Haunting and Hysterical Contemporary American Fiction
The American Dream ain’t what it used to be, and Pete-o Hemper has a bone to pick with these newfangled changes. When high-tech ways whack their little hometown off-kilter, the zany Hemper family struggles to adjust. Fueled by a gluttonous diet of talk radio, wacky Uncle Pete-o strikes back at the forces he believes are betraying the land that he loves. A crazy congealed salad of bizarre adventures, stinging wit and gritty realism, this fresh portrait of American stubbornness has all the ingredients of a stirring page-turner. You’ll relish this folksy menagerie of real and relatable characters in their endearing calamity of modern life run amok.
Can this far-out family adapt to the ever-changing state of the union?
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|Publisher:||Southern Fried Karma LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
2013, Drayton, Alabama
Ray Allen was on duty the night Baxter Hemper walked through the door of the T&A Lounge wearing a raincoat. It was August, and it had not rained for the past three weeks. Ray Allen never saw it as odd that a man would come in wearing a blue plastic raincoat with pink lashings and a lace-trimmed hood. Baxter took his coat off, revealing another jacket under-neath, and then sat down.
"What can I getcha?" asked a young woman in a T-shirt with a V-neck that looked like it had been cut with scissors. The "V" stopped halfway into her cleavage, and a tattoo of Speedy Gonzales was clearly visible on her left breast.
"I would like Amish beer," Baxter said, hesitating slightly after each word.
The waitress stopped chewing her gum and dropped a hand by her side. "Amish beer? Am I supposed to know what that is?"
"It's holy, like water."
She studied his face a moment, and then began nodding her head. "Yeah, I think we got some of that. You want the regular or the light version?"
"I want Amish beer."
"Amish beer," she muttered to herself, turning to go.
Baxter pushed his hand up the side of his head and smoothed his hair down. It was the slowness of the movement that gave him away. Any other man would seem like an everyday guy performing an everyday motion. Baxter never got the speed of anything right, especially when he was off his medication. He was always either too fast or too slow, and his inability to execute subtlety, to blend in, got him stares everywhere he went.
"Here you are. One Amish beer." The waitress in the V-cut T-shirt placed a Löwenbräu in front of Baxter.
"Who is that young lady?" Baxter pointed to the woman dancing on the second riser of the multi-level stage in the center of the bar. She was the only dancer on the stage, and she kept her eyes somewhere beyond the front door. From Baxter's seat, a Band-Aid was visible on the back of her left foot, just above the purple ankle strap of her four-inch heels.
"That's Juicy Fruit Janeeca," said the waitress.
While Baxter watched the young woman dance to a Bob Seger song, the waitress went behind the bar and said something to TP, who nodded. Baxter placed the blue plastic raincoat on the chair next to his with gentle deliberation, like letting down a fallen comrade on a battlefield. Two men from the next table stared.
Baxter stood, walked to the riser where the young woman danced, and slid his hand inside the breast pocket of his coat. He caught the dancer's eyes, and her movement slowed to a grind when he presented a flat, crisp twenty-dollar bill. He didn't reach for the bright green thong she wore, but bowed his head and laid the bill at her feet. Then, he rose like a meditating monk, his eyes closed, and his hands respectfully by his sides. The dancer gave him a half-mouthed smile and deepened her grinding thrusts.
"Hey, horseshit, get outta the way!" shouted a large man from a table right in front of the stage. He held a half-finished Budweiser, and when he laughed he showed a missing tooth.
Baxter turned by adjusting his feet like a toddler about to change direction. "You should learn some respect," he said.
"Who you supposed to be?" said the man. "You act like that guy on Kung Fu. Don't he?" He nudged the younger man sitting with him. "Hey, you remember that show from when we was kids?"
Baxter was already on his way back to his table, ignoring them completely.
Janeeca's dance set ended, and she was replaced by a blonde in a pair of leather shorts. Stepping off the stage was hazardous in four-inch heels. The younger man at the Kung Fu table jumped up to assist her and was crestfallen when she kept going. She put a hand on Baxter's chair and bent forward until wisps of buttercup blonde hair fell across her face and grazed the top of his balding head. They loved that. They all did.
"You mind if I sit down for a minute?" she whispered close to his ear.
"You're welcome to join me," he said.
Slipping into the seat across from him, Janeeca gave him a smile. "Thanks for being so generous. There's not a lot of tips like that in this place. I've never seen you in here before. What's your name?" She let her breasts graze the perpetually cold Formica tabletop. It was a sure motivator for hard nipples, a trick she had learned from the other dancers. She figured she could probably get another ten dollars from him.
"I'm Baxter Hemper." Baxter's eyes stayed on her face.
"I hope you're enjoying the show."
Baxter didn't respond.
"So, Baxter, what do you do?"
Baxter's eyes dropped to the table, and he waited a moment before answering. "A mediator."
"Oh, that's like working with metals and stuff, right?"
He hesitated. "No."
"I used to think I wanted to work in a laboratory," Janeeca said. "Not like Frankenstein or anything like that. But one of those places that invents lotions and bath oils and perfumes and stuff like that. I've always had a real sensitive sense of smell. But then I read somewhere that they tie rabbits down and drop stuff in their eyes to see if they're allergic, and they cut the vocal cords on monkeys so they can't scream when they experiment on them with eye shadow and stuff. I think that's awful. So, there's always stripping," she said, and then, "I love animals."
"Of all God's creatures, dogs are the most pure of heart," said Baxter.
"That's beautiful. Did you just now make that up?"
"Yes, yes I did."
"I used to have a dog named Mitzy, a little terrier. She was so small she could fit in my purse. Sometimes I'd carry her into the grocery store in my coat pocket."
"What happened to her?"
"My ex-husband dropped her out the window and broke her back." For a moment, Janeeca's eyes turned pink, but then she smiled again, shaking her head.
"He sounds like a terrible man," said Baxter.
"That's why he's my ex-husband. Daren was such a jerk. Once I planted a whole row of rose bushes down the edge of the yard next to the driveway, and he backed his truck —" She took a breath and forced a smile again. "Hey, you're not here to listen to sad stories like that. I'm sorry. Do you have a dog?"
"My brother has a dog, but he's in prison."
"Oh." Janeeca was unsure what to say next.
"You are a lovely girl," said Baxter. He wasn't smiling, and he had not yet looked down at her exposed breasts.
"Thank you." Janeeca drummed her fingers on the table, searching for a new direction to take the conversation.
"I have magic inside me," Baxter said.
Janeeca wasn't sure she heard what she thought she heard, and she remained quiet for a few seconds. "I thought I'd prune my yellow bells tomorrow. It's supposed to be sunny. I put four of them along the front porch. Can't nobody run over them in front of the porch."
"There is a river that cascades in purity and coolness right through the soul of me," said Baxter, his hand splayed over the center of his chest.
The music changed and the blonde began to unzip her black leather shorts. She must have been five pounds lighter in the hips when she bought them, because despite all her wiggling, she could not work them down. She attempted to incorporate the wiggle into her dancing, but the grimace on her face gave away her dilemma.
"I'll be right back," said Janeeca. She walked to the stage, her butt cheeks jiggling to the delight of the two men at the Kung Fu table right in front. She slipped her fingers inside the hems of Lora Nell's shorts and tried to work them down the dancer's legs from the bottom while Lora Nell wiggled her shoulders in time to the music.
"Hey, give us some girl-on-girl!" shouted the large man. Janeeca jerked hard on the shorts and Lora Nell nearly lost her footing.
"You girls need some help with that?" said the younger man at the table.
Janeeca turned and gave him an acid-sweet smile. "You boys let us do the stripping, all right?" When she turned back to Lora Nell, her eyes were slits. She knew her behind was close enough for one of the men to reach out and grab. "You're going to have to be still a minute and quit dancing so we can get these off," she hissed.
"I can't quit dancing. Alton's looking," said Lora Nell.
"They won't budge. How'd you get them on?"
"I laid down on the floor," said Lora Nell, her exposed belly gyrating behind the unzipped shorts.
"How about if I get some scissors and cut them off you," suggested Janeeca.
"Hell, no!" said Lora Nell, talking through clenched teeth. "These are real leather."
"All they are now is real stuck. Nobody tips strippers who don't strip, and Alton is looking mad," said Janeeca, sneaking a glance back at the bar.
"Screw Alton!" said Lora Nell, seductively pushing her fingers down the front of her shorts as she rotated her hips in a circle.
"You girls going to discuss the price of corn up there or are we going to see some ass?" shouted the large man, the one who had insulted Baxter.
Janeeca whipped her head around. "You're looking at mine, aren't you?" Any sober idiot could have picked up on the hateful tone of her voice. She didn't see Baxter step behind her with a gun barrel sticking out of the blue raincoat with the lace-trimmed hood that he held at his waist.
"Shit," said the younger man at the Kung Fu table. He and the large man jumped up and began backing away with their hands up in surrender. The one who had insulted Baxter dropped his half-finished Budweiser on the table, sloshing it across Janeeca's naked stomach. He turned from the table, muttering something to Baxter, his feet tripping in his drunken run to the exit. Lora Nell ran shrieking from the stage, the unzipped front of her skin-tight leather shorts flopping. The men at the other tables couldn't see what the issue was until Baxter turned around, and then a second wave of feet hit the door. Creedence Clearwater Revival played on the speakers and the lights were set on a low blue-purple hue, making it all but impossible to see exactly what was happening from Alton's position behind the bar. He gave an angry look toward Ray Allen's empty seat, and then he took a baseball bat from behind the bar and stormed over to Baxter, where Janeeca was frozen to the floor beside him.
Alton shouted over the music. "What the hell trouble you —"
Baxter turned and aimed his gun at Alton's crotch. "Whoa! Hey, put that down." Alton's hands were up in surrender, but he held fast to the bat. He cast another glance at Ray Allen's empty seat, and then cursed TP, who had gone to the office in the back. "Come on now, buddy. You don't want to hurt nobody. Whatever trouble you got, it ain't with me." He flicked his eyes helplessly on Janeeca, who stood with her mouth open.
"Spirits speak in my soul and I can not help but listen," said Baxter. "They are shouting! Can't you hear them?"
Alton eyed the gun, wondering if he could take it away before this crazy guy castrated him. "Maybe you should go outside if they're so loud. Sometimes this place gives me a headache, too," he said.
The speaker system bleated a warning that there was a bad moon on the rise. Baxter clenched the gun butt closer to himself and squinted as if his head hurt badly.
"Mister, please put that gun down," Janeeca said in a squeaking voice.
Baxter motioned to the door with the gun. "Both of you, go outside."
Alton shot one last look toward the back office where TP had gone, probably with one of the dancers. "Shit," he hissed under his breath. No one was left in the place except the three of them. Lora Nell had jumped in her Toyota Camry, unzipped leather shorts and all, and spun out in the parking lot along with the customers. The other dancers had probably done the same when they heard her screaming through the exit.
Baxter, Alton, and Janeeca paraded in a line outside and stopped in the middle of the gravel lot. The T&A Lounge neon sign, a purple figure of a topless woman, hung above them on the front of the building. The bar still owed two payments of $149 on the sign, and already one of the neon breasts had burned out. Because TP had refused to purchase the maintenance contract, it would cost them extra to get it working again. Now they had a purple-faced woman with what looked like one oversized jelly doughnut on her chest. The dancers hated the sign — the breasts were bigger than the woman's face, so they were delighted when one of them burned out. Alton suspected one of the dancers had done something to it, but TP said none of them was smart enough to figure out how to sabotage a neon breast.
"You see that?" Baxter shouted. "Can you hear what it's saying?"
"I hear a little hum, but all those signs —"
"Shut up!" said Baxter. Alton backed up a step when Baxter's hand tensed on the gun. "That sign is sending me messages."
"That sign's a big ole titty. It's designed to send a certain message," said Alton.
Janeeca stood beside him, her hands stiff at her sides. In nothing but a green thong and purple heels, she was suddenly very conscious of her nakedness out there in the dark with two men, but Alton's eyes were only on the gun, and Baxter kept pulling at his hair with his free hand and squinting up at the sign.
"If you don't like the sign, how about we take it down? First thing in the morning, my partner and I can take it right down, and you won't be getting no more messages. If you'll just put that gun down I promise we'll take care of it," said Alton.
"People who lay with dogs get up with fleas!" said Baxter.
"That's a fact, sir. My mama used to say exactly that. She did, and she was a good lady, God rest her soul. I loved my mama. I did. She —"
"Shut up! For crying out loud, shut up!" Baxter took a step toward the sign and shot a hand toward it. He moved the gun safely on his far side. "Do you honestly mean to tell me you can not hear that?"
Alton's eyes jumped between Janeeca and Baxter. "Uh." He rubbed the side of his nose with his index finger. "I do believe I, uh — yeah, I believe I hear it. You hear it, don't you, Janeeca?"
"I hear it," she said.
"What is it telling you to do?" asked Baxter.
A cold wash of sweat poured over Alton's brow. "I think it's telling us to be calm." He took a step closer to Janeeca and pulled her in front of his body.
"What the hell are you doing? Let me go," she hissed.
"Agents of darkness have been sent here," said Baxter. "They want to consume our souls. They huddle in this place like snakes in a cave, waiting to swarm. And that sign is Satan's beacon!" Baxter raised his gun and Alton pushed Janeeca toward him.
"Oh-ma-God! Don't kill us!" Janeeca begged.
But Baxter wasn't aiming at her. He squeezed the trigger — thunk! — and then lowered the gun from his shoulder, pumped it, and shot again. This time the thunk! was followed by a ping!, and the nipple of the remaining lit breast went dark. He pumped one more time and aimed. Alton opened his eyes at the sound and looked at Baxter. Thunk! The rest of the breast went dark, and Baxter dropped the gun to pump again.
"A Daisy? You got a damn Daisy pump BB gun? I can't believe this!" Alton shoved Janeeca aside and she landed on the gravel, scraping her hips and hands on the rocks. "I'm gonna tear your head off, you crazy bastard!" He grabbed Baxter's shirttail and yanked him backwards, reaching for the gun. Baxter gripped the barrel, and his feet ground into the gravel as he and Alton scuffled with the gun. Alton got a hand around Baxter's forehead and squeezed his fingers into the bone, but Baxter's body was tense as steel and he held onto the gun.
"Give me that gun, you sonofabitch!" Alton said, spittle flying onto the side of Baxter's face.
"You are full of their venom," said Baxter.
The slam hit Baxter and Alton so hard that both men's feet were lifted from the ground before they were knocked backwards onto the gravel just inches from Janeeca. Alton couldn't see anything because the man's chest was pressed into his face. A gold nugget medallion necklace struck Alton's front teeth, breaking one in half as his head struck the ground. As the three of them rolled over, Alton's chin popped the back of Baxter's skull, and Alton blinked his eyes trying to maintain consciousness. He had sucked the tooth down his throat in the fall and his hand went to his mouth.
"I got him! I got him!" Ray Allen Coswell, the man responsible for making sure no one got into the building with a weapon, confiscated the BB gun from Baxter. He jumped up with the Daisy, his breath in frenzied spurts. "I got him boss! I got the gun!"
Alton couldn't see Ray Allen's dot-sized pupils or even tell that Ray Allen was cranked up on speed. He rubbed his tongue over the nub of throbbing broken tooth and lunged at Ray Allen with a guttural scream, sending the strung-out man skidding across the gravel. Tiny rocks shredded into Ray Allen's back and his shirt became bloody from the raw flesh. Alton grabbed the Daisy from Ray Allen and smacked him across the face with it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Body's Just as Dead"
Copyright © 2018 Cathy Adams.
Excerpted by permission of Southern Fried Karma, LLC.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be so absorbed in the story that you’ll forget it is a tale. Through setting, situations, and dialogue, this southern family becomes as alive as residents in a town like Drayton, Alabama. As dysfunctional as they may seem, heritage and an unspoken affection hold them together through one calamity after another. As they cope with differences, handicaps, hardships, and losses, they can’t avoid current social and political pressures in their world. Cathy Adams has captured the essence of what it means to survive in a hometown whose residents are challenged by unavoidable changes to the status quo. You’ll turn the pages with the feeling in your stomach that something out of the ordinary is going to happen.