Sophie of Evangeline


"High on the top of a Hickory Hill
She stands in the lightning and thunder
Down on the river the boat was a sinkin'
She watched that Queen go under.
Evangeline Evangeline
Curses the soul of the Mississippi Queen
That pulled her man away..."

...Robbie Robertson


"To live outside the law you must be honest."
...Bob Dylan


Field mice are finishing off what's left of the soybeans in the pasture south of the barn and there's half a dozen crows sitting on the scarecrow that's supposed to be guarding the sweet corn. I know there's a herd of nearly extinct Pineywoods cattle wandering around lost out there somewhere, but until I can fix the broken bailer and get some hay out to them, they'll have to fend for themselves: and if I was them, I wouldn't hold my breath. It's all I can do to feed my owned damned self these days. I don't even know why I bother working this place anymore; I haven't made a mortgage payment in three months and it's a mystery why the bank doesn’t foreclose on me. It's a crime the way I've let things go to hell around here.

I guess there's times I don't blame my daughter Sophie for packing up her kid and leaving home like she did, and times when I still do. She told me once, "It breaks my heart to stand around helpless and watch you tear yourself apart over what happened to me. Why can't you just let it be?"

I guess all that poisonous guilt I felt for not being there that day she'd needed me most must have gotten under her skin after awhile. "It wasn't your fault," she kept telling me, but that's not exactly true.

"I let it happen, Sophie," I tried to explain to her. "I should have been there."

But it was too late to do anything about any of that by then, and we both knew it.

I'd been in town that day. Sophie had just gotten home from Mercy Cross High School in Biloxi and had been so engrossed in pulling weeds in her new flower bed that she didn't notice someone coming up behind her.

I recognized the mug shot the sheriff showed me of the guy who'd been charged with the attack. His name was Flynn Beller, and he may have looked like a snot-nosed, bespecked egg head, but he was a mean little rattlesnake with his brains in his dick: a cranked up, trailer trash cracker who'd been in and out of reformatories and prisons since the day we'd both graduated from Biloxi Junior High. Flynn's take on things was; "Why work all your life for something you can steal in half an hour?"

More than anything, I think it was Flynn's ordinariness that fooled people, and except for that gigantic head of his, he could have been almost anybody and you'd still not notice him. It wasn't that he was a complete psycho; he knew right from wrong, but as beat to hell as he'd been when he'd been a kid, he just didn't give a shit. An evil hick if every there was one, Flynn's old man. I saw him put the boots to Flynn once, after pounding him half to death with a broken baseball bat, and it didn't even seem to phase Flynn. He just jumped back up and started digging the splinters out of his arm like a dog chewing on a paw full of porcupine quills. Believe me, I kept my distance from the feral little rodent after that. Not that I was any saint. I should have learned my lesson about having anything to do with slugs like Flynn, but even when I was young, there hadn't been much I wouldn't have done to get close to Sophie's bad boy-loving mom Angie, and if running with Angie's big brother Sammy Rats, and his familial gang of petty crooks and cons all summer, stealing things from racket boy wantabe mobsters, who normally had no idea they'd even been robbed, was what it took to keep her interested in me, then so be it. Thankfully, Angie eventually talked me into leaving my part-time life of small time crime behind and then hightailing it to Reno with a bagful of Sammy and the boys' money that I'd squirreled away from a heist we'd pulled.

Flynn had always been the kind of deadbeat do-nothing that a hair-triggered Neandrathal like Sammy could tolerate for only so long, and after Flynn joined Sammy's crew, he spent the next couple years bungling every job Sammy took him on. Predictably, after finally reaching the end of his rather short rope one morning, Sammy slapped a C-note in Flynn's sweaty palm, put him on a Greyhound headed west, and told him if he ever came back to Mississippi, he'd toss him into a wood chipper and feed his juicy white bones to his pet rattlesnake. But a few years later, when Sammy was sentenced to life and sent up to Montana State Prison for offing Jake "the Snake", a Reno mob flunkie who later killed my ex-wife Angie, Flynn apparently decided it was safe to go back home to Mississippi, a decision he would soon live to regret.

Sophie had always had a stronger back bone than I did, and, good born-again Christian that she was, she got over what Flynn did to her after awhile: but God knows I never did. I wouldn't even have been in town that day if I hadn't run my manure spreader into the ground and gone to town to get the slip clutch replaced. I never did like that John Deere piece of crap. Blamed it for what had happened to Sophie I suppose.

I don't know how Sophie talked me into taking her to Garden Park Medical over in Gulfport nine months later to have Flynn Beller's baby, but she did. The kid was a black-eyed little demon with evil eyes and, what looked to me to be, two springy black hairs sprouting like horns from his bald head. I couldn't even look him in the eye at first, but the second Sophie popped him out, she changed her mind about putting him up for adoption like she'd sworn to me on the Holy Scriptures she would. I couldn't believe she'd change her mind about something as important as that, considering what the kid's old man had done to her. All Sophie had to say about breaking her promise was, "It wasn't the King James version, so it don't count." She was by far the smartest kid in her class, but I swear to God she couldn't construct a single sentence without at least one double-negative in it. Who knows how much money I wasted on an English tutor for that kid.

Out of spite for all the gossiping she had to endure whenever she went to town, she gave her kid a good Biblical name, Luke. She stuck to her guns when it came to things like that, and just like her mother, she never backed down or ran from a fight. She paraded that poor little bastard all over Biloxi like she was carting around a prize heifer at the State Fair, defying anybody to say one bad word about him.

I didn't dare stay alone with him at first, afraid of what of I might do to him if Sophie ever turned her back on me, but even when he was little, he had a way about him: a subtle kind of defiant toughness I couldn't help but admire. It wasn't the kid's fault he'd been sired by a steaming pile of hog shit, and there was a kind of sweetness in him: and damned if he didn't look a bit like his grandmother Angie. Seems to have been one freaky twist of fate, me ending up liking him like I did. Sophie had pretty much put things behind her by the time Luke was born, and she seemed happy for awhile. At least I thought she was: but God knows I sure as hell wasn't, and I think my not wanting to talk about it, and then shutting her out while I plotted my revenge, really hurt her somehow. I have to admit, drinking myself into a glassy-eyed coma and passing out on the couch every night didn't exactly help my case any. I don't know how many time my teetotaling, tolerance-challenged daughter read me the same damned verse from the Bible; "First forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." But the way I looked at it was, if I wasn't able to forgive Sophie for refusing to file charges against Flynn, then how was I supposed to forgive the sick puke for doing what he did to her? But every time I'd bring the subject up, she'd scowl at me, and in a lost little girl voice, she'd whisper; "If you have any kind of respect left for me, just let it go, OK?"

But as long the spineless Harrison County sheriff Roland Sears, allowed Flynn to run around the county talking trash about us to anybody stupid enough to listen, I wasn't about to let it go, and even less likely to forgive him. Ever. There were a lot of people I planned on paying back for what they'd done to Sophie, and believe me, Flynn Beller was on the top of the list.

I think going through what she did must have changed Sophie somehow, and after awhile, even when she was there, she wasn't really there. She'd have me murdered in my sleep had she known, but I went into her room one day when she was at school to see if I could find any clues that could help me understand what she was going through. But all I saw in there, besides her diary, were a set of porcelain tea cups that lay shattered in the dust on her bed stand, and a half dozen headless dolls on a shelf above her bed that looked like wounded sentinels guarding a room nobody really lived in anymore.

Cute as she was, besotted farm boys from all over the county stood in line for hours, hoping for some sign of encouragement from her, but she never gave any of them the time of day. It could be that, with Luke growing up fast, and me busy running our half-baked hobby farm into bankruptcy, she felt kind of left out somehow. Or more likely, she just couldn't bear watching me wrestle with my shame anymore. But then, maybe it was true. Maybe I'd changed too. It felt as if something had broken inside of me that wasn't getting fixed any time soon, just like every piece of machinery I owned. I was losing her and I knew it.

Sure enough, one morning last September, when I'd gotten back home from town after taking the garden tractor that Sophie had nagged me about for a month to take into town to get fixed, she was gone. She didn't leave a note, or say goodbye, or anything. She didn't even take a suitcase; she just left. And she took Luke with her. I couldn't blame her really. After reading in the diary she left behind about how hurt she was about my inability to cope with what had happened to her, and me being so upset with her for not pressing charges against Flynn Beller, and then keeping his demon spawn; I didn't even report her gone, I felt so guilty. After going over that diary a thousand times, I still couldn't figure out the real reason she left, other than me being a lousy housekeeper who couldn't cook, clean, or boil water: but more likely, it could be she'd just got tired of all the looks she'd been getting in town and having to listen to all those two-faced, blue-haired harpies wagging their twisted tongues down at First Baptist behind her back every Sunday. She'd loved rolling all over the Great Plaines with me last summer in a tricked-out, ISX, 18-speed, Cobalt blue Peterbilt 389 with a DAYCAB sleeper and a 63 inch bunk without a care in the world, but I'd promised her mother that I'd get off the road long enough to see to it that Sophie finished high school before she turned forty, and that put an end to that.

Out of curiosity I guess, I was reading an old issue of Sophie's "O" Magazine this morning, when I saw an article that read; "After being molested, some women subconsciously bond with their abusers, and even if they get pregnant, they often feel a bizarre kind of empathy for the fathers of their children no matter what the circumstances of the conception were."

As far as I'm concerned, that's a total crock of shit, but you never know about women as well read and informed as Sophie. And that Oprah Winfrey's no fool. I only wish she'd tell me what to do about having to listen to people talk about how Flynn's been stumbling around stoned all over the county, shooting off his fat mouth about how I'd accused him of having something to do with Sophie's disappearance, and how I wouldn't have the guts to do anything about it even if he had. I'd never said one word about any of that to anyone, but it didn't seem to matter to the paranoid little douche bag. It was a mystery to me why somebody didn't muzzle the rabid weasel, or at least put him on a leash. If I could have found a way to get away with it, I would have neutered him. But by then, I'd taken all the crap I was going to take off of him, and decided that the only way to square things with him, was to shut his lying mouth permanently.

Flynn's twenty-seven-years old, and believe it or not, when he's not in prison, he still lives with his parents about two farms over from us in a falling down shotgun shack with a leaky septic system, iffy electricity and rarely running water. The Beller clan came from a long line of itinerate Creole cane-cutters from Lafayette, who'd gotten chased east by a long series of floods and decided to try share cropping corn in southeast Mississippi. Not that I have anything against Louisiana. In fact, Sophie was born over in Evangeline Parish, after Angie and I had driven down there from Reno to visit her parents one summer. And in honor of the place, we picked Evangeline for Sophie's middle name.

Needless to say, there were no Rhodes Scholars in the inbred Beller clan, and after falling on hard times during the depression, they never recovered. You'd think one of those hayseed hillbillies would have learned something over the years, but not one of them ever could farm worth a shit, although it hasn't' stopped Flynn from pulverizing what's left of his family's worn out, poison oak-infested, two section patch of cockleburs, rye grass, and pig weed, into submission. The spaced out speed freak could plant crab grass, thistles, and dandelions and they wouldn't grow. I swear it's a miracle how he stays upright on that old rusted up Massey Ferguson tractor of his, considering all the crank he's got buzzing around like a horde of wasps in his half a brain. He may be going nowhere in life, but at the rate he's going, it won't take him long to get there.

My toes are freezing and my ears are surely frost bit by now, but in my shit-faced condition, I can't feel anything. It's taken me half a bottle of Old Grand Dad and a six-pack of Schlitz to get me worked up enough to do it, but I figure the only way I'm going to settle things with Flynn is to walk over to his family's shotgun shack and put a slug from my antique Colt .45 right between the sick little ferret's eyes.

When I get to the Beller's place, I don't see any cars in the drive, but I creep up the front porch stairs and scrunch down as best I can, just in case. Right before I get ready to bust down the front door, I take one last peek through the piss yellow cigar-stained curtains to see if anybody's in there, and about fall over dead from a seizure I think I'm having. Holy shit, you have got to be kidding me. St. Sophie herself is sitting there like one of those plastic glow-in-the-dark dashboard saints, bathed in a dirty gold puddle of flickering lamp light, bobbing back and forth in a wicker rocker with Luke propped up on her lap, clinging for dear life to one of her teats like a skunk getting ready to suck the heart out of an extra-large Easter egg. Jesus H. Christ, who saw that coming? What did I ever do to deserve this shit? It's not as if my agreeing to letting my thankless little ingrate of a daughter keep the kid hasn't caused me enough humiliation. I can't decide who to shoot first, but I figure there'll be plenty of time to deal with Sophie after Flynn's funeral. The weepy-assed Tammy Wynette song blaring from a plastic radio on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen is beginning to seriously irritate the living shit out of me, and I feel like going in there and blowing a hole the size of Rhode Island in that cheap piece of Jap crap and then finishing off everybody else in the house while I'm at it. Unfortunately, I'm running out of ammo, and can't seem to breathe on account of my collapsing lungs. Besides Sophie and Luke, who knows who's still in the house. I'm so pissed it's all I can do to stagger back down the steps to think about what I should do next.

I know what I should do; I should go home, sober up, reload, come back, shoot everybody I can find in the head, burn down the damned house, and let the devil sort everything out in the morning. Normally, I could track Flynn by his smell, but the freezing rain seems to have wiped out any trace of him. But when I hear a tractor rumbling off to the south, I stagger off after it through a violet mist that seems to have draped itself across the ghostly fields. It's wicked cold and sleeting hard, and I haven't slept in days, and I'm still just as juiced to the gills as I was an hour ago. But even as bleary-eyed as I am, I can see Flynn, mired down in the half-frozen black bottom mud where he'd gotten his tractor sunk up to the hubs, which has forced him to pick his feeble crop of seed corn by hand. Alone and exposed like that, he doesn't really stand much of a chance: but then, he hadn't given Sophie much of one either, not that she seems all that concerned about it last time I saw her.

I jack my .45, and just as I move in for a better shot, I slip on a patch of black ice and accidentally pull the trigger. The round misses Flynn's skull, but takes off his left pinkie. When he notices blood spurting all over his coat, he starts squealing like a gutted sow. Knowing I'll be doing every woman in the state a favor, I aim for his balls and squeeze off another round, but the damned shell's a dud. Catching a break like that is more than a diseased cockroach like Flynn deserves. Because of my being brought up Pentecostal and all, you'd think I'd show him some compassion, but there's no way I can get that picture of him ripping Sophie's dress off and slamming her face down in the flower garden out of my head. I'd love to go over there and put a couple rounds in his face, but wouldn't you just know it, I'm out of ammo. Then I remember something Angie used to say; "The worst thing you can do to a masochist is nothing," so I just leave Flynn there to suffer, whimpering like a colicky crybaby in the bloody corn, and go home.

It takes Sheriff Sears two days to come out to the farm to arrest me. He doesn't have a whole lot to hold me on except for Flynn's word that I'd tried to shoot him in the balls in cold blood. Flynn's word isn't worth spit, but I'm sure he's counting on me eventually caving in and confessing. Like that's gonna happen.

At the trial, Judge Lester Eversoll, who's known me my whole life, has no choice but to move my trial over to Hancock County in order to assure an impartial jury, for all the good that'll do. It's still Mississippi for Christ sakes and people around here don't take kindly to one of their own having his seventeen-year-old daughter brutally raped by a sociopathic dope fiend like Flynn Beller

The entire trial lasts three hours. The prosecutor doesn't even call any witnesses, as if anyone in their right mind would believe anybody said in support of any of the Bellers. The fix is obviously in because my lawyer doesn't even put me on the stand in my own defense. It's all hearsay anyway. The sheriff did investigate my contention that I'd seen Sophie and Luke at Flynn's house, but when he went out there to look for her, they were gone; a fact he'd conveniently forgotten to put in his report. Even the Prosecutor obviously thought the whole shooting incident never happened, and a hour after the jury was sent off to deliberate, they came back with a not-guilty verdict. The judge hands a note to his clerk who not-so-subtly drops it on the desk in front of me; "Shit happens. Looks to me like Flynn must have shot his own damned stupid self."

The guy thinks he's a comedian, but what do I care? Sophie may still be gone, but at least I'm off the hook for drilling Flynn. I'm just sorry I ran out of bullets. When I look up at the judge, he gives me one of those sly, good ole boy winks and bangs his gavel. And that's that, justice Mississippi style.

I can't tell if my eyes are playing tricks on me or if it really is Flynn Beller out there, lurking around in the long shadows behind the barn like some kind of zombie serial killer, just like he'd promised me he'd do after the trial, when he'd cornered me in the courthouse john and slammed me into one of the stall doors. He was so mad he started to slobber all over himself, but still managed to spit the words out: "You're good as dead, you fucking maggot. And so is that little cock teasing whore daughter of yours. You think you can just walk away from all this, after coming to my house and trying to shoot me in the balls? I didn't do anything to that nympho slut that she didn't enjoy. She was begging for more by the time I got off. And don't you forget, I know where you both live."

It was all the cops could do to pull me off Flynn, although to my great amusement, they sure took their sweet time about it. On his way out to the ambulance, one of the cops gave me a high five and said; "Too bad about ole Flynn over there. Looks like he must have lost his balance and slipped on a piece of soap, aye? Not sure how they're gonna suture up all them cuts and bruises. What'd you use on the chicken-shit runt, a brick? He looks like one of them Butterball turkeys the way they've got him all wrapped up in gauze and shit. " I him to the emergency room. Can't imagine ole Flynn being all that happy about them taking over an hour to get him to the emergency room.

There's nights when I think I can actually see Flynn's red-rimmed wolf eyes glimmering in the darkness, sizing me up, getting ready to claim his pound of flesh. Not that I really care anymore. It doesn't change anything. Sophie may be gone, but I still can't stop thinking about the way the veins in her forehead used to swell up like flooded blue rivers whenever she got nervous, and how pretty she looked when she told a joke and then hid her face behind her hands when she gave away the punch line. Don't get me wrong, I'm still mad at her for leaving like she did, but I promised her that if our ship ever went down on account of my stupid assed behavior, then I'm going down with it. Who knows what made me say something that stupid. I guess that's what loving somebody like Sophie does to people like me.

Speaking of the devil, it's six in the morning and I about fall out of bed when I hear a knock on my back door. When I lurch up out of my bourbon-induced stupor, and see who's standing there on the bottom step, I about have a stroke. Sophie's lipstick is smeared and her grey dress is ripped and torn, sheared off into a dozen Rebel rags fluttering in the wind. When she slaps away a mud-streaked strand of dirty blond hair that seems to have escaped from her wilted pony tail, her tears head south, fleeing for their lives down the razor thin, mascara-stained fault lines that sorrow and regret seem to have carved beneath the saddest eyes I've ever seen. Even a fool can see she's been missing me, but she stays where she is. She doesn't smile, or give me a hug, nothing. She doesn't even move. "I'm back," she says, standing there, edgy as a razor and rigid as a stiff with a tag on its toe. As if rehearsing lines for a high school play she adds; "Can I come in?"

Her voice is an octave too low and coarse as sand paper. She sounds like Marlene Dietrich after a night soaking up the suds with the U.S. Fifth Fleet. I don't know what she's trying to tell me, but it can't be good.
"Not so fast there, little Missy," I tell her. Don't think you can just waltz in here after you walked off to be with that radioactive slug Flynn Beller, and left me here to rot in shame."

I think about slamming the door in her face just to teach her a lesson, but when I see her eyes go black, I stop cold. The way she's bent over with her chin on her chest, reminds me of a lost puppy, lying in the middle of the road with a tire track stamped across its back. I take a quick look around to see if she's got Luke with her, but the sun's in my eyes; I can't see him anywhere. I tell her she can come into the house for a minute and put on some damned clothes, and then she can leave if she wants to: but she won't come in. If a mosquito sneezed it would blow her over, she looks so frail. Sure enough, when the breeze picks up, she starts to totter, but when I reach out to steady her, she steps back, jittery as a wet cat on a leash, and then starts dancing a little Irish jig inside her raggedy pink dress. But just for a second, the fire in her eyes roars back to life, and, raising her head just slightly, she gives me the same kind of look she gave me one morning last spring when she was getting ready to go to town to pick up some groceries: "There's a hail storm blowing in from Canada tonight," she'd said, "and could you pleeeease remember to cover the tomato plants I set out this morning. Don't forget, promise?"

I promised, but of course I forgot, and when she got back home after the storm hit, those plants had been churned into a quivering red pool of tomato sauce; it's that kind of look she's giving me now...another warning I almost miss: a nearly imperceptible nod, directed towards the roof of the machine shed, and when I look up, I feel the blood in my face turn to ice. In the shadowy light I can see Flynn Beller, peeking over the chicken house roof, pointing a Remington .22 rifle at my face. I don't hear the first shot, but I feel the gash it makes in my scalp. I slap the blood out of my eyes with my sleeve and take a quick look around for Sophie, but she's gone: like that's a surprise. Hitting the ground, I crawl around the limestone rocks bordering the propane tank, hoping to hell I can reach the machine shed before the next round misses me and hits the tank. I'd left my .Colt 45 in the house, but I've got an old.10 gauge Ithaca shotgun in the shed, if I can get to it in time; I just hope to God I'd remembered to load the damned thing. But before I can get to it, Flynn squeezes off another round that slams through my right arm. He's not a bad shot for a half-blind, four-eyed dick head.

Before I can dive for the safety of the shed, he unwinds another round that rips through the back of my leg and knocks me off my feet. Lunging through the door, I take a quick look around at the spot where I thought I'd left the shotgun, but it's not there. But before I can turn around and head for the house to get my Colt .45, Flynn fires another round through the broken window that slices clear through my left shoulder and slams me into the splintered pine shed wall. Before I can catch my breath and struggle to my knees, I feel a cold, hard circle of steel pressed against my kidneys, and smell Flynn standing above me, snickering, the stench of overcooked gumbo and cheap cigars stinking up the gummy sweetness of gunsmoke in the air. My head is swimming and I think I'm going to vomit. He grinds his boot into the bleeding hole in my shoulder and giggles like a retarded hyena eyeing a fresh kill. Licking his slippery, worm red lips, he snarls, "You always were a pussy, punk. Didn't think I had the balls to make things right, did you? Well, now you're gonna find out how it feels to take one for the team. Too bad Sammy Rats is still in the slammer and can't be here to watch me earn my paycheck. I told him that kidnapping your kid and then popping a cap in your back wasn't worth 10 G's, but what the hell, a buck's a buck. I threw in raping the little tramp for free. She couldn't get enough of me, begging me for more. She wouldn't shut up about it till I put a foot in her face."

I'd normally I would have slammed Flynn's gigantic head through a concrete wall for even thinking about saying something like that, but I'm losing consciousness fast and I only have strength enough to lay here in my own blood and watch as he slowly squeezes the trigger.

This is it I suppose. Maybe it's how I really wanted it to end all along. I never loved anybody like I'd loved Angie, not even my own family, but now that she's dead and gone, and Sophie's run off again, I don't really care happens to me anymore. I wait for the end quietly, welcoming it, listening to my broken heart pound against my ribs.

Then, an explosion blows through the shed like a bomb, nearly rocking it off its cement slab. When I shake the blood out of my eyes, I look up and see Sophie slumped over backwards, lying flat on her butt in the corner next to my smoking shotgun. She'd fired both barrels at once, and where Flynn's face used to be, there's nothing but a freakish red Halloween mask. Sagging to his knees, he drops in a deflated heap to the floor, a steaming hole in his back, his shirt on fire, and a reckless river of blood surging like a terrifying flood around his soon-to-be corpse.

Sophie isn't crying or screaming, she's just sitting there, crumpled up like a collapsed accordion, all the music squashed out of her, glaring at me like it's me who'd just done some horrible thing. And like a thoroughly exasperated school teacher chastising a chronically tardy truant, she wastes no time lighting into me; "You think I left home on my own? You think I wanted to go? After all we've been through together? I can't believe you thought that. How could you even think I'd do something like that?"

I'm overjoyed to see that's she's safe and sound, but completely bewildered as to why she'd ask me a question like that at a time like this. Seems to me to be somewhat of an inappropriate time to start lecturing me on the subject of my terminally bad behavior. It's not like I'm going to change or anything. She doesn’t look mad, just resigned to saying something so big and so important that she can't seem to get her whole mouth around it; "Did it ever occur to you," she says, "that Sammy Rats paid Flynn to come and drag me and Luke off while you were in town picking up that damned manure spreader that I'd pleaded with you for three months to go get fixed? Ten grand a lot of money to an unemployed vegetable like Flynn, and Sammy was none too happy about doing life without parole, thanks to you testifying against him for shooting Jake "the Snake" for killing my mother."

Once again, she had me there. Ten grand is a lot of money, and God knows Sammy could hold a grudge. The son-of-a-bitch had the memory of an elephant. I'm sure Sophie would be wagging her finger at me about now, but she's all squished up like a bag of skeleton bones in the corner, and she can't seem to move. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. My wounds are deep, but clean, and nothing that got hit won't heal. Seems to me we'll both live. I drag myself over to where she's still trembling in the corner and hold on to her as best I can with my one good arm, but all I can think of to say is, "I didn't know, Sophie. I didn't know."

Needless to say, I wanted nothing more to do with Mississippi after that, and after I sold the farm, and moved back to Reno, I got myself a gig with Carlisle Transportation, delivering drill pipe and diesel up and down the Dalton ice road from Fairbanks to the oil fields east and west of Prudhoe Bay. I can't say it's all sunshine and roses crossing the frozen Beaufort Sea to the North Slope of Alaska when it's thirty-five below zero, but the money's good and I'm back to doing what it is I do best. Long haul trucking.

As for Sophie, for someone who can barely construct a grammatically correct sentence, it's somewhat of a miracle that she managed to graduate from Reno High with an A-minus average and then get accepted into the University of Montana on a full ride scholarship. Says she wants to become a lawyer, so she can make sure her uncle Sammy Rats, never sees the light of day. And with her on the case, if I was him, I'd settle in for the duration, because he won't be going anywhere for a long time.

Sometimes when Sophie's off at school, Luke rides shotgun on my Deadhorse to Yellowknife runs. Hell of a kid, considering his primordial Beller genes on and all. Says he's going to grow up to be an NFL quarterback so he can make millions pitching weight loss programs on TV. Guess the apple didn't fall far from the male side of that family tree: always thinking ahead and playing the angles, swinging for the fences, swearing like a drunken Marine. Thank God he and I have Sophie to keep us in line. She finally had to put a stop to me picking up hitchhikers. Luke's got his mother's looks, but he's got more charm than sense, and he would have run off with a twelve-year old Eskimo hitcher from Barrow if I hadn't caught them smooching in my sleeper while I was outside kicking the ice off my tires and hanging my chains. The kid's six-years old, for crying out loud. And don't look at me; I didn't teach him that shit.