The tiny Lamar County farmhouse buzzed with voice as many residents of Center Springs, Texas, arrived for our first interview with the characters of the Red River Mystery series. Those to be interviewed gathered around the table, while spectators listened from the living room, or through the kitchen’s screen door.
Moderator: Thank you all for coming, and for helping get this first interview off the ground. I’m sure there will be more in the future as our readers send in suggestions. Let’s start with the first question for Constable Ned Parker. What do you think of these books that have detailed your life, and the lives of your family and friends?
Ned: (Rubs his bald head) I believe the man writing these has no business in digging up so many bones. What’s done is done, and I don’t see no reason to talk about it any more.
Miss Becky: Now Ned, you can’t go back and change it, so why not let him tell his story.”
Ned: Because what happened at the Rock Hole ought not be brought back up…
Moderator: Well, let’s not go there today. Mr. Ned, you’ve been constable since the War. How have things changed as far as your job is concerned?
Ned: They got worse. Sure, folks made whiskey when I was younger, but around here it was small-time stuff. I’d bust a still, or pick someone up for being drunk, or break up a family argument, but there wasn’t no meanness like there is now. These days folks don’t just fight, they try to kill one another. Or somebody dies, and while the family is at the funeral, some sorry son-of-a-bitch kicks in the door and steals their valuables. It just ain’t right. And I’m worried about what it’s going to be like for my grandchildren. Think about what might happen by the year two thousand.
Modertor: Mr. O.C. Rains has been judge for a long time. Judge, you and Ned have a special relationship.
O.C.: Yep, we’ve been running together since we were knee-high to a grasshopper. Ned is the best constable in the county, with Cody there running second, because he’s newer. Ned is fair, but don’t get in his way. There isn’t much retreat in that old boy. Now that fellow sitting beside him is Sheriff’s Deputy John Washington. John is a legend in this town, as was his daddy, One-Armed George. Though George was an unofficial deputy when John was a boy, he served his people down there across the tracks well. John, he accepts responsibility for a number of things, and is a good friend to the Parker clan.
John: Yessir. I believe we’re family, and that’s something in this day and time. These Parkers, they don’t see color too much. Aw, you know everybody knows if your colored, or an Indian, or Chinese and such, but the Parkers, they see past most differences. They see into your soul, and if you’re a good person, then they’ll make a place at the dinner table for you, and that’s a good place to be, ‘cause Miss Becky’s fried chicken is the best in the county. Like I said, they’s family, and I’ll do anything for them.
Moderator: John, you all just returned from an incident in Mexico where you had to make some hard decisions. Some people might say that you and Mr. Ned crossed more than a border between countries. You crossed a moral lie.
John: Well, it ain’t my story to tell, but since you asked me direct, I’ll answer. Mr. Cody there needed our help, and the folks he was up against we hard men, but they were crooked. Me’n Mr. Ned won’t abide a crooked lawman, so we did what we had to do. What we did wasn’t right, nor wrong. It just was.
Moderator: That book was named by the author’s wife, but we’ll hear from him in a little while. With us here are the twelve-year-old Parker grandchildren who seem to be more twins than cousins. Top, Pepper, do y’all have anything to say?
Pepper: I dam…sure do. A lot that’s written about me makes me look like I get in trouble all the time. But I can’t help it. I’m a tomboy and like to do more stuff than play with dolls, in fact, I haven’t owned a doll since I was three. I really don’t mean to say the things that come out of my mouth. They just do.
Top: We have fun. Pepper is my best friend, and I won’t say nothin’ against her, but she likes to see how much she can get away with. That’s all right with me, most of the time, but not when it gets me a whippin’. It seems like we get in the middle of whatever is going on at the time. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed at home instead.
Moderator: Cody Parker, you came home from Vietnam and it wasn’t long before you owned a honkey tonk across the river in Oklahoma, and became constable yourself. We won’t talk in great detail about what happened down by the Rock Hole, but tell us a little about the whirlwind of events that has shaped this family in recent years
Cody: I’m not sure what you mean about the Rock Hole. (He smiles and winks) I needed an income, so I used my savings to buy The Sportsman Lounge. Not long after that, The Skinner started killing people, and when that case was solved, Ned decided to retire, so I ran for constable and got the job. Not much more to it, really.
Moderator: Let me ask in a different way. There has been a lot going on in Center Springs these last three or four years.
Ned: Yep, and that’s what I’m-a tellin’ you. Things have gone from bad to worse. It seems like we’ve been finding bodies everywhere in this county. Out in the woods, buried by a whiskey still, strung up in barns, and hung over fences. Not too long ago we found a feller sittin’ in his truck with half his head blowed off down in the bottoms. I’m getting’ too old for this kind of nonsense.
Moderator: Cody, you just got out of some trouble down in Mexico, didn’t you?
Cody: Well, that’s what John was talking about. I can’t say much about that, because all that story comes out in July when a book called THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG is released, but the truth is, there’s a lot of drugs coming up out of Mexico, and it needs to be stopped, so that’s why I went down there.
Ike Reader: Listen, listen. These men here have done a lot for us here in Center Springs. Without them, there’d be drunks barreling down the roads, murderers loafing at the store, and clowns everywhere. You know, I’m afraid of them clowns who work for the circus and spend their winters just right across the river there in Oklahoma. You don’t have any idy what they’re thinking behind all that makeup they wear on their faces.
Moderator: Folks, that was Isaac Reader, one of the farmers who live here in Center Springs. Ike, what’s your take on the way things are going around here these days.
Ike: (Glances around the table) I don’t have much more to say, because it’d probably get me in trouble. Listen, we all carry guns now, because you know, the laws ain’t gonna get there in time to stop whatever meanness somebody wants to do. They show up later and try to figure everything out, so we gotta protect ourselves as best we can. These lawmen here do a fine job, though. I won’t take that away from ‘em.
Moderator: I have a list of questions submitted by those who’ve read the first two books of the Red River mystery series, THE ROCK HOLE and BURROWS. I’ll throw them out and anyone can feel free to answer. Let’s begin with the first one. Are these stories real?
Author: I guess I’ll have to field that one, and the answer is yes and no. The history and geography are real, and some of the stories are based on the truth. It’s just hard to separate everything out.
Moderator: Does Pepper really talk that ugly?
Pepper: (glancing at Miss Becky) Only when adults aren’t around.
Moderator: (Still reading) What are the kid’s favorite subjects in school, and what do you want to be when you grow up?
Top: I like English the best. I like to read and my favorite authors are Fred Gipson and Keith Roberson who writes the Henry Reed books. I want to be a lawman some day, but I haven’t decided if it’s as a police officer, a highway patrol, or a Texas Ranger. I’m leaning toward the Rangers right now.
Pepper: I hate school, but I get pretty good marks in this new math they’ve started. I don’t know what I want to do, but I may be a rock and roll singer. I think I sound like Janis Joplin.
Moderator: All right. Miss Becky, why don’t you get the things you need for the house? It took forever to get a washing machine, but you don’t have a dryer and still hang clothes on the line. There are water spigots under the counter, not on top, and you don’t even have a sink in here.
Miss Becky: I get what I need when I need it. I have the sun to dry my clothes, and the water’s right there in the house. When the good Lord is ready for me to get anything else, then I’ll get it.
Moderator: In the first two books, both Cody and Top seem to have a second sense that has been called the Parker Curse. You all dream of things to come, but never have everything you need to predict the future. How many others have this gift of second sight?
Ned: Top has it the strongest, but Cody feels things too. The truth is, and I don’t want to talk about it too much right now, I had it the most when I was young, when me and Miss Becky first got married. (Ned pauses, seemingly at a loss for words).
Miss Becky: Let me try. We haven’t talked about this since the Bad Time in the early thirties, when the Depression was on. Ned and one of his brothers had the Sight, and Ned had something else. He had the curse, or gift, of helping folks to the other side, to die in peace when it was their time. He’d hold them and make it easier to pass, and that about got him convicted…
Ned: …of murder, and that about killed me. We need to stop with this story now, and maybe y’all can read it when Rev over there can finally write about it. I know it’s still hard for him to do it right now, because he still feels it as strong as I did back then, because he’s one of us and has the Sight. He’s like us, though, and even though he dreams, he can’t explain it until after something happens. It’s frustrating, so let’s go to the next question.
Moderator: Some readers of this series are concerned with the number of dogs that are killed. Some have asked how would fans feel if Hootie dies?
Ned: That’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard. How’d you think we’d feel? Hootie’s a good dog, but we’d feel bad for a while and then go on. Dogs die in the country all the time. I think people spend too much time putting human feelings on ‘em myself.
Moderator: Cody, what are you doing to deal with your mental problems from Vietnam?
Cody: I have Norma Faye, and we talk.
Miss Becky: And he has Jesus. He’s going to church with me now, though I haven’t seen anything written about it yet.
Moderator: What do you think about the war itself?
Cody: I think war is always a last resort, but it’s like a fight. If one starts, you fight to win, and you fight as hard as you can until it’s over. The thing to remember is that there aren’t any rules. You crush the enemy by whatever means necessary. They don’t seem to be doing that right now, and a lot more people are going to get hurt before it’s over. Here’s one more thing I think, you can’t win against a war of resistance, and you can’t win against religion without destroying those people in any way you can. It ain’t pretty, but it’s war, and I don’t think we’re doing what’s right in Vietnam.
Moderator: All right, this one is difficult, but I have to ask. Norma Faye, some people have called you a floozy. How do you feel about that?
Norma Faye: I don’t care what people think. Cody and I knew we were supposed to be together when we first met. The only problem was my marriage to Calvin Williams. He was mean, abusive, and didn’t care about me. We were going to divorce anyway, so Cody didn’t have anything to do with that relationship. We’re completely happy, so if being a floozy means I married the man I was truly in love with, then I’m a floozy.
Cody: I’ve heard her called a home wrecker, but I wasn’t married, so they don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe I’m the floozy.
Miss Becky: Norma Faye is a good woman. She was just in a bad place then, but she and Cody are happy.
Moderator: Miss Becky, do you wish Ned would grace the doors of your church more?
Miss Becky: He gets there when he can. Sometimes I turn around and see him sitting in the last pew beside the door, where he can leave in a hurry if someone calls him. I go to church a lot, but I don’t believe that you have to be there every time the doors open to talk to the Lord. This whole world is our church, so we can talk to him anywhere.
Moderator: We haven’t heard from Miss Sweet yet. Miss Ma’am, you’re a twin, a healer, and John Washington’s aunt. How many babies have you delivered?
Miss Sweet: Oh, lawdy. I couldn’t even begin to count, but I’ve helped right smart of the colored population, and a good helpin’ of white folks too. It ain’t about color, though, it’s about doing the Lord’s work. I doctor them that need it, and I’m glad to do it.
Moderator: Is there anyone else in your family with healing skills?
Miss Sweet: No, honey, jus’ me, but y’all was talkin’ ‘bout the Parker curse a little bit ago, and I was there when Ned was helpin’ them folks to heaven, and I don’t think there was anything wrong with what he did then, nor now. The Lord gives us a gift, and we need to use it.
Moderator: John, do you think you’ll marry that lady you met a few months ago.
John: (Ducks his head) Well, I don’t know about marrying. We’ll see what happens when it happens, but we’re getting along just fine, and she’s a good woman.
Moderator: All right, we need to wrap this up, so let’s talk more about this book titled THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG. Who wants to start?
O.C. Rains: Let me start, since much of this next one is personal to this family. Cody was ambushed in a snowstorm, and almost killed. During his investigation with Ned, they discovered a drug connection here in Chisum, originating in Mexico. It almost gets Cody killed, and Ned too, but they find out who’s running the operation, but that doesn’t come completely out until the fourth book, if I’m not mistaken.
Moderator: Rev, what are you calling the fourth book?
Author: I have half a dozen names right now, but none of them have gelled yet. It could be NEITHER RIGHT NOR WRONG, ANOTHER SIDE OF WRONG, or A CROOKED ROW. Either way, you’ll find this one much more complicated, but with the original flavor of THE ROCK HOLE, or so I hope, but with more than one subplots. The third one, THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG, is at the publishers now like they’ve already said, and you’ll see many of the same characters when it comes out in July. It’s more of a mystery thriller. I hope y’all like it.
Moderator: Well that wraps it up for this interview and I’d like to thank you all for coming. We’ll be back again soon. Now, Miss Becky, can I have a piece of that coconut cake?