Enjoy an excerpt from Victor Hawk’s “The Hot Season,” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
Moody Henderson was sitting in Pete’s diner in Valentine, Texas, on an April morning. The front door was open to the fair weather, and Moody was reflecting on a worn copy of Field and Forest magazine. The use of o-rings, gaskets, and seals in firearms was being explored on this, the twentieth anniversary of the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. “Let me personally reassure you about the safety of recreational firearms, even in freezing weather,” said the editor of Field and Forest. The parking lot glare was suddenly occulted by a large, black cloud. Moody looked up.
Deputy Sheriff Buck “Buddy” Friesen, Jr., stepped heavily over the threshold and let the screen door slam shut behind him. He saw Moody and lifted his chin. Moody lifted a finger but did not stand.
The deputy eased himself into the battered yellow booth opposite Moody. It groaned, but held. Friesen put his hat on the bench beside him and yanked some paper napkins from the dispenser. He mopped the bald part of his head.
“Damn if it ain’t hot already. Know what I mean?”
“I know it.”
May Anne stood at the table, hand in her pocket, reaching for her order pad.
“Get you guys some breakfast?”
“I want some fried potatoes,” said Moody. “And bacon.”
“Sausage is good today.” May Anne’s face was set like a jack stand.
“That’s fine and all. But I want some bacon.”
May Anne leaned toward the table. Without thinking, Moody reached up to catch her. Buddy flinched away.
“You don’t want the bacon today. Believe me.” She ignored Moody’s burly arms.
Moody’s hands sank back to the table, and he looked to Deputy Sheriff Friesen for help.
Friesen’s eyes flicked up to the motionless ceiling and counted the fans.
“All right,” said Moody. “Sausage then. Coffee.”
May Anne let out a breath and straightened up. She made a mark on her pad.
“Just a coffee, black,” said the deputy.
May Anne’s mouth clamped down. The fifty-cent tip she was sure to earn from these two would not pay any bills. She moved toward the kitchen to give Pedro the order.
“Vera Ruth got shot last night.” Friesen said it casually. Conversationally. “I’m wondering what you know about that.”
May Anne stopped to wipe down a clean table. The El Paso Times blew open to the crossword page.
The only sound was the warm wind, lifting the screen door open a bit, letting it shut. Peeling back the newspaper. May Anne took it with her to the kitchen.
Moody picked up the creased Field and Forest magazine between his thumb and forefinger and half turned to toss it onto the table behind him. It knocked over the salt shaker.
“Where’s the sheriff?” he asked.
Friesen’s stubby fingers combed through the hair on the side of his head.
“Snipe hunting. He thinks it was some Mexicans. Some kind of gang.”
“It wasn’t like that,” said Moody. There were burn marks in the table’s cloudy Formica surface. His ring finger traced mindless circles around them.
Friesen looked at Moody’s bare hands and remembered the one week they were both single. Moody just divorced, Buddy soon to be wed. Juarez City. Tequila shooters, strippers. Other stuff. It was a long time ago.
He sighed. “You seen your boy this morning? Norton in town?”
“I ain’t seen him this morning.”
“If you do…” Friesen pulled a folded paper from his hat liner and put it on the table.
It was a warrant, stained on a line of dampness.
The wind tapped at the screen door. A little dust kicked up in the parking lot. The glare made Moody’s eyes squint and water.
“Here’s your order.” May Anne slid the warrant to the side and placed down their plates, their cups. “Two coffees. A hash brown and a sausage.”
The warrant slid into her apron pocket.
“Guys want anything else while I’m here?”
Moody shook his head. His plate reflected the ceiling fan overhead, but the fan was not turning. It wasn’t supposed to be the hot season yet.
“No ma’am.” Friesen pulled the serrated knife from Moody’s rolled-up napkin and set it in the center of the table. He spun it, and both men watched the blade. “Twins doing all right?”
May Anne sniffed. “All right, then.”
No eyes followed her as she walked off. She slid into a booth far enough away that she didn’t have to listen to their jabber if she didn’t want to. She felt in her pocket for the newspaper crossword but pulled out the warrant instead.
The knife stopped spinning.
“They’re pretty good, I guess.” Moody’s twin girls had once been his hope of salvation, though he had never said as such. Buddy knew it by the way he used to talk about them.
“They still living in El Paso?”
“Norton ain’t there.”
Oh my God. May Anne’s mouth made the words soundlessly. She pulled a pen from her pocket and wrote an N on her arm, for Norton. A V for Vera. And an M. For May Anne. She drew a triangle between the names.
The screen door slammed hard. May Anne looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was coming in. It was just the wind. The only customers she was going to have today was these two old men. Everybody else in Valentine was out on the fields or working the roads or the garage.
Friesen sipped his coffee hot. Steam rose up into his blue eyes, and Moody thought back to the time of Cowboys and Indians. Buddy always had to be the cowboy. They had fought over it underneath the water tower in fourth grade. Both got detention.
The sausage wasn’t bad, but Moody wasn’t much of a sausage man. He brushed the serrated knife aside and pulled a Glock handgun from his pocket. It clicked down onto the table between them, a 9mm wrench.
“Live clip,” he said and turned his attention to the hash browns.
The deputy’s eyes flicked down at the gun and looked it over like it was a baseball card. Harmon Killebrew, 1974. A good man in a bad year. The sight pointed at Moody’s right arm.
Friesen blew into his coffee, watching Moody fade behind the vapor.
“Norton’s?” His voice closed up. He cleared his throat.
“Yeah.” Moody growled it out around the hash browns. His red-rimmed eyes glistened in the light from the door. Moody always did have allergy problems this time of season.
It was probably the mesquite. They had concluded that long ago.
“Ain’t no hurry.” The deputy sipped at his coffee. Some men retired too late. But every man needed the chance. “You gonna finish that sausage?”
“Help yourself to it.” Moody pushed the plate.
“I believe I will.” The deputy used his knife to spear the remainder of the patty. He ate it like they used to eat Vienna sausages out of the can, when they’d go out for a few days camping. Stick the knife in, pull out the one in the middle. Sometimes, you had to cut it free.
“Potatoes any good?”
“They ain’t bad.” Moody bumped the plate with his elbow. It clicked against the Glock. Nobody had ever told him not to eat the bacon. Not in all the years he had lived here.
A little Mexican song whistled its soft way to their ears, rising and falling on the breeze. That would be Pedro. His dishwashing song.
May Anne turned the triangle on her arm into a five-pointed star, and added two initials: an M for Moody and a B for Buddy. Some towns shouldn’t have so many secrets.
“Did she get out of line, Moody?”
May Anne’s pen fell to the table, heavy as iron.
A look of intense concentration came over Moody’s face, and he stopped eating. Outside the door, the wind had passed on. The parking lot was still. Two flies were buzzing on the screen mesh.
“Did she threaten you?” Friesen’s cup nudged the barrel of the gun around toward the door. “If she threatened you, it’s different.” He licked his lips and stared at Moody’s plate. Moody pushed at the plate with his thumbs. “You want the rest of the potatoes, or not?”
“I can’t. Damn doctor’s got me on a low sodium diet. Low sodium, my ass.”
“Norton’s over by the McCowley place, the sandpit quarry back off the road.” Moody pushed his plate across the table.
The gun pivoted.
“He’s going to need a place. To rest. You do that for me, Buddy?” Moody’s hand squeezed the skin across his jaw, and he looked out the screen door, squinting hard at the fierce glare. “Damn sunshine.”
“God damn hot already,” said Buddy.
“Guys need—” May Anne saw the gun on the table and walked straight past, hand on the warrant in her pocket. She turned the corner and kept going into the kitchen.
Friesen picked up the handgun, sighted it at the door handle, clucked his tongue. “Damn if I didn’t just get my fingerprints all over this. Shit.”
Victor Hawk is a Georgia native but has lived most of his life in Oklahoma. His original career path was in Manufacturing Engineering, with degrees from Davidson College (BS, Physics) and Purdue University (MS, Industrial Engineering). His career pivoted to teaching and writing in 2008 at the University of Central Oklahoma (MA, Creative Writing). He lives in Yukon, Oklahoma, where he continues to write. And to travel! His most recent journey was to Thailand, which included a ten-day instruction in vipassana meditation observing noble silence.