of Age / Mystery / Humor
Published: June 8, 2019
attorney Cullen Molloy attends his fortieth high school reunion, he doesn’t
expect to be defending childhood friends against charges of murder…
a small town on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico, life and culture are
shaped by the farm roads defining the 640-acre sections of land homesteaders
claimed at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Cullen and Shelby Blaine explore
first love along these section roads during the 1960’s, forging a life-long
and Shelby fall under the protection of football player and loner, Buddy Boyd.
During their sophomore year of high school, Buddy is charged with killing a
classmate and is confined to a youth correctional facility. When he returns to
town facing the prospect of imprisonment as an adult, Cullen becomes Buddy’s
adulthood, and it isn’t until their fortieth reunion, that they’re forced to
revisit that horrible night. When a new killing takes place, Cullen, Shelby and
Buddy find themselves reliving the nightmare.
old country section roads.
ambitious, evocative small-town tale located somewhere between Peyton Place and
The Last Picture Show.” –Kirkus Review
the Full Review
July 2009 Friday
“I’ll ride with Buddy,” Shelby whispered. “Do you mind? It’ll give us a chance to talk.”
“No, I think that’s a good idea.” Cullen lifted his eyebrows, which Shelby dismissed with a wave.
Buddy stood a little apart from them at the Enterprise counter. They’d been through the greeting rituals. A hug for Shelby, which she returned with a kiss to his cheek. A polite, interested handshake with Lori.
Cullen and Lori left them and began an hour-long drive through the agricultural blight of West Texas.
“So, what’s the deal with Buddy?” Lori asked. “I know you worked together a long time ago, but you really haven’t talked much about him.”
They drove along a paved road—an impossibly straight line heading north. Deep green alfalfa fields alternated with stubby rows of cotton and weedy, untilled soil bank every few miles forming a pattern replicating itself off into a horizontal infinity. Heat waves shimmered along the pavement. From the soil bank, dust and debris climbed columns of rising, swirling air.
At the age of five, Cullen came to believe these thermal dust devils were pathways for souls fleeing to heaven. He believed this because on the summer day his grandmother was buried at a rural cemetery with brown grass and a few gnarled, wind-battered elms, one of these dust devils sprang from an uncultivated field across the road and as it grew—sucking dirt and paper and tumbleweeds along—passed over the mounded red earth marking the new grave. A spurt of dust leaped from the mound, painting a segment of the great undulating pillar a pale rosy shade. This pink apparition climbed as the thermal moved across the cemetery, finally disappearing into a hot, whitish-blue, eastern New Mexico sky.
Dust devils always made Cullen think of the people he loved who were no longer alive. His mother and father rested with his grandmother at that same cemetery.
Cullen had a ready description when his friends asked him about his home town. Arthur, New Mexico, along with hardscrabble oil patch towns like Hobbs, Artesia, Midland and Odessa, was located on a high plane called Llano Estacado which, Cullen originally speculated, was Spanish for something like really windy dry flat place.
Occupying Eastern New Mexico and Northwest Texas, the region is characterized by hot blustery summers and even colder blustery winters. The wet part of the Llano received barely twenty inches of rain during a good year. “Arthur,” Cullen would note, “is in the dry part.”
Bleak as they might be, the Hobbses, Odessas and Artesias of the world were at least plopped down atop semi-vast underground puddles of oil. Not Arthur. Not a drop. If tumbleweeds had been a cash crop, though, the homesteaders would have prospered.
Arthur and Arthur County were named for Chester A. Arthur, America’s twenty-first president. Researching a junior high school history assignment, the most compelling facts Cullen found about him were that Arthur was America’s fifth fattest president and owned eighty pairs of pants.
The community of eight thousand—at an elevation of four thousand feet above sea level—had nothing geographical, like a river or a canyon or an oasis, to warrant its location.
Arthur just was.
The flat monotony spread in every direction. “Given a clear day,” Cullen was fond of saying, “you could climb a six-foot stepladder and see the earth curve.”
He often puzzled over the pioneers’ judgment. Certainly, more attractive locations waited further west. He supposed the settlers might have been tired and stopped to rest, thinking they would wait for a good rain to replenish their water supplies before they moved on. And when the livestock had all died of thirst, they were stuck.
Still, despite this hardship, there grew a civilization defined geographically by dirt roads that formed the borders of all those perfectly square six hundred and forty-acre sections of land claimed by early twentieth century homesteaders.
As Cullen composed his answer to Lori’s query about Buddy, he thought of those section roads, and all the ways straight lines and straight laces had twisted the paths of this small group of friends.
“I told you about Christy Hammond, didn’t I?” Cullen answered. “The girl who was shot to death our sophomore year?”
Lori gave a little gasp. “That was Buddy? Oh, no. And he went to jail?”
“Juvenile detention. He pled guilty to manslaughter. They kept him until his eighteenth birthday. They took him away in November of 1966. He came back May of 1969.”
“At least he got to come back.”
Cullen gave a rueful laugh and shook his head.
“No, that was part of the punishment. A lot of people thought he should have been charged with murder. They thought he should have been sent away for life. When the judge didn’t agree, half the town was furious at the injustice of it all. Christy’s uncle is a lawyer. He convinced juvenile court authorities to make Buddy finish high school here as a condition of his release.”
“But why would they—”
“It was their last shot at punishing him,” Cullen said. “They had a few weeks to give him hell when they knew he couldn’t fight back.”
Murphey is a native of eastern New Mexico and spent almost thirty years as an
award-winning newspaper journalist in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
Following his retirement from the newspaper business, he and his wife Nancy
entered in a seventeen-year partnership with the late Dave Henderson, all-star
centerfielder for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners.
Their company produces the A’s and Mariners adult baseball Fantasy Camps. They
also have a partnership with the Roy Hobbs adult baseball organization in Fort
Myers, Florida. They love baseball, fiction, cats and sailing. They split their
time between Spokane, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona. Mike enjoys life as a
writer and old-man baseball player.