Books: The Drop Edge of Yonder
Large Print Trade pbk, ISBN: 1-59058-447-3, $22.95 US, 304pp
Winner of the 2008 ABPA Arizona Book Award for Best Mystery/Thriller
Who killed Uncle Bill?
Alafair Tucker is desperate to find out. One August evening in 1914, a bushwhacker ended a pleasant outing by blowing a hole in Bill McBride, kidnapping and ravaging Bill’s fiancee, and wounding Alafair’s daughter Mary. All Mary knows is that the crime had something to do with the Fourth of July.
Or is there more? The answer seems to be working its way through the fog of Mary’s shock and grief and floating to the surface of her consciousness. Several malicious acts suggest that Bill’s killer is still around and attempting to cover his tracks.
The law is hot on the bushwhacker’s trail. Alafair thinks there is little she can do to help the sheriff, but that will never stop her from trying. She has no qualms about driving Mary to distraction with her persistent snooping and constant hovering. Can Mary remember the crime before the murderer manages to eliminate everyone who could identify him?
Read an Excerpt
When I think about that day, Mama, here’s what sticks in my mind. I remember waking up on my back in the middle of the field. All I could see was the sky through the leaves of the oak tree, and grass all around me. At. first, I didn’t know where I was, or what had happened to me. But I had a thought. I don’t remember what it was. It was gone just about the minute I woke up.
Yet it was a mighty important thought, and if I could just call it to memory, I’d know who did this awful thing. All I know about this thought is that it had something to do with the Fourth of July.
It had been a hard couple of years for Calvin Ross, what with his wife dying, his girls growing up before his eyes, and his sister coming to live with them. The town of Boynton was growing so fast that his dairy business could hardly keep up with the demand, and the work was brutal. Calvin was glad of that, though, since it kept his mind off of what the future held for himself and his three pretty daughters. Since their mother died, Calvin was generally chary of any fellow who came around his daughters. But when Laura, his eldest, had told him that she was in love with the McBride boy, he had been pleased.
For the red-haired, dark-eyed, Bill McBride was not just a respectful and promising young man who had asked for Laura’s hand in the proper fashion, he was the youngest son of that worth gentleman, Peter McBride, patriarch of one of the more influential clans in Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Bill’s substantial family loved Laura, as well, and it did Calvin’s heart good to see his daughter happy again after the long sad year that followed her mother’s death.
Therefore, Calvin was not worried when Bill showed up at his farm that hot, windy August evening in 1914, on a fine looking little roan mare, and asked if Laura could come out for a ride. Bill was accompanied by his twenty-one year old niece, Mary Tucker, and Mary’s fifteen year old sister Ruth, since it would never do for the betrothed couple to ride out alone. Both of the Tucker girls were on their own horses. The plump and good-natured Mary seemed amused at acting the chaperone for her young uncle, who was only three years her elder. Ruth, looking fresh-faced, her wild auburn curls tucked up under a big straw hat, was as champing-at-the-bit to be off as her steed.
Calvin was glad to give his permission for Laura to go. Her chores were done and Iva, Calvin’s widowed sister and housekeeper, wouldn’t be making supper for at least an hour. Laura would be well-chaperoned and well protected, and she was a good rider. The usual riding paths around the area were well-used and safe. There was no reason for Calvin Ross to feel the slightest trepidation when his daughter rode off into the evening with her beloved and his nieces. She turned in the saddle as they rode away and waved a cheery good-bye to her father.
Ruth and Mary Tucker rode ahead of the affianced pair most of the way, though Ruth often headed her blaze-faced gelding off into the woods or trotted up the road and back if it struck her fancy. Mary was content to trot along ten yards or so in front of the couple and think her own happy thoughts, her full calico skirt hitched up over her stockinged knees, her younger brother Gee Dub’s outgrown boots on her feet and his beat-up cowboy hat on her head, admiring the dusky evening and contemplating supper. Time to oneself was rare for the second of ten children. Bill and Laura contentedly rode along behind, kneee to knee, and made their plans for the future, only vaguely aware of what the Tucker girls were up to, until Ruth slowed her pace enough to drop back along side her uncle.
Bill and Laura fell silent and looked over at the girl, curious.
“I see a lot of bees, Uncle Bill,” Ruth observed.
“It’s getting evening, Ruthie. They’re heading home.”
“I know it. I see a lot of bees heading home to that particular big old oak up ahead to the right.”
Laura sat up straight in the saddle. “Ruth has sharp eyes, Bill! I see them, too, swarming yonder. I expect there’s a hive in that tree.”
Mary cantered back toward them just in time to hear Laura’s comment. The prospect of an adventure elicited her ready grin. “Want to rob a beehive, Uncle Bill?”
Bill laughed. “Well, let’s see what’s what, first. maybe there’s a hive worth bothering with up there, and maybe there ain’t.”
The four young people rode up to the big oak, which was situated just off the side of the road in an open area. The dense shade of the old tree discouraged growth under its canopy, so there was planty of room for all of them to mill around on horseback underneath and peer up into the branches, looking for a beehive.
“I saw several been going off up into this area.” Laura pointed to a large branch that joined the trunk fairly high up on the tree. “I don’t think we’re going to see anything for sure from down here. Somebody’s going to have to climb up there.”
“Reckon that’s me.” Bill sidled his horse up next to the trunk and reached up to grasp a limb with both hands. he released his booted feet from the stirrups and nimbly pulled himself up into the foliage. In the effort, his hat was scraped off his head by an errant branch, and Ruth stepped down out of her saddle to retrieve it. Mary reached over her horse’s neck and took his mare’s reins.
Laura lost sight of him for a minute, but could follow his progress by the rustling as he climbed higher into the leaves. Finally, she caught sight of a flash of red hair halfway out a major limb.
“There’s a hive up here, all right,” Bill called. “A big one, too!” Do you think your daddy would like some honey, Laura?”
“Hey, we want some honey, too,” Ruth protested.
“Don’t worry, Ruthie-girl,” Bill’s voice soothed. “This looks like it’s got enough honey for everybody. You think you can make me a smudge and get it up here?”
“You think you can rob that hive without burning the tree down?” Mary countered.
Bill’s head popped into view as he pushed branches aside with his hand. “Why, I’m wounded by your lack of faith in my abilities, Mary. I’ve smoked out many a beehive in my time and never started a conflagration once.”
Mary was already on the ground with Ruth, hunting for materials of the proper length, texture, and moisture content to make a smoky smudge for calming the bees before stealing their honey. “This tall grass here isn’t green enough…” Mary called out, but before she could finish her thought, a loud crack and a zing cut her off. The horses started.
There was an instant’s silence before Laura said, “What was that?” But all knew very well that it was rifle fire.
“That was close!” Mary exclaimed. “Where did it come from?”
No one had time to speculate before a second shot rang out and hit high up in the oak tree.
Bill yelped in surprise, and Laura called his name, alarmed, while trying to calm her skittish horse. Bill dropped to the ground, tried to stand, but stumbled and went to his knees.
“That coyote is shooting at us.” He sounded calm and deliberate. “Ya’ll girls get on your horses and ride like the devil. Laura, you too.”
“You’re hit!” Laura wailed, and started to dismount.
“Laura!” Bill’s tone was severe enough to startle her. “Do as I say. I ain’t hit bad, just grazed the claf…”
The thrid shot hit Laura’s horse in the withers. He bucked and reared, and Laura, unprepared, went flying and hit the ground hard. A fourth shot pinged into the ground close to Bill’s feetl
“Ride, you girls, ride!” Bill yelled. “Get help!”