Fishbait in Erath County

R. Earle Harris


Copyright Notice

Fishbait in Erath County is copyrighted 2004 by R. Earle Harris (rearleharris@tuxfamily.org)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.


Fishbait in Erath County


I have digged and drunk strange waters,
and with the sole of my feet
have I dried up all the rivers.
-- 2 Kings 19:24


A Snake Handler's Warning

Time for another dose of snakebite. This second little piece of Texas wisdom appears to be set in an actual town you can find on the map, south of Stephenville, up in Erath County. But it's not. It's the story of a town in another county, full of people who did many of the things you will read about below -- except for the murders. No one in either county, to the best of my knowledge, did those. One thing I learned living in that town: if a small town doesn't have at least an elementary school and an IGA grocery, it's not small. It's dead. This is the story of a dead little town. Little towns are potentially poisonous. Like the snakes. Problem is one person gets snakebit, bites someone else, they bite the next person, and next thing you know, whole town is pure poison. Only cure I've found for small town snakebite is to move away, which is what I did.

R. Earle Harris

Seguin, Texas - 2004


Disclaimer

All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All commercial trademarks in this work are the properties of their respective owners, who retain all rights to their actual products. The names of actual persons, living or dead, or actual products, commercial or political, in this work do not refer to their correspondent realities but only to reified perceptions of digitized commercial-political infospace, introduced -- via pixels -- into individualized consciousness.


Saturday

 


Coming Home

The wide dry flat Canadian ran from west to east, as far as the eye could see. Joe Lon Trueno sat in his old blue Chevy pickup, staring into the far distance, where the broad flat earth seemed to touch the dazzling sky. Joe Lon held the dead butt of a cigarette out the window. With his other hand, he flipped his Zippo open and closed, open and closed, reluctant to start the engine, reluctant to leave the last resting place of his sister, Annie.

From where he sat in his truck, Joe Lon could see the pile of cinder-block-sized red sandstone rocks that was Annie's grave and the white two-room shotgun shack that had been her home. Joe Lon squeezed his cigarette empty, rolling it between his thumb and fingers until only pale paper remained. He rolled the paper into a little ball and dropped it in his pocket.

Joe Lon Trueno saw the hand among the rocks.

"Madre de Cristo," said Joe Lon Trueno, climbing out of his truck. He walked to his sister's grave and knelt beside a brown hand that curled out from under the sandstone. Whoever buried his sister had left her hand sticking out.

Why wasn't she in a casket? thought Joe Lon Trueno.

He gently reached down with both hands, taking his sister's hand in his own and stroked the stiff darkness of it.

Damn, he thought, I'm going to have to dig you up just to bury you right.

When Joe Lon Trueno stood up again, he saw the foot. His sister's foot was sticking out of the sandstone too. Only this wasn't his sister's foot, it was a man's foot, in a man's moccasin. The moccasin was rough deerskin, covered in elaborate beadwork. It was old, but not used up. Joe Lon walked over to the moccasined foot and wondered just what kind of a moccasin it was.

"What kind of moccasin is it?" asked the man who was standing on the other side of Joe Lon's sister's grave.

"Who are you?" Joe Lon asked the man.

"Tell me what kind of moccasin it is," said the man.

"I can't," said Joe Lon, looking back at the beaded foot.

"Then tell me who I am," said the man.

Joe Lon looked at the stranger beside him. The man with all the questions looked older than Joe Lon Trueno, which would put him way over sixty. He was dressed in rough-out boots, blue jeans, and a deerskin pullover shirt with bead work as elaborate as the work on the moccasin. As elaborate, but not the same kind.

Joe Lon Trueno wondered silently if the man was his father.

"I am not your father," said the man, who came around and knelt beside the beaded moccasin.

"You don't recognize this beadwork?" asked the man.

"No," said Joe Lon Trueno, "I don't."

The man wanted more of an answer than that.

"It is Comanche?" asked Joe Lon Trueno.

"No," said the man, who had long braids and a gentle, intelligent face, just like Joe Lon's brother.

"I am not your brother," said the man.

"Is it Kiowa?" asked Joe Lon.

"No," said the man, whose face was wrinkled and lined, whose eyes were the eyes of neither wolf nor dog.

"I know who you are," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"Of course you do," smiled the man. "But do you know who is in the grave with your sister?"

Joe Lon Trueno tightened his jaws, squeezed his lips together.

"No, Coyote," said Joe Lon Trueno, "I don't."

Coyote's smile grew larger, revealing his long canine teeth.

"That would be you in there," said the coyote of all coyotes.

Joe Lon Trueno could not see any more. Or breathe. Or move. All he could do was drown in the moist red earth of his sister's grave, beside the wide dry flat Canadian River.

-x-x-x-

Clawing his way up and out of nightmare sleep, Joe Lon popped Loser on the nose. Rudely awakened by a windmilling man, the pit bull assumed the worst and set to barking with a will. Half awake, fully disoriented, Joe Lon tried to quiet the dog.

"Hush, Loser," he said. "It's alright. It's alright."

Loser stood on Joe Lon's narrow bed and barked to wake the dead.

"For crying out loud, dog," said Joe Lon, "shut up."

He swatted the pit bull across the nose and Loser yelped as if he'd been betrayed. Joe Lon had to physically move the dog in order to climb out of the narrow bed. He stood up in the dark, on the still warm linoleum floor, and remembered where he was.

He was home, in Imelda's little travel trailer.

"Come on, dog," he said. "Let's get some milk."

Loser barked once.

"I know you don't like milk," said Joe Lon. "We'll find you something."

Joe Lon Trueno walked the length of the narrow travel trailer. He was pretty sure the tiny refrigerator in the tiny kitchen had had milk in it when he'd come home and found this trailer parked on his land.

Imelda was Joe Lon's sister-in-law. Imelda's sister Magdalena was Joe Lon's wife. But Magdalena was dead. She'd been dead since just before Joe Lon had last left home, just before he'd burned down their single-wide, just before his sister Annie had died.

Joe Lon knelt, opened the refrigerator door. Loser crowded in and almost knocked him over.

"C'mon, dog," said Joe Lon Trueno. "It's the middle of the night and my bony old butt is too old for you to be knocking it around."

Loser looked at Joe Lon in the light of the little refrigerator and panted with rhythmic doggie-patience.

"Are you listening to me?" Joe Lon asked his dog.

Loser panted on, in slack-jawed stupidity.

Imelda was no Magdalena. Magdalena had kept a much larger refrigerator full of much better food. Imelda, Joe Lon knew, kept her refrigerator at home stocked just like this one: full of HEB's junk food and remaindered deli specials from the local Eat and Get Gas. Joe Lon found a sandwich that looked as if it had been bought at an expiration-date special in a convenience store. He tore open its triangular plastic wrapper and handed the wad of moist bread, wilted lettuce and fatty ham to the dog.

Loser inhaled the offering and panted for more.

"Forget it," said Joe Lon Trueno. "One is all you get."

Joe Lon sat down on the floor, crossed his legs, pulled out an open quart of half-and-half, and drank the last good long bit of it down. Joe Lon smiled as he savored its sweetness. Then he crushed the empty carton and stuffed it into the trash can behind him.

The travel trailer was about twenty feet long. There was a bathroom the size of an old phone booth on one end and this sorry excuse of a kitchen on the other. In between was a narrow bed, built-in storage above and below it, and a tiny living area with a sagging pull-out couch that looked like it had been made from a large and ugly chair.

Joe Lon closed the refrigerator door and stood up in the darkness.

It was late spring in South Texas. The first hints of morning's light were making their pale suggestions of a new day out the window. Joe Lon, in his white t-shirt, pajama bottoms, and bare feet, opened the metal trailer door and stepped outside.

"Coming, dog?" asked Joe Lon Trueno, holding open the door.

Loser thought about it, dropped to the stained linoleum floor, shooting his legs out fore and aft.

"Suit yourself," said Joe Lon, closing the door behind him.

Joe Lon walked out from under the wide-spreading shadows of dark oaks and black walnuts until he could see the stars. He wondered who the man in the dream had been. Which was a silly thing to wonder. The man had been Coyote. And Coyote knew what Joe Lon Trueno didn't -- if anyone did. Coyote knew what kind of Indian Joe Lon Trueno was.

Joe Lon spat the bitter taste of sleep onto the ground and looked around.

Imelda, her husband Cabrito, and their co-conspirators had placed the travel trailer directly across from the burned-out remains of Joe Lon's and Magdalena's trailer. A week ago, maybe less, Joe Lon decided he didn't care to live in the empty single-wide his wife's death had left behind. So he stuck a couple of things he cared about into the beat-up camper behind his truck, grabbed a can of kerosene, and burned their single-wide to the ground. About the time the fire was out, after it was too late for anyone to do anything about it, the volunteer fire department and Imelda had both shown up and expressed their disapproval of his arson.

After Imelda had told him what she thought of his burning down his own house, she'd asked him to keep the State of Texas from putting a needle into her son's arm. Because Imelda's son, Salvador, had gotten himself accused of murder, mainly by being young and brown. So, for Magdalena's sake, Joe Lon had hauled himself momentarily out of grief and retirement to save the boy.

While he was saving Salvador's bacon, Joe Lon's sister Annie had died. She'd been buried in a simple, sandstone grave, along the Canadian river. But she'd been buried alone, in a pine box, wearing her own old white-leather wedding-moccasins. Joe Lon hadn't seen them, but his brother Dan had told him that he'd put them on her himself. Dan had been there for the burial, even if Joe Lon couldn't be. Annie's moccasins were Comanche because Annie was. Dan was Comanche too. But Joe Lon was something else and nobody knew just what.

Joe Lon spat out another bitter mouthful of sleep and cursed gently as the tail-end of the streamer hit his shirt. Joe Lon was upset he couldn't spit straight, upset his mother hadn't bothered knowing who his father was, and upset with himself for being upset with his mother--who'd enjoyed at least one night with a loving stranger. Which was good -- because nights with her own husband had been full of alcohol and shouting and fists.

Joe Lon remembered the fists. The first person Joe Lon Trueno had ever truly beaten the crap out of had been his own father. And that upset him too. Joe Lon smiled. At least his own father hadn't been his own father. Joe Lon spat again just to prove he could spit past his shirt. Feeling better, he walked over to his burned-out home.

The remains of their single-wide consisted of a rusted frame, sagging axles, odd bits of blackened wood, and all the cheap mirrors that had gone into the fittings of a mobile home. Single wides come with lots of mirrors. They're cheaper than windows and bounce what little light makes it inside until the metal box of a mobile home is almost cheerful on a sunny day. All these mirrors were broken now, scattered among the ashes, echoing the stars.

Joe Lon pulled his t-shirt up with one hand and scratched his flat stomach. He could feel the flea bites on his flesh which come from sleeping with a dog.

He'd need to get a thirty-yard dumpster in here, and a cutting torch, maybe a portable metal bandsaw. Cut the remains of the trailer into heftable chunks and get it all out of here. Clean up the mess and scatter some seed on it. Blot the past out with things that grow.

Joe Lon stopped scratching his stomach and ran his fingers through his thick dark graying hair.

Magdalena was dead.

Joe Lon Trueno stuck his hand into the pant's pocket of his pajamas and pulled out the old metal star he never seemed to be without. It was a silver star in a silver circle and had been cut by hand from a Mexican dollar, back when the dollar was new, in eighteen hundred and seventy-three.

Joe Lon Trueno rubbed the star between his fingers, without taking it from his pocket.

There was no way to know for sure, but the star was probably the real thing. The marks of the work matched the age of the coin, an expert had told him. That made it an original old-time star, the star of a Texas Ranger.


Linda

Suzanne.

Joe Lon lay in his narrow bed, scratching Loser's nose, remembering Suzanne. As Sam Laughton, Big White Sambo of the FBI, would say: Suzanne Hartmann was the prettiest policewoman in the State of Texas.

Years ago, Joe Lon, Sam, and Suzanne worked together on a case in Dallas. That during the bank scandals of the eighties, when the deregulation of the Reagan years had wreaked havoc on the savings and loans. That havoc was mostly caused by the officers of those savings and loans siphoning off deregulated money to play at being rich. Suzanne, Sam, and Joe Lon had grounded more than a few of the high fliers, put a handful of them in jail, and had damn near nailed the vice-president's son. Nowadays, Sam was the senior FBI agent in Houston. Joe Lon was a retired Texas Ranger in Grajo. And Suzanne was a happily married woman up in Stephenville.

Coming back from Annie's grave in the Black Kettle Grasslands, Joe Lon had gone out of his way to find Suzanne in Erath County. Talking old times with Sam Laughton the week before had put her on his mind. After all, she was the only woman he'd ever seriously considered being unfaithful to Magdalena with.

Joe Lon found Suzanne in a big old Sears and Roebuck house in Stephenville. Texas had come of age with the railroads and those railroads had brought their share of mail-order houses down from the yards of Sears and Roebuck. The proud fashions of Victorian and Greek Revival houses had come on flat cars, early pre-fabs, bringing Eastern taste and dignity to the rowdy West. Suzanne's house was a big Victorian three-story with fading pale-yellow paint and a six-sided tower on one corner that overlooked the park around the town's public library.

Joe Lon had cabled Loser to the bumper of his pickup truck and gone to knock on Suzanne's door. The man who answered his knock wore Bermuda shorts, a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and calf-length gartered socks with his patent leather shoes. The man's costume had made Joe Lon Trueno blink.

"May I help you?" asked the man.

"Yessir," said Joe Lon Trueno. "I'm looking for Suzanne Hartmann."

"Then you're about twenty-six years too late," said the man.

"I beg your pardon?" said Joe Lon Trueno.

"Suzanne Hartmann has been Suzanne Zidlickey for the past twenty-six years," said the man. "I'm Herman Zidlickey."

Joe Lon blinked again.

"Then you're Suzanne Hartmann's--" began Joe Lon.

"--Prince Charming," finished Herman Zidlickey. "And you are?"

"Joe Lon Trueno. I used to work with Suzanne, your wife."

"Police then, are you?" asked Herman Zidlickey.

"Texas Ranger," said Joe Lon Trueno. "I'm retired now."

"Aren't we all," said Herman Zidlickey. "Would you like to see Suzanne?"

"If she's willing to see me," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"That pleasure will have to be all yours, Mr. Trueno," said Herman Zidlickey. "Come on in. We'll go up and see her."

Joe Lon Trueno had followed Herman Zidlickey into an old house that smelled of cooking and carpets and captivity. Joe Lon Trueno was suddenly glad he'd passed up his chance to be unfaithful with the prettiest woman in Erath County. His house, Magdalena's house, had never smelled as old as this.

"Watch the carpet," said Herman Zidlickey as he led the way up the stairs. "Those brass doohickeys don't really hold it down."

"I'll be careful," said Joe Lon Trueno.

High windows in the stairwell showed Joe Lon a blue Texas sky as he did his best not to stare at Herman Zidlickey's gartered socks. He wondered if this was as relaxed as Herman ever got. The two men reached the head of the stairs.

"Suzie! Honey," Herman Zidlickey called out. "Company for you."

"How wonderful," said a woman's voice that Joe Lon Trueno couldn't recognize. "Who's come to see me?"

"A Joe Lon Trueno, dear," said Herman Zidlickey. "Says he's an old policeman friend of yours."

Joe Lon found himself in a tiny square hallway that let onto a beautiful sun-filled room at the top of the Victorian hexagonal tower. Suzanne Hartmann, now Suzanne Zidlickey, rose from a white and rose-colored love seat to greet him. Suzanne Hartmann looked older than Joe Lon felt, older and heavier and somehow broken by the dull weight of her life in a quiet town, her life with a husband who wore gartered socks over his patent leather shoes.

"Joe Lon," she said.

As she came across the Persian-carpeted floor, her eyes were cast upwards at the ceiling, unseeing, unblinking, and blind.

"Suzanne," said Joe Lon Trueno.

He put his arms around his old friend.

Joe Lon spent the rest of that long afternoon and evening with the Zidlickeys, talking in the tower, dining in the greenhouse out back, nursing a beer in the garden while the two of them drank their after-dinner sherry.

Almost dozing again now, in the narrow bed of his sister-in-law's trailer, Joe Lon couldn't remember what he and Suzanne and Herman had talked about. All he could remember was how they made him feel the pull of old age, like an ugly warm gravity. The Zidlickeys were in their sixties too, just like him. But they had surrendered to their years and he had not. They were making an early peace with silence and doctors and death.

Joe Lon had sat with them and talked and strained against the pull of their sad inertia, resisting the comradeship of decline, the false smiles of surrender, the backwards-looking remembrances of a life already passed on.

Joe Lon had stayed too late, leaving only over the strong protests of Herman and the entreaties of Suzanne to stay overnight. He had shaken the soft hands of Herman, embraced the plump and teary-eyed Suzanne, and all but run from the front door to his truck as soon as they had switched off the porch light.

-x-x-x-

Joe Lon lurched awake into the bright heat of the little trailer, the barking of Loser and the banging of the front door in his ears.

"Who is it?" he called out, pulling down his t-shirt which had bunched up in restless sleep.

"I'm here about your son," answered a woman's voice from beyond the banging door.

"I'm not dressed," called out Joe Lon Trueno, looking around for his boots and jeans.

"You answer this door, Joe Lon Trueno," called the woman at the door.

God damn, Miguel, thought Joe Lon Trueno. What have you done now?

The woman at the door didn't stop banging on it while Joe Lon pulled up his jeans, shoved his feet into sweat-stained boots, and stuffed the tail of his t-shirt into his waist band.

"Linda," he said, when he'd opened the door.

"Joe Lon," said Linda Trueno, ex-wife of Miguel Trueno, ex-daughter-in-law of Joe Lon Trueno.

"I'm going to shoot your damn son," said Linda.

"Last time we talked, you said you wouldn't do that," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"I said I was afraid I'd hit my truck," she answered.

"So what's changed," asked Joe Lon, wondering why Miguel hadn't done a better job at keeping this woman his wife.

"Miguel set my truck on fire," said Linda. "Burned it up down to the Firestones."

Joe Lon couldn't help himself; he smiled and shook his head.

"You think it's funny?" asked Linda Trueno. "I see him again, I swear to God I'll shoot him."

"I don't get it," said Joe Lon. "If you feel that way--and I'm sure you do--what are you doing here?"

"I'm hiding from your son, Joe Lon," said Linda Trueno. "I'm afraid he's going to shoot me first."

-x-x-x-

Joe Lon took two cups from the metal cupboard, lifted his blue-and-white speckled coffee pot off the stove, and headed out the trailer door. Linda Trueno was sitting on the tailgate of Joe Lon's old pickup truck, looking at the remains of his burned-out single-wide.

"Imelda told me you burned this down," said Linda Trueno.

"You didn't believe her?" asked Joe Lon, handing her a cup.

"Oh, I believed her," said Linda Trueno. "Like father, like son."

Joe Lon frowned.

"Sorry," said Linda. "I wish you could fix your son--get him to leave me alone."

"I can try," said Joe Lon. He hefted the coffeepot. "You sure you don't want something in this?"

"Black is perfect," said Linda Trueno.

They sipped their hot black coffee in silence, side by side on the tailgate, in the shadow of a big post oak.

"You call the sheriff?" Joe Lon asked her finally.

"I did," said Linda Trueno.

"And he said?" asked Joe Lon.

"He said he'd lock Miguel up when he caught him," said Linda.

"He really set your truck on fire?" asked Joe Lon Trueno.

"It was the gas tank blowing up that woke me this morning," said Linda Trueno. "Miguel was standing there waiting for me to look out the window. Goddamit."

She shut up then and sipped her coffee. Joe Lon sipped his too.

"I loved that truck," said Linda Trueno.

"Fifty-three," said Joe Lon Trueno. "Good year."

"A Chevy," said his ex-daughter-in-law. "Like yours."

"Baby blue," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"And chrome," said Linda. "Lots of chrome."

The two of them finished their coffee in silence.

"You going home now?" asked Joe Lon Trueno, taking her empty cup.

"No, Joe Lon," said Linda Trueno. "I told you, Miguel is scaring the shit out of me right now. I'm staying here."

"Ah," said Joe Lon Trueno, wondering what to say next. Goddamn Miguel.

"I don't exactly have a guest room out here, Linda," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"Imelda said that little couch makes into a bed," said Linda Trueno.

"You're not sleeping on my little couch," said Joe Lon.

"I'm not sleeping in your bed, Joe Lon Trueno," said Linda Trueno. "The couch will have to do."

"There's no proper privacy in that trailer," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"I didn't come here for the privacy," said Linda Trueno. "I came to be safe from your son. You take him in to the sheriff and I'll go home. Until then, I'm sleeping on Imelda's couch -- she said I could."

Joe Lon stood there with two dirty coffee cups in one hand and an empty coffee pot in the other. He wondered, if he stood there long enough, would he figure out what to do?

"I've got you, Joe Lon Trueno," said Linda. "Magdalena told me years ago you were a sucker for a lady in distress."

"She did?" asked Joe Lon.

"She did," said Linda Trueno. "And she told me other things about you too."

"She did?" said Joe Lon again, wondering what Magdalena had said about him.

"She did," said Linda Trueno. "Just about all of it good. Maybe I should have married the father instead of the son."

Joe Lon Trueno looked at his ex-daughter-in-law and smiled.

"I reckon I was already taken," he said.


The Call

Joe Lon Trueno couldn't figure out what was wrong.

He was in a strange bedroom. Mid-morning light filled the room. A woman was handing him the phone. He was pretty sure he had drool coming out the side of his mouth. That would explain the woman's smile.

Joe Lon wiped the side of his mouth with his hand.

"Linda?" he asked, making a guess at who the woman with the phone was.

"You fell back asleep," said Linda Trueno. "Phone's for you."

"Tell them to go away," said Joe Lon Trueno.

He swung his legs onto the floor. His boots were already on.

"I fell asleep in my boots?" he asked.

"It's the Lieutenant Governor," said Linda Trueno.

She grinned as he took the phone.

"Try to make a good impression," she said.

-x-x-x-

The Lieutenant Governor of Texas did not sound well.

"Are you living with a woman, Trueno?" asked the Lieutenant Governor. "I thought your wife just died."

Joe Lon passed over the immediate responses that came to mind.

"I don't know what kind of ... mess ... is going to hit the fan, Trueno," said the Lieutenant Governor, "but a storm cloud of it is coming and I don't need any scandal on your end."

Joe Lon looked up at Linda, who was leaning against the door jamb watching her ex-father-in-law. He waved her outside.

"My end of what?" asked Joe Lon Trueno.

The Lieutenant Governor's voice was shaking now.

"This investigation," he said. "My eldest step-daughter."

The Lieutenant Governor was sobbing on the phone.

-x-x-x-

The Lieutenant Governor was saying "I'm sorry" over and over, in a quiet voice.

"It's all right," said Joe Lon Trueno. "Just tell me what you need me to do."

"It's DFW. Dallas. My step-daughter," said the Lieutenant Governor. "Her name was Dallas Frances Wilson. Her body's been found ... in high water."

Joe Lon pictured a body, drowned, bobbing in the high tide of the Gulf.

"Your step-daughter was found in the water?" asked Joe Lon Trueno. "Drowned?"

"Yes. No. I'm sorry," said the Lieutenant Governor. He took a long breath that made the phone hiss in Joe Lon's ear. "Dallas was found in a creek, Skull Creek, just outside Stephenville--"

In Erath County, thought Joe Lon Trueno.

"--up in Erath County," said the Lieutenant Governor. "Little town called High Water. I want you to look into it."

"Why me, sir?" said Joe Lon. "I don't even have a badge anymore."

"I'll get you a goddamn badge, Trueno," said the Lieutenant Governor. "Listen--" the Lieutenant Governor's voice was starting to shake again. "--they only found half of her. They cut her in half. Goddamn sonsabitches."

It was a while before the Lieutenant Governor could speak again.

-x-x-x-

"I'm sorry, Joe Lon," said the Lieutenant Governor. "Let me try to get all this out. Then you can ask your questions."

"Alright," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"Okay," said the Lieutenant Governor. "I got the call this morning. About eight. The DPS officer that took the call on the bodies--"

"Bodies?" asked Joe Lon.

"Let me finish, Trueno," said the Lieutenant Governor. "The DPS officer who went there, he knew DFW was my step-daughter. Called me before he called the next-of-kin. My first wife."

"No husband?" asked Joe Lon Trueno.

The Lieutenant Governor sighed.

"No, Joe Lon," he said, "DFW wasn't married."

The Lieutenant Governor took another deep breath.

"They found her cut in two, at the waist," the Lieutenant Governor said. "She was dumped in the creek. Timbers, building timbers, were on top of her, holding her down. Officer said pressure-treated four-by-fours."

The Lieutenant Governor fell silent. Joe Lon let him be.

"You still there?" asked the Lieutenant Governor.

"Yessir," said Joe Lon.

"DPS officer pulled out all those timbers. Underneath, he found ... she was cut like that. The other half-body with her was a man's. He was cut through at the waist just like Dallas."

The Lieutenant Governor fell silent again.

"Is that it?" asked Joe Lon Trueno after a moment.

"Except for the penis," said the Lieutenant Governor.

"Beg pardon," said Joe Lon Trueno.

"The half-man," said the Lieutenant Governor, "he didn't have one."

Joe Lon Trueno smiled in spite of himself.

"Sir," he said. "This sounds like a real mess. I appreciate your calling me, after what I did for you over the last weeks and all. But you do have several companies of Texas Rangers and a few thousand other law enforcement officers to call in on this ..."

Joe Lon just left the rest unsaid.

"Joe Lon," said the Lieutenant Governor, "I don't know if you've heard, but the Texas Rangers are the Governor's men, not mine. And the DPS is already on this. But I loved DFW more than any of my other children and step-children. She meant more to me than any of them do."

The Lieutenant Governor took a second to compose himself.


Novel truncated at 1000 lines