Most often here I write about the market, offer writing tips, host wonderful guest bloggers. I really enjoying penning this blog. But it shouldn’t be too surprising for me to share that there’s nothing I love more than writing my books. Is there anything better than hunkering down and going elbow-deep in the art? Can my soul smile any broader than the moment I am so immersed in my writing that the real world dissolves to nothing and my characters embrace me, telling their story through my heart and out my fingertips?
I’ve nearly finished the first draft of my third novel. My first two books are part of my fledgling series of novels featuring Denver Detective Bobby Mac. I love Bobby. The readers seem to love him, too. And I owe them, the readers, the third book in that series. For the record, I’ve started it. But this book I’m writing now—this novel I will very soon finish—I have been writing for a few years, off and on.
It’s that book. You know the one. The one you always knew you had to write. The itch on your muse’s backside that she can’t quite reach; the hitch in your creative getup that won’t go away until you tell the story.
I grew up in a small town in northwest Wyoming. Gorgeous country. Some of the last of raw Americana. The land is hard, the mountains are equally majestic and unforgiving. The lakes are blue as the ocean, deep as Hades, and cold as the glaciers that feed them. You get two and a half months of cool summer before winter rises from her catnap and gets back to exerting her dominance.
I’ve heard it called God’s country. I can’t speak to that, but I can tell you that the people that live up there are like no others I’ve ever known in my life (or likely ever will know). It was a great place to grow up and the character (and characters) of that town made me who I am today. Doesn’t matter that I live in the big city. The eight years I spent in Los Angeles would have been enough to chase away the small town child in most of us, but nothing could ever touch the heart and soul that grew rock solid in me up there in Big Wonderful Wyoming.
And so this story I had to tell. My magnum opus. An homage to the austere, tenacious, visceral, sovereign countryside I still think of as “home”.
The book is called Dark Prairies. I have to tell you it was a fun book to write. Much of the story and the nuances of the characters come straight out of my childhood memory. If you love murder, love, loss, betrayal, revenge, heroes, villains, courtroom drama, twists, turns, and a journey into the dark side of us all, then I think you’ll like Dark Prairies.
To whet your appetite, here’s a little teaser:
PRUETT STOOD outside Ty McIntyre’s jail cell with a plate of hot food from Casa de Zenda. Proprietor Zenda Martinez served the food and took care of the books. Her husband, Roberto, set the authentic Mexican menu and cooked the food.
Ty lay on his back, knees up, boots flat on the mattress.
“Lunch,” said Pruett.
Ty looked over with his eyes only.
“Brung in from where?”
Pruett opened the slat in the door and set down the tray of steaming refried beans, crispy flour quesadillas, and sweet rice.
“From next door.”
“Pruett,” Ty said and got up from his bed. He walked to the bars, leaned against them. He extended a thick, callused hand.
Sheriff Pruett stared for a moment, finally accepting Ty’s meaty, sandpaper paw. It was just something you did.
“Ain’t much in this world I’m sorry for,” Ty said, “but this is one time. I loved her too, though I never said so.”
Pruett felt the barbaric strength in McIntyre’s grip. A nervous flutter ran across his backside. He’d let his guard down. Miscalculated. The gun was holstered on his right side. If anything went down, he’d never be able to cross-reach for it with his left hand. Not in time.
Ty smiled, as if he knew the chess game going on inside the sheriff’s brain. His battered, wood-colored teeth pulled straight back in a hangman’s smile. He released Pruett’s hand, picked up the tray of food, took it back to his bunk, and started eating hungrily.
The sheriff walked the hallway back to the office. He again felt cowardly. It was not a feeling he planned on befriending. Maybe it was too soon to be back. Baptiste and Munney argued against his returning so soon, and only with what candor they could muster. It was clear that he was pushing the line, but that was how he lived and worked and he wasn’t planning on changing any of that any time soon. And Pruett prided himself in his ability to detach from the personal. He knew how to work; how to put the job first and be a sheriff.
But after the stupid mistake back in lockdown, he now wondered if he’d misjudged the place of his heart in all of it. No one would blame him, but that wasn’t the point. He would not be able to stand the look of his own mug in the mirror.
Back in his chair, shame and fury swirled in his head like a chimney fire. Fueled by the self-embarrassment of his failure back at the Willow Saloon, he returned to Ty’s cell.
“I’d kill you if duty didn’t say otherwise,” Pruett said.
Ty did not look up from his plate.
“Guess I have it coming,” he said.
“You do,” Pruett said. “But my job is to treat you like any other. Let the jury decide and the state hang you.”
“Don’t hang ‘em in Wyoming anymore, Sheriff. You know that. It’s been a few years at least.”
“You and I never cared much for one another, Ty. But I’m guessin’ we both loved Bethy.”
“I always thought highly of you, Sheriff. Really I did. Was always grateful you found Bethy and did right by her. And you always treated me fair, every damn time I was in the poke.”
Ty was a brawler and a drunk and had spent many nights cooling off in the very cell that he now occupied.
“Is that all you come back to say?” Ty said.
Ty looked up at him with coal-colored, scurrilous eyes.
“Then say it.”
“I don’t know what happened on the ranch for sure,” the sheriff said. “I know what you already said. Your pa and brother aren’t saying anything else. Neither is Honey. I would advise you to get a lawyer and follow suit.”
“Already happenin’,” said Ty. “Niece in Laramie is tryin’ to gather one up. Some professor. “
“Like that’ll help, I says to her. But she said to shut my trap just the same.”
“Give a shout when the food’s done,” Pruett said. “I’ll send a deputy.”
“I meant what I said about sorry,” Ty said, returning to his plate. “But just so we’re clear…I won’t be sayin’ it again.”
“I meant it, too,” Pruett said. “All of it.”
As the sheriff walked away, a cold line of sweat ran down his spine. The gun on his right hip felt dense; as heavy as the world atop his shoulders.
MCINTYRE BOYS stacked hard time. Life in many ranch households left few choices for the sons—or sometimes even the daughters. Fathers wore the ranching mentality into a boy, long and relentless. A rancher’s son would unlikely ever choose any other type of life. Psychologists called such conditioning institutionalization. Ranchers passed it forward decade by decade—century by century. Not a rite of passage but rather an inheritance of duty, burned hotly and deeply into a child; as permanent as any brand.
Ranch country made for a hard living. The land was unkind to those who worked it, so families sometimes became commensurately unkind to their own. Few, however, were as unkind to their own as the McIntyres.
Ty’s father, Rory, inherited the entirety of the McIntyre property when his own father died of a weak heart. Two-thousand upper acres of rough terrain and hayfields; a lower four-thousand acre parcel. The ranch house, a barn, a stable, two corrals, and all the heavy equipment were on the lower piece. Rory’s two brothers had died early in life; young, in their twenties. Rory’s father found the pair, trapped and frozen in a surprise fall blizzard while moving the last of the cattle down from the upper McIntyre place.
Rory married and Honey gave him four sons in a row before he drew a daughter. Ty was the youngest of the boys and a year older than Bethy. Still, he was the best ranch hand, as well as the toughest and the meanest. Ty easily wrestled calves for branding when he was eight and could buck a bale of hay faster than some adult men could when he was ten or eleven.
When he was thirteen, a man named Sketch Borland made a wisecrack about Ty’s cereal bowl haircut. The boy lit into Borland like a small bobcat tearing into a Grizzly ten times its size. Borland was no fighter, and a bit of a drunkard, but he had at least a hundred pounds on the young boy. The rest of the crew had to pull little Ty off the older man.
Ty’s brothers—Rance, Cort, and Dirk—were tough too, in that order and according to age. But Ty could handle them all. One at a time or together.
Like Ty, Rance and Cort had parcels of the ranch. The two of them rode saddle bronc and bareback almost every summer weekend at the rodeo grounds in Wind River. Dirk did not ranch. He worked as a crack rider for an outfitting business that caravanned tourists and hunters in and out of the Wind River Mountains.
Ty considered them all pussies. Dirk because he rode soft horses for a living and never did rodeo. The other two because Ty had never really considered it rodeo to ride any animal less angry or dangerous than a bull.
Bulls bloodied and broke Ty into pieces throughout his life. Doctors pinned together and replaced parts of him so many times that against the gloaming light you could see his spine make two distinct turns, like an S-curve on a mountain road. His face had been stomped so magnificently one Friday night that his head swelled to double its size, his face grape-colored and horrifying. It healed mostly, but stayed as cratered and uneven as the surface of the moon.
Over the years, hardship took several inches off Ty’s stature, but those same years added twenty pounds of mass, too. A thin layer of wintering fat hid fresh, sinewy muscle, and more than a few pounds of angst.
Ty McIntyre was getting old, but he was still a man most would rather see on the other side of the street.