After Oscar emerged, the woman glanced inside the gloomy shed to see if she had missed anyone. She didn't remember having seen Shadow, Mopsy's eight-week-old pup, but she was sure he must have come out with the others. Shutting the door while the dogs wandered off to relieve themselves, the woman turned resolutely toward the pump.
When she first moved in, she had cursed her grandfather for stubbornly continuing to use an old-fashioned rope-pull gasoline-powered pump on the well rather than switching over to an electric one that would have operated automatically or with nothing more than the touch of a switch. But now that same rope-pull pump, hard as it might be to start sometimes, was a blessing rather than a curse because it continued to work without benefit of electricity. The woman hoped that maybe, after she took care of the dogs, there'd be enough money left over to make up those months of unpaid bills and have her power restored.
The mobile home was parked on three acres just east of the San Pedro River. Sheltered on three sides by mesquite and brush and on the river side by a grove of cottonwoods, it was so isolated that, once the noisy pump had water flowing into the storage tank, the woman had no qualms about bathing outside under an outdoor showerhead her grandfather had installed between the tank and the house. She had finished and was toweling off when the dogs began barking and racing toward the gate.
The woman's heart pounded in sudden panic. Most people weren't pushy enough to drive past the bullet-riddled No Trespassing sign wired to the gate. And, although the two reporters weren't due until eleven--she had told them not to come any sooner than that--she was dismayed to think they might have decided to arrive early.
Dreading seeing them and hoping vaguely for some other stray visitor, she grabbed up her discarded clothing and raced toward the back door, calling to the dogs as she went. Hearing the distress in her voice, the dogs came as one. She stood just inside the door and pulled on her shorts and T-shirt as they bounded past her. Once Oscar, always the slowest, had lunged his way up the wooden steps and into the house, she slammed the door shut behind them.
Even though it was still early, the inside of the house had never cooled off overnight and was already terribly hot. The woman knew that neither she nor the dogs could stay there very long. In order to keep vermin away from the place, she always fed the dogs inside the mobile. Milling around her in the kitchen, that's what they expected now - breakfast. She had planned to feed the dogs and then return them to the relative cool of the treeshaded shed while she met with the reporters.
But the dogs were oblivious to her uncertainty and concern. They simply wanted to eat, and so she fed them. At first her quaking hands fumbled clumsily as she grabbed for dog dishes and filled them with food, but gradually that simple task had a calming effect. By the time all the dogs were happily munching through their dry food, she rushed into the bathroom to peer at her reflection in the mirror.
She looked at herself so seldom that she was shocked by what she saw. Her face seemed gaunt and pale. There were deep shadows under her eyes from lack of sleep. Her lank, uncombed hair flopped in wet tangles around her face. In other words, she looked like hell. She had desperately wanted to make a good impression on her visitors. Since they had mentioned videotaping the interview, she had hoped to sit in the sun long enough to dry her hair. She had even planned on putting on some makeup, if she still had any, that is.
Now, though, by arriving early--while the dogs were still underfoot and before she could make herself presentable--her visitors had ruined everything. No one would take her seriously if they thought she was nothing more than a madwoman living in a house overrun by a pack of unruly dogs. The reporters would probably take one look at her and write her off as a hopeless nutcase.
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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