Here’s an excerpt from Cracker Town, Red Farlow Mysteries Book Five, which debuts Sept. 14. There’s a special prerelease price at tirpub.com/wfranew through Sept. 20.
Cleet arrived in Damville at midnight. He walked straight to his cousin’s home and knocked on the kitchen door.
He and Wallace were never close, even when they were boys, and played cowboys and Indians in the backwoods. Cleet never won those imaginary fights. In the end, Wallace and his younger brother Gordon always piled on their mentally challenged cousin.
As he approached the house, Cleet glanced back into those woods. He remembered a lot of things that happened back there. Playing war games, marching off on fishing trips under the railroad trestle, and camping out around a fire.
After a few minutes and knocking several more times, the traveler heard footsteps approaching. Wallace eased open the door a bit, then brought it back to stare at Cleet in the back porch light.
“You made it, cuz,” Wallace said. “Guess you ought to come inside.”
Cleet sensed a cool reception and didn’t know what to make of it.
They walked into a room midway in the big house. The TV blared, and a cigar smoldered in an ashtray. The place was a mess, with old newspapers and magazines stacked here and there. In the corner, three shotguns rested against the wall. Family pictures hung in frames, many tilted and all caked with dust.
“You come right on down, did ya?” Wallace asked. He sat in the soiled easy chair next to the table and picked up the cigar. He took it between his lips and puffed, held the smoke, and blew it out.
A window air-conditioner coughed and strained to cool the room.
“Yeah, got out a few days ago and hitched my way here. Took ’bout as long as could be expected,” Cleet said.
Wallace nodded and looked at his visitor. Cigar smoke drifted up. The grayish cloud mingled with smoke on the ceiling.
“Reckon you’ll need to bunk som’ers, and I guess you can stay here a couple of days,” Wallace offered. “I imagine you’re likely hungry. I’ll put a can of beans to warm up.”
He looked around the room as Wallace went back to the kitchen. He remembered everything about the house. But he’d never seen it in such disarray and so filthy. His grandmother would never have left it in such a condition.
In a few minutes, Wallace hollered for Cleet to come and eat.
As he rose and walked down the short hallway, Cleet heard boards creak. He felt the lingering heat from the afternoon.
The two men sat at the kitchen table. Wallace put down a plate and fork and set the hot pot of pork and beans on the tabletop. He put thick-cut smoked bacon onto a plate from an iron skillet on the stove and left it near Cleet.
“Help yourself,” he said. “I done ate.”
Cleet took the pot and forked out beans onto his plate, along with two pieces of bacon. Steam rose with a sweet aroma. Cleet tasted sorghum syrup and the bite of black pepper. The bacon was salty and good.
“Reckon you’re planning to be here a while, crazy boy?” Wallace asked.
Cleet looked up at his cousin as he chewed the beans. “I don’t know,” he said. “Supposed to check in with the mental health clinic in Thomasville. I ain’t got no way to get over there. Too far to walk. And hitching a ride’s out of the question. Done with that. Don’t you think I’m asking for one neither.”
Cleet finished the plate of beans and served up another helping.
“Let me give you some advice, Cleet,” Wallace said. “You can take it or leave it.” Cleet looked up again at his cousin but said nothing. Wallace had aged a great deal, much more it appeared than Cleet had. Wallace had fattened up, although still broad in the shoulders and muscular.
“I’ll tell you straight up, for your own good,” Wallace offered. “People ’round here have a long span of memory. They ain’t forgot what happened that sent you off to the loony bin.”
“I didn’t do that,” Cleet said. His voice wavered and sounded unconvincing.
“Well, nobody in town ever believed otherwise. Best not go around thinking you’re the only person got locked up who ain’t guilty.”
Cleet cleared his throat and spoke again, with more determination. “I intend to get a job and a place to stay. I don’t know where. Just thought I’d come by and see you first. Guess folks hate me, but don’t matter. Nobody can put me through the hell of the hospital when I first got there.”
“That may be. Don’t know,” Wallace said. “But her family might come looking for you round here if they know you’re back. They still convinced you’re crazier than a shit house rat, Cleet.”
If the words burned, Cleet said nothing to indicate displeasure in hearing them.