Writers League of Texas – Contest!
I have never submitted my writing to a contest, but a friend talked me into participating in the Writers League of Texas contest. My entry is a thriller in progress titled Fort Davis Rocks (some of which I have posted earlier on this blog). I have vacationed in Fort Davis for several years. The title refers to the geology of the area – it is high desert, and seems to be mostly rock. Feel free to make comments on this story. The contest requires a short introduction and the first 2500 words; unfortunately, I had to cut off the end of chapter 1.
Fort Davis Rocks is a thriller set in Fort Davis, Texas, where the desert lies 5,200 feet above sea level and the population of Jeff Davis County is merely one person per square mile. The only law enforcement of any regular substance is the county sheriff and his four deputies. With only a thousand people in the town, it would seem to the outsider that not much is going on.
This is not the case.
E W is the most powerful man in the county, the president of the bank, and the biggest landowner in the county. His hunger for one particular tract of land is insatiable. The land which would complete his holdings is owned by Delbert, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Park Police Officer at nearby Davis Mountains State Park, who is the only son of a hardscrabble old family. Guinevere is the bartender at the local watering hole, the Limpia Hotel Bar, and Delbert’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. King, the arrogant author of a two national best-selling novels, comes seeking peace and quiet to finish a novel. Maria, a rancher’s daughter who left the area suddenly at age 15 and is now an Austin based trial lawyer, comes to find herself and recover the Blue Mountain Ranch, lost in a shady deal 30 years before.
In less than a week a firestorm will devastate the area, and sleepy Fort Davis will explode.
Fort Davis Rocks: Prologue
Water from the previous night’s rain trickled out of the cedar breaks through very thin soil on top of a continuous layer of limestone. It collected in a depression and ran down the gentle slope, finally cascading over rock smoothed by millennia of trickling water. The rock had been warmed by the August sunshine, and when it finally reached the swimming hole, it was noticeably warmer than the crystal clear water into which it cascaded, with irregular but consistent tinkling sounds. At the edge of the hole an old live oak tree clung to the bank with half of its original root structure, the other half having disappeared when the soil beneath was scoured out by a succession of floods. One root still grasped a piece of limestone it had grown around, and held it out, as if in a hand, or defying the disappearance of the rest of the foundation the tree had once relied on.
At the edge of the pool, which was perhaps twenty feet by forty feet, long, slender, green leaves of bear grass dipped into the glassy surface, like so many Rastafarians with their heads bent toward the water. Above, a knotted rope hung from the upper reaches of the old tree, ready to deliver children into the four foot deep pool. The wind blew loudly through the upper branches of the trees, but at the surface, the air barely moved. Two turkey vultures soared far above, and another swooped down for a closer look, then went on its way. The only sounds beyond the water dripping into the pool and the wind in the treetops were the sounds of wet kisses being shared by the young couple at the upstream end of the pool.
Tiny fish, many only a half inch long, searching for something to eat, finally investigated the hair on Maria’s arm. She pulled her arm out of the water. “They’re biting me!” Delbert, eager to continue kissing the girl, looked down into the water. He, too, had felt the tiny fish nibbling on the hairs on his legs, but he was far too engrossed in the girl to care. She put her mouth back on his, and tasted his tongue again, then abruptly pulled away and threw herself backwards into the water, causing a splash that scattered the fish.
Delbert sat still, watching her through the distortion of the water. Maria surfaced again, facing away from him, and wiggled a little, then turned to face him. She held her white bikini top in one hand, and the bottoms in the other. She had long, black hair, and skin the color of toasted marshmallow. Her substantial young breasts sagged only slightly, and she grinned at him, then turned abruptly and climbed out of the far end of the pool. Delbert watched her supple loins, transfixed by the sight, the first girl he had ever seen unclothed. As she slipped on her sandals and began running up the trail, he swam to the shallow end, where he could climb out, but by the time he got his shoes on, she had disappeared.
The absence of the two fifteen-year old church campers had been noticed, and counselors scoured the area for them. One almost ran into the naked girl on the trail through the oaks. Delbert’s parents could not be immediately located, but Maria’s mother arrived by sunset. By the next evening, Maria was living a cloistered life in a family compound in Matamoros, Mexico.
Fort Davis Rocks, Chapter 1
King looked at the approaching fire with disbelief, if not panic, on his face. An impossibly tall wall of bright yellow flames and grey smoke raced toward him, even as air rushed past him to be consumed by the fiery demon. The fire jumped the road just south of him. He turned and ran north down the center of Highway 17, away from the approaching flames, toward Fort Davis.
A white pickup truck with Texas Parks and Wildlife on the side slid to a stop in front of King. The lights on top were flashing urgently, the horn was blowing. He could see the driver motioning to him, so he went around to the side and climbed in the passenger seat.
The driver put the transmission into reverse and turned the truck around in a U on the highway. “You’re fixing to be a crispy critter there, King.” He put the transmission back in drive and floored the accelerator as the flames reached them.
“I guess I owe you one, Delbert.”
King turned around in time to see his classic 911T Porsche, parked on the dry grass of the highway right of way behind them, begin to burn. After a half mile, Delbert stopped the pickup and put the transmission in park. “Be right back.” He grabbed a pair of fencing pliers from the seat beside him and jumped out, leaving the door open. Beside them, on the land next to the highway, a small Hereford of cows pressed against the fence, bawling. Delbert cut the six strands of barbed wire, starting with the bottom strand. As he got back into the pickup truck the cows poured through the gap and onto the highway.
“That son-of-a-bitch E W don’t give a God damn about anybody ‘cept hisself.”
King looked at him, not understanding. “That’s Earl Wayne Haas’s place. He’d just leave those cows here to burn to death. Nothing deserves that, especially not a cow.” Delbert looked at King. “Not even you. Where you want me to drop you off? I’ve got to get to the park. What the hell you doing back there?”
“Ran out of gas. Coming back from Marfa.”
“Well, that’s a God damned stupid thing to do.”
King shrugged. “Gas station was closed.” They came into Fort Davis. He pointed to the right, to the Limpia Hotel. “This’ll do. Appreciate the lift.”
King stood on the sidewalk as Delbert’s pickup went out of sight up the road to the north. He looked back to the south, where he could see a wall of smoke, but no flames. He shrugged, and walked across the small courtyard and into the bar.
The only people in the bar were the bartender and a busboy. “Maria here?”
The bartender shook his head. “She was here, mebbe half hour ago. Said to tell you to get the fuck outta here.” King grunted. “You want a drink? I’m closing up. Boss told me to go home. The fire, you know.”
“Can you make an old fashioned?”
King pulled a ten dollar bill from his wallet and took a seat on a barstool. He played with the bill, folding it in half lengthwise, then in half again, and unfolding it, then folding it again.
“Boss said the fire looks like it’s coming right through town.” He slid the cocktail glass across the bar. King handed him the ten. The bartender held his hand up. “On the house. I closed the register just afore you came in.”
King put the ten down on the bar. “Tip, then. Take it.” The bartender took the bill and stuffed it in his shirt pocket, nodded to him, and left. The busboy went with him.
The bartender turned around in the doorway. “Turn the lights off on your way out.”
One week earlier
King walked into the front entrance of the Limpia Hotel in Fort Davis, Texas with a bit of a swagger in his step. He had never had a half million dollars in his bank account before, the proceeds of an advance on his third novel and the sale of movie rights. The first novel had been ignored until the second garnered a review in the New York Times and the third had been purchased in a bidding war. When he reached the front desk, he pulled an American Express Platinum card out of his wallet and tossed it on the polished mahogany counter.
“Best room in the place. One night for now. Which way to the bar?”
The desk clerk picked up the card and read the name, looking from the card to King and back to the card.
The clerk pointed to his left. “Outside and across the courtyard.”
“Bags are in the back seat of the car. The Porsche. It’s not locked.”
The only customers in the bar were two older men in faded blue jeans and western shirts. They turned to look at King when he entered the room. With no look of recognition, they returned their attention to each other, and resumed the hushed tones of their private conversation. King went up to the bar. The woman tending bar was of medium height, slender, wearing skinny jeans and a tank top. King noticed right away, as did all men, that she wasn’t wearing a bra, and her substantial breasts tantalized with each movement and the small but obvious point of a nipple showing through the thin cotton fabric. She had very short black hair with streaks of grey, and a sort of chiseled appearance, a narrow waist, and the muscles of an athlete. When she walked around the bar, collecting empty glasses and spent napkins, it was her small but apparently muscular ass that was noticed and often commented on. Her nipples went without comment, but not without more private thoughts.
The bartender focused on King as he made his way around the tables to the bar and took a seat right in the center. He looked at her, waiting for her to ask for his order. She did not speak, but tilted her head slightly to her right. The looked at each other in this fashion, in silence, like it was a game of chicken, and the first to speak lost.
After thirty seconds, King relented. “Do you know how to make an old fashioned?”
The bartender reached under the bar and removed a copy of The Bartender’s Guide, turned to a page near the back, and held it up in front of King.
“Two jiggers of bourbon, two dashes of bitters, a splash of water, teaspoon sugar, cherry, slice of orange. That old fashioned?” She rattled off the recipe without looking at the plastic-covered page, then tilted her head to the right again and raised her right eyebrow at him.
“Make it a double. Top shelf, if you please.”
“Big spender. Haven’t had any of those in here lately.” She turned away to fix the cocktail.
“Business kind of slow?”
“You might say that. You’re not from around here.”
“Just got in. Never been here before.”
“Saw you drive up in that penis extender.”
“The Porsche. 911 Targa. We have a drought on. Ranchers are selling off their cows, hoarding cash. Yeah, business is slow.”
“So how do you know that much about cars?”
“I’m a classic, like your car. And you.”
“How old do you have to be to be considered a classic?”
She slid the drink across the bar. “That’ll be twelve dollars. My friends call me Guin. You can call me Guinevere.”
King pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet and put it on the bar. “Name’s King. Keep the change. You got a boyfriend, Guinevere?”
“More or less. Why you asking?”
“I’m going to be here a while, don’t know a soul. Thought maybe you could show me around.”
“Well, it’s mighty nice of you to suggest that. At the moment the boyfriend is more, rather than less, but that changes from time to time. I should warn you he carries a gun.”
“I see. And who is this vacillating vaquero?” King was proud of such a clever phrase, produced within the rhythm of the conversation, and grinned.
“Those are mighty big words. You’re about to meet him. He’s coming through that door in about ten seconds.”
King turned toward the door. The man who came through the doorway was about six feet tall, lean, and weathered. He was, indeed, carrying a gun on his hip, and was dressed in a short sleeved khaki uniform shirt and dark green pants with a badge over his left shirt pocket. He removed a dark green ball cap as he entered the room, revealing short, dark hair with streaks of grey. He nodded to the two older men at the table, walked up to the bar, and sat down at the first bar stool.
He spoke to Guin. “Feels good in here. Looks like summer’s here early.”
Guin didn’t smile, but looked at him intensely. He suddenly reached across the bar, grabbed one of the obvious nipples between his thumb and forefinger, and tweaked it. Without hesitation, Guin reached out with her right hand and slapped the man hard on his left cheek. His head turned with the force of the blow, but he didn’t flinch.
“Nice to see you, too.”
Guin pointed to King. “This here’s King. He’s the newest drifter in town. Only been here five minutes and already tried to pick me up.”
“Did he get anywhere?”
“Might have if you hadn’t showed up. He’s driving a classic Porsche Targa.”
“What’s that got on a 78 Ford Ranger?”
Guin shook her head slowly. “Well, the air conditioning probably works.”
The man shrugged. “It’s a classic.”
“You men are all classics. Well, I’m working until 9 tonight anyway. I warned him that you’re packing heat.”
“Packing heat, uh? You reading those detective novels again?”
To that, Guin smiled. She turned to her left. “King, this is my vacillating vaquero. His name is Delbert, but I call him Del.”
Delbert reached out with his right hand towards King, who responded by reaching out with his right, and they shook hands. King squeezed the offered hand hard, a technique designed to intimidate, but he found the muscled hand and arm resisted his force. Delbert’s face showed nothing except the red mark of Guin’s right hand.
“What did you say I was? A vacill what?”
“Vacillating vaquero. His words.”
“I suppose. Pick you up at 9:00? Dinner at my place?”
“TV dinners again?” She slid a glass of ice and Coke across the bar to Delbert.
“Not today. Picked up some fine little tenderloins from Stone Village Market. Randall tried to give them to me. I think he’s trying to bribe me. For what, I don’t know.”
“You think a tenderloin might get you somewhere?”
Delbert raised his eyebrows. “Might oughter,” then he swiveled the barstool to his right to face King. “What brings you to this godforsaken corner of the desert?”
“Wide open spaces. One person per square mile. I came for the peace and quiet. I’m a writer. Got a big project due in a month. Needed to eliminate distractions.”
“You going to be here a whole month? Most people don’t make it that long out here.”
“That’s my plan. What about you? Why ‘r you here?”