Burrows (Red River Mystery Series #2)by Reavis Z Wortham
Lyndon B. Johnson is President, Beatlemania is in overdrive and gasoline costs 30 cents a gallon when Ned Parker retires as constable in Center Springs, Texas. But his plan to live a quiet life as a cotton farmer is torpedoed. A phone call leads Ned to a body in the Red River and into the urgent investigation headed by his nephew, the/i>/i>
Lyndon B. Johnson is President, Beatlemania is in overdrive and gasoline costs 30 cents a gallon when Ned Parker retires as constable in Center Springs, Texas. But his plan to live a quiet life as a cotton farmer is torpedoed. A phone call leads Ned to a body in the Red River and into the urgent investigation headed by his nephew, the newly elected constable Cody Parker. Together they work to head off a multi-state killing spree that sets northeast Texas on fire.
As the weeks pass, Ned’s grandchildren, ten-year-old Top and his tomboy cousin Pepper, struggle with personal issues resulting from their traumatic experiences at the Rock Hole only months before. They now find themselves in the middle of a nightmare for which no one can prepare.
Cody and Deputy John Washington, the law south of the tracks, follow a lead from their small community to the long abandoned Cotton Exchange warehouse in Chisum. Stunned, they find the Exchange packed full of the town’s cast off garbage and riddled with booby-trapped passageways and dark burrows. Despite Ned’s warnings, Cody enters the building and finds himself relying on his recent military experiences to save both himself and Big John. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t end there and the killing spree continues...
Read an Excerpt
BurrowsA Red River Mystery
By Reavis Z. Wortham
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2012 Reavis Z. Wortham
All right reserved.
Though slight, the wet splat was clearly audible on the warm front porch of the small Lamar County farmhouse. Josh Brooks rocked ever so slowly as the late evening breeze waved the long grass along the nearby fence row and ruffled his curly brown hair. He stared at his lap, breathing as if trying to save energy or control his emotions.
A Hereford on the other side of the barbed wire scratched her chin on a bodark fence post and swished her tail at a pestering cloud of late season flies. Josh's boyhood friend Kendal stepped outside through the wooden screen door and allowed it to slam shut.
For a moment Kendal stopped, expecting a scolding for banging the door. When they were children, it was almost impossible to remember to close it softly, and every kid that raced through Mrs. Brook's living room allowed the door to slap shut about every third time.
"Sorry Miss Onie!" Kendal called through the screen to Josh's mother.
The neat, elderly house in the small farming community of Forest Chapel belonged to Josh, who had never lived anywhere else. His dad, Oscar, had farmed the one hundred eighty acres until a heart attack felled him one soft spring morning as he fed the cows. Josh turned twenty-one a year after the funeral and married the prettiest girl in Forest Chapel, Beth Dearborn. Miss Onie Mae let them have the master bedroom, moved to the other side of the house, and they never looked back.
Sporting a burr haircut, Kendal sipped on a glass of sweet tea. Everyone said Miss Onie Mae Brooks made the best tea in the county. "You need to get that drip fixed, Josh."
The young farmer didn't respond as Kendal strolled across the wooden boards of the pier and beam farmhouse and settled into a mismatched rocker beside Josh. The setting sun cast long autumn shadows across the yard, bathing it and the pasture in a warm glow.
A tinny radio in the background played a Chuck Berry song.
"You know, Josh, it's been good to see you again after all these years. Remember how it was here in the evenings when we were kids? I really enjoyed those summer nights; catching lightning bugs in jars and playing chase."
Kendal sighed, enjoying the tinkle of ice against the glass that once held store-bought jelly. "Most of the time anyway. When Randal Wicker and Merle Clark played with us it kinda irritated me. Seems like with the four of us, I was always low man on the totem pole. You think it was because I was different? I suppose it's the nature of kids to gang up on one for some reason. Anyway, it don't matter none anymore, does it?
"I thought about those days when I was in the hospital. There was nothing else to do all those years except lay there and think, or listen to the radio. Most of the time I wished I was back here with you, being a kid again."
Kendal rocked and grinned at a sudden memory. "You know, Randal really wasn't as good a friend as you were. I guess he and Merle were more like a team, like you and me should have been. That came to mind the other day, too. The radio was on when I was coming down here from Nebraska and I found a station playing that new song 'And I Love Her' by the Beatles. That's when a memory clicked and it was the four of us playing ball out here in the grass, but we weren't listening to them long hairs back then, were we?
"But anyway, it was that song, this time of the year, and the weather that made me think to myself 'You need to stop by and see them boys because it's been a long, long time since y'all last visited.' So here I am.
"You remember that day Merle got an extension cord and brought the Philco outside and put it right there by Miss Onie Mae's peonies and turned it up loud while we played baseball?"
The pleasant demeanor crumbled for a moment, and Kendal chuckled. "I've always thought Randal was kinda jealous of me, especially because I got a new glove for Christmas that year."
Hey sissy, are you stupid or what? Is somethin' wrong with you? C'mon and catch the ball ya moron! Don't be afraid of it!
"You remember that? I loved the smell of a new ball glove fresh out of the box. I don't even think girls ever smelled so good, except for Beth that is.
"Man, wasn't she something? I especially remember how she'd run her fingers through that Esther Williams hair of hers and pull it back behind one ear, real sexy-like. Oh, yeah, I guess you do, since you wound up marrying her. She was crazy about you from the get-go, even when we were little. I wish things had been different for me, but I can't quit thinking that if things were normal she might have liked me best."
Josh let the comment go without answering. His finger twitched on the rocker's armrest, then he settled back again.
Kendal laughed and called through the door. "Ain't that right, Beth? We had some times all right. But y'all were always playing those jokes on me, calling me sissy or sister-girl. I never did learn to tell when you were kidding or pulling a prank."
They rocked while Josh allowed the conversation to be monopolized.
"The best one was when y'all sprinkled those leaves over the limbs and trash washed across that little draw down by the creek bottoms and convinced me it was solid enough to walk across. Whooee! I thought I wouldn't stop falling until I landed in China. That draw must have been fifteen feet deep. Busted my lip and I nearly bit through my tongue. You boys were practical jokers all right."
A sudden gust blew across the road, threatening to snatch Josh's cap.
"That danged drip is really getting annoying. We'll need to fix it pretty soon. Anyway, Merle was kinda mean sometimes. Like when y'all told me you didn't want to play. Oh hell, I knew y'all were sneaking off together without me, and don't think I didn't see what you did when no one was watching. That's what hurt the worst, me wanting to be with you and y'all stringin' off alone and leaving me."
They sat for a moment longer, watching the sun settle toward the tree tops. Kendal drained the glass and set it carefully on the painted two-by-four serving as the porch rail. "Well, we had our secrets, didn't we? But the things you did ... the things you said ... well, that's why I'm here.
"My therapist told me it was best to lay the ghosts, and that's what I'm trying to do. Matter of fact, he's right and I feel pretty good right now. Going by Randal's yesterday and this stopover did wonders for me; seeing you, Beth, and your mama. Well, I need to keep moving and there's a lot of people to visit before I have to move on."
The driver in the two-tone 1958 Buick Roadmaster convertible honked impatiently and then returned to slapping spilled flour from his sleeve. Behind the wheel, Kevin's tolerance was wearing thin because they had places to go. And besides, he was hungry. He wanted to run up to the Center Springs store. He had his mouth set for rat cheese and crackers, something he hadn't tasted in months.
"All right, Kevin, you dumb bastard." Kendal stood and stared down at Josh. "I made a mistake getting that aggravating son of a bitch out of Tulsa. He's worrisome and I'm about tired of traveling with him. You know Kevin, though, he's from over in Boggy Bend. His daddy is Don Jennings."
Kendal adjusted the .22 revolver stuck in the waistband of half-damp, slightly oversized jeans stolen from Beth's clothes line. A razor sharp Old Hickory butcher knife from the kitchen rode snug behind a plain leather belt. With a forefinger, Kendal reached out, caught a small drip hanging on the end of Josh's nose, and carefully wiped the red liquid on his already soaked pants.
"All right. I'm gonna drop by and see Merle here in a little bit. You know, y'all shouldn't a-done me the way you did, but I reckon that's about settled, and then I'm going to Mexico for a while.
"Anyway, you don't look so good, boy. Guess a .22 bullet rattling around in there behind your eyes will do that. But you still need to get that drip fixed." Kendal laughed, chewed an almost non-existent fingernail for a moment and started down the steps. "Oh, one more thing I need to do before I go. Won't take a minute. Hold your horses, Kevin and don't you get up either, Beth! You and Ma lay there by the fire where it's comfortable. Good to see y'all again."
Chapter TwoI was in the pasture, sneaking up on a field lark in the tall tickle grass, when I heard Grandpa's tractor turn onto the oil road leading out of the bottoms. I got the idea from television the night before when I saw a soldier on Combat use his rifle to push down the grass as he crawled up on a German machine gun nest.
I was making a pretty fair belly sneak for an eleven year old, but Hootie made things harder as he raced around sniffing for quail in the November sunshine.
Truthfully, I was out there because Miss Becky had gotten a call and when I heard who was on the other end of the line, I figured it would be best to make myself scarce. It was surprising that Mr. Elmer Hughes would take the time to pick up the phone and complain about me throwing dirt clods at the pickups passing on the highway.
Great-grandpa Will Parker built our house on a little hill overlooking the bottoms. The main highway coming over the creek bridge from the east was arrow straight for a mile before curving around our house like a stream around a boulder. The high position gave me a perfect setup to chunk clods at passing cars and trucks. I was pretending to bomb them, like in Combat.
The hard sand clods hadn't actually hit anyone, but they made dusty little puffs on the highway as the cars went by. I had the range down when Mr. Earl passed, and a pretty good sized clod hit directly in front of his truck. I didn't figure it would hurt the paint on that old wreck none if I did hit him, and I didn't, but he tapped his brakes and I skinned out of there before he could see who was hiding up near the corner post of Grandpa's overgrown barbed wire fence.
Anyway, just as I got close enough to get a shot at the bird, I heard Grandpa's old two-cylinder Popping Johnny tractor turn out of the bottoms. Because the breeze was out of the northeast, I also heard our radio through the open window over a hundred yards away. Miss Becky had it turned to a loud sermon about The Beatles and how that new rock and roll group was going to take everyone straight to hell before 1964 was done.
As I slid forward, I caught a glimpse of the tractor as it came down the oil road on the other side of the pasture.
Then a big ol' snake stuck his head out of the dry grass not two inches from my arm. I didn't recognize what kind it was. It might have been anything from a copperhead to a blue racer, but it didn't make me any difference.
It was a snake and I was always scared of snakes as I was of a bear.
We froze, almost nose to nose. It was strange, because everything suddenly snapped into crystal clarity. I took in the sharpness of its scales, the pattern they made, and the way its body expanded and contracted as it breathed.
I'd heard enough stories about them who've been bit. Doctors tie tourniquets above the bite and make deep cuts with a sharp knife into each fang mark. The arm or leg swells up and turns black. Then the flesh dies and sloughs off to reveal bone and tendons. Old Mr. Harry Nichols was missing the little and ring fingers of his left hand from where a water moccasin bit him when he was a boy and he got gangrene.
The tractor came closer and turned onto the two-lane highway. From there it was only a couple of hundred yards to the gravel drive leading up to the farmhouse. Clear as a bell I heard a scissortail singing while he jumped up and down on top of a telephone pole by the highway.
The sound was wonderfully natural while I laid there and stared at what I finally figured to be a water moccasin. The pool wasn't a hundred yards away and the snake was hunting, like me. I was fascinated by those glassy black eyes.
Its tongue flicked out.
It was too much. My face flushed with heat and I prickled all over with fear. Before it could coil, absolute terror jolted me into action. I jumped to my feet with a shriek and raced back toward the drive. Hootie saw my sudden leap and shot across the pasture, weaving in and out of the bull nettles and over the milkweeds.
Grandpa Ned waved as we ran parallel to the road. From his perch high on the tractor's hard metal seat, he had no idea I was running in panic. I was so scared I forgot to watch out for the bull-nettles and brushed one of the plants. The tiny hairs poked through my jeans.
I barely paid any attention to the burning in my leg as I ran to the barbed wire fence and realized I'd cheated death one more time. Hootie slid under the lowest strand of wire and I followed closely behind.
I was safe! No snake bite. I suddenly felt as if I could float in the air like a balloon. My fear went away in an instant and I whooped and charged the tractor, filled with relief.
Grandpa turned into the drive and stopped his John Deere as we cleared the wire. He pushed the clutch lever and grinned down at me. "Top! Did you finally get up? Hand me that rifle and climb on up here!"
Jittery from excitement and relief, I realized I still had my BB gun. I handed it up, the muzzle pointed away. Grandpa laid the air rifle at his feet, extended a sun-browned hand, and pulled me upward to stand on the wide axle beside the iron seat. His blue work shirt and overalls suited him; soft and faded from scrubbings in the team of square metal washtubs on the back porch. I grabbed hold of his gallus for balance.
"Hang on!" He pushed the tall throttle bar. Hootie ran in a wide circle around us. The virtually worn out tractor jolted forward, tires popping on the gravel.
Grandpa used to be a farmer and the constable in Center Springs until he had enough of toting the law in Precinct 3. He retired and left his badge on top of the television months before, but he hadn't escaped the plow. It was a good thing, because we all knew that he had to keep busy. If he sat down and did nothing, he'd die.
From beside Grandpa I could see directly ahead into the hay barn on top of the hill. We followed the drive's incline to the five-hundred-gallon gas tank. He shut off the engine.
"Did you kill any birds this morning with that air gun?"
"Couldn't get a shot. Them field larks know just enough to stay out of range, but I did get two big old bullfrogs down at the pool right after I got up this morning. Miss Becky showed me how to clean them. She said she'd fry the legs for our dinner."
"Hope I get a bite. Here we go." He grabbed my much smaller hand and lowered me back to the ground, letting me dangle for a moment like a monkey before he let go. He passed me the BB gun and despite his age, he climbed down like a young man and stretched the kinks out of his back. After wiping the sweat out of his hat with a faded handkerchief, he removed the nozzle from the gas pump and inserted it into the tractor's tank. Grasping the handle, he cranked it to prime the pump, and then reversed the direction to fill the tank.
I left him to his business, ran to the house, and yanked open the screen door. It slapped closed and the comfortable smells of fried meat and vegetables drew me to the table sitting square in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by rough-hewn cabinets, a deep freeze, the ice box, and a homemade china cabinet.
"Go wash your hands," Miss Becky ordered without turning from the hot stove where she was frying my frog legs. The bun on the back of her head hung limp in the kitchen's humidity, despite the time of the year. Two box fans moved the warm air around.
"I ran into a bull nettle. My leg's stinging like fire."
"Well, we'll put some damp baking soda on it in a minute."
She kept the black plastic General Electric radio in the adjoining living room tuned to a station out of Chisum. The preaching was over, and the news and crop reports were on. Mostly background noise to me, Grandpa liked to listen to the local crime report, even though he was retired.
By the time I washed my hands, the table was set. Grandpa stomped on the porch to knock the dirt and sandburs off his brogans. He came inside, went straight to the water bucket on the counter, filled the dipper, and swallowed hard several times. He always counted on Miss Becky to draw a bucket of cold water fresh from the well and have it ready. In the heat of the summer, she kept a big chunk of store-bought ice floating on top.
He pitched his straw hat on top of the deep freeze and went to the bathroom to wash his face and hands, splashing water on the sink and wall like a duck.
"Y'all sit down and eat now." Miss Becky placed a pan of hot biscuits on the table within easy reach of Grandpa as he came in drying his face with a hand towel. He took his place and broke one open to cool.
"Mama, y'all get ready after dinner and I'll carry you to town. I need to go by the courthouse and you can get what you need at the store while I'm there."
Excerpted from Burrows by Reavis Z. Wortham Copyright © 2012 by Reavis Z. Wortham. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
As a boy, award-winning writer, Reavis Z. Wortham hunted and fished the river bottoms near Chicota, Texas, the inspiration for Center Springs. He is the author of Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café . Humor editor and frequent contributor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine , he writes on everything from fishing to deer hunting. In addition to several other magazines, his work has appeared in American Cowboy and Texas Sporting Journal. A retired educator of 35 years, he and wife Shana live in Frisco, Texas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Once again, Reavis Wortham takes his mysteries into the world of literary writing. This second installment of his Red River Mysteries combines Tom & Becky Sawyer, 1960's Texas small town cowboys, Vietnam War veterans experiences in tunnels, and a touch of Steven King, to produce a fast passed thriller with a coming of age story. Ned has resigned as Constable but the towns folks continue to call upon him with their needs even though Cody has taken over this job. Truly, these two men, and Ned's counterpart in the Black community, John Worthington, work as a teem anyway, as titles are of little use to anyone In this small community. Ten year olds Top, and his precocious cousin Pepper, want in on all the action too. Though this may also result in whippings, and mouth washings with soap, their curiosity can not be thwarted! When a headless body is found in the surrounding waters, a nightmare premonition of Cody's seems to be playing out in real life. A hoarder of the first order has filled the five story cotton exchange with tons of "stuff", garbage, and booby traps. Pursuing a lead, Cody and John find themselves lost in a deadly maze of burrows, with rats, snakes, body parts, and explosives---and they are trapped within this whole deadly mess. Hopefully, Cody's experiences in the tunnels of Viet Nam will help them to get out alive. Everything seems to be revolving around a suspected "crazy" character from the town's past who needs to be caught before more headless bodies pile up. Again, great characters, thrilling descriptions, Texas humor, and twisted mysteries make this second book in this series a real winner of a book! Be sure to read the beginning in this series first--THE ROCK HOLE.
Outstanding. This man can really write. Plus he has a real feel for the region, the individual characters and their world view (or lack thereof) and he demonstrates kinship with men of wide ranging ages. The women are another story. This is the second strong novel from this author and it’s quite dark and difficult. It’s the 1960s in rural Texas, near the Oklahoma border. A member of one of the larger families in and around Chisum has disappeared from a Midwestern asylum and appears to be murdering his way across the belly of the nation toward a quiet town. Ned Parker has retired after years serving as a town constable but people still call him when trouble arises. Ex-constable Ned Parker, hero of The Rock Hole, has plenty to keep him occupied. His two young grandchildren, Pepper and Top seem to always be underfoot, even in the most dangerous circumstances. In the hands of a less skilled author, this could be questionable. Not here. A large chunk of the central part of the action concerns the penetration by two deputies into a hoarder-packed abandoned industrial building. The section is long and could have been an attention killer. It is not. The continually rising tension is well-handled and maintains reader interest. This is a fine novel and a worthy successor to The Rock Hole. I heartily recommend it. As is true of all my review subjects, this novel was supplied by the publisher at no cost to me and with no expectation one way or other as to the possible resulting review.