Determined to protect Van’s land and family from another scandal, Mayhill ignores the sherriff who replaced him and investigates the death of the unidentified man. His quest crosses with two others: Birdie, Van’s surly, mourning daughter, who has no intention of sitting idly by and leaving her father’s legacy in Mayhill’s hands; and Bradley, Birdie’s slow, malnourished but loyal friend, whose desperation to escape a life of poverty has him working with local criminals, and possibly a murderer.
A riveting debut novel about family and loyalty, old grudges and new lives, AIN’T NOBODY NOBODY is like a cross between Faulkner and “Breaking Bad”, from a talented new writer with an authentic Texas voice.
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Just before daybreak, in the Year of our Lord 1996, two of Randy Mayhill's hunting dogs cornered a wild hog, one dog backing it into a corner, one with his mouth clamped on its ear. Mayhill, still in his pajamas (boxer shorts, a holster), scrambled out of his tiny house to survey the commotion, and then stabbed the hog behind its shoulder, killing it before it could see another sunrise. Mayhill grabbed its hind legs, dragged it onto a tarp set aside just for this purpose, and shooed the dogs away so they wouldn't wreck his prize. Then he went to work immediately on the hog, skinning it with a hunting knife, occasionally tearing off scrap pieces and throwing them on the porch for the hero dogs because fair was fair, it was their kill. "Still," he said aloud to nobody, "they're my dogs."
Even as he gutted the hog — blood up to his arms, smiling like a televangelist — Mayhill was aware that most men would have preferred to trap the hog and shoot it point-blank, easy-peasy. Mayhill approached life like hand-to-hand combat. Van had said that once. At the time, Mayhill had choked out a "thank you," touched that his best friend had known him so well, until he realized that Van hadn't meant it as a compliment.
But the hog plague was hand-to-hand combat. The feral hog. Sus scrofa. Destroyer of crops and canines. It was war, an unwinnable one at that, and lesser men snapped. Clet Boudreaux poisoned them with antifreeze but it killed all his deer and squirrels. Rudy Lyons went bankrupt on a fancy German trap he bought off the computer. One night, after they uprooted his forest of pine seedlings, Jimmy Cason stood on his front porch — full fatigues — and mowed down a bunch of hogs with an AK-47 he bought out of the trunk of a Honda Civic in Dallas. And Jimmy Cason was the game warden.
The hogs multiplied too fast: babies could have babies in six months, a plague of biblical proportions. And Snorty begat Prickly and Prickly begat Tusky and whatnot. The scientists called it "high reproductive potential," a condition that had never been a problem for Randy Mayhill personally, but to tell the truth, the hogs hadn't been much of a problem for him either. A man has to have something to lose something, and he didn't have anything.
Even though the dead hog was practically worthless, Mayhill was thankful because it instantly filled the abyss of his agenda. Most days, he drifted through his waking hours listening to the police scanner, waiting for something to happen. In the morning, the part of his day when he felt optimistic and the world was still intact, before the void of his schedule turned his stomach like a hangover, he fell into his routine. He drank his first breakfast Dr Pepper, read his books (Shakespeare and Larry McMurtry), fed his dogs (Boo, Atticus, and Pat Sajak the dachshund), and refreshed the hog trap bait (corn and strawberry Kool-Aid). He then stood on his front porch with a pair of 1970 Bushnell binoculars to check on his dead best friend's family, Birdie and Onie, to see if maybe, just maybe, today they needed him (they didn't). Then, for most of the afternoon, he settled into his chair, cleaned his collection of antique guns and handcuffs, all while lulled into a trance by the crackle of the police scanner.
* * *
Mayhill had mostly finished processing the hog when he noticed five buzzards circling high in the sky across the pasture toward the house where Onie and Birdie lived. He dashed to the front of the house and, without wiping his hands, picked up his binoculars. In the moons of the lenses, he saw Bradley the farmhand, and Birdie, his best friend's seventeen-year-old daughter, standing over a dead man folded over the barbed wire fence at the tree line. Four buzzards bring visitors, but five buzzards bring luck, the saying went, and something about the way the hair stood up on his blood-streaked arms told Mayhill that today, finally, he would be the lucky one.
He washed his hands, took a quick look in the mirror, and slicked down his thinning hair with his palm. He scrambled to find a shirt with buttons and a pair of jeans that fit, then slipped his gun in his shoulder holster. He hopped awkwardly to avoid his bad knee, pulled his jeans up in three yanks, inhaling to button them, and then shot out the door, forgetting his belt entirely.
* * *
Mayhill and Birdie had spoken only once or twice since her father's funeral a year ago, after which she retreated like a nun into Onie's and her cloister. Still, she and Mayhill had waved when they passed each other on the road. Or he had waved, rather. That was just fine because it was safer for Birdie to keep both hands on the wheel. Highway fatalities and whatnot.
But that was the past! Now, as Mayhill power-walked toward her in the pasture, he knew that Birdie needed him and would be thankful for him because, really, who better to call in such a situation if not Randy Mayhill? Certainly not Bradley. Had she called Bradley, the farmhand? A kid, just a few years older than her! Bradley?
The man on the fence had dark hair. He was dead — shot in the back, his body falling toward them, as if he had been running from something in the woods. He was folded over the fence like laundry, face down and arms splayed, and shrikes, three of them — brown crowns and black masks — flittered near his head. Then, one by one, the three birds perched on the fence as if the man were just another lizard or grasshopper they had impaled on the barbed wire prongs and waited to pick apart piece by piece.
Bradley and Birdie stood awkwardly at a distance from the body, facing away from it and from each other, and when they saw Mayhill approach, they turned like screws in their spots, only to look slightly in the other direction. Mayhill tipped his hat to Birdie, who did not prostrate herself at his boots and beg for his help. She stood frozen, indignant, arms crossed, her face a mixture of shock and rage that confused him. He had never known Birdie to be quiet.
"Bradley!" Mayhill shouted. "Get over here!" Bradley startled and turned from the fence to look at him. He was dirty blonde and big, almost as big as Mayhill, and had the vacant look of a Ken doll, a numb open-mouthed expression not unlike the hog Mayhill had just gutted. Mayhill had never entirely trusted him, though Van had trusted Bradley without question. Bradley walked closer but stood a curiously far distance away from Mayhill.
"Why you here, Bradley?" Mayhill asked. "Who is he? What happened?"
Bradley shook his head.
"You need to tell me, Bradley." Mayhill jabbed his finger in the air at him. "You need to tell me who he is and what happened."
"I don't know. I don't know." Bradley's eyes darted around the pasture. "I just showed up and —"
"You just 'showed up'?"
"Wednesday," Bradley said. "I work at Birdie and Onie's every Wednesday."
This was true. Mayhill shaded his eyes and studied Bradley's face. Bradley's gaze was affixed to Mayhill's feet, his hands trembling. He had a long, dark bruise on his forearm, and body odor radiated from him, even ten feet away.
"You been in a fight?"
"That's the bruise of a man who's been in an altercation." Mayhill pointed at Bradley's arm.
"No, sir," Bradley said again. "Accident at work."
Mayhill nodded slowly. Mayhill believed Bradley because young men like Bradley weren't built for lies. Lying required an intellect that Bradley simply did not possess.
Bradley glanced at Birdie. Birdie was tall and lanky like her father Van, and had wild brown hair, which she tied up in a rat's nest of curls on top of her head. Birdie — skin like paper, pale like flour — appeared even paler than Mayhill remembered, almost translucent, like sausage casing. Mayhill walked closer to Birdie and bent at the waist to meet her eyes like he would a child. "You okay?"
Silence. She looked over his shoulder out into the pasture, away from the body. Her lip trembled slightly. Shocked into silence.
"You see anything this morning? Do you know this man?" Birdie said nothing, and so he raised his voice an octave. "Birdie Girl ... I need you to tell me what happened."
Her brow furrowed deeper in reaction to, Mayhill guessed, the voice that her father Van had said made him sound like a jackass. He straightened up and stroked his belly as if a cat lay upon it. His jeans were tight against his legs that had ballooned with time, and his pants were in no more danger of falling off than they were of asking how the dead man's day was going, but the lack of belt tormented him nonetheless.
He felt Bradley looking at him again, and he turned, only to find Bradley now staring at his arms. "It's blood," Mayhill assured him, which did not seem to assure Bradley at all. "Has Birdie said anything?" Mayhill had never known the quick-witted Birdie to be devoid of words.
Bradley shook his head. "No, sir. Just told me to follow her."
"When'd you get here?"
"Around eight," Bradley said.
"You find him?"
Bradley shook his head. "Buzzards found him."
Mayhill turned on his heel and paced in front of the body, and rattled off details to nobody in particular. "Knife ... rope. Hog trapper prolly ... no rifle. Tattoo ..." he snorted. "Figgers."
Mayhill yanked at the front of his jeans where his belt buckle normally stood like a monolith, and he breathed in the scene. Something about Birdie's folded arms, the scowl — it reminded him of Van, his best friend, his heartbreak, a man who believed that the law did not apply to him, that the law was a suggestion to be dispensed with when it inconvenienced him. Mayhill realized right then that Birdie wasn't speaking for a reason. Perhaps it wasn't shock at all. Perhaps it was guilt. A dread rose up in his belly. In the untangling of his epiphany, the words dropped from his mouth slowly, carefully, high-pitched. "Birdie ... did you ...?"
Birdie's gaze met his, her lip quivering.
"You think she did it?" Bradley shouted, then lowered his voice and whipped his head to Birdie. "Did you do it?"
"This ain't a courtroom," Mayhill said. "I'm here to help. But don't answer that, Birdie."
"Thatta girl." Mayhill winked at her.
Bradley paced away from them, his hands massaging his head.
With that, the unflappable Birdie started to cry, a slow runnel of tears down her face, and she spoke so quietly that Mayhill had to lean in to hear. "I want him gone," she said. "I just want him gone."
Mayhill winced at the fear in her voice. "I know you do, Birdie Girl." He wanted to hug her, but he knew better than to do such a thing. Mayhill tugged his jeans up by the belt loops and held them taut as if there was no waist at all anymore, and looked out at the pasture, the land torn up by pork vermin. He knew he would fix it all for her because that's what her daddy would have wanted, and it's what he would have wanted for his own daughter if he had been lucky enough to have one.
"You gonna call the police?" Bradley asked quietly and stared straight ahead at the ground.
"Why would I do such a thing?" Mayhill asked.
Bradley shrugged, then gestured his head toward the dead man. "I dunno."
"Private land, private matter," Mayhill said. "And you seem to forget I was the police, young man."
Mayhill lowered his voice to a non-jackass octave and whispered so Bradley couldn't hear. "I'm sorry this happened, Birdie ... had the hogs just come last night ... hell, if this asshole just had a Snickers in his pocket, hogs would've eaten him up and problem solved. It's a shame you have to deal with it at all, Birdie Girl, with all you been through." He shook his head at the dead man suspended on the fence. "That's the real tragedy here."
* * *
The only thing Randy Mayhill had ever wanted to be was a sheriff, and he pined for those 842 days like other men pined for a lost love — a Bob Wills-"Faded Love"-wail-into-your-beer kind of pine, a get-drunk-and-wreck-your-truck kind of pine. Even then, that analogy didn't seem heartbreaking enough. He pined for those two-and-one-quarter years like a wiser man might pine for a lost dog because sheriffing, like owning a dog, was all reward. Like a good dog, the law was consistent and loyal. It provided comfort and reliability where the rest of the world hemorrhaged in chaos and rap music. When he lost everything — massaging the law to save his best friend, no less — it was Van's mother Onie who seemed to understand the depths of what he had endured, even though she was dealing with a loss unfathomable to everyone. When Mayhill lost everything, it was Onie who raised her hands toward the heavens and said, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all!" And Mayhill, so moved by her recognition of his loss could only choke out two-word responses for fear he would break down and cry in her bony lap like a fat, tragic baby: No question! You bet! Hunnard percent!
The house Onie had given him then was very small, not much larger than a trailer, but it was definitely not a trailer and, really, it was more than any reasonable man would need. After he left Birdie and Bradley, Mayhill was unable to sit. He paced the house back and forth, but it was so small that he had only five steps each way before he ran into the kitchen or the bathroom depending on the direction.
On a shelf next to the third gun safe was a pair of original 1890s Bean/Cobb detective handcuffs. Mayhill had bought them off of a Mexican antique dealer in Sugarland a decade back. They were so shiny Mayhill could see his reflection in them. Next to those handcuffs was a pair from the WWII Canadian Military, which he almost didn't buy on account of them being Canadian but when laid out, the interlocking of the cuffs reminded him of a lace pattern his mother stitched at the bottom of hand towels, and they had since become his favorite.
Mayhill's collection took up the entire house, which probably wasn't impressive given how small the house was, but if you considered how small the pieces were, it became impressive all over again. It was this collection and the promises of the police scanner that had kept him going when there seemed to be no reason at all. Today, the waiting had paid off, and Randy Mayhill had work to do! Honest-to-God actual work — not leftovers he pilfered off the police scanner that offered only loose cows and stay-at-home prostitutes.
He had sent Birdie home with the instructions to relax — RELAX! — because she had experienced enough trauma for one lifetime, and he had asked Bradley to come back and repair the fence the next day at eight a.m. sharp. Bradley had asked why — the fence was fine, he said — and Mayhill had said that he had a hunch it wouldn't be. Then Bradley said that is an odd hunch and Mayhill said that Bradley would be better off sticking to fence building than questioning a lawman who had found him standing over a dead body. So eight a.m. it was.
Back home, Mayhill grabbed the phone receiver off the kitchen wall and dialed.
"Gabby Grayson! Mayhill here."
There was silence on the other end — a moment of calculation — then a voice small and tentative. "Randy?"
"Randy." She said his name like an exhale. "It's been so long. It's so good hear your voice."
Mayhill tipped his head to the phone as if she could see him. "You too, you too. How are the girls?"
"You know I don't believe that! Those angels?" Gabby laughed, and for a second, Mayhill thought he could smell her perfume, sweet and cheap (gardenias in rubbing alcohol). "Listen, girl, I got a favor to ask. Any missing persons? Anybody?"
"Why you ask?"
"Just helping out a friend."
"You got friends now?"
He made a sound that he hoped imitated laughing, though he didn't find the joke funny in the least. "You my friend, ain'tcha?"
"You know I'd do anything for you," Gabby said.
Mayhill smiled into the phone, the prospects for the day improving by the second.
"But ..." she added. "You know I'm not authorized to give names to the public."
"Public? Gabby, you know I ain't public. We worked together a decade."
"We worked together two years. Two years, Randy."
"But we known each other thirty."
"Twenty. High school was twenty years ago."
"Twenty-five," Mayhill said.
"Don't matter," Gabby said. "Could've been a hundred but it ain't right anyhow. Don't do that to me."
"Do what?" Mayhill asked, incredulous. "I'm asking a simple question, and you got a simple answer."
"Yes, it's simple: I cain't! I just cain't! You know that, and we haven't spoken in ... Well, I don't appreciate you putting me in this position."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ain't Nobody Nobody"
Copyright © 2019 Heather Harper Ellett.
Excerpted by permission of Polis Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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