Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We Read to Know We Are Not Alone

I made a new friend several months back—one of those rare occasions when you seem to “connect” with someone you have just met. Bill had that look-you-in-the-eye, do-what-I-say-I-will, when-I-say-I-will kind of demeanor that is so rare these days. He was a former police chief in places as far away as Alaska who abandoned his career to shoe horses for a living.

Bill and wife Penny came to the launch party for Go Down Looking, though we had only been friends for a short time. We were soon on the fast track to becoming great friends.

I was at the funeral of an old friend and reader when I heard that another grave was being prepared at Shiloh Cemetery. I was shocked to learn that the grave was for Bill.

The death of two friends, a few setbacks in writing, frustration with social media and technology in general had me pretty discouraged.

Then I got this e-mail from a cousin I seldom see.
Teresa and I were at Bill McClendon’s funeral and I guess I wasn’t too surprised to look up and see you sitting two rows in front of us. When it came to friends and friendly acquaintances, Bill threw a pretty wide loop. I worked with him for over two decades and counted it a sad day when he told me he was retiring from the department. He was my training officer when I hired on and good friend thereafter. The people that fit the latter category, I can count on one hand.
As I sat there wondering how Bill might be remembered by all the different folks in that funeral parlor that I didn’t know, Arliss Edwards’ “High Plains Tribute “ came to mind.
I don’t know how long you knew Bill, but I do know it wasn’t long enough. I tried to get over to you after the service but people got between us and you escaped. We will talk one day.

That probably doesn’t sound like much to you, but High Plains Tribute is the title of a piece I wrote more than ten years ago about a cousin who had died. I consider it a high honor that cousin Jay thought of it as he mourned the loss of his good friend. 

That same day, an old friend from Delta County, Larry Whitlock, sent me a very fine review of Home Light Burning and told me that his older brother Tommy, a noted historian, also loved my book. Historians are hard to please.Doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it is. Thanks, Larry and Tommy.

When I told my daughter Shelly about meeting Kathleen, the 95-year-old voracious reader and Biblical scholar I wrote about a few months back, she told me a story about my mother’s Bible. 

On a day when she was having doubts about her own business (she is an artist who transforms guitars and other objects into works of art), she picked up Mother’s tattered old Bible and a faded, ragged piece of paper dropped to the floor.

She picked it up and read. In the “parable of the talents”, we get an idea of what God expects us to do here on earth. We’re all given talents, some great and some small—but whether your talent is epic or miniscule, we glorify God when we use it to further His kingdom. God isn’t rating His followers based on the number of converts they win over or the number of church pews they fill; He’s interested in the passion with which we use whatever gifts He has given us. 

I occasionally express to wife Jan my frustration not so much with writing itself, but in getting a larger audience to read and enjoy what I write. Jan selects fabrics in various colors, designs, and texture, cuts her chosen fabric into tiny pieces, sews them together like a complicated puzzle, then quilts them into color coordinated, beautifully symmetric works of art.

Today, she is in the final stages of a quilt that might be called my own tapestry of life. I watched with some wonder as the pieces came together with pictures, logos, symbols, even business cards converted to fabric that tell a lot of my life story.  

She suggested calling it I Did It My Way. I hope a better title might be He Guided me to do it His Way. I could not conceptualize a beautiful work of art coming from mere stacks of fabric, old photos, assorted t-shirts, and keepsakes.  Sort of like writing a book.

In the movie Shadowlands about C. S. Lewis (one of my favorite writers), a character says, “We read to know that we are not alone.”

Professor and writer John Dufresne says, “A book should offer hope. It should lift up the reader. It should give the reader a reason to live—should he need one. Life is not easy for any of us, but the pain of loneliness is often unbearable. The writer is saying, among other things, “You’re not alone.”  

I hope my books make readers feel that they are not alone and that they are “lifted up” by my writing.
In an article about finding one’s purpose in life, the author describes the difference between a gift and a calling. “A calling forces us beyond our own abilities into utter dependence on God. A true calling commands our complete humility.”   Writing demands my complete humility, so maybe it is my calling.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gunmetal Stud--the Final Episode

Last week, we left Frankie T and Chet at Applebee’s where Frankie presents a bill marked paid by the local steel company for 15K of Chet’s money, a draw on a barn Frankie T has promised to build.
Through tears, Frankie T explained that his wife had been diagnosed with stage four cancer and had been in MD Anderson hospital in Houston for three weeks, but home now.  Chet regretted his anger and asked what he could do to help. 
Frankie T wiped away a tear. “Much obliged, but the ladies at the church are takin’ care of us real good.  Don’t know what I would do without ‘em.” 
He blew his nose into a handkerchief as he handed Chet another invoice from the steel company for twelve thousand.  “That’s for the rest of the steel.  I’ll start work on getting her up next week if the ladies from church can keep lookin’ out for the wife.” 
Chet couldn’t help but notice that the handkerchief that covered most of Frankie’s face had the look of a mask, but he still cut a check, feeling good that he had now paid twenty-nine thousand of the forty thousand total cost of the barn.
Five weeks passed.  No framing for the barn.  No steel delivered.  No Frankie T. Falwell.  No answer on phone calls.  Chet went to the steel company and inquired about his steel.  It seemed that the invoices he had seen were for other jobs for other people that Falwell had paid with Chet's money. 
The steel company clerk wondered why Frankie T had asked for fresh invoices with current dates, but was happy to oblige when presented a check on Chet Hunt, a respected name in the community.  Nobody at the steel company knew anything about Frankie T. Falwell’s wife or her cancer. 
A worker in the steelyard stopped Chet as he was getting into his pickup to leave.  “Ain’t none of my business, but I heard about you and Frankie T.  He brought a lady to our church some when he first started comin’, but nobody’s seen hide nor hair of her for a long time.  My wife and the other church ladies think she’s in a cancer hospital in Houston, but I got my personal doubts he’s even married.”    
Furious, Chet devoted his life to searching for Frankie T. Falwell, and found him by sheer coincidence.  Both were collecting mail at the United States Post Office in Greenville.  Frankie T. saw Chet first and ran for his truck. 
He was emerging with a tire iron when Chet caught him with an elbow upside the head and a hard right cross that sent him to his knees.  Frankie T. covered his face with both arms and yelled for help. Chet was kicking him in the ribs and challenging him to get up and take his medicine like a man when the police arrived and arrested Chet. 
Seems that attacking someone on federal property is a lot more serious than attacking them someplace else.  Chet had to hire a lawyer to get out of jail.  The post office episode cost him five thousand dollars in fines and legal bills and ninety days in jail.  Total cost of doing business with Frankie T. Falwell:  Thirty-four thousand dollars and ninety days in jail. 
The tip of Burl’s cigarette glowed orange in the midnight sky.  “Did he steal the mare before or after he took you for the thirty-four thousand?”
“Stole her while I was in jail.  While I was out on bond and waiting for trial, the ladies from his church came out to my house and scolded me for attacking such a nice young man whose wife is dying of cancer.” Head hung in a defeated posture, Chet shuffled on home.
Burl put the final rasp on my horse’s front hoof and straightened.  I handed him his payment.  “Let’s see if I can sum this up.  This good-looking, well dressed fella I saw in Abilene, ropes in one church’s arena on a stolen horse with an investigator from the DA’s office, attends another church where ladies bring him food for a wife who has cancer but doesn’t exist.”
Burl chuckled under his breath.  “Then he takes Chet for 29K, gets him thrown in jail and steals his mare while he's in jail. All while he’s out on bail in one county and wanted in another one.  Took Bobby Ray Foster and Cole Cunningham for ten thousand when he stole and cut their stud. Cost Chet Hunt three months of his life not counting the money. Don't know if Chet will ever get over the shame of it.”
I led my horse to the lot gate, shook my head as I stared at the ground.  “The man managed to turn Chet Hunt into a convicted felon, you into a horse thief, and he’s still traveling around free wearin’  fine clothes. Should we admire him or hang him?”    
“I ever see him again, you’ll read about it in the paper.” 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Frankie T returns for his stolen horses

Bill Root, investigator for the District Attorney, has just connected with his team roping buddy Frankie T via cell phone. He related the story of the gunmetal stud to Frankie T. and looked up at the sky as he listened to what Frankie had to say for himself. His eyes turned red with fury.
“That’s all you got to say?  Just let the man have the horse?  Hell, Frankie T., did you steal him or not?” He held the phone out as if it had appeared in his hand without warning.  “He hung up.”
The Deputy Sheriff quickly made two calls using his own speed dial. “Seems Frankie T. Falwell is out on bail in Delta County for stealing head chutes and cattle panels.  And there’s warrants out for him in Hunt County for stealing four-wheelers.”
Bill Root, mouth open, head shaking, walked around in disbelief until Cole and Bobby Ray left with the gunmetal gelding. By dark, all the other horses had been picked up except the black mare. 
Burl’s back hurt from a record day of shoeing, including the stud and the black mare. He gestured toward Root and the deputy. “You boys welcome to spend the night, but if you think that old boy is coming back for this mare after you called him and told him what was up, you got another think comin.” The deputy and investigator nodded assent and left slump-shouldered.
I leaned forward in my chair, thinking that was the end of Burl’s story.  “Well, I guess since I just saw him in Abilene, Frankie T. got away with it.”
Burl shook his head. “That ain’t all.”
Burl was sitting on a wooden bench in the extra dark provided by a live oak when Frankie T. Falwell walked up.  He was untying the mare when Burl spoke from the darkness.  “You owe me sixty dollars for shoeing two horses.  Wadn’t sure what to do when I found out you was a damn thief, so I just shod both of ‘em.”
Falwell was dressed for a honky-tonk run and reeked of cologne.  “Sorry for all the trouble.”  He handed Burl a fifty and a ten from a concha-bordered billfold and led the mare down the road to his parked trailer. 
Conscious of things that could be stolen from his barn, Burl watched until he was out of sight.  When he closed the box on his farrier tools and took one last look down the road before calling it a night, moonlight revealed a shadow outline of a horse walking toward his barn. 
They were almost to his lot before he recognized that Chet Hunt, his neighbor, was leading the black mare.    “Damn, Chet.  Where’d you come by that mare?  Ain’t been gone from here more than thirty minutes.”
Chet Hunt was stocky and middle-aged with a body that showed a history of heavy use and abuse.  “This is my mare.  Recognized that damn thief’s truck when I was coming home.  I blocked the road with my pickup and made him unload her.  I had an axe handle, but didn’t need it.  He’s a coward as much as a thief. Can I leave her in your lot till I can get a trailer tomorrow?”
“Sure.  You mean he stole the mare, too?  Don’t recall seeing it over at your place.”
“Kept it over in Hunt County.  Had a real nice place over there till I ran into that thievin’ bastard.”
They turned the mare loose in the lot.  Burl was tired and ready for supper and bed, but invited Chet to the chairs in his front yard to hear the rest of the story.
In seemed that in addition to horses, chutes, cattle panels, and four-wheeler stealing, Frankie T. Falwell built pipe fences and metal barns.  Nice business cards complete with telephone numbers and an office address in Greenville.  Chet found his name in the telephone directory under metal barns.  Met him at Royal Drive-In in Greenville and cut a deal to build a barn for forty thousand dollars. 
A week later, Frankie T. called a second meeting.  He asked for a check to the steel company for fifteen thousand saying, “Steel’s headed sky-high.  Fifteen won’t cover but half the steel, but if we pay half in advance, we can lock in the price for all of it while it’s cheap.  Just make the check out to the steel company to protect yourself.”  He smiled a winning smile.  “That way, I don’t need to touch none of it and you can be sure where your money’s going.”
Seemed safe enough to Chet, so he cut the check.  Frankie T. was there like clockwork the next morning, supervising the pouring of the foundation for the barn.  He asked for another four thousand as the concrete truck pulled away.  That seemed reasonable enough to Chet as a draw on the foundation.  He cut another check. 
No sign of Frankie T. for two weeks.  No answer at his office.  Chet left messages that were not returned.  After three weeks, Frankie T. finally returned his calls.  They met at Applebee’s where Frankie T. give Chet an invoice marked paid from the steel company for the fifteen thousand and apologized profusely. 
Next week: Chet finds out where his money went.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Gun Metal Stud III A Horse Thief on Speed Dial

Deputy Sheriff Leo Briggs has just arrived at Burl Branchwater’s barn to investigate the mysterious appearance of the stolen gunmetal stud.
Bobby Ray told the story to the deputy and pointed to the horse. Deputy Briggs examined all the horses, gathering his thoughts, before risking being kicked by slapping the sore gunmetal gelding on the hip.  “Well, guess you just gonna have to sue the feller what brought him out here.”
Burl, a county commissioner not unfamiliar with legal proceedings, raised from his shoeing.  “Sue?  What the hell you talkin’ about?  That’s a damn ten thousand dollar stud that was stolen and cut.  Any fool knows that’s criminal, not civil.” 
The law officer backed up a few steps as Burl brandished his rasp.  “We called you out here to do something about a theft.  All you got to say is get us a lawyer and sue?  You get in your damn county car and get on back to the courthouse.  Finish your damn checker game.”
Bobby Ray watched Deputy Briggs drive away.  “What we gonna do now?”
“Better call Cole.  Maybe he can get somebody over in Hunt County to come look. Lillie thinks this Falwell feller lives over there, anyway. And the stud was probably in Hunt County when he was stolen.”
Cole Cunningham, part owner of the gray used-to-be stud, was there in ten minutes, eyes red with fury as he examined his stolen horse.   “I called the Hunt County Sheriff.” 
The sheriff dispatched a deputy who brought along Bill Root, investigator for the District Attorney’s office and brother-in-law to Burl’s son, Jack.  Bill Root had called Jack to report that he was headed for his daddy’s place.  Curious, Jack arrived at about the same time Root and the Hunt County deputy drove up.
The investigator heard the story, made notes, then turned to Cole and Bobby Ray.   “If Burl will witness that this horse is yours and was stolen, then y’all have the right to take it back right now.” 
Jack Branchwater asked the question everybody was thinking.  “What about the sumbitch that stole him?”
Investigator Root had his pencil and notebook ready as he spoke to Burl. “Did you get his name?”
Burl pointed in the general direction from which the thief had come. “Told me his name was Falwell.  Said everybody called him Frankie T.  Don’t know as I would believe anything the man said, though.”
Investigator Bill Root turned pale. 
Jack spoke to his brother-in-law.  “That the same Frankie T. that’s your team roping partner at church ropings?”
Root whispered his reply.  “Couldn’t be.”
“What does he team rope on?”
Investigator Root coughed up the words.  “Lately, it’s been a gunmetal stud.”
“You mean to say you, a lawman yourself, been team-roping with a thief while he’s riding a stolen horse? That don’t even take into account that you’re on a church team.”
“Couldn’t be the same man. Frankie T.’s had some problems in the past, but he’s born again.”
Burl’s disgust boiled over.  “Well, is that the horse the man rides or not?”
The sheriff’s deputy walked over and put a hand on the gunmetal’s hip as if Bill Root still might not be able to tell which horse they were talking about. The horse flicked an ear in irritation. Chagrined, Bill nodded. “That’s him.”
Cole Cunningham, hands on hips, could not believe his ears. “There’s pictures of that damn stud all over the Sheriff’s office, the courthouse, every sale barn and vet’s office within a hundred miles of here. Me and Bobby Ray offered a five hundred dollar reward. Ever look at one of them pictures? There’s one pinned to a board not ten feet from your office.”
Bill Root was appropriately red-faced. “I never made the connection. Who would think a man would ride a stolen horse in church team ropings?  Hell, he even told me he was gonna have the stud cut so he would be safer around the kids.” 
Bobby Ray’s face fell as he thought of five thousand dollar jewels being hauled off in a bucket.  “Who cut him?”
“Vet over at Sulphur Springs. Think his name is West.”
Cole’s eyes inflamed. “West?  Hell, that’s my vet. There’s pictures of this stud all over his office, too.  He gave the horse all his shots. Been seeing him since he was born. How could he not recognize a horse he’s castrating?”  
Stunned now, Bill Root removed his cell phone from its belt holster.  He hit one button.  “Frankie T.?”
Jack looked at his father and laughed out loud. “Damn, Daddy. My brother-in-law, an officer of the court, has a horse thief on speed-dial.”
Next week: Frankie T. comes back for his horses. 
Awesome!, June 25, 2012
This review is from: Go Down Looking (Perfect Paperback)
From the first page to the last this book takes you on an emotional ride. I have enjoyed all the books Jim Ainsworth has written about the Rivers family. They are a must read! Can't wait for his next book.