A Short Story To Jumpstart Your Day

I thought I’d do a little something different today and share a story with you. I like to mix genres, and this one is no different. In our anthology, Murder On Wheels, I wrote a story, Rota Fortunae, set in 1800, about a teen who stowed away on a merchant ship bound for America. There is murder and some supernatural components as well. Intrigued? Buy the book! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) You can find links here on our website.

Today’s story is very short. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not exactly a mystery, but a western with a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

And I would like to thank Mystery People for featuring it on Crime Fiction Friday on their blog. Thank you!

Photo courtesy of xandert

Photo courtesy of xandert

Kay Chart

“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”

Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.

But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.

Damn if this old woman ain’t slow. “C’mon now. I’m hungry!” I poke her in the back with my knife to make my point and then laugh while I grab a chair to sit in. “Say, when’s your man coming back from mending the fence? That’s what you said he was doing, right?” It’s easier getting a corncob from a pig than to get an answer outta this woman.

“Uh huh,” she says while stirring the gravy.

Cooter wipes more spit with his shirtsleeve. “Those biscuits smell real good. It’s been a long time since we had us some real food.” He’s always antsy, fiddling with stuff. He starts poking around and finds some hats under the bed. He laughs and puts on a worn out, sweat-stained straw hat that’s way too big. Then he pulls out a dusty pork pie that’s too small. We laugh at that.

Cooter looks around some more while I start getting nervous thinking about the old man returning. I get my rifle and stand on the porch to keep a look out. It’s hot and the wind’s picked up. Sand’s blowing and makes the ground shimmer. I reach up and bat a short length of rope probably used for drying game birds.

My stomach growls. I miss my ma’s cooking. She can cook up a mess of dove like nobody else. Seeing them ropes hanging reminds me of how Ma tried to hang flowerpots on our porch. I guess she thought she’d make our place more livable. But you can’t pretty up a piece of trash. And Pa always tore down anything hopeful she’d ever done.

What a sorry place this is. We come so far west, practically nothing but desert and prickly pear. These old people got nothing – empty pigpens, empty corral, a couple o’ bare trees. One’s blood-stained from slaughtering pigs at one time, still has the rope up.

Movement in the distance catches my eye and I raise my gun. About a quarter mile away I see a damn Indian’s watering his horse at a shallow tank. I can tell he spies me by how he stands up slow-like and keeps looking in my direction. He keeps his eyes on me. I think about riding out to kill him, but I’m running low on bullets. He leaves.

I go back inside. “You know you just had an Indian watering his horse from your tank?”

She turns around and wipes her hands on her apron. Getting a gander at her now, she looks more like a hundred. Her skin’s so old and dry with brown patches and it looks about to crack from the deep grooves. “We let them water their horses and they leave us alone. Apache, Comanche, don’t matter to us. This is the only watering hole for miles. We ain’t got no troubles with them. Sometimes they bring us food. Mostly it ain’t good quality, but we take what’s provided.” She turns back around to her cooking.

Cooter gets all jumpy and wipes his mouth again. His sleeves always have a permanent brown stains. Damn, some people just shouldn’t chew tobacco. “You sure he’s gone? We don’t need no trouble like that.”

I laugh. “Why you worried? We took care o’ that other son of a bitch we saw.” I walk near to the woman and lean against her sideboard while she does a quick peek in the oven. “Yesterday we come across a guy, was he Comanche?” I turn to Cooter, not like he’d know.

He nods. “Maybe Apache, but I think more like Comanche.”

I turn back to the woman. “Anyhow, he tried to run which made us work harder. So that didn’t help my disposition none. But Cooter here’s a good shot and brought him down. Hoo! He was a tough one.” I give that Indian credit, he didn’t break until the last. I let him rest and told him I’d make it easier on him if he told me of a homestead nearby. I know he understood me. He looked right at me and said, “Kay Chart” and he pointed us to this place. When I asked again he pointed us here. I laugh now, thinking how the old woman’s luck went bad on account of an Indian, and her still thinking she might get outta this alive. I wonder if that Indian had some kind of quarrel with her.

“Biscuits are ready.” She pulls them from the stove and starts fixin’ our plates.

Cooter smiles and rubbed his hands together. He spits his chaw onto the floor, ready to eat.

She puts our plates in front of us.

I say, “Bet you don’t get many visitors out here.”

“Not many.”

We dig in and it’s good. This is the life! Forget working yourself to the bone with cows or farming. I’ll get rich, and Becky’ll marry me. I smile at Cooter and he smiles back, cheeks full o’ biscuits. Life is damn good.

Then my mouth starts burning. “You put peppers in this?”

She leans back against her sideboard, arms across her chest. “Not exactly.”

My mouth and throat burn and I spit my food onto my plate. I look over at Cooter and he looks back, tears running down his face and foam starts to coming outta his mouth and nose. His hand goes to his throat and he starts clawing. His eyes are big and he won’t stop looking at me.

I try to drink water but nothing helps. My throat and insides burn. Foam fills my mouth and my throat’s closing up. I look at my rifle, thinking about killing the witch, but my muscles are getting tight and I can’t move. I fall on the floor and started twitching. I’m so stove up, I can’t even blink.

The old woman grabs my heels and pulls me out to the porch and down the steps. It hurts like hell when my head bounces. I try screaming but nothing comes out. I’m too young and nothing to show for it. No more Becky, no more Ma, no more nothing.

The hag drags me across the yard and to the hog-killing tree. Breathing’s getting harder as foam fills by nose and my throat gets tighter. I can’t get no air. I feel her wrap the rope around my ankles and she hoists me up. Bitch is stronger than she looks.

She crouches down in front of me so’s I can see her. She pulls out a butcher knife she had in her apron. “You fool. ‘Kay-chart’ is Comanche for ‘evil one.’”

At least she runs the knife across me quick.

Interview with Tim Bryant, author of Spirit Trap

I recently met author Tim Bryant at Book People’s Lonestar Mystery Discussion. He’s such an interesting person, I wanted to know more about him, his creative process, and his path to writing. Thanks for letting me interview you, Tim! Tim Bryant

AMW – When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

TB – I’m not entirely sure I ever wanted to be a writer. I just was one. My grandmother probably knew I was a writer when I was ten years old. It took me at least thirty more years to realize she was onto something. I dedicated my first novel to her. I was happy that she was able to see it before she died.

AMW – What was the first creation of yours that got published?

TB – Well, I had had music published because I came to fiction writing after many years as a musician. The first piece of fiction I got published was my first Dutch Curridge short story. It’s called “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” and it was published in REAL Regarding Arts & Letters Literary Magazine. I had written several other Dutch short stories and a lot of non-Dutch stories too, of course, but that was the one that pretty much started everything.

AMW – How long did it take for you to write your first novel?

 TB – The first novel was DUTCH CURRIDGE. It took close to a year from start to finish, although the real meat of the writing probably took four months. My original idea with it was that I would take the collection of Dutch Curridge short stories— I think there were six or seven of them at that point— and weave them together into novel form. It was a fine idea in theory, it just didn’t work. I finally ended up setting all of those stories aside and writing the novel from scratch. Some of the earlier material worked its way into it, but only here and there. The story about the migrating squirrels and that parts about Dutch’s marriage and divorce, to name two examples. The bulk of the story was new material and was much better for it.

AMW – Did anyone help you? Did you belong to a critique group?

 TB – Unfortunately, I didn’t have any kind of group during the writing of the first novel. I wish I had. That did come along almost immediately after, and a couple of the people are still with me today. My friend Brett Gaffney has been a huge help with workshopping and even helped co-write the book THOSE WHO KNOW US BEST DON’T KNOW US AT ALL. It’s a book of free verse, but it also has a dark, mysterious edge to it and actually shares a character with the Dutch books. Brett’s my first go-to with things, and I do think writers need that. My good friend Jen Moody edited “Doll’s Eyes,” which was part of the Subterranean Press anthology IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS. She did such an amazing job on that, I asked her to edit the newest Dutch novel, SPIRIT TRAP. She’s top shelf when it comes to editing, and she’s a great fiction writer too. They’re both invaluable secret weapons to have as a writer.

AMW– Do you currently belong to a writing group?

TB – Yes. In addition to Brett and Jen, I have a local writing group that meets regularly. They’re librarians and teachers in addition to being writers, and they’re great motivators, supportive friends, and I owe them a lot as well. I also hang out with Joe Lansdale from time to time, when he’s in town. I’ve certainly learned a lot from Joe. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, I find I really need those connections, just to keep me focused…and sane.

AMW – Your recent book, Spirit Trap, is the third book in the Dutch Curridge series. Tell us a little something about Dutch.

tim-bryant-spirit-trap

TB – Dutch is a private eye in 1950s Fort Worth who worked with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department until he realized he was too bad to be a good cop and too good to be a bad one. He identifies strongly with the down-and-out citizens of Fort Worth. He sees himself as one of them, where maybe the other guys on the force didn’t. Dutch has always been an underdog. He’s fought for everything he has (which isn’t much), and he’s ready to fight for every other underdog he meets up with.

On a personal level, he likes Jack Daniels and Dr Pepper, western swing and jazz music and a young lady who writes for the local newspaper. He has a bad ear, which is a leftover from a childhood illness, and a good friend named Slant Face, who hails from Manchester, England.

AMW – The series is set in Fort Worth in 1955. Why Fort Worth and why 1955?

 TB – Having a background in music, I wanted to extend some of that to the Dutch stories, and Fort Worth just has an extremely rich musical history. Especially, in that era of the 1940s and ‘50s. WBAP radio was broadcasting all over this part of the country. Bob Wills and Milton Brown were breaking down musical and racial barriers. Jazz clubs were hot, especially in the African-American neighborhoods. Fort Worth was a wild and colorful place, with Hell’s Half Acre downtown and Jacksboro Highway to the north. Dutch belonged in a place like that. He was right at home.

AMW – I’ve been reading the book and I can honestly say it’s what I call a “total immersion experience”. I can hear the music, the voices, and noises of the time. Did you have to do a lot of research to capture the era?

TB – Yes. I’ve done tons of research, and that research continues. I enjoy it so much, I hardly think of it as being research. I love reading about the history, personal accounts, pouring over maps, watching films and listening to recordings from that era and area. I’ve joked that I probably know more about Fort Worth than most people who live there, but it’s true. I’ve only visited a handful of times, believe it or not, but I’d love to spend more time there.

But yes, I did work to get the full effect of the time and place. The feel and the sounds. Fort Worth is much like a character in the books, so it was essential that I get it right.

AMW– Do you write other kinds of stories besides mysteries?

TB – Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure I really write standard mysteries at all. The second book in the Dutch series, SOUTHERN SELECT, is probably the most straight-forward mystery I’ve written, and, although it’s quite important in the series, it seems to get overlooked a little. I tend to think of mystery in the larger sense. Not so much cases of missing heirlooms and dead bodies, even if those things do show up from time to time. To me, the best mysteries are the ones that are never solved. They get people thinking and talking. They’re the ones that draw them in, keep them up at night. So I like stories that ask questions more than I like stories that answer them. I think most of my stories ask the questions that intrigue me most.

AMW– You mentioned you’re a musician. What instrument and what kind of music do you play? Is your music available online?

TB – I’ve played music for most of my life too. I’m primarily a piano player, although I can fake a few other things enough to fool a few people. I play totally by ear, by instinct. I’ve been lucky enough to play music all over New Orleans, around Texas, on the same stage and in studios with some of my heroes.

My music is available on iTunes, most places you find music. It’s under either my name or 2Take Tim, which is a nickname I got down in New Orleans, or Ramshackle Day Parade, a cool international band that I put together. That band featured Steve Wickham, who plays with The Waterboys and Tatanka Ohitika— Strong Buffalo— a Dakota-Sioux poet. Almost all of my music  is available at TimBryantsUprightPiano.com.

AMW – What are the next projects you’re looking at? Another Curridge book? Something that’s been on the “back burner” you’ve been dying to get to?

TB – SPIRIT TRAP was the last major thing I wrote. Right before that, I wrote a non-Dutch novel called CONSTELLATIONS. A publisher in New York City is looking at that one. I have two other non-Dutch novels that I’m working on. I tend to alternate between the Dutch books and non-Dutch books, so I’ll most likely finish at least one of them before I return to Dutch.

One is indeed that big one that’s been simmering on the back burner. I think it might be time to bring it forward now. It’s set in the Philippines during World War II, and I’ve been researching that one for a good while now. I was going to say it’s one of those mysteries that’s not really a mystery. I think it would be closer to say it’s a non-mystery that really is one. Everything about life is a mystery, right?

I’ll return to Dutch though. He’s a friend too at this point. He always comes back around, and I’m always happy to see him. There should be at least two more Dutch novels. I think I’ll be back to him in 2015.

AMW – Thank you, Tim and good luck with the new book!