The compelling thriller that launched the career of best-selling novelist Stuart Woods in an anniversary hardcover edition.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 25th Anniversary Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.70(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
Book One: Will Henry Lee
HUGH HOLMES, president of the Bank of Delano and chairman of the Delano City Council, was a man who, more than most, thought about the present in terms of the future. It was one of his great strengths, both as a banker and as a politician, but on a cold morning in December of 1919, this facuIty failed him. It would be many years before he would have some grasp of how that morning changed his future, changed everything.
Holmes prided himself on being able to took at a man as he entered the bank and predict what the man would want, On this morning he watched through the sliding window in the wall be tween his office and the main room of the bank as Will Henry Lee entered, and Holmes indulged himself in a bit of his usual prognostication. Will Henry Lee was a cotton farmer; his standing mortgage was due the first of the year, and he would want it renewed. It took Holmes only seconds to review the circumstances: Will Henry's debt amounted to about thirty-five percent of the value of his farm, in reasonably good times. That was a lower level of debt than was borne by most farmers, and Will Henry had paid his interest on time and made two payments against principal. But Holmes knew, the boll weevil situation being what it was, that Will Henry might fail with his next crop. Still, he respected the man, liked him, wen; he decided to renew. He leaned forward at his desk and pretended to read a letter, confident that he had anticipated the content of their approaching discussion and had worked out an appropriate response. Will Henry knocked at the open door, sat down, exchanged pleasantries, and askedHolmes for the job of chief of police.
Holmes was stupefied, partly by the completely unexpected request, and partly by the total collapse of his early-warning system. His mind was not accustomed to such surprises, and it lurched about through a long moment of silence as it struggled to assimilate this outrageous input and get it into an orderly framework of thought. The effort was a failure. To give himself more time, he clambered onto familiar ground. "Well, now, Will Henry, you're not overextended on your farm. We could probably see you through another crop, even with things the way they are with cotton." To his credit, Holmes maintained his banker's face throughout the exchange.
"Hugh, if I extended I'd have to have more capital, which means getting deeper in debt to the bank. If I did that for another crop things wouldn't get any better; they'd just get worse. Better farmers than me are going under. I think you'd be doing the best thing for the bank if you took the farm now and sold it. I might get something after the note was paid. To tell you the truth, Hoss Spence offered me nearly about exactly what I owe for the place just last week, but I think I'd rather let the bank take it than let a man buy me out for a third of what the place is worth. Hoss's peaches and cattle are going to be on a lot of land where cotton used to grow, and I'd just as soon my land didn't get included in that." He stopped talking, looked at Holmes, and waited.
Holmes's brain was beginning to thrash through the gears now. Item one: Will Henry was right about the bank's position; taking the farm now would give a better chance of coming through the transaction profitably; things could truly be a whole lot worse next year. Item two: Delano had long been big enough for a chief, but the town wasn't big enough to attract an experienced officer from another force. Holmes, as chairman of the city council, had been looking hard for months for a suitable man. The chief at La Grange had put it to him bluntly. "Mr. Holmes, I'll tell you the truth; right now Delano couldn't even attract a decent patrolman from a larger town, let alone a sergeant. My advice to you would be to find a local man that people respect, and give him the job. In a town like Delano he can do about ninety-nine percent of what he's got to do with just plain old respect."
Holmes looked across the desk at Will Henry. He respected the min, and he was a harsher judge than most. Will Henry was well known in the community, even though he and his father before him had been country men. Maybe his always having lived in the country would mix a little distance with familiarity and give respect a sharper edge. Holmes resisted an urge to pump Will Henry's hand and pin a badge on him right on the spot. He had to preserve a reputation for caution, and, anyway, he couldn't make the decision entirely on his own.
"Well, I'll have to bring this up at the next council meeting." He paused. "Have you talked to Carrie about this, Will Henry?"
"No, I wanted to talk to you first. Carrie's all ready to worry us through another crop, but I think it'd be a kind of relief to her to have done with the farm. We'd have to find a house in town, and I think she'd like fixing that up. She's really always been a town girl at heart, I think. What's your opinion of my chances for this job, Hugh?"Holmes cleared his throat. "Well, I guess you could say les within the maim of possibility. I'll see that the council gives the proposal serious consideration." The two men rose and shook hands. "I might be able to help you with finding a house in town, too." He already...
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