Deepwater: A Novel

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Overview

A sexy, psychological thriller about a young man with a mysterious past.

Nat Banyon, young, handsome, and rough around the edges, accidentally stumbles into the shady town of Deepwater. He takes on a painting job at a dingy hotel, and soon afterwards seduces his employer's beautiful wife. But it isn't long before dangerous things begin to happen around town, and Nat isn't sure who's responsible: the desperate wife, her suspicious husband, or Nat himself. Deepwater has all you ...

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DEEPWATER

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Overview

A sexy, psychological thriller about a young man with a mysterious past.

Nat Banyon, young, handsome, and rough around the edges, accidentally stumbles into the shady town of Deepwater. He takes on a painting job at a dingy hotel, and soon afterwards seduces his employer's beautiful wife. But it isn't long before dangerous things begin to happen around town, and Nat isn't sure who's responsible: the desperate wife, her suspicious husband, or Nat himself. Deepwater has all you want from a thriller: sex, murder, fast cars, and a big scary dog.

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Editorial Reviews

Toby Bromberg
Reading like a Faulkner novel, Deepwater is a hypnotic tale of power, lust, and death. Although not for all tastes, the storyline is compellingly seductive, enticing the reader into the twisted world of Nat Banyan. Not a quick read, but still a satisfying tale.
Romantic Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in the remote, rural community of Deepwater, in an area of the country the author leaves vague, this eerie psychological thriller tracks the short visit of Nat Banyon, a drifter of unknown origin who stumbles into town and takes up work as a handyman at a local motel. Out of this rather conventional opening comes a story that quickly snaps in a new direction, becoming an inspired tale of suspicious strangers, a secret love affair and one man's slide into madness. The peculiarities begin soon after Banyon starts painting the motel for its owner, Herman Finch, an older man who gives Banyon the creeps by speaking enigmatically, and knowingly, of his new employee. Not only does Finch seem unusually interested in, and overly generous to, the handsome Banyon, but all the townsfolk in Deepwater seem indebted to Finch in ominous ways. Chief among them is Finch's wife, voluptuous Iris, whose guarded conduct in public belies her hardy sexual appetite, which Banyon feeds fiercely and frequently. Nerve-wracked by his powerful clandestine trysts, Banyon is also spooked by the uncanny similarities he sees between Finch and himself. Finch seems to be able to read his mind, and even more alarming, seems to have had a distinct resemblance to Banyon in photographs taken decades earlier. Could Finch actually be Banyon's father, or even Banyon himself, 30 years in the future? Such phantasmal thoughts, mingled with his lusty enchantment with Iris, send Banyon into a ruinous spiral of nightmares centering on his orphaned past and bleak visions of his future. It's a grim story, and one told exceedingly well, particularly through the characters' slangy dialogue. Jones's prose (A Single Shot; Blind Pursuit) is rich with backwoods vernacular and is deceptively spare. He creates tension with remarkable economy and intricacy in a sinister narrative that ultimately reveals itself as a powerful expression of loneliness, dangerous passions and the quest for identity. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
One stranger meets someone even stranger on an unnamed highway in the heart of Deepwater in a state not specified during a period left vague. Thus begins Jones's unsettling new novel. Nat Banyon is hired on the spot as a handyman by the enigmatic Herman Finch, ostensibly to paint Finch's motel, also named Deepwater. It turns out that Nat is indeed handy with his hands, especially when it comes to women and most especially when it comes to Iris, Finch's young, attractive, and very willing wife. We're in James M. Cain country here, and the terse dialog and steamy sex make the trip entertaining, even if routine. Before we know it, though, the novel careens off into Stephen King territory, making for a scary ride. There is a rottweiler named Dog, who is possibly the familiar of any one of the three main characters. The rivalry between the two men, both sexual and otherwise, mounts to the point where they agree to a climatic encounter in the boxing ring. With each novel--Jones's last was Blind Pursuit--there is hope that this will be the one that breaks him out from the pack. That hope continues. For larger public libraries.--Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Once again experimenting with commercial forms, Jones (Blind Pursuit, 1997, etc.) turns boondocks noir into hallucinogenic horror as a down-on-his-luck drifter finds love and villainy in a seedy lakeside motel. Nat Banyon stops his stolen car on a mountain road to help Herman Finch, an aging, pistol-packing former boxer who's run his Cadillac into a ditch. Herman offers him pocket money and free breakfasts if he'll paint his run-down Deepwater Motel, situated near an Indian-reservation gambling casino. Nat accepts when he glimpses Mrs. Finch: a dark-haired sexpot half Herman's age. Not long after Nat sets up his ladder, Iris and Nat are happily going at it in the first of many hot sex scenes, plotting to escape the motel with Herman's hidden cache of cash. What seems to be a familiar trail worn smooth by James M. Cain and Jim Thompson turns weird as Nat, an orphan, begins to have eerie nightmares and daydreams about his troubled past, a baby who may have been drowned, and Herman's menacing rottweiler. Among the peculiar thoughts Nat entertains is that Herman might be his father. After police find the waterlogged, half-eaten corpse of a ne'er-do-well who owed Herman money, Herman, who hints he knows his wife is having an affair, cuts deals with Nat that put him only deeper in debt. Then Herman makes Nat an offer he can't refuse: beat him in a boxing match, and all Nat's debts are canceled. As Nat trains for the fight, he finds himself waking up at odd hours of the night, filthy and wounded without any memory of what has passed. Iris warns him that Herman never loses a bet, while Nat wonders whether it's Herman, the rottweiler, or something worse controlling his thoughts andplanning his doom. The postman rings again in a malignant pastoral of steamy sex, Oedipal terror, and a few too many Faulknerian fever dreams.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582340593
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 10/15/1999
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew F. Jones was born in Boston and raised in rural upstate New York. He has written four other novels, all of them critically acclaimed including Blind Pursuit and A Single Shot. He has, among other things, practiced law and taught writing. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Intangibles loomed large in Banyon's world. He put more stock in karma and gut feelings than he did in his five senses. One of his favorite mental pictures was of an Indian medicine man staring into the earth with his eyes squeezed shut. He believed that terrains were ruled by internal rhythms, which, in varying degrees, he could tune into as he drove through an area, thereby getting a sense of its overall temperament. Only rarely, as in these desolate mountains — appearing this high up untouched by man — did a place give off no vibes at all, at least none readily detectable to Banyon, who pictured the land as, far from lacking vibrancy, an aging but beautiful old maid struggling to hold in the great secret that had formed her.

    Onto the Pontiac's windshield a light rain began to fall, though a small piece of sun was still visible. Banyon searched for a rainbow, but couldn't find one. Then the rain stopped. The clouds dissipated. The whole sun reemerged. Banyon opened his window. The temperate morning air was dampened only by a slight mist bearding the conifers to his right, from where the mountain dropped straight down for what looked to be a mile or more to a wooded valley interspersed by large, green fields and traversed north to south by a serpentining river. A sheer wall of blasted shale defaced the acclivity out his opposite window. Where the two-lane road started an even steeper descent ahead, a sign announced a town in ten miles. Banyon switched on the dash radio, but couldn't tune in a station. Entering a blind curve, he switched it off; from around the corner came a harshscreech of tires; a solid thud; the sound of a racing engine.

    Lightening up on the Pontiac's accelerator, Banyon proceeded slowly through the bend to see a middle-aged Cadillac, its passenger-side wheels in the ditch, hugging the left bank a hundred yards in front of him. A beagle-sized animal, its back or neck apparently broken, flopped around in the road a few feet behind the car, the roar from which suggested its gas pedal was stuck to the floor. Banyon pulled the Pontiac onto the shoulder across from the one he'd been driving next to and stopped it thirty or so feet before the Cadillac. He stepped out and started trotting toward the disabled car, which appeared unoccupied. He was halfway to it when its engine abruptly quit. A head popped up from behind the steering wheel and a man's voice shouted, 'Halt right there.'

    Believing he must have misunderstood the voice, Banyon ignored it. The sun reflecting off the car's windshield prevented him from seeing the speaker clearly. Blood marred the road beneath the wounded animal, which could now be heard mewling pathetically in its wrenching, half-paralyzed movements. The Cadillac's driver door opened and a stocky, white-haired man, maybe fifty, emerged; extending one hand coplike at Banyon, who was ten feet from him, he wielded in the other a large pistol. 'Don't come any farther,' he said.

    Banyon didn't.

    The man turned away from him, strode to within five feet of the wounded animal, which Banyon could now see was a fox, aimed his pistol at it, and shot it twice in the head. The fox stopped moving. The ceasing of its cries and the quieting of the gunshot's echo created a silence that seemed to Banyon even louder than the noise it replaced. The man shoved the pistol between his belt and pants. He faced Banyon. 'That acted rabid way it come out in front of me.' He bent down and picked up a stick near his feet. Realizing his hands were half-raised, Banyon self-consciously dropped them. The man approached the fox. 'See how its mouth's all foamed up?'

    The question seemed not to require an answer and Banyon didn't provide one.

    With one end of the stick, the man pushed the fox onto the gravel shoulder. 'A conservation officer will want to come out here and pick it up for testing before something else gets into it.'

    He walked back to the Cadillac and nodded at its two right tires, which were flat. 'This here's changed my plans about heading over the mountain, wouldn't you say?'

    Another statement dressed up as a question, thought Banyon, treating it that way. The man looked past him at the Pontiac. 'From out the area, I see?'

    Banyon nodded, wondering when the man would ask a real question.

    'Guess you're going into town?'

    'I am if that's what's up ahead.'

    The man chuckled almost boyishly. 'Was there when I left it a few minutes ago.'

    'Probably still is then.'

    The man seemed disappointed that Banyon hadn't found his joke more amusing. 'Got room for me?'

    'Sure'.

    The man pulled the pistol out of his belt. He smiled coyly. 'Won't need this, will I?'

    'You won't to ride with me,' said Banyon, watching a tractor-trailer ascending inchmeal up the steep hill below them. 'Can't say 'bout after.'

    The man chuckled again, then reached into the Cadillac through its open driver door, slid the gun under the front seat, pulled the keys from the ignition, withdrew from the car, and shut and locked the door. `I sure do appreciate this, young man.'

    `I'd of done the same for a lot of folks.'

    `That's a fine trait to have.'

    `I don't look at it as anything special, helping out someone. It's just the way I am.'

    `By God, you don't hear that often today.'

    Shrugging, Banyon turned and led the man back to the Pontiac. `I'm Herman Finch,' the man told him over the car's roof, `owner and operator of the Deepwater Motel' — he beamed — `a rural hideaway.'

    Banyon nodded, aware of the approaching tractor-trailer's tortured growl.

    `And you are?'

    Banyon reluctantly said his name, then climbed into the LeMans.


His shock of hair being mussed by the warm breeze blowing through the open windows, Herman Finch called out, `I like how you handle a car, Nat.'

    Guiding the LeMans at more than average speed through the sharp, downward curves, Banyon once more deemed a reply unnecessary.

    `What year is she? '77, '78?'

    So not to guess wrong, Banyon nodded evasively.

    `At around your age, back in the dark ages, I owned a modified Chrysler — a real muscle car. Had a speedometer went up to one-forty and you could bury it in the shake of a dog's tail!' Finch looked into the rear seat at Banyon's bulging gym bag, then back out through the windshield at the lowlands ahead. `Ever seen a valley so beautiful not up between a woman's legs, Nat?'

    `It's a sight,' allowed Banyon.

    `Twenty-five odd years ago I came here to shit or get flushed down the pot.'

    `Which did you?'

    Finch laughed. `I'm doing all right, young man. Doing all right for myself.' He pointed a finger through the glass at a half-dozen or so vultures circling above a radio tower near the mountain's top. `'Pears one of our local DJs died on the air again.'

    Banyon half-smiled, recalling how he'd been able to find just static on the dash radio earlier.

    `What's your line of work, Nat?'

    `A little of this, a little of that.'

    `Well, you're young yet.'

    `I got a want to keep moving.'

    `Of course you do.'

    Banyon didn't say anything.

    `You need to see the world, right?'

    Banyon wordlessly downshifted, chirping the tires.

    `It's what I did instead of bothering with much school and it made me an educated man.'

    `I've had jobs a plenty. I ain't afraid to take or leave one.'

    `Mostly wage work?'

    `I don't do it for free.'

    Finch let out with his childlike laugh again. `Which kind best suits you?'

    `Kind where I ain't got a roof over my head, don't matter hot or cold. I planted twenty-five-thousand Christmas trees in North Carolina when it never went below ninety degrees and didn't much mind it for the heat.'

    Finch whistled softly. `That's a lot of trees.'

    `I wouldn't put 'em in the ground again for twice the money.'

    `Been there, done that, huh?'

    `Was a bitch on the knees, but I didn't find out how big a one till later.'

    Finch pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket. `What do we learn of ourselves but through our labors, Nat?'

    Banyon didn't offer an opinion.

    `Any work you won't do?'

    Banyon thought he detected a graver tone behind the light one in which Finch posed the question. `Whatever might be harmful to my health, `less it pays for the risk.'

    Finch stuck the cigar into his mouth, but didn't light it. Banyon got the idea he was angling his way into a subject but Banyon couldn't guess what it might be. `Sales is where I started out.'

    `I tried my hand a little at that. Didn't much care for it.'

    `Maybe it was the product.'

    `That didn't strike me as entering into it.'

    `Give me an example of what you were trying to sell.'

    Banyon upshifted again, glancing suspiciously at Finch.

    `If you don't mind, Nat.'

    `Vacuum cleaners, furniture off a guy's truck, used cars for a while. The last thing was massaging chairs on straight commission to old people down in Florida.'

    `Seeing how ninety-nine percent of those folks are on fixed incomes and figuring in what had to be the price of those chairs in relation to say Tylenol or Medicaid-allowed prescription pain killers, I'd be surprised that weren't a tough go.'

    `A whole day's talking, which I ain't crazy over to begin with, more times than not netted me zero dollars.'

    Finch's laugh was more a delighted giggle this time. `You've convinced me that sales isn't for you, Nat.' He shoved the cigar back where he'd found it. `And, to your credit, that you're honest about your shortcomings.'

    Banyon slowed down the Pontiac as they entered the outskirts of a small, mountain-enclosed town divided by a sluggish river riding low in its bed amid a summer drought. `I like knowing exactly what a job is and that if I do it right, I'll get paid regardless.'

    Finch nodded as if thinking over that philosophy, but when he spoke next he brought up an entirely different subject. `Cops around here will pull an out-of-state car over for doing as little as five miles per hour over the limit.'

    Banyon, easing off the gas, nervously glanced left, right, and in the rearview mirror, but, to his relief, saw no sign of the law. Then he looked at Finch, who, acting as if he'd never mentioned the cops, directed him to take a right onto a metal bridge from which a barefoot fat woman in a halter top and bermudas fished. `Like to treat you to a Deepwater breakfast, Nat.' He flapped his right hand several times toward the town center, indicating his destination was well beyond it. `See if maybe two graduates of the school of hard knocks can't come together on some sort of a professional arrangement.'

    Though having as little success tuning into Finch's internal rhythms as he was to those of the area in general, Banyon accepted the invitation.


Waving him into the parking lot of an L-shaped motel fronting six cottages and a small lake on a godforsaken stretch of highway eight miles from town, Finch announced, `This is her,' as if not sure Banyon could read the sign out front. Needles from a canopy of white pine branches overhead covered the badly paint-chipped building's flat roof and the static, green water of a half-empty pool near the L's joint. Two cars and an old Indian motorcycle filled three of the cracked-concrete spaces facing the rooms. `This is Herman Finch's Deepwater.'

    An itch to light out hit Banyon, who'd stayed in a few worse places, but he was stopped from scratching it by another feeling that had to do with him being more interested in getting far away from where he'd been the day before than with where exactly he got to.

    Finch had him halt the Pontiac before the office, the only part of the mustard-yellow structure with a rear attachment and a second floor, in which Finch, he told Banyon, lived with his wife. `She's over there this time day.' Finch waved right of them at a dense patch of brushy woods, through which a dirt path led fifty or so feet to what looked to be a grounded submarine flashing a neon sign at the desolate highway. `After I go in and call about having the Caddy and that fox taken care of, we'll go get a bite and you two can meet.'

    Five minutes later he returned outside and led Banyon over to the Deepwater Restaurant/Gift Shop, a converted house trailer atop a concrete foundation in an unpaved parking lot. Three Mexican or Latino men filled the only occupied booth out of the six in the dining area. An old, sun-wrinkled couple drinking coffee had the counter to themselves. The sole waitress was a fading prom queen type around Finch's age, whom Banyon at first took for Finch's wife, but Finch introduced her simply as Pam, then ordered an omelet from her and asked Banyon what he wanted. Banyon ordered the same thing, plus toast and, since the meal was on Finch and only Banyon's second in 24 hours, a double stack of pancakes and Canadian bacon. `By God,' said Finch. He threw a volley of shadow punches at Banyon, who, from the older man's technique, got the idea Finch considered himself somewhat of a pugilist.

    `And he 'asn't a spare ounce on him,' Pam remarked.

    Finch made a big show of eyeing Banyon's lean muscular build, prominent beneath his T-shirt and jeans, as if Banyon was hanging from a butcher's hook. `Plenty of fuel must be part your routine for staying so fit, eh, Nat?'

    Banyon, his face reddening slightly, readjusted himself without replying on the counter stool next to the one Finch was on.

    Pam said, `Have what you want to, honey. You can afford it.'

    `You mean I can,' Finch corrected her.

    `I'm saying he don't carry it on him, like a few others I know.'

    `I never thought twice about it,' Banyon told her.

    `A big appetite won't kill you, Nat' — Finch palm-banged his own midsection, which made a more solid thud than Banyon would have guessed from looking at him —' `less it's for the wrong things." `

    `From the horse's mouth,' Pam said tartly. Finch looked at her in a way Banyon couldn't fathom. Pam poured them coffee. `Thanks,' said Banyon.

    Pam didn't answer. A moment later she went into the kitchen, just as, in a petition left of the counter, a door on which a hand-printed sign declared Gift Shop opened. A woman who briefly took Banyon's breath away came out. `Nat, my wife, Iris,' Finch said.

    Banyon drank from his coffee to mask his surprise at Finch's good fortune, then said, `Hi.'

    `Hey,' Iris told him.

    She was maybe five years older than Banyon and at once less and even more of a knockout than he'd at first taken her for. Her jet-black hair was gathered in a disheveled bun at the nape of her neck. She had thick, fleshy lips; broad, full hips; large, firm-looking breasts. Not fat, she wasn't a model type either. Something about her — Banyon couldn't put a word to it — got to him even more than stone cold beauty could. She wouldn't smell sweet, he guessed, but ripe, like plump, red, juicy strawberries. `Nat saved me from a ten-mile hike off Highmore Mountain,' said Finch, `after a rabid fox ran me off the road.'

    `That was nice of him.'

    `Yeah.'

    `How's the car?'

    Finch tapped Banyon's shoulder. `She wants to know bow's the car. Not if I'm all tight, but how's the car.' He laughed while putting an arm around his wife's waist. `If you ever get lucky enough to find a lady like this, Nat, marry her. Sew her up fast and don't think twice about it.'

    `I surely will,' said Banyon, looking directly at Iris. She hesitated a second before lowering her eyes. Banyon pictured her naked, stretching her arms and yawning after a long sleep. She affected him that way, right from the get-go. A few times before a woman might have, but not that he could recall. Concentrating on not staring at her, he hardly listened as Finch told her about the accident. She didn't sit down, nor smile once at Finch. After less than a minute she slipped out of Finch's grasp. Banyon took her escape as an indication that neither Finch nor living at the Deepwater fulfilled her. When their food came, she returned to the gift shop. `Nice to meet you,' Banyon said to her back, but she didn't answer him or even show that she'd heard him.

    `Pretty good eats, huh, Nat?'

    `Great,' answered Banyon, meaning it, though wondering why Finch made such a big deal of pointing it out to him. Then Finch started in on how hard it was to find reliable help in the area and on how for close to a year he'd been pissing up a rope in his attempts to hire someone to paint and spruce up the Deepwater at a fair wage, and, after a little more hemming and hawing, he offered Banyon the position, in exchange for free accommodations and five dollars and fifty cents an hour.

    `I'll put it next to a few other irons I got in the fire,' replied Banyon, who had no irons in any fire and who ten minutes earlier, before he'd glimpsed Iris Finch, wouldn't have thought twice about tying himself to another job or locale just yet. `Course painting's a god-awful bore and even more so at that price.'

    `Don't forget you'd be sleeping on me and I'll even throw in free breakfasts at the diner.' Finch leaned forward, lowering his voice conspiratorially. `It'd all be off the books, too.' He glanced around the room, waiting for the three men, who'd just settled up their bill, to leave. `Tell me if I'm wrong, Nat, in guessing two, three days of my wages'd more than double your entire assets, not counting the LeMans' — he waved to indicate the LeMans obviously had no value in such a calculation, making Banyon wonder what Finch had surmised about the car — `at present?'

    He wasn't wrong, but Banyon didn't tell Finch that. They dropped the subject to finish eating. Banyon noted how well kept and clean the inside of the restaurant was relative to the outside. White, red, and yellow flowers, some with long stems and sweet smells, sprouted from boxes on sills beneath the east-side windows; tongue-shaped shafts of sun entered through the half-blindered rectangles of glass. Based on no evidence at all, Banyon credited Iris Finch for the diner's neatness and homey feel. Less from hunger than from on odd desire to see how Finch would react to it, he ate two pieces of peach pie for dessert.

    `By God,' Finch said again, even more emphatically than he had before, letting go another round of air punches.

    His wife reentered the room. Now out of its bun, her hair fell halfway to her waist. Banyon suspected his presence was what had prompted her to let it drop. She told Finch the Deepwater's front desk bell, which evidently was rigged to ring in the gift shop when it did in the motel, had gone off and she was heading over there to see why. Finch affectionately patted her behind and told her he'd offered Banyon a job. `I hope you decide to take it,' Iris Finch said politely.

    Banyon gave her his best smile, worrying, based upon her almost embarrassed reaction to it, that a piece of peach had stuck to his teeth. She had on a white cotton skirt and a loose-fitting pullover shirt. Her firm, rolling walk, thought Banyon, watching it as she strolled to the restaurant door, was calculated to affect him. `I'm going to,' he blurted out.

    Not glancing back, Iris said, `You've got your work cut out for you.'

    `Atta boy, Nat,' exclaimed Finch.


Since the early morning's enigmatic shower the sun had shone unabated and Banyon, starting that afternoon on the room nearest the road and proceeding wall to wall, worked with his shirt off, in sunglasses and a backward-facing baseball cap. Finch had instructed him to prep the entire concrete-block structure — first with a scraper to remove the loose paint, then with an iron brush on the more stubborn spots, and finally with sandpaper to smooth everything out — before priming it, and to avoid any occupied rooms, though as far as Banyon could tell the motel only had two guests, both in rooms near the register's office.

    A giant Rottweiler, which Banyon estimated weighed over a hundred pounds, showed up snarling beneath his stepladder about an hour into the project and around the same time Finch left on the motorcycle that had been in the lot. Banyon scurried up to the ladder's top rung, where the animal could have still easily reached him had it been so inclined, but it seemed satisfied to have put the fear of God in him, for it soon quit growling, ambled fifteen feet to the shade of a rhododendron bush, lay down, and placidly eyed the work. The dog's coming and Finch's going seemed somehow connected to Banyon, though he couldn't see why they would be.

    Eventually he climbed down from the ladder and, holding out one hand, warily approached the Rottweiler. The dog rubbed its head in his palm. Banyon absently scratched behind its ears for several seconds. When he stopped the dog declined its head, picked a stick up in its mouth, and gazed up at Banyon. Banyon took the stick from the dog and flung it out into the parking lot. The Rottweiler looked at the stick, then back at Banyon. `I don't know what you want,' said Banyon. He sat down and listened to some thrushes and juncos singing in the crabapple trees between him and the highway. He saw Iris Finch enter the far end of the parking lot from the restaurant trail and walk over to the office. She glanced at him but didn't say anything, and Banyon wondered if she'd tell Finch when he got back how he'd been sitting down on the job and he decided she wouldn't.

    He got back on the ladder. His elbow hurt already and he'd only scraped half a wall. He didn't plan to leave Finch in the lurch, but neither did he plan to fuck up his arm for five-fifty an hour and no workmen's compensation, so he decided to quit planning period and just wait and see how things went. Iris Finch came out of a door near the office hauling a cart with a mop and some towels on it. She stopped before one of the rooms, opened it with a key, and went inside, pulling the cart behind her. Banyon couldn't believe Finch would have her doing maid service, but maybe that's what people in family-owned businesses did. Still, it didn't seem right, and Banyon's opinion of Finch lowered a little. In a few minutes, she came out of the room and went into the next one, which was one closer to Banyon.

    She approached him slowly that way, one room at a time, for close to an hour. Banyon never caught her looking up at him, but guessed, just from how she moved, she had him in mind, as much as he did her. He figured they were the same in a way that counted more than any other ways and that she could see it as clearly as him. When she exited the room two down from the one he was working on, he called out, `Iris.' Not a question, just a statement.

    She looked up at him, flicking a strand of hair out of her face.

    `Beautiful flower,' he said.

    She made no response.

    `I sure am parched,' said Banyon.

    `He didn't tell you were the spigot was?'

    `You mean your husband?'

    `Who else would I mean?'

    `I wasn't sure because I thought his name was Herman.'

    `Did he tell you or not?'

    `He did, and it's good cold water coming out of it' — Banyon smiled widely at her — `but I thought maybe I could have something a little tarter.'

    `Like what?'

    `Have you got any lemonade down at your place?'

    Instead of answering, she nodded toward an opening between two rooms halfway between her and the office. Tiny beads of perspiration rolled down her neck and into her open collar. Her legs, noticed Banyon, were muscular and smooth beneath her knee-length skirt. `There's a soda machine down there. I think there's lemonade in it. I don't know, though, because I don't drink it.'

    Banyon slowly climbed down from the ladder. `Think I'll have me one.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out some change. `How much are they?'

    `Seventy-five cents.'

    Banyon walked toward her, looking down while counting his change. A couple feet from her cart, he stopped. `I got enough for two drinks, Iris,' he said. `Can I treat you to a Coke or something?'

    She looked directly at him. Her eyes were dark blue and as unreadable as the terrain she lived in. Banyon still hadn't seen her smile, and he decided that if nothing else, he'd see her do it before he left the Deepwater. `Okay,' she said, `I'll have one.'

    `Diet?'

    `No. A regular Coke, with sugar and all.'

    `If I were married to you, Iris, I wouldn't let you clean out rooms,' said Banyon, walking past her before she could answer, if she had meant to.

    She popped open the Coke he handed her a minute later and leaned back against the wall, drinking it. Honeysuckle vines climbing a stone wall behind the motel and the towering pines above it sweetened the air with their blossoms. A loaded lumber truck went by on the highway, its rear end swaying precariously. Banyon glanced at the Rottweiler, sleeping or resting with its eyes closed. Following his gaze, Iris said, `It'd tear somebody's heart out if he told it to.'

    `Has he ever?'

    `Doesnt matter whether he has or hasn't. He would.'

    Banyon reached out and loosely placed two fingers on her wrist. She didn't move or suggest he ought to take his hand away. Banyon could feel her pulse pounding in rhythm with his own. `I can't quite figure out what it is you're doing to me, Iris,' he whispered, `but you're doing it good and I'm giving it right back to you.'

    `I'm just standing here.'

    `You're a knockout, you know?'

    `I'm pretty good looking,' she answered matter-of-factly, `for around here.'

    `No, no. Anywhere — even out in Hollywood — you're a knockout, I know. I been around some.'

    `You been around?'

    `Ever since I can remember, I been going round and round.' He lifted her wrist lightly above her head and spun her in a slow circle. She still didn't smile. He could hear her breathing strongly through her nose.

    `You're more than a pretty good looking guy yourself, Nat. I mean what you got, you got all over in spades.'

    `I figure it's what God gave me to make up for some things a lot of ugly people have got I don't.'

    Her lips moved slightly upward at the corners as if they might decide to keep going, but they didn't. `He went into town to pick up the Cadillac,' she said.

    `When will he be back?'

    `Soon.'

    `How soon?'

    `Too soon.'

    `God, it's hot.'

    `Ain't it, though.'

    `I bet it'd be cool in one them rooms with the air conditioner on.'

    Banyon leaned forward and tried to kiss her. His lips touched hers long enough for him to taste on them the Coke she'd been drinking, then she suddenly ducked away from him. `I'm not anything like you guess I am, Nat. You've got the entire wrong idea about me, I think.'

    She turned and walked back to her cart. Banyon stood looking after her for a few seconds, then returned to his ladder.


* * *


He tried using shorter strokes with less pressure and discovered they were nearly as effective, without being as painful to his arm, as the longer, harder ones he'd abandoned them for. Then he began switching his scraping hand every five to ten minutes and that was even better. He couldn't believe how small changes could make such a huge difference. He started envisioning himself as the master of his work, whereas earlier it had been just the opposite.

    In the late afternoon Finch came back in the Cadillac, followed by a man on Finch's Indian and two others in a pickup truck. The Rottweiler, which had barely moved since lying down earlier, got up and trotted over to Finch. Finch squatted down and greeted the dog. They almost looked to Banyon to be conversing. The motorcycle rider got in the pickup and it left.

    On his way into the office, Finch casually waved at Banyon with the pistol he'd shot the fox with. In a few minutes he came out again and went into the utility shed, which housed the pool's broken filter. Banyon heard him hammering away in there. Around four-thirty Iris Finch walked from the motel over to the restaurant. Banyon remembered how soft and wet her lips had been and the firm pounding of her heart against his fingers. Far from experiencing guilt over his desire for her, he felt as entitled to it as he did to the air he breathed. He tossed his tools into a bucket half an hour later and started carrying the bucket and stepladder to the cottage where he'd found them. Finch popped out of the utility shed and said, `I think we'll paint her a blue shade, Nat.'

    `A dark one'd be best you don't want the yellow to show through.'

    Finch, smiling, seemed amused by the suggestion. `You play poker, young man?'

    `Enough to have learned I'm better off not to.'

    `This it'd only be a dollar ante and a fifty-dollar-per limit pot.'

    `What would?'

    `There's a game at my place, around eight.' Finch put his hand up. `But you oughtn't to go against your good sense.'

    `I go against it all the time. It and me's always at it about something.'

    Finch giggled, sounding almost girlish. He nodded toward the nearly three walls and doors Banyon had finished prepping. `That's a good piece of work, Nat.'

    `I know it is.'

    `Feels good when you step back and look at it, though, don't it?'

    `Like pushing away from the table after a good feed.'

    `I could tell talking to you earlier you'd feel that way about it.'

    `How could you?'

    `I don't know how. It was just a feeling I had.'

    `You'll get what you paid for from me, Mr. Finch. Pay me enough and I'll make your motel look like the Holiday Inn.'

    `The officer who cut that fox's head off to send it to the state for testing told me it looked almost certain to him to be real bad diseased, Nat' — Finch wiped the grease from his hands onto his pants legs — `and that my killing it was a favor to every unsuspecting creature might of come near it.'

    A beat-up old station wagon noisily entered the lot and stopped before the office. Finch made a wavering line in the air with one hand. `Now's about the hour this time a year they always start rolling in.' He began ambling toward the car. `Come nightfall, we'll be close to full up with 'em, Nat. Just you wait and see.'

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