Selection from Evening's Land:
====== Chapter 13 ===========================
Three years earlier: April 6th, 2011.
Roy Northcutt had been drinking High Life ever since his uncle Bake slapped a cold one in his hand the first morning he ever took him out noodling for catfish. Bake was a big, barrel-chested red-headed bear of a man with enough curly red hair on his chest to upholster a sofa. He had naked ladies tattooed on his back- Roy had seen them!- and when Bake winked and said, “This here’s the champagne of beers, the breakfast of champions!” Roy drank it right down.
The first gulp was like blood and nickels. The next came sweet and bready and light and suddenly it was all going down like Missouri sunshine. The lakewater sparkled as Bake launched over the side and slapped the boat, wading them towards a nest of cattails.
“Now this is what you call a very old technique, kiddo,” he said, and Roy listened. He was looking out for cottonmouths because his mother had warned him that Bake sometimes got “fast and loose.”
“Men been catching fish this way for damn near eons- when you grab hold of your first bad boy its like catching hold of where you came from, you understand me?”
“Yes sir,” Roy said, although he didn’t understand.
“Now, these stumps here, this’n’s where a lot of holes is, and the catfish, they like to belly on in and hole up, see? So I’m gonna stick my hand in and feel around. If you don’t feel anything that feels like a catfish, son, you just bolt right the hell on back out, all right, cause like as not there’s a couple three snakes or turtles in there. They all like the same holes.”
And Roy felt a little scared, but he nodded.
He shook his head and Bake guffawed.
“That’s all right, this time you can just watch. Here, give me another of those.”
Roy did, shyly taking another for himself. Bake opened one and then the other with his teeth, spitting the caps into the boat. Ping! Ping!
“All right! Mother fucking yee-haw, right kid? Fishin’ sure beats running around with the women, don’t it? I bet they’re all back there peeling eggs or something. You and me, we should do this more often. So I’m gonna reach down in there and haul me up a catfish. Trick is, you want him to take yore hand as bait and then you reach in and grab his gills, kind of hook your hand in, you know what I’m saying? And then you tug him out!” Bake whacked the boat again. “Here I go. See you soon, kid.”
He slid under. For a moment Roy could still see him, his uncle’s broad curly-haired back luminescently pale beneath the silky green water. But Bake must have finger walked deeper, towards more interesting and lesser known holes, turning his back to the friendly shore. The water sealed above him, smooth as glass, and Bake disappeared.
It must have looked for all the world as though Roy were out there alone on the lake, a kid high on his first beers. The afternoon buzzed. Somewhere a frog jumped in. It began, gradually, to seem as though Bake had been gone an awfully long time, although he didn’t know how long noodling should take, or how long Bake could hold his breath. He listened to water lap hungrily at the boat.
(fast and loose, that’s what his mother had said)
But Bake never came up again. Roy had been only ten years old. He didn’t know how to start the engine, so he leapt off- cold!- into the hungry lake, flailing towards shore. Every slip of plant life against his legs was the monster at the bottom of the lake, the monster that had grabbed and kept his uncle Bake-
or it was Bake himself, screaming at him- “Why did you leave me?”
To plunge through the cat tails, to be again on firm and solid ground! Roy was screaming now- and maybe he’d been screaming all along- “Bake! Uncle Bake!”
But the lake was silent, staring accusingly back at him like a big green eye in the earth as Roy stood on the shore, his heart shrieking in his chest. He ran up to the road- what else could he do? to flag down a truck. Then it was hours later, there was a crowd and flashing lights, he was still standing there shivering down by the lake in a policewoman’s blanket when they finally drug up poor old Bake’s body out of the miserable goddamn water, and Bake was bloated and cold and incontestably dead.
The skin on one of his uncle’s big freckled forearms had been sawed through by something damn near as big as Bake was. “That was one great big catfish,” a cop said. “Yes it was.”
And that was uncle Bake. Murdered by a catfish in a sunlit pond. Just 28 years old. He was just a kid, too, but Roy had no way of knowing that then. Now, some thirty odd years later, older than Bake would ever be, whenever Roy Northcutt drank a beer, he drank High Life.
He was on his third of the evening, enjoying the fine porch weather when an alarm across the street began to shrill. It was coming from that famous behemoth of a church across the street: St. Phillips. Now that was right odd. He shot onto his feet.
Those big wrought iron gates were locked every weekday at four thirty, smack on the dot. There was no way some tourist could bumble in to trip the thing off. And all these ritual killings had him on edge. Roy quickfooted it into the kitchen, snatching his 40 cal Glock from the drawer and his walkie talkie from the counter. He ran outside, calling dispatch as he dropped into the street.
“Unit 1 to dispatch.” Trying not to pant. Those Millers had nailed him.
A woman’s voice crackled. “Unit 1.”
“This is the Chief. I’ll be responding to an audible alarm at 142 Church Street. The church.”
“Copy, Chief,” she said.
The gate was hanging open. Jesus. Roy lit up the stairs and kicked the door; it swung in on dark pews. “Unit 1 to dispatch, there is an open door.”
“All units transmitting on Channel 1, standby.”
He had his Glock out, crossing one hand over the other that held the walkie talkie. Smell of candle wax and dust, Jesus Christ, why were all churches so fucking creepy? The statues of saints were the brightest points of lights in the place. He swept his gun from side to side, his whole body packed solid with adrenaline. There! Someone was kneeling at the altar, a man in an olive colored coat. Praying?
“Police! Put your hands in the air! Dispatch, there is someone in the church.”
“Are you 04?” the woman said, and the figure turned slowly.
“Hands in the air! Is there anyone else in here?”
“You’re a steely-eyed, flat-bellied weapon of a man, now aren’t you?”
“I repeat, is there anyone else in this church!”
“Yes, officer.” The man in the coat smiled. “The Holy Spirit.”
Roy relaxed, trying not to laugh. He lowered his gun slightly.
“Are you 04?” she said again.
“We’ve got a six-seven,” Roy said- as a sound tufted behind him. He knew that sound; knew it instantaneously even as the bullet ripped through him. Shot. He was shot. He went down. Blood, carpet, it all went black.
“Are you 04? 322 Edward, start en route to 142 Church Street. Requesting all additional officers en route to 142 Church Street! Officer, are you 04?”
The man in the coat stood, curiously studying Roy’s body.
“Officer, are you 04?”
Sirens wailed from the walkie talkie as additional officers signed on. “On response.”
With a quick, practiced movement he reached back with a gloved hand, crashing over a statue of Mary. Her head rolled onto the floor; he threw it through a window. Climbed through and was gone.
“Northcutt! Are you 04?”
This bit was fun to write. I'm a big fan of Stephen King, especially his on-the-fly character development, and when I wrote this passage I only sat down to write the very last part of it, when Northcutt is executed in the church.
But I knew he would be drinking on the porch when he heard the alarm, and all the stuff about noodling and whatnot just slipped out. Thanks to my wonderful, wonderful friend Cherry for answering all my mind-numbing questions about the minutiae of copwork. It's the details, you know. She let me wave around her radio and everything.
Frantic week, shoveling through deadlines that piled up while I was buried in final edits of my manuscript, but last night I knocked out the first draft of my query, which I realize now I've been stalling on. I'm incredibly intimidated by this part of the process. Oi...
I think hopefully by next week I should be on top of my (work) life again, looking forward to devoting a bit more time again to journaling. Also wonder if it would be interesting to post chapters from the book here, in sequence. Or if that would be a bad idea? I really only posted miscellaneous stuff from the Mary & Oliver storyline, as most of the other stuff needed context. Hm. Unsure about this.
Found out am under consideration for a fellowship!! I applied for several and was shortlisted for all of them, still in running for the longest, one of the ones I wanted most...! It would give me time to write in one of my favorite parts of the country. God, three months. It would mean everything. I could write another entire book in three months. Or, if someone picks up EL by then (fellowship would be sometime in 2015) I could do any requested rewrites out there. Oh, I hope, I hope!
So am waiting on knives and needles til sometime in July. Even if I don't make the cut it is encouraging. So I will try to be encouraged, whatever happens.
Had more good news last week- or was it the week before last? I do volunteer work for Citizens Climate Lobby, writing to newspapers, senators and Congressmen, and Mark Sanford's office actually called our HQ, trying to reach me in response to a letter! CCL was delighted, as had not been reached out to in this way before. They walked me through playing phone tag with his Washington office, then working with his scheduler to help land a face-to-face meet with Sanford during CCL's conference later this month in Washington.
Pen and paper, pen and paper, pen and paper. We march!
P.Z. West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
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