Synopsis | Reviews |Excerpt
Vietnam took his legs. A murderer took his father. Somehow, Jason Crow has to take a stand.
Jason Crow comes home to Texas on clumsy, prosthetic legs, struggling with his lost dreams and the pitying curiosity of friends and strangers. But there's no time for him to brood, because his father has just been shot to death. Unable to convince the police that his father was murdered, Jason begins his own investigation. In the process he uncovers family secrets that shake him to his core and make him question everyone and everything around him, including the love of Michiko, the beautiful Eurasian-American nurse he met in Japan. While fighting his own insecurity as a double amputee, Jason must challenge forces capable of destroying him andthose he loves to pursue the person who robbed him of his greatest hero: His dad.
This debut book in Ken Casper's Jason Crow West Texas Mystery Series treats readers to a powerful new voice in mystery fiction.
"...very unique and captivating... Ken Casper roped me in immediately with not just his writing style but with his strong and well constructed characters." -- Merikay Noah, Popcorn Reads
Set me a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave:
The coals thereof are coals of fire,
Which hath a most vehement flame.
—Song of Solomon, 8:6
Saturday, August 22, 1968
The physical recovery from the loss of my legs in Vietnam was uncomplicated and relatively painless. After all, aside from the nearly fatal trauma of getting shot and buried alive for three days without food or water, I was young, healthy and in good shape. My phenomenal progress—I was pumping iron and playing wheelchair basketball within six weeks—fooled me into believing I'd overcome the biggest obstacles. What I didn't realize was that the hospital was an artificial world, a temporary haven, where I was just another twenty-something war casualty, one of many.
Home, however, is by definition permanent, the place where you belong, where people accept you the way you are, where you feel comfortable being yourself.
On my initial visit to Coyote Springs over the long Memorial Day weekend, old friends, neighbors and fans came by to welcome me home. That said, they quickly ran out of words or babbled incoherently, all the time pretending to avert their eyes from the shrouded remnants of my legs or to not glance with guilty curiosity between them. Is he still... Can he...?
My friend Zack Merchant brought me home every weekend after that, but nothing really changed, except that some people simply stayed away. My funk didn't improve when the therapists at Willy—Wilford Hall, the Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio—told me my residual limbs—their polite code for stumps—were too short for me to use prostheses effectively. In other words, I'd never walk again. I'd spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair—stared at, pitied, isolated emotionally as well as physically.
"Face it, big guy,” Zack said nonchalantly, "your strolling days are over. So what? Living without legs is better than not living at all.”
He was my best friend. He'd saved my life. But there were times when I wanted to strangle the little runt. Still, I understood where he was coming from. Insisting on pursuing the impossible was setting myself up for a reservation in the booby hatch.
It was Dad who insisted I could walk—if I really wanted to.
Want to? At this point in my life I'd expected to be playing football for the Cowboys, signing autographs, driving fancy sports cars and partying on Greenville Avenue in Dallas. If I was going to be driven around, it wouldn't be in my father's aging Packard with my former college roommate behind the wheel. I'd be in the back of a chauffeured limo with a cheerleader on my lap. That was before I met Michiko, of course.
I kept hearing my father's words. You can walk if you really want to.
Dad knew me better than the experts. If he said I could walk, I could. I would. I trusted his judgment. He'd never led me astray, never let me down. The therapists were more skeptical, but they accepted the challenge. First came the stubbies, strap-on balsa wood extensions for my stumps, then longer extensions, then articulated extensions, then...
The atmosphere home in Coyote Springs was dramatically different, when I showed up wearing full prosthetics for the first time. I was several inches shorter than I'd been, but even at six-two I was taller than average. No one seemed to care that I needed crutches to move about. I had legs. That they weren't real didn't make any difference. That I couldn't cross my knees or kick a can wasn't important. The illusion of normalcy was all that mattered. The transformation in their attitudes settled any lingering doubts I might have had that the struggle to use the steel-and-plastic contraptions was worth the effort.
That was Sunday. Monday afternoon Zack drove me back to San Antonio for my final week of resident physical therapy, and on Friday afternoon I walked out of Willy. Clumsily but unaided. No crutches. No canes. I'd done what everyone—except Dad—said I'd never be able to do. I was walking. Yes, I was still a double amputee. I'd always be a double amputee, but for a few hours a day I could make the world believe I wasn't. Now it was time for me to get on with the rest of my life.
"Your dad's going to be impressed," Zack said. "He never doubted you'd learn to walk, but I don't think even he expected you to be doing it so soon. He's very proud of you, Jason."
The words brought a warmth of emotion. My father's approval had always been important to me. The prospect of seeing his smile, of starting the vineyard and getting back to productive work—the anticipation of Michiko's touch—made me more eager than ever to move on.
I'm coming home. Some things will be different, but I'm still a man. I'll be all right.
Zack turned left on Davis Street, passed churches and banks, a motel and several shops, then crossed the meandering Coyote River. On its west bank, just beyond the bridge, stood the Crow's Nest Steakhouse. Mauve-gray clouds forming in the southwest were filtering the sun so that the chalky whiteness of the Victorian hulk assumed a ghostly luminescence. Intensely green patches of neatly trimmed grass, the dark crooked fingers of towering pecan trees, the gray tones of pavement, each took on three-dimensional qualities that made the picture seem artificially rich. My heart thudded. Home.
But there was something wrong with this perfect picture. The semi-circular red-brick driveway in front of the mansion, normally used only for discharging and picking up guests, had cars parked in it: police cars.
My palms grew clammy as Zack motored slowly up the narrow blacktop that skirted the east side of the house, around the porte cochere under which another police car sat, and turned left into the parking area between the back of the Nest and the carriage house. Ahead of us, an ambulance was pulling solemnly into the side street on the west. Its lights were not flashing, nor was its siren blaring. As it glided noiselessly past, the sun caught the shiny bottom of a beer can being tilted back by the driver of a faded blue pickup.
The courtyard was a mix of bustle and lethargy. Men carried bags and cases in no discernible pattern of activity, while several lawmen stood on what had once been the house's back porch but which now served as a loading dock. They interrupted their conversation to gaze silently our way.
Dark, portly George Elsbeth, Dad's business partner, rushed to the Packard even before it came to a complete stop. Great beads of sweat were poised in the ebony ripples of his shiny forehead. Zack lowered the electric windows on his side of the car.
"What's happened, George?" I asked across the length of the back seat. "Somebody get hurt?"
"I'm sorry, Jason, your pa... your pa... he's dead, Jason."