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Quentin’s Escape

A 1940s Mystery-Romance


David H Fears

Copyright 2018


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Discover other titles by David H Fears:


Quentin & Mattie (book one)

20 Mike Angel Hardboiled Mystery-historical novels

2 Mike Angel Audiobooks

44 Collected Short Stories

Treehouse Tales

Self-Edit Your Novel


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It is a fictional account of real events and persons (see Author’s Notes in back.) This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This book is one of historical fiction using many real persons places and events woven around a fictional plot from the author’s imagination.









To Kimberley


No Matter What


Chapter 1


Mattie died the day the war ended, VJ day — the beginning of my war with sorrow, loneliness and loss.

I never went back to shipyard duty. Motivation for Uncle Sam died with Mattie. I wanted to put everything in my rear view mirror.

For the next month I lived on booze and flashes of scenes and scents of Mattie. I slid slowly into despondency and depression.

Our joyful years ended with a head on accident on Barbur Boulevard south of Portland. Mattie and I met at Oregon shipyards shortly after Pearl Harbor, a bustling successful yard cranking out warships by the dozen. I was spared being drafted due to my critical expertise cutting and beveling keel plates for sub chasers and mine sweepers.

Smitten at 25 I was totally devoted to a cute gal with moxie and eternal rose-colored glasses about life. Death was rarely mentioned unless it was about all the boys coming home in pine boxes. I felt guilt for staying behind, but Mattie helped me with that, as she did any problem or doubt I had.

We shared exactly 36 months of joy and marital bliss. Mattie’s voice continued to haunt me in early hours leaking through my depression. At times I imagined she was really with me, or her spirit was. On loan from the angels. Her optimism whispered thanks for those 36 months. Most men aren’t so very blessed. Her thoughts were mine, or so it seemed. She was gone yet with me. If I was going nuts I didn’t much care.

I’d never known such pain. I wanted to run from its grip, escape even as I knew it would be futile. Just where to run off to was a big blank question. Maybe simply to run would be my answer. I started calling the urge Quentin’s escape.

§§§


I set out eastward in a beat up brown ’37 Buick not knowing where I might land. Not caring. I ran to leave the pain behind, pain that came from remembering those years: Kaiser ship yard years, Commercial Iron Works years. My body wanted rest from backbreaking fourteen hour days pushing out Victory ships until I could do it in my sleep, if I could sleep at all. Like Scrooge I was haunted by times past, all those memories and hopes cut short pressing down the future. Hopes of children with Mattie, a long and good marriage to the world’s best woman. I felt cheated. All I could do was run.

I ran from the lilt of Mattie’s laughter, her now unwelcome optimism, the way she always nudged me to be a better man. I ran from the memory of her funeral and my sobs at her gravesite. I’d visited her grave with flowers every day but knew she wasn’t there; she was inside me and always would be. I talked to her at night as I paced, asking how to go on, fighting the pull to give up. She wouldn’t like me to give up. Gone but still nudging me.

So I left the big wet city of Portland. Never wanted to go back. No one who mattered was in Portland.

I drove and drove. Late summer. Dry. Out to the desert country of Eastern Oregon, hills of dull pastels, so unlike the lush green of the Willamette Valley. Beyond The Dalles the drive was mind-numbing flat, parched brown.

Fatigue caught me outside of Pendleton. I took the exit and wandered till I found a hole-in-the-wall bar where cool smooth scotch relaxed me. I took a fifth to go and checked into a motel. I stood staring at drab scrub, shifting shades in the sunset. Just like my heart — nothing alive, nothing notable.

When I’d been with Mattie I stayed tuned to what she wanted, even liking that challenge of becoming a good husband. If Mattie’s happy, I reminded myself, I’m happy. It wasn’t always true. But I thought at the time it should be true and insisted on trying to make it true, and it was, most of the time. Three years wasn’t enough to perfect that approach. At times I was selfish; they were like thorns in my memory. I shook my head sadly in the small room. She wanted me to become a cop, said my talents could be well used in that role. As an unlicensed private eye I’d been lucky. So I crammed for the patrolman’s exam and she helped enthusiastically. Living up to Mattie’s ambition was my goal: if Mattie’s happy, I’m happy. I admittedly took pride in digging up evidence, on making judgments on what was really there, both in my old case in Wyoming and the missing heirloom quest for a stolen rare stamp, so I went along. Still, I lived with the feeling that no matter what I did I couldn’t keep Mattie happy forever. Marriage might be till death do us part, but it also might die of boredom, a possibility which frightened me.

“You’re a fake, Quentin” I said out loud . . . .When you start talking to yourself . . . .

I smiled and chugged scotch straight from the bottle. My image looked strange in the full-length mirror on the wall beside the bed. I lifted the fifth at the mirror. Get a grip, Quentin. Booze isn’t the answer. It’s only another problem.


§§§


Past Pendleton up Cabbage Hill I pulled over and took in the pine-scented air, the cold dark green of the evergreens, the easy glimmer of white light leaking through dark vapors working overhead, suggesting a downpour afoot. The smell of approaching rain was in the air.

I often pulled over and let cars go around. I watched each car headed to loved ones, life with a purpose. I envied them. Even resented them. How could they be alive when she was not? I got out every so often and drank in the serenity of the mountain woods.

A fawn-colored buck with huge rack towered on a high outcropping and eyed me with regal challenge as if I had no right to invade his world. I was fifty feet from him, watching him snort and paw the ground until lead-colored drops as big as quarters splattered on my shoulders. He didn’t seem to mind. Why should I?

I got back in my beater and went on my way, continuing east toward Baker City. I planned to stop there for the night. With the approaching tempest the sky grew purple. Blue-green pines bent stubbornly against the wind. Over a ridge the horny backbones of mountains rested under a line of distant yellow. Light at the end of my grief? What a fool I am. Keep going east. Don’t look back.

No rush. No plans. Drive to New York then keep going to Ireland where my ancestors fought famine for decades only to give it up and head west. Irony.

Mattie’s mother passed over a year back and Mattie’s last days were spent selling the Andrews house and taking care of a lifetime of possessions, things that became a millstone around our necks. When the final truckload of goods was hauled off to the Salvation Army, we celebrated on the patio of our tiny bungalow in Sellwood on the east side of the Willamette. We’d rented the place furnished. When I was left alone I didn’t have to worry about selling anything. I couldn’t stand another night in that house.

Highway 80N is a boring flat reach to Pendleton, then up into the mountains to Baker City, named after the only U.S. Senator ever killed in combat. Mattie and I made the trip to Boise one fall, and learned about Senator Edward Baker. He was killed at the battle of Ball’s Bluff in the Civil War. From Baker to Boise, cute little Mattie joked about those Union boys bluffing with their balls. I felt her laughter in my pain.

As I pulled into Baker and gassed up, I remembered her many little whimsies, which we giggled at for a hundred miles.

Why can’t I leave those bittersweet pictures behind with all the rest?

There will never be another Mattie Andrews.


§§§


I pushed on out of Baker City.

It was dusk when I pulled into Nyssa, a little town near the Idaho border. The thick odor of ripe onion fields flooded through the windows, stirring my appetite. I realized I’d had nothing to eat since morning.

I parked on the main drag where cars angle-parked. The yellow-front Thunderegg Café with navy blue awning was nearly full, farm folks, old timers, a few teens. Wondrous invitations to my nose met me ten feet from the door.

Breakfast burritos were on the special menu, even this late in the day: Chorizo, bacon, sausage. I downed four of them at the counter before looking around at the patrons. Everyone inside was in a really good mood, laughing and smiling and nodding to each other. Didn’t they know Mattie was gone?

One rusty cowpoke nodded my way and gave me a thumbs up. Pastries, of every sort sat under glass near my seat, and I downed two bear claws and a tall glass of OJ.

A grizzled duffer took the stool next to me.

“I do enjoy watching a man with an appetite,” he drawled.

I looked in his rheumy eyes and noted deep sun-made wrinkles, a face aged by the sun. I didn’t say anything.

He wore tired Lee overalls repaired with different colored threads and chewed holes that had been ignored. His breathing was like a leaky radiator.

“They call me Gus Hooligan,” he said, extending a twisted paw my way. “Augustus by birth but Gus is a heap friendlier.”

He had a grip like my old crane at Commercial Iron works.

“Gotta name?”

I looked at his face with friendly stamped all over it.

“Q. That’s what they call me.”

“Q.”

“Yep.”

“Short for?”

“The alphabet letter.”

He nodded with a serious look as if I’d revealed a top secret.

“Saw your jalopy pull up. ’37 Buick.”

I nodded.

“Staying in town long or in a rush to get to Idaho?”

I didn’t say anything.

“If’n I be bugging you Q, I’ll skedaddle.”

I shook my head. “No problem.”

He motioned to the waitress and she filled his coffee cup, kissing his thankful expression with a smile that would melt an igloo.

“Know her?” I pointed at the escaping waitress with my chin.

“Betty? Everyone knows Betty, best thunderegg hunter in the valley.”

His expression stayed serious.

“I’ll bite. What’s a thunderegg?”

He stuck a bony finger at a shelf behind the counter where a row of cut rocks the size of baseballs sparkled. “Them’s thundereggs, so called. Some valuable. The valley’s thick with ‘em. We have a great hunt once a year in October. Winner gets cash. I just watch. Lumbago keeps me lame. Can’t scramble over hill and dale, so to speak.”

I stared into my disappearing glass of OJ and pictured locals scrambling about for the round stones that were drab brown or black on the outside with sparkling treasure once cut open. Some folks I’d known were like that. Some folks. Mattie for sure, though only drab in her shipyard duds which is how I first saw her. At first I didn’t notice her gender, the way she hid in crusty work clothes, hair bundled under a cap, face smudged. A living thunderegg.

My epiphany came when she invited me to the giant Andrews house up on Vista Drive and boy howdy — did I notice her gender then. Mattie sparkled. She would have laughed at the idea of her being like one of those magic rocks.

When would I let go? stop remembering things about her? Something about this old timer suggested I ask him my question. But he interrupted.

“You didn’t answer — staying in town long?”

I shrugged.

“Depends.”

“Forgive me son, I’m naturally curious. Depends on what? A woman?”

“No woman,” I said softly.

“Forgive me, but a strapping six foot buck like you there’s always a woman. If not, then what?”

He cradled his coffee cup in both hands in front of his mouth. Wisps of steam rose against his face. He took a long sip and put the cup on the counter, turned halfway and bore into me with deep gray eyes. “Depends?”

I said it without realizing what I was saying: “On what you tell me about the town.”

He pulled back and gave me a long stare. I guessed he hadn’t expected that answer. Little did he know I hadn’t expected it either.

“You gonna finish that cinnamon roll? There’s thirty million starving Chinese who’d kill for it.”

“You Chinese Gus?”

“Irish, and damned proud of it. Seems like every genration has it’s own starving country — now it’s China, then it was Ethiopia. God’s curse, I reckon.”

“Then you’re the lucky salvager of my cinnamon roll.”

He stuffed it in his mouth and put a look of ecstasy on, washed it down with jo.

“If’n you take me over to Adrian and buy me some hooch at the Sunset bar, I’ll spill my brain about all things Nyssa. Better yet, haul me to my trailer and crack open some great aged Irish whiskey.”

I nodded and paid my tab and we walked out under a pale green sky that still glowed on the horizon. A quick detour wouldn’t hurt my escape. Maybe I’d find Nyssa to be an ideal hideaway from grief.

Chapter 2


Gus’s bony finger directed us over dusty goat tracks into hills away from town. We came to a level lookout. A rusty single-wide trailer slumped in tall grass. Chickens were pecking around the gravel yard and a calico cat jumped on a fencepost at our arrival to get a better view of us. Two small wooden barrels sat next to a table made from an old wire spool shaded by a giant umbrella rigged into the middle of the spool. The material of the umbrella was thin pink muslin which afforded sunlight to seep through.

The air was clean but dry with a light breeze out of the south. No onion fields here. Nothing but bare brown hills as far as the eye could see. The place was sun-baked and looked like no one lived there.

Gus pointed me to one of the barrel seats and said he’d bring out some liquor he’d been saving for a special event. A guest was special enough, he said with pride.

The calico hopped from the fencepost, sauntered over sniffed my boots and hopped up on the table. She squinted, licked my outstretched fingers and purred loudly. I scratched behind her ears and told her I was Q.

“Sophie loves men,” Gus said, bringing two shot glasses and a cut glass decanter with honey-colored liquid.

“Murphy’s,” he said, proudly. “Impossible to get since before the war.”

We sat sipping and listened to crickets playing in tall grass around the trailer.

Sophie flopped on the table top and sniffed at the liquor, backing off as if shot.

“She keeps the chickens close to home,” Gus said. “And my best friend. I think she knows her name and what I’m thinking at times.”

I nodded and scratched her again. A mind reading cat is a good thing.

Gus downed his shot and I sipped mine. He poured himself another.

“Mighty good whiskey,” he said. “Headed somewhere particular?”

I searched the horizon where a fading glow was barely alive on the hills now. I didn’t have an answer. Somewhere particular? Away, is all. Away from grief and loss of Mattie. Away from three wonderful years that were now heavy with remorse. What was I running to? Didn’t care. No sense in spilling my gut to a broken down prospector or whatever he was.

I shook my head and drained my shot. Gus poured another. It went down smooth and surprisingly so. I rarely drank hard stuff but in this setting I liked the way it warmed and pushed away lonely feelings.

“If’n that’s so, why not stick around Nyssa for a spell. You can always pack up and scoot should you feel so. Folks is mighty friendly in these parts. Hard working. They don’t judge a man afore they get to know his innards, if you catch.”

The idea struck me as a good one. Besides, I was already tired of driving.

“Maybe I will.”

“You’re non-committal, ain’t you Q?”

I said nothing.

“Might be you need work? A man can’t run on dreams out here. With your physique you can tolerate hard work, I’d say. Hush me if’n you want me to mind my own bidness.”

“Work, sure.”

“Tell me about yourself. What sort of jobs you been doin’. I may be able to point you in a die-rection.”

“Since early ’42 worked in Kaiser’s shipyards. Cutting and beveling keel plates. Kept me out of the draft.”

“That’s real fine. You ship builders deserve as much credit as them boys what fought on front lines. We beat them filthy Japs by outbuilding and sinking all the boats they could launch. You shipyard jocks may not have been the point of the spear but without a shaft the spear’s just another knife. I read once where you built one of them liberty buckets in ten days. Wonder of wonder. How’d you do it?”

Even out here near the Idaho border in dusty towns and wide places in the road they listened to the radio, read newspapers.

I didn’t want to talk.

How did we do it? Busted ass on 18 hour days, seven a week. I downed the shot and poured another.

Gus caught on that I didn’t want to talk about shipyard days. No way I could without thinking of Mattie working the station along side of me.

“You do any other line of work?”

“Some detective stuff. Strictly amateur, though I did graduate a crime fighting class and passed a test to become a patrolman.”

I could still hear Mattie nudging me to take the test and feel her naked body next to me as a reward for becoming a cop. I applied with the Portland force two days before losing Mattie. If I’d been accepted I never learned.

“George Ledbetter be the chief cop hereabouts. His two man force is about to become one man, with the exit of Chester Goode, who’s off to prospect in Alaska. Even with skinny cop experience, I know George’d be grateful if’n you stopped by and met him. Good man, George. Goes out of his way and out of the town as far as Vista on cases.”

“Much crime here?”

“Not much. Rustling now and then. Drunk disorderly shooting up things. Injuns running wild.”

“Murder?”

“Not since I arrived in ’27. Though a few jaspers sure itchin’ fer it.”

I downed the liquor and pushed the bottle his way. “Don’t let me drink all your special booze.”

“No matter. How about it — stop and see Ledbetter?”

“I’ll think on it.”

Darkness fell fast now. A cold north breeze roiled over the hills. I stood and shook his hand.

“Got a place to sleep?”

I thumbed at the Buick. “Back seat’s roomy.”

“Western Hotel in town’s clean and cheap. A bed will cost you but two bucks. I’d offer you a bunk in my trailer but she’s a one man pad. Course, you’re welcome to sleep here in your Buick. I can offer happy eggs and bacon in the a.m. and point you back to the law’s office.”

“Thanks.”

Gus put a fire in a pit near the table and we sat listening to coyotes sing until the fire was a few embers. With the first howl Sophie scurried into the trailer.

We didn’t speak much. Gus insisted we polish off the Murphy’s. I didn’t argue. I revisited a trip to the coast with Mattie where we piled driftwood into a huge bonfire and huddled under a blanket making love until dawn. Nothing could ever happen worse than her leaving. I’d suffered a few shooting pangs of anger at her leaving me, though God knows she never wanted to. That’s the way death strikes some people and I wasn’t immune. I don’t remember stumbling to my Buick and falling into the back seat with blanket and pillow. I left one window down.

In dawn’s early light I felt a feather touch my cheek. I opened one eye to see the calico perched on the seat squinting hard my way. A furry alarm clock. What with coyotes around the place Gus was lucky his cat knew how to hide in the trailer. At first light she was up and out. Maybe a stranger was more interesting than chickens. I felt her cold wet nose. She flopped against my chest and turned her motor on. I fell back asleep.

Sometime in the night something stirred me and I strained to hear what it might have been. Mattie’s whisper came into my brain nudging me to see the town sheriff.

“Sure,” I said out loud, and fell back to sleep.

I didn’t wake until Gus rapped on the window holding a skillet full of breakfast. Sophie was gone.

Chapter 3


My appetite was muscular; two helpings of everything. Gus sat sipping coffee out of a huge yellow cracked mug missing a handle. Wisdom rested on his face I hadn’t noticed before. He held a faint smile, clearly enjoying the way I fed my face.

“Soon as you’re ready, I’ll direct you back into town to George’s office. That is, if’n you’re up to it. I’m not one to rush guests off.”

“I’m up to it.”

On the way to town Gus gave a running commentary on the town and the surrounding area. Located on the Snake River in Oregon but in Mountain Time zone, Nyssa had a mite fewer than two thousand souls, he said. The area was called Treasure Valley, but he had no clue about any treasure ever being found there. The land seemed fresh though mostly brownish, not like the Willamette Valley where I’d spent the war years.

Highway 20 turned in town to Main, traveled past a simple grid of numbered streets to cross the Snake. Gus directed me to pull up on Main and 3rd in front of a squat brick building that sat baking in the early sun. Just past nine the air was already beginning to stifle.

I hadn’t noticed the stiff-legged hitch in Gus’s walk before. I wondered if he was a vet, though I guessed too old for the last war and maybe too young for the first.

He led me into the building where cold air buzzed from a ratty air conditioner. A petite elderly woman with gray hair wrapped loosely in a bun on top of her head, cowboy blouse and bleached blue jeans, was filing paper in a cabinet next to the wall. She was somewhere south of five feet, nature had made her just right.

She hollered out a howdee sounding exactly like Minnie Pearl.

“Howdy Jean,” Gus said. “I’ve got a feller who wants to meet the Chief.”

She smiled and pointed at a closed door with bubble glass and simple letters of POLICE CHIEF. “He’s reading the newspaper but ain’t busy. I know he’d like to see you Gus. Always would. How’s Sophie?”

“She’s become a right good chicken rounder upper. I thank you again for letting me adopt her. She’s a real pal, smartest cat I ever did see.”

The woman tapped on the door and leaned a shoulder inside. She spoke in low tones and popped back out and beamed, pushing the door open wide. “Go right in.”

Chief Ledbetter rose from a hardback swivel chair behind a desk big enough to play ping pong on, a desk without paper or files. Over the desk a few framed photographs and a small trophy of a woman perched to dive. Clearly not a trophy he’d won. On the wall next to his desk a framed script: “All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.” A philosopher?

He was a big man, somewhat full under the chin with a barrel chest.

He gripped my hand with hard wrangler-like fingers. Introductions were made and Gus dropped the fact that I was open for work, what with a passing grade for a Portland patrolman in my pocket.

“Is that so? Tell me about your work experience. Q, is it? Short for Quentin, I expect.” He showed perfect white teeth, likely not his own. His hair was bluish white in places and cream-colored on top. His eyebrows were bushy black, like two caterpillars.

“Folks just call me Q.”

I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of my work history. When he wanted to know of any police experience I hesitated but related the double murder I’d solved in Thermopolis, Wyoming while in the Three C camp there, well before the war. I also mentioned the missing stamp case and coming across two bodies while looking for it. He perked up at that and asked several pointed questions. Then he came to the one that stabbed me good.

“Passing that exam, that big city police exam, isn’t something you can fake your way through. Why, if you went to all that trouble, did you leave town?”

I looked at Gus who was lighting a small cigar. He nodded encouragement to my hesitation.

“My wife Mattie urged and cajoled me to study and take that test,” I said. “Thought I’d be natural detective. After working my way up, she said.”

George looked at Gus, waiting for me to say more.

“You think her reckoning about you on the mark?”

I noticed the Chief was quite red in the face; a raw and baby-buttocks face. Perhaps fifty pounds overweight, he was in late middle age, maybe 55 or so. His dark blue eyes seemed to look right through me. His eyebrows danced when he talked. Altogether an imposing but kind face that seemed on the edge of humor.

I never cared for job interviews and this was feeling like one. What the heck, I thought, I’m just passing through anyway and came to honor Gus’s hospitality.

I shrugged.

“Your wife with you?”

I looked at my hands, realizing I was gripping my trousers hard. I let loose and said, without looking up. “No. She died in a head on. VJ day.”

“I see,” is all George said.

The room was heavily silent. A buzzing air conditioner, a ticking wall clock, a bad muffler coughing by on the street and Gus puffing on his cigar injected pregnancy to the moment.

“So you decided to leave the big city behind and maybe find work in these parts?”

“No real plans, sir. Just met Gus and he’s showing me around.”

The Chief tapped a pencil on the edge of his desk and pulled a file from his drawer. “You have evidence of passing the test?”

I opened my wallet and pulled the pocket card with test results out and handed it over.

“You seem too good to be true son. Tall, strong — by the looks of you — a real presence. This says you got a perfect score. Not much around Nyssa that’s perfect. We could always use some perfection. How old are you, son, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“28 sir.”

“Tell you what. You’ve come at the right time. Just last week, my deputy, my only deputy — we’re a two-man office — gave notice. Thinks he and his cousin can strike it rich in the Yukon. So I have an opening. It’d be best if you could shadow the boy on his last few rounds.”

I thought about it. The Chief laid back relaxed in his squeaking chair. George leaned forward. What the heck, I thought. Why not?

“I’d be open,” I said, clearing my throat.

Gus smiled and leaned back. He tamped out his cigar in a brass tray at the edge of Ledbetter’s desk. The Chief nodded.

“Come by tomorrow at ten. I don’t start too early unless a situation demands. Lately things have been pretty quiet. You might be bored here after tripping over bodies in the big metropolis. Think you’ll be bored, son?”

I smiled and pulled at my chin.

“Can’t say.”

“You’re a man of few words, Q.”

“Yes.”

“I like a man of few words. Most folks waste far too many. Few is good if they’re the right ones. You strike me as worth a chance. Even in a small town like Nyssa, a lawman has to be beyond suspicion. They say like Caesar’s wife.”

“Yessir.”

He stood, reached and I took his hand. As I moved to the door the Chief called to my back: “One more thing. I’ll have to check with Portland. You don’t have a criminal record, do you?”

“No sir.”

At the car Gus patted me on the back and said, “You won’t be sorry. George is a good man to work for. Now let’s head to the Western Hotel. You can get a room cheap. Sleeping in your back seat on my hill isn’t ideal. Even if Sophie likes it.”


Chapter 4


The next day Jean got me set up with a snazzy deputy outfit and handed me a Colt .45 pistol.

“I’ve got my own weapon, thanks. Short-barreled Smith & Wesson .38”

“The Colt goes with the job, Quentin. No law says you can’t be a two-gun threat.”

Her motherly smile made things feel right. I took the Colt.

Deputy Chester Goode was nothing like I’d imagined. Ramrod tall and gaunt at over six feet, he could have been a convincing body double for the movie star Jimmy Stewart, though not as all-American looking. He was ill formed with a snake-like neck from exposure to the sun. He roared up in a Jeep so layered with dust that the paint color was doubtful. His face was young yet old, if that makes any sense.

We shook hands and he took a clipboard from Jean inside, gave it a glance and grunted. “Luis is on a bender again. Same ol’.”

I rode shotgun in Chester’s Jeep wondering who Luis was and why we were out to see him. No need to ask. I’d find out soon enough.

We hadn’t exchanged a dozen words when he slowed to take a gravel road that wound up the hills. “You know those days when you get the nasty reds?” he said, like we’d been in a deep conversation for an hour.

I glanced over. No sign of mirth on him.

“Like the blues?” I said.

“Nothing like blues. The blues come when your dog dies, your girl leaves you for another man and life seems over and you hate winter weather and regrets push your head around when you wake up with things you regret not doing. Nothing like the blues. Nasty reds, or just simply reds — bring fear and sweat and anxiety like something’s going to happen you’re afraid of. Something bad ceptin’ you have no clue what it is. Fear of the unknown perched on your bedpost. Ever had that feeling?”

To me since Mattie died it was blues and reds all mixed up, hopping back and forth from one to the other.

“Sure. Isn’t reds same as dread?”

“I reckon. More like angst. What does a feller do about it?”

I thought the word angst was a peculiar one for a country lawman to use.

“Had some of Gus’s special liquor. Seemed to help.”

He laughed, showing even white teeth anyone would be envious of. Sparklers, Mattie called chompers like those. “Tried strong drink. No effect. Aspirin, Vitamins. Jean our sweet office lady claims MaryJane beats the reds, though I don’t think she does reefers. With our Mex population there’s pot around, so it wouldn’t throw me if she does. A few locals even grow their own. We pretty much ignore it.”

“I noticed Mexicans at the Thunderegg yesterday. Happy bunch.”

Chester stared at me so long I worried he’d drive off the road.

“Chief told me about your loss. This country’s clean, good place for a new start. Good folks. You won’t be sorry. And Chief’s a good man to work with.”


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