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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 11, 2003. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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This book is a work of historical fiction. In order to give a sense of the times, some names of real people or places have been included in the book. However, the events depicted in this book are imaginary, and the names of nonhistorical persons or events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of such nonhistorical persons or events to actual ones is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2003 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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The Warner Books name and logo are registered trademarks of Hachette Book Group
First eBook Edition: June 2003
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
This Loving Land
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
THE POWERFUL AUTOMOBILE, RACING ALONG the newly paved Route 66, slowed as it crossed the bridge over the north fork of the Red River, then picked up speed. At the top of the grade, the Hudson was pulled to the side of the road and stopped. For the last ten miles the driver had been reading signs attached to fence posts: CAR TROUBLE? NEED GAS? ANDY'S GARAGE AHEAD.
Close to the paved ribbon of highway were a small building with large doors folded back and a single gas pump at the side. In big black letters across the peaked roof of the building was another sign: ANDYS GARAGE—GAS—CAMPING.
A short distance away, woods surrounded the campground on two sides. A dirty-white, low-pitched canvas tent flapped in the breeze, near it a stacked brick fireplace and a crude wooden table. A woman sat on a stool in front of the tent. A child played at her feet.
To the side of the garage and set slightly back was a small frame house with a sloped roof, which covered the porch that stretched across the front. Hanging from a branch of the tree that stood between the house and a garage was a child's swing. Flowers bloomed in beds beside the porch.
A woman wearing a sunbonnet worked in a large, neat vegetable garden. Behind the house were a privy, a chicken house and a small barn with a lean-to shed attached. Out from the barn a cow and a horse grazed in a pasture made green by the spring rains.
The buildings that sprawled along the highway were the only ones in sight. A mile down the road was the town of Sayre, Oklahoma. When the driver of the Hudson was last there, the town had hardly warranted the dot it made on the map. It had consisted of little more than a gas station, grocery store and a greasy-spoon diner. Now situated along the busy Route 66, it was likely, he thought, to have a cafe, a rooming house or a hotel.
Guilt had been eating a hole in Yates's gut for the last few years. He owed a debt to Andy Connors and had never as much as said "Thank you." He intended to do something about it, so that he could get on with his life and, when the time came, leave Oklahoma with nothing still to be done.
Yates pulled back onto the highway, newly paved with portland cement, and drove slowly down the hill. On reaching Andy's garage, he pulled in and stopped beside the gas pump.
The man who came out of the garage, wiping his hands on a greasy rag, walked easily on a peg belted to his upper leg. Beneath a soiled cap his hair was light, his eyes blue in a sun-tanned face. He had aged, but his face had been imprinted in Yates's memory. He would have been able to pick Andy Connors out in a crowd of a thousand, even though he was a smaller man than he remembered.
"Howdy. Need gas?" Andy's face was clean shaven, boyish and friendly. "Dumb question, huh? You do, or you wouldn't have stopped here next to the pump."
"I think it'll hold about ten gallons." Yates watched Andy pump the lever back and forth to fill the glass cylinder atop the pump. It was marked like a beaker to measure the gas.
"Warm day out there on the highway," Andy remarked as he unscrewed the cap from the gas tank. "But it'll get hotter," he added when the man nodded. "It's only June. By the Fourth it'll be hotter than a pistol around here."
Andy glanced at the man, who wore a handsome tan Stetson and custom-made boots. He'd hate to tangle with this hombre.Everything about the tall, broad-shouldered man was big and hard, quiet and serious. Andy had met people from all walks of life as they traveled Route 66, nicknamed theMother Road , heading west to California—the promised land. This man looked as if he could plow his way through a batch of wildcats without breaking a sweat.
While the gas poured into the tank of his car, Yates's sober gaze drifted across the still and somber landscape to where a mean-looking black and brown dog lay in the shade of the garage eyeing him with skepticism.
Shiny tin signs advertising tires, tubes, spark plugs and NeHi soda pop were nailed to the side of the garage building alongside signs promoting Garret snuff and chewing tobacco. Clothes hung on a line in the space between the house and the barn. All was quiet except for the buzz of a june bug and the song of a mockingbird. Two cars passed each other on the highway not more than twenty feet away; their tires sang on the paving.
The laughter of a child caught his attention. The little girl in the campground had broken away, her chubby legs taking her toward the highway. The woman chased her, caught her up in her arms and tickled her until she squealed with laughter.
A family trying to make it to California and the promise of a better life.
"How's business?" Yates asked.
"Good enough to get by," Andy replied. "Most of the folks coming down this highway aren't out for a joyride. I fix them up as best I can and get them on their way." Andy removed the nozzle from the gas tank and, as he hung it back on the pump, noticed a Texas license plate on the black sedan. He didn't often see Hudsons along the highway. They were big, powerful and expensive cars. This one looked as if it had eaten up plenty of miles.
"Don't you hanker to take the road to greener pastures?" The Texan almost smiled when he asked the question.
"Naw" Andy chuckled. "As long as I can crank out a living here, I'm stayin. How about you?"
"One place is pretty much like the other. It's what a fellow makes of it."
"I'm with you there. Ten gallons at fourteen cents. Pretty easy to figure, huh?" Andy tightened the cap on the gas tank of the car.
"I've been paying sixteen and eighteen cents all along."
"That so? Fourteen cents gives me a profit. Living out here on the highway, I get first crack at the gas customers going west. Some of them have rolled down the hill to get here," he said with a chuckle. "But I make most of my living in the garage. I don't pretend to be the best mechanic in the world, but I'm right handy at the small stuff." He jerked his head toward the campground. "Folks can rest over there while their car is being fixed. Traveling is hard on the women and kids."
"How about folks who can't pay?"
"Oh, they pay one way or the other. I've had my horse shod and the porch shingled." Andy chuckled. "See that big pile of stove-wood over by the house and the new privy? Most folks are pretty decent and want to pay their way. Of course, there are a few you've got to look out for. I've not been robbed yet. I think they figure I don't have enough to bother with."
Yates counted out the money. His silver-gray eyes homed in on Andy's face while he put the coins in his hand.
"Appreciate your business," Andy said. "Stop in again if you come this way."
Yates nodded, got into the car and watched Andy spin around on his peg and go back into the garage. When he was out of sight, Yates drove away slowly to avoid stirring up dust. As he passed the open doors of the garage, he could see Andy bending over a tub of water with an inflated tire tube, looking for bubbles that would indicate a hole, which needed to be patched. A man in overalls far too short for his long legs stood beside an old car with its backend jacked-up on one side.
Connors is just as I remember him—quick, smiling; I'm no longer the skinny, sick young kid I was back then, but somehow I had expected him to recognize me.
TWO DAYS LATER.
"Leooonaaa! Get the gun!"
Andy tried to evade the small attacking animal that continued to run at him. He balanced himself on his leg and knocked the skunk away with his peg. The crazed animal continued to come at him. Then it sank its teeth into the rubber on the end of his peg, causing him to lose his balance and almost topple to the ground.
Hearing the commotion, a shaggy dog came running from the side of the house, barking furiously.
"No! Calvin! No!"
"Get the gun!" Andy shouted, trying desperately to ward off the skunk with his wooden peg.
"Andy!" The shrill voice of the girl jumping off the porch and running out into the yard came seconds before the sound of a BOOM and the whiz of the traveling bullet, which hit the skunk and threw it a dozen feet from the man who had fallen on the ground. A putrid odor immediately filled the air.
"Did it bite you?" The girl reached Andy and helped him to stand.
"Keep Calvin away from it."
"Go, Calvin," she yelled angrily. "Go!" She stamped her foot.
The shaggy dog backed away and slunk under the porch. He didn't understand Leona's reason for being angry. He knew better than to bite into a stinking skunk.
"I've got to bury it."
"Did it bite you?" Leona's voice quivered with fear.
"I've got to bury it," Andy said again. "Calvin might take a notion to drag it off. Skunks don't come out in daylight unless they're sick."
"Could be. But there hasn't been any around here in a while."
"I'll get a shovel. Watch Calvin."
"I'll bury it after I get my …" His words trailed as the horror of what happened settled upon him. "That was a good shot, Lee." His trembling voice squeezed through his tightened throat.
"I didn't shoot. I didn't have time."
"I don't know. I didn't see anyone."
"It came from the woods."
Andy scanned the edge of the timber from where the mysterious shot had come. As he watched, a man carrying a rifle rode out of the timber on a big buckskin horse. Andy squinted his eyes to get a better look at him. He was sure that he wasn't anyone he had seen before, nor was the horse familiar. The rider wore a dusty black Stetson and a blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
The horse reached the yard. The size of the man riding him struck a chord in Andy's memory. He looked into the dark, somber face and recognized him. A day or so ago, driving a big Hudson Super-Six, he had stopped for gas.
"Howdy. Thanks for killing the skunk." Andy choked out the words. "It's not goin to smell very good around here for a while."
"Did it bite you?"
"It might have. I'll bury it so that the dog won't get to it. That was a damn good shot." Andy's voice trembled. He was obviously shaken.
"I didn't want to shoot between you and the woman, but I was afraid to wait." Yates shoved the rifle down in the scabbard, swung down from the saddle and walked over to look down at the skunk. "It's sure to be rabid. We'd better pour a little gas on it and set it on fire." He looked at Andy with narrowed, unblinking gray eyes. "What do you mean, 'it might have' bit you?"
"I'll get the gas. I …felt…something on my leg."
"Daddy!" A small girl with blond braids came off the porch and ran out into the yard, her long nightgown flapping around her legs.
"Stay back, honey. Go back to the porch." Andy started toward the child.
"I'll get her, Andy." The woman who had gone to fetch the shovel came out of the barn. She dropped it when she saw the little girl jump off the porch and head for the dead skunk. She ran to her and grabbed her up.
"Stinks," the child shouted. "Daddy, it stinks."
"Daddy will take care of it. We've got to stay out of the way."
"I smell skunk!" The door slammed behind another girl who stepped out onto the porch. She was older than the one who had run out into the yard.
"Stay there, Ruth Ann," the woman called.
"Did Calvin catch a skunk?"
The slim woman with the bare feet had thick mahoganycolored hair that tumbled in loose waves about her shoulders. Gripping the hand of the little girl, she pulled her up onto the porch and hugged both girls to her.
Yates's narrowed eyes took in the scene. Although crippled, Andy Connors had done all right for himself. He had a pretty wife and two pretty little girls and was apparently making a living for them.
Leona watched the strange man stride forward and take the gas can from Andy's hand.
"I'll do it. I found blood spots we'd better burn off."
His voice was deep and forceful, yet it wasn't harsh. It went with the strong planes of his face. He looked dangerous, dark, strong, yet graceful. He was a big man. Andy seemed small beside him.
"If the skunk bit you, you know what it means."
The stranger poured the gasoline on the body of the skunk and made a trail of it for several yards. He recapped the gas can, moved a short distance away and set it down on the ground. After striking a match on the bottom of his boot, he held the flame to the trail of gasoline. The low fire traveled to the dead animal, where it burst into flames. He watched the fire for a minute or two, giving Andy time to come to terms with what had just happened to him.
Yates turned when he heard the woman call. Andy had reached the back door of the garage.
"Watch that the fire doesn't spread," Yates said to the anxious woman on the porch. He picked up the spade and, with one easy shove with his booted foot, sank it into the ground.
Inside the garage, Andy leaned on the hood of his '29 Ford coupe. Dear God, on the way from the house to the garage his life and that of his kids had been changed—maybe forever.
"Let's take a look at where it bit you." The stranger had followed him into the hot, semi-darkened garage. "If it didn't break the skin—"
"It did. I didn't want to scare Leona and the girls."
"They'll have to know sooner or later."
Andy leaned against the wall, then eased down onto a bench. He lifted the leg of his duck britches and looked down. His face paled, his hands shook, and he broke into a sweat when he saw the trickle of blood that ran from the puncture wound just above the top of his sock.
"Is there a doctor in Sayre?"
"New one. Hasn't been here long."
"You'll probably have to go to Oklahoma City."
"Oh, shit! I can't go and leave Leona and the girls out here by themselves. A lot of decent folks travel the highway, but robbers, bootleggers and murderers travel it, too. I sleep with a gun within reach every night."
"The skunk was sick. I'm sure of it. It was running around in a circle when I first saw it in the woods. I followed it, hoping to get a shot at it."
"There's not been any rabies around here …that I know of."
"There is now. Without getting the inoculation shots you'll die of hydrophobia." The man's voice was as matter-offact as if he were talking about the weather.
Andy took a deep breath, trying to control his fear. The breath didn't help. His heart was pounding like the beat of a drum in a Fourth-of-July parade.
"They'll have to go with me. I can't leave them here by themselves."
"A series of shots might cover the span of a month or two. Can you keep them with you for that long?"
"Oh, Lord. I hadn't thought of that or how I'll ever pay the doctor."
"Main thing is to get you treatment. Then worry about that. I'll turn my horse into your pasture, bury the skunk and take you to the doctor. If you have to go to the city, I'll come back here before dark and bunk down in the garage until we see which way the wind blows."
Andy looked at the man standing over him for a long time.
"Mister, I don't even know your name."
"Name's Andy Connors. I'm obliged for your help. Hell, if you hadn't killed it, it might of got to Leona or the girls." Andy followed Yates out of the garage.
"I don't know much about rabies, but to be on the safe side, we should get you to the doctor as soon as possible." Yates pulled the spade out of the ground, probed the ashes where he had burned the skunk, then dug a hole and buried them. He came back, handed the spade to Andy and untied his horse.
"I still don't know why you're doing this, Yates."
"It's payback time, Andy."
Ignoring the woman and the children on the porch, Yates unsaddled his horse, turned it into the side pasture and carried his saddle to the barn.
"Andy, invite the …man in for breakfast," Leona called from the porch.
"We're going to town for a while."
"Can't you eat first?"
"No. I'll leave the key to the gas pump on the hook by the door. You know where I keep the sack of change. I'll be back as soon as I can. Behave while I'm gone, girls."
"We will, Daddy."
"Do you want your crutches?" Leona asked.
"No. I don't think so." Without another word Andy, feeling his world collapsing around him, went back into the garage and stood with clenched fists.
When the stranger came around the end of the porch, a single close-up look told Leona two things: She had never seen a more unapproachable man, and she had never seen one who oozed more confidence. If his size weren't enough to distinguish him, certainly the raven-black hair showing beneath the dusty Stetson and the steely gray eyes would have been. His face was still, absolutely expressionless, although his eyes, when they met hers, seemed to sink right into her.
"Ma'am." He put his fingers to his hat brim and continued on toward the garage without breaking his long-legged stride.
Leona's instincts whispered that something serious had happened to Andy that he didn't want to talk about. Oh, my God, don't let it be that the skunk has bitten him!
With a feeling of fear and dread, she watched the tall stranger go through the small door in the back of the garage and close it behind him. Minutes later, Andy's car backed out of the garage and turned onto the highway toward town.
The stranger was at the wheel.
WHEN IS DADDY COMIN BACK?
"He didn't say. Drink your milk, honey."
"He was goin' to fix the swing today. That old passerby kid broke it down."
"He didn't mean to break it, JoBeth. The rope was rotten."
"I don't care. I want Daddy."
"Shut up whinin'. You're just a …baby." Eight-year-old Ruth Ann kicked at her younger sister under the table.
"She kicked me! Make her stop," JoBeth demanded.
"That's enough," Leona said sternly. "Eat your lunch. I've got to go back to the garage. While you two are fighting, someone could drive in and steal us blind."
"When is that stink goin' away?"
"Yeah, when's that stink goin' away?" JoBeth echoed her sister.
"In a few days. When you finish eating, put your dishes in the dishpan and cover them with water."
"I'm not washing her dishes." Ruth Ann's mouth was turned down at the corners, and her blue eyes held the familiar look of rebellion.
"You'd better get that look off your face," Leona teased lightly. "It may freeze like that, and the kids in school will think that you're just an old sourpuss."
"It won't freeze. It's not cold outside."
"When is Daddy comin' back?" JoBeth asked for the tenth time.
"He didn't say." Leona left the window and hurried to the door. "There's a car at the gas pump. Stay here and do the dishes, Ruth Ann. JoBeth, dry them," she called over her shoulder as she went down the well-worn path to the back door of the garage.
Leona was so worried about Andy that she hadn't been able to eat. The last glimpse she'd had of his face had told her what he and the stranger hadn't. The skunk had bitten him.People went mad when bitten by a rabid animal, didn't they? Please, God, don't let that happen to Andy. He's already had enough trouble in his life.
Passing through the garage, Leona came out into the bright sunshine to see a shiny black sedan parked beside the gas pump and a man in a white shirt and a black felt hat waiting beside it. He was almost as wide as he was tall and was sweating profusely.
"Hello," Leona said pleasantly. "Need gas?"
"Why else do you think I stopped here?"
Leona lifted her brows, pushed the lever back and forth and watched as the gas gushed into the round glass cylinder at the top of the pump.
"God, it stinks here. Somebody run over a skunk?"
"How much do you want?"
"How much is it?" the man asked.
"Fourteen cents," Leona replied and nodded toward the sign on the pump.
"Little high, but I guess by being out here on the high-way you can sucker folks out of their money."
Leona's shoulders tensed. She stopped pumping the gas and turned to look into the man's eyes, made to look small by his fat cheeks. He had the blotchy red and gray complexion of an unfit, overweight…mess.
"What do you mean …sucker?"
"You know what I mean, sister. You've got 'em where the hair is short. Poor, miserable bastards are out of gas. You can charge whatever you want."
Leona's temper flared. "I don't have to take your insults. You saw the posted price. Why don't you go on down the road and try to chisel someone else out of a profit?" She hung the pump hose back on the hook and headed back toward the garage. She had never lost her patience with a customer before, but this one was a miserable …toad!
"You don't have to get in a huff," he called. "Is fourteen cents the best you can do?"
"Listen, mister." As Leona spun around, the skirt of her cotton dress danced against her bare, tanned calves. "We make five cents a gallon on gas. You saw the sign. You knew the price when you pulled in here. If you don't want to pay it, get on down the road and quit wasting my time."
"If I buy ten gallon, you've made a half a buck for about five minutes work."
"Yeah. We're getting so rich we plan to buy out Phillips 66 any day now."
"Being a smart-mouth won't get you many customers."
"Thank God they're not all like you!"
"A man's got to be careful. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know."
"Well, whatta ya know! All this time, I thought it did."
"I'll take two gallons."
"Are you sure you can afford it?" Leona spat the words as she returned to take the nozzle from the gas pump.
The man watched the cylinder to be sure he got the full measure. When the gas was in the car tank, Leona hung up the hose and held out her hand. After counting out two dimes and eight pennies, he dropped them in her hand. She put the change in her dress pocket and walked away. Customers like him were few and far between. Why did she have to get one on a day when her patience was thin from worry over Andy?
"Why didn't you bite him, Calvin?" Leona said to the brown dog stretched out on the hard-packed-dirt floor of the garage. The dog's tail swished back and forth, as he acknowledged her words and eyed the progress of the car moving out onto the smooth highway and disappearing down the road.
Leona sank down on the bench beside the double doors. Calvin crawled on his belly until he was near the toe of her shoe and sighed contentedly as she moved her foot to stroke him. She fanned her face with a folded newspaper that lay on the bench and lifted the heavy, damp hair off the back of her neck.
What if Andy didn't come back?The thought hit her like a blow in the stomach and robbed her of logical thought. Oh, Lord! What would she do? What would happen to the girls? He had always been there, steady and confident, even during the toughest times.
"Ruth Ann called me a runt!" JoBeth rushed from the back door of the garage, her fists balling the tears from her eyes.
"What's so bad about that?" Leona held out her arm, and the child nestled against her. "A runt is the smallest of a litter and often the prettiest. You should have thanked your sister for the compliment."
"She don't like me."
"Of course she does. You're her little sister. Now smile for me. Show me your dimples."
"She made me be quiet so she could hear that old Ma Perkins."
"Your daddy doesn't like for you girls to fight. He worked hard to get the money for the radio for you to enjoy."
"I don't hardly ever get to turn it on."
Leona's attention was drawn from the child to the highway. An old Model T car with belongings strapped to the top and on the back had coasted down the highway and was turning into the drive. It stopped well back from the gas pump. Inside the car were three adults and more children than she could imagine would fit.
Another dirt-poor Okie family full of hopes and dreams has pulled up roots and headed for California.
The tragic years of the Great Depression were leaving deep scars on the land and emotional wounds on the people who traveled the highway. Leona had watched the procession of refugees in single cars or caravans, carrying their furniture, kids, and modest aspirations, fleeing the choking dust storms and taking Route 66 to California.
A common saying along the highway was that you could tell a poor Okie family from others because they had only one mattress on top of the car. A family of mediocre wealth had two mattresses; and three mattresses strapped to the top of the car meant the Okies inside were rich.
A man in overalls, an old straw hat, and with a stubble of whiskers on his face got out of the Model T after it coasted to a stop. He lifted the hood. Steam rose from the radiator. With a heavy cloth wrapped around his hand, he removed the radiator cap and jumped back when boiling water spewed up. He went to the back of the car, unhooked a galvanized bucket and came toward Leona where she sat on the bench in front of the garage.
Calvin stood and growled. The hair stood up on the back of his neck. He wasn't sure if the man was friend or foe, but he wasn't taking any chances.
"Hush, Calvin. It's all right." Leona got to her feet.
"Howdy, ma'am. Could I trouble you for a bucket of water?"
"The well is behind the house. Help yourself."
"Thanky" He put his fingers to the brim of his hat.
- On Sale
- Jun 11, 2003
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing