Observations and Meanderings

The Boone Series continues (Part Three)

I’m sharing this excerpt from Keeping Secrets, the third book in the Boone Series, to mark the publication of the fifth book. Choosing Family is scheduled for release in May of this year. This is from about midway through the book, and Boone is living in a small house on the grounds of the assisted living facility where he’s working.

Enjoy. 

Saturday about ten in the morning somebody wakes me up banging on the door. Frankie is up and wagging her tail, so I open the door and Tiny is standing there. 

“Hey, man, how’s it going?” Then I get a look at his face.

“What’s wrong?”

“You still got that shine recipe?”

“Yeah, it’s in the kitchen, in the drawer. Why?”

“Because that’s all you’ve got left, Boone. That and whatever shine we haven’t drunk up yet.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

I’m trying to keep from shouting and not doing such a great job, so I reach out and grab his arm and pull him inside. I slam the door and Frankie jumps back.

Tiny is already on the couch, and he’s filthy. His jeans are torn and dirty and I can smell smoke coming off him like he’s been camping out on one of the lake islands and spent all night sitting by the fire.

“You got any water, man?”

“In the kitchen. You’ll have to get it out of the sink. You going to tell me what happened? You look like shit.”

He goes into the kitchen and drinks three glasses of water standing right there at the sink before he comes back in and plops down on the couch again.

“It didn’t start at the still, I’m pretty sure about that.”

“What didn’t start?”

“The brush fire. You know nobody’s done anything with that land next to ours for who knows how long. Some of it you can’t hardly hack your way through. They’re trying to figure out how it started, but me and the rest of my family have been up there all night, trying to keep it from spreading to our land. The fire burned away that tarp I had on all our stuff and as soon as the firefighters saw the setup they called the sheriff. It’s all burnt up, all the supplies, and the law’s got the coil and the other stuff. They asked me about it and I said I hardly ever come up to that part of the property, and anyway that’s not our land up there, and I’m pretty sure they believed me. Anyway, it’s gone. You better drink what you’ve got left real slow, man. There isn’t going to be any more. Not from that still, anyway.”

I can’t think what to say. 

“What the hell happened to Frankie?” He’s looking at her back leg, and I realize I haven’t talked to him for the last few days.

“Tell you later. It’s all gone?”

He nods.

I just stand there. Gamaliel and my daddy had that still for years and nothing happened to it. I take over and it’s already gone. Maybe Daddy was right about me. Maybe I’m a useless piece of shit after all.

Tiny’s back at the sink. He’s drinking slower now, and sets his glass down after only filling it up the one time.

I start to say, so what do we do now? and don’t because there’s nothing to do. 

Chapter Twenty-One

“I need a drink,” I finally say, looking at the floor.

Tiny starts laughing and pretty soon he’s doubled over on the couch. He finally gets his breath and sits up.

“Hell, yeah, let’s have one. Or two.”

I make two the way Gamaliel would want me to and bring them back into the little living room. Tiny stands up and takes one of the glasses from me and raises it up. “To the old man.”

I raise mine up too, but I don’t say anything because I don’t want to start crying in front of Tiny.

He takes his all in one drink and shakes his head, hard. “Damnation, I forgot how he liked his. I better sit back down.” And he does. I take the glass from him and put it on the floor next to the corner of the couch and sit down beside him. I take a little longer with mine but pretty soon we’re both just sitting there staring at the floor. Nobody says anything for a while and then Tiny says, “I believe one’s going to be enough for me.”

He stands up and says, “I got to go check for hot spots. If that fire gets into our buildings they’d be gone in no time flat.”

“Need some help?”

“Every bit we can get. It’s a big damn mess up there. You sure you don’t need to stay here with Frankie?”

As soon as he says that I remember that Frankie can’t go with us, and I’m about to tell him to go on, that I’d better stay here. Feels like I need to go up there and help, though. Tiny would do it for me in a heartbeat, I know that.

“I’ll get Mark to watch her. Or Betty.”

He nods and heads for the door. “I’ll see you up there. I got to get going.”

After he’s gone I sit and stare at Frankie for a long time, thinking about Daddy. One of the worst beatings I ever got, maybe the worst, was when he came up on me and Curt out in the field where he is now. We weren’t more than ten or so and Curt had brought a box of those big kitchen matches and we were flicking them at each other. We’d set the head of the match on the side of the box and press down hard on the other end with our finger and flip at it with our other hand, middle finger behind the thumb and then pow, as hard as we could, If we hit it just right it would light and fly toward the other guy. Curt was better than me but I was starting to get the hang of it when Daddy showed up. 

Looking back I know he was real scared, but all he showed us was mad. Curt got out of there in a hurry and I got the shit beat out of me. He sent me back to the house and when I turned and looked back at him he was stomping all over the place where me and Curt had been. I didn’t know why he cared so much about it, it wasn’t even his house or barn or anything.

I finally snap out of it and stand up. “C’mon, Frankie, let’s go see Mark,” I say.

When I get to Tiny’s place there are half a dozen trucks parked all over the yard and Mrs. Thompson is walking toward the house from the field. She looks like hell, like she fell off her four by four and it dragged her a ways.

“Everybody’s still up there, Boone,” she points toward where the still used to be. “I think they’re making progress but I sure am glad to see you. It’s pretty damn awful, worst I’ve seen since I was a little girl.”

I start to ask about that but she’s already inside the house. There’s nobody else around, so I head out through the back yard and into the field.

Everything looks the same until I top that first hill. The land drops down a little and then back up toward the wood line, and I can hear men’s voices and see people moving around, in and out of the trees.

There are foot trails through the grass where people have been back and forth from the Thompson place up to the woods, and I follow one of them down and back up toward where the still used to be. A couple of guys look in my direction and then right back down to the ground, moving their heads back and forth. I can’t see what they’re looking at from where I am.

Three of them are leaning up against that big rock that Tiny and I used as a landmark, drinking from a gallon milk jug they are passing back and forth. One of them splashes a little water from it on his face and I hear another one say, “Damn, Mike, if you’re going to pour it out just hand it on over. I’m dry as a bone.”

I come up to them and they nod at me, but don’t offer me a drink. They can tell by how clean I am that I just got here. I stand there for a minute and finally say, “Tiny around anywhere?”

Mike points toward a bunch of guys about thirty feet into the woods. “Think he’s over there.” I nod and head that way.

When I get close Tiny looks over his shoulder and waves me into the group. One of the others looks at me and says, “Where’s your gloves?”

I just stand there.

“You planning to do this bare-handed? That’ll last about a half a minute,” the same guy says, and it sounds just like all those times I been made fun all my life and I’m about ready to shove his gloves right up his ass and head on back to the truck when Tiny says, “You know those gloves you left here when you helped me clean out that shed? I let Gary over there have them but I’ve got another pair you can use,” and he tosses me a pair of gloves that smell like smoke already.

I’m really dragging by the time somebody comes around with a jug of water. This is a lot harder work than I’ve done in a while and pretty damn depressing work on top of that. Somebody working close to me said it was early in the year for this kind of fire, that it usually happens in the fall, but that these woods were so grown up that it wouldn’t take much.

“You know they found a still right over there,” he says, pointing back to the rock. “I bet some damn fool was up here making shine and went off and left the fire going, and now look what we’ve got. Damn fools,” he says again, pulling a black branch aside to look under it for anything still burning.

I almost tell him that we weren’t cooking any mash right now so it couldn’t have been us and catch myself just in time.

Surely Tiny wasn’t up here working without me.

The guy with the water is gone, making the rounds to everybody else, so I get back to work. The group I’m in, four of us altogether, are working around the side of the hill, just across the fence from the Thompson’s land. There are two guys out ahead of me, and the one in front is about thirty yards away when he stops in his tracks and says, “Oh, shit, oh, shit! Somebody call the sheriff, quick!”

He looks back and catches my eye. “Move your ass, kid! I said get somebody over here! It looks like we got a dead guy at the base of that big tree over there!”

It’s like I can’t move for a second, and then I turn and start back toward the rock, looking for Tiny or Mrs. Thompson. I don’t know anybody else up here. By that time the other guy that used to be ahead of me is past me and moving fast, shouting for somebody named Bowden. I don’t have any idea who that is.

I start after him, trying to keep up. There’s so many branches and vines, all grey and black and no leaves, that I keep tripping and a couple of times I almost fall on my face. I don’t get very far before I see him coming back with a big guy, bigger than Tiny even. I have to jump sideways to get out of their way. 

After they go by I turn around and follow behind, and pretty much everybody on the hill is right behind me. We get close to the tree, about twenty feet, and the big guy and three others are standing there in a line with their arms stretched out wide. 

“Keep back, y’all,” one of them is saying, over and over. 

We’re all crowded together in sort of a line facing the three guys guarding the tree. I can see what used to be a person, a man I guess, sitting on the ground leaned against the trunk of the tree. His hand is flopped down on the ground beside him and I can see something right next to it.

It’s a meth pipe. 

Book Five in the Boone Series

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Choosing Family, the fifth book in the Boone series.

A few weeks after returning from his road trip through the Southeast, Boone is feeling restless. He and Frankie are soon back on the road, heading to Virginia to visit some friends he made on the trip they just finished. When he gets word that his sister Hannah is in trouble he turns around, although he’s not sure if there’s anything he can do to help.

Renting a small house some distance away from his hometown, Boone starts to make his own way, out from under the shadow of his father’s reputation and influence. Meeting Molly helps him begin to understand that they can refuse to let either past history or present limitations define them. 

Obligations to the family he was born into compete with the life he is trying to build for himself, and he starts to realize that the word family can mean much more than he once thought it did.

Available now in ebook format on Amazon. For the print version, ask for Choosing Family at your local independent bookstore, like Union Avenue Books here in Knoxville. If they don’t have it they’ll be glad to order it for you (along with the rest of the series). Or you can check my website for the craft fairs and festivals where you can find me this year.

*  *  *

Recently I was contacted by my printer/distributer and told that unless I raised the retail price, I would be sending them money every time they sold a book instead of the other way around. My apologies for the increase; it was necessary. I plan to continue selling the first four books of the Boone series at their original price at shows and festivals as long as my supply holds out.  

The Boone Series Continues (Part Two)

I’m sharing this excerpt from Matching Scars, Book Two in the Boone Series, to mark the publication of the fifth book. Choosing Family is scheduled for release in May of this year. This selection is from Chapters Three and Four; Boone is house sitting for his friend Gamaliel.

Enjoy. 

After I get a bite to eat I take Frankie outside and let her run. She makes a quick circle around the house, sniffing for any changes since yesterday’s night patrol. She’s out of sight around on the side of the house up toward the Thompson’s when I hear her growling low in her throat.

Then she starts barking, that loud, angry, don’t fuck with me kind of bark, and I speed up and turn the corner.

She’s standing, facing away from me. The hair on her back is bristled, and her nose is low to the ground. I follow her stare; there’s a raccoon at the edge of the yard, just standing there staring back at Frankie.

I call her. “Frankie! Come here!”

One ear twitches but she doesn’t move.

“Frankie! Here, girl! Here!”

She starts to take a step back and hesitates, then breaks off from the raccoon and comes over to me. She whirls around and starts in again on the raccoon. I really need to get her better trained.

Then I take another look at the coon and start to get scared.

It looks like it can’t get its balance, and I can see a long, thin thread of drool hanging off the side of its mouth. It shakes its head and the drool drops off, and the coon starts snapping at nothing I can see. It looks around, trying to find something to focus on, and takes a couple of shaky steps toward us.

It has to be rabies, I think to myself. Frankie’s a big dog, lots bigger than the raccoon, and it didn’t run or climb, didn’t even act like any normal animal would, and then there’s that staggering, drooling, snapping stuff. I’ve never seen an animal with rabies before, but I’m betting that’s what it is. I grab Frankie’s collar and it takes all my strength to get her started toward the house.

The coon is still there when I come back out with the shotgun, and it’s an easy shot to drop it where it stands. I leave it in the yard and go back in the house. I’m shaking like a little kid.

I go over every inch of Frankie when I get back inside. No scratches or bite marks anywhere. I sit there on the floor with my arms around her and start crying into her fur.

“I’m a terrible owner, Frankie, terrible,” I finally say. “You are going to the vet today for a rabies shot. I can’t lose you, girl, I can’t.”

There’s only one vet anywhere close, and I call them as soon as I can let Frankie go. “You are staying inside, girl, until we figure out what to do about that coon out there,” I say.

“Binfield Clinic.”

“Hello,” I say, “I need to bring my dog in for a rabies shot. It’s been a year or so since I got her, and she was a pup. I don’t know that she’s ever had one.”

The man on the other end of the line says, “Definitely get your dog in here. We’ve had reports of rabid raccoons in the area.”

“Well,” I say slowly, “since you mention that, I just shot a raccoon that was acting really strange. It’s laying in my side yard.”

He gets a very serious tone in his voice and gives me a number, says I need to call TWRA right now.

“And don’t let any animals or people anywhere near that coon,” he says firmly. “Did it get to your dog?”

“No, I had just taken her outside for her morning run and she started barking like crazy and when I came around the house she was in the yard and the coon was out on the edge of the yard. I’ve already checked her out, no scratches or bites or anything.”

“You keep her inside for two weeks,” he says. “Don’t let her out except on a leash. Don’t let her go anywhere. If she’s infected, it’ll show up by then. If she’s okay, bring her in after that and we’ll give her a rabies shot. What’s your dog’s name?”

“Frankie.”

“Well, you keep a close eye on Frankie, and call TWRA right now, as soon as you hang up. And go outside and don’t let anything near that coon. It’s still dangerous.”

I make the call, and then tell Frankie to stay put and go outside. The coon is still laying right where I shot it, and there’s a kid walking toward it with a stick in his hand. He’s whistling that same tune I heard last night.

“Get the hell off this yard!” I shout at him. He stops where he is, but doesn’t back up.

“Is that coon dead?”

“That coon is dead, and it had rabies. You get the hell away, you hear me? Somebody’s coming to get rid of it. That thing’ll make you sick, and then you’ll die. You get off this yard and stay off!”

He throws down the stick. “You don’t have to be so mean about it.”

He goes back out to the road and starts down the hill, then turns back.

“What’s your name?”

“You go on back home. Go on now.”

Shrugging his shoulders, he turns, then turns back. “Mine’s Trevor.”

“Well, Trevor, you stay off this property. You got no business here.”

He doesn’t answer, just walks away.

Chapter Four

The guy from TWRA comes and gets rid of the body, and tells me to keep my eyes open for any other coons or other animals acting funny.

“It’s a bad year so far,” he says. 

When I go back inside Frankie is bouncing around, and I say, “You’re on a leash for the next two weeks, girl. Sorry.”

Then I realize I don’t have a calendar.

It’s been a while since I’ve needed to know what day of the week it was, and, since I don’t have school or anything else like that to worry about, it hasn’t been that big of a deal. Now I need to know when it’s been two weeks, so I’ll know Frankie’s okay and I can call the vet, and then I’ll need to know so I can keep the appointment. 

Surely, I say to myself, Gamaliel’s got some kind of calendar around here. I’ve never really explored that front room, if you don’t count the drawer where I found the silver dollars. There’s a desk in there, one of the old style, big, wooden, lots of drawers and stuff stacked on top of it. Compared to the rest of the house, it’s kind of a mess, which by itself makes me curious. Gamaliel, as far as I can tell, isn’t much interested in stuff, and what stuff he’s got he keeps in pretty good order. 

I decide to go through the desk tomorrow. The kitchen’s getting a little empty, and I’ve got enough money from what Carrie gives me to afford a good-sized trip to the grocery store.

Daddy’s old truck is still running, but lately when I start it up there’s a cloud of blue smoke. It goes away pretty quick, soon as I drive it a quarter mile or so, but I’m thinking that I may be back on a bicycle before long. Sometimes I wish he had taught me something about cars, but I’m not sure he knew very much.

On the way down to the store I think about Daddy. I don’t much like to, considering how things ended up, but once I start I sort of have to run through it. I try to remember something good about him being around and I have to think way, way back, before Hannah was born, when Frankie was still around, before Daddy messed up his hand. There were a few times he wasn’t angry or drunk or both, usually both, but damned few even then. I shake my head to try to get back to today, jerking the wheel a little and scaring some old woman in a big four-door something or other. She almost goes into the ditch trying to miss me, and I grin a little. I wasn’t even really out of my lane. I glance in the mirror; she’s back on track and there’s nobody else on the road, no police anywhere, and I settle in for the rest of the drive.

The store is almost empty, so it’s a quick run through the aisles. I fill the cart with some Thunderstorm, frozen pizzas, cereal, milk, crunchy peanut butter, bread, a big hunk of cheese, a pound of ground beef, dog food, and half a dozen other things, including a jar of spaghetti sauce and some spaghetti noodles. On the way back down that row I see some hot pepper sauce and grab that too. I’m heading for checkout when I hear, “Boone? Is that you?”

The Boone Series Continues (Part One)

I’m sharing this excerpt from Pushing Back, the first book in the Boone Series, to mark the publication of the fifth book. Choosing Family is scheduled for release in May of this year. This selection is from early in Pushing Back, and Boone is looking for his father, who stormed out of the house earlier. He finds him in the front yard of the house, scanning the road.

Enjoy. 

He’s sitting on the tailgate, the shotgun across his lap, the box of shells right beside him. The sun is low now, right in his face when he looks down the road, and his eyes are almost shut against it. I can hear him talking to himself when I get to the front bumper.

“Bastards better not follow me up here. This is my home, goddammit. They better not come up here.”

He keeps saying this over and over, his eyes never leaving the road.

It had been three or four hours since he had left the house. None of us knew where he had gone, but we never did, so that was nothing new. I think about asking, but as soon as I think it I know better. The mood he’s in, I’m on thin ice just going out there. I hate this, I think. I take another step towards him. 

He tenses and I think he’s going to swing the shotgun around in my direction, but all he turns is his head. He turns far enough to see that it’s me and then turns back.

“Come on out here, Boone. Sit down over on this side and watch the road up toward the Thompson’s.”

I asked Momma one time where I got that name; I was afraid it was after Daniel Boone and I thought that was really stupid. The truth was worse. 

“Your daddy and me used to drink a lot of Boone’s Farm wine. It was all we could afford, and your daddy hadn’t learned how to make his own yet.” She had kind of smiled to herself. “Well, anyway, you asked.”

So I let all the other kids at school think that Daniel Boone was this big hero to my parents and they laughed and made fun but it could’ve been a lot worse.

I never told anybody the real story, and they didn’t give me a middle name, so I couldn’t go that way to get out of it. So I was Boone. I had already looked up about changing my name, I mean, who wants to be named after some kind of cheap wine? But I knew that wasn’t going to happen until I hit eighteen and moved out on my own.

One time I made the mistake of telling Momma what a stupid name I thought it was and didn’t know Daddy was just coming into the room. That wasn’t the worst beating I ever got, but it was pretty bad. 

None of us were safe from his black moods. Well, Hannah. Far as I know, he never laid a hand on her. Momma, me, Frankie, that was different. Sometimes it’d be a week or two between beatings, but, like I said, nobody got away clean. Part of it was liquor, I know that. Part of it was they treated him the same way they treated all of us. If you lived up where we did, in any of those counties just outside Knoxville, you were trash and people felt like it was all right to shit on you any time they wanted to. Daddy had one job after another, he’d take it as long as he could, and then some boss would say something that he just couldn’t walk away from. He had pride, I’ll give him that. Plus he’d stand up to anybody. It was that time leading up to his standing up for himself that was hell for us at home. He would bottle it up all day long at work, maybe stop for a few on the way home, and then one of us would say something or not say something or do something or not do it, and he’d blow. Sometimes we could tell by the way he took that last curve before he whipped into the driveway and up into the yard. Sometimes none of us saw it coming. A couple of times I saw Momma’s hand tighten around the handle of the cast iron skillet she had on the stove, but she never swung it at him. I think if she had there’d be a grave for one of them out there behind the house, county or no county. I used to wonder sometimes which one of them would win if it really got down to it. She’d always back down, though. Always. Never pushed back.

And Frankie, well, I still can’t talk about Frankie.

“What is it I’m watching for?” I break the silence. He’s stopped that talking to himself he was doing when I came up. He doesn’t turn, doesn’t take his eyes off the road.

“Just tell me if you see anybody. Specially anybody you don’t know.”

“Even Ginny Thompson?”

The butt of the shotgun catches me in the stomach before I have a chance to tighten up. All the air whooshes out of me and I bend double, trying to keep from falling off the tailgate into the dust.

“Don’t you understand English, boy?”

“Yes sir,” I manage, but it comes out more of a croak than anything else.

He’s already looking back down the road. “Get your head up, then. We’ll be losing light soon.”

I slowly get my wind back and we sit, not saying anything, until we can’t see the mailbox down at the road and the first couple of stars are starting to show themselves in a sky that still has a little color. 

“I’m hungry,” he says to himself, like he doesn’t remember I’m out there with him. “Reckon I’ll go on inside.”

I know better than to move just yet.

“You want me to stay out here and keep watch?”

I don’t know whether that’s the right thing to say or not. It’s impossible to know one way or the other. I know that when I mentioned Ginny Thompson, the twelve year old that lives up the road, I got slammed in the gut. You never know with Daddy.

He looks over at me. “Nah, no need.”

He doesn’t seem quite as mad. Maybe the people he was looking for not showing up before sunset eased his mind some. Maybe if they, whoever they are, haven’t come by now they’re not coming. A part of me is dying to ask him who he’s looking for and why they might be coming all the way up here, but a bigger part of me tells me to keep my damn mouth shut. 

He hops down off the tailgate and I slide down, trying not to make any noise when I land, even if it hurts, which it does. He puts the tailgate up and heads off, shotgun in the crook of his arm, the box of shells in his crippled left hand.  He has to hold the box against his stomach; he hasn’t been able to close the fingers of that hand since the accident with the hay baler half a dozen years ago. The doctors had told him he was lucky to still have the hand. They couldn’t give him back much control over the fingers, though, so it was more a claw than anything else. All this time gone by and he’s still mad about that, still talks about the Trent family like they held him and shoved his hand in there on purpose. Everybody, including me, knew his sleeve got caught in the machinery and the oldest Trent boy had saved his whole arm, cutting that sleeve before it could pull him in up to the shoulder. Quick with a knife, that boy was, but Daddy, as far as I know, never thanked him for that. The Trents paid the hospital bills, too. I think he did mumble something to them about that, but it was hard for him.

And there’s part of all that I understand, at least a little. Daddy never wanted to owe any man anything. They say pride is a sin, but I don’t know. Daddy doesn’t have much but pride, so I think I know why he hangs on to it so tight and gets so mad when he has to take a big swallow. I get that. I just wish us folks that have to live with him didn’t have to suffer when he thinks he’s lost face. I start to follow him toward the house.

He’s limping again. I wonder if somebody on the job kicked his ass today and that’s what this is about, but I know better than to bring it up. Ever since the baler thing he’s had to take whatever job he can — I’ve seen him rig a piece of rope into a sling so he can carry heavier stuff — but I know there’s a lot of young men out there that can work him into the ground, and they’re the kind that would let him know it every day. Tomatoes are just coming in and just like every year he’s mostly at the Wilcox place again, a big farm with greenhouses and fields full of plants. He’s up against all those Mexicans that sneak across the border; he hates the sight of them. He told me once that those brown-skinned bastards never stopped for a break, just kept on, shaming all the good white folks around them. I wonder if that’s who I was supposed to be watching for.

I give up thinking about it and start toward the house when, pretty far off, I see headlights.

Ijams Mayapple Marketplace

Ijam’s annual spring outdoor market is this weekend, and I’ll have my books on display. There’s a new children’s book this year, and some new information about the Boone Series as well. Bundle up and drop by on Sunday, 10-3. There’s always a good variety of quality vendors at this show.