The title story, "Townies," details what really happened one night, after hours, in a once popular East Texas sports bar, and the sinister revenge that would soon follow.
"Knacker," the story of a Texan who finds himself homeless in Dublin, Ireland, and willing to sacrifice damn near anything to scratch together what remaining pride he may have lost.
"Let's Be Awful" tells the story of a cocktail waitress who decides that, after a horrid round of revenge porn, her days of playing the victim have past.
In "A Lot Prettier (When You Smile)," we are introduced to a woman who can wrap any man around her finger and decides to put that powerful skill to use one last time.
When a black sheep son comes home to his sick momma's deathbed in "The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised," he discovers long lost family secrets, as well as how he can use his own set of skills to give her a proper send off.
When Old Man McCarthy turns up dead in the bottoms of "Blood Holler," a cursory investigation turns up an unlikely suspect, which barely scratches the surface of the true implications of the brutal crime.
These and other stories will have you turning the pages to read more of one of the most unique voices in southern fiction.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
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For what seemed a long time, there weren't no place further from Dallas than the Piney Woods of Lufkin. That November — the one in sixty-three — all us Texans suddenly got lumped together. Everybody liked to have a story of what happened that day, where they were, what they done. I reckon I have one as well, even though I never told it to nobody and never planned on it.
We saw it on the television, like everybody else. They had a box in Tucker Danville's office, in back of his restaurant. He had the place done up like his own living room so he could relax when he wasn't yelling at waiters or telling folks they was crazy, their steaks weren't undercooked. He'd keep a bottle of good whiskey back there, as well as a bottle of bad whiskey. You always knew where you stood with Tucker.
Anyway, we were eating the lunch special that day, same as half of Lufkin. Tucker'd put a sign up earlier advertising how folks could get the very same lunch the president expected in Dallas, and since the pope said it was okay for the president to eat steak, then it must be okay for all Catholics to eat steak. Father White from up the road drove down and raised a stink on account of Tucker's sign, saying his lunch special was heresy and blasphemy and a bunch of other sinfulness and we was dispatched to make sure things stayed calm.
Tucker felt obliged and told me and Rufus to stick around, have something to eat. Weren't none of us Catholic, so we thanked him and took a seat.
I wasn't halfway through my Dr Pepper when Tucker's wife come out, told us all the president had been shot.
Me and Rufus went to the back office with Tucker and sat on the divan against the far wall. On the news was Walter Cronkite, his voice flat and grave. Folks in the dining room got antsy again and Rufus went to calm them down.
"This ain't good," said Tucker. "This ain't good at all."
"Folks are bound to get grumpy," I said.
"It's going to be a long day," said Tucker. He handed me a glass of whiskey and held open his door, as if waiting for me to leave. I gulped it down and handed him back his glass.
It tasted like shit.
* * *
They'd already formed a posse by the time we got to the station, about a dozen men with sticks and Louisville sluggers and maybe a shovel or two. At the head of it was Roland Marshall, who didn't have so much a drop of Catholic blood in him, but what blood he had was good and riled. He pointed his finger this way and that and caused such a ruckus that there weren't no use in trying to calm folks down.
"We best go along with them," said Rufus. "Make sure don't nothing get out of hand."
I agreed and he hopped into the bed of John David's pickup, me riding shotgun. During the ride out, John David said he never once agreed with the president, especially in the case of the blacks and what he reckoned was done in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs.
"Communist or no Communist," said John David, "we can't have folks shooting our president."
I agreed, but didn't say nothing the rest of the way. Let John David do all the talking.
We come up on the train yard round about three thirty. The president was long dead by then, though couldn't nobody remember how we heard it. Radio, maybe. Train was probably five minutes off. Rufus put his hand to the track, but we could hear it just over yonder. I took one last stab at keeping folks calm.
"All y'all know I ain't got no sympathies for the president," I told as many of them would listen. "But we got to keep our heads. Ain't no sense in doing nothing we're going to regret. Especially in the name of no-count Kennedy."
Some grumbled, some didn't. Regardless, up came Rufus of all people and told me to let it go, just let it go.
"They just blowing off steam," said Rufus. He'd been deputy for going on fifteen years, eight longer than me. "It's high time."
It was true. The baseball team had won State that year, but Texas being as it was, didn't nobody give a shit about baseball when the football team had a losing season. The last loss — a gut-wrencher against Diboll — put a dark cloud over everybody's head all week. Folks knew if they didn't have a big game later that evening, there would be no festive spirit come Thanksgiving.
I was one man in a mob of plenty, I always told myself. Wouldn't be nothing I could do, even if I felt it needed doing. I explained to Rufus and Tucker and even John David that perhaps I should go wait in the truck. But along came the train whistle and for some reason I stayed right where I was.
It hadn't come to a full stop yet when a few fellas climbed into one of the freight cars, one with the cargo door open. There was a commotion inside and out they came. Hobos. Bums. Each of them hitting the ground running, and a good thing too, because we was waiting for them. Gray Tollett played for the baseball team back in fifty-six and he hadn't lost none of his old swing. Showed when he ran his bat along the back of a hobo's head.
John David got him one in the stomach with his shovel, then took it around across his back. That one went down and John David figured he'd stay on him instead of running out to fetch another. He kept pounding on that hobo's back and carrying on about how they picked the wrong train. Wrong train and the wrong town to ride through on it.
They scattered. Everyone gave chase. Everyone except me, on account of I felt I'd seen enough. I didn't like Rufus carrying his gun with him, but he was long gone, giving chase across a spread of pasture alongside the train yard. Him and a mess of others, all determined to catch them one. Soon enough, it was just me. Me and a couple fellas couldn't get up and run after they'd been beat like they had.
Then, in the freight car: a ruckus. It wasn't until I saw Bill Olsen from down at the hardware shop that I realized I'd never seen him come out of the freight car. There he stood, clutching his belly like he'd had some bad chicken and he reached his hand out to me and said some shit I couldn't make sense of.
"Come on out of that freight car," I told him. "Let me have a look at you."
He came out all right. He fell to the ground, face first into the rock bed along the tracks. He didn't move and plenty of blood, red and purple and black, come out of him and got to puddling. At first, I wasn't thinking. I ran to him and rolled him over, and no sooner had I seen he'd more than likely been stabbed that I realized I'd turned my back to the freight car and whatever'd done the stabbing. I rolled over on my back not a second too late.
Two fellas come out of the car. Both in dirty, stinky jackets. One of them was Mexican or something like it, the other white. Neither looked to be in the mood to talk. I fumbled a bit for my sidearm but couldn't get at it quick enough and they were up on me. I got kicked, I got punched and I covered my head with my arms and soon enough all the world was a scream — high pitched and total — until I heard the gunshot.
First I thought it was me got shot. Weren't nobody kicking me anymore so I rolled and rolled until I was good and under the train where I resumed to fishing my revolver from the holster. The gun was my daddy's and he'd used it to shoot at Bonnie and Clyde and I'd yet to point it at anybody. Those days were over as I peeked out from behind one of the wheels and saw the Mexican dead on the ground, the other one with his hands up, reaching for the sky. Rufus calling for me to come out, everything's under control, come on out.
* * *
We liked to never get that fella back to the police station. Everybody wanted a piece of him. Rufus and me loaded him into John David's truck and told John David he could ride in the back or hitch a ride with somebody else. He said he'd ride in the back so long as he could punch the fella in the face once and we told him no, but he climbed anyway into the truck bed.
Sheriff made a stink about us heading out to the train yard, but understood why we did it and told us not to talk no more about it. He had the fella in a jail cell and told Rufus to watch the door, make sure none of those boys came back for him. He looked the guy up and down, then called for me to follow him into his office.
"Which train y'all roust him from?" he asked.
"The Mo-Pac," I told him. "The one blows through after three thirty. Why?"
"Where's that one come out of?"
"Come out of?" I scratched my head. "I don't know, sir. I know it runs southeast to Houston. Perhaps through Corsicana or thereabouts."
"What about Dallas?"
I shrugged. "Maybe."
"And about how many others was with him?"
I counted in my head. "I remember about eight or nine of them come running after Billy Olsen and the others flushed them out. This one stayed inside though."
"He stayed inside alone? All by himself?"
"No sir," I said. "He had company. A Mexican."
"Where is the Mexican?" asked the sheriff.
"Lying dead in the rock bed by the train. That's the one Rufus got."
The sheriff sat on the edge of his desk. He was an old man. In his younger days, he'd been full of fire and brimstone, but that had long run out. Used to, he'd be at the front of a gang of guys out to make sure weren't nobody jacking with the ballots on election day, or if a Negro had to be lynched, that folks didn't get out of hand, chop off parts or set him on fire and such. These days, Sheriff rarely went out anymore. Took dinners at home instead of up at Danville's or even the Dairy Mart out by the highway. He didn't even campaign during the last election and proved he didn't have to. Didn't nobody but himself seem to want him to step down.
But he was still sharp as a whip. The skin around his eyes crinkled and he pursed his lips, same as he always did when he thought something out. He pulled on the whiskers below his lower lip and then stood again and put both his hands on both my shoulders.
"Let me ask you something," he said. I nodded and he said: "Was the other fella — the Mexican — was he dressed like that one in there?"
"He was dressed like a hobo," said I. "But they all was. Every one of them."
"Shoes too?" He pointed at his own dusty boots. "I need you to think about it real hard."
"I don't follow, Sheriff."
"The Mexican fella. What kind of shoes was he wearing?"
I shook my head. "I couldn't tell you, sir. I didn't pay no attention to what kind of shoes he was wearing."
Sheriff grabbed my arm and walked me back into the tank. There we stood at the bars and he pointed in at the fella. Nobody said nothing, the fella just sitting there in the cell, staring back at us while the sheriff waited. Waited until I took the time to first notice what he was getting at.
"That shitting thing in yonder is dressed like a bum, sure enough," said the sheriff, "but tell me what kind of guy rides the rails in hundred-dollar leather shoes."
I opened my mouth to speak, but sure enough closed it again.
"I need you to get out to the train yard and find out if there's enough left of that Mexican for us to take a look at."
* * *
The girl come to visit him the next morning, bright and early. She liked to have stopped traffic, as hadn't anybody in Lufkin seen a girl the likes of her. She was painted and lit up like a theater marquee, hair blonder than any other I seen before or since. She walked on heels so high she liked to float, but in she came and with her about a half-dozen fellas been following her since the parking lot.
"Everybody calm down, calm down," said the sheriff. He pointed out that more than enough of them had wives and the rest of them had their own business to mind. No sooner had he shooed them out of the police station than he turned his attention on her, asked how he could help her.
"You've got a friend of mine," she said. "I aim to see him."
He played dumb, but didn't anyone have to guess who was her friend. Sheriff instructed her to take a seat while he tended to a couple things and she did. Crossed her legs and chewed bubblegum.
She was a pip. Lips red as a Coke can and made up for a night on the town. She probably had about six different colors on her whole body.
Technicolors, I think we were calling it at the movie house. She didn't seem bothered by anything, not even me pretending not to be watching her, until the sheriff came around and said she could see him, first she needs to sign some papers.
He looked over her forms and said, "You're a long way from Dallas, Miss ..." He looked over the tops of his glasses at the paperwork. "... Velvet. That's an unusual name."
"I'm an unusual girl," she told him.
"What do you do back in Dallas?"
"I have fun," she said. "And I'm good at it." She winked at him and walked to the door, stood there until he opened it for her.
"Right this way," said the sheriff, and she was gone. Sheriff closed the door and sat at the edge of the desk, stroked the whiskers under his lip.
"You ever seen a girl looked like that?" I asked. "All made up like a comic book?" Sheriff didn't say nothing for a minute or two, and when he did, it was to ask me didn't I have something better to do.
* * *
When she come out, she put a cigarette between her lips and stood still, waiting for somebody to light it. Didn't nobody move, so I fished a pack of matches out of a desk, struck one, and held it out until she lit her cigarette. She took a drag and looked up at me. Thanked me. Exhaled into my face.
"I need to arrange to have my friend out on bail," she said.
"No can do," said the sheriff. "Your friend struck one of my officers. We're holding him until the judge can see him and that won't be until Monday. He'll have to wait in the cell."
"I see," she said. She stepped closer to the sheriff. "What if I tell you I can get you enough money to cover any possible bail your judge might come up with?"
"Bail for a man striking one of my police will be mighty high," said the sheriff.
"We'll cover it."
Sheriff wouldn't budge. She stared at him and he met it, didn't flinch. He swatted away a fly which may or may not have been there, then walked back round her to the front door.
"Sheriff," she called after him, "may I ask you something?"
"I reckon so."
"Which of these here officers was struck by my friend?"
I felt my stomach trouble up and I didn't move. Nobody said nothing, but she must have sensed something because she turned and got a good look at me. Smiled. She took her sweet time walking my way.
"What if I apologized to the officer?" she said. Those red, red lips puckered up sweet and juicy. She squeezed her arms together and her goods fluffed up nice and round, nearly peeking out of her blouse. She batted her eyelashes and I felt every drop of blood go either to my face or down somewhere below and I hoped to high heaven folks saw neither one. "How far would that get me?"
"Look, I got one man dead, stuck in the gut from this whole incident," said the sheriff. "Your man ain't getting out of that cell."
"We told you the other fella done that," she said.
"The Mexican?" Sheriff shook his head. "He done it?"
"The Mexican, yeah." She smiled as if she were in on something weren't nobody else in on.
"Well, the Mexican ain't here to answer for it, so your friend will have to do." The sheriff held open the door for her. "Webb will take you to the motor court. It's close enough to the courthouse, should you want to stick around for the judge come Monday. But it's right on the highway, just in case you don't, and think you better get on back to Dallas."
She held his gaze a bit. Then turned back to me.
"You Webb?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
She smiled, nodded, and said no more as she walked out the door.
"What are you waiting for?" barked the sheriff, and I realized there wasn't nothing, nothing at all worth waiting for and high-tailed it out after her.
* * *
Halfway out of downtown, she'd already started in on me, coos and come-ons, laughing at my jokes. Only I hadn't said any jokes and wasn't likely to, given the situation. I had no wife, nor any prospects, and simply the smell of her drove me plum out of my senses. I'd have better luck chasing a gum tree out of the ground than I would that image of her in my head with her goods bunched up.
"Your boss don't like me," she said.
"He don't care too much for me none either," I told her.
She laughed more than I felt necessary, then said: "What about you? Are you mad at me?"
"Mad at you? I don't see what for."
"You said my friend hit you."
I nodded. "Oh, that." I hung a left out of downtown, knowing full well it was the long way to the motor court. I thought of every possible side street and stop sign between us and there and ran calculations. "I don't reckon it's any of your fault, ma'am."
She giggled. "Still, I hate that it happened to you. You seem like a nice guy. Do you mind if I smoke?" She put a cigarette again to her lips and I pushed in the car lighter. "Where did he hit you?"
"I'm fine," I told her.
I kept my eyes on the road. I pointed to my ribs. That's where she put her hand. Soft, so as not to aggravate the bruising that had sprung up. She ran an ivory-white hand up and down my ribcage and I wondered could she feel my heart slamming against the side of it.
My hand shook, but it found the gumption to point at my thigh. She ran her hand down yonder way and we nearly crashed the squad car into a utility pole.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Townies and Other Stories of Southern Mischief"
Copyright © 2018 Eryk Pruitt.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Also by Eryk Pruitt,
The Hoo-Doo of Sweet Mama Rosa,
Town and Gown,
The Joe Flacco Defense,
I'm The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised,
A Lot Prettier (When You Smile),
Let's Be Awful,
It's Morning Again in Lake Castor,
Love That Don't Quit,
An Afternoon with the Parkinsons,
About the Author,
Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker. He wrote and produced the short film FOODIE which went on to win eight top awards at over sixteen film festivals. His short fiction has appeared in The Avalon Literary Review, Thuglit, Pulp Modern, and Zymbol, among others, and he was a finalist for the Derringer Award. He is the author of the novels DIRTBAGS, HASHTAG, and WHAT WE RECKON, all available from Polis Books. He is the host of the monthly radio show and podcast: The Crime Scene with Eryk Pruitt. He lives in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and their cat Busey. Follow him at @ReverendEryk.