Who is it? My throat felt raw.
It was Dannys father, a quick-tempered man who knew more than most about a lot of things: the inside of the county jail, narrowmindedness, the best way to beat his half-grown son.
Just a second, I called out.
I wanted to talk to you.
I went to the sink and threw some water on my face, pushed the nightmare down. In the mirror, I looked drawn-out, older than my twenty-eight years. I toweled off as I moved to the door, felt the blood flow in me, and pulled it open. The sun hung low. Late afternoon. The old mans face looked hot and brittle.
Hello, Mr. Faith. Its been a long time.
He was basically unchanged: a little more whittled down, but just as unpleasant. Wasted eyes moved over my face, and his lips twisted under dull whiskers. The smile made my skin crawl.
You look the same, he said. I figured time would have taken some of the pretty-boy off your face.
I swallowed my distaste. I was looking for Danny.
His next words came slowly, in a hard drawl. When Manny said it was Adam Chase, I didnt believe him. I said no way would Adam Chase be staying here. Not with that big old mansion full of family just sitting out there at the river. Not with all that Chase money. But things change, I reckon, and here you are. He lowered his chin and foul breath puffed out. I didnt think you had the nerve to come back.
I kept my sudden anger in check. About Danny, I said.
He waved the comment away as if it annoyed him. Hes sitting on a beach in Florida somewhere. The little shit. Dannys fine. He stopped speaking, closing down the subject of his son with an offhand finality. For a long moment he just stared at me. Jesus Christ. He shook his head. Adam Chase. In my place.
I rolled my shoulders. One place is as good as another.
The old man laughed cruelly. This motel is a rattrap. Its sucking the life out of me.
If you say so.
Are you here to talk to your father? he asked, a sudden glint in his eyes.
I plan to see him.
Thats not what I meant. Are you here to talk to him? I mean to say, five years ago you were the crown prince of Rowan County. A despicable grin. Then you had your little trouble and youre just up and gone. Near as I can tell, youve never been back. Theres got to be a reason after all this time, and talking sense into that prideful, stubborn son of a bitch is the best one I can think of.
If you have something to say, Mr. Faith, why dont you just say it?
He stepped closer, brought the smell of old sweat with him. His eyes were hard gray over a drinkers nose, and his voice thinned. Dont be a smart-ass with me, Adam. I remember back when you was just as much a shit-brain kid as my boy, Danny, and the two of you together didnt have the sense to dig a hole in the dirt with a shovel. Ive seen you drunk and Ive seen you bleeding on a barroom floor. He looked from my feet to my face. Youve got a fancy car and a big-city smell on you, but you dont look no better than anyone else. Not to me. And you can tell your old man I said that, too. Tell him that hes running out of friends.
I dont think I like your tone.
I tried to be polite, but youll never change, you Chases. Think youre so much better than everyone else around here, just because you have all that land and because youve been in this county since creation. None of it means youre better than me. Or better than my boy.
Excerpted from Down River by John Hart. Copyright © 2007 by John Hart. A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
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