Excerpt from Down River by John Hart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Down River

by John Hart

Down River
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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“I never said I was.”

The old man nodded, and his voice quivered with frustration and anger. “You tell your daddy that he needs to stop being so goddamn selfish and think about the rest of the people in this county. I’m not the only one that says so. A lot of people around here are fed up. You tell him that from me.”

“That’s enough,” I said, stepping closer.

He didn’t like it, and his hands seized up. “Don’t you talk down to me, boy.”

Something hot flared in his eyes, and I felt a deep anger stir as memories surged back. I relived the old man’s pettiness and disregard, his quick and ready hands when his son made some innocent mistake. “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself.” I stepped even closer, and as tall as the old man was, I still rose above him. His eyes darted left and right when he saw the anger in me. His son and I had cut a wide swath through this county, and in spite of what he’d said, it had rarely been me bleeding on some barroom floor. “My father’s business is no business of yours. It never has been and it never will be. If you have something to say, I suggest that you say it to him.”

He backed away, and I followed him out into the molten air. He kept his hands up, eyes on me, and his voice was sharp and harsh. “Things change, boy. They grow small and they die. Even in Rowan County. Even for the goddamn Chases!”

And then he was gone, walking fast past the flaking doors of his roadside empire. He looked back twice, and in his hatchet face I saw the cunning and the fear. He gave me the finger, and I asked myself, not for the first time, if coming home had been a mistake.

I watched him disappear into his office, then went inside to wash off the stink.

 

It took ten minutes to shower, shave, and put on clean clothes. Hot air molded itself around me as I stepped outside. The sun pressed down on the trees across the road, soft and low as it flattened itself against the world. A mist of pollen hung in the yellow light and cicadas called from the roadside. I pulled the door shut behind me, and when I turned I noticed two things almost at once. Zebulon Faith leaned, cross-armed, against the office wall. He had two guys with him, big old boys with heavy shoulders and thick smiles. That was the first thing I saw. The second was my car. Big letters, gouged into the dusty hood.

Killer.

Two feet long if it was an inch.

So much for hope.

The old man’s face split and he pushed words through the smile. “Couple of punk kids,” he said. “They took off that way.” He pointed across the empty street, to the old drive-in parking lot that was now a sea of weed-choked Tarmac. “Damned unfortunate,” he finished.

One of the guys elbowed the other. I knew what they saw: a rich man’s car with New York plates, a city boy in shined shoes.

They had no idea.

I moved to the trunk, put my bag inside, pulled out the tire iron. It was two feet of solid metal with a lug wrench on one end. I started across the parking lot, the heavy rod low against my leg.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” I said.

“Fuck yourself, Chase.”

They came off the porch, moving heavily, Zeb Faith in the middle. They fanned out, and their feet rasped on hard-baked earth. The man on Faith’s right was the taller of the two, and looked scared, so I focused on the man to the left, a mistake. The blow came from the right, and the guy was fast. It was like getting hit with a bat. The other followed almost as quickly. He saw me droop and stepped in with an uppercut that would have broken my jaw. But I swung the iron. It came up fast and hard, caught the man’s arm in midswing and broke it as cleanly as anything I’d ever seen. I heard bones go. He went down, screaming.

Excerpted from Down River by John Hart. Copyright © 2007 by John Hart. A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved.

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