Rain Gods

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

DAVE ROBICHEAUX NOVELS

Swan Peak

The Tin Roof Blowdown

Pegasus Descending

Crusader’s Cross

Last Car to Elysian Fields

Jolie Blon’s Bounce

Purple Cane Road

Sunset Limited

Cadillac Jukebox

Burning Angel

Dixie City Jam

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead

A Stained White Radiance

A Morning for Flamingos

Black Cherry Blues

Heaven’s Prisoners

The Neon Rain

1

ON THE BURNT-OUT end of a July day in Southwest Texas, in a crossroads community whose only economic importance had depended on its relationship to a roach paste factory the EPA had shut down twenty years before, a young man driving a car without window glass stopped by an abandoned blue-and-white stucco filling station that had once sold Pure gas during the Depression and was now home to bats and clusters of tumbleweed. Next to the filling station was a mechanic’s shed whose desiccated boards lay collapsed upon a rusted pickup truck with four flat bald tires. At the intersection a stoplight hung from a horizontal cable strung between two power poles, its plastic covers shot out by .22 rifles.

The young man entered a phone booth and wiped his face slick with the flat of his hand. His denim shirt was stiff with salt and open on his chest, his hair mowed into the scalp, GI-style. He pulled an unlabeled pint bottle from the front of his jeans and unscrewed the cap. Down the right side of his face was a swollen pink scar that was as bright and shiny as plastic and looked pasted onto the skin rather than part of it. The mescal in the bottle was yellow and thick with threadworms that seemed to light against the sunset when he tipped the neck to his mouth. Inside the booth, he could feel his heart quickening and lines of sweat running down from his armpits into the waistband of his undershorts. His index finger trembled as he punched in the numbers on the phone’s console.

“What’s your emergency?” a woman dispatcher asked.

The rolling countryside was the color of a browned biscuit, stretching away endlessly, the monotony of rocks and creosote brush and grit and mesquite trees interrupted only by an occasional windmill rattling in the breeze.

“Last night there was some shooting here. A lot of it,” he said. “I heard it in the dark and saw the flashes.”

“Shooting where?”

“By that old church. I think that’s what happened. I was drinking. I saw it from down the road. It scared the doo-doo out of me.”

There was a pause. “Are you drinking now, sir?”

“Not really. I mean, not much. Just a few hits of Mexican worm juice.”

“Tell us where you are, and we’ll send out a cruiser. Will you wait there for a cruiser to come out?”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with me. A lot of wets go through here. There’s oceans of trash down by the border. Dirty diapers and moldy clothes and rotted food and tennis shoes without strings in them. Why would they take the strings out of their tennis shoes?”

“Is this about illegals?”

“I said I heard somebody busting caps. That’s all I’m reporting. Maybe I heard a tailgate drop. I’m sure I did. It clanked in the dark.”

“Sir, where are you calling from?”

“The same place I heard all that shooting.”

“Give me your name, please.”

“What name they got for a guy so dumb he thinks doing the right thing is the right thing? Answer me that, please, ma’am.”

He tried to slam down the receiver on the hook but missed. The phone receiver swung back and forth from the phone box as the young man with the welted pink scar on his face drove away, road dust sucking back through the glassless windows of his car.

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER,