Authors: Pete Dexter
High Praise for
“THIS POWERFUL BOOK reads like a mystery, fast and compelling; unlike most mysteries, however, it stays with you afterward.”
“A WISE AND FASCINATING TALE WELL TOLD.”
“HIP, HARD-BOILED AND FILLED WITH MEMORABLE ECCENTRICS …
burns with the phosphorescent atmosphere of betrayal.”
“DEXTER’S PROSE IS TAUT AND LEAN, and
moves with the surprising speed and agility of an alligator. The dynamics of the James brothers’ relationships with each other and with their father are tantalizing.”
—The Houston Chronicle
“WITH TAUT PROSE AND VIBRANT CHARACTERS, Dexter creates a world that is both familiar and frighteningly foreign.… It is a tale worth reading, but one that will leave you wondering whether truth really matters.”
—The Denver Post
“WITH PERFECT PITCH AND A MIX OF FEROCITY AND SYMPATHY, Pete Dexter portrays the personages and the weakening institutions of a rural Southern district in the ‘60s.”
—New York Newsday
IS AN OUT-AND-OUT YARN, an entertaining story, full of a conflicting mixture of world weariness and naiveté, told with a chip-on-its-shoulder, humble-pie braggadocio.”
“Dexter has constructed the novel from tight, superbly convincing scenes.…
is, in fact, a better book than the justly honored
.… You can’t put it down. But the real measure of Dexter’s success, artistic and moral, is that you wish you could.”
IS DEXTER AT THE TOP OF HIS FORM, a terrific outing by one of our most distinct and gifted contemporary authors.”
—The Commercial Appeal
“DEXTER IS A GIFTED STORYTELLER … [his] prose is spare and brutal, edged with dark humor.”
—The Philadelhia Inquirer
“BOTH POIGNANT AND ELEGANT … Dexter is a gifted storyteller. His narrative style is precise, yet richly detailed.…
works beautifully at many levels.… It is artfully crafted. It demands to be read; and it’s a wonderful story deserving of literary prize consideration.”
—The Daily Press
(Newport News, Va.)
“HAUNTING … DEXTER IS A MASTER OF COLLOQUIAL POETRY, of moods revealed through gestures and settings. Somber scenes unraveling in slow motion make this a haunting book.”
“A MOVING AND SUSPENSEFUL NOVEL … Dexter’s well-drawn characters are a believable mélange who interact realistically and inhabit his plot with great strength and mobility.”
“With clarity and an amazing capacity for simplicity of language and down-home metaphor, Dexter weaves a tale that exposes the extremes of goodness and nastiness that exist in newspaper life.”
—The Washington Post
“FROM THE DESK OF A NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER comes this thoroughly engrossing story of murder, deception, and betrayal. On the surface,
is a first-rate mystery.… At a deeper level, though, this novel surpasses most others.… The sheer suspense of this compelling tale will capture most readers, but it is the people of the novel and their secret motivations that readers will not be able to forget when the last page is read.”
“[Dexter] has written as sparsely here as in any of his previous books, and most of what carries the reader along so irresistibly lies beneath the surface of his prose.”
—The New York Times
“What deepens and darkens [Dexter’s] writing, so that art is the precise word to describe it, is a powerful understanding that character rules, that we live with our weaknesses and die of our strengths.”
ALSO BY PETE DEXTER
A Delta Book
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
New York, New York 10036
Copyright © 1995 by Pete Dexter
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Random House, Inc., New York, New York.
The trademark Delta® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, Inc.
For Erwin Potts and Gil Spencer,
a couple of pretty good paperboys
who never let it go to their heads
Y BROTHER WARD WAS
once a famous man.
No one mentions that now, and I suppose no one is inclined to bring it up, particularly not my father, who in other matters loves those things most that he can no longer touch or see, things washed clean of flaws and ambiguity by the years he has held them in his memory, reshaping them as he brings them out, again and again, telling his stories until finally the stories, and the things in them, are as perfect and sharp as the edge of the knife he keeps in his pocket.
In his stories, the bass are all bigger than you have ever seen them, and always catch the glint of the sun in their scales as they jump.
And he always lets them go.
He has no stories about my brother, though. At the mention of his name, a change occurs—a small change, you would have to know him to see it—and my father, without moving a muscle in his face, slips away; retreats, I think, to that sheltered place where his stories are kept.
Perhaps we all have our places.
An hour later, you may notice he hasn’t spoken a word.
N AUGUST OF THE YEAR
1965, a man named Thurmond Call, who had, even by Moat County standards, killed an inappropriate number of Negroes in the line of duty, was killed himself between the towns of Lately and Thorn, along a
county road which runs parallel to and a quarter mile west of the St. Johns River in northern Florida.
Thurmond Call was the sheriff of Moat County, and had held that position since before I was born. He was murdered on the eve of his sixty-seventh birthday, but had kicked a man to death on a public street in Lately only the previous spring. And so, while it is true there was some sentiment at the time—not only in Lately, the county seat, but in the larger town of Thorn, where we lived, and the little encampments along the forty miles of river in between—that it was time to wean Sheriff Call from the public coffers, it had nothing to do with his not being up to the job.
The sheriff’s malady was viewed as having been imposed on him from the outside, and was therefore forgivable, even if it could not be cured. Like tuberculosis. Hippies, federal judges, Negroes—he couldn’t keep track of what he was allowed to do to them and what he wasn’t, and that had spawned a confusion in his mind which, the body of Moat County thought went, led him to more immoderate positions than he otherwise would have taken. And that, in turn, has spawned a certain unease in the general population.
Which is all to say that the man he had handcuffed and then stomped to death in the spring had been white.
HURMOND CALL WAS FOUND
lying on the highway early in the morning, in a rainstorm, a quarter of a mile from his cruiser. The engine had died but the wipers were still moving, in spasms, and his headlights were a dim orange. The wide-mouthed jar that he carried between his legs as he drove to receive his tobacco juice was sitting on the roof. He had been opened up, stomach to groin, and left for dead.
The question of how he traveled, disemboweled, to the
spot on the highway where he was found, while probably unconnected to the murder itself, presented a haunting piece of unsettled business which lingers to this moment over Moat County, in the realm of those profound questions which have no answer. And perhaps lingers in other places, as at the end of his life the sheriff had become a symbol of one kind or another everywhere in the state.
My first opinion on the matter—and it was this sort of matter that at fifteen years of age I had opinions about—was that he was dragged by bears. I did not believe, as his friends did, that he crawled after his killer’s car, an account which was presented as fact at his funeral.