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Excerpt from: Death Books A Return

Chapter One

Juanita rapped a fourth time on the cloudy door pane.  No response this time either.  No light appeared behind the curtained windows of the shabby frame house, no sound came from within.  Where was Samuel Davis?  He had made this appointment reluctantly.  Had he decided not to keep it?

Shifting her bag to ease her shoulder, she glanced around nervously.  A street lamp came on in the early dusk just as a young black man in jeans and no shirt bicycled into its glow.  He pedaled slowly past the yard, eyeing Juanita curiously.

She peered at her watch again.  She was right on time.  Was Davis inside the house, hiding?

What now?

Some people must know the truth about that old atrocity.  Others must strongly suspect, yet it had never come out.  Someone--maybe someones--must badly want the past to stay buried.  So why should she think she could ferret it out?

Because snooping's your specialty, her wise-guy conscience nagged.  And because you ought to occasionally use your powers for good.

Further knocking seemed useless.  Juanita closed the screen door, sidestepped a hole in the porch floor, and climbed back down the uneven wooden steps.

As she walked toward her car, chunky heels clomping on wooden planks laid across the drainage ditch that fronted the lot, another possibility occurred.  Davis was getting on in years.  Maybe he had fallen and was too weak to cry for help.  Too, she hated leaving without satisfying her curiosity.

A yellow tabby stretched languidly on a park bench under a tree near the front of Davis's lawn.  A breeze ruffled Juanita's short dark hair.

Reaching a decision, she reversed her course and detoured around the corner of the house. A squeaky, grating sound from behind the dwelling sent a shiver through her.  She paused, realized she was holding her breath.

"Silly," she scolded herself, and continued her stroll.

Behind the house, rays from a pole light in the yard next door pierced the encroaching gloom.  A door on a decrepit tool shed swung lazily on creaking hinges--the squeaking sound she'd heard.  Beside the ragged remains of a vegetable garden, a worn pair of overalls drooped from a clothesline.

Juanita approached the back door, pausing as something metallic glinted on the ground near the stoop.  An aluminum TV-dinner pan, evidently now a pet dish.  She lifted a tentative fist to beat on the door.

She lowered it again.  In Bryson's Corner, Oklahoma, still a mostly black town decades after school integration and fair-housing legislation, her fair complexion stood out like a penguin in the tropics.  Someone might find her presence back here suspicious.  Juanita retraced her steps around the residence.

The neighboring house beckoned, its window panes and open front door spilling brightness into the night.

"I can at least ask about Davis," she muttered, hurrying towards the beacon.  She climbed solid homemade steps onto a wide porch edged with flower boxes of spicy sweet williams and presided over by a white bench swing decorated with dusky rose accents.  Through the screen door, she glimpsed overstuffed chairs covered in splashy red-and-yellow fabric that suggested sundrenched climes.

Reassured by the welcoming air of the house, Juanita felt the lump of tension in her throat dissolve.  She knocked and waited a moment, gazing approvingly around the yard.  Hearing a step inside, she turned expectantly, lips parted to ask a question.

The screen door jerked open.  A wave of cold liquid sloshed Juanita in the face.  She gasped, dropped her purse, and clutched the door frame.

"And don't come back!" cried an indignant male voice.