The New Hire

mechanic at work

“Miz Wilson, I’m towin’ in a Silverado. Engine job, pro’bly. Head gaskit.”

“Umm, b-but Dy, It’s…umm, well, but…”

“I gotta so-lution, Miz Wilson. Jus’ hold on.” Dysart hung up.

Solution? Like as in cleaning solution? Toné pressed sweaty palms to her aching temples. That morning the shop had been a hate speech billboard. Now half of Firewood wanted their cars serviced. Where was this sudden glut of business coming from? It was the middle of a hotter-than-hell Texas summer. Normally trade went as dormant as the people by the end of June. How would she find time to check out potential techs? Could she manage engine jobs fast enough to turn a profit?

As Toné trotted into the shop, phone in hand, it rang again. Caleb had shrugged into his uniform shirt. The Caprice levitated slowly on the whining lift.

“Oak Tree Motors, Toné Wilson speaking.”

“You workin’ on diesels now?” a gruff voice demanded.

“One minute, please, can I put you on hold, sir?”

Clamping her hand around the mouthpiece, Toné stage whispered, “Caleb!

He ambled over.

“Diesels…c-can you fix them?”

“What kind?” Caleb said.

“Thank you for holding, sir. What kind of diesel?”

“Ford F-three-fifty and a John Dere forty-three twenty.”

“One minute, sir.” Toné covered the phone again and told Caleb.

“Sign him up,” Caleb replied.

“But that’s a big unit…and I’ve never seen you under a diesel…I…I thought you didn’t work on those, Caleb.”

Big Tomato, Dysart’s tow truck, clattered up, both cherry-red doors popped open.

“Ain’t gonna. Can’t.” Caleb hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “But he can.”

“Who’s he?”

“Dysart’s bringin’ him.”

Shaking her head, Toné made the appointment, the rancher telling her he’d trailer in the Dere with the 350 the next day at one. She turned to see the man Caleb and Dysart thought could save the shop.

If rotund Dysart August was a Russian nesting doll, the man slouching along beside him was the little one you found in the center, no taller than Clarence and, as far Toné could tell despite baggy frayed shirt and jeans, skinnier. His clothes were faded to indeterminate colors. Lank dark blond hair fell over most of his forehead diagonally from a side part. He needed a shave. He really needed a haircut. White strings draggled where his jean hems dragged the ground. He had a toothpick wedged in the corner of his thin-lipped mouth. His shirt had the sleeves ripped off. No one would take a bet he didn’t live in a trailer. Dysart had driven him over. Did he even have a car?

Grabbing his two front incisors with a grubby thumb and index finger, he tilted his head. Ice blue eyes inventoried Toné at sternum level and moved upwards. “Yer kinda cute f’a nee-gro Boss Lady,” he finally commented in a light voice with a drawl thicker than oil sludge. “Yup, yew’s cuter than everah one sez. Ah’m Ralph Edgah Chollett, an’ Ah’m th’ bes’ wrench in Rockne Countah. Ah’m fas’, too.” He folded sinewy arms, and Toné saw he had a Camaro with a Holley four-barrel emerging from a circle of flames tattooed on one, a naked woman with her hands on her knees looking back over one shoulder on the other.

No way had this pint-sized country boy seen through her uniform shirt. But it felt like he had. Should she ask him her bra color or eye color? Toné decided to give Mister Chollett a pass due to their height differential. Thank the Lord he couldn’t see her blushing.

“Je-sus, Chollett,” Caleb objected. “That ain’t no kinda way to start a job interview!”

The little redneck confronted the big biker. “Ah, hell, Cartwright, quit yer bitchin’. Ah sez she’s cute, Ah mean she’s damn cute.” He turned back to Toné, pale eyes bright with curiosity. “Ain’t none a’ these fools tol’ yew that? Wat’s wrong wid ‘em? Ain’t they got no mah-nahs? Want meh ta whoop ‘em fer ya?”

Toné tried to wipe some of the sweat off her face with her hand. She closed her eyes to block out the sight of him. “Oh Lord,” she muttered.

“Ralphie,” admonished Dysart in his thick voice. “This is why yew keep gittin’ fired.”

She had to stare. “M-Mister Chollett,” Toné faltered. “You been fired? Um…a lot?”

Ralph twitched hair out of his eyes. “If Ah hadn’t, woudn’t be axin’ fer no job, Boss Lady. How bad yew behin’?”

“Six jobs. And…then this 350 with a tractor…”

“Lew Schmidt’s. Y’know wat? His bark worse ‘n’ his bite. Pro’bly called ‘cuz he knowed Ah’m gonna be wrenchin’ ovah heah. Bin fixin’ ‘is rigs f’yeahs.”

“Is that why…but…” Toné ground to a halt. “Didn’t you used to work at Double A?”

Scratching his armpit, Ralph said, “Sure thang. But Ah got real tired a’ Julio wreckin’ Bono’s biddness. Sumpthin’s real outta kilter ovah theah. One day Bono axe meh ta change th’ vin onna Explorer. Thas’ chop shop shit. Dang. ‘Scuse mah French, Boss Lady. Anyhoo, tol’ him ta kiss mah damn ass rat in th’ centah stripe, packed mah tools, an’ lef’. Oops. Might shouda not said that, neitha.”

Toné quieted down her thoughts. What would Frank ask this compact but unkempt character? “What would you do if I told you to replace the cat on an oh nine Caddy and invoice the customer for the part?”

“Thas’ wha-run’tee werk. Ah doan’ do that kinda shi…ah stuff. Damn, Boss Lady, thas’ jus’stealin’.”

“Charging full pop for aftermarket parts?”

“Dang.” Ralph jammed his hands in his pockets. “Yew testin’ meh.” His lighting-colored eyes narrowed to make room for a grin that took over his sharp-featured face. “Ah likes yew.”

Showdown at the Hoedown

Image result for barfight

Donny Elding was getting drunk and angry, all at the same time. Dougherty’s was getting more packed by the minute, a ruby sunset providing scant relief from the heat. A breeze like a boiled dishrag wandered through the open-sided dance hall on the hill, a few stars glimmered. Beyond the concrete dance floor, desiccated Bermuda grass crunched under foot where there wasn’t bare dirt. People were drinking hard. Bad-luck complaints soured the atmosphere. The local economy was as moribund as the drought-stressed prairie.

Everything was conspiring to piss Donny off. First, there was that black girl. Her kind wasn’t supposed to frequent a cowboy venue in the middle of rural Texas, but there she was, dancing belly to belly with a powerfully built man topped by a spotless white Stetson. Lenny bent Donny’s ear that the man was a Texas Ranger, but Donny could see that—the arrogance, the ’This one’s mine’ attitude.

When he first spotted them, Donny had wondered if the girl would rat him out about the last time they’d both been there. After grabbing her purse, he’d been crowding her toward his truck on the unlit slope of the hill on a night as torrid as this one. Huge hands had closed around his neck, the body pillar of his truck had expanded fast in his vision. The next thing Donny remembered was being on the ground with a hammering headache and a lump on his forehead. Whoever had sneaked him had no scruples about fighting dirty. Donny didn’t think it had been the big Ranger because (a) he hadn’t seen him there, and (b) cops just told you what to do and expected you to comply—the dirt bags.

Other malfeasance had restored Donny’s alpha status with his buddies, but he still brooded over the identity of his assailant. At over six feet, Donny figured the man must’ve been bigger and especially strong. He had a memory of his feet leaving the ground before his head slammed into the side of his truck. His neck had hurt for weeks.

“Hi Donny,” said a female voice.

The blond stood hipshot, looking up with a crooked smile, breasts almost leaping from her skin-tight tank top. She was his third cousin, one of the Linderman clan.

“What, Lisa Lee?”

“Gonna dance wid me?”

Donny considered this. For what he was interested in, she needed to be a few beers further from discretion. “Maybe later.”

“Well, hell,” came a light male voice from the crowd ringing the dance floor, “Ah’ll dance wid yew, Lisa Lee.”

Turning with a laugh, Lisa Lee considered the newcomer, blond head tilted to one side. “Ralphie, yew’s drunker ’n’ me.”

Jerking light brown hair from over one eye, Ralph grinned. “So wat? Ah kin still dance widout trompin’ yer cute ’lil toes.” Catching Lisa by the waist, Ralph twirled her into the throng of gyrating bodies with a rebel yell.

Donny bridled, watching the pair. Ralph was a head shorter, but swung Lisa Lee around like she was a lightweight (which she wasn’t). Little grease monkey.

“That Ralph Chollett’s jus’ ’Bama trash,” Lenny Hackett sneered from Donny’s other side, handing him a brew. “Yew gonna let him git away wid that?”

“No,” Donny grated.

Ralph monopolized Lisa Lee for a couple songs, buying her beer, laughing and joking, romping around the dance floor to work up more thirst. Donny noticed the black girl and the Ranger had left. Time to make his move. By then, Vern and Todd had joined the group, all of them bad-mouthing the slight mechanic from Alabama.

“Damn Cholletts,” Vern slurred. “I say we git ’im.”

Lenny, more practical, objected, “Y’know wat? We oughta find out who he come with. I didn’t see that yeller Camaro ’a his.”

“Probably broke agin,” Donny gloated.

The music ended. The band grabbed beers from amps or under chairs and trooped from the shallow stage. Donny shoved through the crowd like an icebreaker, enjoying it, his buddies in his wake. He was so focused on Ralph Chollett he forgot about mysterious big fellas. Until one blocked his path.

“Going somewhere, Donny?” His voice was as deep as he was large.

Looking up, Donny snapped, “Who the hell are you?”

“Nobody in particular.”

Nobody in particular must’ve been over six and a half feet and no beanpole. Donny wondered how he’d missed this oversized threat. Beneath brown hair cut very short, large light-colored eyes were shadowed by a heavy brow ridge. His nose had been broken, his bulging arms were cross-hatched with knife scars. He looked like a roughneck. He didn’t speak like one. Triangulating the large problem, Todd and Vern looked to Donny. Chugging the last of his beer, Donny wrapped a hand around the long-necked bottle. This could be the blindsider.

“Git th’ hell outta my way,” Donny told him.

Something in the big guy’s smile tripped a warning, but he said, “Sure,” and didn’t move for a second. With a long step, he wedged between Lenny and Todd and melted into the hot darkness beyond the picnic tables like a shark.

Shoving people aside, Donny yanked Lisa Lee away from Ralph by the arm. “Don’t hang ’round wid that trash.”

“Leggo a’ my arm!”

“Yah, Donny, do wat th’ lady sez,” Ralph seconded.

Donny slung Lisa Lee into the shorter man, but there were too many bodies crowded onto the dance floor for them to fall down. Instead, they bounced off a couple in Wranglers and pearl snap shirts.

“Hey, there!” the cowboy growled as people backed away. He shoved Ralph back at Donny, who tagged Ralph in the ear with a roundhouse right as Ralph was holding Lisa Lee up. Letting go, Lisa Lee shrieked like a tea kettle. Taking advantage of the clearing space, Lenny knocked Ralph the rest of the way to the concrete floor as Ralph tried to slug him back with too short a reach, arms a furious blur. Vern and Todd moved in to stomp him. Ralph scrambled to his feet, socked Todd in the collarbone. Donny bear hugged him from behind. Lenny jabbed Ralph in the mouth. Something silver and white flew out of Ralph’s face. A big figure loomed out of the crowd and kidney punched Lenny. With a yell, Lenny squared off to the unexpected problem only to have a fist the size of a Sunday ham buried into his middle. Spewing vomit, Lenny fell in it. Vern and Todd swung and kicked at the big man simultaneously. He hit them both at the same time, arms unfolding like thick whips. Throwing Ralph to the ground, Donny charged and got kicked in the chest. As he backpedaled, Ralph grabbed his leg and yanked. The six men fell or jumped into a twisting, kicking, punching dog-pile of bodies. A bottle shattered on concrete, rose and fell in an arc. Ralph bit more extremities than a hungry man at a turkey-leg booth. They rolled off the dance floor into the dirt. As three beefy bouncers pulled them apart, Donny slashed the tall man in the arm with his broken bottle. “Yew think you can blindside me?” he yelled.

“Did you?” asked the largest bouncer.

“Ask anybody,” said the tall man in his deep voice. “I came over when they started a four on one. Lousy odds.” He grasped his left biceps with his right hand. Blood seeped from between his thick fingers onto the dirt. He spoke like a radio announcer without a hint of accent. People’s heads rotated toward him.

“Anybody see this fella get hit from behind?”

A chorus of voices accused Donny of slugging Ralph Chollett first. Nobody had seen Donny get hit before that.

“You’re out,” said head bouncer to Donny and company. “All y’all. And don’t come back. You,” he looked to the tall man as Ralph was helped to his feet. “You gotta nice left jab. Go over to the bar and git somethin’ for them cuts.”

Ralph put a hand to his bloody mouth then dropped to his knees with a muttered curse. Patting the dirt, he crawled in circles.

“What’s the deal?” the second bouncer asked.

“Mah dang re-tainah. It got knocked clean outta mah mouth,” Ralph said.

The big man gestured the crowd to back up. He knelt in a patch of dry grass, hands questing. “Got it.”

Ralph took the retainer, stuck it in his face, shook his head, took it out and bent the wires. Stuck it back in. Now he had a full set of teeth. “Thanks, boss.”

“Don’t mention it.” The big man gave Ralph a hand up.

“Yer bleedin’ like a stuck pig,” Lisa Lee exclaimed.

Blood dripped from a horizontal wound on the big man’s leg. Someone brought a bar towel, he tied it around his thigh. Ralph took the grubby bandanna from his neck and tied it around the big man’s arm. “Doan’ think yew need stitches, boss, but yew might shoud git some Band-Aids.”

A wide man in biker black with a pony tail emerged from the crowd and said in a gravelly voice, “Couldn’t y’all keep outta trouble while I was takin’ a leak?” He took a step toward Donny, who glowered. “Figures you’d start somethin’ when I was gone. You gotta short memory—”

Before he lost any more face, Donny interrupted, “Eff yew, Cartwright.”

No expression showed on Caleb Cartwright’s acne-scarred features as two bouncers blocked him from Donny. “Git your pussy ass down that hill or I’ll kick it to th’ highway,” the biker said, his heavy voice flat with promise. “Damn,” he objected to the bouncers as Donny stomped off with his limping crew, “you let them back in, Travis, they’ll pull this shit again. Like last time.”

“Okay, okay.” Travis the bouncer gave Caleb the biker a warning look which had no effect whatsoever. He turned to the tall man. “Did I hear you right, Ralph works for you?”

“He does. As does Caleb.”

“Wrenchin’?”

“At my shop.”

Travis shook his head in wonderment. “In the same place? An’ they’re not fightin’ each other?”

“They get along nicely. Just like an old married couple.”

The crowd howled with laughter. A lot of them had seen Ralph and Caleb go at it a few times. The fact that Ralph mostly lost hadn’t deterred him at all.

“Dang meh, boss,” the short mechanic blurted with a hurt look.

“I owe you one, Frank,” threatened Caleb.

Frank Eckhart gave the biker a smile that lowered the air temperature. “Sure, Cartwright. Anytime. I’ll see you two on Monday, I’ve got a ride. Evening, everyone.” He strode off into the night.

Frank’s departure left a conversational void. People looked at each other.

Ralph tapped Caleb on the arm, “But he rode ovah wid us! Wat’s he up to?”

Giving Ralph a hairy eyeball, the biker said, “Can’t say, there’s ladies listenin’. Do I gotta draw a picture?”

People moved away, laughing and talking. The musicians swung into “Amarillo by Morning” in three-part harmony.

“Yew really work f’ dat big fella?” Lisa Lee asked Ralph.

The short mechanic wiped some blood off his face. “Yup. Let’s dance s’more. Hey Caleb, git meh a brew.”

“Blow yourself,” said Caleb, heading toward the bar.

The Dream

texastroublebooks

nightmare road b n w

FRIDAY, JULY 3

excerpt from book II:  “Trouble in Rockne County”

He couldn’t figure out why his stride was so long and why his legs felt articulated and awkward. The dusty uneven ground, like the skin of a giant, was full of small imperfections, but he moved from one step to another without a stumble, in total darkness, too buoyant, not knowing why. Heat emanated from the earth, the air, yet he felt no cooling sweat, he was neither cold nor hot. Soon, he intersected a dirt road, sided by creosote-soaked power poles, and turned down it. At first he didn’t know what had drawn him, then he heard and felt slight vibrations from the ground, like the patter of rain on dry leaves.

At that point he also noticed his vision was beyond the spectrum, he could see heat and cold, the electro-magnetic emanations from the power lines…

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The Haunting of Firewood Texas

texastroublebooks

ghost in the backyard

Excerpt from Book III: Trouble at Langtree Bakery

After laboring over an email to his brother in Afghanistan, Ken decided that, if writing wasn’t such a chore, he could write a book or a blog or something. He’d thought nothing could be crazier than being a uniform cop in the Montrose area of Houston. Enter Firewood, Texas. Ralph Chollett’s fiancée, Brandy Sue Bingham and Maria Gonzales were running the bakery. No one in town had seen the owner, Sybil Langtree since the invasion robbery, though it was whispered she was out of county with family. Since Langtrees were one of the origanal Anglo families to receive local land grants, this evoked a hurricane of whispering. The Sheriff was doing Mt. Rushmore. His new house had a for sale sign in the yard. Even Deputy Banyon gave the Sheriff a wide berth. The atmosphere around the jail had driven the deputies…

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The Big Fire

texastroublebooks

The big fireBig Tomato grumbled up Highway 29 and turned left on Summercrest Avenue. On Dysart’s left was an estate pool for the tract. He turned again, and stopped. A tall narrow figure darted from the shadows. Dysart noticed the girl was limping, but she sprang into the truck like a deer. He used the turn-around on the block-long street and got back on 29. In the dash lights he glanced at Toné picking oak leaves from her hair. Leaving Georgetown, he passed under the toll road. Damned if he was going to take that. He’d get to Highway 95 somewhere around Granger, it’d just take a bit longer. Wasn’t like there was traffic. When he glanced again, he saw her cheek was shiny.

“There’s Kleenex under th’ seat,” he suggested over the throb of the diesel.

She dabbed at her face, Dysart saw the tissues darken with blood.

Good Lord. The…

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The New Hire

texastroublebooks

mechanic at work

“Miz Wilson, I’m towin’ in a Silverado. Engine job, pro’bly. Head gaskit.”

“Umm, b-but Dy, It’s…umm, well, but…”

“I gotta so-lution, Miz Wilson. Jus’ hold on.” Dysart hung up.

Solution? Like as in cleaning solution? Toné pressed sweaty palms to her aching temples. That morning the shop had been a hate speech billboard. Now half of Firewood wanted their cars serviced. Where was this sudden glut of business coming from? It was the middle of a hotter-than-hell Texas summer. Normally trade went as dormant as the people by the end of June. How would she find time to check out potential techs? Could she manage engine jobs fast enough to turn a profit?

As Toné trotted into the shop, phone in hand, it rang again. Caleb had shrugged into his uniform shirt. The Caprice levitated slowly on the whining lift.

“Oak Tree Motors, Toné Wilson speaking.”

“You workin’ on diesels…

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The Hideout

texastroublebooks

the shack in AL b&w

“End a’ th’ line,” Deputy Abel Randall said curtly stopping the cruiser on the steepest grade yet. He popped the trunk, unlocked the back doors from his armrest.

Rain pattered on the roof, but it was over eighty. The women couldn’t see anything but trees. Toné put an athletic shoe down, it sunk to her ankle then scooted, causing her to grab the cruiser’s door pillar to keep from falling as mud sucked it off. “Ooh! My…shoe…Brandy Sue, don’t get out yet.”

Abel just sat. He could’ve been a wood carving.

Wrestling her unrecognizable footwear free coated Toné’s legs and tee shirt with viscous red mud. They slithered and slipped around the rear of the cruiser, hanging on to it. Rain turned mud into itchy blood-colored streaks on Brandy Sue’s legs.

Behind the raised trunk, Toné whispered to her friend, “Is he just gonna leave us here?”

“I dunno.”

Toné…

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The Fighter

texastroublebooks

boxing ring

Ring lights can pierce your brain like a shrimp on a skewer, they’re so bright. The screaming crowd can achieve the same effect, stabbing right through your ear canals. You can’t see them, but you can feel the sound waves vibrating on your skin like ripples in a sonic lake. Then there is the person across the ring trying to tenderize you with her fists. Maybe fracture an orbital socket, nose, or rib if she gets lucky. Above all that, you’re supposed to know the outcome of the fight before you put a toe in the ring.

Sheena Macintyre, professional tag “SheMac,” knew the ring at Marklees like she’d been born there. She knew how elastic the ropes were, where the seams were in the canvas. She knew the ring dimensions in shuffles or sidesteps with her eyes closed, because by the end of a fight they might be. She…

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Pondi and the Tiger

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Pondi's Tiger .2

Pondi sat at the white kitchen table, forehead propped on one little hand. She wasn’t going to be scared about anything, but she had to think. Sheena had gone over this with her again and again. Pondi had hated every moment, but you didn’t argue when Sheena’s eyes got that flat look like they were painted on. Not with someone that was a yard taller and probably ten years older, though neither of them was sure of their exact ages.

Sitting across the table from Pondi was a stuffed white tiger. Its button eyes looked everywhere and nowhere, just like a dead person’s. She’d seen the eyes on dead people, too. When people who thought they were adults talked to Pondi like she was a baby, it made her really mad. She wanted to tell them she was old. Max had said so. He really looked old, his…

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Max on the Island

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Santa Marcia edit

The ferry arrived, if one reckoned by a much ignored poster peeling from a lamppost, two hours late. The large man didn’t mind. Like many things in the Caribbean, it got there when it got there. He sauntered onto Santa Marcia’s long public pier as the sun took on the deep gold of a pirate’s hoard, glinting on his silver mane of hair. Somewhere it’d be beer o’clock. Clifford, Santa Marcia’s lone town faced him, scattered over the steep ridge that rose to Mount Santo Christo. Max thought it looked a bit like a scaled down Larkspur Landing in Marin County, though without Highway 101 running north-south and burgeoning development. He used to love Marin…but that was another life.

Local thug-lifes lounged against rusty bollards working on their game faces, though more smiley than their American counterparts. Their eyes slid west, following Max’s relaxed progress, trying to stick him in…

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