Excerpt: “A Nice Set of Wheels”

Excerpt from “A Nice Set of Wheels” by Kathy Waller appears in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 TALES OF CRIME ON THE MOVE, published by Wildside Press, 2015

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When the stranger stepped through the door, everyone in the store looked up. Old men playing dominoes at the Formica-topped table beside the front window. Farmers sitting in metal lawn chairs, their boot soles propped against the cold pot-belly stove, cussing Khrushchev and the Russians. Teen-aged girls wearing shorts and white blouses, pink hairnets protecting their pin curls, looking at the makeup shelf.

They checked out the worn jeans, the frayed collar on the plaid shirt, the scuffed boots. The beat-up old black suitcase he carried. The black hair close-clipped but with a lock falling across his forehead. The scar on his cheekbone. The eyes like pale blue ice.

In those few seconds he stood in the doorway, with the sun shining through the screen door behind him, they sized him up.

He didn’t look to left or right, just walked straight to the counter. I should have asked how I could help him, but I didn’t. I was holding my breath.

“Are the Coca-Colas cold?”

I nodded at the cooler half hidden by a rack of chips. He opened the lid and pulled out a king-sized bottle, shook it a bit to get some of the water off, and brought it to the counter. I took it from him and dried it with a clean terry cloth towel I kept behind the counter, then gave him the towel to dry his hands. When Uncle Harry sold Cokes, he let the bottles drip. He said if customers wanted them ice cold, they’d have to put up with a little water. But I like to make things nice.

I handed him the Coke and pointed to the bottle opener nailed to the end of the counter.

“That’ll be a dime,” Uncle Harry shouted from behind the meat counter at the back of the store. “Seven cents if you drink it here and leave the bottle.”

The man pulled a dime from his pocket and dropped it into my hand. “I’ll bring the bottle back tomorrow.”

Uncle Harry left the meat counter and walked up to the front, still holding a butcher knife. His apron was stained with blood. “Where’d you come from?” he said.

That was none of his business, but the stranger didn’t take offense. “Shreveport, last stop. Working my way west. Been hitching rides, decided to stop here and look for work. You know anybody needs odd jobs done, or farm work?”

The girls hiding behind the makeup shelf giggled and shushed each other, except for Wanda Patterson, who looked directly at the man and smiled. Uncle Harry’s eyes narrowed. His frown told me he was about to say “No,” like he always does when men from outside talk about hanging around, but before he could say anything, Old Brother Fisher, who always tried to help people, slapped down a domino and called out, “Try the Conrad place. Frank Conrad owns several hundred acres the other side of the river. Heard him say the other day he needs some fences repaired, and three of his hands got caught in the draft and left for the Army. Bet he’d take you on. Might keep you to haul hay, maybe pick cotton.”

The stranger raised the Coke bottle and nodded at the old man. “Much obliged, sir.”

“Go up the road about a half mile to where there’s a gap in the fence on the left. Go on through—it’s private property, but nobody’ll care—and follow the old wagon ruts down to the river. Cross the footbridge. Other side belongs to Conrad. Big white house at the top of the hill.”

The stranger picked up his suitcase and started toward the door. Every eye followed him.

“Wait.” The eyes all looked my way. “What’s your name?”

He turned around and smiled right at me. Just at me. “Campbell. Campbell Reed. What’s yours?”

“I’m Rosemary.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Rosemary.” Still smiling, he pushed through the screen door and was gone.

Uncle Harry grabbed my arm and jerked me around to face him. “What have I told you about talking to strange men? That one’s trouble. Leave him alone.”

I pulled away and ran through the storeroom and out the back door, past Uncle Harry’s house and the outbuildings, up the footpath and onto the gravel bar that lay along a stretch of the river bank. Wading in to where the water was clear, I bent down and splashed some on my cheeks, then straightened up and let the slight breeze cool my face. I was fifteen years old, and I’d had enough of Uncle Harry treating me like a baby. I would stay down here till time for supper. If Uncle Harry wanted me back at the store, he could come find me.

I recognized the looks the men had given Campbell. Except for Old Brother Fisher, they thought the same as Uncle Harry: he was trouble. I knew what Wanda Patterson and her friends thought, too: not trouble, but a good-looking man to take them out on Saturday nights, to park with in the cemetery after dark, to beg their mamas to invite for dinner, and, if they were lucky, to marry and have babies with.

But when I looked at him, I didn’t see trouble or fun or babies or anything like that.

In the time it took Campbell Reed to tell me his name, I looked at him and saw a savior.

 

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Austin Mystery Writers' New Crime Fiction Anthology

Join Austin Mystery Writers for the launch of MURDER ON WHEELS at 7:00 p.m. on August 11, 2015, at BookPeople Bookstore, 6th and Lamar, Austin. Authors will read and sign. Refreshments will be served.

Print and Kindle editions available at Amazon.com
Print edition available at Barnes and Noble.com and at Wildside Press.com

Join AMW for the Launch of Murder on Wheels ~ August 11

Please join

Austin Mystery Writers

Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George,
Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Kathy Waller
&
Earl Staggs and Reavis Wortham

as they celebrate the launch of their first crime fiction anthology

MURDER ON WHEELS:
11 Tales of Crime on the Move

“Eleven stories put the pedal to the floor and never let up! Whether by bus, car, tractor, or bike, you’ll be carried along at a breakneck pace by the talented Austin Mystery Writers. These eight authors transport you from an eighteenth-century sailing ship to the open roads of modern Texas, from Alice’s Wonderland to a schoolbus yard in the suburbs of Dallas. Grab your book, hold on to your hat, and come along for the ride!”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
7:00 p.m.

BookPeople Bookstore
6th Street and Lamar

Austin, Texas

“There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon Review

“…light-hearted (and occasionally black-hearted) collection of short stories… I thoroughly enjoyed it. … take your choice–historical, humorous, dark and light. Good reading for mystery fans.” ~ Amazon Review

 “… dialog that is realistic and makes the characters believable and three dimensional. There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon review

“… a diverting read.” ~ Barry Ergang, Kevin’s Corner

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You’re Sixty

Today would have been my mother’s ninety-eighth birthday. On last May 1, my father would have been one hundred.

When I take the time to really think about that, it’s mind-boggling. I can’t imagine them at those ages.

Mother used to tell a story about my great-aunt Lydia’s sixtieth birthday. Lydia, her mother, her two younger sisters, and two of her nieces–my mother and her youngest sister, who was generally referred to as “that cute little Betty,”*–went to dinner to celebrate.

Back home, my great-grandmother put on her nightgown and got into the big four-poster bed in Lydia’s downstairs bedroom. The other women sat around her and did what they always did when they got together–talked and laughed. No topic was off limits and everything was funny. A quiet child could learn a lot in those sessions.

That night, my great-grandmother, whom the younger ones called Grannygirl, sat propped against her pillows, old but still the quintessential sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued) Southern belle. While the others talked, she said nothing.

Finally, looking into the distance, such as it was, she uttered a single sentence: “Lydia, you’re sixty.” Her tone was contemplative, but it also carried an undertone of surprise.

In the silence that followed, Lydia said yes, she was.

A few minutes later, still gazing somewhere above her descendants’ heads, Grannygirl broke in again. “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Again, Lydia agreed she was.

Another few minutes passed and Grannygirl said it once more: “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Obviously having heard enough on that topic, Lydia responded, a bit sharply, “Well, Mother what does that make you?”

End of conversation.

I thought of that story because, like Grannygirl trying to get used to having a sixty-year-old daughter, I can’t quite get used to the idea of my parents at the century mark. At the same time, I believe, were they alive today, they would not have changed. I know, however, that to them, I would be radically different.

I wish they could have attended my wedding. I wish they could know my husband. I wish they could read this blog and my fiction. I wish they could read the pieces I’ve published. I wish they could know that, though I miss them terribly,  I’m secure and happy.

One thing I’m certain of: If my parents had been here to celebrate my birthday a few years ago, we would  have gone out to dinner, and then we would have come home and changed into more comfortable clothes. And then, while we sat in the living room talking about anything and everything, my mother would at some point have looked into the distance and said, “Kathy, you’re sixty.”

Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942

Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942

*

*Betty was short, had red hair and a sweet Irish face, and was drop-dead funny. She was everybody’s favorite, her nieces and nephews adored her, and she left us much too soon.

betty-and-kathy-19521

Betty and Kathy, 1952

Albert Einstein: Meowing in Los Angeles

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat.
You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles.
Do you understand this?
And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there.
The only difference is that there is no cat. ‘

 – Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio

 

Very long William and Very long tail

 

 *

 

English: at the age of three years. This is be...

English: at the age of three years. This is believed to be the oldest known photograph of Einstein. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother?

Kathy Waller:

If you write, you will want to read this post. If you read, you’ll want to read it. If you post reviews on Amazon, you’ll want to read it. It raises one BIG question.

Originally posted on imy santiago:

A couple of weeks ago I read the third installment of a series I really loved. I will refrain from sharing the name of the novel and its author.

Like any reader, as soon as I finished reading, I wrote my review. When I tried posting it on Amazon (I did buy the eBook, just like any normal and decent human being would), I received a rather concerning email.

I will not share the screenshot of the email as it does contain the title of the book and name of the author. In its place I have copied the body of the email below.

Dear Amazon Customer,

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines

Here I was, thinking I had included an…

View original 972 more words

For some, the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery; for others, it’s states’ rights

Kathy Waller:

Mike Staton offers a well researched and thoughtful post on the meanings of the Confederate battle flag, racism, and change. Mike is a retired journalist.

Originally posted on Writing Wranglers and Warriors:

This blog post was written by Mike Staton. This blog post was written by Mike Staton.

The times they are a changin’.

It’s the title of a rather famous song by Bob Dylan, released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. He wrote it to create an anthem of change for the time.

The song fits my mood right now. Listen. Remember: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abGzxWuLQP8.

We do change, right? We’re not the same people we were decades ago, right? We grow. Or de-evolve. We become better people. Or demons in human flesh.

In 1976, I joined a Civil War re-enactment group, a Confederate regiment, the 26th North Carolina. It was a way for me to learn about the life of a soldier in the 1860s. One summer during my college years I’d drawn meticulous maps of Civil War battlefields, places in rural America that would collect forever-bloody names like Antietam, Gettysburg and The Wilderness…

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Abraham Lincoln, Lewis Thomas, George Will, & Me: Great Minds Think Alike; or, Kurt Vonnegut, Go Fly a Kite

Semicolon

Semicolon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 Abraham Lincoln

“With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it’s a useful little chap.”
Abraham Lincoln

Lewis Thomas

Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.
Lewis Thomas, M. D.

Kurt Vonnegut

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” 
 Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

George Will

Semicolons . . . signal, rather than shout, a relationship. . . . A semicolon is a compliment from the writer to the reader. It says: “I don’t have to draw you a picture; a hint will do.”
George Will

Kathy Waller

I love semicolons.

But I’m not allowed to use them any more. When I write fiction, Kurt Vonnegut’s lesson in creative writing rules. My critique group insists.

Mr. Vonnegut, however, is wrong. The semicolon is not a transvestite hermaphrodite, representing absolutely nothing.

It is a compliment from the writer to the reader.

It is a wooden bench, where you can sit for a moment, catching your breath.

It’s a useful little chap.

When Mr. Vonnegut called the semicolon a transvestite hermaphrodite–well, bless his heart, he must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.