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  • Scott Bell

And Next Up, Yeager's Choice




Fans of Yeager, rejoice. All ten of you.


The fourth novel in the Abel Yeager series is in edits with the publisher. No release date yet, but I will let you know as soon as I have a date.


Here's a sneak peek.


Abel Yeager approached the problem as if it were a range exercise. Distance: eight meters. Elevation: two meters. Wind: negligible. Hitting the target depended upon skill, determination, and experience, offset by the fickle trajectory of a two-dollar spinner bait lure at the end of twelve-pound test line cast by an old Zebco rod and reel.

Target: A narrow gap between the sprawling, lure-hungry branches of an ancient live oak and the calm, muddy-green surface of his stock pond. Six lures dangled from the tree already, like a fisherman’s Christmas ornaments, hanging by monofilament threads. The tree mocked Yeager. It waved its branches as if to say, “Bring it, puny human.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Yeager muttered. “I have a chainsaw.”

In the murky shade of this ornery spread of future firewood lurked a canny school of large-mouth bass of the species Texius Maximus Linus-Breakerus. These monstrous lunkers would rip the rod from a fisherman’s hands, climb out of the water, and beat him with it, then go back under and flip a fin on the way down. If Yeager managed to horse one up onto the bank, the result would be a legendary fishing story and a trophy mounted over the fireplace.

The first obstacle was the damn tree. He had to cast low enough to miss the grasping branches, yet high enough not to drop short of the shaded bit of pond.

Yeager thumbed the trigger on his old Zebco and side-armed the cast.

Plonk!

The lure hit the water about two inches off his aimpoint, which was good enough for fishing and fireworks. He allowed the lure to settle for a moment then started working it back. Tug, crank, tug, crank, all the way across the pond. Nothing hit it. The bass ignored his shiny new spinner, and it popped free of the water near his feet.

Yeager eyeballed the throw and cast again, avoiding the lure-eating tree once more. Lather, rinse, repeat, curse. The art of fishing, right there in a nutshell.

Central Texas in early June and the temperature at five thirty in the afternoon was warm with a side helping of muggy. Spring storms had filled the pond to the brim, and water lapped at the top of the embankment upon which Yeager stood. The sun hung a couple of hours above the Western horizon, and the big oak threw shade over Yeager’s position, which slid the temperature toward approaching comfortable and turned his thoughts away from chainsaws and firewood.

The boy, David, and his dog sat cross-legged by the water’s edge. David’s nimble fingers worked a knot in a new leader. Born David Buchanan, the kid now went by David Yeager. The adoption paperwork had gone through and made Abel a daddy twice over in under a year, once with newborn John Riley and then with twelve-year-old David. The boy had shot up like a bottle rocket since Christmas, outgrowing two sizes of jeans in a few months. Dark-haired, studious, and as intense as a pinpoint of magnified sunlight, the boy could outsmart a Harvard professor with enough brains left over to do the NY Times crossword.

Yeager chuckled to himself. He can damn sure outsmart me. Then Victor’s voice spoke in his head, and he laughed again: That ain’t no high bar. A damned fish can outsmart you, esse.

“Even when he ain’t around, he’s still zinging me.”

David looked up at him, eyebrows raised. Beside him, as if mirroring his question, Rascal popped his head up and perked his ears in Yeager’s direction.

“Just talking to myself,” Yeager said. “Bad habit I picked up from driving a truck.”

The boy nodded. “Do you think it’s safe to go back inside yet? I’ve had about all the fishing I want to do.”

“Yeah, me too.” Yeager glanced in the direction of their home, as if he could determine his wife’s temper by reading the sky. “I don’t see no mushroom clouds, so maybe we’re good.”

“Abel? Can I ask you something?” David had always called him Abel, although there were times the boy called him Dad without realizing. Abel’s insides melted to goo when that happened, though he kept a straight face as befitting a he-male role model.

“Always. Bring it on.”

“Why is Mom so… angry all the time? Or not all the time, I guess. But it’s like she’s…”

“Ready to explode without warning?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

Yeager reeled in a twist of weeds and busied his hands working the gunk loose from the treble-hook spinner as he thought how best to respond. He worked hard at keeping David’s trust, and one of his self-imposed rules was he wouldn’t lie to the boy. He might not tell the kid everything, as some details of a rough life weren’t fit to be shared with a young’un, but Yeager never purposely misled him.

“You know your mom went through a lot awhile back, out in Hawaii. And before that, y’all had that thing with the wannabe hit man from Mexico. The year before that, she had a spot of trouble”—now, there was an evasion—“from them people when we first met. That’s a lot of… bad stuff… for anybody to handle. I know people spent their whole lives in the Marines and hadn’t seen as much violence as your mom has. You with me so far?”

David nodded.

Yeager sat down beside him then tucked the hook into the rod’s second eyelet and gave the crank a turn to tighten it. Rascal came over to inspect the job, and Yeager nudged the fool dog’s nose away from the hook. “You ever hear the term post-traumatic stress disorder? PTSD? Yeah? Good.”

Yeager smiled at the way David said yes. He figured David would look it up on the internet and be able to write a ten-page paper on the subject before Yeager had his teeth brushed for bed. “It effects different people different ways. Some get depressed. Some get a twitch, or they can’t sleep at night. And some get moody. They lash out at people. That’s what’s happening to your mom. Her brain is trying to work through all the horrible things that happened to her, and it’s jacking up her emotions. How’s that for layman’s terms?”

“Does it ever get better?”

“Sure, it does.” Yeager squeezed the boy’s shoulder then gave it a pat. “Your mom’s no dummy. She knows what going on, and she’s seeing some doctors and whatnot”—Yeager held back saying the word psychiatrist—“and I expect time and love will help her to the right place. Although… To be honest, I’ve read some things saying it don’t ever completely go away.”

David frowned. “What about you? You’ve seen a ton of bad things.”

“That’s true. And done a few as well.”

“But you don’t have PTSD.”

“Sure I do,” Yeager said. “Sure I do. I just… have learned how to hide it a little better than most. Meeting you and your mom helped me a lot. I was pretty down on life before that happened. You could say you guys are the exact medicine I needed.”

“Then why aren’t we the right medicine for Mom?”

Uh-oh. Dug yourself a hole now, Yeager. “Well, like I said. Everybody’s different. Not the same medication works for every brain. Your mom’s real smart, and she’s sensitive, to boot. Me, well, my brain is just not as developed as a normal human, so I don’t need as much to stay in balance. A fellow once told me I could compartmentalize real well. Tuck things in boxes and stash ’em away where I can’t see them anymore.”

David appeared unconvinced. Rascal barked and raced away. David’s eyes shifted past Yeager and widened at what he saw. “Uncle Victor!”

V ictor Ruiz stood atop the embankment, fending off a fifty-pound fur missile. The evening sun threw his shadow out well past his five-foot-five body. Victor wrestled the dog away from his lick fest and said, “What’s this? The redneck version of Old Man and the Sea? Or Moby Duck Pond?”

Yeager dusted off his pants and dragged the shorter man into a back-slapping half-hug. “Just explaining to David here how teeny Mexicans make the best fish bait.”

“Yeah, I see how well you fish, cabrone.” Victor hitched his chin at the lures dangling from the tree. “You never could cast for shit.”

Yeager turned to David. “Don’t repeat any words coming out of Por Que’s mouth, in either Spanish or English.”

“Oh, like I haven’t heard those words a million times at school.” David rolled his eyes. He climbed up man-hugged Victor in an awkward imitation of his adopted father. Yeager smiled to see it. Rascal bounced in circles around the pair, barking.

“Dang, esse.” Por Que said. “You almost tall as me!”

“A tomato plant’s almost as tall as you,” Yeager chipped in.

“Huh. That’s racist, dude.”

“Tomatoes are a race?”

“No, but short people are, and we’ll bite your ankles, you don’t watch it.”

“Did you get the chopper fixed?” David chirped. “Can I go for a ride?”

“Sadly, no.” Victor shook his head. “The motor is fried. Gonna take a miracle to bring the Huey back to life.”

“Go on to the house, boy,” Yeager said. “See if it’s safe for us to come back inside.”

David set off for the house, with Rascal bounding circles around him.

Victor side-eyed him. “Sending the boy off to run point?”

“Charlie’s been in a temper all day, which was why we went fishing to start with. You showing up…” Yeager waggled a hand. “Could go either way.”

An unannounced visit from Victor could mean a lot of things… some not good. The last time he’d appeared without warning, he’d dragged Yeager off to Mexico, where they’d both damn near died. Charlie’s mood was finicky enough without dumping pure nitro into her combustion chamber. Yeager found himself dragging his feet. It didn’t take long for Victor to confirm his fears.

“I found Cujo,” Victor said. “And you ain’t gonna like it a damn bit.”

Yeager breathed out hard through his nostrils and pitched his voice low. “I haven’t told Charlie about this thing with Cujo, okay? About you going to check out the rumor. She was torn up about him getting killed down there. Thinks it was her fault, because she’s the one teed him up to go. I didn’t want to get her hopes up. She’s… dealing with a lot. Surgery on her hand. The baby.” Yeager shrugged. “And the thing in Hawaii really messed her up.”

“Man, I saw the size of that dude. The one broke her hand? That’d mess me up too.”

“Amen.”

Victor frowned at the house. “And Charlie ain’t gonna like this thing with Cujo even more than you ain’t gonna like it. Maybe we should go get a beer somewhere.”

Yeah. Like in China. Yeager took a deep breath. He stopped and put a hand on Victor’s shoulder, looking him in the eye. “What we’re gonna do—I want to hear the story first. Once I know how bad the situation is, then I’ll figure out a way to break it to Charlie. Not a word to her about Cujo. Clear?”

“Crystal.”

“Okay, then.” Yeager patted Victor’s shoulder twice, for emphasis. Or for courage. “Let’s go face the music.”

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