Southern Discomfort, the second in my Judge Deborah Knott series, has just become an eBook and may be found at the Kindle store on Amazon or as a Nook on the Barnes and Noble site. Campaign promises made in the spring have a way of coming due in the heat of summer as Deborah discovers when she realizes that she's volunteered to help build a Habitat-type house for a needy single mother. Among other disquieting events, one of her eleven older brothers has been poisoned and a favorite niece attacked.
In the excerpt that follows, Deborah has gone back to the farm for solace where she winds up taking a moonlit walk with her father and his two house dogs.
The caged dogs whined in excitement as we approached, hoping this meant they were going to get to run with us through a night world sensuous with the smell of coons and darting rabbits and slow-trundling possums. They gave soft pleading yaps as we passed.
“Hush!” Daddy said sternly, and they hushed.
Blue and Ladybelle, aristocrats of the farm, strode past without turning their heads.
We walked on down past his vegetable garden, through a cut, past Maidie’s little house perched on the last bit of level ground before it sloped down to the creek. No light in her windows either. She and Cletus were early to bed, early to rise and they slept soundly. The dogs never woke them unless they kept it up so long that even the soundest sleeper must come awake, knowing there were trespassers on the land.
It seldom happened.
Cletus’s pickup was parked beside the porch. From atop the cab, Maidie’s big black tomcat was an inky pool of watchfulness as we passed.
On the other side of the lane lay a small field of melons. Honeydews and swollen cantaloupes gleamed among dark vines, and watermelons were starting to stretch themselves.
The lane wound through another stand of trees and then we were out into a twenty-acre field of tobacco. The waning moon, almost a week past full now, sailed high in the sky, flooding the countryside with silver-blue light. A winelike aroma arose from the very earth itself, compounded of cool dirt, green tobacco, and a light breeze blowing up from the creek.
Of one accord, we stood as still and unmoving as the tall pines behind us and breathed it in. Long moments passed, then an owl swooped down into the middle of a truck row. There was a sudden frantic squeal, followed by a silence all the deeper as the owl gained altitude on noiseless wings. A small dark shape dangled limply from its talons.
The spell broken, Daddy lit a cigarette, and we walked on in the general direction the owl had taken. Another quarter mile brought us out along the edge of a deep irrigation pond. Three people had drowned in it over the years. Tonight, the still water was a sheet of shiny black glass. White moths fluttered toward the moon reflected there and were snapped up by the waiting fish.
Beyond the pond was the beginning of the farm he’d given Seth and Minnie as a wedding present years ago. On tonight’s clear air, faint music mingled with distant laughter and raucous speech-Saturday night winding down at the migrant camp that straddled the line between Seth’s land and Andrew’s.
Thus far, we had walked the two perpendicular sides of a right triangle, now we struck across a fallow field to make a rough hypotenuse back toward the house, less than a mile away. The dogs raced out ahead of us and began casting back and forth through the weeds. Once I would have nearly had to trot to keep up with Daddy’s long legs. Tonight, even though my feet had been too long on concrete, the pace was slower. Still, he didn’t seem winded, and his pauses were contemplative, not for rest.
Mostly we had walked in silence. Now as we started up the gentle rise, I remembered a warm May night back when this field was planted in corn. He and I and Mother and the little twins had been out walking in the moonlight, much like this. It had rained all night the night before, a long, much-needed soaking rain, and the sun had shone all afternoon. As we stood at the edge of the field, Daddy suddenly hushed us. “Listen,” he’d said.
Crickets and cicadas stridulated all around us and a soft breeze rustled the green plants, but that wasn’t what he meant. We strained our ears and there beneath the crickets came faint creaks like the opening and closing of a thousand tiny rusty hinges.
“What is it?” we whispered.
“Corn’s growing,” Daddy said. “Hear it? Drinking up water with its roots and stretching up its stalks. It’ll be six inches taller tomorrow.”
“Do you remember a night?” I asked him now.
“What night was that, shug?”
“The night we heard corn growing?”
He smiled but kept walking. “That was a purty sound, won’t it?”
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