The Boone Series Continues (Part Five)

Choosing Family, the fifth book in the Boone series, is scheduled for release in May of this year. This selection is from early in the book, and Boone is back on the road, but looking for a place to live.

Enjoy. 

A few nights in a motel, a tank of gas, and feeding me and Frankie used up a lot of what I got paid for those two and a half days of busting my ass. It’s got to be cheaper to have a place of my own instead of paying by the night. There’s no way I’d live in town, but I’m wondering how much it would cost to rent a house somewhere out in the country. But I don’t know about getting a place before I’ve got a job of some kind. And I can’t take Frankie with me while I look for a job or I’ll run into the same problem I did with McIntyre. 

Getting Frankie is probably the best thing I ever did in my life, and she’s probably saved my ass more than once, but there’s stuff I can’t do because she’s with me all the time. I hate even thinking about this kind of stuff, but it doesn’t seem like I’ve got much of a choice.

“What about it, girl?” I look over at Frankie. We’re still in the parking lot of the restaurant, and she’s in her spot in the front seat. “Want to go looking for a place to live?”

She looks at me and then at the window. I think all she wants is to get moving.

“Okay. Let’s get on the road, find a place to sleep tonight, and we’ll figure this out tomorrow.” Seems like there’s always plenty of old abandoned gas stations around, so finding a place to park is usually pretty easy.

In the morning we get out the map and find where we are and where Knoxville is. Not that I’m going all the way back or anything, but just to have a direction to start. 

Looks like Highway 11W will get us going in the right direction. It’s on the other side of 81 from Greeneville, and I’ve already been there, so 11W it is.

When we stop for lunch I notice Frankie’s keeping an eye on a couple across the way. We’re sitting in some kind of park with picnic tables and a good sized playground. The couple aren’t paying any attention to us. They’re watching some kids on the swings and slides and I figure one or two of them must be theirs. The girl looks over at me and pokes her husband, I guess it’s her husband, in the ribs. He looks over at me and turns back to her. They talk for a minute and he gets up and comes over to me. Frankie isn’t growling or anything like that, so I’m not too worried.

He stops about six feet away. “Nice dog.”

“Thanks.”

“Does he bite?”

I don’t ever think of Frankie as a scary dog, so it surprises me whenever I get asked that question. She is pretty good sized, though, so I guess it makes sense.

“Frankie’s a she, and she’s fine unless she thinks I’m in some kind of trouble.”

He nods. I’m not sure he believes me, but he says, “That’s a good dog to have around.”

“I think so.”

He stays where he is. “Anyway, we were wondering if you could help us out.”

“I don’t know, man, what kind of help you need?”

“Well,” he says, “we’re on our way to Bristol to see her mother. She’s real sick, and we need to get up there as quick as we can.”

I don’t say anything, and he keeps talking. He talks fast.

“So, we don’t have enough gas to get there, might not even make it to the next station, so if you could help us out we’d sure appreciate it.”

He keeps looking back at the girl and over at the kids on the playground, so I say, “One of them yours?”

“What?” he says, and then, real quick, “oh, yeah, that one’s ours.” He points to a kid, looks like about four or five I guess, but I don’t know that kind of thing. “She needs to see her granny, you know?”

“So, what is it you need?”

“Well, if you had a couple of bucks for gas it would sure help us out a lot.” He keeps looking around.

I shrug and pull out my money. “Five bucks do?”

“Yeah, man, we really appreciate it.”

I nod. “No problem. Y’all take care now.”

He’s already on his way back to the girl and she’s getting up. Guess she saw me give him the money.

They’re walking fast, almost running, and get into a black two door. They slam the doors and I hear the engine start. Five seconds later they’re heading out of the parking lot.

“Damn, Frankie, they just left their kid there on the swing set,” I say, and look over just in time to see an old guy reach down and the little kid jumps into his arms. He swings her up into the air and they head toward the other side of the playground. There’s a picnic table with about a dozen people around it and they’re all waving at the little girl.

“Well, I will be dipped in shit,” I say. “Frankie, we just got conned.”

Now I’m really pissed off. Here I was trying to help somebody out because I had a little extra money, and ended up buying those two liars a six pack or a bottle of wine or whatever. I start to get Frankie into the truck so we can go after them and stop when I realize I don’t even know which way they turned when they left the park.

Frankie’s real good about knowing if people are mean or dangerous. After New Orleans and now this, I’m thinking maybe she’s not so good with liars. Guess it would be too much to hope for that she could tell if somebody was telling the truth.

“All right, girl, looks like we just lost five bucks,” I say to her. “Let’s get back on the road.”

While we’re on 11W heading toward some place called Morristown, I’m thinking about the couple that just stole money from me and the two guys in New Orleans that used me and Frankie to steal from all those tourists.

“What were their names, anyway?” I ask Frankie. “That cop told me. Scott, I think was one of them. I can’t remember the other one. Those two guys almost got you taken away from me, you know that?”

I get a little sick to my stomach when I think about how close I came to losing her. If he hadn’t let me go, if he had taken me to the police station, Frankie would have gone into a shelter somewhere and I’d never have seen her again.

“Now those two guys were real pieces of shit, but the cop was okay. Didn’t expect that, but I’m sure glad he was.” 

Daddy had always told me the police were just out to get people like us, and I guess some of them are. Not that cop in New Orleans, though, and not Deputy Anderson. He was okay, too. 

Most folks we’ve run into have been okay, and some of them, like Gamaliel and Mark, have been great, but Jerry was a real asshole, and so were those three guys in Georgia.

I sure wish I was better at figuring out what kind of person I’m dealing with right off. Daddy took the easy way out, figuring everybody was against him. He sure proved he was right about that, over and over again.

I can’t think about this too much without getting mad at Daddy all over again, and then I think about that morning in the barn and what I had to do to fix things. I really don’t want to get started on that again, so I try to find something else to focus on.

We’re out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not easy to get my mind off that stuff, but after about ten more miles I see a sign on the right side of the road that says For Rent.

“Let’s go take a look, Frankie. Might as well start trying to find a place to live besides the back of this truck. This is as good a place as any.”

That place turns out to be real fancy, and I don’t even call the number on the sign to find out how much the rent is. The next two places we look at are about the same, except bigger and fancier, and too rich for our blood.

I almost miss the next sign, a little over a mile farther down the road. The weeds have grown up around it so it’s mostly covered up. I turn into the next driveway and drive back to it. Next to the sign is a gravel road, more like two ruts with more weeds growing up between them. There’s no house in sight.

We follow the ruts a little ways, and I’m starting to think it’s a sign for renting land instead of a house when we go around a little bend and there’s a house about the size of our old one sitting all by itself in a field.

It’s in better shape than where I used to live before I met Gamaliel, but that doesn’t mean much. The closer we get, though, the more it looks like somebody’s kept the place up pretty good.

We lived in a single wide for a long time before we moved to the house just down from Gamaliel’s. I lived in Gamaliel’s house until Jerry raised so much hell I had to move and then lived in that little place on the grounds of the old folks’ home. Since I left there, I’ve had those few weeks on the road and a month of just kind of farting around before heading up to Virginia. Two nights in a motel and now I’m back in the truck. I’ve had a couple of months living out of my truck and one thing I know for sure is I don’t want to keep doing that. 

“Wonder what the rent is on this place?”

Frankie’s looking around and acting like she needs to pee, so we get out, and after thinking about it for a second I unhook her, leave the leash on the dashboard and let her run. 

I’ve been around the house once and doing it again, looking in the windows this time, when I hear a car. Frankie’s nosing around in the field and I call her to me.

The car pulls up right behind the truck and a guy gets out. He comes right up to me and says, “What are you doing on this property?” He doesn’t say it mean, but he sounds pretty serious. Maybe he’s the owner.

“I saw a For Rent sign and followed the tracks back here,” I say. Then we stand there looking at each other for a minute.

“I just took down the sign. Dad,” he says, and stops. After a minute he goes on. “This is, or rather was, his place, his getaway, I guess. He passed on a couple of years ago. We’d had the sign out ever since he got sick and we knew he’d never make it back out here, but it’s been months since we’ve had a renter. There’s three of us kids, and we’re just about ready to give up on the idea of renting and sell the place.”

I don’t know what to say. I feel bad about him losing his Dad, and I don’t know if I should ask about rent, or if I can see inside, or anything like that. So I don’t say anything.

He notices Frankie and takes a step back toward his car. “That your dog?”

I nod. “I thought I’d let her stretch her legs while I was looking around. Her name’s Frankie.” I scratch her ear and she sits down right next to my foot and kind of leans up against me. 

He smiles a little. “We’ve got dogs at home. Bo and Peep. My kids named them,” he says, like he has to explain their names to me. “A couple of Corgis. Both of them together wouldn’t be half her size. What kind is she?”

I explain how I got her and he nods. ‘“Good for you. Hate to hear about that happening to puppies, but I know it happens all the time.” He sticks out his hand. “Name’s Ralph Tomlinson.”

“Boone Hammond.” We shake hands.

“So, anyway,” he says.

I start to tell him I understand about not being able to rent the place, but not being able to just makes me want it more, even though I don’t know what the inside is like or how much the rent would be. Guess I’m really tired of not having a place of my own. The only place I’ve ever lived that was mine is the back of my truck.

Ralph says, “We’ve just decided on selling, and I don’t know how long it will take, or if anybody will even be interested in the house or the land. I might be willing to rent it to you month by month, but you’d have to agree to move out as soon as we get a buyer for the property.”

I start to say yes right then, but I remember how Tiny was when he was buying the truck. He didn’t act like he was in any big hurry even though he knew he wanted to buy it.

“Well,” I say. “I’d like to see the inside first, and I’d have to know how much the rent would be.”

He nods. “I understand that. Come on. I’ve got the keys with me.”

Inside it’s not as nice a place as Gamaliel’s. About as good as the one at the home, but not as big, plus the furniture is pretty worn out.

“It’s got power and water,” Ralph says. “You’d have to pay the electric. There’s no water bill; it’s on a well.”

I nod. “So how much money are we talking about here?”

“Well, you can see there’s no TV here, so it’s just lights and appliances. And heat, but as small as this is, the electric shouldn’t be much. We’re asking $300 a month for rent, and with utilities, the last renter said it was about $375, give or take.”

I know I can do that much. I’ve still got almost all of Gamaliel’s money, and I know I’m going to have to get a job of some kind.

When I don’t say anything right away Ralph says, “Boone, if it was up to me I’d drop the rent to 250, but that’s what we’ve been charging all along. I really can’t change it.”

I turn to Frankie. “What do you think, girl? Want to settle in here for a while?”

She’s already curled up in the corner of the main room, so I guess that’s her answer.

“Well, Ralph, I’d like to take it. I sure would like to not have to move in the middle of winter,  though.”

 “I’d be real surprised if anything happens in the coldest part of the year. Nobody’s going to want to look at it in February.”

“Okay, then. I’ll have to get to a place to use my debit card so I can get you the first month’s rent.”

“Let’s say by the end of the week. Does that give you enough time?”

I nod. “I appreciate that. Are you coming by to pick it up, or do I bring it to you, or what?”

“I’ll come by on Friday, about lunchtime.”

This time I stick out my hand. He takes it, and then hands me the keys.

“You know if you’d come by an hour later the sign would have been gone.”

“I know. Almost didn’t see it as it was.”

He looks around. “Dad loved this place. He’d come here two or three times a month, just for the peace and quiet. He used to say this was better than any church pew.” He wipes his eye with the back of his hand. “I really miss the old guy, even after a couple of years.”

All this makes me think about Gamaliel. He was better to me than Daddy by a long shot. If I’d gotten to know him before . . . .

There’s no way that would have happened, and I know it. Daddy would never have stood for that.

“You okay, Boone?” Ralph is looking at me kind of funny. “You were a thousand miles away just then.”

I shake my head. “Your dad sounds a lot like this old guy I used to know. He died a few years back. Him and me got to be pretty good friends before he died.”

I really don’t want him to ask about my Daddy, but I can tell he’s going to, so I jump in and cut him off.

“My daddy left us a while back, not sure where he is or what kind of shape he’s in.” Only half of that was a lie. 

“Sorry to hear that.”

I shrug.

“Well, anyway,” he says, and I can see he’s real uncomfortable right now, “I’d better get going. I’ll let everybody know I got a last-minute renter and that we don’t have to worry about anything until at least spring.”

“I appreciate that. See you on Friday.”

“See you then.” And he’s gone.

When his car’s out of sight I turn to Frankie.

“We got us a place, girl. Let’s get moved in.”

A Couple of Announcements

For those of you in the greater Knoxville area, you’re welcome to come by the Children’s Festival of Reading this Saturday (5/21) at the World’s Fair Park. Three of us from the Authors Guild of Tennessee will have a tent there and we’d love to see you.

Also, I’ve added a retail location for my children’s books. Ijams Nature Center has copies of all five books in both English and Spanish versions:

Stop by the Visitor’s Center, and stick around to enjoy one of Knoxville’s most pleasant attractions. Just a few minutes from downtown.

The Boone Series Continues (Part Four)

I’m sharing this excerpt from Following Frankie, book four in the Boone Series, to mark the publication of the fifth book. Choosing Family is scheduled for release in May of this year. In this selection, Boone and Frankie are on the road, visiting some of the places his friend Melvin had suggested. Their next stop is the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

Enjoy. 

When I get to Waycross a guy in the gas station where I fill up and use their ATM to get some more cash tells me that Highway 121 will take me to the east side entrance to the refuge and tells me how to get to the highway without going through town.

Using a machine in a gas station to get money is weird. Nobody else is around, which is good, because I get my PIN wrong the first time and have to start all over. Plus it subtracts an extra $3.00 from my account for some kind of fee. I get $80.00, buy a couple of candy bars and three or four drinks, and head back out to the truck before somebody like Abigail comes along with a rock or a brick to rescue my dog.

Frankie is sitting in her seat waiting and thumps her tail at me when I climb in. I pull out of the station and head in the direction the guy said would get me to 121. We’re in south Georgia now, which is a lot of pine trees and red clay, too flat to feel like home but more familiar than the beach. We get to Folkston and the east entrance to the refuge after about an hour drive and park at the visitor center.

I find out pretty quick that Melvin either didn’t know or forgot about the rules here. Frankie isn’t allowed in the canoes, which is no big deal, since I’ve never been in a canoe in my life and don’t want to start in a place with alligators hanging around. She also can’t go on the boardwalks, which is kind of a big deal, since a lot of the trails are boardwalks and that knocks out quite a bit of the park for us. 

When I first got Frankie and the whole time I lived at home I never ran into any of this shit about not being able to take my dog with me. I mean, she couldn’t go into the grocery store with me or anyplace like that, but if I hadn’t run into that guy that told me about Caswell Beach I would have wasted a trip to the ocean, and now here I’m running into the same thing. Never thought of Frankie as a problem before; she’s the best thing I’ve got going right now, and if there’s a place she can’t go then I don’t want to be there either.

Course that’s not entirely true. I’d like to have gone out on the boardwalks at least a little ways. Melvin was right about one thing. The swamp is like a whole different world, and I had to stand kind of on the edge of it to see what it was like. But I can’t take Frankie except on the trails that are on solid land and I’m sure not leaving her with some stranger just so I can go out into the swamp a little ways on one of the boardwalks.

I have to say, though, that being back in the woods, even though it isn’t the same kind of woods I’m used to, feels awful good. I guess I’d forgotten what that’s like. Then I think, it’s been like a week, actually less than that, since you got on the road and you’re homesick already. That’s pitiful. I can hear Melvin saying, “You need to see some other places while you’re young, Boone; you never can tell what will happen. You might find the perfect place to live or a vacation spot to keep coming back to, or maybe even the love of your life!” 

He was grinning at me when he said that last part, I remember, because he knew about me and Nancy and was just giving me a hard time. He was a good guy; a lot of those old folks couldn’t hardly remember their own name, but Melvin was pretty sharp.

By the time we get back to the truck from the two or three trails we can take, it’s close to the end of the day and time to find a place to park and sleep for the night. I’m about to get in and head for the exit when I hear somebody yell, “Hey, Tennessee!” I don’t think anything about it but then I hear it again and when I look around some guy’s pointing at me and saying, “What part of Tennessee are you from?”

At first I don’t say anything because I can’t figure out how he knows that I’m from Tennessee, since I don’t know him from Adam. He points at the license plate on the truck and says, “I saw your truck when we pulled in. Nice dog.” He’s walking over to us and Frankie is watching him. She’s not doing anything, not growling, hair not standing up along her back, but she’s not wagging her tail either. He gets a little closer and I can hear a growl, so low I almost miss it, but when I look down Frankie is all tensed up.

He’s a big guy, not as big as Tiny, but big. He steps in way too close to me and Frankie’s growl gets louder. I say, “You ought to step back a little. Getting kinda close there. Frankie doesn’t like it and I don’t much like it either.”

“Maybe you ought to keep your dog under control,” he says, and stays right where he is.

“She is,” I say. “This is her being under control.”

He stands there for a second, and then steps back. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” He raises his hands up in front of his shoulders. “Sorry.” He doesn’t look sorry.

“No problem,” I say. “What can I do for you?”

He shakes his head. “Never mind, man, just trying to be friendly.” He turns around and heads back to his car. There’s two other guys there and I see him talking to them and pointing at us. They’re too far away for me to hear.

One of the guys looks around the parking lot and says something to the rest of them. They all turn the same direction and look, so I turn that way too. I see a guy walking up to a big SUV. The first guy, the one who came up to me, says, “Hey, Virginia!” and the car owner stops and looks around the lot.

“Let’s get out of here, Frankie,” I say, and take her around to the passenger side. She jumps in and I start around the front, but when I look over at the SUV all three guys are standing around the driver almost shoulder to shoulder, and he’s backed up against the rear fender of the car. 

I never liked bullies; got pushed around plenty in school and couldn’t do much of anything about it. Back then I knew nobody would back me up if I tried to stand up to them, especially Mr. Timmons’ gang. If you don’t have some kind of backup it’s hard to stand up to anybody. That makes me think about Jerry and I reach up and touch the scar on my arm from the knife fight. Tiny stood with me then, and so did Nancy. I don’t know whether these guys are bullies or thieves, but I’ve dealt with both kinds, and they both piss me off.

I’m trying to decide what to do about it when another car pulls in and parks one spot over from the SUV. Two people get out and the woman on the passenger side says, “When were you going to join us, Raymond? The grill’s about ready.” Then she looks at the three guys that have the driver, I guess that’s Raymond, backed up against the car and says, “What’s going on here?”

The one that had come over to me says something to her and she just stands there like she’s not sure what to do. I can see Raymond’s face enough to know he’s scared, so I get Frankie back out of the truck and go around to the front.

“Y’all okay over there?” I shout, and start walking toward them. Frankie is right beside me and I’ve got the leash wrapped tight around my hand. She’s growling loud now, and when we get a little closer she barks once. Now she’s pulling hard on the leash and everybody’s looking at her. I’m wondering whether I should have gone into the back of the truck and picked up my shotgun when the three guys look at each other and start heading back to their car. 

They get in their car and start to pull out of the parking lot, but turn in next to my truck on the passenger side. I can’t really see what’s happening but I hear glass breaking and then the car backs out, turns hard, and heads out of the lot. When I turn back around all three people, Raymond and the two others, are staring at me.

“I got the license number,” the woman says. “Georgia plates. I’m going to call the police. Maybe they’ll . . . .” She kind of trails off and looks at Raymond.

Raymond nods. “Maybe they will what, Denise? The police are not going to set up roadblocks for a broken window. Sorry,” he turns to me and then back to her, “I say definitely call it in, but I would not expect anything to happen.”

She nods and Raymond looks over at me. “I would like to thank you, young man. I do not know what would have happened had you not been here in the parking lot, but I am sure it would have been unpleasant at best.” He holds out his hand. “My name is Raymond, as I am sure you have guessed by now. And who might you be?”

I grab his hand. He’s got a solid grip. “Boone. This is Frankie.”

Raymond smiles. “A great pleasure to meet both of you.”

This guy talks like he’s giving some kind of speech, even though it’s just us and I’m sure he already knows Denise and whoever that other guy is.

Now he’s calling them over. “Denise, Jeremy, come meet our rescuers. This is Boone, and this fine looking animal is Frankie.” He looks at me. “With a name like Frankie, this could be either a male or female dog.”

“Frankie’s a girl,” I say. I feel like I ought to do something besides just stand here, so I stick out my hand and we all shake, which feels weird because I don’t ever do that. It’s so serious, like we’re making some kind of business deal or something. Then I say, “Frankie, this is Raymond, Denise, and Jeremy.” She looks at the three of them and then back at me.

Raymond laughs. “Not easily impressed, is she?”

“She just doesn’t know you,” I say, not sure whether I’m supposed to get mad about that or not. “She’s really a good dog.”

“I have no doubt,” he says. “Now, how shall we reward you? Aside from paying for a replacement window, I mean. Jeremy,” he looks over at the guy, “Is your brother-in-law still working at his friend’s body shop?”

Jeremy nods.

“Would you call him, please, and find out how much a replacement side window, parts and labor, would be? What year is your truck, Boone?”

I tell him and Jeremy steps away and pulls out a cell phone. He talks for a minute or two and comes back over.

“He says about $400.00.”

Raymond nods. “Thank you, Jeremy.”

“About what happened with those three assholes —” I stop and look at Denise. “Sorry about that.”

She laughs. “No apology needed, Boone. I’d say that’s exactly what they were.”

“I didn’t do anything besides walk over here. Those guys thought they had you cornered. They came at me just a couple of minutes ago, used that same trick on me they used on you. Backed off because they didn’t want to have to deal with Frankie, so maybe she’s the rescuer.”

“Well said, Boone,” says Raymond. “We will say both of you, then, since the two of you showed up together. Just in the nick of time, right?”

I shrug. “I guess so.”

“Definitely so,” says Raymond. “Now, you will join us for supper, of course. Where are you staying?”

Here we go again. I’m so damn tired of people asking me that. When I don’t answer right away, Raymond takes the hint, I guess, and says, “No matter. We are in the RV park just outside Waycross. Did you come that way?”

I nod.

“If you will follow us, then, we will have a meal together, you can meet my wife Charlotte, and you can tell us about your travels with Frankie. Oh, I sometimes wish I was young again and able to just pick up and leave on a whim.”

Denise laughs. “Ray, you’re always picking up and leaving on a whim. I’ve known you for twenty years and this trip isn’t new behavior for you.” She glances at me. “You and Boone may have a lot in common, now that I think about it.”

I don’t know about all this, but I get in my truck and follow them out onto the highway anyway. I hope this doesn’t turn out like it did with Jericho. 

We’re behind Raymond’s car and Jeremy is out ahead a little ways. Denise said something about getting the steaks on the grill as soon as they got there so we wouldn’t be too late eating. Raymond drives pretty fast for an old guy and I have to pay attention so he doesn’t get away from me.

There was this family back home, the Binfields, that had a house set so it looked out on the valley one over from us. You could see that place from anywhere, especially late in the day when the sun hit all those windows. I remember Daddy used to say those people had enough money to burn a wet dog, which I thought was pretty damn funny until I got Frankie. Anyway, that family was richer than anybody else in the county.

I don’t think Raymond has that much money, but he’s sure got a nice RV.