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First pages

1.

Claudia started every day the same way. Up at six, sharp, she renewed herself, scraping away the night’s betrayal, and put on a clean dress. It was always red or blue, and she always wore white stockings. Even in the heat of summer, she wore those stockings everywhere. She went through at least one pair every week.

Claudia would then go to the kitchen and make breakfast. It was always bacon, scrambled eggs, and pancakes with syrup and butter. Before she ate she started cleaning the dishes, washing the batter from the mixing bowl before it had the chance to set.

Finally, with breakfast ready and no hint of stress on her brow, she woke up her sister, Jewel. This task took longer than getting dressed and making breakfast combined.

She would open her sister’s door, go to the window and open the curtains. Claudia always made sure it was just when the morning light was fully bringing the world into focus. Jewel already had too much in her life that was fuzzy. She didn’t need the haze of dawn adding to her ongoing confusion.

Opening the door removed the only barrier between Jewel’s snoring and the rest of the house. Some mornings, Claudia noticed the bedroom window shake as she pulled away the heavy gingham. Studying her sister, she took a moment to look at her face, florid and full, making sure she didn’t wake her from a bad dream. Claudia had done that before. It never went well.

Satisfied that Jewel wasn’t in the midst of some night terror, Claudia started a slow and gentle nudge. It was always the same speed, not too fast, just slow and consistent. Sometimes she prodded her sister this way for almost twenty minutes, never getting impatient, never changing her rhythm. If she did it right, which was almost all the time after all these years, Jewel’s eyes slowly opened. They were slits at first, still watching the last of her dreams fade away. Gradually they got wider until Claudia came into view, bending over her bed with a slight smile. She’d also hum along to the Glen Campbell song jingling from the player in the living room. It was always a Glen Campbell song.

Her Claudia over her, Jewel smiled at the face she loved the most. She then slung herself off the side of the bed and made her way to the kitchen table, ready to eat the waiting pancakes. They would’ve cooled by now, as had the rest of her meal, but that was the way she liked them. Hot was bad.

Before her first bite, Jewel would tell her sister the same thing she told her every morning.

“I’m glad you found it. I’m very glad you found it.”

“So am I,” Claudia always replied.

Breakfast over, Jewel went to the back porch, enclosed in cracked and dirty glass. There she sat in her recliner, staring into the woods stretching to the Bird River three hundred yards away. Like her sister, she hummed along with Glen.

Claudia then made Jewel’s lunch, placed it in the icebox, and left through the front door. She’d put on her tennis shoes, kept on the front porch, and go to the little barn just to the left of the house. There she retrieved her baby carriage. It wasn’t a real one but instead a child’s toy, pink with faded blue trim. She always kept the hood up, as a mother would while strolling with her child on a bright day. Claudia took the original wheels off and replaced them with small, fat bicycle wheels she found at the flea market. She was handy and reinforced the body of the carriage with metal from her cousins’ scrap yard. If there was ever a toy-baby-carriage demolition derby, hers would surely win.

Then, every day when the weather allowed, she walked.

Gratis County, where she lived, didn’t have sidewalks on its country roads, and Claudia was miles from the county seat of Gratis. She would have to walk on the side, dodging ruts, mud, and the trash thrown out every day. It wasn’t easy, but that’s what she did.

She walked from her home and then along the northern arc of the county. Every couple of days she made her way to Gratis, where it sat along the Bird. Her route was circuitous, following country roads as it did. She carefully planned how far she could go in order to be back home before dusk turned into night. Walking the roads was too dangerous at night, and then she couldn’t see, couldn’t watch as she walked.

If she couldn’t watch, there was no reason for her to walk.

Once she finished her northern arc, she walked the southern route. This was easier, as much of it was swallowed by the Neck swamp. She did have to be careful on the two bridges that spanned over the Bird. They were the only way to get to her southern route, so she had to take them. Claudia only traversed them during light traffic hours. Most motorists weren’t too kind to a person slowly pushing a toy baby carriage in the roadway.

Claudia found that most folks weren’t too kind to her anyway, wherever she was. When they drove by, the best she could hope for was indifference. Often, her hopes fell short. She was met with whatever foul words could be conjured up at sixty miles an hour.

“Freak!”

“Weirdo!”

These were common, but usually not the unkindest words thrown her way as she walked. No matter the words, she just kept walking. Words didn’t matter, not for long. She had a job to do, a task appointed to her. Whatever the abuse, she could take it.

Anyway, if she hummed Glen loud enough, she found that the mean words faded quickly. Some days, if the air was clear and still, you could hear her from half a mile away.

2.

Delroy Jones didn’t stir this first Saturday of spring until his dog, T-Bone, licked his face for a full minute. He didn’t sleep much that night. Instead he drank at Daddy Jack’s until the owner, his friend Kero, carried him home after the bar closed. He finally got into his own bed around two in the morning. T-Bone had to do his business around eight.

“Ok buddy, give me a second.”

Delroy cracked open his eyes, looked around and noticed that he failed to take his contacts out again. He wasn’t really sure how he got home from Daddy Jack’s, but was glad to find himself in his own bed. Lately, that wasn’t always the case.

He got up and put on jeans and a t-shirt. T-Bone bounced down the stairs in front of him, eager to start the day. Delroy opened the back door to let the dog into the small, fenced backyard. T-Bone performed a couple of full pirouettes before racing into the weedy grass.

Delroy stood there watching his dog, afraid to leave him alone even there. He was so small.

He and Amy went to a pet rescue and got the little dog when he was only four months old. Delroy wanted a big dog, but Amy fell in love with the tiny long hair Chihuahua. As small as he was, the rescue people assured them the dog would be big for his breed, a “puppy mill dog that might get to be nine pounds, or ten.” They brought him home that day, Delroy only agreeing if they could at least give him a big dog name. They settled on T-Bone. It matched the shape of the white blaze on the tiny puppy’s chest.

Despite his best intentions, Delroy fell in love with T-Bone almost immediately. He bought him the smallest studded collar he could find. If he was going to walk the smallest dog in Gratis, he would at least make sure there would be no pink or baby blue collars. And for God’s sakes, no little bandanas. One of my uncles might drive by.

Delroy stood there in the door, watching the little dog sniff under every bush and plant as if for the first time. T-Bone always looked amazed at every sprig of grass, every small bug. Delroy started to smile. His hangover sharpened as his lips curled upward.

Then he remembered that Amy was gone.

It was only a month ago, but it seemed more than that. Some days seemed to last forever, some longer. The worst part of her being gone was knowing he was to blame.

She told him she wanted to take a job with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Atlanta. Hanging her own shingle after law school didn’t prepare her, and she felt lost. She needed some direction, a real world education. A district attorney’s office was the best place to get that for a new attorney.

Delroy got mad at her, accusing her of running away from him and what they had together. He was unreasonable. He knew it and couldn’t stop himself. The tighter he tried to hold her, the harder she pulled away.

She left for Atlanta a week before the new position started, moving into a small one bedroom in Midtown. When he offered to help her move she refused him, telling him she couldn’t see him “just now, anyway.” That was the last time they spoke.

Four weeks going on four years, it seemed. As hard as it was to lose his first wife, this was harder. He caused this loss.

After twenty minutes of exploring every inch of the yard, T-Bone found a spot in the new morning sun and laid down. The little dog stretched and closed his eyes. Delroy hurried to his front door and grabbed the Gratis Proclaimer from where it landed that morning. He poured a Coke into a coffee mug and went outside to join his dog.

Delroy unfolded the Proclaimer and read the bottom of the front page. That’s where Johnnie Lee’s column, “Lee’s Little Secrets,” resided. The column landed there last summer, after the murder of several local women.

Johnnie wrote that Newt MacElroy, the main suspect in the case, was innocent. This affirmation flew in the face of all the evidence. She assured her readers that her sense of justice compelled her to stand up for the wrongly accused man. The truth was that Johnnie’s only sense was for self-preservation. She already wrote herself into a corner regarding the whole matter, and got lucky when the real killer was caught. Johnnie was smart enough to parlay that luck into a front page column.

On this morning, Delroy winced as he read that column. “Seems that one of our most prominent esquires has been seen keeping late nights at a local tavern. I wonder if it’s because his lovely friend has left town, and he now has too much time on his hands. It seems that he’s done this dance before, with another partner.” She was, of course, referring to his ex-wife.

Some folks don’t stab you in the back. They make you watch while they stab you in the eye.

He didn’t mind so much that she wrote about his break-up with Amy. This was Gratis, so he was pretty sure most of the town knew before it even happened. That was just the nature of this place. You have to have something to talk about in a small town. Besides, Johnnie Lee wrote about everyone’s problems. Delroy wasn’t alone.

He did mind, however, the bit about his late nights at Daddy Jack’s. No-one trusts a drunk attorney. It’s not a smart thing to do.

But not as dumb as being drunk in front of these folks I need, he thought. He took another sip of his Coke, watching T-Bone loll in the morning sun. The dog rolled over on his side, scratching at the ground in front of him, never opening his eyes.

Lucky little dude. Delroy almost smiled, despite his hangover and the accusing paper in his lap. He went inside, freshened up his coke with a healthy splash of Jack Daniels, and came back to sit beside his dog.

Closing his eyes, he turned his face to the sun. It was warm, and he tried not to think.

3.

Mister Brother never thought he would live by himself for so long. He came from a large family, with more cousins than he cared to claim. His dad, the last to arrive at every family get-together, always cursed upon arriving at those functions. Mister Brother’s five uncles would already be there, hogging all the shaded parking spots in his grandparents’ front drive.

But here he was.

His parents and baby brother died when he was only seventeen, killed in a wreck on I-16 by a truck driver with too little sleep. Losing his sister was worse. She overdosed on pills in her dorm room the first Thanksgiving after their parents’ death. Even his too numerous cousins dwindled down to only a few, most moving off as they grew older. They needed to see what was on the other side of the Gratis county line.

He stayed. The world showed him more than he could handle at a very young age. Gratis was the only constant he knew. He threw himself into his parents’ business and it thrived. Within five years of their deaths, profits increased almost threefold.

The last couple of years, though, things weren’t quite right. Despite his success, the hole ripped into him when his family died never healed. Instead it grew, metastasizing from his heart to his head.

He wanted to fill it. Church, clubs, volunteering; he tried everything that brought him into contact with others. He even tried a dating service, wanting to start his own family. Women, unfortunately, were never drawn to him. It wasn’t that he was ugly, because he wasn’t. It was just that, one on one, he wasn’t really there. Mister Brother could feel it himself, the hard hollowness. There was nothing for him to give to anyone, and eventually there was nobody to receive it.

One day, leaving work, he spied a client in the next room over. The client resembled his dad so much it startled him. He retreated to his office, closed the door, and cried for the first time since his sister’s funeral. The pain inside eased with the drop of every tear. He felt better, if only a little, and if only for a moment.

Then the idea awoke in him, banging around in his hollow space.

At first he tried to kill it, because it was just too wrong and too crazy. He may be lonely, but he knew the difference between right and wrong. His whole life he did right even as life insisted on doing him so wrong.

The thing about hurting all the time, though, is that a person can justify anything that makes the hurt go away. He found this easier to do than expected. At first, the new idea repulsed him, and he physically turned his body when the thought arose. Mister Brother couldn’t, however, turn away from his own mind. As the idea assaulted him he got used to it. Soon it felt like the only natural and right thing he could do.

He found that client and took him two days later. That client would stay with him, filling that void left by his dad. He knew that taking him was the right thing to do almost immediately. After work he talked to the client for hours, and soon started to call him ‘Dad.’

The hole got a little smaller.

The idea soon told him that he needed to put his family back together. If he waited and looked long enough, he would find those who looked like his mother, sister, and baby brother. All he had to do was wait and look. They would come, and soon they would do more than just look like his family.

Soon, they would all be together again. The hollowness would be gone.

4.

The phone rang three times before Delroy’s eyes fluttered. He winced when he opened them, the noonday sun blinding him as he answered.

“Umm, hello, this is Delroy Jones.” Clients called him on his cell phone, and so he tried to sound professional, or at least coherent. With his head still aching, that was a hard thing to do.

“Mr. D, a man is here, a Devil-man is here again!”

The voice on the line was Jewel Peters, one of his clients. She was Kero’s first cousin, so most of the work Delroy did for her was paid in kind by bar tabs at Daddy Jack’s. Kero got the worse end of that deal.

“I said the Devil-man is here again and I know he wants me! He’s gonna kill me Mr. D, and then he’s gonna eat me up!”

Delroy was trying to think clearly despite the fog in his mind. Jewel was delicate, and obviously having an off day. He needed to answer in a way that wouldn’t agitate her more.

“Okay Jewel, do this for me. I need you to look at that man. Can you tell me what he’s wearing?”

“Well, a black suit, coal black, and a red tie around his neck. He’ll choke me with it!”

“Okay, you’re doing good Jewel, now tell me more. Is he wearing red shoes, too?” Delroy picked red, knowing it would be a rare shoe color for a man to wear with a suit. His mind was starting to swim its way out of last night’s vodka and whiskey soup.

“Wait, no, he’s not wearing red ones. They look black to me, like that suit he’s got on.”

“Okay, that’s a good sign, real good. Is he wearing a top hat to hide his horns, or is his hair piled high like Dolly Parton? A real devil’s gonna use that trick.”

“No, his hair is short, and he ain’t wearing no hat. What you thinkin’ Mr. D?”

“I’m thinking he’s not the devil, but I can be at your house in fifteen minutes and make sure for you. Will you stay inside and wait for me? And do you have any more of those orange pushup ice creams in your freezer?”

“We always have the pushups, always.”

“Then eat two of those pushups, real slow Jewel, and I’ll be there before you finish the second one.”

Delroy hung up and made his way through the house and out the front door. T-Bone tried to sneak out to go with him, but Delroy made sure he stayed inside. As Delroy got into his old Suburban, the little dog jumped up on the couch to watch through the window. He would be there, still watching, when Delroy came home.

Going along with a client’s delusions may not be good legal practice, but Jewel was not most clients. She had a host of mental health problems, apparent from a young age, and a tendency to react with violence when she felt threatened. Her heart was good, but that didn’t make her violence any less present. At almost 300 pounds, that violence could also be painful. Delroy worried about her, but worried more for the devil-man in the black suit.

He drove until he came to a long stretch of land with nothing but a rickety fence to separate it from Cap Jackson Road. The old fence, smiling at the roadway like a gap-toothed first grader, stumbled along for a few hundred feet before ending at a rusty mailbox with a faded cardinal painted on the side. There he started down the long drive to the house where Jewel lived with her sister, Claudia.

Delroy pulled up to see Jewel’s devil-man standing beside a long, black Audi sedan. The disconnect between the German car and the old house struck Delroy. Then he saw the car’s Fulton County tags.

Asshole from Atlanta. Should have figured that.

The devil-man stuck out his hand when Delroy approached and introduced himself.

“Hello, my name is Racey Bridges. I’m here to speak with either Jewel or Claudia Peters about whether they would be interested in selling their land.”

Delroy didn’t take the now identified devil-man’s hand. Instead he went up to the door to let Jewel know he was there. When Racey tried to follow him, Delroy turned around and frowned. Racey stayed where he was, ten feet from his long, black car.

“Jewel, I’m here,” Delroy called when he got to the front door. Moments later Jewel opened the door and stood in front of Delroy, licking on the remnants of an orange push-up.

“You took too long. I’m on my third push-up already.” She smiled at Delroy. The two went inside to Jewel’s chair on the back porch. With a plop, Jewel sat down and turned toward the little television she kept within arm’s reach. She was watching Matlock, her second episode of the day. She’d already seen the present episode three or four times, but that didn’t matter. It had to be watched.

“Jewel, can you tell me what happened?”

“You saw him Mr. D. Devil-man came to my front door knocking. I saw him through the window and called you. Then I got the push-ups and turned on Mr. Matlock and waited.”

“Did you talk to him, or did he say anything?” The tense spasms in his neck, prodding him on the drive over, were easing. Jewel could be a very sweet woman, but that sweetness was fragile. Racey Bridges was in one piece, however, and Jewel was watching a story about her favorite lawyer, present company included.

“Don’t have need to talk to the Devil. None at all. This is the only thing I have for the Devil.” She lifted a butt-cheek, slightly, and retrieved a butcher knife from between the seat and arm of the recliner. It had to be eight inches long.

“I ain’t got nothing to say to no Devil-man, no sir, Mr. D. I’ll cut his tongue out if he tries to talk to me, and take his eyes if he looks at me. You can’t let the Devil in, Mr. D, and he’s always tryin’ to get in.” Jewel held the knife closer to Delroy, as if he needed to get a better look to understand what she meant.

“Okay Jewel, I’m here so you can put your knife away.” She slid it back into its resting place. Some folks used the Bible to scare away the devil. Jewel took a more direct approach.

“Look, that man is just another person who wants to talk about buying your house. He’s not the devil, and I’ll make sure he leaves. I want you to finish your shows, and don’t worry about this man.” Delroy moved away from his client, just a little, in case she doubted his sincerity or intentions. Jewel nodded, her gaze fixed on the evidence Matlock just discovered to break open his case. Delroy went back through the house and out the front door.

Racey was still there, by now leaning against the Audi’s grill. He stood as Delroy approached.

“Like I said, I’m here to speak with one of the sisters about selling their land. I didn’t get your name.”

Delroy considered Racey for a moment and then spoke.

“I’m the sisters’ attorney. I’m curious, can you read?”

Racey cracked a slight smile, not sure why Delroy would ask the question. “Of course I can,” he said, a nervous giggle escaping as he spoke.

“Well then,” Delroy continued, “can you see, or did you squint your way the two or three hours it took you to drive from Atlanta?”

Racey stopped smiling. He answered with a question of his own. “Look, what have I done to you? What’s the problem here?”

“The problem? The problem is that you drove past no less than ten ‘no trespassing’ signs posted on the fence. The problem is that you opened the closed gate at the end of the drive to let yourself in, and came up to speak with a woman who was here all alone.” Delroy didn’t explain what Racey’s problem would’ve been if Jewel answered the door. The less Mr. Bridges knew, the better.

“Well, I missed those signs. I guess I just really-”

Delroy cut him off.

“Just stop it Mr. Bridges, you’re embarrassing yourself. Here’s what you’re gonna do next. You leave right now, and I mean right now, or I’ll call the Sheriff and make sure you stay at the Gratis County Hilton for the next few nights.”

Racey wasn’t from Gratis, but he knew there wasn’t a Hilton within a hundred miles of where he parked the Audi. There was definitely a jailhouse, though.

“I’m leaving, but can I at least get a card from you? I really want to speak with someone about buying this property for a client. Could you do that for me?”

As much as he didn’t like Racey, or his disregard for signage, Delroy was the sisters’ lawyer. If someone was going to make an offer on their land, all 350 acres of it, he had a duty to let them know.

He dug a business card from under the old Suburban’s passenger seat and handed it to Racey. It was creased and dirty, but one could still make out his name and number.

“Well, Mr. Jones, it’s nice to at last get your name. I’ll be calling you.” With that Racey got into the Audi and started up the drive, crunching gravel as he went.

Delroy watched until he was gone, noticing that he failed to close the gate at the road. He knew there would be a message waiting for him when he got back to the office. Racey seemed intent to speak with someone about the property, so intent he came all the way from Atlanta on a Saturday morning. Those Audi payments weren’t cheap.

This was the third person in a month inquiring about the sister’s home and land. Two others came, one from Macon and one from Savannah, making inquiries about the property. Claudia gave Delroy the cards they left in the mailbox, and told him flatly that she did not wish to sell. That was the end of it for Delroy, and he never called them. He knew he should have. The last month, with Amy gone, was not his best as an attorney. It was far from it.

Well, at least Jewel is fine for right now.

He drove the Suburban out of the sisters’ driveway and onto Cap Jackson Road. The land along Cap Jackson was still in big parcels, none of it yet divided into new subdivisions. He was glad of it, wondering how many more tacked up ranch houses Gratis could handle.

He turned the Suburban toward Gratis. It was a bit early to have a drink, not yet three in the afternoon. Delroy convinced himself that he needed to speak with Kero. He is their cousin, after all, and takes care of them. He needs to be aware of all this interest in their land.

Delroy couldn’t help it that Kero would be at Daddy Jack’s. A lawyer has to go where he’s needed, whether it’s a juke joint with a good bar or not.

5.

Newt MacElroy was tending bar at Daddy Jack’s when Delroy walked in. He grinned as Delroy took a seat in front of him.

“Well dang, Delroy, glad to see you back in. I was just starting to miss you.” Newt chuckled at his smartass greeting. He wasn’t good for much, but he could smartass with the best of them.

Delroy and Newt had a history. When Newt was suspected of murdering several women only the summer before, Delroy put his own neck on the line for him. He even represented him for free. More than that, he caught the killer, or at least was there when his young nephew, Peck, did so.

Delroy’s shoulder also caught a shotgun blast in the process. Newt would never forget it. He might give Delroy a hard time, but that’s what friends do. If anyone else gave Delroy a hard time, Newt made it his business to know about it.

“Well I missed you too, jackleg.” Delroy could give as good as he got. “Is Kero around? I need to talk at him.”

“Hell, I thought you would know where he was. Last I saw, Kero was helping you back up the stairs from the Rendezvous.” The Rendezvous was the downstairs bar at Daddy Jack’s, accessible by a steep flight of stairs from the main bar. Last night, those steps proved too much for Delroy to climb solo. He needed a homegrown Sherpa.

Flashes of the night before hit Delroy. He hoped that the place was nearly empty before others saw him practically getting carried up the stairs. Delroy knew better than to get that drunk, in public anyway, and especially in Gratis.

It’s like I’m a walking billboard saying “don’t hire me, for God’s sakes.”

“Well, I hope it didn’t cause too much of a show. Y’all don’t pay me to be the entertainment.”

Newt took pity on his friend.

“Don’t worry, it was after closing hours, everybody else was gone. Well, except for that new girl in town, the blondie from Perry. She and I had a date after closing time.”

“Well of course y’all did.” It was a good bet that Newt would have a date with someone at the end of most nights. Besides being a smartass, serial fornication was one of his few real talents. “So is Kero around? Seriously, I need to talk to him.”

“Kero, you here? Delroy needs you!” Newt yelled through the bar, tapping at the remnants of Delroy’s hangover.

Moments later Kero appeared from the back office, a notepad in his hand. He sat down beside Delroy. Newt handed them a couple of cokes. Delroy sipped his, wishing it had something more in it. Given last night’s performance, however, he was too ashamed to ask for anything.

“I’m glad you woke up this morning, Delroy. I was a little worried.” Kero glanced at his friend.

“I’m sorry, buddy.” Delroy answered. “Yesterday was a tough day, but I’m getting better. Thanks for giving me a lift home.”

“And up the stairs, don’t forget the stairs,” Newt chimed in.

“You’re always a great help, Newt. Anyway, I wanted to speak to you about Claudia and Jewel. There’s something a little unusual going on with them.”

Kero looked up when he heard that. The sisters were the children of his late father’s brother. His father asked him to look after them before he died. Kero promised he would.

“Newt, how about telling Garo to set us up with something at the back booth? Let’s go Delroy, you look like you need something to eat.”

The two settled in at the booth, and soon were eating chopped pork barbeque, cole slaw, and splitting a bucket of beer. Delroy didn’t know which he needed more, the food or the beer. He attacked them both. They ate for a good ten minutes before Delroy told him about the sudden interests in the sisters’ land.

Their 350 acres was situated on the north bank of the Bird, bounded by Cap Jackson Road on the north side. It was cotton land forty years before, and still had the old home-place where the cotton fields crept to within ten feet. When it was a farm, the only trees on it were kept as a winding buffer between the land and the river. The more land in cotton, the better the family ate.

The farm was planted in pines after it got too used up to grow anything else. They grew, along with the hardwoods that elbowed their way in, for the last few decades. Some areas were so thick with trees as to be almost impassable.

Kero’s grandfather gave the land to the sisters’ father in his will. His own father got a house in town and several other properties. Still, he walked the fence of the old farm, his childhood home, at least once a month until he passed. His father never said it, but he wished the old farm was his. It was home

His uncle set up a trust for Claudia and Jewel which included living at the farm. Fearing they would be hard pressed to take care of themselves, he made sure there was enough money to pay the taxes and take care of his children. They were free to sell the land or free to stay as long as they wanted.

Kero listened as Delroy recounted the recent interest shown in the land, grimacing when told about the devil-man and Jewel’s knife. He grew up with Jewel and knew the damage she could do, whether she meant to or not.

“Well, that’s a little odd. The land is worth a good bit, no doubt, but my cousins don’t want to sell, although we both know they should. They need to be somewhere a little less remote, and that old house is just rotting around them. Hell, we’ll need to bulldoze it if they decide they do want to sell. Not that we’re getting Jewel off that back porch, not that I can see.”

“You might be right,” Delroy replied, “but I’ll call this Racey Bridges and these others. Let’s see what kind of price they’re thinking. Who knows, maybe Bridges wants to buy Gratis land at Atlanta prices. Your cousins might be swayed if the number is right.”

Delroy had seen this type of deal before. Some rich city person, with way more money than sense, dreams of a columned mansion with a front porch facing the river. Of course when the river floods, or the realization hits them that it takes twenty minutes to get anywhere from that front porch, they tire of it and want to sell. Delroy always marveled at that, someone chasing a dream and recoiling once they caught it.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jay Jackson lives in Sandy Springs, Georgia with his wife and family. An attorney for twenty years, he has prosecuted, and defended, the most serious crimes a person can be accused of committing. This is his second book in the Gratis series, with more to come.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
This book is the second book in the Gratis series. Each book in the series inhabits the same place, with many of the same characters, but each also stands alone. The series centers around Delroy Jones, a criminal defense attorney who tries to help others even as he battles his own demons.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The inspiration comes from the time I've spent in Walton County, Georgia. The real Gratis is there, along with the county seat of Monroe and other towns, and is ripe with history and its own mythology. For such a small place, the stories it offers are very, very big.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Trying to handle the characters in a way which kept them interesting without trivializing them or what they care about. Given the particular characters in the book, this was a tricky thing to do.

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