On a hot summer day in 1932, Andy Connors, who owns a garage that serves Route 66, finds himself in major trouble: He's been bitten by a rabid skunk.
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By Dorothy Garlock
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Dorothy Garlock
All right reserved.
Chapter One1932 Route 66 Sayre, Oklahoma
THE POWERFUL AUTOMOBILE, RACING ALONG the newly paved Route 66, slowed as it crossed the bridge over the north fork of the Red River, then picked up speed. At the top of the grade, the Hudson was pulled to the side of the road and stopped. For the last ten miles the driver had been reading signs attached to fence posts: CAR TROUBLE? NEED GAS? ANDY'S GARAGE AHEAD.
Close to the paved ribbon of highway were a small building with large doors folded back and a single gas pump at the side. In big black letters across the peaked roof of the building was another sign: ANDY'S GARAGE-GAS-CAMPING. A short distance away, woods surrounded the camp-ground on two sides. A dirty-white, low-pitched canvas tent flapped in the breeze, near it a stacked brick fireplace and a crude wooden table. A woman sat on a stool in front of the tent. A child played at her feet.
To the side of the garage and set slightly back was a small frame house with a sloped roof, which covered the porch that stretched across the front. Hanging from a branch of the tree that stood between the house and a garage was a child's swing. Flowers bloomed in beds beside the porch. A woman wearing a sunbonnet worked in a large, neat vegetable garden. Behind the house were a privy, a chicken house and a small barn with a lean-to shed attached. Out from the barn a cow and a horse grazed in a pasture made green by the spring rains.
The buildings that sprawled along the highway were the only ones in sight. A mile down the road was the town of Sayre, Oklahoma. When the driver of the Hudson was last there, the town had hardly warranted the dot it made on the map. It had consisted of little more than a gas station, grocery store and a greasy-spoon diner. Now situated along the busy Route 66, it was likely, he thought, to have a cafée, a rooming house or a hotel.
Guilt had been eating a hole in Yates's gut for the last few years. He owed a debt to Andy Connors and had never as much as said "Thank you." He intended to do something about it, so that he could get on with his life and, when the time came, leave Oklahoma with nothing still to be done. Yates pulled back onto the highway, newly paved with portland cement, and drove slowly down the hill. On reaching Andy's garage, he pulled in and stopped beside the gas pump.
The man who came out of the garage, wiping his hands on a greasy rag, walked easily on a peg belted to his upper leg. Beneath a soiled cap his hair was light, his eyes blue in a sun-tanned face. He had aged, but his face had been imprinted in Yates's memory. He would have been able to pick Andy Connors out in a crowd of a thousand, even though he was a smaller man than he remembered.
"Howdy. Need gas?" Andy's face was clean shaven, boyish and friendly. "Dumb question, huh? You do, or you wouldn't have stopped here next to the pump." "I think it'll hold about ten gallons." Yates watched Andy pump the lever back and forth to fill the glass cylinder atop the pump. It was marked like a beaker to measure the gas. "Warm day out there on the highway," Andy remarked as he unscrewed the cap from the gas tank. "But it'll get hotter," he added when the man nodded. "It's only June. By the Fourth it'll be hotter than a pistol around here."
Andy glanced at the man, who wore a handsome tan Stetson and custom-made boots. He'd hate to tangle with this hombre. Everything about the tall, broad-shouldered man was big and hard, quiet and serious. Andy had met people from all walks of life as they traveled Route 66, nicknamed the Mother Road, heading west to California-the promised land. This man looked as if he could plow his way through a batch of wildcats without breaking a sweat. While the gas poured into the tank of his car, Yates's sober gaze drifted across the still and somber landscape to where a mean-looking black and brown dog lay in the shade of the garage eyeing him with skepticism.
Shiny tin signs advertising tires, tubes, spark plugs and NeHi soda pop were nailed to the side of the garage building alongside signs promoting Garret snuff and chewing tobacco. Clothes hung on a line in the space between the house and the barn. All was quiet except for the buzz of a june bug and the song of a mockingbird. Two cars passed each other on the highway not more than twenty feet away; their tires sang on the paving.
The laughter of a child caught his attention. The little girl in the campground had broken away, her chubby legs taking her toward the highway. The woman chased her, caught her up in her arms and tickled her until she squealed with laughter.
A family trying to make it to California and the promise of a better life.
"How's business?" Yates asked. "Good enough to get by," Andy replied. "Most of the folks coming down this highway aren't out for a joyride. I fix them up as best I can and get them on their way." Andy removed the nozzle from the gas tank and, as he hung it back on the pump, noticed a Texas license plate on the black sedan. He didn't often see Hudsons along the highway. They were big, powerful and expensive cars. This one looked as if it had eaten up plenty of miles.
"Don't you hanker to take the road to greener pastures?" The Texan almost smiled when he asked the question. "Naw." Andy chuckled. "As long as I can crank out a living here, I'm stayin'. How about you?" "One place is pretty much like the other. It's what a fellow makes of it." "I'm with you there. Ten gallons at fourteen cents. Pretty easy to figure, huh?" Andy tightened the cap on the gas tank of the car.
"I've been paying sixteen and eighteen cents all along." "That so? Fourteen cents gives me a profit. Living out here on the highway, I get first crack at the gas customers going west. Some of them have rolled down the hill to get here," he said with a chuckle. "But I make most of my living in the garage. I don't pretend to be the best mechanic in the world, but I'm right handy at the small stuff." He jerked his head toward the campground. "Folks can rest over there while their car is being fixed. Traveling is hard on the women and kids." "How about folks who can't pay?"
"Oh, they pay one way or the other. I've had my horse shod and the porch shingled." Andy chuckled. "See that big pile of stove-wood over by the house and the new privy? Most folks are pretty decent and want to pay their way. Of course, there are a few you've got to look out for. I've not been robbed yet. I think they figure I don't have enough to bother with."
Yates counted out the money. His silver-gray eyes homed in on Andy's face while he put the coins in his hand. "Appreciate your business," Andy said. "Stop in again if you come this way."
Yates nodded, got into the car and watched Andy spin around on his peg and go back into the garage. When he was out of sight, Yates drove away slowly to avoid stirring up dust. As he passed the open doors of the garage, he could see Andy bending over a tub of water with an inflated tire tube, looking for bubbles that would indicate a hole, which needed to be patched. A man in overalls far too short for his long legs stood beside an old car with its backend jacked-up on one side.
Connors is just as I remember him-quick, smiling; I'm no longer the skinny, sick young kid I was back then, but somehow I had expected him to recognize me.
TWO DAYS LATER.
"Leooonaaa! Get the gun!" Andy tried to evade the small attacking animal that continued to run at him. He balanced himself on his leg and knocked the skunk away with his peg. The crazed animal continued to come at him. Then it sank its teeth into the rubber on the end of his peg, causing him to lose his balance and almost topple to the ground.
"Leooonaaa!" Hearing the commotion, a shaggy dog came running from the side of the house, barking furiously. "No! Calvin! No!" "Andy!"
"Get the gun!" Andy shouted, trying desperately to ward off the skunk with his wooden peg. "Andy!" The shrill voice of the girl jumping off the porch and running out into the yard came seconds before the sound of a BOOM and the whiz of the traveling bullet, which hit the skunk and threw it a dozen feet from the man who had fallen on the ground. A putrid odor immediately filled the air.
"Did it bite you?" The girl reached Andy and helped him to stand. "Keep Calvin away from it." "Go, Calvin," she yelled angrily. "Go!" She stamped her foot.
The shaggy dog backed away and slunk under the porch. He didn't understand Leona's reason for being angry. He knew better than to bite into a stinking skunk. "I've got to bury it." "Did it bite you?" Leona's voice quivered with fear. "I've got to bury it," Andy said again. "Calvin might take a notion to drag it off. Skunks don't come out in daylight unless they're sick." "Rabies?"
"Could be. But there hasn't been any around here in a while." "I'll get a shovel. Watch Calvin." "I'll bury it after I get my ..." His words trailed as the horror of what happened settled upon him. "That was a good shot, Lee." His trembling voice squeezed through his tightened throat. "I didn't shoot. I didn't have time." "Then who?"
"I don't know. I didn't see anyone." "It came from the woods."
Andy scanned the edge of the timber from where the mysterious shot had come. As he watched, a man carrying a rifle rode out of the timber on a big buckskin horse. Andy squinted his eyes to get a better look at him. He was sure that he wasn't anyone he had seen before, nor was the horse familiar. The rider wore a dusty black Stetson and a blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
The horse reached the yard. The size of the man riding him struck a chord in Andy's memory. He looked into the dark, somber face and recognized him. A day or so ago, driving a big Hudson Super-Six, he had stopped for gas. "Howdy. Thanks for killing the skunk." Andy choked out the words. "It's not goin' to smell very good around here for a while."
"Did it bite you?" "It might have. I'll bury it so that the dog won't get to it. That was a damn good shot." Andy's voice trembled. He was obviously shaken.
"I didn't want to shoot between you and the woman, but I was afraid to wait." Yates shoved the rifle down in the scabbard, swung down from the saddle and walked over to look down at the skunk. "It's sure to be rabid. We'd better pour a little gas on it and set it on fire." He looked at Andy with narrowed, unblinking gray eyes. "What do you mean, 'it might have' bit you?"
"I'll get the gas. I ... felt ... something on my leg." "Daddy!" A small girl with blond braids came off the porch and ran out into the yard, her long nightgown flapping around her legs. "Stay back, honey. Go back to the porch." Andy started toward the child.
"I'll get her, Andy." The woman who had gone to fetch the shovel came out of the barn. She dropped it when she saw the little girl jump off the porch and head for the dead skunk. She ran to her and grabbed her up. "Stinks," the child shouted. "Daddy, it stinks." "Daddy will take care of it. We've got to stay out of the way."
"I smell skunk!" The door slammed behind another girl who stepped out onto the porch. She was older than the one who had run out into the yard. "Stay there, Ruth Ann," the woman called. "Did Calvin catch a skunk?"
The slim woman with the bare feet had thick mahogany-colored hair that tumbled in loose waves about her shoulders. Gripping the hand of the little girl, she pulled her up onto the porch and hugged both girls to her. Yates's narrowed eyes took in the scene. Although crippled, Andy Connors had done all right for himself. He had a pretty wife and two pretty little girls and was apparently making a living for them.
Leona watched the strange man stride forward and take the gas can from Andy's hand. "I'll do it. I found blood spots we'd better burn off." His voice was deep and forceful, yet it wasn't harsh. It went with the strong planes of his face. He looked dangerous, dark, strong, yet graceful. He was a big man. Andy seemed small beside him.
"If the skunk bit you, you know what it means." The stranger poured the gasoline on the body of the skunk and made a trail of it for several yards. He recapped the gas can, moved a short distance away and set it down on the ground. After striking a match on the bottom of his boot, he held the flame to the trail of gasoline. The low fire traveled to the dead animal, where it burst into flames. He watched the fire for a minute or two, giving Andy time to come to terms with what had just happened to him. "Andy?"
Yates turned when he heard the woman call. Andy had reached the back door of the garage. "Watch that the fire doesn't spread," Yates said to the anxious woman on the porch. He picked up the spade and, with one easy shove with his booted foot, sank it into the ground.
Inside the garage, Andy leaned on the hood of his '29 Ford coupe. Dear God, on the way from the house to the garage his life and that of his kids had been changed-maybe forever. "Let's take a look at where it bit you." The stranger had followed him into the hot, semi-darkened garage. "If it didn't break the skin-"
"It did. I didn't want to scare Leona and the girls." "They'll have to know sooner or later." Andy leaned against the wall, then eased down onto a bench. He lifted the leg of his duck britches and looked down. His face paled, his hands shook, and he broke into a sweat when he saw the trickle of blood that ran from the puncture wound just above the top of his sock.
"Is there a doctor in Sayre?" "New one. Hasn't been here long." "You'll probably have to go to Oklahoma City." "Oh, shit! I can't go and leave Leona and the girls out here by themselves. A lot of decent folks travel the highway, but robbers, bootleggers and murderers travel it, too. I sleep with a gun within reach every night." "The skunk was sick. I'm sure of it. It was running around in a circle when I first saw it in the woods. I followed it, hoping to get a shot at it." "There's not been any rabies around here ... that I know of."
"There is now. Without getting the inoculation shots you'll die of hydrophobia." The man's voice was as matter-of-fact as if he were talking about the weather. Andy took a deep breath, trying to control his fear. The breath didn't help. His heart was pounding like the beat of a drum in a Fourth-of-July parade. "They'll have to go with me. I can't leave them here by themselves."
"A series of shots might cover the span of a month or two. Can you keep them with you for that long?" "Oh, Lord. I hadn't thought of that or how I'll ever pay the doctor."
"Main thing is to get you treatment. Then worry about that. I'll turn my horse into your pasture, bury the skunk and take you to the doctor. If you have to go to the city, I'll come back here before dark and bunk down in the garage until we see which way the wind blows." Andy looked at the man standing over him for a long time.
"Mister, I don't even know your name." "Yates." "Name's Andy Connors. I'm obliged for your help.
Excerpted from Mother Road by Dorothy Garlock Copyright © 2003 by Dorothy Garlock
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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My favorite of dorothy garlock. Could not put it down. I have read all of her books.
I hadn't read one of Dorothy Garlock's books before, found this one at the thrift store. I loved it from the first page. Such interesting characters and I enjoyed the details of the depression era. It was like watching a good, old movie. I have already picked up ''Hope's Highway'' at the library and here is another book that I'm already hooked on before I'm on page 2.
I love books about the depression era, especially when they take place in Oklahoma. Why? Because my mom was born 1934 in OK and I still have family there. They live south of OKC, and did not experience the dust storms, but they did migrate to California in the mid-40s. (and that's why I'll be reading Hope's Highway next... they'll wind up in a town about a 2 hrs drive from where I live.)
This was an easy read and I really enjoyed it. Where the author wrote about Yates buying the lemons and the store-keep said "they were shipped from California", I smiled. The town I was born in and where I still live, Santa Paula, was known as the "Lemon Capital of the World" for many, many years. That one line in the book was a little bonus for me.
In April 2009, my husband and I will be participants in a road trip celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, from Las Vegas to Birmingham, AL, and I'm excited to know that we'll be traveling through Sayre, where this story takes place, and Elk City, OK, ... I know I'll 'feel the characters' as we drive through...
This was my introduction to Dorothy Garlock. I'll be reading more of her books, which pleases my husband, because I'm not, by nature, an avid reader like he is. Oh, I start a book from to time, but never finish them. This one I did -- and another bonus of this book: when Garlock mentions the town of Ringling in the post-log; that's where my grandmother was born... Yep, this book was "home"!
One of the best books I have ever read! I couldn't put it down. I loved the characters. Dorothy Garlock makes her characters come alive and this book is no exception.
I just recently moved to Oklahoma and have found myself curious about the history. Mother Road gave me a lot of information about Oklahoma's past. I also liked the characters. The good guys would be good friends and the bad guys were really evil.
I simply love Dorothy Garlock's novels based on time periods after 1920s, they show great maturity as a writer over her earlier books based mosting in late 1880's. In Mother Road, once again, she shows life in an era gone by, touching on the Great Depression without being too depressing. I enjoy how she carries over characters from one book to another, tying them together without necessarily creating a series. These characters may just be 'passing through', but they add continuity to the novels and create an epilouge to see what has happened to them. Again, another great read from Dorothy Garlock. I can't wait for the next one!
In 1932 at Andy's garage near Sayre, Oklahoma on Route 66, a rabid skunk bites station owner Andy Connors. Yates, a person visiting the area, kills the animal, burns it, and buries the ashes. Next he takes Andy to the nearest hospital in Oklahoma City where the injured person will reside for six weeks receiving shots. Andy pleads with Yates to watch over his beloved Leona and his two preadolescent children. Yates explains to Andy that he owes him for saving his life when he was a youngster and will gladly do so. Leona and the children worry about Andy and are uncomfortable with Yates staying with them. He feels he can handle anything except his attraction to Leona, who he believes, is Andy's wife. When he finds out she is not, but looked upon as a woman living in scandal, he defends her to the townsfolk who ostracized her. As Andy heals, Yates and Leona fall in love and he knows she is too good a person to be anyone's kept woman. This tale is an exciting historical novel that fans of the Depression era stories like The Grapes of Wrath will want to read. The characters including passersby bring to life living or traveling in the 1930s on the MOTHER ROAD as Route 66 was called. The romance adds depth to the period enabling the audience to gain insight into the morality of the townsfolk. Though a murder mystery adds suspense and is used as an impetus to the romance, the story line is at its strongest when Dorothy Garlock opens a panoramic view of a bygone America. Harriet Klausner