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Excerpt from Deep South by Nevada Barr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Deep South

by Nevada Barr

Deep South by Nevada Barr X
Deep South by Nevada Barr
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2000, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2001, 368 pages

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"What did she say, Baby?" a creaking voice cut through the one-sided hilarity.

"Tourist."

Ancient laughter crackled from the window, leaking around the man Anna could see.

"Not you," the driver managed, merriment abated. "Your dog. He a huntin' dog?"

"Tourist," Anna said again.

"What, Baby?"

"Tourist dog, Daddy." Much laughter. Anna found herself inclined to join in but was afraid it would turn to hysteria.

"Get on with it, Baby. I got work to do," came a querulous creaking from the invisible passenger.

The round face sobered, the wad of chaw was more securely stowed in the cheek and "Baby" got down to business. "Daddy wants to know if y'all need a hand."

By way of reply, Anna shined her failing light on the locust clutching her trailer. The verdant embrace struck her funny bone, comedy of the absurd, and she laughed. "You wouldn't happen to have a chainsaw on you, would you?"

Baby looked at her as if she was a half-wit, then said to the darkness beyond his shoulder: "Lady needs a chainsaw, Daddy."

Anna heard the unhappy notes of bent metal being forced as the passenger door of the truck opened and closed. Taco whined and wagged. Rummaging noises emanated from the pickup bed, then an old man--somewhere between sixty and biblical--came around the end of the truck, red brake lights lending his shrunken cheeks and spindly silhouette a devilish cast. In his left hand was a chainsaw with a twenty-four-inch blade.

"Whatcher need cut? That tree you backed on into?"

Anna was torn between efficiency and dignity. Efficiency lost. "I didn't back into it," she defended herself. "I slid ever so gently into the muck and, bingo, a tree was on me." Pretty lame, but it was the best she could do.

Daddy nodded. "Loess," he said, leaving her no wiser. "Melts like sugar. Back the truck up, Baby. You're just an accident waitin' to happen. Back on up now," he admonished sharply as the younger man started to pull ahead. "Git those headlights on the job. You know that."

Gears grated, meshed, and the truck lumbered back till the headlights threw the old man, the trailer and the tree into garish relief. Anna shaded her eyes from the glare and watched as, one-handed, Daddy drop-started the chainsaw and began cutting away the locust, smaller branches first. Baby, out of the truck so Anna could see the full effect, wore overalls over a plaid shirt and heavy boots. As his father cut, he swamped, hauling away the branches, some as big around as Anna's leg. Early on she offered to help but was warned she'd get herself "all over poison ivy" and so desisted. Pride was one thing, poison ivy quite another. She'd had it once and counted herself among the sadder but wiser girls.

The tree was quickly disposed of. A chain, appearing from the same rubble of necessities that had camouflaged the chainsaw, was hooked around the Rambler's bumper, and fifteen minutes start to finish, Baby and Daddy had Anna back on the road. Sensing an offer of money would be offensive, she thanked them by volunteering information about herself, an intellectual breaking of bread to indicate trust and a willingness to share as they had shared their time and strength with her.

"I got a job on the Natchez Trace," she told them after giving her name. "I'm working for the Park Service there in Port Gibson." She was careful not to mention she was in law enforcement. Either it made people feel as if they had to take a stand on the gender issue or it inspired them to relate every story they'd ever heard where a cop had done somebody dirt. Still, Baby and Daddy looked blank.`

"The Trace there by Port Gibson?" Daddy said at last. The old man leaned on the front of the pickup, the single working headlight shining past his scrawny red-cotton-covered chest in a rural depiction of the sacred heart painting that hung in the hall of Mercy High, where Anna had attended boarding school. "Then what're you doing in these parts beside getting yourself stuck?"

Reprinted from Deep South by Nevada Barr by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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