Burrows

coverLyndon B. Johnson is President, Beatlemania is in overdrive and gasoline costs 30 cents a gallon when Ned Parker retires as constable in Center Springs, Texas. But his plan to live a quiet life as a cotton farmer is torpedoed. A phone call leads Ned to a body in the Red River and into the urgent investigation headed by his nephew, the newly elected constable Cody Parker. Together they work to head off a multi-state killing spree that sets northeast Texas on fire.

As the weeks pass, Ned's grandchildren, ten-year-old Top and his tomboy cousin Pepper, struggle with personal issues resulting from their traumatic experiences at the Rock Hole only months before. They now find themselves in the middle of a nightmare for which no one can prepare.

Cody and Deputy John Washington, the law south of the tracks, follow a lead from their small community to the long abandoned Cotton Exchange warehouse in Chisum. Stunned, they find the Exchange packed full of the town's cast off garbage and riddled with booby-trapped passageways and dark burrows. Despite Ned's warnings, Cody enters the building and finds himself relying on his recent military experiences to save both himself and Big John. Unfortunately, the trail doesn't end there and the killing spree continues...

What people are saying...

Selected by Library Journal as one of the Nine Historical Mysteries for the Summer of 2012!

"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

"The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas."
The Dallas Morning News

"Read the book, and experience your heart jack-hammering like it hasn't since The Silence of the Lambs... All of Wortham's characters breathe on the page, and their conversations twang with a Texas accent... The pacing is like riding a wily bronco... Read it for unremittingly good writing, memorable characters, and a kick-ass plot. But whatever you do, Don't Miss It."
—Georgette Spelvin, Read Me Deadly

"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.

"One of the best opening chapters I have ever read. I knew I was in for it from that moment on. We travel into the surreal, the deranged, and the unexpected. The scene in the Cotton Exchange was unlike anything I'd read before. I had to wonder how Wortham conjured it to this level of detail."
You've Gotta Read This

Excerpt: Chapter One

Drip.

Though slight, the wet splat was clearly audible on the warm front porch of the small Lamar County farmhouse. Josh Brooks rocked ever so slowly as the late evening breeze waved the long grass along the nearby fence row and ruffled his curly brown hair. He stared at his lap, breathing shallowly as if trying to save energy or control his emotions.

Drip.

A Hereford on the other side of the barbed wire scratched her chin on a bodark fence post and swished her tail at a pestering cloud of late season flies. Josh’s boyhood friend Kendal stepped outside through the wooden screen door and allowed it to slam shut.

For a moment Kendal stopped, expecting a scolding for banging the door. When they were children, it was almost impossible to remember to close it softly, and every kid that raced through Mrs. Brook’s living room allowed the door to slap shut about every third time.

“Sorry Miss Onie!” Kendal called through the screen to Josh’s mother.

The neat, elderly house in the small farming community of Forest Chapel belonged to Josh, who had never lived anywhere else. His dad, Oscar, had farmed the one hundred eighty acres until a heart attack felled him one soft spring morning as he fed the cows. Josh turned twenty-one a year after the funeral and married the prettiest girl in Forest Chapel, Beth Dearborn. Miss Onie Mae let them have the master bedroom, moved to the other side of the house, and they never looked back.

Drip.

Sporting a burr haircut, Kendal sipped on a glass of sweet tea. Everyone said Miss Onie Mae Brooks made the best tea in the county. “You need to get that drip fixed, Josh.”

The young farmer didn’t respond as Kendal walked across the wooden boards of the pier and beam farmhouse and settled into a mismatched rocker beside Josh. The setting sun cast long autumn shadows across the yard, bathing it and the pasture in a warm glow.

A tinny radio in the background played a Chuck Berry song.

“You know, Josh, it’s been good to see you again after all these years. Remember how it was here in the evenings when we were kids? I really enjoyed those summer nights; catching lightning bugs in jars and playing chase.”

Drip.

Kendal sighed, enjoying the tinkle of ice against the glass that once held store-bought jelly. “Most of the time anyway. When Randal Wicker and Merle Clark played with us it kinda irritated me. Seems like with the four of us, I was always low man on the totem pole. Probably ‘cause I was the youngest, but I suppose it’s the nature of kids to gang up on the least one. Anyway, it don’t matter none anymore, does it?

“I thought about those days when I was in the hospital. There was nothing else to do except lay there and think, or listen to the radio. Most of the time I wished I was here with you, being a kid again.”

Kendal rocked and grinned at a sudden memory. “You know, Randal really wasn’t as good a friend as you were. I guess he and Merle were more like a team, like you and me should have been. That came to mind the other day too. The radio was on when I was coming down here from Nebraska and I found a station playing that new song ‘And I Love Her’ by the Beatles. That’s when a memory clicked and it was the four of us playing ball out here in the grass, but we weren’t listening to them long hairs back then, were we?

“But anyway, it was that song, this time of the year, and the weather that made me think to myself ‘You need to stop by and see them boys because it’s been a long, long time since y’all last visited.’ So here I am.

“You remember that day Merle got an extension cord and brought the Philco outside and put it right there by Miss Onie Mae’s peonies and turned it up loud to catch that nigger song Bo Diddly did while we played baseball.”

The pleasant demeanor crumbled for a moment, and Kendal chuckled. “I’ve always thought Randal was kinda jealous of me, especially because I got a new glove for Christmas that year.”

Hey sissy, are you stupid or what? Is somethin’ wrong with you? C’mon and catch the ball ya moron! Don’t be afraid of it!

“You remember that? I loved the smell of a new ball glove fresh out of the box. I don’t even think girls ever smelled so good, except for Beth that is.

“Man, wasn’t she something? I especially remember how she’d run her fingers through that Esther Williams hair of hers and pull it back behind one ear, real sexy-like. Oh, yeah, I guess you do, since you wound up marrying her. Yep, but she never had eyes for me. She was crazy about you from the get-go and never turned loose.”

Josh let the comment go without answering. His finger twitched on the rocker’s armrest, then he settled back again.

Drip.

Kendal laughed and called through the door. “Ain’t that right, Beth? We had some times all right. But y’all were always playing those jokes on me, calling me sissy or sister-girl. I never did learn to tell when you were kidding or pulling a prank.”

They rocked while Josh allowed the conversation to be monopolized. “The best one was when y’all sprinkled those leaves over the limbs and trash washed across that little draw down by the creek bottoms and convinced me it was solid enough to walk across. Whooee! When I stepped on those leaves and it gave out from under me, I thought I wouldn’t stop falling until I landed in China. That draw must have been fifteen feet deep. Busted my lip and I nearly bit through my tongue. You boys were practical jokers all right.”

A sudden gust blew across the road, threatening to snatch Josh’s cap.

Drip.

“That danged drip is really getting annoying. We’ll need to fix it pretty soon. Anyway, Merle was kinda mean sometimes. Like when you and him would tell me you weren’t feeling too good and didn’t want to play. Oh hell, I knew y’all were sneaking off together without me, and don’t think I didn’t see what y’all did when you didn’t think anyone was watching. That’s what hurt the worst, me wanting to be with you and y’all stringin’ off alone and leaving me here.”

They sat for a moment longer, watching the sun settle toward the tree tops. Kendal drained the glass and set it carefully on the painted two-by-four serving as the porch rail. “Y’all promised to keep my secret when I finally told you, and I reckon you have, but the things you did… the things you said… well, it’s gonna get out now that I’m out of the hospital, so that’s why I’m here.

“I’m gonna drop by and see Merle before I leave. My therapist told me it was best to lay the ghosts, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“Matter of fact, he’s right and I feel pretty good right now. Going by Randal’s yesterday and this stopover did wonders for me; seeing you, Beth, and your mama. Well, I need to keep moving and there’s a lot of people to visit before I have to move on.”

The driver in the two-tone 1958 Buick Roadmaster convertible honked impatiently and then returned to dusting spilled flour from his sleeve. Behind the wheel, Kevin’s tolerance was wearing thin because they had places to go. And besides, he was hungry. He wanted to run up to the Center Springs store. He had his mouth set for rat cheese and crackers, something he hadn’t tasted in months.

“All right, Kevin, you dumb bastard.” Kendal stood and stared down at Josh. “I made a mistake getting that aggravating son of a bitch out of Tulsa. He’s worrisome and I’m about tired of traveling with him. You know Kevin, though, he’s from over in Boggy Bend. His daddy is Don Jennings.”

Kendal adjusted the .22 revolver stuck in the waistband of half-damp, slightly oversized jeans stolen from Beth’s clothes line. A razor sharp Old Hickory butcher knife from the kitchen rode snug behind a plain leather belt. With a forefinger, Kendal reached out, caught a small drip hanging on the end of Josh’s nose, and carefully wiped the red liquid on his already soaked pants.

“Y’all shouldn’t-a-done me the way you did, but I reckon that’s about settled, except for Merle, and then I’m going to Mexico for a while.

“Anyway, you don’t look so good, boy. Guess a .22 bullet rattling around in there behind your eyes will do that. You need get that drip fixed.” Kendal laughed, chewed an almost non-existent fingernail for a moment and started down the steps. “Oh, one more thing I need to do before I go. Won’t take a minute. Hold your horses, Kevin and don’t you get up either, Beth! You and Ma lay there by the fire where it’s comfortable. Good to see y’all again.”

Drip.

A brief grunt of exertion, and a sharp crack.

Splash.