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A Sin To Stay Down: A Boont Noir (Chapter 1)

“I should have buried Dad here,” Billy Lee Riley thought, standing in the unfinished grave up on Panther Rock, digging deeper with a pointed shovel – the wrong fuckin’ tool for the job.

Outside the hole was a dead Mexican.

Billy Lee’s father had told him more than once that you should always use the right tool for a particular job – that there was a right tool if you looked hard enough. Along with a right man for that job too. Clearly, this Mexican didn’t fit his vocation. Or maybe he had been the wrong tool?

Blood pooled near the departed man’s open mouth. His neck was at an odd angle. Ants crawled on his tongue. It looked like he was trying to slurp some of that blood back inside himself, quench an unslakable thirst for life.

“No more aniversarios for you, Amigo,” Billy Lee thought, noticing the corpse’s wedding band, then glancing at his own ring and finding himself thinking not of Ella, his wife of fourteen years, but their daughter, Rose. That’s what he did to get through tough situations, to allow the unwanted waves of violent impulses or primal sexual urges to pass. Think of Rose. And try to breathe. Stay cool. Keep your vows. Provide. Prevail.

Find your way home.


He checked for the other Mexican, the one who had been charged with watching him work, who carried an assault rifle. Definitely not marine or army issue. You’d have to be a gun nut to know what the hell it was. Israeli? Russian? It didn’t come from the Cabela’s catalog, that was for sure. Elephant dick banana clip stuck in the slot. The ATF strategy of “letting guns walk” came to mind. He’d seen a news segment on “Operation Fast and Furious,” tuning in because he thought it was the action flick with the same title, then spent the whole time shaking his head. More failed foreign policy. But someone was making billions, you could bet on that. He’d seen enough “CSI” and lived enough real life to know when crimes were committed, you followed the money. Or women. Or religious fanatics. He’d rather watch cars crash.

He wiped grit from his eye. No gloves either. It was all half-assed. Now he was jamming more dirt into his eye with his grubby finger than he was getting out, and unable to stop, like downing another shot of tequila right before you puked. A couple blisters had popped on his hand too, one large enough to intersect with the lines crossing his palm. You didn’t have to wear a gypsy’s shawl to know one of the creases was his lifeline. He didn’t believe in that mumbo jumbo, not much anyway. Whereas water dowsing and a woman’s intuition, well, he had experienced those firsthand to their full dumbfounding effect. Weren’t humans made up of two-thirds water? Maybe that was the dowser’s trick, a combination of a woman’s wiles and natural phenomena. There was usually a trick hidden somewhere. Along with a big fat blind spot. Billy Lee knew science, had majored in math; the so-called hard facts, only took you so far. Then you were on your own with time and space bending into the weight of black holes, leaving you star-crossed and running irrational routes, as if life were a last second Hail Mary play where nobody bothered to tell you whether you were on offense or defense. Billy Lee relied on his instincts, reading the gravity of the situation. He could hear the game clock ticking. He knew what he had to do: hit somebody.

But he was exhausted. Dazed from the last few days and what he’d caught himself up in. He wasn’t thinking straight. The first member of his family to go to college, but what was all that expensive education worth outside of a classroom? He could use a drink. A cup of coffee. Some sleep. A loaded gun. His family back.

His knuckles squeezed white around the shovel handle as he gazed out over the Riley Ranch and down into the far reaches of Anderson Valley. He used to know every back road and creek bed, hillock and fishing hole. All the families, their dogs, truck brands, what they ate, what they drank, smoked, sniffed. Who was fucking who. As he got older, he explored less and outsiders moved in, about doubling the population – more hippies, rich folks, the Mexicans – and their fences weren’t to be crossed. No longer simple boundary lines or used to corral livestock. They meant, “Keep out!”

“Good fences make good neighbors” he quoted Robert Frost at Kennedy’s famous inauguration. That’s the kind of crap I learned at college, he told himself. Kennedy’s old man was a bootlegger, probably had the same ambition as that dead Mexican. Get rich quick moving the illegal drugs of your era. Buy a better life for your brood. Integrate. Was it better to die trying to climb that ladder yourself or to see your son’s head blown clean off because your family wasn’t welcome on a higher rung? All that upward mobility, that haircut and good living, gone to waste. If going to college had taught Billy Lee anything, it was that there was a rigid class system in America. And you better know your place, redneck.

Even these Mexicans knew enough to hand him the shovel.

Well, fuck it.

If any more shit went down, it might as well happen right here. Panther Rock was his favorite spot on the property, the top of an ancient crest of volcanic fault line. One of the highest points around. Nobody could get the drop on you up here. From this peak, you could watch the fog advance and retreat from the coast like an army of cotton puffs. If you looked carefully when the fog cleared, you could see The Valley was getting parceled out. Occupied. The Napafication of Boonville was underway, although sewage laws, water tables and global warming were having their say too. The earth was parched. Least rainfall and worst fire warnings in memory.

Billy Lee thought the fog covered climate change for most people in The Valley, creating an illusion that the planet’s weather hadn’t been altered. It clouded the better judgment of realtors and outside investors too, who kept biggering the price tags on property. Few ever got this view. If they did, it was from a CAMP helicopter. The fog made the inland stretch from north Philo to almost Yorkville perfect for growing marijuana, pinot noir grapes, and certain apples that no longer had enough value to be farmed in bulk.

Apple Fair, my ass, he scoffed, thinking of the county fair that had started in 1924 as a harvest festival. They’d be lucky to eke out another couple years of that doomed antiquity. Nobody gave a shit about 4-H and riding the whirly-bird anymore. The Rodeo? Sheep dog trials and barrel racing? It was the Cannabis Cup these days. Ganja not gravensteins. High THC content, not homemade preserves. Pears were gone too. It was grapes, grapes, grapes, as far as the eye could see. And even more marijuana that you couldn’t.

“How do you like them apples?” That’s what Dad used to say when something went wrong. Flat tire. Busted gate. No TV reception for the Niner game because of a strong wind up on Signal Ridge. Or he’d say it after giving you an order he knew you weren’t going to like. Charlie and Tammy, Billy Lee’s older brother and younger sister would scowl and sulk at Dad’s verbal tick, followed by the extra chore or temporary setback. Billy Lee would reply, “I like them apples just fine.” And Dad never got mad, regardless of how much sarcasm Billy Lee let slip into his voice. Any other backtalk was cause for a belt or full on beating. But to this response, Dad let a smile crawl across his face as his youngest son dutifully trudged off to clean the chicken coup or rabbit hutches, cut kindling or stack wood. Some menial task that usual involved shit and monotony. No different than what he was doing now.

But Dad didn’t mean a gun battle, a botched double-kidnapping, or this dead Mexican.

“Your dad’s favorite,” he could hear Tammy’s voice, upset at the division of labor divided by sex and her younger age, how she was forbidden to lift an axe and made to be Mom’s helper. Billy Lee couldn’t believe she wasn’t happier snapping off the ends of string beans in a warm kitchen than chopping wood outside in the cold collecting splinters. “How come I can’t choose?” she’d cry. Tammy didn’t seem happy most places, doing most things. Still, if she wanted to get Billy Lee’s goat, she would have to come up with something better than calling him “Dad’s favorite.” Over the years, she tried. But most of her insults, Billy Lee took as compliments. She was that ass backwards, even before two failed marriages and her oxycontin addiction.

Meanwhile, Billy Lee would come up here to Panther Rock with Dad as often as he could, a long hike from the house with deer rifles or riding double on the ATV with a thirty aught six loaded and bungee-corded atop the front end in case they saw a passel of wild pigs. His sister didn’t like to hunt. His brother hated dressing out the kill. One time with the skinning knife in his young hand, Charlie didn’t make it cleanly around a hog’s anus and knocked a pouch that spurted jizz on him. The vas deferential? Whatever it was called it spumed a money shot that looked enough like semen for Billy Lee to tease Charlie that he had lost his virginity to a dead pig. Whenever the phone rang at the house, Billy Lee would needle, “Must be your girlfriend, Javelina.” That was back when they owned all dozen parcels of the Riley Ranch, and it was easier to laugh. Unless a dead pig had just cum on you.

The Riley Ranch had been thirty-two hundred acres, half consisting of rolling hills topped with scrub oak, the other half was forested with douglas fir, pine, manzanita, bay, madrone. From Panther Rock, you could see some plots had been logged over the years, and parts burnt in patches to try to beat back the sudden oak death that had sprung up like the same spate of cancer that had killed Billy Lee’s mother, father, and half of everyone else he had ever known. The ones that didn’t give into liver failure, car wrecks, heart attacks, meth, or some far flung war.

Billy Lee remembered drinking beers up here with Ronnie Blevins before his buddy pushed off for Iraq. He wanted one last look around. That’s what he got too. Haji nailed him nine months later. An IED. In some part of the suck that nobody in The Valley could pronounce or pick out on a map, a bunch of consonants and extremist Muslims all slung together. To add insult to his final injury, Ronnie had once asked a local girl he was trying to lay if she was on the pill or IED, having meant to say IUD. He didn’t get any that night, and the girl was forever known as IOU. Billy Lee wasn’t the only one in town with a sense of humor. But the fact that an IED had killed Ronnie had everybody’s head shaking, as if fate was a cruel joke waiting to explode its punch line under your boots. The funeral wasn’t open casket. Folks wondered how much of Ronnie actually got buried in the Boont Dusties, the local graveyard in Boonville where Billy Lee’s folks were also laid to rest in the expanding Riley plot, and how much of Ronnie was eternally kissing dessert sand.

Billy Lee would be buried here, Panther Rock. Not the Boont Dusties. Not Iraq. But hopefully not today in this fucking hole he was digging. “How do you like them apples?” Billy Lee let slip under his breath.

Señor AK-47 nodded at him to keep working.

Billy Lee hacked again at the hard earth with the dull blade of the crap-ass shovel. One rivet. He saw one single metal rivet was holding the wood handle to the aluminum head. That was some serious Chinese shit right there. Skimping on a second or third rivet to save money. You’d have to sell a million shovels before it paid off. The Chinese would do it though, chop chop. Talk about failed foreign policy. With America bound in bad trade agreements, freighters of this useless shit sailing into our harbors and onto our shelves; tools, textiles, toys. And try to return it when it broke! When his father died, Billy Lee had inherited most of his politics and all his tools. This worthless Wal-Mart shovel wasn’t one of them.

I guess if you had a good enough gun, you didn’t have to worry about your shovel, he thought, sneaking another peak at the weapon that kept him in this hole. Just point the weapon, and somebody else would do the digging.

Another shovelful.

It had been easier going in the beginning when he had a pick to work with. But the quarters of the grave closed in on him and he couldn’t swing it effectively. Nor could you shovel out dirt with a pick. Even the right tool at one time had its limitations later.

Sweat seeped through Billy Lee’s Anderson Valley High School Football T-shirt – American made because he had ordered them. Paid the extra two bucks a throw. Printed across his wide shoulders were the results of the 3 – 7 season he had recently coached. A reminder to always give maximum effort because each player, and the coaches, had to wear their team’s wins and losses. Shitty year or not. It was part of your permanent record that would not easily fade. The worst players, and most of the mediocre ones too, lied their asses off about their achievements, agreeing over the years to glory days that never occurred. The better players, the ones who had played the game right, who went hard until to the whistle blew, who left it all out on the field, lied a whole lot less. They let the wins and losses speak for themselves, knowing, even if there were only a couple marks in the win column during another long season where they were out numbered and outmatched by bigger towns and better opponents, they had earned those hard-fought victories. They meant something. They also knew their other teammates, the storytellers and braggarts, were a bunch of bullshit losers.

Sneaking another peak at Señor AK-47, Billy Lee decided his sentry looked like a soccer player; thin, nimble-footed, low to the ground. Injury faker. No real football in him. But that’s what the Mexicans called soccer – football. Spelling it with an accent mark. Fútbol. Taking everything over in California, one word, one accent, one sport at a time. But football was football: American. And soccer would always be Third World kickball to Billy Lee.

His guard smiled.

Three teeth gleamed like gold Chiclets, the rest looked like a mouth full of corn nuts. Billy Lee wouldn’t be heading down to Mexico anytime soon for dental work, even though most of the transplants in The Valley did because it was much cheaper, even with Obamacare. He could tell Señor Ak-47 was glad to see a gringo do some manual labor.

Nothing new to me, Billy Lee told him by lack of complaint. I’ve dug ditches. Plenty of ‘em. Leech lines, pits for septic tanks, post holes. How do you think the fence you crossed got put in?

Dad wouldn’t have gone for this shit. He wouldn’t even have picked up the shovel. Unless it was to smash across this wetback’s face.



“What’s the difference between panthers, pumas, mountain lions and cougars?” Rose had asked Billy Lee on a hike after they had spotted a half-buried deer some wildcat cached for a future meal.

“Same beast,” he answered.

Billy Lee had gone thirty-six years without seeing an actual panther on Panther Rock. But they were around. He’d seen them on other parts of the ranch. And he liked to imagine them up here, majestic, all muscular and ready to pounce on some asshole like this gun-toting Mexican, taking account of his dwindling hunting ground, much like his father did – down to 1,400 acres on their last walk – before unloosing his flask and taking a sip, passing it to Billy Lee to put a little hair on his chest.

“No difference at all,” his father had taught him. “One name comes from Indians, another Spanish, another from settlers.”

Billy Lee had waited to learn about the fourth source for naming the big cats that killed their goats and sheep from time to time, but his father just took another pull from the flask, setting his eyes on the stand of old-growth doug fir behind them, near the back rim of the property that once marked a path for Pomos heading to Hopland. The First Nation. A tribe dispelled decades ago, pushed into poverty and onto reservations; stray arrowheads, stone tools, some cave drawings were all that was left. Except a smattering of angry alcoholics and half-breeds. There was no rez in Boonville; Covelo, Laytonville, Cloverdale, and the Sho-Ka-Wah Casino in Hopland were the closest thing. So maybe the road wasn’t a total loss, pointing the way to future slot machines and card tables. But that stand of doug fir had stood uncut for nearly a century – a point of his family’s pale face pride. It represented respect for the land from the long line of Riley loggers who came to Anderson Valley about the time those trees were saplings. Billy Lee had inherited that parcel. Those trees couldn’t be bought. His siblings fittingly split the acreage used for grazing and immediately sold it, moving on, and now that land was dotted with crappy trailers filled with dirtheads. As strapped for cash as Billy Lee had been, he didn’t sell, lease, or rent any of his property. And the doug fir were protected by a verbal oath he had made to his father and grandfather, remaining a sign of Riley family strength as well as stubbornness. It was valuable real estate with good water, plenty of springs, including the first trickle of Jimmy Creek that converged on Soda Creek, winded into Anderson Creek, flowed into the mighty Navarro River, then rolled out to the Pacific Ocean. After that, who knows? Off to China to get some shovels.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking the world’s bigger than it is,” his father had warned.

It was the coverage from the grove of doug fir and the remoteness of The Boonville Road in general, especially the winding stretch nearby known in the long-gone local language of Boontling as “Devil’s Elbow,” plus the abundance of water that had guerilla farmers planting dope here instead of on the opposite dry side of the road. First it was the hippies, then “the Deadnecks,” that sad cross-pollination of hippie and redneck, then the Mexicans.

Billy Lee hit a rock.

An electric sting shuddered down his arm and into his elbow. He couldn’t help wincing. It woke him from his trance. He felt like that guy from the “Owl Creek” movie whose long dream is a brief moment before a noose snaps his neck. Probably saw it in the same class at UNM with the Frost poem. But this nightmare wasn’t a dream. And he’d have to be alert if he was going to see tomorrow.

Rose, Rose, my Rosie Rose…

His guard dog let out a small laugh.

Don’t give this asshole the satisfaction of seeing you hurt, Billy Lee coached himself. He’d heard a version of that Mexican’s laugh before, fifteen years ago when he’d been stuck hard in practice at UNM where they tried to lay extra licks on the small town, out-of-state, country gringo fighting for a roster spot. He gained some yards, ran a few into the end zone, worked his way onto the “kill team,” heard a stadium full of cheers, and lasted two full seasons and a quarter before his knee blew out; ACL, MCL, meniscus. The terrible triad. The laughing stopped. Then the struggle was to get his diploma.

But the coach’s voice was still there. It never left, only fused with his father’s until, years later, it became his own.

“It ain’t a sin to get knocked down,” it told him. “But it is to stay down.”

You could carve that on his headstone.

Maybe they would.

Somnambulant, he slung the shovel again, just to the side of the large stone. He pried at it. The grave was growing, and despite the circumstances, he took pride in his labor. He couldn’t help squaring the edges. Roots that sprung from the crumbling walls were cleaved away, neat and tidy. Any job worth doing was worth doing well, even a shit detail like this one. That was his father talking, again. And all the Riley men, Grandpa, his great grandfather… Who knew how far back it went? Certainly before the first Riley’s came in a truckload from Arkansas to cut timber in Mendocino County with axes and saws bought from the company store. They were donkey punchers, whistle punks, setting chokers, driving skidders, running skylines. Limbing and bucking. A lot of bucking. This was the beginning of the great Pacific Northwest, geographically and spiritually. “Cow farmers and chicken ranchers stayed south in Sonoma County,” his Grandpa explained. “Bright-lighters in San Francisco.” Billy Lee’s people came from another order. Depression driven and dustbowl tested. Happy to see all this green, along with the consistent green of a paycheck. Cutting things down to size was their specialty. They’d been laid low long enough. A different code came with them as well. Nobody named Riley was afraid of getting dirt under their fingernails or the lifetime of hard work, except, maybe, Charlie and Tammy. It was expected and welcomed, a part of life clung to with calloused hands.

After Charlie dropped out of Sac State, his father made clear that Billy Lee would damn well graduate from college – football scholarship or not. With busted knee and without jock tutors, it made no difference. He was there to learn. His father knew there wouldn’t be enough lumber left for men like them to make their livings forever. You certainly couldn’t farm redwoods. Not the centuries old kind they used to cut. What those trees must have seen. What Billy Lee had seen climbing one for a dare in Hendy Woods with old-school logger spikes on his shoes and an untrustworthy rope and pulley system, not to mention a lot of booze on his breath. When they fell, that was it. Gone like god. But it was always the cocksuckers with an education, his father explained, that got to sip bourbon and shout orders from behind desks. Safe from splinters and falling trees. His father hated those men. Grandpa too. Wouldn’t drink with them, even on holidays or at socials. Dad picked fights with them every year at the Apple Fair or when they occasionally wandered into The Lodge, even when he retired. But he wanted his sons to become one of them, or some version of them, because he knew if the logs and loggers were gone, so too would the men that sat safely inside all day to count the money. But those men would land on their feet. Tough wasn’t enough to survive, you had to be smart. And adapt.

“There’s a language and lifestyle that goes with power,” he’d tell Billy Lee. “And you ain’t gonna learn it here.”

His old man was astute enough to know there were things he didn’t know. And that was the kind of intelligence that could help your son become better than your own sorry self. His father was certain that there were frequencies only dogs and coyotes could hear. Why, he reasoned, would rich people be any different? He wanted his son to listen carefully, and breed himself into that pack.

“When the shit hits the fan, stay calm,” his father advised. “That seems to be the key. Patience. That’s where the wealthy man makes his decisions. The quiet inside other people’s suffering.”

Billy Lee got good at it. In sports, at least. In tight ballgames, when everyone else got too herky jerky tense to give their best, barking out nonsense in jittery blustering voices, he stayed loose, breathed, practically drifted into that zone people liked to talk about where things slowed down and he could find the silence. And a hole to slip through.

Just like now.

He was assessing things. Taking what the defense gave him. He’d find a crack. Too much was at stake not to.

Setting the shovel aside, Billy Lee unearthed a large stone the size of a small boulder with his fingers. No wonder nobody did much digging up here. He lifted the rock like a zombie cleaning house, setting it on the side of the expanding grave. Then wiped his brow with his forearm.

Out of some pines, beyond the dead Mexican, a group of brown-faced men appeared. They held guns and formed a loose circle twenty yards away. One lit a joint. Another snorted something off the side of his hand. Then a pair of hand-tooled boots stomped towards Billy Lee, shouldering past the guard and stepping over the body.

“Keep digging!”

Bill Lee looked up at the Booted Man looming over him. He was unable to see his face because of the sun burning behind him. An asshole eclipse, that’s what his father would have called it. The bossman getting between him and the sunlight. Not lifting a finger.

“It needs to be deep,” the Booted Man told him, with a Mexican accent. “Who knows how many bodies we’ll put in there?”

The sunlight hit Billy Lee’s eyes fully as the Booted Man moved off, returning to his crew. He stopped at the fallen body like a poacher straddling some too-small animal shot just for the fuck of it or to watch it bleed out, scared-eyed and twitching. The Booted Man stepped squarely on the dead man’s chest, exerting all his weight. More blood oozed from his maw.

Somebody said something in Spanish and there was laughter amid the group.

Billy Lee tried to blink the harsh light away.

How many people were buried in these hills? The bucolic woods of the Emerald Triangle; Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. How could a multi-billion dollar black market industry not leave behind a corpse or multitude of mass graves before this shit was finally legalized. Criminals were bound to try to cut fatter pieces of the pie too, knowing enough math to figure that any number divided by one less would be a greater sum for themselves. Who’d find me? Billy Lee wondered. Family? Hunter, hiker, ranger? Earl? The Feds? Nobody? It was a loser’s game of hide and seek. Olly olly, oxen free! I could lay in this cold cold ground a long long while, without anyone uncovering me. Maybe they’d think it was a suicide, except for the bullet hole or skull crack. If they were smart, they’d notice that if the intention were to rest someone in peace, they would have dug twenty yards towards the slope so that the dearly departed could watch the sun set in the west for all of eternity. Not half-hidden near these shitty pyracantha bushes. B illy Lee hated pyracantha. His mother had schooled him that they were also called Scarlet Firethorn. She wasn’t what anybody would describe as educated but she knew the name of every plant, sometimes two names. One in Latin. Billy Lee just knew those bright red bastards had some kind of venom on their tips that stung when you tried to pull them out by the roots. As a boy, Billy Lee was taken in by their showy clusters of berries and got raked across his forearm by the thorns for his interest.

“I hate them,” he muttered as his mother put witch hazel on the wound.

“Don’t waste a hate,” his mother scolded. “You should admire them. They’re sort of like us.”

Blue Jays got drunk off their berries and smashed headlong into the windows of the Riley home. That was more like us, Billy Lee thought. Spurts of blood, scrambled brains, weightless knots of fallen feathers.

“Clean up that bird before the skunks come around,” his father would tell him.

Not just jays either, but tanagers, sparrows, warblers. They had a high window that apparently looked to birds like it lead somewhere special. Thunk! Tammy felt sad for the dead birds. Billy Lee grew out of that, fast. There were too many of them to spill tears over. There was always some sort of dead animal around the ranch. You couldn’t spend your whole life crying. Later he would shoot at the jays with a twenty-two for target practice. Those same squawking birds probably brought the non-indigenous pyracantha shrubs to the area in the first place, dropping the berries from their beaks and spreading the blight all over the county. Once the berries started falling from the bushes themselves, the battle was lost. You were overrun.

Just like these Mexicans.

Again, Billy Lee wiped his brow.

“How about some help, amigo?” he asked Señor AK-47.

The Mexican strolled towards him. He stopped near the boulder, looking down at it and Billy Lee as if deciphering their deeper mythological meaning. Then he nudged the rock with his boot, pushing back into the hole with a thump.

Fuck you too, Billy Lee thought.

He may not have seen any panthers up here but he’d scoped plenty of snakes, rattlers sunny themselves or cozying into crevices waiting for a field mouse or gopher to go by. He’d kill them with a stick and bury the heads with their poison sacs in tact so wasps wouldn’t eat them and spread the venom through their stingers. Wives tale or not, his mother told him to do it, so he did. He used to save their rattles in a mason jar. A big one, because he had so many.

Get ready, motherfuckers! He yelled inside himself.

The Mexican smiled.

“Besa mi culo, puto,” Billy Lee said in his thick Nor Cal spanglish accent, one of the few phrases he knew.

The Mexican understood him. And replied by kicking him in the jaw.

Billy Lee fell to one knee. He should have kept his mouth shut. A dull throb pulsed in the lower half of his face. The taste of blood. It had been there for the past twenty-four hours, he’d just forgotten about it. He had taken more than a few punches before today, had his bell rung, blacked out, and this kick like so many others in the past just caused him to concentrate.

“It isn’t a sin to get knocked down,” a quiet voice reminded him, though it didn’t belong to a rich man. “But it is to stay down.”

He took a breath. And finally found that fine band of focus that had eluded him. He leaned on the shitty shovel, propping himself back up in the grave.

At least now he knew where he stood.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a smudge of smoke on the opposite ridge. It billowed. Red flickered. Then began to spread in a wild surge.

Someone had finally thrown a block for him.

Billy Lee found himself saying, in that frequency buzzing just above silence, “I like them apples just fine.”

(This is the first of five parts. Robert Mailer Anderson is the author of the best-selling novel, Boonville.)


  1. Larry Livermore August 16, 2015

    Robert Frost didn’t say “Good fences make good neighbors” at Kennedy’s inauguration. What sort of college did Billy Lee attend?

  2. Bruce McEwen August 16, 2015

    Don’t fence me in, Larry. Your tiresome guitar strumming, pining for old what’s her name up on Spy Rock road through umpteen tedious chapters makes you some kind of authority? Please,sir. You may know the difference between Nine Inch Nails and Green Day but you can’t thrash prose, dude, only chords.

    • Larry Livermore August 18, 2015

      You don’t really need to be an “authority” to know what Robert Frost did and didn’t say at the Kennedy inauguration. It’s easy enough to look up, but as it happens, I was watching the inauguration on TV when Frost read (and when his lectern caught fire). It was a different poem altogether.

  3. Randy Burke August 17, 2015

    Robert Mailer Anderson does it again. Good read, and awaiting the next installment. You gotta know Boonville to reap the benefits. Read the book (Boonville), watch Pig Hunt, and follow the next 4 installments of Boonville Noir.

  4. robert mailer anderson August 18, 2015

    It’s true, Frost didn’t say “Good fences make good neighbors” at the Kennedy inauguration. It is simply from the Frost poem “Mending Wall” and our unreliable narrator, hailing from AVHS and University of New Mexico got it wrong.
    Not to give too much away, but Billy Lee will get more things wrong as the novel proceeds.
    The phrase, “Smart, but not smart enough…” comes to mind.
    Of course, he has many more character flaws. Otherwise, he might not be digging that grave…

    • Larry Livermore August 18, 2015

      Thanks, Robert! I suspected that might be the case (that Billy Lee was a bit error-prone), but didn’t want to rush to conclusions, especially given the stern moral fiber and intellectual acuity normally found among longtime denizens of the Valley.

  5. Bruce McEwen August 19, 2015

    Larry, my boy, you suspected nothing of the kind. You were showing of your literalist, pragmatical pedantry, and you ought to admit it. Rushing to a conclusion is precisely what you did to satisfy this vain impulse. Like most, if not all, memoirists you seem to imagine yourself the last of the Augustan stylists when in fact you couldn’t write FUCK on the dusty back window of a parked SUV.

  6. Larry Livermore August 19, 2015

    Bruce, you may well be the greatest crime reporter in America, and I stand in awe of your skills in that arena. But why you’ve got a hair up your butt about this particular issue, I have no idea. Writers routinely point out to each other things that might or might not be mistakes, and done in the right spirit, it can be extremely helpful. Robert clarified that this particular *apparent* error was actually a plot device. I didn’t notice him getting irate about it, so I’m not at all sure why you are.

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