Excerpt for High Creek Rising by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









HIGH CREEK RISING

By B.K. Smith



Copyright © 2017 B.K. Smith

This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No part of this eBook 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 written permission from the author.















This book is written for all the past and present small town kids in the country. It’s for the boys with the sunburnt necks who raise hell on Friday. It’s to the red dirt girls who stole our hearts on Saturday. It’s to the Southern mommas who drag their boys to church on Sunday. It’s to the hick-town dads who are constantly missing cans of beer and pinches of dip every day. Finally, it’s an ode to the nights we’ll never remember with friends we’ll never forget.

TABLE OF CONTENTS







ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



This book wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have a life that’s inspired it.

Firstly, my parents.

My mother whose endless love and support have motivated me to be more.

My dad who taught me my work ethic and common sense values.

My best friend, Dalton, who’s helped me make the worst decisions of my life and inspired the character Cameron (although Dalton is far less successful with the ladies).

To my other best friend Jace whose wild antics and good nature was the basis for Dixon (also thank you to my cousin for Kelsey for putting up with him all these years).

To Mrs. Watson, my 6th grade English teacher who’s always believed in me and helped with this book.

To my two fantastic brothers, wild friends and huge family, who’ve all contributed through experiences they’ve shared with me.



Finally - to McKinley Sanders, Thaddeus Couchman and Nicholas Esposito. Three of my best friends in the service and the first readers who helped me perfect this book.



I hope you all enjoy the ride as much as I have.





FOREWORD





I set out to write a book that captured the essence of a small town Southern community. The characters portrayed in this series are based on various people in my life whether it be past or present. To maintain authenticity (also, because I refuse to pander nor will I let myself ‘preach’ to the reader), I created accurate dialogue that could be reasonably expected from individuals in the Deep South that were of similar circumstance. There is no political correctness. There are no clear-cut relationship issues. Some situations do not work out how you would anticipate. Love does not always conquer and hate does not always destroy. Nor will I create a character that you unabashedly love or hate. Nobody is perfect. We are all flawed and so my characters will be, too.

- B







INTRODUCTION



The town of High Creek in Southeast Texas is nestled in the middle of a remote wooded area with a population of roughly 2,400. Most of the town folk have been rooted there for generations. In High Creek, everybody knew everybody and treated them like family. The town’s most notable features were a large football field for the high school, a very popular and famous dance hall called The Rowdy Cowboy, and a Walmart which was recently finished. Interstate 21 ran right through the middle of town and brought the few out-of-towners to Ronnie’s Diner and the town’s park. When the local teenagers weren’t causing trouble at The Rowdy Cowboy they would spend most of their time catching catfish and sneaking beer on Hammond Creek.

The town was getting more popular each year for being the location of the Stonebrook County Cook-Offs. The Cook-Off was a huge gathering for locals to sell their crafts, take their kids on the carnival rides and sample ‘exotic’ food. More importantly, it was a showdown of South Texas’ best cooks competing for the grand prize at the cook-off, a check for $35,000 and a new Gator 4x4. Teams of professionals, blue class families and companies having a social outing from all over Texas would camp out in the field and cook for three days. Even though this was a battle of the best bar-be-cue, everyone knew that it was just a gathering of Texans to drink all day and tell stories all night to the sound of red dirt music. Of course, the cooks were always careful to never divulge their secret recipes.



Life for Ryan Hightower and Titus Keller had been a routine for as long as they could remember. But, a series of events would tie their lives together in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Together, they would learn to mourn, forgive, grow and experience life in a way they hadn’t before. The differences felt between a Texas Department of Public Safety law enforcement officer and a small town high school student would ultimately begin a path of redemption for them both.

Ryan Hightower was a Texas State Trooper in his early 30s. Ryan was assigned to Stonebrook County which was both good and bad for him. The good part was that this is where he grew up as well as where all his family and friends still lived. The Stonebrook County Sheriff’s Office and High Creek Police Department had a lot of ground to cover with few officers so he was relied upon for a lot of regular police calls instead of being a just a ‘highway warrior’. His parents lived down the road from him in a large country-style home afforded by his father’s retirement as Stonebrook County Sheriff and his mother selling her clothing store. Ryan had three blood uncles and three blood aunts who were in the Stonebrook County area, which led to a lot of barbecues and pool parties. Ryan had gone to state police after his enlistment with the Army as an 11B infantryman. During his term, he had spent several combat tours down range in various FOBs and had extensive combat experience. The memories of his enlistment had followed him long after he received his separation papers.



Titus Keller was a student at High Creek High School finishing his last few days out as a Junior before Summer break. His toned muscles, short blonde hair and attractive features made him a well-liked person, especially among the high school girls. He was a defensive end on the football team, but most of his time went to hanging out with his friends as well as his long term girlfriend, Alexis Lamb, who was also the Sheriff’s daughter. His mother was a pleasantly plump woman who worked as a family practitioner at the local hospital. Lydia Keller had raised her son to be a Southern gentleman. She was the strongest person that Titus knew. Of course, she had no choice but to settle down for her boy’s sake. His father was a deadbeat scumbag who came in and out of Titus’ life throughout his childhood. Titus’ father, Axel Lyons, always had trouble with authority which netted him a rap sheet as long as Interstate 21.



Yet, for a reason even he couldn’t explain, he still longed for the day his dad would come to stay in his life.









Chapter One

Highway 21 in High Creek, Texas

Saturday Morning

6:30 A.M.



‘Every Scar Has A Story’





The feelings that trail the loss of a person in your life are complex. You cannot discern if it is the person you miss or the past in general. When you remember the person, you’re really remembering that entire chunk of your history – the circumstances will shape the impact they leave in your heart. Often times when you think you miss an individual, you may just be missing those moments in time.



Titus Keller was only seventeen years old when he was riding with his mom to the outskirts of High Creek to identify his father’s body.



At the time, Titus couldn’t quite remember the last time he had seen his father. He figured it must had been at his thirteenth birthday party when his dad barreled into the house drunk as a skunk. He swung at another parent who, quite embarrassingly, put him on his ass while Titus’ mother, Lydia Keller, called the police. Titus wasn’t feeling all that ashamed as he watched his father being put in handcuffs in front of all of his friends and family. If he was being honest with himself, he was actually pretty happy that his dad had showed up at all.



Now here he was, receiving news that his estranged father had taken his last breath. The young Texas State Trooper told them it appeared to be a suicide. A loaded pistol was found in Axel’s hand. As Lydia took a moment to collect her thoughts, the State Trooper took Titus aside.

For a reason that Titus couldn’t pin down, he took a second to study this Trooper. He looked like he was in his mid-20s. He had short, jet-black hair in a crew cut. His jaw was wide, as Titus imagined came standard for cops and soldiers. On the ends of the Trooper’s jaw was that bone that flexed every time he ground his teeth. It almost created a dimple near his temple.

The Trooper’s eyes were piercing blue and shaded with bushy eyebrows. Interestingly, the man’s eyelashes themselves were so dark that it looked like he had some kind of makeup on them. It was distinctive.

Finally, Titus took note of the man’s stature. He wasn’t wide or stacked but the Trooper was definitely muscled. His biceps stretched the short sleeves of his uniform and dark shadows lined his forearms where the muscles caved out.

Titus didn’t understand the feeling of comfort that came from talking to this Trooper who was not tremendously far from his age but had a hardened face, searing eyes and a seemingly permanent facial expression that must be taught in the police academy. He felt… safe. Almost as if the officer had all the answers that Titus wanted.

For a few minutes, the Trooper let Titus vent his thoughts but, even seeing his father dead, he wasn’t an emotional kind of guy. Although, he did feel a twinge of comfort from the caring State Trooper.

“I… don’t know what to feel… what to say,” Titus sat on the paved edge of the highway. His arms were crossed and resting on his kneecaps. He looked to his right past the dozens of emergency vehicles and watched traffic zoom towards him.

As he looked back forward where his father’s truck was in the grassy shoulder, he noticed that the Trooper was sitting next to him.

“It’s okay,” said the Trooper, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to think. Heck, it’s okay to laugh. Any type of response is valid. I’ve delivered news like this a hundred times and there’s not any two reactions that are the same. You’re allowed to take this in how you want. What’s your name?”
“Titus,” he mumbled. He was vaguely listening to the Trooper out of respect. But, he was more consumed in his own world of remorse and self-pity.

“Titus, I’m Trooper Hightower, you can call me Ryan.”

Titus just nodded, the last sentence having flew right over his head.

His mother returned so Titus stood up and turned to her. She ran to him and threw her arms around Titus, wrapping him in a hug. He was fairly confident that it was more for her than it was for him.

Trooper Hightower gave a small smile and nod at Titus from behind his mother then disappeared among the crowd of emergency workers.

While Titus softly wiped away a tear from his mothers eyes, another officer came up to reveal a final detail. It seemed that Axel had parked his truck right before the city limit sign and shot himself. He hadn’t left a note or anything of interest.

All he left was a hole in a teenage boy’s heart that was about a mile wide.



Keller Residence

Sunday Morning

8:30 A.M.



Lydia Keller didn’t cry after that. Neither did Titus… at least not in front of his mother. She hadn’t had a real conversation with Axel Lyons since he had left their home for good. She resented his truly random and unwanted appearances in Titus’ life. Understandably, his visits would always end up with a fuming Lydia and an upset Titus. Each time, he would swear to Titus that he was staying for good and going to try to be a part of Titus’ life. Of course, that was a promise he never kept.

The next day was a flurry of people coming to visit the Keller home, offering their condolences and struggling to find something nice to say about the late Axel Harp Lyons. Titus was pretty stoked that he got to stay home from school, but he felt uncomfortable every time one of the countless middle-aged High Creek mothers wrapped him in a bear hug and cried in his ear.

At around four in the afternoon, with a group from the First Baptist Church in his living room, Titus went out to the front porch and stretched out his arms ferociously. Between the sun and solitude, he felt at peace.

Titus turned and strode to one of the four wooden lawn chairs by the door. He slowly, yet dramatically, lowered himself into the chair as if he was an old man compensating for a faulty back. He furrowed his brows as the sun reflected off the windshield of his parked truck straight into his eyes. He inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of freshly cut grass and oak burning from the neighbor’s brush fire. His hand moved to the front door to make sure it was fully closed. He was reassured that he wouldn’t be suddenly bothered so Titus slid out a small tin can from his jeans pocket, withdrew a pinch of tobacco and stowed it in his bottom lip. He gripped the arm rests on the chair, squeezing and releasing the stiff, old wood as if it were a stress ball.

Music began to spontaneously fill the quiet, sunny afternoon.

…trying to remember all those crazy nights we had, now I’m empty but I’m not sad, talking about the good times and drinkin’ down the bad…

Titus heard the Texas Country song blaring through open windows as a red Chevrolet Silverado tore across Interstate 21 and onto Greenland Road, stopping in front of the house.

The loud diesel engine cut off and the door swung wide open. A pair of dirty, old cowboy boots appeared from the cab of the truck then hit the ground attached to a dirty pair of jeans and a crooked smile. Titus grinned and got up as he saw his best friend Cameron stride up to the front yard gate. Cameron was a tall, muscular boy with short black hair and tanned skin. He had sharp features and jaw structure which made him popular with women. He always dressed in worn-out blue jeans and faded shirts with his favorite black Costa ball cap.

Titus grinned and yelled out, “What’s up, asshole?”

“Hey, brotha’, I’m sorry to hear ‘bout your old man,” Cameron said softly as his smile faded.

Titus nodded, “Shit happens, man, I wasn’t really close to him anyways.”

“Yeah, well, I’m ready to step in as your new father an’ I’ll be a real good man to ya’ momma,” Cameron offered with a smile before he spit a long stream of brown tobacco-filled saliva onto the driveway.

“Goddamn! Too soon, dick,” Titus replied with a smirk.

“Can I bum a dip off of ya’, bud?” asked Cameron as he pulled an empty small tin can out of his back pocket, “I just took my last pinch and I forgot to go to the store.”

“Nope, but I’ll walk with you to the gas station to get some,” replied Titus.

“Cheap bastard,” scowled Cameron as he turned to start walking down Greenland Road with Titus following.

They walked back down Greenland towards Interstate 21 with the smell of hot asphalt lingering in the air. The gas station was on the intersection of both roads just fifty feet down from Titus’ house. They rounded the corner of the building and went through the front doors that faced the Interstate.

“What’s up, fellas?” asked Mark, the cashier who graduated high school about four years prior.

“Yo, Mark, can I get a can of Grizzly Wintergreen?” asked Cameron as he rested his elbows on the counter.

“For sure,” replied Mark, his long hair flying when he turned to the tobacco rack and searched for the can.

Titus walked to the back of the store and was looking at energy drinks when he felt his pocket vibrate. He took out his phone and saw that his mom was calling.

“Shit,” he muttered.

He answered the call.

“Where are you?” his mother asked instantly.

“At the gas station,” Titus replied.

“With who?” asked his mother, concern evident in her voice.

“Cam,” said Titus as he opened a glass door and picked out a sugar free energy drink.

“When are you coming back?” questioned his mom.

“Jesus, like five minutes, mom, chill,” Titus shot back.

“Don’t tell me to chill, Titus Harp Keller, I deserve to know where you are at all times,” came a stern reply.

“Mom, I will be back in five minutes,” Titus stated as he walked to the cashier.

“Do you need me to pick you boys up?”

Titus gave a sharp laugh, “No, mom, it’s fine, we’ll be just a few minutes.”

“Okay, Titus, I love you.”

“Love you too, mom.” Then he hung up the phone and shoved it into his jeans. He rounded the last aisle and saw Cam was still talking to the cashier so he strode up next to him and set the energy drink out with a few dollars to pay.

“Y’all going to the fair?” asked Mark as he handed Titus a receipt.

“Yeah, man, Titus’ family rented a few trailer spots so we’re gonna’ enter the Cook-Off.” Cameron nodded towards Titus. “Mostly gettin’ fucked up.”

“Cool, be careful, TABC are going to be swarming that shit this year,” offered Mark. He brushed his long hair out of his face and eyed both the boys.

“That’s what they say every year,” laughed Cameron.

There were always rumors that the Texas Alcohol Bureau Commission was going to send undercover agents to the Cook-Off to bust underage drinking. Each year the rumors seemed more plausible as the Stonebrook County Fair has started drawing thousands from around the state each year.

“What about you, Keller?” Mark asked as he cut his eyes to Titus.

“I’ll probably be the one carrying Cam at the end of the night,” grunted Titus as he began to walk out the front doors. He stopped as soon as he emerged outside when he heard a piercing yelp from a police siren. He turned to see a Texas State Trooper cruiser tearing down the highway with the lights flashing. It seemed like the Troopers out here were always keeping themselves busy.

He wondered if that was the same Trooper who had comforted him during his dad’s suicide. He wished he had remembered the name of that Trooper who was so nice to him.

They arrived back at the house shortly after to see a familiar black Ford Taurus in the driveway and all of the church folk gone.

“Oh, shit,” said Titus quietly as he saw his girlfriend hurry out of the house, her eyes trained on Titus and followed by Ms. Keller

“Trip me,” whispered Titus to Cameron.

“What the fuck?” laughed Cameron as he turned to Titus.

“Fuck it,” hissed Titus. He tried to be quick enough to confuse anybody watching as to what he was doing. He took a very short step to allow his opposite foot to collide with the other, causing him to roll forward onto the sidewalk.

As he fell, he turned and quickly swiped the dip out of his bottom lip and wiped it on the ground as he pushed himself up. All this because he knew his mother would kill him for dipping.

“Oh my God!” gasped Alexis Lamb who quickly scurried through the small picket fence gate and ran to her boyfriend, “Are you okay?”

“Nope, call the paramedics, he broke his uterus,” said Cameron as he walked past Alexis towards Titus’ mom. Cameron softened his look as he approached Lydia Keller, offered his condolences and wrapped her in a big hug.

Alexis walked around Titus, inspecting him for damage and then hugged him tightly.

“I am so sorry to hear about your dad, babe,” she said softly and then pulled away, looking into his eyes, “but, Ty, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I just…I don’t know, I didn’t really want to talk about it,” explained Titus, “I mean, we weren’t that close.”

“I know, but it’s still your father!” exclaimed Alexis with concern bulging in her blue eyes, “You must upset to some degree, babe.”

“I mean, I guess I am, I just don’t feel like talking about it,” shrugged Titus as he moved his eyes to the ground, shoving his hands in his jeans.

“Titus Hammond Keller, I wish you would stop trying to hide your emotions from me,” conveyed Alexis as she put her hands on Titus’ broad shoulders. He noticed that when she was passionate her Texan accent would come out smooth as molasses. Usually, he liked it but he was in some kind of mood today.

“I’m not hiding shit, I just don’t want to talk about it,” retorted Titus.

“Wow, sorry for prying, I just care about you…” Alexis’ eyes softened and Titus could see that he had hurt her.

“Look, I’m sorry, I just-..”

..she don’t talk about religion, she talks about the Stones, oh she’s every girl I’ve every known…

Titus was interrupted as loud Texas Country music once again blared out of open windows as a silver Dodge Ram pickup marked with rusted pock marks came roaring off the Interstate. The beat-up truck screeched up beside Titus on the sidewalk and filled the air with diesel fumes. The engine cut off.

Dixon hopped out of the driver’s seat and stretched out. He was a tall, lanky guy with shaggy brown hair that had a farmer’s tan and always wore muscle shirts and jeans. The passenger side door opened up and Todd jumped out of the lifted truck, waddling over to Titus, his big beer belly wiggling.

Todd was pretty fat and fairly short, had round facial features and he kept his brown hair cut close to his head. He was always wearing a backwards baseball cap with collared shirts, jeans and very clean cowboy boots.

“Bro, we came as soon as we heard,” grimaced Todd, as he offered his meaty hand to Titus who took it and pulled Todd in for a big hug.

“Yessiree, but we were setting trot lines on Hammond Creek and the only thing we caught was a buzz.” Dixon let out a very extravagant belch.

“Real nice,” Alexis scowled as she waved the sour fumes away from her face.

Dixon winked and gave Alexis a quick hug and then went over to Ms. Keller.

“A couple of turtles snagged on the lines… lotta good that does us. Check ‘em out,” beckoned Todd. He went to the back of the truck and picked up a large turtle, holding it against his wide belly.

Alexis walked over and inspected the turtle as Titus turned and returned to the front lawn where his mother, Cameron and Dixon were talking. The conversation stopped as Titus walked up and his mother gave him a small smile.

“Is everyone staying for dinner, honey?” she asked.

“Naw, unfortunately, there’s a show tonight at The Rowdy Cowboy,” grinned Cameron.

The Rowdy Cowboy was a large dance hall and bar that was adjacent to the gas station and extended to behind the Keller residence. It had both large indoor and outdoor areas for concerts and dancing as well as around five staffed bar areas scattered around it. It was a very popular location on the weekends but made it quite hard to sleep for the Kellers.

“Well, y’all can eat real quick and then walk on over,” offered Ms. Keller.

“That does sound nice, momma, we’ll do that after we go get our dancing clothes on,” Cameron replied. Titus winced as Cameron called his mom “momma” as he always does. It wasn’t the fact that Cam called her his mom. With as much time as Cam spent over at their house growing up, she basically was a mother to him. Rather, it just felt like a weird word to Titus.

“Alright, y’all get dressed up and I’ll put supper on the stove,” smiled Ms. Keller as she turned and walked back inside. It had always felt nice to her to have company to cook for. She couldn’t stand silence very much. She took one more look at the group of teenagers in her yard and then walked inside.



Chapter Two



Ronnie’s Diner

Same Day

9:30 A.M.



‘Love And A .45’





Ryan Hightower rubbed his temples gently. With each rotation of his fingers, the splitting migraine would temporarily lose part of its intensity. But, no matter how much he tried, it was still pulsing through his head.

He picked up his mug of coffee and brought the strong, bitter liquid to his lips slowly. He set the mug back down on the counter and looked over his shoulder through the diner’s windows. He saw two Sheriff’s Office vehicles pulling into the parking lot, an unmarked grey Chevrolet Tahoe and a marked Ford Crown Victoria.

Ryan sighed and turned back to the counter. He rested his elbows on it, holding his mug with one hand and picking up a newspaper with the other.

Ding, ding.

Ryan heard the glass doors open behind him and then a hand clamp down on his shoulder. He took a second to turn his grimace into a forced smile and then turned to face Sheriff Lamb and Sergeant Schwarz.

Sheriff Lamb was fat and obnoxious. His big beer belly was about as prominent as the aged lines creasing his face. With hair as white as snow and a full snowy beard to match, he was the poster child for a hick town Sheriff.

Sergeant Schwarz was a tall, muscled man of middle age. He had joined the Sheriff’s Office shortly after getting out of the Marines. He had a salt-and-pepper grunt cut. Although he was the only Sheriff’s patrolman without facial hair, he fit in with the law enforcement community better than most officers of rank. He had also been partial to Ryan, who was also a veteran, so they had always been close.

“Morning, Trooper!” exclaimed Sheriff Lamb in his loud boisterous voice through his bushy mustache.

“Good morning, Sheriff,” smiled Ryan as he extended his hand and shook both the Sheriff and Sergeant’s rough hands. They took their seats at the counter to the right of Ryan.

“Just get done workin’ that rollover by the old lumber mill, Trooper?” smiled Sheriff Lamb as he waved over Darlene, the young woman who worked the counter.

“Yep, the driver walked away and the passenger is in critical condition,” stated Ryan as he moved his gaze to the wall in front of him, “Both of them are college students.”

“Damn shame, to see such young kids throwing away their lives with stupid decisions,” grunted Sheriff Lamb as he turned to his Sergeant with a smirk.

“You don’t even know what caused the wreck,” muttered Ryan.

“What was that?” Sheriff Lamb inquired as he raised a bushy eyebrow.

“It wasn’t a stupid decision that caused the wreck,” replied Ryan as he took another swig of hot coffee, “A cow was crossing the road and they swerved into old man Henry’s big oak tree by his fence.”

“Shiiit,” drawled Schwarz as he added sugar to his coffee, “Henry ain’t gonna be too happy ‘bout that. Damn shame about them kids, though.”

“Hmph,” retorted Sheriff Lamb as he nodded, “Well, I just think they should be more careful.”

Ryan’s lips creased as he stood up and unfolded a few dollars, placing them on the counter and smiling at the waitress. He picked up his hat and nodded at Sheriff Lamb and Schwarz.

“I’m going to head out to the hospital and see I can get a statement from the passenger if he’s stable,” explained Ryan as he turned the volume up on his Motorola radio.

“Roger that, have a good one, Trooper,” wave Sheriff Lamb as he turned to talk to a couple of locals who had walked up to him.



Ryan walked out to his black and white Dodge Charger cruiser. He unlocked the door and slipped inside, picking up his car radio mic and speaking into it.

“Dispatch, 341,” he called.

“Go, 341,” replied dispatch, acknowledging his incoming transmission.

“Copy, I’ll be 10-8, in service, show me en route to the hospital to get a statement from the passenger of the one vehicle accident,” spoke Hightower into the car mic.

“341, good copy,” came the reply.

Ryan’s phone rang and he picked it up, looking at the screen.

It was Trooper Reynolds, the other Trooper on this shift.

“Yo,” Ryan spoke into the phone.

“Hey, bud, I’m already at the hospital, I’ll get the statement for you,” Trooper Howard reported.

“What? I thought you were taking radar on 21?” inquired Ryan.

“Figured I’d give you a hand,” Trooper Howard responded quickly.

“Look, I appreciate it, but I know what this is about and I’m fine, man,” grumbled Ryan.

“I’m not trying to baby you, Ryan, I’m just giving you a hand. Just relax and go watch a stop sign,” laughed Howard.

“Roger that, I appreciate it, man.”

Ryan put the phone down and turned to his MDC, a mobile computer in his cruiser. He began to click through his emails.

He began to read a volunteer request email put out by the local VA lodge looking for a law enforcement escort for a funeral. The deceased was a kid from Tacoma Hills that joined the Marines. Apparently, he had gotten hit by mortar fire while on patrol.

Ryan bit his lip and deleted the email. He had done enough escorts for one life. He began to read the other emails but zoned out slowly and stared straight through the computer as the windows around him got smaller. He felt a bead of sweat falling down his face as the temperature rose suddenly. Ryan looked up and saw he wasn’t at the diner.

He was in a Humvee in Iraq.



"Hammer, rotate to 6, check on Charlie truck!" yelled the convoy commander through his headset.

"Copy," came the reply as the big turret swiveled around.

"Jesus Christ!" screamed Hammer into his mic, "Oh Christ, they're on fire! Charlie truck is down!"

Ryan tried to look at the side view mirrors but they were too skewed. There was no way he could see what was going on behind them.

From how his best friend Hammer was making it sound, shit was getting real.

The convoy commander glances at Hammer then pushes his mic closer to his mouth.

Ryan tried to hear the transmission but it came out jumbled, so he pressed his headset against his ears.



“341, 341, how do you copy?” the radio crackled again, snapping Ryan back to reality.

He picked up the car mic, “Go for 341.”

“Copy, can I have you en route to the Walmart parking lot for a 10-71, 10-93, reports of assault in progress and assist county?”

“10-4, I’ll be five minutes out.”

“Copy that, 341.”

Ryan shifted the car in reverse and sped down the interstate, engaging his lights to get around traffic on the four lane highway. He got stuck behind a pickup truck that was ambling along in one lane and a big rig that was going just as slow in the other. He hit his siren a couple of times. The driver of the pickup jerked his head and looked in the mirror before slowing down to get behind the big rig.

He considered giving the driver a one fingered salute but decided against it.

Ryan sped around, passed the high school football field and floored it through the middle of town.

“Dispatch, Adam 23, 10-23, we’re on scene, it’s going to be two males and a female, it appears that the two males are attacking the female, show us on approach,” a voice cackled on the radio.

“Adam 23, Dispatch, copy your last, proceed with caution,” replied the dispatcher, “Break, 341, what’s your ETA?”

Hightower picked up the mic, “Dispatch, 341, I’m pulling in now.”

“Copy, 341.”

Hightower pulled into the nearest parking lot entrance and immediately saw the flashing lights of the city police car that was on scene. Two of the officers were wrestling one of the men to the ground while the second male suspect began advancing towards the female again, who was crying and holding her hands up in front of her face.

Hightower drove through the parking lot and sped around the city cruiser, stopping just inches from the second suspect who turned and jumped back to avoid being hit.

Hightower put the car in the park and jumped out, one hand on his taser and his other outstretched towards the man.

“Get on the fuckin’ ground!” he ordered the man.

“I ain’t done shit!” shouted the suspect as he raised his fists towards the Trooper.

Then, suddenly, he turned swiftly and reared back to swing at the female behind him.

Ryan bum rushed the man and wrapped his arms around him as he put all of his force into driving the suspect into the ground.

The suspect let out a yell as Hightower used all of his strength to roll the man over and put all of his weight on him.

Several more sirens wavered as the city and county cruisers approached the scene.

Deputies rushed out and several of them assisted Hightower in pulling the man’s hands behind his back and cuffing him.

“Dispatch, Charlie 99, both in custody,” one of the city officers spoke into his mic.

One of the deputies hoisted the suspect up and pushed him towards a cruiser to begin the search.

A knife was on the ground where he was laying.

“Goddamn, Hightower,” chuckled Sheriff Lamb as he waddled up past several cruisers and a group of officers on top of the first suspect, “Why didn’t you just TASE the Mexican bastard?”

“I could handle it,” muttered Hightower as he dusted off his tan pants and looked around the parking lot, seeing crowds of people forming and taking pictures.

“It’s not a matter of whether you thought you could handle it,” remarked the Sheriff, his tone becoming less jovial, “If he would’ve out-maneuvered you then he could’ve taken out your firearm and you’d all be dead.”

“Sheriff, I appreciate your concern and I know you county boys do it different, but trust me when I say that I knew what I was doing.”

“Alright, Hightower, do what you want.” Sheriff Lamb gave a dismissive wave of his hands.

“Thanks.”

Ryan turned and walked past his cruiser to see the victim with tears in her eyes as she stared absently all the activity.

He immediately noted how attractive she was. She was a fairly short, thin woman with long brunette hair, big brown eyes, tanned skin and long legs. She appeared to be in her mid-20s. Then he noticed the large bruise forming on her right eye. He also took note of her various tattoos on her right arm, left leg, chest and God knows where else.

“Ma’am, I’m Trooper Ryan Hightower with the Texas Department of Public Safety,” he introduced himself.

“Echo,” she said softly as she wiped her uninjured eye.

“Ms. Echo, I have a few questions for you, if you feel up to it. We have medical on their way to check you out,” he explained.

“I don’t need an ambulance.”

“Obviously, we can’t force you to be checked out but I suggest that you do, ma’am.”

“I’m fine. Don’t call me ma’am.”

“Alright, Ms. Echo, well can you tell me what happe-..”

“Look, these two guys came up to me and harassed me. I told them to fist fuck themselves. They apparently weren’t big fans of that suggestion. That’s it.”

“Ma’am, we are trying to help you,” remarked the Trooper as his features stiffened, “I need to take a full statement from you. Everything you say will be submitted to the court proceedings and help put them away.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it will…look, I’m sorry, it’s just been a real asshole of a day,” replied Echo as her eyes softened.

“I understand, Ms. Echo, you can take a few moments to collect your thoughts,” retorted the Trooper.

“You have a cig?”

“I’m sorry?”

“A cigarette… do you have a cigarette?”

“Yeah, I… one, sec,” replied Ryan as he turned and went to his cruiser, taking a pack of cigarettes from his bag in the trunk that he kept there to calm victims. He returned to Echo as an ambulance pulled up on scene.

Ryan handed the woman a cigarette and a lighter. She immediately light it up and took a long drag.

“You gonna have a smoke with me, officer?” she asked, a small smile playing across her lips.

“No, I don’t smoke when I’m working,” he replied dismissively, pulling out a notepad from his pocket.

“Ooh, what a boy scout.” Sarcasm seeped from her voice.

An older paramedic, who looked like your average small town history teacher, (and actually was the town’s high school history teacher when he wasn’t being called upon as a volunteer EMS worker) walked up to the couple with a bag in his hand. He set it down and moved towards Echo.

“I don’t want medical attention,” stated Echo as she stared at the paramedic.

“I just want to do a quick check-up to make sure everything’s dandy, ma’am,” replied the paramedic earnestly.

“Well, there’s an asshole in cuffs over there who got trucked by your Trooper here. Felt like I was watching NFL highlights,” she stated flatly.

The paramedic turned, stroked his graying beard and grinned at Ryan, “How are you doing, Ryan?”

“Same shit, different day, Derrick,” replied Ryan as he shook the old man’s hand.

Derrick looked at Hightower’s bleeding elbow, then met his eyes, “You want something for that?”

“Derrick, I already have a mother,” smirked Ryan as he shifted his eyes from Derrick to Echo.

“Well, make sure you let your mother know I tried to help you,” smiled Derrick, the wrinkles around his eyes creasing, “Otherwise, she’ll kick my butt!”

Appearing suddenly behind Derrick was Deputy Sheriff Turner Chase who was a fairly short, young man with a round face and brown hair. Chase had been Ryan’s best friend since High School and it made them closer to both have pursued a career in law enforcement, albeit in different departments.

Derrick turned and smiled, “What do you say, Mr. Chase?”

“I open mouth tongue kissed a horse one time,” grinned Deputy Chase.

“And this is where I leave,” Derrick left with a shake of his head.

Chase gave an acknowledging nod to Echo and turned to Ryan.

“Just a head’s up, Evil Santa is here,” advised Chase, an allusion to the Sheriff.

“His sleigh already stopped by here but I appreciate the heads up,” Ryan replied. He gave Chase a slap on the back but the Deputy was looking past Ryan. Then, Chase cast an annoyed look at Ryan and quickly turned to leave the area.

“Trooper Hightower!” exclaimed the Sheriff as he walked over and shifted his gaze to the woman, “Well, hello there, pretty lady. My, my, you are eye candy.”

“Eat me, shit dick,” she said flatly as she glared daggers at the Sheriff.

“Woah, feisty one,” sneered the Sheriff as he cut his eyes back to Ryan, “The city wants to take lead on this one and I’m inclined to agree with them. So you can cut out but make sure you fill out a report on what happened and send it over.”

Ryan nodded and then closed his notebook. He looked into Echo’s mesmerizing brown eyes, noticing a sweet coconut smell wafting from her perfume, and then tipped his cowboy hat at her.

“Miss Echo, hope your day gets better.” Ryan pivoted on his heels and walked briskly towards his cruiser.

Echo just gave him a quick nod as a High Creek Police officer came over to take her statement.

Ryan shook a few hands with the other local officers and then opened the door to his cruiser to get in.

“Trooper Hightower!” called Echo.

Ryan looked over at Echo and raised his head in curiosity.

“Thank you for wiping the pavement with that shithead,” she said loudly with a wide smile spreading on her face and her small tanned hand moving to cover her eyes as they glinted in the blazing hot Texas sun.

Ryan gave a small smile, a nod and then climbed into his cruiser.

He turned the vehicle on and then watched Echo as she spoke to the other officer. He thought to himself.

That girl is trouble.





Chapter Three

DPS Office

That Night

9:45 P.M.



‘Saturday Night’





Ryan Hightower sat in his black crew cab Ford F150 in the parking lot of the Stonebrook County DPS office for a few minutes, listening to the Randy Rogers band play on his radio. He slowly moved his hand to the cup holder in his truck and picked up a small tin can of dip, taking out a pinch and shoving it into his bottom lip.

I can see you, standing with him, he ain’t holding your hand like he should. He ain’t listening to a word you say, he don’t look at you the way I would. I should steal you away.

The soothing song reverberated through the pickup like strong waves on solid rocks, covering every corner and sending Hightower into a deep trance as he became encapsulated with the moment.

Perhaps, however, it was just how goddamn tired he was. His phone lit up and he glanced at the screen. It was an ex-girlfriend calling him for the second time. He thought for a second and then declined it.





Ryan shifted the truck into drive and pulled out of the parking lot.

Usually, he took his cruiser home with him but it was having a weird vibration so he thought it best to leave it there and let the county take a look at it first thing in the morning.

He turned right onto Interstate 21 and drove through the dimly lit town as his radio playlist shifted to Wade Bowen, another Texas Country artist singing about lost love.

Ryan slowed his truck down as he was passing The Rowdy Cowboy, a local dancehall that always had a fight or two every weekend.

He immediately noticed a large group of scattered people in the parking lot, drinking beer while sitting on their tailgates or standing around as they listened to the echoes of live band playing in the outdoor portion of the dancehall.

Then he cut his eyes to a group of men that appeared tense, two of whom were standing toe to toe.

Suddenly one of the men, whom Ryan recognized as a local named Jackson, threw a punch at the fat man, who looked fairly young.

Then it was on and two groups of men were pummeling each other while several women yelled for them to stop.

Motherfucker, thought Ryan as he engaged his hidden red and blue strobes and pulled into the parking lot.

All heads shot in his direction with wide eyes all around.

He picked up his phone as he was pulling up and rang the county’s 911 call center.

“Hey Nancy, its Ryan, send me a few patrols to The Rowdy Cowboy, I got a brawl going on,” he spoke quickly.

“Okie dokie, Ryan, be safe, I got a unit in the area,” she said cheerfully, “By the way, did your momma say what she needed us to bring for the church bar-be-cue on Sunday?”

“Nance, sorry but I’m gonna have to get back to you on that one.”

He threw the phone to the passenger seat, jumped out as the dust was still flying from his truck and jogged over to the group, where the overweight guy was on the ground holding his eye.

“What the hell is going on here?” he questioned with fire in his eyes as he looked around the group.

“This fat kid was mouthing off, so I put him in his place, Ryan,” mouthed a bearded, wiry older man in a flannel shirt.

“Son of a bitch, Jackson, you know good and well you can’t just hit everyone who looks at you the wrong way,” sneered Ryan as he took a pair of cuffs from his duty belt out, “You knew that the last two times you went to jail. Shit, you know I’m gonna have to tell your mom I arrested you again.”

“Aw hell, Ryan, don’t go doin’ that, she’s got heart problems - you know that!” scoffed Jackson as he wiped blood from his dirty knuckles.

“If I don’t tell her, then she’ll find out and beat my head in, Jackson, you know that,” Ryan shook his head and moved towards Jackson with the cuffs in hand.

A wavering siren became louder as a county Sheriff’s Department cruiser pulled into the parking lot behind Ryan’s truck, the strobes still on and illuminating every window in the parking lot with brilliant reds and blues.

Ryan looked behind him at the cruiser pulling up and then heard the skidding of dirt from boots. He shot his head back to the crowd to see one group of males including the little fat guy running from the parking lot towards the back of the gas station accompanied by several females.

Ryan was about to sprint after them when one of the females glanced back as she ran.

Ryan instantly recognized that face.

I’ll be damned, he remarked to himself, if that ain’t the Sheriff’s daughter, little miss Alexis Lamb.

He smiled and took out his phone to make a very satisfying phone call.







Keller Residence

Same Night

Same Time



“Wait up, ya’ fucks!” shouted Todd as he huffed and puffed.

The group tore through the back of the gas station and jumped Titus’ fence, slowing down to sneak onto his back porch.

“Jesus Christ,” wheezed Cameron as he put his hands on his knees, breathing heavily, “We ain’t going for an Olympic Gold medal here.”

“We are running from the goddamn police, Cam!,” hollered Sarah May, who was Alexis’ best friend as well as Cameron’s on/off casual romantic interest.

“Hell, he didn’t even chase us, we’re good,” grinned Cameron as he sat down on the porch.

“Keep your voices down!” hissed Titus as he looked back to see if his mom had turned on any lights to investigate the noise.

Nothing.

“Okay, I’m going to go make sure she’s asleep,” whispered Titus, looking at each member of the group carefully to convey seriousness. Then, he grabbed Alexis’ hand, “Lexi will come with me because my mom is less likely to shoot her. Y’all keep it down!”

Titus and Alexis slowly slipped inside the back door while Cameron, Sarah May, Dixon and Todd sat down on the patio furniture. They all locked eyes on the dance hall and saw there were more red and blue lights flashing.

“Todd, you talk too much shit,” grumbled Dixon as he pulled a lukewarm beer from his cargo pocket and opened it.

Todd laughed quietly and retorted, “Jackson is a wash-out, I figured he could take a joke or two.”

“A joke or two? You roasted his truck for a solid half-hour,” grimaced Dixon as he took a swig of his beer.

“He drives a Toyota Tacoma, I always go for the low-hanging fruit. What’d you want me to do?” sneered Todd.

“Hmm, I don’t know, Todd, but perhaps you shouldn’t congratulate him for the advances in gay marriage,” grinned Dixon as he set the beer down on the porch.

That elicited a sharp laugh from Cameron and a small chuckle from Jessica.

“Well, it was a fair assumption that he was a bit of a Rhinestone cowboy, ridin’ dicks up and down Interstate 21, Dixie,” smiled Todd as he stood up and stretched.

The flashing lights ceased at the dance hall parking lot.

“Lookin’ like they givin’ up, boys,” grinned Cameron as he leaned over and grabbed Dixon’s beer and took a big chug.

“Yeah, you hope,” remarked Dixon as he snatched the beer back from Cameron.

The door behind them creaked open.

“Come on, my mom’s asleep, we can hang out in my room for a while,” whispered Titus from the darkness of the house.

The group stood up and slowly walked through the clean Keller residence to Titus’ fairly large room.

Cam, Sarah May, and Dixon sat on Titus’ futon that was in the middle of the room facing his large TV. Alexis laid down on Titus’ big bed with Titus and Todd sitting on the edge.

Todd picked up Titus’ guitar and strummed a few sour chords while mocking a Southern drawl.

“Aw, I done got divorced by ma’ dead gum dog,” he sang, “And my momma’s in jaiiiiil for killin’ ma’ pa’.”

Dixon turned on the TV, muted it and then powered up Titus’ new game system, tossing a controller to Titus.

“So, tonight was a good night, ay’?” remarked Dixon as he played the video game.

“Yeah, until Todd got the shit knocked out of him,” retorted Titus.

“Hey! I got a few punches in!” replied Todd.

“The only thing you hit was the air and then the ground, Todd,” laughed Dixon, “Cam and Titus did the shit kickin’ for ya’.”

Sarah May and Alexis laughed.

“Hell, I had fun,” smirked Cam.

Bang, bang, bang.

All ears perked and eyes shot towards the bedroom door.

Somebody was knocking on the front door.

“What the fuck?” whispered Titus, “Did y’all invite somebody over?”

“No!” came all the replies.

They heard footsteps indicating that Ms. Keller was walking from her bedroom to the front door.

They faintly heard the conversation.

“Hi, Ms. Keller, I’m Trooper Hightower, I’m looking for Ms. Alexis Lamb and her father tells me that she may be here tonight.”

“Um, they went out tonight and I don’t think they’re home yet, let me go check my son’s room.”

The group panicked.

“Everybody act fucking cool!” sneered Titus.

The door opened.

Cam, Todd, Sarah May, and Alexis all fell on their sides in a very poor ploy to convey that they were asleep. Dixon continued to play the game. Titus just shook his head in defeat.

“Titus Hammond, why are the police here?” asked Ms. Keller sternly, “and why are all of your friends acting like a bunch of possums?”

“I really don’t know, Mom,” responded Titus as he tried his best look of innocence and confusion, “As for the second question, they’re dumbasses.”

“Well, Lexi, when you are done being asleep, he wants to see you,” Ms. Keller said softly.

Alexis opened one eye and then sat up.

“Sorry, Ms. Keller,” she offered ashamedly as she got up and walked to the front entrance.

The rest of the group peeked out from closed eyes to see Ms. Keller look at them, sigh and walk back to the front.

“Ms. Lamb, I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind,” began Ryan.

“I do mind, I would like a parent with me before I answer any questions,” retorted Alexis.

“Oh? Well that’s certainly your right. Your father is on his way here now.”

“Good.”

Titus was listening from his open bedroom door as he heard a vehicle pull up to the front of the house.

“Alexis Nancy Lamb!” Titus heard a loud boisterous yell that could only come from Sheriff Lamb, “What have you done?”

“Dad, I didn’t do anything! We went to the concert and then came back. Nothing happened.”

“That’s not what the Trooper is telling me.”

“He must be confused, Dad.”

“Look, everybody relax, I am just following up about a fight that occurred moments ago,” began Ryan, “And I am fairly certain that I saw you running from the scene, so it appears you may have information about what happened.”

Titus could not let Alexis take the fall any longer so he rounded the corner and walked to the front and began, “She doesn’t know anything.”

Just then, he locked eyes with Ryan and instantly recognized him.

He was the State Trooper that was at the scene of Titus’ father’s suicide.

It seemed, from the look on the Trooper’s face, that he made that connection as well.

“Actually,” Ryan began as his eyes softened, locked on Titus, “I’m fairly certain that neither of these kids are who I am looking for.”

Sheriff Lamb raised his eyebrows and retorted, “What? You said you saw my daughter running away. You woke me up and had me drive down here because you were so sure.”

“I never said I was certain,” remarked Ryan as he fixed his eyes on Sheriff Lamb, “And furthermore, I told you I would handle it and then call you when I made contact with your daughter and was more positive that she was involved.”

“Hmph… regardless, I’m taking her home with me, it’s very late,” replied Sheriff Lamb as his pudgy face reddened, “Grab your things, Alexis, let’s go home.”

Alexis furrowed her brows and then went back into Titus’ room to grab her bag.

“Are we going to jail?” asked Todd quietly as he strummed the guitar again.

“No, the Trooper said it wasn’t me,” she replied with confusion, “Which is really weird because I know I locked eyes with him. He must be stupid.”

She motioned Sarah May to follow her then turned and disappeared into the living room.

Alexis walked to the front door but waved Sarah May through so she could talk to Titus.

“I’m sorry about my dad, babe,” she spoke quietly as the Trooper and Mrs. Keller conversed in the open front door just a few feet away.

Titus rolled his eyes and nodded.

“Are you mad?” she pressed, reaching a soft hand out and grabbing at his arm.

Titus pulled his arm away and suddenly glared at her, “I told you that would happen, Alexis. I said it wasn’t a good idea for you to come tonight, I knew something would happen and everybody knows who you are.”

The words cut deep into Alexis who visibly wavered.

“Ty, I’m sorry… I just wanted to hang out with you, we hardly hang out… much less ever spend time alone anymore,” she muttered, her eyes averted to the floor.

“Look…” Titus began, he studied Alexis. He didn’t understand why he had such immature and volatile outbursts but that didn’t excuse him, he knew that. “I don’t know, maybe you’re right. We’ll hang out. Maybe tomorrow.”

That was enough to put a smile on Alexis’ face. With that, she kissed his cheek and trotted out through the front door. She bid farewell to Titus’ mother and hopped into the Sheriff’s Tahoe.

Titus waved to the Sheriff as they drove off down Greenland Road. Only the Trooper, Titus and his mother remained at the front door of the home. An awkward silence befell them all.

“Well, if you have any more information about what happened tonight, give me a call, Mister…”

“Keller. Titus Keller,” replied Titus.

“Right, Mr. Keller, here’s my card,” replied Ryan as he handed over a stiff white card, his eyes narrowing on Titus, “Be sure to let me know if your friends have anything to tell me about tonight that might seem important.”

“Yes, sir,” said Titus as he raised one eyebrow and shoved the card into his pocket.

The Trooper tipped his cowboy hat and walked down the path to a solid black Ford truck.

Titus admired the truck with its black wheels, big armored grill guard and lift kit.

The Trooper flashed his lights as a goodbye signal as he drove down Greenland road.

“Oh wow, that must be the State Trooper that lives at the end of our road,” remarked Ms. Keller as she watched the truck’s taillights disappear down the dirt county road.

“Guess so,” Titus replied as he turned and walked back towards his room.

“Titus Hammond,” declared Ms. Keller, “Is there anything you need to tell me?”

Titus turned, flashed a grin and shrugged, “Nothing more than what the Trooper already said, Mom, just a case of mistaken identity.”

Then, his mother crossed her arms and furrowed her brow. Her face told him he was in trouble.

“Titus Hammond, you need to be nicer to that girl,” she said curtly.

“What are you talking about, mom?” he asked, taken aback by the random subject.

“She’s gonna leave you for somebody who treats her better if you don’t shape up, Tiger,” continued his mother, calling him by her favorite nickname to soften her words.

Titus felt almost offended but he was sure his mother didn’t know what she was talking about. She didn’t understand the relationship, he thought.

“She’s not going to dump me, mom,” replied Titus with an eye roll. Mrs. Keller could see that he was missing the point but let him turn to walk back to his room.

“Mhm,” grunted Ms. Keller with disappointment undertones, “Do I need to make some beds up for your friends?”

“No, I’ll do it, thanks,” replied Titus as he picked up a jacket from the ground and walked to his room.

“I love you very much, Titus,” smiled the mother, lines of age forming across her face as her features lit up.

“Love you too, Mom,” remarked Titus as he disappeared into his room.

Ms. Keller watched as Titus closed his door, folding her arms and smiling.

Titus lay down on his bed. Todd lay down next to him, a loving look in his eyes.

“I’m such a lucky girl to have you,” smiled Todd as he stroked his own head, acting like he was moving long hair behind his ears.

“Shit, your tits ARE bigger than most of the girls in our class,” laughed Dixon.

“Always ruining my romantic moments out of sheer jealousy,” snarled Todd as he sat up on the bed.

“Y’all think Sarah May’s getting too attached to me?” asked Cameron, breaking his long silence.

“Hell, Cam, she was all over you tonight,” Dixon replied as he mashed buttons on the controller, killing Cam’s virtual soldier.

“Yeah, she’s pretty clingy,” he said with a small smile.

“Chill, fag,” laughed Dixon as he elbowed Cameron, “You’re only 18, you don’t need no woman holding you down and makin’ you miserable.”

“Yo, fuck, we gotta go, Dixon,” exclaimed Todd as he checked his phone, “My mom called me like three times!”

Todd jumped up and shot his hand out, giving Titus a quick goodbye fist bump.

They all said their goodbyes, then Dixon chugged the rest of his warm beer and threw his can under Titus’ bed and sprinted out the front door with Todd.


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