Author: Michael Bigham
Publisher: Muskrat Press (October 17, 2012)
In this thrilling debut novel, by Michael Bigham, Sheriff Matt Harkness faces a perilous challenge. He isn’t your typical Western sheriff. Cowboy boots make his arches ache, he’s phobic of horses, he drives an old battered pickup and his faithful companion is a wiener dog named Addison. Set on the Oregon High Desert in 1952, life in the small town of Barnesville has been easy-going for Matthew until a star-crossed teen-age couple disappears. Harkness is the keeper of secrets in his little town and to solve the crime, he must decide which secrets to expose. One secret involves Judge Barnes, the county’s most powerful man. But Harkness had a secret of his own: he’s in love with the Judge’s wife. How much is Harkness willing to risk to catch a murderer?
Three dozen young men, most of them towheaded, in football pads and cutoffs grunted as they pushed blocking sleds in the late afternoon sun. It must have been ninety-five degrees out, but thank God, not a hundred. It got so unbearable here ‘bout when it cracked a hundred, the snakes and coyotes hid in their holes until the sun went down.
“Pick it up, Rob,” Coach Conroy yelled in a high-pitched voice. “What are you? Some kind of pussy?”
I said my hellos to Conroy, an ugly man wearing a jarhead haircut, a permanent smile, and an Alabama sweatshirt—takes a special man to wear a sweatshirt in this heat. He asked me if I found Joey yet.
“We’re still working on it,” I said. “I understand that he disappeared after practice. Anything unusual happen yesterday? Anything that might relate to the boy’s disappearance?”
“Like anything.” I felt a bit aggrieved. Smart folks playing dumb made my scalp itch. Good old boy drawl or not, Conroy was no dummy.
“Ordinary practice. Joey did break loose for a sixty-three yarder in scrimmage.” Conroy tooted his whistle twice and, without further prompting, the kids broke into groups for specialized drills. How could a man smile so much?
“Joey especially close with anyone here?” I asked.
“Ronnie, over there.” Conroy pointed at the quarterback, a lanky kid with fire-red hair.
“The Gearhart kid?”
“Good quarterback, nice kid,” Conroy said.
I thought of his old man sitting in my lockup. “Maybe being a drunk asshole skips a generation.”
Conroy looked at me quizzically for a moment. His masculine smell was overwhelming, like he was some great beast king. He opened his arms as if to embrace his team. “We’re going to State this year, mark my words. We’ll win State. Barnestown, State Triple A Champs, 1952.” I didn’t doubt him. He was a firecracker, but I found myself not caring. Ronnie Gearhart sprinted out on an option and tossed a clothesline pass down the field to a waiting receiver who muffed the catch. Linebackers and defensive tackles panted like Chihuahua’s chasing a greyhound.
“We’ll wrap up in half an hour.” Conway was already moving toward his team and seeming to forget me. “Okay, ladies,” he yelled. “Pick it up!”