But whatever year it is, we should have new goals scoped out for us. What's yours?
I've got a general road map outlined in my mind. Subject to change, of course. But outlined, and if all things being equal, maybe even doable. Let's start with goal number one.
Goal No. 1. Find an American publishing house who will accept the full-length Smitty novel called, Dark Retribution. One that will pay me a little upfront money. Money I plan to use to purchase a goodly amount of advertising for this book and a few of my other efforts.
Goal No. 2. Write more novels in the two series Endeavour Press of London already have of mine. (The Turner Hahn/Frank Morales police-procedurals. And the Decimus Julius Virilis Roman series)
Endeavour is a small indie, so the only money I make is from whatever they sell. Thus, Maynard, the more money I have the more I can advertise.
Goal No. 3. Create a new character that is a cross between a Jack Reacher loner and a Walt Longmire western sheriff who lives and work out in the middle of nowhere. Make the character a little more three-dimensional. Give him a personality and a family (of some kind). And instead of being the drifter that can't stay in one place like Reacher is, make him stay in his old home town and load him up with a lot of cop work which may or may not involve his extended family.
With Goal No. 3 in mind, let me introduce you to Lenny Leonidas. A good ole' Texas boy who comes from, and lives in, the fictional county of Ballard County, Texas. Below is the first chapter of the novel, Lenny. Tell me if you think it's good enough.
The side door of the Ballard County jail door banged open loudly, spearing the pre-dawn darkness with a shaft of white light pouring out from within. A shadow partially blocked out the shaft of light momentarily just as a heavy canvas tote bag came sailing out of the open door and slapping down onto the ground in a puff of dry, hot dust. Soon after that a man appeared in the doorway. An average height man dressed in old blue jeans, a dark cotton long sleeve shirt underneath a threadbare blue jean jacket, wearing boots favored by lumberjacks.
Some unseen force behind the shaggy haired, unshaven creature put a hand in the middle of the man’s back and shoved him violently out the door. The shaggy haired man went flying out into the night, stumbling, with one leg buckling underneath him, but just catching himself before sprawling face first into the dirt beside his canvas bag. Behind him two large-framed, muscular county sheriff officers stepped out of the door and lined up shoulder to shoulder and glared at the smaller man.
“Lenny, I’m not shitting you here. The sheriff’s fed up with your horseshit. Get your ass arrested again and the sheriff’s going to throw the book at you. They’ll haul your ass off to the state pen for at least three years. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your nose clean and stay off the goddamn booze for a while!”
With those deeply Socratic words of profound wisdom the two monsters for sheriff deputies turned around and slipped back through the jail’s side door, banging the door closed rudely and using keys to lock it behind him them.
Standing up, turning to face the low slung, flat roofed cement dungeon for a county jail, he eyed the place with a smolder look of animosity for a few heartbeats, and then turned and reached for his canvas bag lying in the dirt. Bag in hand, he stood up again and looked to his right. A ribbon of already hot cement, the county highway, disappeared off toward Amarillo seventy miles away. A straight shot through miles and miles of endless mesquite bush and roaming bands of jack rabbits and coyotes, with barely a house around and not a tree in sight. Rubbing a hand across his lips and jaw, feeling the weeks’ worth of hard stubble on his face, he slowly turned and faced his left.
A mile away he saw the twinkling lights of his hometown. Ballard, Texas. The county seat. Populating just a notch over five thousand souls. Mostly old cowboys and ranch owners. With a large portion of oil field trash thrown in for good measure. And Mexicans, along with a smattering of Native Americans. Mostly Comanche with a few Apache in the mix. A third of Ballard were old family Mexicans. Been here as long as there been a county seat. As long as there had been Texas. Before the first cowboy stumbled into town half dead of thirst and filled with half a dozen of arrows from a Comanche war band.
His great, great grandfather. That cowboy. Leto Leonidas. More Greek immigrant than a real cowboy. But a cowboy he was when he fell off his horse, half dead, in the middle of Ballard’s only dirt street.
Been a Leonidas family member in Ballard since before the Civil War. Most of the Leonidas gene pool produced good people. Hard working, respectful, blue-color people who paid their taxes, went to church on Sunday, and rooted for the Longhorns of the University of Texas when it came to college football. But every family has their weird second cousin or crazy uncle lurking in the background. The black sheep in the family who, for any number of reasons, cannot get along with the majority of the family. Nor with normalcy in general.
He was that one. The crazy Leonidas uncle who couldn’t help himself in stirring up chaos around him and who, in the end, was cast out of the family like some leprous monk being cast out from his monastery, shunned by all of humanity. For the first seventeen years of life he was a holy terror for the family. Fights, getting kicked out of school. Scrapes with the law. Staying out all night and stumbling home drunk. The works. Finally, when his eighteenth birthday rolled around, his birthday celebration was anything but celebratory.
His father disowned him. Told him to get out of the house and never come back. Wasn’t even allowed to pack a suitcase. Left with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. For the next seventeen years he never saw his home town. Never talked to any of his family. Got on a bus for Amarillo and left at three in the morning. Never uttered a word for the 70 mile trip to the West Texas city. Got off the bus and strolled two blocks south of the bus station and walked into an Army recruiting office.
For the next twenty years his family became the U.S. Army. Fought in the country’s many wars from the Middle East all the way to the Caribbean. The Army taught him well. He learned how to efficiently kill people. Became a Ranger. Learned how to jump out of airplanes. Learned how to put a .308 caliber bullet into the brain pain of a poor bastard 700 yards away and not bat an eyelid in the process.
Left the Army with the rank of sergeant-major and realized he had nowhere to go. So he got on a bus in Amarillo and rode the 70 miles back to Ballard. He didn’t know what, or who, he would face when he arrived. Had no idea if any of the family would even recognize him. No one did. No one did because no one in his immediate family remained, except for eighty-seven year old grandmother. She was the only living Leonidas in Ballard. Everybody else were either dead, or moved away. Far away from Ballard and never coming back.
Of course, he had cousins. First cousins. Second cousins. Both White and Mexican. Frankly it was said, with some veracity, he was related to about half the people in town. The Monroe’s. The Winston’s. The Garcia’s. The Moreno’s. The Sanchez’s. The Gladstone’s. But only one direct family member. An old lady living in a big house by herself on 5th and Aims Streets. His father’s mother.
Gazing down the almost empty highway toward town he swept a hand over his lips and jawline a second time and squinted his eyes. Coming down the road in the growing twilight was a pickup truck. A Dodge pickup truck. As it approached he thought about throwing up a thumb and hitching a ride. Maybe it was headed for Amarillo. Maybe it was time to take the sheriff’s advice. Maybe it was time to leave Ballard for good.
Funny how shit happens. How half-baked plans get tossed out the window.
The brown Dodge slowed and swerved toward him. For a moment he was bathed in the pickup’s low beams before the pickup slid to a stop a couple of feet in front of him, Standing there, Lenny watched the passenger side front door window slide down. In the semi-light he had to step closer to see who was sitting behind the wheel.
A voice he recognized. Even after all these long years away.
“Hello, Miguel. Good to see you.”
Miguel Luiz Sanchez. His mother’s sister’s oldest son. Same age as he was. The oldest of four boys and three sisters. But that was twenty years ago. He had no idea who was alive today. Who was dead.
“Come on. Climb in.” Miguel grunted, waving a hand in a gesture for Lenny to open the door and get in.
“Where we going?” he asked.
“Been in town for two weeks, cuz. Getting drunk and getting into fights. The whole family knows your back in town. Time to clean up. Dry out. Time to go home.”
Time to go home. Like a hammer blow right between his eyes. Time to go home. Home? Here in Ballard? After all these years? After what happened in the past? Home? For a few seconds Lenny stared into the darkness of the pickup’s interior and at the dark silhouette of his cousin sitting behind the wheel. He hesitated. Turning his head, he looked toward the town, its lights beginning to wink out because sunrise was starting to kiss the flat roofs of main street. Go home? He turned and looked off toward Amarillo. Saw nothing but mesquite bush and sage and flat grassland stretching out as far as the eye could see. But his soul’s eyes saw cheap, smoked filled, drug infested bars lining both sides of the streets deep in the heart of Hong Kong where no round-eyed foreigner should have been. He saw, and felt, the incredibly warm, almost hot, deluges of monsoons in Thailand and Vietnam. The gooey, slimy mud. The bodies floating down rivers overflowing from their banks. He saw shivering children standing in terror as bombs and grenades exploded around them in Vietnam and Iraq.
He saw tall Muslim women, dressed in heavy black garb. Their entire bodies hidden from view. Only a slash across their faces opened so their eyes could stare out at the world. Eyes filled with silent pain. He remembered looking into the faces of hundreds of Afghani mountain tribesmen and realized he was seeing Death staring back at him. Dark complexioned, sun weathered, hard men dressed in traditional Afghani attire, cradling AK-47’s lovingly in their arm as they sat on their haunches around small campfires knowing they were going to die violently sooner or later, as had all their relatives in the past, and quietly accepting their fate.
He’d seen the world. Been just about everywhere. Did a lot of terrible things. And maybe, if he was lucky, a couple of good deeds along the way. But he never saw a place he could say was home. His new home.
There was only one place he remembered using the word home. And that was right here. Here in Ballard. A sour grin played across his thin lips, last for only a second or two. The Prodigal Son has returned. He could see his father’s face glaring at him, that hard look of unforgiving brown eyes staring at him. His lips set in a permanent frown. The muscles in his jaw extended and hard as stone. Standing with in front of him, towering over him, arms folded across his chest. As silent as a Sphinx. And as unforgiving.
Well, Dad. I’m back. Whether you want me or not. Hope the fires in Hell are a lot hotter for you, making you stew in your bile and hate for me little more intensely. I know you never missed me once I left. But that’s okay. To tell you the truth, once I got on that bus twenty years ago I never thought about you, either.
Lenny’s head turned and looked at the dark figure of his cousin sitting in the truck as he tossed the heavy canvas bag in his hand into the pickup’s bed and reached for the door handle.
“Sure, why not. Let’s go home.”