The woman lay in her bed, tossing and turning, and tried to sleep. It was hot, but southern Arizona in July is always hot. Due to unpaid bills, the power company had shut off electricity to the shabby mobile home months ago. By now she was pretty well used to sleeping without benefit of a cooler or even a blowing fan.
The heat was a factor, but more disturbing than physical discomfort was thinking about the approaching interview. She had kept her mouth shut for almost thirty years. For that long, other than pouring her heart out to her grandmother, she had been part of an ugly conspiracy of silence. No more. Tomorrow--today, in fact--she was going to talk. To strangers. To reporters. She was going to let it all hang out. The question was, what would happen then?
Someone had told her once--wasn't it that same grandmother?--that the truth will set you free. The story she was about to tell was the truth, but would it really free her of the demons that plagued her? The terrible sense of dread she felt wasn't at all like being set free. What if she only made things worse? What if telling damned her forever?
Finally, around four, a slight breeze ruffled the frayed curtain over her bed, and she drifted off. A scarce three hours later, awakened by a recurring nightmare, she staggered out of bed and into the bathroom. When she turned on the water faucet in the lavatory, nothing happened.
"Damn!" she muttered. "What a time to run out of water."
Pulling on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, she hurried outside into the relative cool of the early morning. The dogs, locked in the straw-bale shed, heard the back door slam and set up a terrific racket. If she was outside, they wanted to be outside, too. She went over and opened the door on the make-do shed where she kept her motley collection of dogs overnight. As soon as the door opened, the dogs cascaded joyfully out into the early-morning sunlight.
As always, Streak, the fleet-footed beagle, led the way, followed by Jasper, a mutt who was more German shepherd than anything else. There was FiFi, the three-legged poodle, followed by Donner and Blitzen, the two malamutes the woman had found as tiny puppies left in a box outside Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve two years ago. Fat Albert, the dachshund, raced through the doorway carrying a ball and wanting her to throw it. Razzle, Yo-Yo, and Pansy, three rescued greyhounds, pranced out daintily, with Yo-Yo stopping long enough for a leisurely stretch and to have his ears scratched. Angel was an ugly, wrinkle-faced chow and Roger a Doberman whose ears had been mangled in an amateur attempt at cropping. Mikey, the boxer, gave his owner a slobbery-faced greeting while newcomer Hombre--a black-and-tan hound--sidled shyly past her as if still unsure about whether or not he could trust her.
The older dogs came later. Chief, a collie mix of some kind, had lost several teeth, and Mopsy was a black Lab with a developing hip problem. The Lab had recently given birth to a batch of pups, only one of which had survived. The woman hoped that with money from her upcoming interview, she'd be able to afford to get the dogs not only their shots and licenses, but some veterinary care as well. Lester, a happy-go-lucky black cocker with an age-grizzled muzzle, was virtually blind due to cataracts that had dimmed both his eyes. Expensive canine cataract surgery would far outstrip his owner's meager ability to pay.
Last in line was her favorite, a beloved mongrel named Oscar, who was evidently the result of an unfortunate mating between a German shepherd and a dachshund. Oscar's large shepherd body tottered around on legs barely six inches tall, but what he lacked in height, Oscar more than made up in love.
Four of the dogs--Chief, Oscar, Roger, and Streak--had been with the woman for years, through a series of dingy apartments and humiliating evictions and, finally, at the very end, before her grandmother had let them come here, the dogs had lived with their owner in her Datsun 710 wagon. That was the wonderful thing about dogs--they loved you no matter who you were or where you lived.
The foregoing is excerpted from Exit Wounds by J. A. Jance. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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