Abducted

excerpt


PROLOGUE


Boog Jeter’s real name wasn’t Boog. His real name was Jerome Jeffery Jeter, but Boog would have had to stop and think it over for a minute before he could have told you that. The youngest of the three Jeter boys, when he was a baby his momma took to calling him “A cute little booger,” and the name, as boogers often do, stuck. Jerome Jeffery became Boog, never realizing he was named after something most folks try to dispose of.

Boog Jeter had two brothers, but he never met the oldest one. Junior died before Boog was even born. Boog would have told you that Junior got hisself kilt in a airplane for the Army. His momma told Boog how it happened a bunch of times, but he never could remember for sure. There were a lot of things that Boog couldn’t remember for sure. His other brother, Harold Lee, was the smart one in the family. Most folks called Harold Lee “Snake” ‘cause one time, after Harold Lee busted out four a Darell Henry’s teeth with a foldin’ chair in the school lunch room ‘cause Darell swiped his banana, Daddy had said that Harold Lee was as mean as a snake. But Boog never cottoned to the nickname. Harold Lee even went to Junior College up in West Plains for a spell before Daddy died in that wreck runnin’ shine south of Hardy and he had to come back home.

While Harold Lee had most of the brains, Boog was not without value. He’d never been accused of bein’ terrible smart, but he was loyal. When Boog was just a young’un, he’d overheard Fred Keeler say somethin’ bad about his daddy. His momma caught seven-year-old Boog headin’ down the lane draggin’ a eight-pound post maul, on the way to Keeler’s place, fixin’ to settle the score. Boog heard his momma tell another lady the story a couple of years later, and took notice. “That Boog,” she said. “He ain’t the sharpest axe in the shed, but, by God, he’s right loyal.” That offhand remark stuck with Boog. Loyal was good. From then on, he worked at bein’ loyal.

Boog was especially loyal to Harold Lee. Harold Lee was some older than Boog and kindly took his Daddy’s place after Daddy died in that wreck south of Hardy, but Harold Lee was gone too, now. He wasn’t dead or anything like that. Harold Lee was in the pen ‘cause of killin’ his wife. He met her when she was workin’ in the Half Moon Bar north of West Plains on 62 when he was goin’ to the Junior College up that way. Even after Harold Lee come home ‘cause Daddy died, he’d still go back up there ever now and then and stay for a spell, to visit with her. After a year or two, Boog never could remember just how long, Harold Lee and her up and got married, and he moved off.

Boog met her once. She was a little thing, all blond hair and teeth, and she wouldn’t move down to their neck of the woods, not even to Hardy, which was a big town. Said she wouldn’t live in Arkansas for no reason. She’d spent most a her life tryin’ to get outa Arkansas, and she wasn’t takin’ no steps backwards. So Harold had took off and moved to West Plains.

Thinkin’ about her sometimes made Boog wish he had a woman of his own. He’d had a woman, a course. Ever now an then he’d go over to old man Easley’s place and trade him a gallon of shine for a turn at his daughter Nola, but Nola wasn’t much. Even when she was just settin’ still all by herself, she couldn’t keep her eyes from rollin’ around in her head, and she was so gawddam dumb she wouldn’t even wipe the spit offa her lip. Then the county got word about old man Easley tradin’ her out for stuff an come an’ took her away. So Boog had lost her, too. But the worst was when Boog lost Harold Lee.

Boog never did get the whole story straight, but Harold Lee’s wife run off up north to the big city. Not just to Springfield either, by God, which was plenty big. Boog had been there once an’ it was so big it kindly took his breath now an’ then. Nossir. She run plumb off to Kansas City, which was one of the biggest places they was, Boog reckoned. After she run off, Harold Lee come home and brooded around for a while. Got as mean as his snake namesake after a spell, an’ finally headed out to go git her an’ bring her back. Ol’ Harold Lee had hisself a temper, they was no doubt about that. He durn near beat Rick Mooney to death one time over nuthin’ more than a nine dollar turkey call.

Harold Lee found her up in Kansas City an’ tried to bring her back, but she wouldn’t come. Plumb got to faunchin’ at him. Called the laws an’ they run him off a time or two, but once Harold Lee got something stuck in his head, they wasn’t much could shake it loose. For a long time, mor’n a year maybe, Harold Lee went back and forth to Kansas City ever so often, but he never come back with her. Then they was one time when he never come back at all. They’d put him in jail for killin’ her. Boog and Momma went to Kansas City for the trial, an’ Boog was near sick a lot of the time from how big and crowded everthing was.

Boog an’ Momma was settin’ in that trial room in the courthouse when that Black-haired woman in them high-heel shoes, a head doctor a some kind, set up there an’ told the judge an’ them about how Harold Lee’s wife had come to her for a spell, tellin’ her how bad Harold Lee treated her, an’ how she was afraid of him, an’ how he’d threatened to kill her, an’ a bunch a other shit that wadden none a her gawddam bidness! Them folks in that jury box believed her an’ found ol’ Harold Lee guilty a some kinda murder, an’ sent him to the pen for twenny-five years, all because a that black-haired woman doctor in them high-heel shoes. So Boog lost Harold Lee, too.

When it all got over, even Boog’s Momma took off. Went back to someplace in Tennessee or Kentucky, Boog never could remember which, called Pigeon Forge. It was where she come from, Momma said, an’ it was where she was goin’ back to. She didn’t even ask Boog to go along. Just throwed some stuff in a couple of plastic bags, flagged down a Greyhound, and took off. So Boog had lost Junior, then Daddy, then Nola, then Harold, then Momma. A little while after that, he lost the house, too.

Keeping a job of work was always tough for Boog. Not that he wasn’t a hard worker, he was. Oh, he’d pick up some summer stuff on the weekends at Thousand Island Camp, loadin’ canoes for all them college kids and Northerners wantin’ to float the Spring River. Sometimes he’d wash dishes at one of the truck stops, work a sawmill, or pick up other labor for half of minimum wage in cash, no records kept, no questions asked. Boog never bothered with anything like a Social Security Card, or a driver’s license either, for that matter. And it was just as well. It seemed like there was always somethin’ he couldn’t remember to do, or stuff he’d just plumb forget how to do. Most folks wouldn’t hire him or keep him on the job for very long. So when the house went he moved back out near Coulter Creek, about two miles down from where it dumped into the Spring River, south of Saddler Falls, five or six miles downstream from Dam Four, south of Mammoth Spring. That’s where Daddy had his old still, up against that limestone bluff that had all them caves hid behind all them cedar trees.

Boog had been laid up there for a spell, workin’ odd jobs now and then to git money for food an’ such, when it come to him that things woulda been pretty okay if that black-haired woman doctor in them high-heel shoes hadda kept her nose outa everbody else’s bidness. As time went on and Boog studied on it some, the whole truth come creepin’ into his head. If it hadn’t a been for her, his brother an’ Daddy would still be around, the county woulda left Nola where she was, Harold Lee wouldn’t be in the jailhouse, an’ Momma wouldn’t a run off. The whole damn thing was her fault.

He looked through a bunch of newspaper cutouts Momma left, an’ found a picture a that Black-Haired woman doctor in them high-heel shoes. Boog didn’t read too good, but he knew his letters just like Momma taught him, and he had plenty of time to figure out enough to make out her name an’ stuff. Ruby LaCost. This whole damn mess was ‘cause a her. He was gonna have to do something about it. Kansas City scared him to death, but this was for the sake of his family. If everthing was gonna git back to the way it was, it was up to him. He had to set things right with that Black-Haired woman doctor in them high-heel shoes.

Boog might not have been the sharpest axe in the shed but, by God, he was loyal.


CHAPTER ONE

 

Ivolee Minerva Cabot sat in her chaise lounge and looked out the south wall of the atrium. Heavy overcast loomed to the horizon, the view distorted by a half-hearted early September shower drizzling down the expanse of glass. In addition to the weather being hot and humid, the fickle lake effect had conspired to also make the day depressing. On the table beside Ivy sat a mostly empty box of Sherman MCD cigarettes. Although she did not smoke, Ivy kept the box beside her chair and touched it from time to time. David Crockett had forgotten it when he left. For the past six weeks, that brown cardboard container had been her touchstone.

Light clatter from the kitchen caught Ivy’s attention, pulling her back from her musings. She glanced at the antique Lucien Picard that depended from a delicate platinum chain about her neck. 6:45 AM on the dot. Ivy smiled and lightly shook her head. Never more than a minute early or a moment late, Goody was at the stove, making their morning Earl Gray. Soon he would appear with the small weekday silver service and fresh scones. In the month that he had lived in his apartment on the third floor of her home, Sir Thoroughgood Henley-Wahls had made an indelible impression upon Ivy’s life. Every day deepened her affection for him. Both a trained killer and a trainer of killers, his kindness was remarkable, his love of ritual comforting, and his appreciation of life equal to her own. She heard him coming down the hall and turned her attention from the gloom of the morning to the entrance of her new friend.

Dressed in his usual dark blue pajamas and long cranberry dressing gown, his white hair tucked carelessly behind his ears, Goody, tray on his lap, wheeled himself into the atrium. Ivy had extended the elevator to the third floor for his convenience. He seldom put his legs on until after their morning breakfast.

“Well now, auld girl,” he said, smiling as he rolled toward Ivy. “I see that the good Lord has granted each of us another day. Isn’t that fine, then?”

Goody studied Ivy’s face as she stirred a few drops of cream into her tea. While her graciousness had suffered no decline over the past few weeks, her mood had. It distressed him.

“What has your brow so furrowed on this fine soft day, lass?”

Ivy smiled at him. “Do you always ask questions for which you already know the answer?” she said.

Goody returned her smile. “Those are the best kind,” Goody said. “My victim has less opportunity for subterfuge.”

 Ivy broke off a small piece of scone and spread on a tiny portion of blueberry jam.

“Very well,” she said. “You have wrest it from me. Crockett.”

“What a surprise.”

Ivy’s chuckle wafted around the room.

“And Ruby?” Goody said.

“And Ruby. Those two are destined to be together.”

“You would know that better than I.”

Ivy shook her head. “If you could have seen the bond between them when Crockett was in his coma after the loss of his leg,” she said. “The faith and sacrifice that Ruby displayed was remarkable. And Crockett. How he overcame his terrible injuries to vanquish the killers of my niece. And then how the two of them were led, by whatever power does such a thing, to reunite a mother and daughter at the request of the spirit of a long dead grandmother and reverse three generations of mistakes.”

“The Amazing Disappearing Woman,” Goody said. “Cletus told me the story.”

“I am not an overly religious person,” Ivy said. “But if there has ever been an example of the hand of God moving in the world of men, well…”

They were silent for a moment as Goody watched the elderly woman run her fingers over the Sherman cigarette box.

“I don’t know much about those events,” Goody said, “but Crockett more than proved his mettle when I trained him and Cletus to remove young Zeke from the encampment of those white separatists.”

“And what he and Ruby have done for one another,” Ivy said. “How they have filled the void in each other’s lives. Ruby has given Crockett purpose and direction for the first time in many years. And Crockett has shown her that a relationship with a man can be rewarding and fulfilling in ways she had never dared to dream.”

“And now?” Goody said.

Ivy sighed. “And now, Crockett languishes, alone and in pain, somewhere in that immense motor coach, and Ruby, I assume, has returned to her old, ah, lifestyle.”

“Sweet Ivolee,” Goody said. “Ever so delicate.”

“I have no prejudice against homosexuals,” Ivy said, “if they are, indeed, homosexuals. Their choices, or lack of choices, are their business. Simply because I do not appreciate or understand does not cause me to rush to judgment. Ruby, according to a conversation I had with Crockett late one night, was driven to her situation by abuse when just a child. Such a circumstance is neither a physical or emotional imperative nor a decision made from unencumbered will. Her free choice was Crockett. And now she has abandoned that choice, and that man, for reasons of her own. Primarily fear, I suspect.”

Goody sipped his tea.

“Those two love each other,” Ivy went on. “I have watched that love grow and blossom. I know what that love has accomplished for both of them. I believe that one of the reasons my niece died was to offer that love opportunity to bloom. It galls me to see it suffer because of ignorance and fear.”

Goody broke off a piece of scone and reached for the butter.

“So what do you intend to do?” he asked.

Ivy smiled. “I hate to meddle,” she said.

“What? You love to meddle! Had you not meddled in my life, I’d still be alone in my cabin instead of breaking my fast every morning in the company of such a winsome young lass.”

Ivy leaned back in her chair and laughed.

“I’ll be seventy-six this winter,” she said.

“Aye,” Goody said, his brogue rising to the occasion. “And that would make ye a decade younger than I, and I’m nobbut a sparklin’ lad, meself.”

Ivy patted his arm, and the two of them smiled at each other for a moment before she reached for the pastry dish.

“Now, auld girl,” Goody said. “Would ye be enjoyin’ the scones then? I made ‘em meself, y’know.”


CHAPTER TWO

 

Cletus Marshal, general factotum to Ivolee Minerva Cabot and through and through Texican, wandered into the atrium as Goody and Ivy finished their scones. He smiled at them.

“Mornin’ y’all,” he said.

“Ah, Cletus, me lad,” Goody said. “This darlin’ lass on me left was just discussin’ how she hates to meddle in the affairs of others.”

Clete grinned. “Since when?”

“Am I that transparent?” Ivy asked, reaching again for her tea.

“Only to those of us who love you for meddlin’ in our lives,” Clete said. “Crocket and Ruby on your mind?”

“Only continuously, Cletus.”

Clete stepped to the coffee urn and poured himself a cup, then moved to sit across from Ivy, picking up a scone on the way. “Want me to find Crockett?”

“No,” Ivy said. “While I must admit that Crockett is my primary concern in this instance, I believe that Ruby is the one who most needs our involvement. It is she that seems to be the author of this most recent drama. It is she that seems to be most emotionally displaced. You are a kind and nurturing man, Cletus. I believe she would be more responsive to you in her current confusion than anyone else.”

“What you’re saying is that you want me to go out to Kansas City an’ see how ol’ Ruby is doin’, huh?”

“Succinctly put, dear.”

“And to use my masculine wiles to see how far overboard she’s gone.”

“That, too.”

“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll leave early and drive out. A road trip’ll give me some time to mull this over.”

Ivy smiled. “Whatever you think, Cletus.”

Clete leaned back in his chair and shook his head.

“I think,” he said, “that I’m gittin’ ready to step in a pile of somethin’ I don’t wanna git all over my boots.”

 

Doctor Ruby LaCost leaned on her desk and sneaked a look at the clock as she tried to focus. It was nearly five. Only four more minutes. Across from her, relaxed in a recliner, a woman named Phyllis Benderger whined through collagen inflated lips that the reason Colbert and Allysa were having such difficulties as teenagers was because her husband, Paxton, didn’t listen to her when she had attempted to convince him of the importance of the correct introductory education prior to pre-school. Paxton never listened to her. He didn’t care about any of her clubs or organizations, he had no appreciation for her volunteer work with the Junior League, didn’t even notice that her golf handicap was down to nine, and hadn’t spent any intimate time with her since before the implants and liposuction. How could her life ever be meaningful to her if it had no meaning for him? As she paused to finger her tennis bracelet and take a breath, Ruby jumped in.

“Phyllis, we’re out of time. Before next week, I want you to think about why your accomplishments are of so little value to you.”

“Okay,” Phyllis said, swinging her feet to the floor and into her kangaroo pumps. “I have to get to a meeting at the country club. I’m chairwoman of the committee that is trying to get the board to redecorate the ladies locker room. God, it’s dreadful. Just hideous. ‘Bye!”

Ruby stared blankly at the top of her desk and listened to the door slam. Jesus. It was a wonder that Paxton hadn’t beaten the woman to death with a five iron years ago. What really amazed her was how many of her clients sought to blame someone else for their personal difficulties. What frightened her was how much she’d sounded like one of them during the last couple of sessions with her psychologist.

She shut things down and schlepped upstairs, as least fifty pounds heavier than when the day began. In the bedroom, off came the heels, hose, and such, and on went sweats and big fuzzy slippers. She went into the kitchen and put a can of Campbell’s tomato soup in a saucepan with half a can of milk. She dropped a large pat of butter in the small skillet, sliced some cheddar, spread a little mayo on two pieces of seven grain bread, dropped on the cheese, added a thin slice of mesquite ham, put it in the skillet, and covered it with the lid. Ten minutes later she put the sandwich and soup on the counter, grabbed a bag of chips off the top of the fridge, and poured a glass of iced tea. A minute after that she realized she wasn’t hungry. Three minutes later she was on the couch with a glass of merlot and the latest from Iris Johansen, trying to ignore the drape she’d hung over the newly installed archway to Crockett’s side of their duplex townhouse.

An hour later, as Ruby stood in the kitchen pouring the last glass of wine from the bottle, the phone rang. It was Pamela.

“Hi, sweetie,” she said. “Whacha doin’?”

“Oh hi, Pam,” Ruby said, her voice slightly slurred. “Nothing. Glass of wine and a book, you know.”

“Want some company?”

“Whatimeisit?”

“A little after eight.”

“Okay.”

“Great. I’ll bring stuff so I can fix waffles for breakfast in the morning. Be there in thirty.”

Ruby sighed, killed the glass of wine, and started up the stairs. Halfway up she stopped, returned to the kitchen, opened another bottle of Merlot, refilled her glass, and headed up to take a shower.


CHAPTER THREE

 

Dusk was still an hour or more away when they came for Crockett. Three of them, each one armed, trying to sneak up on him through the tree line that bordered his campsite. They weren’t very good at it. In the weeks since he’d left Ivy’s he’d been up to Maine, worked his way southeast along the Canadian border, turned south into Ohio, motored through Indiana and Illinois and, drifting rather aimlessly but possibly pulled by the call of Kansas City, found himself in the Watkins Country Campground, overlooking the Watkins Lakeside Marina, on the shore of Truman Lake in west-central Missouri. During the entire time he’d had no trouble of any kind. No traffic tickets, no difficulties with the coach, no problems with any other campers. A hint of autumn was in the air now, the campground thinning out a bit as people left summer behind and returned to their day-to-day lives. It was boring. It was exactly what he thought he needed. And now this. He picked up his cane from where it rested against the picnic table.

The biggest of the three was carrying a long gun, the other two had pistols. Crockett stirred his small fire and waited for them. They paused at the edge of the trees then charged into camp, as the one with the rifle yelled.

“Bang! Bang! Gotcha mister! Yer dead meat!”

Crockett felt his heart rate increase as the boy brandished his plastic copy of an M-16.

“Hi, boys. You guys want a burger or something? I’m getting ready to put some on the grill. Hungry?”

The two boys with pistols, obviously brothers, hung back and lowered their toy guns. “We already ate,” one of them said. “We gotta go back to the trailer now. See ya.”

The boy with the rifle kept it leveled at Crockett as the other two walked away. “Yer dead,” he said. “Dead guy can’t fix no hamburgers.”

“How ‘bout this?” Crockett said, keeping his cool. “How ‘bout you stop pointing that gun at me?”

The boy, slightly overweight with nearly no neck, red hair, freckles, and gray teeth, sneered at him. “Ain’t no real gun. Just a toy. You scared of a toy gun?”

Crockett sighed. “How old are you?”

“Ten.”

“Fine. Then you should have reached the age of reason by now. Let me try again. I don’t like guns pointed at me. Not even toy ones. Stop it.”

The boy raised the rifle to his shoulder and aimed.

The head of Crockett’s cane caught the weapon on the end of the barrel and knocked it from the boy’s grasp. The rifle hit the edge of the picnic table and bounced to the ground at Crockett’s feet. He picked it up and looked at the boy.

“That’s my gun!” the kid yelled, backing up a step. “Gimmie it!”

“Probably not,” Crockett said.

Near tears, the boy went on. “I’m gonna git my dad! He’s a cop. He’ll put you in jail, you sonofabitch!”

“Again, probably not,” Crockett said.

The kid scurried away toward a Coleman foldout camper across the drive and four spaces down, shouting for his father. Crockett laid the gun on the picnic table and waited as he watched the lad relate his tale of woe to his dad. He tossed a small log on the fire and turned back toward the drive in time to be confronted by the block from which the gun-toting son had been chipped. A larger version of his child, the man was red headed, thick through the body, and had even less neck than his boy. Gray teeth seemed to run in the gene pool. Crockett smiled at him.

“Evening,” he said. “You’d be Dad, I guess.”

Dad stuck out his chin. “You got my boy’s gun?”

“Over there on the table. You’re welcome to it. See that he keeps it away from me, please. I offered him a burger if he’d stop pointing it at me, but that didn’t work, so I took it away from him. Sorry about all the trouble. The offer of the burger still stands, but not if he’s armed. Makes me nervous.”

“Hell, it ain’t nothin’ but a toy!”

“Not my point,” Crockett said. “He’s too proud of it. Chances are that if a boy like that threatens total strangers with toy guns at his age, he might do it with real guns when he gets older. Besides, I don’t like any kind of gun pointed at me.”

“You some kinda shell-shocked Vietnam vet?”

“Once again, you’ve missed my point. Let me put it in a way you might understand. I am not the problem here. Your son is. This is my space. Armed ten-year-olds are not welcome. Your kid said that you’re a cop. You should be able to grasp what I’m saying.”

“You goddam right I’m a cop, bud! Lemme see some I.D.”

Crockett grinned. “You first,” he said.

“What?”

“You first. You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”

The man struggled in his hip pocket and produced a badge that he flashed at Crockett. “There!” he said. “Now lemme see your driver’s license!”

“We’re on private property. I don’t need a driver’s license. Besides, anybody can buy a badge. You should have a copy of your police commission. Show me.”

“I doan gotta show you shit!”

“That’s true, you don’t. The plates on your truck are from Alabama. You’re not a local cop, are you?”

The man was beginning to look a little hunted. “I’m a city constable down in Hueytown.”

“Good,” Crockett said. “It’s a tough job. I have respect for anybody that does it with the right attitude and approach, but this isn’t Hueytown. You have no authority here. I hope you’re not carrying a gun. That’d be against the law. I might have to effect a citizen’s arrest.”

“What?”

Crockett shook his head. “Just kidding,” he said. “I don’t want to arrest you. I just want your kid to leave me alone. You keep him away from me and there will be no more trouble. He comes over here and points that thing at me again, I’ll take it away from him and wrap it around a tree. Now shoo.”

“You’re about one smart-assed sonofabitch, ain’tcha?”

Crockett smiled. “That’s twice I’ve been called a sonofabitch in the last ten minutes. Your no-neck little monster did it the first time. Now you. I’m tired of it. I’m renting this space and I told you to leave. You didn’t. You’re on it against my wishes. That’s criminal trespass to land. Now we’re back to the whole citizen’s arrest thing. Go away.”

“I oughta kick yer ass!”

Crockett studied the man for a moment. “Listen carefully,” he said. “You’re twenty years younger than I am and you got me by thirty pounds. But there’s an if here. As far as you’re welfare is concerned, it is a very important if. You might kick my ass, if you could survive the first fifteen seconds of our encounter. How good do you think you’re chances are?”

The man stared at Crockett for a beat, then licked his lips and began to back up.

“Wise choice,” Crockett said. “Don’t forget the gun.”

He watched the constable pick up the toy and walk away, then sat at the table, appetite gone, his stomach in knots.

Shit.

 

The following morning was magnificent. Windless and with only wispy clouds, the air held the promise of summer warmth and the lake twinkled pristine blue in the distance. Crockett was over the funk that his encounter that Dad and Son had wrought and, with no desire to prepare breakfast, wandered the quarter mile through the motorized vehicle section of the campground. Near the last empty camp spaces he was approached by a Labrador retriever. She shuffled up to him, tail wagging over square and stilted hips, worn teeth grinning at him from a gray muzzle, cloudy eyes searching his face for approval. He crouched and stroked her back.

“Hello, sweetheart,” he said as the dog leaned into him, nearly pushing him off balance. “What are you doin’ this morning?”

The dog raised her nose to his face, gently sniffing from no more than a quarter of an inch away, resisting the urge to lick. Crockett scratched her chest and looked at the name tag dangling from a collar so ancient the leather was nearly worn through.

“Well, Maggie,” he said, standing and turning away, “I’m going for a walk. If you’d care to join me, you’re more than welcome to come along.”

The dog stayed with him past the motel built on the slope above the boat docks and down the hill to the marina before going off on her own business. The walkway swayed slightly with his weight and the motion of the water.

Near the door to the bait-shop/snack bar, the floating dock was interrupted by a railed area open to the water below. The six foot square hole was totally jammed with immense carp, mouths uplifted, begging for whatever passersby might throw them to eat. When they noticed Crockett they became nearly frantic, rising out of the lake a quarter of their lengths, round mouths uplifted and sucking at nothing, jammed together so tightly that the water that suspended them was nearly invisible.

Almost mesmerized by the cacophony of slippery greed, Crockett stared down at the gaping mouths for a moment, nearly rapt at so foreign a sight. When he felt his stomach turn over, he tore himself away lurched inside the bait shop. An elderly gray haired man smiled at him from behind a counter by the door.

“Damn near make ya sick at yer stomach, don’t they?” he asked.

“God! I’ve never seen anything like it,” Crockett replied. “Awful.”

“Yessir. I can’t handle lookin’ at ‘em much. Folks’ll stand out there tossin’ ‘em bread and popcorn all afternoon. Jesus. I don’t know how they take it. Got some big carp though. Twenty, thirty pounds a lot of ‘em. Doan know how many. Hundred or more I guess. They fill that hole so tight I betcha a monkey could walk across the top of ‘em and not even get his feet wet.”

Crockett smiled. “You get a lotta monkeys around here?”

The old man’s eyes twinkled. “Shitload during high summer. The chamber of commerce calls ‘em tourists, but that’s crap. You can put a tuxedo on a monkey an’ he’s still gonna be a monkey. That your big rig up in the campground?”

“Yessir.”

“By yourself?”

“Yessir.”

“Noticed the old girl escortin’ ya to the dock.”

“Yessir. Your dog?”

“Me an’ my daughter-in-law. Folks like her. Whatcha runnin’ from?”

Crockett grinned. “You writing a book?”

“Yup. Damn near done with it, too. You’d be the last chapter, I speck. Name’s Zebulon Watkins,” the old man said, extending a hand over the counter.

Crockett took the hand and looked into clear gray eyes under the brim of a ratty old canvas fishing hat. “Call me Crockett,” he said.

“Okay, Crockett. What brings you to Watkins Station?”

“Watkins Station?”

“Yup. That’s where ya are. We’re actually a town. When the Corps of Engineers built this lake they covered up a lot of farms, houses, graveyards, and the like. This here is the edge of a little ol’ town named after my great grandaddy, Augustus Watkins. The city limits run around the motel, the marina, and the two campgrounds. The rest of the burg ran down the slope out there. You might notice that the slope is now under water.”

“No kidding?”

“So now, Watkins Station has a permanent population of two. Me an’ my daughter-in-law. Her name is Mazy. She was married to my boy, but he up an’ got killed three years ago. So now it’s just her an’ me.”

“And you’re writing a book.”

“Yup. Want me to change your name to protect the innocent?”

“Ha! What I really want, Zebulon, is breakfast. Any chance of that?”

“Kitchen and the restaurant are only open on the weekends this time of year, but I can sure whip ya up some bacon an’ eggs. Got no stove in that monster up on the hill?”

“Four burner. Just like downtown ‘cept they ain’t no pigeons.”

The old man grinned and pushed his hat to the back of his head. “Bacon an’ eggs on the house, Crockett, if ya tell me why yer on the run.”

“Woman, Zebulon,” Crockett said.

“That’s pretty much what I figgerd. Call me Zeb.”

 

Crockett hung out in the bait shop to watch for customers while Zeb went next door to the kitchen to fix breakfast. A pair of good ‘ol boys arrived with a bass boat that they put in the lake on the boat ramp and came into the shop to buy a bag of ice. Crockett handled the two-dollar transaction and Maggie wagged them on their way. In fifteen minutes Zeb was back with three over easy, six thick slices of sugar cured bacon, a mound of hash browns, a double order of wheat toast, honey, and fresh coffee with real cream.

“Damn,” Crockett said. “This for both of us?”

“You’re a big fella. Eat up. Maggie’ll take care of what you can’t finish. That dog is a opportunist.”

“How much I owe you?”

“Told ya it was on the house.”

“Thanks,” Crockett replied around a mouthful of potatoes. “How ‘bout the camp rental?”

“Off season rates for a bus like yours is twenty dollars a day. How long ya stayin’?”

“How long ‘til you finish your book?”

“Could be quite a spell. Why doncha just settle up before ya leave?”

“Aren’t you afraid I might run out on the bill?”

“Naw. Not you. You some kinda cop or somethin’?”

Crockett smiled as he worked his way through a bite of toast and egg. “What makes you ask?”

“For one thing, you answer questions with questions. For another, you got somthin’ goin’ on behind yer eyes. More than just whatever that woman done to ya. You don’t just look, Crockett. You watch. You a cop?”

“Usta be. Done a little freelancing the past couple of years. Nothing now. I really am on vacation.”

“May as well squat a spell, then. Me an’ Mazy could be pretty good company for a while. Be nice to have ya around. Lake’s real pretty this time a year. We got bass boats, crappie boats, and pontoon boats. Fix ya up if ya wanna fish. Even got a couple a jet skis if yer a hot rodder. Speck we got a wetsuit that’ll fit ya, too. Maggie likes ya.”

Crockett drizzled honey on a piece of toast. “You’re working awfully hard to get me to stay around, Zebulon,” he said. “What are you afraid of?”

Zeb smiled. “You writin’ a book?”



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