call the action on the battlefield—“seeing the elephant.” I suppose that’s a nod to the Boer War, or something.) Because, let me tell you, we’ve seen the elephant—or at least the elephant as it exists in East and Central Texas—and it can still be a pretty big bastard.

That reminds me of the old redneck joke: The first guy says, “What are the three most dangerous words you can hear?” The second one replies, “I don’t know, what are they?” The first guys says, “Hey, watch this!” You know when you hear that, you’re in some deep kem-chee. Or, at least you are where I come from.

Well, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit older now, and hopefully most of my kem-chee days are in the dark years of the ancient past. They are, that is, until Bill Travis dredges them up for me and shows them to me.

But hey, what are friends for?

All right, I guess that’s about it.

Y’all take care, until the next time. And in the meantime…

All the best to you and yours,

George Wier
Austin, Texas
November 12, 2016

 

14370343_1272730049403983_7997979862465029769_n

 

Another little snippet from Neptune’s Forge:

The expedition party came off of the ice shelf and onto land with no fanfare. If anything, the way was more difficult, being mostly uphill, and the dogs slipped and the sleds had a tendency to slue and skid. Right away, Gleese could see the genius of Ned’s selections of the dogs, and particularly the leaders. At the front of Ned’s and Tomaroff’s own sled ran Anja and Freja, two of the largest dogs among the many, both females and of even temperament. Pulling his own sled, in the lead were Ole and Svend, two male black and white huskies. Behind them were Mads, Margreth, Lisbeth and Frans, all Danish names, selected by the only Dane in the party, Ned Kroones. In the final analysis, they were all Ned’s dogs, even though technically, Gleese was the owner. Beside Gleese rode the stoic American, Terry Rath. Behind them were Peter Bornik, another American from the deep south, and Parker Dunlevy, an Irishman, who spoke incessantly about nothing at all.

Gleese kept expecting trouble between Rath and Bornik, the two having come from opposing sides in the Civil War, but they seemed fine with one another’s presence.

Rath had been in the Drum & Bugle Corp attached to William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corp under U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. He had lived through the initial battle and was there for the long siege, though he had only been a lad of eight at the time. He loved and respected Grant very nearly as much as he loathed Sherman, whom he considered to be the only man he had ever met who was born without a heart.

Bornik, for his part, had been one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalrymen after Forrest was stripped of his hardened veterans by General Braxton Bragg in 1862. Forrest had been forced to sign up two thousand new recruits, and had hand-picked the rail-thin will-o-the-wisp from the southern Louisiana canebrakes. Not that he could afford to be choosy about it. Bornik served alongside the brash and fiery-tempered Southern Cavalry Major from then up to that fateful day in 1865 when the then Major General Forrest bade farewell to his troops after the CSA’s surrender by General Lee in the drawing room of Wilmer McClean at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. During those three years he had been wounded twice and had three mounts shot out from under him. There had been no replacement horses, however, in the final days of the war, and so he was forced to make his way back to Houma, Louisiana, with his bare feet, his carbine and his cavalry saber, and the clothes on his back. Peter Bornik looked almost ancient, even though he was no more than forty. The years had been unkind to him. His skin was as red as an Indian’s, and it seemed that every inch of him bore one kind of scar or another. It was a wonder he was sound in his mind and members. There were few who had seen more action who were not missing a digit, or a whole hand, leg or arm. After the war, Bornik had spent most of the intervening years as a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one fine summer day, he decided he’d had enough of the blazing tropical sun and came north. Gleese had found the man on the New London docks, looking for work, took one look at his ropy frame and hired him on the spot.

It was Rath, though, who spoke first concerning the disposition of Mateo. “You left it to those Island men to mete out justice?”

Gleese turned to look back toward the last sled to see old Mateo straining to catch up with it. The Argentinians had put him afoot. They would not trust him in their midst.

“He’ll not last long, I suspect,” Gleese stated. It was a true answer to the question, but then again, he didn’t care to answer the query. “And they’re not Island men. They’re Portuguese, from Argentina.”

“What were they doing on the island, then?” Rath asked.

“Looking for work. Whaling and sealing, I’d say, mostly.”

Rath shook his head slowly, and lapsed into silence. It didn’t last long, because after a minute, he said, “You had to pay them handsomely, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Rath, your wages are between you and me. The matter of their wages is between them and me.”

“I’m only trying to figure why they would come, is all.”

“Some men will walk through the gates of hell for money.”

Terry Rath then remembered his fellow Union soldiers who had accepted payment for another man’s conscription, and shivered.

“You’re from Maine, aren’t you?” Gleese asked him.

“I am,” Rath replied.

“It makes sense.”

“What makes sense?”

“I have never met anyone from Maine that wasn’t attempting to puzzle something out.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Rath said.

Gleese nodded, and let it go.

By the time they topped a rise and saw the distant Trans-Antarctic Range, Mateo was nowhere to be seen anywhere behind them.

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

11224081_1049862931690697_2704576089406296422_o

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:

11224081_1049862931690697_2704576089406296422_o

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.

 

11224081_1049862931690697_2704576089406296422_o

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.

11224081_1049862931690697_2704576089406296422_o

Here’s the Author’s Note for The Lone Star Express, which is well underway. For some reason, I have to write these things the minute they start talking, with only minor changes prior to publication. Anyway, here it is:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Following on the heels of Mexico Fever—and having been conceived during the writing of it—The Lone Star Express, like all the books, was titled a very long time ago. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t remained fresh in my mind. From a point very early on, I could clearly see—as is depicted on the cover—Bill Travis walking along a stretch of railroad track and into the desert hardpan, his coat tucked under his arm, the wind tousling his hair, and nothing but miles stretching before him. My own question (and in my mind, there’s always at least one question, and typically more than one) was this: is the train ahead of him or behind? If it’s ahead of him, he’ll never catch up to it. If it’s behind, then maybe all he’ll have to do its get to the next required water stop or switch-track, and wait. Thus, the story as you find it here. With nothing more in mind than this mental image and the title, I began in earnest, and it all unfolded rather quickly.

This book is sort of an end in itself. No, it’s decidedly not the end of the Bill Travis Mysteries by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, a commencement of sorts. As with any ending, there are new beginnings. Time doesn’t stop because we stop, even though one might argue that all things are relative. They may be, but there is far more to life than one’s own universe—there’s everybody else’s universe as well, and then there’s the one where we all meet and interact, and there, decidedly, if in fact not all things are relative, they’re at least related.

In this book several things speak to my little commencement theory. Penny finally comes into her own, and Nat, while not exactly exiting the stage, withdraws somewhat from the floodlights. Dick Sawyer is finally laid to rest—and we can only assume that he has actually found that rest he was looking for—and another Governor has come to the fore. Jessica has married and moved out, but I hope you do know that we will see her again—she’s simply too good not to write. Also, here, the last Travis kid is introduced, if in no other way than by foreshadowing what’s to come. (By way of a hint, from the beginning of this series, I wanted Bill’s family somewhat reflective of that of Charlie Chan.)

This is, by far, the longest of the Bill Travis books. It had to be, just as Mexico Fever had to be the shortest. It’s the story that determines that, not the author, and any writer worth his or her salt will confirm that fact. As I’ve held all along, I’m simply the reporter—Bill’s hanger-on journalist, his biographer. And one of these days I suspect he’s going to turn around, fix me with a cold stare, and let me know in no uncertain terms that I’m no longer welcome to hang around. When that happens, I’ll light out for the territories and make a whole new batch of friends. And maybe even an enemy or two.

As I stated a long time ago—along about Capitol Offense, of which this book is the decided sequel—you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. All this by way of saying that nothing is truly sacred. Before this series is done, we’re liable to see some folks we thought were stable, fall by the wayside. While Austin seems to be Bill’s home, there is, indeed, a rather large state out there beyond the Travis County line. Bill and company might move. It’s entirely possible. Anything can happen.

You see, this is life we’re dealing with here. It’s at least my life. And those of you who have participated, either by reading or through direct contact with me—I’m totally approachable, folks, so email me anytime, and you’re liable to get a phone call if you supply your number—know full well that things have a way of happening. Life is a river, and you can’t dip your foot into the same river twice. And old English prof of mine was fond of using that analogy, but with the English language in place of “life.” By the time you have removed your foot from the waters and immersed them again, it’s a different river. The water has changed and moved on downstream, fish have eaten other fish, thus cutting off whole bloodlines in the unending protoplasmic contest for imminence. It’s simply not the same. Life is like that. It isn’t static because it can’t be and still be considered life. Thus, those edifices we thought were fixed are invariably toppled, and new buildings and statues erected. Yesterday’s hero is tomorrow’s villain. What was all the rage is quickly forgotten in the windstorm of change. The seasons can be unkind.

Sorry, was waxing poetic there.

So, Bill Travis.

Bill and I are older now, that much is obvious. He doesn’t say nearly as much as he used to, but I feel like his waters have more depth, and sometimes those depths are dark indeed. (For instance, Bill actually shoots someone in Mexico Fever, as you well know. Let me tell you, that surprised the hell out of me, for sure! And gosh! What happens here gives me chills.) I can’t tell you much about my own waters, other than that things seem simpler to me now. But, when you strip away all the arbitraries and all the complexities (and you can easily read into that, all the things that aren’t important, especially the lies) a whole new world can open up, and it’s just as bright as it was when we were young and it was summer, and a day lasted a mere shadow shy of forever.

By way of final word, let’s talk about trains.

One of my earliest memories was of a train ride either on or to the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation in deep East Texas. I couldn’t have been more than about three or four years old. There I met my first cousins (my father’s brother’s kids. And as an aside, one of those two brothers later became the Chief of the tribe!) and spent a day immersed in their culture. I loved it, but mostly I loved the train ride. Since that time I have had a fascination with trains, but no real outlet for that interest. I simply haven’t had the time to delve into it. Oh, I wanted to, but, you see, there’s this thing called “life,” and man, it can get in the way of quite a lot! So, here I am, nearly fifty years after the fact, and I find myself having come full circle back to that long, wonderfully slow train ride through the Big Thicket. If there is a heaven, then there is a passenger train running through it, and on to undiscovered lands. Either there must be, or there is no such thing as heaven.

So, trains. As in all things, I never knew one nth the amount I wanted to. And consequently, some of my favorite books and movies have been about trains: The Great Train Robbery, Runaway Train, Throw Momma From the Train, Von Ryan’s Express, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the ubiquitous Murder on the Orient Express, to name a few.

With the publication of The Lone Star Express, I feel as though I may have painted myself into a rather lovely corner. While I hope it’s my absolute best, it makes the next book an even greater challenge. But then again, what would life be if there weren’t a few prominent obstacles along the path, huh?

In any case, be looking for Trinity Trio, the next Bill Travis installment, in the coming months, followed quickly by Buffalo Bayou Blues. How’s that for titles?

I suppose that’s it, for now. I hope to see you soon. In the meantime…

All my best to you and yours.

George Wier
Austin, Texas
June 9, 2016

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!

12248176_1073231469353843_7359315726901016386_o

 

Here’s the first chapter of COLD RAINS:

[ 1 ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hooked a thumb in Bud’s direction.

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

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

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

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

“What’s your name?” Bud asked him.

“Erran. Erran Sossvile.”

“How much is the bond?”

“Two hundred fifty-thousand.”

Bud whistled. “When’s her trial?”

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

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

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

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

Erran Sossville nodded.

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

“Why?” Sossville asked.

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

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

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

“Shit,” Sossville said. “Okay.”

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss Sossville?” he asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Attempted murder. Quarter million.”

“Drug screen?”

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

“Priors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sure. You’re coming home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not this man.

 

 

[ 2 ]

Well, maybe this man, too.

 

 

Get Cold Rains here.