Fallen Angels


By Patricia Hickman

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Jeb Nubey hides a secret about his past that has left him alienated from his family and hiding from the law.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Hickman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover design by Beck Stvan

Cover photo by Hulton Archives/Stone

The Warner Faith name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books.

Warner Faith

Hachette Book Group

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New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

First eBook Edition: December 2008

ISBN: 978-0-446-55482-4


Writing a story set in the Great Depression in Arkansas was as natural to me as breathing. Although the characters from Fallen Angels, in the Millwood Hollow series and the town of Nazareth are fictional, the mood of the period, and the color and pulse of the setting come from the stories told to me as a young girl sitting at my grandpa's knee. It was in my grandparents' home that I absorbed both the harshness of sudden poverty as well as the love of family that infused the Great Depression years. I am indebted to my family, mother and father, uncles, aunts, and great aunts who, although gone from this life, gave me a peek into a history roiling in change.

In interviewing those still living today who survived this period, I was surprised to find hardly any embittered people, and most lives changed for the better. From strife sprang stories of wonder and courage, faith and tenacity that left me with no fear of what may come. Whatever life may drop on the plains of American soil, always present is the courage to pick up our plows again and be transformed.

I'm thankful to my father-in-law, Kenneth Hickman, for providing the small tidbits here and there that make this story true. I'm indebted to Mrs. Lenny Betts and Mrs. Nelle Jean Dawson of the Camden Historical Society for their exhaustive facts and history of this era and setting in southwest Arkansas. The meticulous care they lend to the history of their hometown is enrichment for the rest of us.

I'm also grateful to Rolf Zettersten and Leslie Peterson of Warner Faith for believing in this project. Also thanks to my gifted editor Lisa Bergren who, so far, hasn't tired of me. Fallen Angels is one of the most rewarding stories I've had the privilege of penning and it is due entirely to the community of friends and family who have contributed from the heart. I hope to pass this heart-felt wonder and love of story on to you, the reader.


A bit of trouble with attempted murder sent Jeb Nubey over the Texarkana border in the unfortunate direction of hunger. Everybody from the Texas side had gotten the wrong idea about the matter. If he had been a man of means, he would've been thought of as a stand-up guy instead of feller-on-the-run. That was all stand-up men were, he figured—the ones who could stand up with their pockets full of pay-offs and get fellers to see things in a new light. But now none of the itinerant boys—buddies he'd on many nights shared a bottle of the good stuff with—would talk to him. Once word spread of problems with the boss man, they just turned their sorry backs and walked away.

He'd never thought he would hear his name preceded by "no account," as in no-account scum, no-account filth-of-the-earth. Worthless. Shiftless. Twenty-two years after his momma had given him the good name of Jeb, he'd descended to the rank Leon Hampton had awarded him—Leon and his son, Hank, who could never keep a gal on his tight-fisted leash due to his alcohol-infused temper.

The gal, Myrna. The Betty Boop gal. Round hips. Red lips.

"Last night, I nearly killed a man. Maybe I did kill him. Now no one will talk to me," said Jeb.

"Hank got was coming to him," Jeb's brother Charlie said. "But you got to hide, lay low until things simmer down in Texarkana. Until Hampton forgets your name."

Hamptons owned everything in Texarkana, from the burlesque girls no one admitted worked for a nickel a dance down at the Biscuit and Bean, to the banking king who kept his doors open on Black Monday when the other Savings and Loans had closed.

"It's cowardly, Charlie. I ain't a running-away sort," Jeb said.

Charlie packed up two work shirts along with all the Cash the two of them had earned picking cotton and handed it all to Jeb. "That's why Hank's laying near to death, because you don't run away. He came at you first. We all saw it. But you got them killer fists." Charlie gave the air between them a hefty punch and then handed him the bag he'd filled with the cash and such. "We don't have no clout in Texarkana. Without clout, you got no witnesses—not none that a-body would listen to."

Jeb wondered if Charlie had finally lost every bit of good sense. "Hank would have killed you, too, Charlie, if he had caught you with her. Don't give me eyes. I know'd you slept with Myrna, like we all did."

Jeb had memorized Myrna. Myrna, the girl that pretended she loved him when she loved most of the starving gaggle of sharecroppers' sons in Texarkana. Sweet skin, like the girls that posed for the better calendars. Paled by the blue of night, her hair spread against the hay bale, flaxen corn silk like the breath of moon and stars. Touched by Jeb. Myrna had her own perfume and the kind of girl's fragrant hair that wrapped her white dewy shoulders with an aroma like petals. Mind fogging. But not worth a killing. "It was you, Brother, that did the doing."

"I didn't, don't you see." Charlie's face gentled, faultless. "We never. You know I got Selma waiting for me in Oklahoma."

"You expect me to believe you keepin' yourself for Selma? I believe that like I believe we's going to wake up a Rockefeller."

"Myrna loved you, Jeb. Said you cast a spell over her. Told me that over a bowl of beans. Now if that don't mean somethin', nothing does."

Jeb knew the truth. "She never belonged to Hank. Gals like her don't belong to nobody." He shook out the insides of the bag and stuffed Charlie's money into a leather satchel his grandfather had once toted across the plains. He listened to the bearish sounds of the sleeping itinerant workers, hard sleepers fallen on their cots from a week of picking. Blood dried on boll-torn fingertips perfumed by corn liquor. "You think Hank will die, for real?" He could not breathe himself.

"Either way his daddy's gone after the sheriff. You got to get out of here!" Charlie's face was wet with worry.

"If I leave, they'll believe I meant to do him in. I stay, they at least hear my side."

"You got no clout."

"Stop staying that, Charlie, like I got no name!"

Hampton's hound dogs bayed. The moon had a faded paleness, as though a candle inside its glass was melting before sunup.

"I never meant to kill him, Charlie. If he dies, I should be hanged."

"You listen to me, and you listen like I'm our momma! Give us some time, me and the boys, to talk to the sheriff. Otherwise they could string you up and gut ya before you can even whisper your own name. Hamptons, they got money. That sheriff listens to money. It calls his name. But if we all get to him, before the story gets turned around, blown into more than it was, I'll send for you."

"I don't know where to go, Charlie! Just where do cowards hide?"

"Find a big place with lots of people. Hot Springs. Little Rock. No, that's the first place they'll look. Best you don't tell me. But after you get settled, write."

"How you expect me t'do that?"

"Don't put your name on it, like, Here I am, come and get me, police." Both of them stared at the floor, locked in place and out of ideas. Disgraceful shame. Good schemers, but between the two of them, kind of low on dependable means. "I tell you what—just draw a big X on the letter. Have the postman stamp it with the town name. Lay low. I'll find you when it's safe."

The whole desertion mess started in the Rialto Theater in Camden, Arkansas. The warm lap of summer brought out the townsfolk to the dance like they'd been spring-dosed with yarbs. Angel figured the Ouachita's, old ballroom dance hall across the street had lured in the wrong kind of man to draw her Aunt Lana's wandering eye. Lana, who wasn't really her aunt anyway, only a conniving woman, of a mind to do her daddy's errands only so she could keep food in her belly. Aunt, my hind foot, her mother might have said—if she herself had stuck around.

Saturday night at the movies in Camden fed hungry imaginations a front row view of the American Dream. Pin-up girls Iolled poolside on the big screen, California smiles as bright as morning light trickling across the Ouachita River. In the Arkansas movie theater, Angel closed her eyes to imagine the California sun warming her unshapely legs, tickling her calves until they turned heads, brown and never-ending like tall, elegant Sequoias. Forever legs, she imagined. Then she opened her eyes, palely thirteen again and deserted in the Rialto with her little brother, Willie, and her youngest sister, Ida May.

Two kids, a big girl with her younger brother, sat in front of them not in the least bit interested in Barbara Stanwyck or that glamour gal's rendering of a charlatan evangelist. With the movie screen for a halo, the girl turned around in the threadbare chair and stared at Angel and her siblings, curious and bored. The girl, her hair pig-tailed to distraction, pressed another jelly bean between her lips that puckered when she spoke as though she had practiced the Shirley Temple pucker too long at her mirror. She glanced up the aisle and then back at Angel. "Where'd your momma go to?"

"None of your business," said Angel. She leaned right and slightly cocked her head.

"She ain't our momma. She's Aunt Lana," said Willie.

Angel gave him a sort of tap in the arm with her elbow. "Don't say 'ain't.'" She hated being marked an Arkie even though every farmer, bank clerk, and soda jerk in sight fit the type—the kind of people who drift into the middle of the nation, lose their wind, and stay. To Angel, saying "Ain't" was like saying "I give up and can't get no smarter." But worse was hearing Willie mix Momma with Aunt Lana.

Angel talked about everybody and everything. But not Momma. It was the kind of thing she kept to herself as though some day the secret would bring the two of them closer. Her momma, Thorne, had disappeared into a Ford with two women who traveled to Little Rock to try and find work. Angel had stared after her, held onto her eyes, a pair of exotic browns like the kind that belong to bronzy island girls. Eyes that set off her luxurious hair tendriling out of the window. With her momma had left the only opulence that lingered in Snow Hill. The only hope that Angel would some day be as elegant as Thorne, drove off to Little Rock with a promise to send money.

Lemuel, her father, had too often of late paid more attention to a neighbor divorcee named Lana than his own kin. With Thorne run off to Little Rock, he finally packed the kids all off aimed in the general direction of the town of Angel's oldest sister, Claudia—a place called Nazareth. But of all the foolish ideas Daddy had ever dreamed up, sending them off with Lana took the cake.

"Where is Aunt Lana?" Willie shared his popcorn with Ida May, trying to keep her in her own seat and out of his.

"She's not our aunt. How many times I have to say it?" said Angel. She knew that Daddy thought that if he had the little ones call her "Aunt" her every-other-day appearances at the front door would give her full authority over the youngens. But Angel knew better.

Daddy had underestimated his girl.

"I think she run off with that huckster nosing around the hotel and left us here. If Daddy knew, he'd bean her." Willie picked Ida May off his shoulder and deposited her on the other side of the chair arm.

"What's a huckster?" Ida May tried to curl up against her brother again.

"A peddler who ain't a bonafide person of worth." Angel disappeared into the screen again, into the sin of Barbara Stanwyck, The Miracle Woman. The motion picture had finally made it into Arkansas. When Willie tried to speak again, Angel shushed him, a slow hissing that seeped out of her as she followed Miss Stanwyck across the screen.

Angel made them stay until the last credit rolled up and away. The house lights brightened slow and easy, turning the wallpaper red as lipstick.

"Let's try and find Lana," said Willie.

Angel rolled up Willie's popcorn bag, tucked it under her arm, and herded the others out into the lobby. Once she thought she heard Lana's high, squeaky cackle—the same one she heard at night out on their front porch when Daddy sent them off to bed. But Lana was nowhere to be found.

Across the street from the Rialto a steady stream of couples clambered up the steps and across the mezzanine of the Ouachita Hotel to the grand ballroom, where a live band played. Most of Camden had turned out for the dance. The threesome headed out into the street and searched the crowd for what seemed like an hour. Finally, Angel turned to face the younger ones. The Rialto's neon marquis buzzed overhead. "Let's face it, Willie. Lana's gone. She ditched us."

Ida May huffed, "Did not!"

"Willie, you stay down here next to this couple. Make like they're our folks until I get back. For safety. Stop looking at me like that. I'll check out the dance."

Angel sidled up the steps to the landing. It led across the alley to the ballroom. She could see couples swaying across the hardwood floors, but no Lana. She met Willie and Ida May downstairs again and led them to Usrey's Drugstore on the corner of Washington and Adams, where she helped Ida May onto a stool. She made Willie stay with her while she crept past the faces reflecting back at her from the long ornate mirror behind the soda bar.

Moments later, Willie found her in the back and ran at her red faced. "That soda jerk told us if we ain't ordering, we have to leave!"

"Lana's not here either. Let's go," said Angel.

"Go where, Angel?" Instead of acting scared, Willie got mad. "Back to Snow Hill? To Claudia's? Where?"

"Hush! Don't be a rat, Willie! You got to give me time to think."

Ida May waited like a ghost in the doorway, jostled aside by paying customers. Her face was oval with brown eyes like her mother's. When upset, the oval got all long-like, hardening her eyes like penny candies. Her momma had always said, "Little Girl, you'll turn to salt and blow away makin' faces like 'at." Ida May stood in the doorway, her mouth an O. Angel hated the way the Depression toughened girl babies and made them old before their time.

Angel examined the town in front of her. First off, Camden was more electrified than Snow Hill. The Camdenites gathered in clusters in front of the movie theater, some in front of Usrey's Drugstore, and a lot of the people dressed for Saturday-night-showing-off. They clambered in and out of the ballroom, little ants spilling out of a thrown-away Coke bottle. The young women all wore hats that snugged to their heads like colored helmets. The whole place had a pace contrary to Snow Hill. By this time of night Snow Hill had rolled up inside of itself, an old man glad for the day to be over and done with.

"If we don't find Lana, where will we go tonight? Where will we sleep or eat? Lana didn't check us into the motel like she said she was fixing to do," said Willie.

"We'll find a room. I'm no louse when it comes to figuring things out, Willie. I can take care of things as good or better than Lana. I am thirteen, after all." Angel took Ida May's hand and led her down past the hotel and across the street to the Rialto. She tapped the counter to attract the ticket seller's attention. "Excuse me, Mister. I got something to ask," she said.

The ticket seller lifted his eyes and revealed a long, thin face with a chin that protruded like a potato. "Yes, what you chil-dern want?"

"I'm supposed to meet my aunt. She's getting us a room. Know where she might get us a room?"

Willie mumbled behind her.

The ticket seller pointed at the Ouachita Hotel. "Only one place."

With one graceful, popcorn-oiled hand, Ida May pointed toward the hotel. "I see her, Angel! Look, there she is yonder." Ida May bristled past her older sister, who had failed her as a stand-in leader.

Angel chased her across the street, through the gaggle of humans from the hills and lake that encircled Camden proper. Willie ran past her, charged up the hotel stairs, and barreled past the mezzanine.

"Angel, it's' not Lana!" he called from the opening to the ballroom. The music blared above his nasal yell.

Angel reached the doorway and looked in at the mass of swaying bodies. A woman, blonde, bore Lana's posture—hips forward, shoulders slumped. The woman gingerly held up a cigarette for a man to light. She drew on it. The tobacco end warmed and kindled red like coals coming to life. The blonde leaned toward him and whispered into his ear. Then she turned and walked away from him as though she had excused herself to the powder room.

"It's not Lana, Ida May," said Willie.

Ida May had by now twisted Angel's skirt around her pointer finger. "I'm skeered, Angel."

"I'll get us a room. We'll get some shut-eye and then figger out what to do tomorrow." Angel led them across the mezzanine and down into the hotel lobby.

"I didn't like her anyway," Willie said. "Matter of fact she made me sick, come to think of it. She told lies about Momma."

Angel paused, remembering how Lana had said, "It's a hard thing to hear. Your momma had to be taken off to stay with her sister who could keer for her better. Don't think that means she didn't love you kids. She loved you all right. But this Depression is enough to drive any person over the ledge." She'd spewed it out inside the Rialto after pacifying Ida May with popcorn. "Then Strap on too many mouths to feed and you got trouble. Your mother went and leaped off the cliffs of insanity, that's what. They call it stark-ravin' mad." Lana disappeared after that, Angel decided, to run into the powder room to smooth the bleeding rivulets of color on her lower lip.

"She tells lies, Willie, when it's easier to tell the truth!" Angel approached the front desk. She lied to the clerk about meeting her aunt When Willie showed the clerk hard cash, he didn't seem to mind. He handed Angel the key. "Back up the stairs, down the hall, and third door on the right. You kids'd do best to remember we like it quiet after midnight."

Angel took the key and started up the stairs. Ida May took every step as though she expected Lana to appear and give an account for her delay. Willie beat them to the door and waited while Angel used the key and opened the door.

"I'm hungry again," said Willie. The first thing he did was to riffle through the nightstand drawer as though he might find a candy or two left behind by a former hotel customer.

"Ida May, you wash up in the lavatory and climb into bed with Willie. I'll take the extra bed near the wall."

Angel stopped for the first time and examined the lay of the room. The hotel room had wallpaper—genuine wallpaper, not magazine pages stuck to the wall—the first that Angel had ever seen. Her mother might have called it elegant, a swirl of gold and red that twinkled in the chandelier's light like a kaleidoscope. "This is a pretty nice place."

In the bathroom, Ida May ran the sink water until Angel yelled for her to shut if off and get in bed. After making sure Ida May and Willie were covered up good, Angel slid her mother's old satin nightgown out of the sack and pulled it on top of herself. She whispered twice, "Lana's a liar," and fell asleep.

She dreamed dreams of Barbara Stanwyck perched on a platform—the charlatan queen who touched her flock with her healing lies. The actress's features disappeared and Angel's face took Stanwyck's place. Her stomach was stretched full, satisfied with delicacies paid for by the faithful. She lifted her arms as though she possessed a power from above. The divine gesture caused the loyal to toss money onto the platform. She moved across the stage with her gown trailing behind her and dollar bills crunching beneath her slippers.

When she awoke to the sound of voices in the hallway, the first thing to draw her eye was Ida May staring out of the window into the alley below. Lana had never come back.

A deputy sheriff stopped Willie and Ida May out on the sidewalk. "I don't believe I know you kids. Who's your momma?"

Angel pushed through two people to get to them and lead Ida May away from the policeman before she gave away more than was needed.

"I'm calling Daddy," said Ida May. And then she yanked away from Angel and ran down the street away from the Ouachita.

Angel trailed behind her until she saw her disappear into a storefront. Inside, Ida May crouched behind a flour display.

"You can't call Daddy. You lost your mind?" Angel was entirely disgusted. Willie caught up with them, and the two younger children stood looking at the eldest. Angel hated to tell them but finally broke down. "He took off soon as Lana drove away with us."

"How you know that?" Willie's fingers followed the X's on the threads inside a basket of baseballs.

"I saw his things packed up. His job was spent. He's headed for work down in Texas. Lana told me. That's why she left—her gravy train was drying up. The only reason she hauled us off was because Daddy gave her a little money for it. He should have known she was brainless and likely to ditch us."

Willie fished around inside the bag Lana had left in the theater.

"What you think you'll find?" Angel asked.

"Lana hid a little money in here yesterday. Flighty gals like her forget their own names once they get their minds on other things, like that huckster." He fished out a scarf tied with string.

Angel untied the scarf and opened it. "Five dollars. Plus what Daddy give us. I'm glad she's gone. We can get to Claudia's by ourselves." Claudia should have gotten her letter by how, Angel decided. Her memory of an older sister was little more than a grown-up laugh in the kitchen with Momma. Claudia had hot been one to write, but often enough she had dropped a note to tell Momma about her marriage to a railway man. She never said either way whether he treated her good. She just said the bills were paid and that was all the good in a man she needed.

"I don't think Daddy left at all. You're just saying it to get us to do what you want. I want to go home, Angel. We never heard nothing from Claudia. She doesn't know we're coming. What if she can't afford to feed us like Daddy couldn't?" asked Willie.

"Home's not home anymore and I'm not lyin'. Besides, Claudia knows about Momma. I wrote her a letter and told her. Daddy said he'd write and tell her we were headed her way, so stop complaining."

A lady with a natural smile counted apples into a basket next to them.

"Ma'am, we need to catch a lift to our sister's place in Nazareth. We'd be glad to pay you a dollar for the trouble," said Angel.

"Where would you kids get a dollar? Don't believe I've ever seen you around here." The woman's entire expression changed as though a cloud had all at once formed above her.

"Oh, we got it from our daddy." Angel backed away from the woman. She remembered the way the deputy sheriff had fixed his eyes on her as though he were putting her face to memory.

"Let's go over to that café and get us something to eat, Angel," Willie begged. "I'm starving."

Angel ignored her brother and studied a male customer who gathered food into a crate. He turned and glanced at them and returned to his shopping. "There's a man that looks like he's about to do some traveling. Let's see if he'll take a couple of dollars for letting us hitch a ride."

"Two dollars is too much," said Willie.

The man in denim bent over a stacked crate of canned goods next to his collected heap of flour and sugar. He looked a lot like the feller who broke ponies down at the auction barn in Snow Hill—nice face bones, but a little troubled around the eyes. He tapped each can, counting and recounting as though he could not remember the number of the items. Angel had not known many fellers with eyes so thread blue, like the stitches on her daddy's work pants. Sweet creases at the corners, but not so badly aged, although they made him look puckish. Angel gave her hair a combing through with her fingertips. It came to her that she should cast herself in the best light possible to Sweet Eyes.

She composed herself in the manner of a near-grown girl and said, "Excuse me, Sir."

"I don't have anything for beggar kids," he said.

"You don't know who I am?" She pulled on her earlobe whenever she lied, a habit her daddy had always called her on. Angel was not a name to give a girl who told her kind of lies. But anyone in her situation had to have resources or resort to invention. Through the storefront window she saw a Ford truck parked near the door and she noticed the decent set of tires, like Daddy always did. "My father is, well, he's the right-hand man to Henry Ford." The apple counter stopped her counting and stared at Angel. Angel spoke more quietly. "Matter of fact, Henry Ford's my uncle." She noticed how the man's eyes thinned, two rinds. He assessed her tattered green dress, the loose braiding at the yoke. She pressed the loopy part against her chest with one finger. "Our better clothes are at the hotel being—warshed."

"You're staying at the hotel?" Sweet Eyes asked.

The key was still in Angel's pocket. She held it up. "The Ouachita, of course. Nothing but the best, Daddy says. Anyway, Daddy sent us ahead to visit relatives and, truth be told, our mistress done got herself sick with the flu. Flu's been going around like nobody's business. Poor lady."

"What relatives?" asked Sweet Eyes.

"Our older sister, Claudia," said Angel. That was not a lie.

"She's married with a kid or two. Old enough to take us in, I reckon." Willie stood holding his hat. As though coached by Angel, he hung his head. Ida May bit her lip. She had been on the very edge of bawling all morning. So her lip quivered just by the very act of anyone looking at her.

"We're stranded as can be, but we got the money to pay our own way. If you think you could give us a ride to a place called Nazareth, we'll pay." She held out a single crisp dollar bill, considering Willie's caution that two dollars was too much.

"I don't know what you got for an angle but I'm traveling alone and I don't have any place to put kids." Sweet Eyes glanced up at the Ford pickup loaded with food and supplies. "Besides, if your daddy works for Ford, you should give him a call and tell him you're in dire need of his assistance." The man's crackling voice rose in pitch. His attention drifted, and then he lost interest altogether.

"Excuse me. Did I hear you say you're traveling to Nazareth?" A woman in a shapeless dress hovered near the apple crates, listening to everything Angel had said. Her skin had a pink cast blending into whiter eye sockets with feathery white brows for a topper. "I'm Winifred Mock. I'm a retired schoolteacher and I'm on my way to Bluff City. Appears to me Nazareth is a rock's throw from Bluff City. You say you'll pay for the ride?"

Angel held up the dollar.

"There's three of you?" She counted them with her nose.

Angel pulled out the second dollar.

"There you have it. A ride with a retired schoolteacher," said Sweet Eyes. He jerked a crate up and arched his back to brace the weight of the flour and sugar bags.


On Sale
Dec 14, 2008
Page Count
320 pages