A Half-Melted Stick of Green Spotted Butter and Some Science Experiment Yogurt

This is one of the wraps they performed, or 1/2 the denouement. Over the next couple of days I’ll throw up the backstory dumps/cuts and some other cutting room floor junk. Also – as this all happened over the course of a week and a day. I’ll go back through it and add days and rough timing before I rush out to buy an ISBN… Thanks for being here.

Early Monday Afternoon, continued –

“Here, before you go,” Bash reached inside the Tahoe, handed Candi a business card.

“Cleveland the Indian. Anything For a Buck.” She flipped the card. “General Contractor, Roofing, Framing. Cement. Paint. Backhoe and Dirt Work… Who? No.” She held up her index finger. “Why?”

“On down that list is ‘Moving’. I think Uncle Cleve knows every Indian in three states with a box of tools, a truck, trailer, tractor or dirt mover.”

“I’m not sure, Bash. I’m on a tight timeline. Locke is being a prime asshole about me getting out, and if I’m going to stay at my parents’ old place, even temporarily, it’ll need a complete—”

“Call Cleve on your way out of here. Tell him your name is, no shit, Candi Cotton. You’re six one, almost blonde, an ex-Olympic volleyball player, an OSBI agent and a friend of mine. Your condo can be empty by tonight if need be. Your parents’ house can be painted, inside and out, gardens reloaded and everything that was in it containerized in two days.”

“Seriously? How much is all… Well, hell, it doesn’t matter. Locke just dumped half a condo in my account.”

“Leave negotiating the ‘how much’ to me. It’ll be better than fair.”

“No commission for the nephew?”


“You understand, fully, that I’m between a rock and a hard place here?” Eyes even and locked. “I’m going to have to trust you on this one.”

“Time you started trustin’ somebody.”

She studied the card, muttered “Oh hell,” came off her lean on the dusty Lexus, whispered “Thank you” and kissed him on the cheek. When he opened his eyes his nose was unsure if it had actually encountered the faintest hint of the cleanest scent on Earth, her SUV was throwing dust out of the ruts between the pine trees, and Birdsong had begun its return to simple, uninterrupted grandeur.


Early Tuesday Morning

Sheriff Harden stood in front of the breakroom sink, his hand wrapped around a strange device with a wire sticking out of it, an even stranger look on his face. “Betty?” His voice at room-to-room level.

“Right behind you.”
“Godammit, woman…” he turned, red faced. “Sorry, Betty, but that kinda thing could scare a man to death.” He opened his hand, showed her the device. “What the hell is a fro-thur? And should it be in here, by the sink?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Because it looks like some kinda crazy, European, lady razor. Or something from a kinky sex hardware store, that’s why. Who knows where these little wires have been?”

Froth-er, Chief. Froth-er.” She thumbed down on the top to get it spinning. “It’s for milk, or one-off whipped cream. Think fancy coffee and deserts. Does your mind always go straight to the gutter?”

“Not always,” Bash interjected. “He’s just been a cop so long he’s seen too many things that aren’t what they started out to be. Right, Chief?”

“Yeah… Right,” still flustered. “Who moved the coffee pot?”

“We have two, now.” Betty fingernailed the original drip machine and the combo coffee and dual espresso machine.

“That damn thing looks like a miniature refinery, not a coffee pot. And this,” he tapped a brushed aluminum dish drainer. “Where’d it come from? And this smiley face sponge thing… And the old coffee stand. What happened to it?”

“Agent Cotton happened to the coffee stand,” Betty, rinsing a coffee cup. “And to everything else that’s in here. I should add everything that’s on the way and not in here yet.” She dried her hands on an impossibly white dish towel, hung it on a towel bar over the sink that matched the dish drainer before she opened the cabinet door closest to the sink and knuckle-tapped a sheet protector containing a bulleted list. “New rules. My favorite is do your own, well, you can see what she called the dirty cups and dishes.”


“Last evenin’, nine-ish.”

“But without the stand, how’s the coffee girl gonna know where—”

“She’s gone.” Betty used her fingers in the universal throat cut sign.

“We can go on the honor system or pony up however often it takes to buy ourselves tasty and responsible coffee and save a bundle.”

“The honor snack tray?”

“Same place as the coffee girl. You can buy fifty tiny bags of munchies at the Membership Warehouse if you want ‘em that bad. For next to nothing compared to a dollar fifty a bag.”

“Damn.” He looked up from the coffee stand used to be. “The phone. Where’s our phone? And the sheet fulla numbers for orderin’ lunch?”

“Phone’s being swapped for a cordless. You need to store the numbers of all those dives in your phone. Not writin’ them on a greasy piece of paper bag hangin’ on the wall.”


“Her word, not mine.”

“No coffee stand, no coffee gal, no little bags of Oreos, no phone, no phone numbers…”  

“But we have a linen and plant service for what half that Daisy Dukes wearin’ coffee girl of yours was costin’ us.”

“Linen? Plants? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…” He scanned the room for a chair, didn’t find one.

 “Not even a goddam chair. Bash, you got any idea—”

“Nope. Best guess would be Uncle Cleve’s crew will be deliverin’ whatever Cotton tells ‘em to from her old digs to right here.”


“We’d best go to our separate corners,” Betty, checking her watch. “The paintin’ and plumbin’ fellas’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“Painters? Plumbers?”

“This room and the storage closet are gettin’ painted. Did you know we have hot water in here nobody ever turned on? And how easy it is to tap a freshwater line from the men’s room into the storage closet?”

“Why do we need fresh water in the storage closet?”

“‘Cause we’re done rinsin’ and hangin’ towels and whatever else y’all men and the occasional prisoner get dirty and feel the need to drape over the stair rails out back. What I gathered from ACC’s email—”


“Agent Cotton. I looped her into our email system as ACC. She said there’s one of those apartment style over-under washer-dryers goin’ in the storage closet. Seems like it’ll be plenty roomy in there once all the, well, you know what she called it, gets organized instead of thrown all over. Plus, she’s gettin’ a kick outta how the man bought out her condo had no idea what he was sayin’ when he said ‘all’ her, you know, ‘things’ needed to go. She’s takin’ it down to walls and floors. No drapes, no appliances, not even a shower curtain or a roll of toilet paper. Only leavin’ the stuff in her fridge that’s gone off.”

“Like to be a fly on the wall when Locke shows up in there Friday evenin’ after a liquor and shrimp cocktail hand shaker needin’ to bury some pipe and she hadn’t left him a scrap of anything except a half-melted stick of green spotted butter and some science experiment yogurt.”

“Bash, this ain’t funny. Who’s payin’ for, for…”

“Same people as buys us our toilet paper and pencils. You and me,” Betty, both hands on her ample chest, “and everybody else pays taxes. She waltzed right over to the maintenance and supply yard when she come back from wherever on Monday afternoon,” she shot Bash a look, “and had the County to reschedule some work release convicts who do the landscape and mechanical and maintenance work. They may be convicts, but a lot of ‘em have licenses for this or that and quite a few have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior while bein’ incarcerated. Under the influence, I might add, of our pastor Rev—”

“Jesus? This is a Sheriff’s office, Betty. They’re still convicts. Who knows what they’ll fuh—”

“Now Sheriff,” Betty, one eyebrow up, hands on hips. “Don’t you go gettin’ upset an cursin’ at me. Do you honestly believe any a those people’d ‘eff up’ somethin’ Agent Cotton an a half dozen muscled up Indians are wantin’ done?”


“Uncle Cleve,” Bash, from his lean against the counter. “Sounds like he didn’t want anyone messin’ with our Paleface Warrior Princess.”

“Cotton can take care of herself. Who the hell is her movin’ crew, anyway?”

“The Swiftwaters.”

“The wrestlers?” He hung his head. “Godamighty…”

NVDT RANDOM – A Writerly Thought- Bracketing

For short form read only…

There is a third thing I thought of yesterday when I hit Publish on “Birdsong”

You might not get it if you’ve never been a religious, or in some sections of a society a secular lector, or a scripture reader of any sort or read scripture from a missalette, Sacred Epistle or lectionary, even given a time windowed speech, but here is the solution for ten pounds of words for a five-pound scene.

The chosen scripture etc. is the same as a scene in fiction (Duh). That scene might have a point that can be reached without all the begats and sidebar stories and scene setting or personal anecdotes. (That Paul. He was a real corker). When that happens, and the presider wants to get everyone out in time for a noon kickoff or an early spot in the buffet line, they take advantage of an “abridgement without abridging” trick. I quote directly –

The Revised Common Lectionary, 2012 edition, states “Owing to the overall length of the[se] readings, options in versification are provided for several passages.”

In plain speak that relates to “for short form read only bracketed text(s)” or “for long form include bracketed text(s)” depending on how the editors decided it should be marked. This is not a matter of parenthetical content, but one of ‘for a quick read, skip the hooptdoodle, writerly flights of fancy and excess set dressing and get to the miracle, murder, or other plot point.’

We need such a thing in modern fiction. Like yesterday’s long, downhill brakes-on bit from me. Myself as example of “for short form exclude bracketed text(s)”


“He figures what people tell each other is between them. [Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”]

In fact, this single example could have several bracketed chunks, pick one, following a simple “No” to the question asked by the deuteragonist. Or, heaven forbid, stricken in total save for “No.”

I do know better. I’ve already made my excuses for tempo…


The result is that as a reader we could be reading along, hit the bracket and skip down to a continuation of what’s necessary and not get mired in backstory, historical context, wordy ‘splainin’, bunny chase dialog and all the other ways we insert ourselves to broadcast, “Look at me, I did some research, memorized a postcard or gramma’s kitchen and I’m writing now!”

Don’t get me started on books that need a bracket on the first and last page. Around the first and last words. I’ve read a few recently.


Long read alert. 3k. I thought of two things as I sat on the grass with these characters while they wrangled and wrapped this story’s main themes. One-Steinbeck’s commentary on Hooptedoodle in the prologue for ‘Sweet Thursday‘, and TwoArgue your limitations and they are yours – Richard Bach. Sheriff Harden’s wisdom counters that with a fresh take on an old addage. Thanks for being here.

Candi, aware but without acknowledgment, swept the flagstone to her left free of debris, brushed her hands together. A conditioned and imminently futile act as she returned them to their proper sides, palms down in the grass and dirt. Bash hitched up his jeans and sat. Unlike her cross-legged seat, he dropped his feet over the rim of the natural amphitheater where Buffalo grass, sprinkled with fiery red and yellow Indian Blankets, sunflowers, random clusters of wild lavender and purple bluebonnets spread out, sloping away from them for fifty yards to a creek. It’s listless glisten a mix of groundwater from below and spring water that ran clear and quiet from a two-foot-wide waterfall through the flagstone further to their left to tumble down the hill in a narrow, rock lined trench. Cattails waved at the water’s edge, disturbed on a breezeless mid-day by eddying schools of unseen minnows. A variety of birds let out short, fitful bursts of abbreviated song from the trees behind them and those on the far side of the creek that spread upward on the craggy, red face of an ancient mountain long since eroded into the red hills around them. The trees grew sparse and random on that side, some asserted themselves through the crumbling remains of a dead oil magnate’s monument to himself. They sat together in silence, surrounded by a fraction of eternity.

“The birds only sing,” her voice reverential. “I mean really sing, at night.”

“It’s worth the wait. Birds, no frogs. Stars and sky forever.”

“Frogs…” she wrinkled her nose, eyes crinkling. “We had this pond at home,” her eyes now a thousand miles away. “Summer nights? I imagined it was a Venetian festival, the blazed faces of the cows their masks. Or that I could hear Dixieland in it, like I thought Mardi Gras should sound. One summer, when I was a teenager, I heard Feste Romane on Public Television, because ‘educational’ television was what we did at my house for entertainment on Sunday afternoons when it was too hot or too cold. A man in a tuxedo said it was the sound of too many things going on at once, and I thought ‘Buddy, that was nothing. If you want some racket, come listen to my pond.’ Birds, frogs, crickets, bugs whizzing around, all the livestock… I used to come here because it was just the birds. I must’ve wished a thousand times the sun didn’t bottle them up.”

“Hard to get out alone at night?”

“Out period at night…” She shooed a fly from her knee. “I’ve been told there was a time you could drink the water over there straight out of the ground. I was always afraid to try it.”

“You should. Won’t hurt you or ruin your reputation.”

She glanced at the trickle of water, acknowledged him with a question marked “Hm.”

A hawk that had been making a wide, lazy circle overhead swooped down several hundred feet to screaming inches off the ground across the buffalo grass like a fighter jet, snagged something smallish and furry, rose and banked gracefully into the trees across the creek.

“Nature’s drive through,” a flash of smile. “The kids will eat tonight.”

“No fried pie with a la carte field mouse.” Bash stood as slowly as the hawk rose, walked behind the ridge above the water, counted pine trees, and, behind the one he’d singled out, lifted a rock a foot around and four inches thick. He toed a whip scorpion into the needles, bent, came up brushing dirt from a piece of glass in the shape of a seashell. He took the glass to the mini waterfall, rinsed it several times at the point of the water’s exit, let it fill, and drank. He wiped it, filled it again and offered.

“Come here often?” She took the glass shell, gazed out over the amphitheater, tasted the water in sips.

“Birdsong tries to be a well-kept secret,” he took his seat again. “The tourist trap west of here hasn’t put it on their ‘trails to hike’ list because the Chickasaws said no, but with all the tribes who lay claim to these five counties I don’t think the Indians even know whose land this is.”

“Birdsong. That’s what you call it?”

“What I’ve heard it called. I’m pretty sure as a Legitimate Indigenous Person I could make some calls to different Indigenous Tribal Historians and get as many names as calls.”

“Does that make you an Indigenous cynic?”

“There are far greater things to be cynical about than inter-tribal cultural appropriation of a name for a landmark a billion and a half years old. What I do remember of my training in the Ancient Ways is that beautiful things don’t require a name.”

“You get a lot of mileage out of that with the girls?”

“My sisters and mother put me off bullshittin’ girls. Told me not to bother. That y’all were inherently smarter than men and could see right through it and occasionally accepted it only to be polite. Told me to try anything I thought was lady killin’ quality on them first, to save me embarrassment. I’d lay one out, and they’d say, ‘Aw, Jesus, Bash, that all you got?’ I had to get dates the old-fashioned way.”

“Which was what? The strong, silent baseball star?”

“No. I had to ask. They say bein’ shy, skinny and mostly Indian askin’ girls out helps you learn to cope with rejection later in life.”

“I asked a guy out. One time. To a sweetheart dance. Because nobody’d ask me.” A sardonic smile and almost imperceptible one shoulder shrug. “I was at least a head taller than most of them. He wasn’t my sweetheart, but he took me.”

“Scared not to, I imagine.”

“You know,” side eyes, “I still have to get used to you… and the Sheriff. Even Betty. I tend to take everything too personally. I mean, I know better, been coached and therapy-ized to know better. I preach knowing better, but personally… You guys aren’t going anywhere, though, are you?” A quick look over her shoulder. “Not in the ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ in life way, but not deserting me, walling me out. Not taking the pieces of me that fit, that you like and…” She let the thought trail off into silence.

The hawk returned, or another one in the first’s place having heard about the buffalo grass cafeteria. Candi stood when the shade from behind them shifted and it was move or roast. She walked down the flagstone rim to the other side of the water, stopping to take two shells’ full before she held it up to catch the sun.

“This thing looks like an ashtray.”

“It was.” He said, taking the shell. “Stole it out of a box of ‘em off a maid’s cart at a motel in Seabrook, Texas. I was twelve. We went down to League City south of Houston to a regional playoff game.”

“You win?”

“Nope. I blamed it on stolen ashtray karma. Which I figured out later, when I looked at it in perspective, was crap. We got beat because they were better than we were. And bigger. Like high school ringers.” He drank, set the shell down between them. “Is that what you’re scared of? Everything in your life running an endless loop of the politicians and that house full of only-the-daughter-dad-wanted-to-see pictures, not the whole enchilada?”

“The Chief didn’t tell you the Jeep story?”

“He figures what people tell each other is between them. Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”

“Well, there’s a story in the Jeep about a stupid girl believing she didn’t have to grow up and be what she’d been telling herself and everyone else she was working toward.”

“I’d call that a romanticized notion, or naïve. Not stupid.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I know. Stupid is how you feel, after. But if you bought your ticket not knowin’ it was one way and a dead end, that’s hope. Which, in hindsight, kind of looks like stupid, but isn’t.”

“So, stupidity is the personal takeaway, not part of the original equation that got you to feeling stupid?”

“If you wanna get technical. Stupid would be the next time, when you see it and know better, but do it anyway.”

“I was ready to say something full of self-pity, but somehow taking stupid off the front and tacking it on the end made me feel better. When did you bury the ashtray?”

“School year after the game. Coming here was a science teacher and a history teacher everyone thought were cozy’s idea of a field trip.”


“You know.”

“You aren’t going to say it, are you?”

“Unless it’s required, no.”

That got a light snort and a smile.

“One of them told us about the spring, and the creek, and the water at the top was probably cleaner than tap water. Nobody thought to bring cups, but the history teacher told us cowboys would drink out of their hats, or boots, and then load ‘em up for their horse to drink out of. The few of us in boots weren’t sold, and hats, if there were any, were ball caps with holes. The next chance I got to come over here was with my younger older sister and her boyfriend and they told me to go play in the castle across the creek till they whistled. Before I left that day, I buried myself a cup because this place and that water are addictive and I knew I’d be back. Plus, I got a ‘what’s this?’ ashtray mom hadn’t found yet out of the house without explaining how it got there. The only person I’ve ever told the truth about it is you.”

“Like a sacred bond?”

“Tell anybody and I’ll swear you’re lyin’.”

“That’s fair. How did you know where to find me?”

“I asked Yates. I figured he went to school with you, had to know a spot where the thinky kids went. He said you wrote a poem about a place where only the birds sang. Had to stand up and read it in class. I’m from the other side of the interstate but, like I said, Birdsong isn’t anybody’s secret.”

“Birdsong…” Wistful, tasting the word. “I went to college in California…” her chin up, an edge of the eye wipe with a knuckle. “There were days… Years… I’d get out of volleyball practice, showered, squeaky clean, damp hair. Sweats and red Connies. I’d roll out of the gym that way on an endorphin high, wanting, more than anything, some bigger world for myself. A hundred yards of shrubs and sidewalks later, I was in the thick of it. But it was all the ‘normal’ students. Popping out in packs from coffee shops and fake pubs, dressed in magazine hipness and being clever with each other about a Sundance film or Ferlinghetti or underappreciated music from a short-lived band named after a vegetable.” She turned his way, not noticing she’d disrupted the shell. “They sounded like the pond.” Her eyes begged to be understood. “I wanted to shush them, like sunshine shushes the birds’ songs. Shush all of them. I wanted to tell them about this place. This very place we’re sitting now… How it’s so quiet you’re not sure you’re even breathing, and wonder… Wonder if the next breath will come, it’s so quiet, and then it does and it’s like finding out you’re free of all the pond noise and the, the mean, meaningless shit people dress up their lives with. Empty words and empty personal dogmas. Playing their parts like stone faced actors, completely ignorant of what their own tragic plays are costing everyone around them…”

He waited to see if there was more, but none came.

“You’re havin’ a hard time comin’ home.” He set the shell behind them.

What? I’m closer to home than I’ve been, in, in…”

He touched her shoulder, light and off. “Listen,” he said. “This,” he touched his heart, “this is home.” He touched his temple. “This is noise.”

“How,” her index finger on her temple, “do I get from here to there, huh? How? I’ve made such a fucking mess of, of every—”

“Of nothing. You made noise, Cotton. Maybe you made a lot of it, but it didn’t follow you to Birdsong. Or,” hand on his heart again, “in here. It’s nothing but head noise now, so shake it off. You’re almost home. You won.”

“Won? Jesus, Bash. I have nowhere to live. I emailed my investment partner at midnight, told him he could buy me out. The asshole had the money in my account this morning, but he wants the furniture and all my shit out by Friday so he can move in. The place, well, you never saw it, but it was as sterile as an upscale department store, and he knows that damn furniture is leased. None of my ‘shit’ in there is worth keeping. My B&B will have to evict me and Ivy by Thursday because they’re booked up with weddings. That closet with a shower in the non-profit office isn’t the answer. I’ve essentially flushed my career, would have lost my job if I hadn’t capitulated, and even though I got a raise, it’s all on for how much longer, you know? I can’t be in my parents’ house for more than an hour, but I can’t sell it… I guess I could bulldoze the house and put up some storage buildings. I’ve heard that’s a money maker and a tax write off, but the neighbors… I couldn’t see to solve a simple case. I got filthy and, and I know I trashed your sister’s Jeep no matter what you say. And before I came out here, I had to come face to face with what a beautiful job you’d done on mine…”

Had done on yours. It’s not finished. You could chrome it out. The undercarriage, under the hood. Turn it into a trailer queen. That’s a write off that might make pocket money.” He flicked a baby pinecone into the field. “You’d have to dress up like Barbie at car shows.”

“I’d have to find a Barbie figure first.”

“You could do it with prosthetics. In your case, probably Hollywood quality.”

“Ha ha. I lived in California. You can rent fleshed out ready to go Barbies by the hour for car shows or anything else. Anyway, you kicked me off track. I have such a huge backlog of noise and failures, you know? I don’t want a pity-party. I just want out from under it. All of it. Except working here. I’ve had more fun making an ass of myself for the last week than I’ve had in forever. I told the Chief that, too.”

“He kept it to himself. He told me he thinks I’ve been an unconscionable prick.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, tell me why you didn’t want to make the Virgil Green collar?”

“Human factor. Ivy was worried about her dad. You two have a friendship. If you were concerned and she was concerned, then I didn’t need to go out there all puffed up, rattlin’ handcuffs. Virgil claimed you two were angels. I doubt he’d have felt the same about me.”

“I was ready to be that puffed up cop, but I took a page out of your book. You got shot at and didn’t arrest anyone.”

“Because they didn’t need it. Look, Cotton—”


“Candi. You solved a case. I learned a lot. You rescued a smart girl from perpetuating the redneck hell of her mother’s life. A smart-ass on his way to Master Chauvinist kid learned when dealin’ with women the truth is the best option, regardless of how stupid it makes you look and that a woman you figure for a righteous bitch might just demand to have your life saved. You freed Betty from long days of solitaire and boredom and searchin’ casserole recipes, taught her to make decent coffee and made her a team player. In two days. And, like me, you’re out of a place that would have buried you alive if you’d stayed and fought a losing battle, no matter how good you looked in expensive clothes and holdin’ a champagne glass.”

“Flute. Rented those, too.”

“Smart girl. Smart enough that you’re your own boss for almost a quarter of a state, you make your own calls. Forget the noise. So you have to clean up a little. You have friends, a purpose, and a place to get your head right. I’m tellin’ you, you won this round.”

“You solved the case and—”

“We’re not playin’ that game. Teamwork solved it.”

“Okay. I was saying… There’s a lot of noise and a big mess. How is it I’ve won? How did I ever win? I’m a second. A Silver Medalist. An intimidating, too tall, unwanted nuisance. Cheated, ignored, lied to, and swept under the rug. What have you got for that?”

I don’t have much, but I said the same things you’re sayin’ a few months back, and the wise old man I’d come to work for, he did have somethin’.”

“The Sheriff?”

“Yep. When I finished unloadin’ all my noise without realizin’ I was in a better place to find my way home, just like you are now, he said, ‘Well, son, I cain’t believe you never had a coach nor nobody else tell ya this, but here ya go.’ He put his hand on my knee the same way I’m doin’ to you, looked me in the eye just like this and said, ‘Partner, here’s a solid truth you’d best remember. There’s gonna be all kindsa times when winnin’ don’t always look the way we think it oughta.’”

Somebody in this County has a Brother-in-Law in the Dead Grass Business?

Judge Perriman, an imposing figure without the robes, larger than life in them, stepped up behind her bench, waved her arms wide to unfurl her robes and sat. The robes cascaded gently down around her, giving the appearance of the judge having parachuted onto her judicial throne. She donned a pair of half glasses, the chrome frames turning pink as they approached her tri-tone yellow tip to orange to pink spiked hair. She lifted a gavel with a handle made of a petrified redwood branch, bark on. The bailiff made his speech, identifying the court, the judge and the matter at hand and proclaimed the court in session. Judge Perriman banged the three-million-year-old gavel, and while examining several items on her desk, including a laptop, said, “Gentlemen?” as if she were addressing a panel of people all several bricks shy of a load.

“Conner Yates for the People, Your Honor.”

“Good morning, Mr. Yates,” still studying her desk. “You’re a ways outta your pasture. A little difficulty with Bynum, I understand?”

“Yes, Your Honor. But it’s always a pleasure to be—”

“Blow that smoke elsewhere, counselor.” She looked up over the glasses. “Oh, good God…” and momentarily hung her head. She raised her head and one eyebrow, flipped her fingers at the defense table.

“Lawrence Winchcombe for the defense, your Honor. Could I have a moment? To familiarize—”

“What the hell are you doing here, counselor?”

“It was a last-minute decision,” he flattened his tie, buttoned his blazer. “Pro Bono, of course.”

“Of course.” Perriman mounted a withering glare at the too-well-known pain-in-the ass publicity hound, star of his own multi-media outlet commercials and phone-in radio talk show defense attorney in front of her. Rumored to be eighty-two, he could have passed for sixty-two, down to a full head of needs-a-haircut white hair, Botox, laser peels and a lengthy list of nips and tucks.

“Larry,” said with pointed impatience, “all you had to read in the back of that limo on the ride down here was he’s confessed and has a deal in place. A legal aid intern could have stood where you’re standing.” She eyed the banker’s box, three Airstream briefcases and a young overdressed female assistant. “With considerably less horseshit and hoopla.”

“If I may speak candidly, Your Honor, this case has broader ramifications. It begs us to examine the shifting media paradigms blurring the lines between science and entertainment, to bring in deism, theistic psychology as it bonds to myth and culturally embedded belief structures—”

“Not in my courtroom, Bozo. If you want headlines, this ain’t gonna be the one.” She leaned one forearm flat on her desk, looked over her glasses. “If you ordered a television crew, Winch, send your assistant out there and have her tell them to beat it.”

“But I owe it to my, uh, the public. They have a right—”

I have the right not to allow you to turn a simple legal process involving a sad, repentant man, his dead friend, and a catfish into a circus for your personal gain. I’ll allow the newsies to stay, on one condition. Be damn sure they stay outside, or I’ll have them all jailed for creating a public nuisance, and I’ll throw your ass in the tank with ‘em for being complicit.” She turned to his thin, red-suited brunette assistant with a cowlick kicking up the corner of her bangs. Bangs of an unfortunate length that had her constantly pulling them off her face and not quite behind her ear since entering the courtroom. “Are you deaf, Missy?” Perriman snarled. “Quit messin’ with your hair and git out there.”

‘Missy’ hit the aisle with as much stride as her suit skirt, heels, and the hair in her eyes would permit. When the double door closed behind her, Judge Perriman banged her gavel again. “Now… If there’s no other ‘business’ before the court in this matter, is the defendant prepared to allocute?”

Virgil coughed into his hand. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Manslaughter by catfish, mmm? Well, Mr. Green,” she pursed her lips before sweeping everything on her desk to one side and leaning forward. “Let’s hear it.”


Virgil Green read his allocution from two double-spaced typed pages. Winchcombe objected to the snickering from the gallery after Virgil read, “I truly believed he was gonna leave me to get kilt by Bigfoot.” When he was through, Yates accepted it. The Judge went through her motions, pronounced the agreed sentencing, admonished Virgil against future catfish noodling as being both a stupid and dangerous pastime, banged her gavel. Virgil hugged his daughter, offered nods to everyone in the courtroom, turned and put his arm around the prosecutor, who spun slightly with the tug and screamed “GUN!”

Aiden Pierce uttered a loud, wet, sloppy. “Die yuh bassard.”

Yates drove his captive shoulders into Virgil’s ribs.

Aiden let go the single round from an old .410 shotgun. A blast that would have ended Connor Yates’ life if he hadn’t been on the floor entangled in a comedically erotic sprawl with Virgil Green.

Bash vaulted the waist-high wall between the gallery and the foyer, grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, flung Aiden into the wall, ripping the gun away. *Pop*, from outside the open double doors and, like the shotgun blast, the bullet was a split second away from where Aiden’s head should have been. Instead, it tore through the starched peak of the County Seal on Bash’s uniform sleeve, taking a layer of skin with it.

Candi blew through the courtroom full of shouting and confusion, her weapon drawn, out the double doors hunting the second gunman. Outside, she dropped to one knee in the dead grass, drew down on a lanky, greasy-haired young man in gray coveralls holding a cell phone in one hand and a small chrome automatic pistol in the other.

“Put the gun down. Now!

He looked away from his phone, spotted Candi, said, “Well, shit…” stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Candi covered the ten yards between them, scooped up the still connected phone, heard, “Ruben? Ruben, what’s happening, man? Talk to me. Ruben?”

“Who is this?” Candi demanded

“What? Who the hell are you? Where’s Ruben?”

“Ruben just ate his gun.” She heard noises like furniture moving and a faint, “Go. Go, go, go!” before the phone went dead. She looked up, noticed the news van that had followed Winchcombe down from Tulsa, took in the ashen faces of the photojournalist and the tiny reporter in her blouse and blazer, jeans and bright green trainers standing on a milk crate. ‘Missy’, her eyeliner running down her cheeks in death-doll fashion, stood next to them staring at a puddle of vomit on the ground in front of her.

Cotton snapped “Did you get that?” at the photojournalist.

“Dunno,” he said, his voice vacant, wooden. “I think…”

“Check for me.” She holstered her weapon, walked toward ‘Missy’. “What’s your name?”

“Suh, suh, Saphy… Sapphire,” ‘Missy’ stammered. “Blaise. Sapphire Blaise.”

“Of course it is.” Candi shook her head. “Any or all of this part of Winch’s photo op?”

“Nuh, nuh, nuh, no. No. Are you crazy?”

“That’s up for debate.” She turned her head toward the news crew. “Y’all got any wet wipes?”

The tiny reporter stepped off the milk crate, dropped to a squat, rummaged around in a bright yellow gym bag, handed the pack over with a sheepish “I can’t keep this mud on my face all day…”

Candi pulled a wipe, reached out, ran it through the ends of Sapphire’s dangly bangs.

“Huh?” Saphy’s face not registering Candi’s action.

“You can’t go on television with barf in your hair.”

Television? Me? BARF?”

“You’re an eyewitness. These people want your statement. We’ll want your statement. Trust me, you do not want to go through the rest of your life as Sapphire Blaise, the eyewitness with barf in her hair.”

“But, but… TV? What am I supposed to say? I mean, you know, what should I do?”

“You’re a lawyer,” her tone implying, You should know this one. “What you should say is exactly the way you saw it go down. In a straight line. What you should do is fix the fucking bangs.”

“Huh? My bangs? How?”

“Jesus, lady. Cut ‘em or grow ‘em.”

“I have that argument with myself all the time,” she sniffled into the back of her hand. “What do you think?”

“Girl to girl? Eyebrow is retro nouveau,” she squinted into Saphy’s face. “You have the eyes for it. The other way you can braid it, clip it, pull it back and wear a big red bow if you want. I’d drop the contacts for glasses if you go that way. In the meantime,” she handed the wipes pack back, dropped the used one in a plastic grocery bag offered by the reporter. “I’ll bet this lady reporter can find you a clip somewhere in that big yellow bag.”

Saphy watched Candi retreat toward the gunman on the grass, said to no one in particular, “How’d she know all that? I mean, about TV and barf and me and contacts and you having a clip and everything?”

“Forget that,” the reporter said, stepping back on her milk carton. “How’d she get so freakin’ tall?”


Aiden sat handcuffed, his back against the wall, alternately muttering nonsense and drooling. The bailiff led Virgil out the back. Winchcombe sat on the floor clutching his chest while he chewed a pair of aspirin. Sheriff Harden inspected the concrete wall that had taken most of the blast. Judge Perriman, resembling a large, demonstrative choir lady with her hair on fire, stalked the courtroom, barking orders, asking questions. Yates, still on the floor, had rolled over onto his back from his sprawl with Virgil, told the Judge he was counting his lucky stars. Bash told the EMT’s it was just a scratch and to get a big tube of Aiden’s blood before they did anything else, left them to it and walked outside.

He found Candi kneeling by the lifeless body of the second gunman, squatted next to her. “No ID,” she said, “but he answered to Ruben.” She gave him the phone.

“Nice. Burner?”

“Could be.”

“You pop the card?”

“I shut it down. Why?”

“Poppin’ the card keeps ‘em from clearin’ it by remote.”

“How’d you get so smart?”

“Small town single guys who have an IQ higher than the percentage of alcohol in their beer spend a lot of time on the internet. No exit wound?”

“Twenty-five cal.” She opened her hand. “Hollow points. Pro gear. His brain’s Swiss cheese by shrapnel. He wasn’t dead at first, but he couldn’t talk. Took him a few to fade. Shit.” She put her hands on her thighs, unwound to standing. Bash joined her, and they stood, watching the dead man turn blue.

Finally, “I had the EMTs bleed Aiden.”

“Yeah?” Her face woke up. “So… We’re thinking the same thing?”

“Virgil Green wasn’t the target. Aiden was fueled and primed and should be dead.”

“Except he’s not, you’re bleeding, and Ruben here knew he wasn’t going to outlive his fail.”

“At least he didn’t make you do it.”

“There is that.” She flipped the braid running down her back. “What a fucking mess.” A faint smile crossed her face. “Feels strange, being able to say what I’m thinking and get feedback in the now.”

“You don’t miss the suits and waitin’ on the whiteboard?”

“Hell no.” She scanned the new, metal roofed concrete box of remote courthouse, toed the dead grass, folded her arms. “They’ll need to roll out new grass again next year.”

“And turn on the sprinkler.”

“According to the plaque in the foyer, this one’s eco-listed.”

“Then why, if they never intended to water it,” he surveyed the sepia landscape, “didn’t they Xeriscape it in the first place?”

“Somebody in this county has a brother-in-law in the dead grass business?”

“Just like somebody in this county doesn’t want Conner Yates to do his job.”

“Or,” speculation rising in her voice, “up the ladder somewhere doesn’t want him taking his reformer shtick to the statehouse.”