Fate Kitchens: an excerpt from THE FALLOW LAND

Tommy Shanks couldn’t hold his piss, and he was lazy to boot. You’d hear worse if you asked around, but if it wasn’t for those two things, my life would’ve been a whole lot simpler. We were doing yard work that summer – landscaping, if you want to sound fancy – and it was the first time anyone had ever heard of Tommy having a steady job. I took him on as a favor. He wanted to get his life in order, but nobody would hire him.

Tommy’s truck was parked in the yard when I went by to pick him up at seven. The sun was still low in the sky. I wanted to start work before it climbed above the trees and punished us.

I knocked and waited. Nothing. An air conditioner hummed around back, outside the bedroom window. I beat on the door with the side of my fist. It was sheet metal and made a hollow, ringing sound. The trailer wasn’t set right on its blocks. The windows rattled with every blow.

“Tommy! Come on now! Get up and get out here!”

The door opened a full minute later. It wasn’t Tommy. “Baines, what are you doing, beating my door down at the crack of dawn?”

“Dawn was a while ago, Pam.”

“I know it was. I went to bed long about that time.” She had a button nose and big, green eyes. I’m not sure what her original hair color was. She’d kept it dyed one shade of blonde or another as long as I’d known her. She carried ten or fifteen pounds more than she did in high school, but enough of it was in her chest and hips that men tended not to complain. The only other sign she’d aged were the lines around her mouth. They gave her a sour look when she wasn’t smiling. She didn’t smile often.

“Well, I’m real sorry about that. I tried to call Tommy on the way over here but I got his voicemail. He’s supposed to work for me today. I wouldn’t have made such a racket, but I didn’t see your car out front. I thought it was just him here.”

“I ran into him at Mason’s last night and left the car there. I rode home with him. I’m back for the time being at least.” She gave me a deadpan look. “Tommy’s gonna straighten up.”

“He has here lately. Honest to God. He shows up to work, and I won’t say he’s a model employee, but he picks up some of the slack anyway. When we’re done, he’ll drink a beer, but he hasn’t been doing anything else as far as I know.”

“There’s plenty you don’t know, Baines. Anyway he told me he’d been working for you. He didn’t say anything about today, though.”

She walked back inside to raise Tommy. There was a muffled argument and some rustling I took for him getting dressed. He came to the door in a pair of jean shorts, shirtless. Big, dark bags hung under his eyes. He hadn’t shaved. His stomach spilled over the waist of his shorts in a round, hairy mass.

“You ready to hit it? I told Gladys Robinson we’d be by her place first thing this morning.”

Tommy put one hand on each side of the door frame and closed his fingers, like he meant to hold on if I tried to drag him outside. He had fists about the size of a sledgehammer head. Near as heavy too, from what I’d seen. “That big old fucking yard of hers?” He looked like I’d asked him to dig a hole to China. “Why don’t we put it off ’til this afternoon? I’ll be fresh then.”

“It’ll be about a hundred this afternoon. We’ll be sitting at Mason’s, drinking a beer by then.”

Tommy’s hand went to his chest, where a shirt pocket would have been. “Let me bum a smoke.”

“Can’t help you. I haven’t bought a pack in forever.”

Tommy’s shoulders slumped. He was over six feet and at least two-fifty. He was out of shape but still awfully strong when he wanted to be. “You got a clean shirt I can wear?”

“I doubt it, Tommy. You got, what, seventy or eighty pounds on me?”

Tommy shuffled back inside. There was another argument, but he came back wearing a short-sleeved shirt, unbuttoned all the way down. His feet were jammed into a pair of old work boots. “Let’s get before she comes out here and starts shit.” He didn’t move like he was in any hurry. “Let’s run by Tucker’s on the way.”

“Alright. Long as you make it quick.”

Tommy found a Marlboro Red in his shirt pocket, or two-thirds of one anyway. It had been stubbed out and flattened, but he got it between his lips and lit.

“Crack that window if you want to smoke. Crack it anyway for that matter. You smell a little ripe.”

“You didn’t give me time to shower. Sun barely up and you’re banging on my door. That ain’t no way to treat your employees. Really I thought the damn police had come.”

Tommy wasn’t a stranger to the police, but he’d never been in any real trouble. He had a sister who’d been in and out of jail since we were kids. Drugs, prostitution, burglaries, a stint for child abuse once upon a time, too.

“There’s some cologne in that glove compartment.”

Tommy took a long drag of his cigarette. “I’d rather smell like a man.”

“You smell like something alright.”

“Whatever you say. I’m not the one that woke up alone this morning.” A year on and he still jabbed at me about Erin leaving me.

“Yeah, Pam met me at the door. Did you beg her to come back or what?”

“Nope. I guess I’m just irresistible.” We drew up to a four-way stop. “Make a left up here.”

“I thought we were going by Tucker’s.”

“We are. He moved. He’s out there on Harp Hendrix’s place.”

“How’d he swing that? I don’t believe I’d know what to do with a house that size.”

Tommy laughed. “He ain’t living in the big house. He’s in some ratty-ass shed out back a piece.”

“Sharecropper’s cabin, must be. What is he, a hired hand?”

“Fuck if I know. Ask him here in a minute.”


Traffic in town was light. A lot of people didn’t burn gas if they could help it. July 4th had just passed, and after a holiday weekend, there was less to spare. Judging by how empty the streets were, nobody much skipped the fireworks or the cookout. The row of stores on Main Street looked like a mouth missing half its teeth. Just about every other store was out of business. The ones that weren’t had big signs in the windows, promising discounts. We drove by the high school, then the Wal-Mart on one side of the road and the McDonald’s on the other. Further out was the Southland Inn. After that it was open road.

Another ten minutes and it was all empty fields. Some of them would’ve made good pasture land. Others looked like they held crops once upon a time. I hadn’t been out that way in years. Everything had grown up a lot, thicker trees, weeds waist high in places. I wondered what it looked like in the twenties, before the CCC came in and did so much work to get better crop yields and keep the topsoil from blowing away. Between that and the TVA, it must have looked like a different country. There wouldn’t have been many fallow fields then, not by choice. Not with people so desperate to make a living. “Does all this land here belong to Harp?”

Tommy didn’t say anything. He might have nodded, or a bump might have jostled him.

“Probably good cotton land way back there, whoever owns it.”

“That right.” He didn’t sound interested.

“Do better with corn now, I expect.”

“I don’t think they grow anything. Can you imagine Tucker’s ass out there in the sun, picking cotton?”

“Not his or mine or yours either.”

The lines on the blacktop ran out. The road was just wide enough for two cars to pass one another. The fields gave way to trees on both sides. The branches were so full and heavy with leaves in places that the sun only hit the pavement in winter. A minute later we were in the open again. Harp’s house was somewhere nearby. If all the land we passed was still his, it added up to quite a few acres, several hundred or more.

Tommy stared out the window. “Be a real good place to plant weed back in here.”

“I guess.”

“Think about it.” That wasn’t advice Tommy usually gave. “Don’t nobody much come out here. Nothing’s growing but grass and trees. No livestock I can see. No telling how big a crop you could get away with.” He looked serious. Maybe even thoughtful.

“Maybe. I just get the feeling somebody would rat you out.”

“You better not.” His voice had an edge to it. He glared at me, like I was about to pull out my phone and call the police any minute to arrest him for a crime he never did, on land he didn’t own.

“Tommy. I didn’t say I would. You’d have to be careful of those choppers too, though.”

“Let them fuckers find me. I’ll shoot their asses out of the sky. Get me one of those rocket launchers. Booby trap the woods.”

I didn’t contradict him. If I did, or if I played along, he’d have gone on all morning. His druglord-commando fantasies could get weird and detailed.

“That’s the house right up there,” he said. We turned down a long driveway in front of a two-story house with a balcony upstairs and a wraparound porch on the ground floor. The paint was so faded it looked like the trim didn’t match in places, but it must have been something, way back there. I didn’t see anything parked outside, but there could have been a garage around back of the house. Everything was still, not man or beast out and about. Tommy pointed around the side of the house. “Pull on back in there. Tucker’s place is over that little hill.”

“You want me to just drive through the man’s yard.”

“It ain’t gonna hurt nothing, long as you don’t go tearing ass back through there.”

I eased over the grass. It was already flat and brown. We stopped at a barbed-wire fence that was thick with rust. It sagged near the ground in places. The wire was torn off the posts entirely in others. “If Tucker’s the caretaker, he’s doing a fine job.”

Tommy just shrugged. “There’s a gate somewhere down the fencerow. I don’t want to get tangled up in this shit.”

The grass on the other side hadn’t been cut in a good long while. Weeds had taken over. I could see the house just over the rise, and a stand of pine further off in the distance. As we drew closer I said, “Jesus, Tommy. You told me it was a shack but this thing’s falling down.” The roof sagged. There was a hole just above the door. It was the right size for a bullet hole.

“Price is right, I guess.” Tommy put a finger to his lips and snuck up to the door. He grabbed the knob and yanked. A solid inch of daylight showed at the edge.

Tucker’s face appeared at the window. His skin was stretched too tight over his cheeks. His eyes were wild. A few seconds later the door swung open. “Tommy, what the fuck, man!”

“I was trying to catch you with your pecker in your hand.” He kept grinning even though Tucker looked pretty mad. “You gonna let us in or what?”

Tucker turned and we followed him inside. He’d always been a runty kid. That hadn’t changed much. I’d say he was 5’5” at the outside, but he’d gotten a little too fond of guns for my liking. I was surprised Tommy didn’t get one stuck in his face for the business with the door.

The house didn’t look much better on the inside. The walls were done in cheap paneling. Brown shag carpet covered the floor. It was all faded and dinghy in the morning light. It would’ve been hard to take with a hangover. It wasn’t much better sober.

A young woman sat on a faded, floral patterned couch. She had cold, bright eyes. Her hair was short and cut blunt at the edges. I nodded to her. She looked square at me but gave no sign of welcome. When she stood, I saw the tiny, frayed denim shorts she was wearing, and her long, smooth legs. She had a confident walk, slow, with a natural roll to her hips.

“Who’s she?” I nodded after her.

“Don’t worry about her,” Tucker said. He sounded annoyed. I couldn’t tell if it was because I’d asked about the girl or because she was there. He opened a cooler at his feet. “Y’all want a beer?”

I shook my head. “I try not to start before lunch.”

Tommy had already taken one and cracked it open. He threw his head back and emptied about half the can. A long, wet-sounding belch followed. “Listen, your momma was asking about you.”

It was the last thing Tucker wanted to hear, judging by his face. “When was this?” He reached down for a beer.

“Several days ago, must be. Whenever I was out to Wal-Mart last.”

“And what did she want?” He fumbled with the tab on the can.

“Wanted to know how you were. If I thought you had any money.”

Tucker fidgeted in his chair. He hadn’t been still since we got there. His eyes looked like he thought someone was after him. He sat with his back facing the wall, like every idiot who’s ever seen a gangster movie and thinks too much of himself. “What’d you tell her?” His hand went to his ear, across to his nose and down to the table in front of him. He fumbled with a pack of cigarettes.

Tommy drained off what was left in the can and crumpled it. “I didn’t say one way or the other.” He made as big a gesture as he could in the tiny room. “You afraid I told her about this here palace?”

“No. Maybe.” Tucker went to the window and peeked out. His movements were sudden and clumsy. “Hell, I don’t know. All I know is, I ain’t the one that ought to be looking after her. She’s not old and crippled.”

“Not yet. She sure looked like hell though.”

“Well, you turn enough tricks and you do enough drugs…”

The words hung there until I said, “So what is it you do around here, anyway?”

Tucker was still finally. He looked at my face for several seconds, like he was memorizing my expression when I asked. “I’m sort of a manager, I guess you’d say. I look after things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Whatever comes up. I keep the fences and the buildings in good shape. You know, the barns and all.”

“Like a caretaker, then.”

“Yeah, something like that.” He smirked, and I knew whatever he was taking care of would get him a long stretch inside if he didn’t watch himself.

“How many barns are there?”

“One real big one and some storage sheds. A handful of old cabins across the bottom a piece. I keep an eye on the cars, too.” His tone changed all of a sudden, like he wasn’t comfortable with the direction my questions were taking. “I’ve been trying for a while to get this lazy bastard to cart off that old plow and whatnot that’s piled up out there. You ought to do okay with it as scrap.”

I looked at Tommy and spoke to Tucker. “Tommy hadn’t told me a thing about it. Where’s it at?”

“A little ways off toward those trees in back.”

“We better get on out there if we’re gonna see it before work.”

Tommy got a couple of cigarettes from Tucker on the way out. Once the door closed, he said, “I just hope it’s worth the trouble.” He trailed me across the field, trying to get a nearly-empty lighter to work. He caught up when I saw the heap, piled around the back axle of a tractor. We stood with out feet wide apart, like we might take hold and carry the mess all the way back to the truck in one go.

“It’s not that bad, Tommy. We’ll take it over by the Mennonites. Nathaniel and them. I hear they give a good price.”

“Let’s do it then.” He held out his hand. “I’ll pull the truck up here.”

“Not this morning we won’t. We’re liable to get sidetracked, and I don’t mean to leave old Gladys waiting if I can help it. Be better to bring back a trailer anyway.”

“We ought to just put her off. Take what we get from here and spend the rest of the day at Mason’s.” His math was simple: it wouldn’t take near as long to load that scrap as it would to do Gladys Robinson’s lawn.

The dew was already gone in places. Soon the sun would climb above the trees and we’d suffer. “No, when I tell someone I’ll be there to work at a certain time, on a certain day, I have to show up. We ought to come back for this stuff in the evening, when it’s cooler. It’ll be daylight past seven. We can run it by the Mennonites’ first thing tomorrow.” I looked at Tommy. He didn’t seem impressed with my logic, but I kept going. Eventually he’d get tired of listening and give up. “That way we get the money for today’s work, plus whatever this heap’s worth, and tomorrow’s money too. Come Friday we’ll be set up.”

“Alright then. Let me run over here by this fence and piss, and we’ll head out.” He looked across the field. “Damn grass is too high. Tucker’s not worth a shit as a caretaker.” He walked off slowly, parting the weeds ahead of him with his hands.

He walked a pretty good piece, but the field went on and on. What did Harp want with so much land? No crops, no livestock, and he must have had a thousand acres. Plenty of timber to cut, and if his land was anything like most people’s around there, at least one good clean stream. It didn’t look like he had plans for any of it.

I hadn’t come up with an answer yet when I heard Tommy yelling. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. He’d gone further than he had to, not out of modesty but to kill time. I figured it was nothing, but he kept waving me over. When I got within earshot I yelled, “Come on, Tommy. We’re running late as it is.”

He didn’t budge. “Get over here.” He knelt down to look closer at something. Finally I was close enough to see it. A body, a girl. Her hair was tangled in the barbed wire. I looked closer and saw it was a wig, pulled loose a little at the scalp. The hair underneath was cut close like a soldier’s.

“Oh God. Is she alright?”

“Well, she ain’t breathing, best I can tell.”

The body lay face down in a patch of flattened weeds. She was young. Late teens, early twenties. Bleached blonde hair, deep tan. She had makeup smeared across the side of her face that was turned up, that and blood. She wasn’t wearing much – a t-shirt with the neck cut so it was falling off one shoulder and a short, ruffled skirt. She had one shoe on, a very high heel, the clear plastic-looking kind strippers wear.

“You know who she is?”

Tommy’s back was to me. “I don’t know her name. I’ve seen her in town. She wiggled her ass when she walked. I know that.”

“Jesus, Tommy.” Before I could say anything else, he reached and pulled the skirt down to cover her bare backside. I could still see the flesh at the small of her back. It was tan, but the kind of fake shade that comes from a bottle. I wiped sweat from my face. The temperature had to be over ninety already. “Run in there and get Tucker. He’s bound to know who she is.”

He grumbled a little and trotted off across the field. The air was thick with humidity and he moved slowly, like he was running into a headwind. He got tired part of the way there and started walking. I remember watching him go and thinking I hoped he wasn’t mixed up in this.

I looked down again at the girl. The ground beneath her was packed hard. I heard a dry, scuffling sound when I moved my feet. There was no breeze, barely even a sound from bugs or birds. I called the 911 dispatcher and told them where we were and what we’d found. Someone would be out directly, the woman told me. I listened for sirens but didn’t hear anything. I stepped between the girl’s body and the sun and waited for Tommy and Tucker and whoever else might come.


“Tucker, who is this girl?”

He’d come straggling out behind Tommy. I figured he’d just as soon stay out of the situation entirely, but the girl was barely more than spitting distance from his back door.

“I’ve never seen her before, far as I can recall.”

He was lying. I was pretty sure from the way he wouldn’t look at me. He kept fidgeting, couldn’t stand still. Of course, he’d been known to take just about anything he heard of getting people high. Maybe he’d seen her and didn’t remember it.

We waited in the sun. I wasn’t keeping time, but it was long enough that I finally called back. The woman said a patrol car was on its way, that and an ambulance. I shouldn’t have been surprised it was taking a while. Harp’s nearest neighbor was a couple of miles away, as far as I knew. “Did you tell Harp about this?”

Tucker looked like he would panic. “No, I better run up there and get him.”

“Just call him, why don’t you?”

“No, it’ll be better this way.” He turned and ran hard. He was awkward but he moved a lot faster than I expected. Dust kicked up behind him until he was back over the hill and out of sight.

Tommy grinned at me. “Gladys Robinson will have your ass over this.” I guess he thought I’d see how wrong I was to try and keep my word to people, business-wise.

“I’d wager she gets over it pretty quick once she hears what kept us. You know she can’t resist a good piece of gossip. I can just about see her passing it around, talking it up so she’s as close to the action as possible.”

Tommy looked like he couldn’t decide whether he’d rather see things backfire on me, or see the wheels turning when Miss Gladys got ahold of what we knew and tried to fish out the details we might be holding back.

We heard sirens far off, back toward town it sounded like, but it was hard to be sure with so many trees. The woman I’d seen inside shuffled out barefoot. She walked through the grass, shielding her eyes from the sun. When she got close enough to see the body, I said, “You recognize her?”

She had a good poker face, but there was a bare flicker or recognition that first instant. “No, I don’t.” She seemed to make a point of making eye contact with me. “You found her just now?”

“Afraid so. Well, Tommy did.” I nodded in his direction.

Finally a cruiser pulled up and an ambulance. Only one cop got out. Harp came out of the big house and caught up with him before they reached the fence.

Even at that distance there was no mistaking Harp Hendrix. He was six-five at least, with white hair, brushed back into a high pompadour. He wasn’t more than fifty years old, fifty-five at the outside. He wore flashy shirts like an old country and western singer, and cowboy boots in exotic skins. His watch was so big and chunky it looked like he might strain his wrist, turning it over to give the time. He had silver rings on three fingers of his left hand. At closer range, he showed full rows of perfectly straight, capped teeth. He drove to Memphis twice a year to have them bleached, or so people said. I’d always known him to be quick with a smile but seldom to seem like he meant it. Not everybody appreciated his style.

Tommy nodded back toward the house. “Looks like they sent Vaughn Sanders out to handle it.”

Vaughn was three years older than me. I know that from watching him play football my first year of high school. People in town had never seen a kid as strong and fast as he was. He’d hit the corner and turn upfield, and Lord have mercy on the poor fool who got in front of him. Coaches started calling, then showing up to games. I saw Johnny Major one weekday afternoon in town, wearing the loud orange blazer he wore on the sidelines. And sure enough, Vaughn ended up in Knoxville at UT. That was about as far as his glory went. He got stuck behind two upperclassmen his first year and hurt a shoulder the next, not bad enough to need surgery, but he had trouble holding onto the ball when he got hit. I guess football lost its shine for him. That is, if he ever loved playing as much as people thought he did. I’ve always wondered. There were stories about him coming into the locker room in high school and finding hundred dollar bills tucked into his shoes before a big game, or after he played really well. It might’ve felt like a reward to a kid that age, and it might’ve felt like someone trying to buy you. I’m sure that kind of thing happens all over. I just don’t know how it sat with him.

His last big moment was Senior Day at UT. They played some nobody, Middle Tennessee State or Arkansas-Little Rock. A soft touch so guys could go out with a little style, whether they were stars or not. First play from scrimmage, they handed the ball to Vaughn and it looked like he’d been shot out of a cannon. He hit the line and tore through a thicket of hands and he was gone. The safety came to meet him. Vaughn tucked the ball tight like the was about to meet him head-on, but once the guy committed, he went up like a hurdler and cleared him. Prettiest thing I’d ever seen. He didn’t touch the ball again all day. They ended up with a losing record that year. I doubt anyone much besides me remembers that run, but I got a charge out of it, 80 or 90 thousand people on their feet and screaming for him. He came back here after graduation. It took me a long time to understand why.

Eventually I decided it must have been a challenge to himself, to come back and face people who believed he’d let them down. I was maybe half right. His grandfather, the one who raised him from the time he was small, had a bad stroke his senior year. Looking after him was Vaughn’s first worry. He may have meant to challenge people too, to make them see they had the wrong idea about what made a man successful. I don’t imagine he made much headway on that score.

He and Harp made quite a picture, walking side-by-side. Harp pressed the top row of barbed wire down and swung his leg over, clearing it by several inches. He held it up and let Vaughn duck under. I met them next to the fence.

“Vaughn. Harp. She’s right over there.”

The weeds were trampled down. No one broke stride. Harp stopped and hooked his thumbs in the back pockets of his jeans. “Well I’ll be.” He sounded more surprised than upset. That was his business, but it seemed odd to me.

Vaughn fastened one end of a roll of yellow tape around a fence post. “Watch out, Tommy.” He walked off a perimeter several yards in each direction and tied the tape as a barrier. “Now. Who found her?”

“I did.” Tommy’s voice was hoarse, like he was thirsty or he’d smoked too much.

“You live in that house over there?”

“No. My nephew does.”

“Your nephew. Has he got a name?”

“Tucker. That’s what everyone calls him anyway. His name’s Josh.”

“I believe I know who you’re talking about.” Vaughn didn’t appear surprised. “And where is he?”

Harp fielded that one. “He’s up at my house. I had a window with a cracked pane. He’s seeing to that.”

“Run get him or call him one. There’s no sense in me chasing all over when you’re all right here.” Vaughn knelt by the body and brushed the hair back from the girl’s face. “Any of you got a name on her?”

We all said no.

“So this complete stranger wandered onto your land,” he looked at Harp, “strangled herself, and you’ve never seen her before in your life. Is that what you’re telling me?”

Harp gave a tight smile. “In case you didn’t notice, I have a lot of land. I’ve got a pretty active social life, too. Not everybody who comes to the house stops in to pay tribute. I’m not even here sometimes. Now what is it you’re trying to say, Officer?” The last word sounded about as respectful as if he’d said asshole.

Vaughn stood and walked to the edge of the tape. “I’m saying, and I’d suggest you listen, that if you feed me a line now, I will find out about it. And I won’t believe a word you say from then on.”

Harp’s smile widened. He cocked his head to one side. “Is that a fact?” His voice had a taunting sound.

Vaughn turned back toward the body. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He worked slowly, but everything he did looked like it had a purpose. He stayed bent near the ground, in case anything small was left behind, be it a shirt button or cigarette butt. There weren’t any footprints visible. The ground was too dry and too many sets of feet had scuffed around her. After several minutes, radio static crackled and a tinny voice came over the air. Vaughn answered, but in an undertone. He pulled out a plastic bag from his pocket and a pen and lifted something into it. I couldn’t see for his broad back and the way he hunched down.

“Found something, did you?” Harp sounded skeptical.

“Can’t say yet. Not for sure.” Vaughn glanced over his shoulder. “I suspect you’ll know when the time comes.”

Harp brushed something from the front of his shirt. “I ought to. It’s my land,” he said. I guess he thought that put him back in control.

Vaughn stood and turned to face him. “Yessir, it is.” It sounded more like a challenge than a concession.

Harp didn’t react one way or another. Pretty soon another car was there. A pair of men got out, older, white and not near as fit as Vaughn. The three huddled up and talked in low voices. I saw Vaughn pointing out Harp, but not in an obvious way. He went back to work. The shorter of the two, a man with a thick mustache and a tight little pot belly, came over to talk with me and Tommy. His name was Tate. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. We told him what we knew, but it couldn’t have been much help.

The other man walked over and shook Harp’s hand. Chris Porter. He ranked Vaughn from what I could see. He was known to look the other way on things, but only for certain people. It wasn’t always for money. He wanted to be Sheriff someday, was what everyone figured. No star athlete was too young to drink, and if the mayor’s no-count son got caught buying drugs, somehow or other it turned out to be a big misunderstanding. I didn’t know what Harp could do for him, but his eyes lit up when they started talking. He didn’t show it otherwise, but I had a feeling he’d go to bat for Harp later.

Vaughn came to the tape and called him over right before Tucker got there. Vaughn argued with him, not loud enough so the words reached me. Chris slapped him on the back and crossed the tape. Vaughn wasn’t happy. He rounded up me and Tommy. “I can’t see any sense keeping you two, but I wanted to ask you one more time if there’s anything you forgot to tell me earlier.” He didn’t let on that Chris Porter getting involved was a problem.

“I can’t think of a thing.” I looked at Tommy.

“Me neither.”

“Alright. If I need to find you later, will either of you be at home?”

“Probably not. We’ll be at Mason’s, more than likely. Tommy, we better head out, too.”

We walked toward the fence with Vaughn. When we reached the truck, Vaughn waved us around behind it. “Listen,” he said. He was nearly whispering. “If either of you ,” he looked at Tommy, “or that nephew of yours either for that matter, remembers something or comes across something that looks fishy, you bring it to me.”

Tommy looked suspicious. “How come?”

Vaughn turned and walked back the way he came. I don’t know whether he put his hand there consciously or not, but it was resting on the grip of his pistol. “Just consider it a personal favor,” he said. His tone said, “I’m trying to save you from yourself.”


Read Fate’s interview about this excerpt and his his novel in progress, The Fallow Land