Sunday, March 11, 2012

Excerpt from "Under the Western Sky"

This is from my retro novel, Under the Western Sky. Set in western Nebraska in 1976, the novel follows Libby Marshall, her boyfriend Bobby Menendez and their friends during a troubled time. There are organizations who don't think that the races should mix. They hide in shadows on the fringes of society, they are still very influential.

Libby and Bobby get dragged into a crisis not of their making, when Bobby's best friend, a white boy named Danny Emerson, is forced to attack Bobby to pave his way into a group he doesn't want to join. Threats of violence against his family coerce him into making a decision he could regret the rest of his life. This scene is where Danny confronts Bobby on the street between Libby and Bobby's houses. Unbeknownst to Danny, there are several federal agents camping out at Bobby's in order to protect his family after another group boys from the same organization, brutally beat Bobby's cousin.


Strolling across the street, Bobby was thinking about Libby and how much he loved her, when someone got out of a car just down from his mother's house.

Acting like he didn't notice, he walked slightly faster to his front porch. If he made enough noise, Jim would hear him and come out. He wasn't scared, not yet. The other person came forward until he stood under the streetlight. It was Danny. His face was bland, expressionless, which was more frightening than seeing anger. If he'd been mad, it would mean he still cared.

Bobby faced his former best friend, checking the car and shadows to see if the bigger boy was alone. Bobby didn't see anyone else, but that didn't mean they weren't there.

"Roberto, you and I need to talk."

Bobby held his arms out from his body, shrugging. "I'm here, amigo. Talk." He said loudly, hoping someone would hear.

Danny didn't move, his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He spoke quietly, calmly. "You know I didn't beat Ramon, right?"

"I know you were there. I can't believe you'd hit him with a fucking bat. That's not your style."

Danny's mouth quirked and he dropped his head. "What is my style?"

"Take a swing, kick his ass, but a bat's bad form. You weren't ever a cheat, Dan."

"Really?" The reply was dry, sarcastic, not Danny's usual style either.

Something was wrong. It was a warm night. Why was Danny wearing a jacket? Why were his hands in his pockets? Bobby knew he was in trouble. It was late, his friends and family were going to bed, and, despite Toby's warnings, he was alone.

"You know, Danny," he said rather too loudly. "That was a cheap shot you did to his balls. Were you trying to emasculate him or just mess him up so he couldn't take your woman?"

"I didn't do that, Bobby. You have to believe me. That wasn't my idea."

"I hope not because I'd hate to be the man who did that to Ramon. Whoever did better hope he recovers full use, or he's gonna wish he'd killed my cousin. Because Ramon will come after whoever it was. And that man will die badly. Make no mistake."

"Nobody needs to die here, Bobby." Danny was getting nervous.

"What's in your pocket, Daniel?" Bobby took a step toward his friend.

"Don't come near me," Danny cautioned, holding out his left hand like a stop sign. His right hand stayed in his pocket.

"Lemme see," Bobby took another step. "We never used to have secrets. We're brothers, remember? When we were ten, we cut our hands and did blood brothers."

"Bobby, I mean it. Don't come any closer." His voice shook, his left hand trembling.

"Gonna shoot me, Danny? Is that the plan? You gonna come and kill your best friend? Is that what it takes to be part of the clan? Sever your ties, kill the Mexican vermin. Jesus, Danny, did our friendship mean so little?"

"Don't, Bobby. Stop. I mean it!" Danny yelled, yanking the gun out of his pocket.

The streetlight glittered on the barrel of a snub nosed .38 revolver. Danny's hand shook, but he kept the gun trained on Bobby.

"Drop the gun, Danny. Fight me like a man. You never needed a weapon against me. Don't you think you can take me? I'm half your size."

He was willing his friend to come closer, begging him in his mind to drop the weapon and let down his guard, but it wasn't happening—yet. He kept talking, taking little steps closer. The gun didn't drop. Danny's hand shook uncontrollably. The closer Bobby got, the more danger he was in that the gun would go off by mistake.

Bobby reminded Danny of every time they had been there for one another, all the pranks they had played, how their mothers called them the Dastardly Duo. Each statement started as an "I remember when," cataloging the last ten years of their lives. Tears formed in Danny's eyes but he blinked them away. When he was close enough, Bobby stopped moving.

Danny's arm was within reach, the gun leveled at Bobby's forehead. Steadier now, it didn't waver. He shifted his grip on the gun and Bobby moved. Lunging at his friend, he grabbed the barrel of the gun, pulling Danny toward him, catching him off balance.

With an easy shift of his hands, he put pressure on Danny's wrist, forcing him to drop the gun. Bobby kicked it away, slamming his elbow into Danny's chin. The other boy should have dropped, but Bobby hadn't hit him hard enough. A vestige of their friendship remained, tattered and shredded as it was.

Danny tried to head butt Bobby, but the young Mexican man dodged, pulling Danny further off balance by a shift of his weight. Knocking his friend down, Bobby flipped Danny on his face, holding his arm up behind him as his foot pressed into the white boy's shoulder. Hand at an awkward and painful angle, Danny screamed as he felt his shoulder pop out of the socket.

People poured out of the houses, rushing toward them. Dark figures fled from the bushes, running in four different directions. Danny's backup had finally decided that hanging around was dumb. Toby ran after one, bringing him down with an amazing flying tackle. Jim got another and Evanston took down a third. The fourth ran away, but police sirens were coming from that direction and the guy was running in the middle of the street. He wouldn't get far.

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