The Bill

            I opened the bill and stifled a scream.

            One phone call had cost me $523!!!  It was a 900 call I’d made late one night when the house was quiet and I knew no one would catch me, or find out.

            I smiled and trembled at the recollection of nervously dialing the Forbidden Number and waiting for the ring.

            “Hello,” answered the sultry female voice on the other end of the line.  “Please punch in the number for your credit card.  For our stimulating conversation you will be charged $1.99 per minute for as long as your heart can stand the excitement.”

            With trembling fingers I punched in the proper numbers and waited expectantly.  “Glad you’re here,” said the husky voice.  “Press one for a live operator or press two for a list of tonight’s hot topics.”

            I wanted to speak to a real person, so I pressed one and waited.

            “Thanks for calling honey, what would you like to talk about?” asked the breathless voice on the other end.

            “Something forbidden,” I answered in a whisper, from the darkened room.

            “Ohhh, someone who likes excitement.  Well, since it’s fishing season let’s talk about something sexy, like our new Hotrod Ultra-light rig from Smith Rodmakers.”

            “Yes,” I hissed, thrilled.

            “This new medium action fishing rod is constructed with space-age materials designed to make the rod come alive in your hands.” She talked on and on about the fishing combo, how much it cost, which reel I should use and the rod’s fast action.  The minutes flew by like seconds.

            I closed my eyes and envisioned her description.

            “Can you stand more?” she asked.

            I willed my thumping heart to settle down and held the receiver with trembling fingers.  “Please?” I pleaded.

            The voice sounded even deeper, more throaty.  “Would you like to talk about something sexier, like…lures?”

            My heart jumped and I fought to control the flutter in my stomach.  “Yes, oh yes.”

            “Our new Maribou 1/16 ounce jigs are deadly on crappie, do you like crappie?”

            “Anytime, anywhere,” I said.  “But I would love to talk about trout flies.”

            “You are naughty,” she said.  “You can use our new parachute Humpies…”

            “Humpies, yessss.”

             “Our flies,” she continued.  “come in several sizes and the fly’s yellow belly is enticing…”

            I was in an ecstasy of Sensual Information Overload.  She talked, and my palms grew sweaty.  My forehead beaded, because I knew when she was through with this description she would, without a doubt, find my one true weakness and all would be lost.

            And she did.

            “More?” she breathed.

            “Yes.”

            “I know what you want, don’t I?”

            “Oh, yes, yes, yes!!!”

            “Ready!!!???”

            “Yes!!!”

            She took a long, moist breath.  “Four weight Loomis, double taper, with a multiplier reel…”

            “AAARRRGGGHHH!!!”  I nearly keeled over on the floor of the darkened living room.

            “For the first time her calm composure almost broke.  “I knew it when I first heard your voice.  You want one.”

            “I do,” I confessed.

            “All right big boy, here goes.  Imagine yourself in a clear Rocky Mountain stream, knee deep, and you stand with your new 4 wt, slowly casting for feisty little wild browns.”

            I couldn’t hardly stand it.  She talked on and on for another fifteen minutes.  I savored her husky, sweet voice as her lips mouthed the very words I had longed to hear, my one true reason for calling.

I purchased the rod, reel, line and lures. I, in effect, was hooked.

            Finally, before my weakened heart could fail, she relieved me from her lascivious grasp and we said our good-byes.

            I hung up, elbows on my knees, my head hung in a sweet mixture of satisfaction and shame. Exhausted, I trudged to the bedroom and fell into exhausted, sated slumber.

            The next morning all was forgotten with the bright sunshine and another day at work.  Forgotten, until the dreaded, glutted bill came in the mail, reminding me of my sordid conversation that night and the purchases I’d made.

            The bill also initiated another need to call.  Reminded of such immense satisfaction, I face another frenzied conversation and more expense.

            My goal is to never dial that number again, but if I can’t overcome this feeling, maybe I can get my Visa changed to a gold card.

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The Swimming Pool

            Doc was standing beside the swimming pool in his back yard when we drove up. He was peering into the water below, his hands in his pockets; dejected.

            “Hi Doc, what’s up?” I asked.

            “What’s up guys?” he said, repeating me and not taking his eyes off the deep end.

            Wrong Willie, Woodrow and I joined him beside the pool. I was surprised at how murky the water was. I hadn’t seen the pool in quite a while, but it wasn’t up to Doc’s usual standards. 

            “Dang, that water’s cloudy,” I said.

            Doc sighed. “Yeah, I haven’t messed with it much because the kids are grown up and gone. Then the ground shifted. There’s a crack down there somewhere and the water leaks out.”

            “It doesn’t look too low or too bad,” Wrong Willie said, standing at the edge and looking down. “You can still use it. Why don’t you just Shock it?”

            Doc shook his head. “That’ll kill the fish.”

            We tried not to stare at him. “Funniest thing,” Woodrow said. “It sounded like you said it would kill the fish.”

            “It would.”

            I looked into the swimming pool. “There are fish in there? I thought evolution took a lot longer.”

            Doc nodded. “Remember when we caught all those crappie last spring and y’all left them with me that night?”

            I thought back. The crappie fishing was wonderful in April and we’d all caught our limits one night after work. It was nearly twelve when we got back to Doc’s house and everyone was too tired to clean them. Doc offered to keep them in his live-well and clean them the next morning.

            “Well, after y’all left I started thinking about all those fish stacked up in the live-well all night. I didn’t think they’d make it, so before I went to bed I dumped them into the pool, knowing they’d have a better chance to survive. I’ve just never gotten around to getting them out.”

            “What do they eat?”  Wrong Willie asked.

            “I’ve been feeding them a few dozen minnows every week, and they’re fine.”

            “So how are you gonna get them out?” I asked.

            “That’s what I’ve been trying to decide. I don’t want to completely drain the water until the pool company takes a look at it like this, and it’s too deep to seine.”

            “We could try,” I suggested. “I have the Old Man’s minnow seine in my garage.”

            “You have all the outdoor gear in the world in that garage,” Woodrow commented. “The last time I was in there I kicked up a rabbit in that old gold colored shag carpet of yours.”

            Everyone looked at me, and not because I had gold shag on my garage floor.

            “That’s the only one,” I defended.  “The coyotes usually keep them under control.”

            “It probably wouldn’t work anyway,” Doc said. “I think the catfish are too big now. They’d probably tear a hole in your net.”

            We looked at Doc for a moment. He shrugged. “I had some catfish I didn’t want to clean back in May, so…well…I dumped them in, too. I drop in a few crawdads every so often for them to eat.”

            The surface of the water suddenly boiled in the shallow end. “What the heck was that?” Woodrow asked.

            “Shad,” Doc said. “About this time every day the sandies push them into that end near the steps. You can usually catch them on silver Rattle Traps when they do that.”

            “Something tells me we’re going to need a special fishing license here before we’re through,” Wrong Willie mused.

            “Bass?” I asked Doc.

            “Yup. They’re doing all right. They’re keeping the bream under control. The stripers couldn’t seem to do the job.”

            Two kids appeared carrying cane poles. They looked annoyed that we were there.

            The youngest glared at me. “This is our fishing hole.”

            Doc raised his eyebrows. “Catch a big ‘un,” he said and we left for Doreen’s Cafe. We’re not ones to stand in the way of dedicated fishermen and their favorite fishing spot.

           

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Listening

Listening

 

            “Uh, oh,” said Doreen.  We looked toward the front door.  Earl and Wynona Grubbs left the summer heat and entered Doreen’s 24HR Eat Gas Now Cafe the way they usually do. They were arguing.     

            Now most married couples argue, especially those who have been married for over fifty years like Earl and Wynona. In fact, they’ve been married so long they’re on their third bottle of Tabasco. But it isn’t the arguing, it’s the way they do it.

            Wynona is hard of hearing. It’s so bad Earl has to virtually yell every time they converse. To make matters worse, Earl has hearing problems of his own, so Wynona has to shout back since she can barely hear herself talk, even though she shouts more than she needs to. After a while they become so frustrated with each other, regular conversations turned into arguments.

            Their conversations are virtual scream-fests.

            They took the only available booth, beside us and near the jukebox, which was booming at full volume.

            “What do you want to eat!!!???” Earl asked her.

            “WHAT!!!”

            “I said, you want something to eat!!!???”

            Wynona held out her hand toward Jerry Wayne. “Of course he looks like someone I should meet.  HELLO YOUNG MAN!!!”
            Earl shook his head in disgust.  erry Wayne, ever the gentleman, gently clasped Wynona’s hand. They’d known each other for years, but her memory wasn’t what it was either.

            “You already know him!!!”

            “I DO NOT…”

            The fight was on. We tried to ignore what was happening, but they were actually drowning out the jukebox. Trixie came over and talked to them for a while to settle things down. She flashed Earl a smile and I worried about his heart. Then she hugged him and I was sure it was all over. When she left I turned around to face the elderly couple.

            “What are y’all gonna do this summer?” I asked.

            “WHAT DID HE SAY!!!???”

            Earl sighed, answered her, and then turned his attention back at me. “We’re going to visit Wynona’s relatives up in Oklahoma.”

            “WHAT DID YOU SAY!!!???”

            Earl shouted back. The Hunting Club members pasted on tight smiles and tried to endure the conversation.

            Woodrow had never met Earl and Wynona. I introduced him, just to stir things up for grins. “Y’all need to meet Woodrow. Woodrow, this Earl and Wynona Grubbs. They’ve been married over fifty years.”

            “WHAT DID HE SAY!!!???” 

            “He said this is Woodrow and we’ve been married a hundred years!!!”

             “HOWDY WINDROW, NICE TO MEET YOU!  EARL’S LYING ABOUT HOW LONG WE’VE BEEN MARRIED. YOU LOOK FAMILIAR. YOU EVER GET UP TO OKLAHOMA!!!???”

            Earl rubbed his forehead to ease the tension.

            “I used to,” Woodrow answered. “But the last time I was there I somehow made a woman mad. She laid her ears back and ripped me a new one. Said all of us Texans need to stay on our side of the river. She chewed on me for ten minutes. That ugly old woman was meaner than a snake and had an attitude like an old sore-tailed tomcat. Wasn’t much to look at, neither, kinda sickly looking with yellow eyes. Had bad teeth. I bet her tongue was forked. I’d hate to run into her again. You know…”

            “WHAT DID HE SAY!!!???” Wynona interrupted and shouted across the table.

            Veins popped out on Earl’s forehead. He looked at her for a moment, trying to contain his blood pressure, then answered her. “He says he met you once before!!!”

            She got mad.  “I heard what he said and let me tell you something Mister Earl Grubbs…”

            We escaped out the door and went fishing.  One hundred degree heat with matching humidity was a blessing.  It was quiet.

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Reviews for Burrows, the second book in the Red River Mystery series

Just a brief note today before getting back to the third manuscript in the Red River series. Burrows, the second book in that series is scheduled for release on July 3, but I have it on good authority that Amazon is shipping their copies for delivery by the end of this week! If you pre-ordered, you should get yours soon.

Burrows has garnered a number of great reviews, one from starred reviews Publishers Weekly made us all very happy.

Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole (2011), likewise set in 1964 East Texas, finds Ned Parker uncomfortably adjusting to being merely a retired constable. Ned’s nephew, Cody, is settling into the job of new constable, while Ned’s grandson, Top, and great-niece, Pepper, are enjoying being bright, inquisitive 11-year-olds. Rural life isn’t exactly easy, but it’s predictable; people know themselves and what to expect of each other. The discovery of a headless corpse in the Red River and a butchered farm family nearby, the handiwork of an escaped lunatic, shoves the Parkers into a vortex of insanity that culminates in Cody and Dep. John Washington getting trapped in boobytrapped tunnels burrowed through the junk, including leftover bales of cotton, that fills the huge Cotton Exchange warehouse. Wortham combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror. (July)

Starred Review–Publishers Weekly

The second caught me by surprise a couple of days ago. I won’t copy it here right now, because I’m not sure it would be appropriate to do so at this time, but here’s a link that will take you to the Read Me Deadly website that gave me one of the most interesting reviews I’ve ever read, comparing Burrows to To Kill a Mockingbird. What an honor. I’ve hesitated to say it, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been compared to that great novel by Harper Lee. Copy and paste this link into your browser and enjoy. I did.

http://www.readmedeadly.com/2012/06/book-review-of-reavis-z-worthams.html

I hope to see you at a signing some time soon.

Until later,

rev

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My Opinion on Two Texas Novels

So I got a great review for my new novel, Burrows, from Publishers Weekly.  It was a Starred Review, and a great coup.  My favorite part, other than that they liked the second book in the Red River series, is that it mentions two of my favorite authors.

“Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole (2011)… combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

Very cool.

Those who’ve followed this sputtering blog have noticed how it wanderer occasionally into newspaper columns, rants, and magazine articles. I think I’d like to talk about books even more, even though I should be working on my newest manuscript, or reading. Books have such a hold on readers, that we live and breathe the printed page.

When I read the PW review above, I was surprised to see a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird. I can think of no greater honor. Then upon reflection I realized Burrows is plunked down between down between Harper Lee and one of my all-time favorite writers, Joe R. Lansdale.

Lansdale’s ring so true to the ear of Texans, that we figure we’re probably related to some of his characters.  Joe lives in an interesting world of nostalgic recollections, humor, darkness, and cruelty, with a good helping of downright bizarre.

They call that Life.

His 2000 release of the novel, The Bottoms, was a rough-hewn look into life behind what we in the Lone Star State affectionately call The Pine Curtain.

This Texas Gothic takes place along the thick jungle of the Sabine River during the Great Depression. Young Harry Crane discovers the body of a black prostitute, bound with barbed wire, and mutilated. His father, Constable Harry Crane, seems to be the only law enforcement officer in the country who is interested in finding the murderer. The novel is well plotted, fast, vibrant, and is so true to life I felt I’ve heard those same people talking up at the store where the farmers I knew in my youth spit, whittled, and loafed.

I thought The Bottoms would be Joe’s high-water mark, though I dearly love his Hap Collins/Leonard Pine series listed below. Then just the other day he came out with Edge of Dark Water, and all earlier bets were off.  In my estimation, Edge should be in the running for the Pulitzer.

It’s that good.

Joe returns to the Depression with an expertly woven novel that makes your skin crawl. It is a true look at how tough it was to survive in east Texas during those days. The characters are authentic, the dialogue is real, and the voice is perfect.

Sue Ellen is just trying to survive childhood during the Depression.  When her best friend who dreams of becoming a Hollywood star is dredged up from the bottom of the Sabine River, Sue Ellen and her friends find themselves on a journey that could have been written by Homer. You just thought The Odyssey was the ultimate journey. Here on the Sabine, there be monsters, and Lansdale brings them to life in startling detail.

This one is a classic.

If you haven’t discovered Joe R. Lansdale, try either of these books. If you’re interested in something darkly humorous, jump into Bad Chili, Mucho Mojo, The Two-Bear Mambo, or Rumble Tumble. Just the names should make you read these books. None will disappoint.

 

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My second novel…

My second novel in the Red River series, Burrows, is scheduled for release on July 7.  It came quickly on the heels of The Rock Hole, and picks up where that mystery left off.  Though The Rock Hole was “spontaneous” in nature as I wrote it, Burrows had been ginning in my brain for a long, long time.

When we sent out the first release for Burrows, along with a 250-word synopsis, an old college buddy called.  “I see you finally did something with that hoarding story.”

I was surprised Landon remembered, because he’d read the original short story back in 1982.  “It’s a little more involved, now.”

“How could that be?  People crawling through tunnels in a house packed with garbage was pretty intense.”

“Yeah, but I expanded the story, moved it back to 1965, and the house became a monstrous warehouse called The Cotton Exchange.”

He paused for a long moment.  “Now you talkin’!

Landon is a retired lawman, and it was his input back in the early 80s that helped me work out the logistics of sending officers into a building loaded with booby traps made from accumulated trash.  The idea came from an old newspaper article I read about the Collier brothers who had filled their 3-story Harlem brownstone with trash.  The idea that someone could live in a landfill full of tunnels was fascinating to me, and then I thought, “What if…???”  That’s where Burrows came alive.

When I finished The Rock Hole, which was originally intended to be a standalone novel, I killed most everyone off.  My wonderful editor at Poisoned Pen Press, Annette Rogers, convinced me the story could continue into a series, so I had to rewrite the ending and think ahead.  My old short story came to mind, so I brushed it off, deleted three quarters of what I’d poorly written back then, and kept it in mind as I moved from the beginning chapters toward the middle.

I sent the first 100 pages to Annette, and she replied with a shudder.  “That opening chapter was the spookiest thing I’ve read in a long time.” 

We were on our way.

Burrows picks up with my main characters settling into new roles dictated by their experiences in The Rock Hole.  Ned Parker retired.  Cody (whose origins as a Parker have not been discussed *I still don’t know if he’s really a nephew, son, or cousin despite how people refer to him in the novel*) is elected to replace Ned as constable of the Center Springs community.  John Washington, the almost mythical black deputy sheriff, still struggles with racism in the small town while at the same time keeps an eye on Ned’s family he loves so deeply.  The kids, Top and Pepper, keep getting into trouble and are trying to come to terms with the events in the bottoms that scarred them both physically and mentally.  Life goes on in the mid-1960s, until a fugitive murderer stops in nearby Chisum and begins to take trophies.

If you’re looking for an Agatha Christie mystery, you won’t find it here.  I’m far from traditional in any sense.  Mine are more “mystery thrillers” that take that extra step from who-done-it and force my characters to survive events that launch common people into uncommon situations that carries them along like a leaf in a flash flood to the climax.  Burrows continues the ride we started in the first novel, and is getting good reviews from a number of well-known authors and reviewers.

“With atmosphere so thick you can breathe it, and characters so real you can touch them, Reavis Z. Wortham’s Burrows is a book worth putting all others aside to read. Clear a space on your bookshelves, folks, because the real deal has arrived.”
—John Gilstrap, author of Threat Warning and Damage Control

“Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole (2011)… combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.”
—Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“In Burrows, Reavis Wortham juxtaposes gruesome crimes with a bucolic sixties landscape. It’s a surprisingly intense combination that kept me awake nights after not being able to put the book down. Wortham’s writing makes scenes and characters come to life.”
—Charlotte Rains Dixon, author of Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior and Director Emeritus of the Writer’s Loft

“A ripping good tale.”
—Jan Reid, author of Comanche Sundown

“An excellent read filled with tension-filled action scenes.”
Mysteries Etc.

Burrows should be a novel that makes folks sit up and take notice…I hope.  Give it a read and let me know what you think about this mystery thriller that has been referred to as Stephen King meets To Kill a Mockingbird.

Hope to see you at a signing soon.  They are listed at http://www.reaviszwortham.com.

 

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Bananas

In this world of weirdness, text messages drive me bananas.

My wife is a closet poet. She has always penned poetry for special occasions, just because she felt like it. They’re all pretty good, and I’ve kept a few funny poems she wrote to me before we were married.

A couple of years ago, she and I vacationed alone on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii. We rented a small, two bedroom bungalow that was barely nine hundred feet of living space, and settled in for more than a week of peace and relaxation.

A shady front porch looked out on a lime tree, heavy with ripe fruit. Past the wooden fence, folks on their way to the beach waved as we sat in the cool breeze and sipped our beverage of the moment, whether it was coffee in the morning, or coconut concoctions in the evenings.

When dusk approached, she and I moved to the back deck where we continued with our beverages while I grilled fresh fish beside an equally loaded avocado tree. When the mosquitos ran us inside, we left all the windows open to enjoy the ocean breeze through the screens.

For us, it was paradise.

We discovered lychee fruit, and like little kids ate fresh coconut, star fruit, pineapple, mango, papaya; the juice dripping off our chins.

The fish market was only a hundred yards away. Our evening meals were grilled opah, aku, ahi, mah’hee mah’hee, and our favorite, ono.

I spent the entire vacation trying to talk my bride into buying a house just like the one we were renting.  “We can move here and I’ll get a job while you work for the school district. It’ll be great.”

“We’ll be too far from our kids. They can only come see us a couple of times a year.”

“Exactly!”

She didn’t get my drift, or I didn’t get hers.

In the months after we returned, I tried to talk her into moving to Paradise. I usually waited until she had a bad day at work, and then I’d hit her with the memory of just how great the little town of Hanalei was, and how we could just walk to the store, or the fish market, or the beach. I hammered home the perfect weather, and the laid-back atmosphere.

But I was not making any progress.

Then in the middle of a hot, summer afternoon, I received a text from my lovely bride from her third story office. When I read it at first, I thought she’d been inspired to leap from poetry to some strange Haiku in progress.

It was obviously unfinished, but the rhythm and beauty of the words made me stiffen in surprise. It read:

I left my post
it seems like
there was one more thing.
On the island.

As I pondered those words, a second text arrived, to finish the thought.

Fruit remembered.

Wow, words with power! I read it again in its entirety, loving the flow.

I wept at the beauty, then considered the thoughts presented on the screen of my iPhone.

“I left my post.” Did she mean she’d quit her job and we were finally headed to an island for the rest of our lives?

“It seems like there was one more thing. On the island.”

Was the “one more thing” something that I couldn’t recall, or had mentioned in my bid to talk her into moving? But it had to do with our island paradise, I was sure.

And then “Fruit remembered.” Oh, those last two words. We discussed at length after we got back how the fruit tasted so much better there, picked full of flavor from the tree instead of being shipped to the mainland to ripen in a warehouse, or in a grocery store bin.

I couldn’t wait for her to get home.

In the meantime, I went to the store and bought a coconut, a shriveled mango, and a hard papaya. Back at home, I changed into one of my traditional “aloha” Hawiian shirts. I scrolled through my iPod, and found the Iz music we bought there and ran it through our sound system.

Then I waited for to come home with the good news.
The garage door opened. I positioned myself at our breakfast bar. She came in with two grocery bags and before I could say anything, she dropped them on the counter with a frustrated grunt.

“I sent you a text you didn’t answer. I forgot left my Post-It note on the island here in the kitchen this morning and couldn’t remember the last thing on my grocery list. It was bananas.”

Fruit, remembered.

She looked around and raised an eyebrow at the music. “Feeling tropical today?”

Instead of answering, I took a deep gulp of my coconut drink and sighed, suddenly recalling her questionable texting skills.

Even though we aren’t moving to Hawaii any time soon, I know one thing for sure.

Life with that gal is bananas!

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