A small Central Texas city known for its sanctity and safety is hit by storms both figurative and literal. The people of Sealy, Texas had never before needed a hero, and when they did, there were none to be found. You’ll feel like you’re right in the middle of the 1984 Texas summer as theft, drugs, and violence become the norm and four innocent residents pay the ultimate price.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Beneath the Fallen Leaves is a fictionalized retelling a real, unsolved quadruple homicide based on the tall tales and viable leads I discovered during a 2-year journalistic investigation.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
They are combinations of many real-life with their most outrageous traits accentuated in a few cases.
Things had been quiet for Jack since his run-in at the beginning of the week, and his school week ended just as quietly that Friday. Carlos had driven in from Houston to pick him up from school. He had the night off from Whataburger, and he was going to show his favorite fishing spot in the creek behind Grande Montana to Carlos and Max.
Fishing wasn’t something kids did in Houston. Even his father couldn’t understand the appeal, but Robert and his friends had shown Jack how much fun it could be shortly after he moved to town, and he had really missed it since he started his job.
Carlos was waiting for him in nearly the same spot that Detective Cogsworth had been four days earlier. Jack hopped in the passenger seat of his friend's Dodge Aspen and after catching up on each others’ lives a little while waiting for the buses to clear out, they headed for Jack’s house.
He hadn’t told his parents that Carlos was coming to visit so they rushed to get to the house before either of his parents arrived. He left the door to Carlos’s car open behind him, hurried in the front door, and seconds later emerged from an opening garage door with his fishing pole and a five-gallon bucket. Inside the bucket was a garden trowel he used to dig for bait on the banks of the creek.
Carlos opened his trunk to put the items inside while Jack went back through the house to close the garage door and lock up, and in less than three minutes after pulling into the driveway, the two were headed to Grande Montana.
Inside Max’s apartment, they smoked a joint before starting the walk to the creek and then laughed wildly about the fact that the three of them were heading out to fish with only one pole.
It was a good time, nonetheless. Carlos had never laid on the bank of a river and watched the clouds rush by overhead, and as he did so largely in silence he guessed that very few kids from his neighborhood probably had either.
After Jack scooped up a few dozen worms, baited his hook, and then took just twenty minutes to reel in his first spotted bass, he urged Carlos to sit up and try for himself. He had no problem baiting the hook and made a good cast on his second try, but then he sat holding the rod on the bank for nearly ninety minutes without making a catch.
Between teasing Carlos about his ineptitude with the fishing pole, the three talked largely about girls and sports. Carlos had moved on from “Little White Girl” to “Little Hispanic Girl.”
Jack had been trying to spend more time with Geri at school and work, but they had only met outside of either of those two places on the day they walked to Pam Locke’s house. He started thinking about Gary Locke.
Max had no interest in a particular girl but did joke about how his older brother was dating some hoity toity girl from the suburbs. “Apparently,” he told Jack and Carlos, “her dad had gotten so pissed about it last weekend that he had the cops bring her home. They actually stopped Chris on I-10 between here and Houston, even though he wasn’t even speeding.”
After that story, Jack was thinking about Gary and the cops. He had to tell Carlos and Max what had happened.
“Guys, something really fucked up happened to me earlier this week,” he started. He had their attention but didn’t know exactly how to continue.
“If it’s that haircut, we weren’t going to say anything,” Carlos joked after some time.
“Shut up!” Jack barked. “Max, you know how I’ve been having that weed for you the last couple of weekends?” Max nodded and Carlos’s eyes widened. “Well, I don’t know who else Pam’s husband was selling it to, and I don’t know how any of them could have known about me, but a detective from Sealy PD was waiting for me outside of school on Monday.”
“You snitched,” Carlos said under his breath. Both of the other boys looked in his direction.
“No, it’s not like that,” Jack responded. Carlos sighed and turned his attention toward the water.
“This cop already knew about Gary and me, he just wanted to know if I knew where he kept the weed in his house.”
“And what did you say?” Carlos asked over his shoulder.
“I told him I didn’t know. I said he just brings it outside to me.”
Carlos turned away from the water again. “You snitched.”
“How do you figure?” Jack questioned, now more concerned about what had happened than ever.
“That cop didn’t know anything. He had a tip about you and this other dude, and you confirmed it. You snitched, and you better hope this guy isn’t anything like Meryl Marlboro or you’ll be in this creek with these fish.”
“Well, I’m not the one who gave the cops the tip. Someone else knows about this guy so why would he think it was me?”
“I was over here three weeks ago and you didn’t say anything to me about dealing for some local so this is something new for you, right?” Jack nodded to affirm that Carlos was, in fact, right. “Well, if he does have anyone else dealing for him, he probably either knows they know the rules or are too dependent on him to snitch. You’re the obvious weak link.”
“Carlos, shut up,” Max chimed in. “No one is going to be putting him in the creek.” That was, awkwardly, the end of that.
After a few more minutes of watching the fishing line aimless ricochet off of rocks in the creek, Carlos reeled it in and proclaimed he was ready to eat.
Jack rinsed the bucket and hand trowel before walking with the other two boys back to Max’s apartment. He left his tackle just outside of the apartment door while Max and Carlos headed to Carlos’s car. By the time he joined them, they had decided dinner would take place at Whataburger. The food was good, and he would never turn down a chance to see Geri who was working that Friday night. So he agreed quickly.
The three strolled into the busy dining room, and Jack immediately spotted her behind the counter taking orders. The heat from the kitchen had caused her to break a sweat and undo the top button on her uniform shirt. Her wavy blonde hair stuck to her temples, and in that moment he saw her as sexy for the first time. He had avoided those thoughts because he didn’t want to feel like the creepy science teacher who had eyefucked her in the middle of class, but he wasn’t a thirty-nine year-old man. He couldn’t control what he was thinking and feeling standing in that line, and he didn’t have to.
Finally, it was their turn to order, and her face lit up when she saw him, too. “Jack, I’m so glad you stopped in.” He couldn’t help but smile back. “I was looking at next Friday’s schedule, and you’re off next week, too. I was wondering if we could switch our shifts. Paul asked me to go to a party, but I have to work.”
Paul Maniken worked with Jack and Geri. He was quiet. Jack never saw him as a threat for Geri’s attention, but like a nail in your tire, here he was like a bad surprise.
He didn’t have time to register the depth of his disappointment, he just blurted out, “Yeah, sure, I can work.”
Her face brightened even more, and she leaned over the counter to give him a hug. Her forehead pressed awkwardly against his chest as her feet dangled just above the floor on the other side of the counter. “You’re the best. I’ll make your dinner on the house tonight.”
The three boys ordered, Max and Carlos paid, and then Geri disappeared for a minute to put together Jack’s order, leaving two families waiting in line. After each of the three boys received their food, they seated themselves in a booth on the far end of the dining room.
Their conversation stayed much lighter than it had at the creek, focused mainly on making fun of the cowboys strolling in and out of the Whataburger that Friday night. Then, some faces only familiar to Carlos stepped through the door. He stopped eating and dropped his head into his hands immediately, hoping Meryl Marlboro hadn’t seen him sitting there.
Meryl, however, had seen his car parked in the lot and was looking for him before he even walked through the door. He told Cora to order him his usual, and then he made a beeline straight for the oblivious Carlos and his chuckling friends.
Jack and Max had been laughing too hard at the man who walked in with the serious perm to realize that he was headed right for their table.
“Carlos! Carlos, you little bitch.” The laughter stopped, and Carlos raised his head slowly. “I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you hanging around here drawing attention.”
“Yeah, my buddy works here so I just stopped in for a meal.”
Meryl took a look at the other two boys at the table, neither of them more than a few years younger than he was. “It doesn’t look like either of these filthy fucks is working anywhere right now so why don’t you wrap up your burger and get the fuck out of here.” He slid back one side of the unbuttoned shirt that wasn’t just covering his stained white tank top to reveal a Saturday Night Special he was itching to pull from the waistband of his jeans.
Jack looked at his friend, saw he was frightened in a way he had never seen before, and offered him a chance to get away. “Just go, man. I can walk home with Max.”
Carlos didn’t hesitate. In almost a single move he snatched up the remainder of his burger and chocolate shake and headed for the door.
Meryl reached down, plucked two fries from Jack’s tray, and chewed them like a cow on its cud. “Good move, bud. You just saved your friend’s life.” He paused to swallow the fries. “At least for tonight.”
Max and Jack laughed about the encounter on the walk home because they didn’t know what else to do. They had both grown up in the same rough neighborhood as Carlos, just a handful of blocks from the Marlboro homestead, but neither had ever been threatened with a gun. Outside of Jack seeing one of his friend’s sisters grab her father’s gun from inside the house to scare another girl out of her yard, neither had even seen someone else threatened with a gun.
They couldn’t wrap their brain around the threat being real, but at the same time, Carlos got out of there fast after Meryl showed up. They were about to walk past the massive stone sign at the entrance to Grande Montana and were still laughing too hard to notice the car that did a U-turn behind them and began to follow with its lights off.
Gary Locke had been heading West on Overcreek Way when he passed the two boys. He couldn’t make out their faces, but he couldn’t have mistaken the tall, lanky black boy for anyone else on the streets of Sealy.
He crept behind them until the two oblivious boys disappeared into the Logan apartment. Gary could barely see that the door they entered was the second door on the left hand side of the second floor, and once they were inside, he waited.
As ten o’clock came and went he reached the final cigarette in his pack, and he considered that his revenge might have to wait for another day. He lit the smoke and told himself if Jack didn’t come down by the time he finished, he would call it a night. To Gary’s great fortune, the boy emerged carrying his bucket and fishing pole just seconds after he took the first drag.
He waited until Jack had walked all the way past his car, tossed the cigarette from the driver’s window prematurely, and then fired up the engine and flicked on the headlights. The sound caught Jack’s attention immediately, and he glanced over his right shoulder to see a car he recognized. He dropped the bucket and pole and was off in a flash. Gary was surprised by his quickness, threw the car in gear, and was off with the tires squealing.
Sam Taylor came to the sliding door that led to his second floor patio when he heard the commotion, but all he could see were taillights turning toward the complex’s exit. He wasn’t able to see a plate number or even determine a make and model so he returned to his Pabst Blue Ribbon on the couch.
Jack was fast, but he was no match for a car with a V8 engine driven by a man that knew exactly where he was headed. As he reached the exit to the complex, he went to the right of the big stone sign, where another right turn would take him toward home. He had to run all the way to Overcreek Way because at the entrance of the complex, the creek ran alongside the road and the treacherously steep banks were blocked by a guardrail.
Gary made a wide turn around the left side of the Grande Montana sign and was able to pin Jack between the front bumper of his car and the guardrail. He calmly rolled the passenger window down and gave the boy a simple command. “Get in.”
Jack glanced over the guard rail considering a jump, but he couldn’t see anything down below to judge the height so he did as he was told.
“I’ve been out of town for a few days,” he started. “Any idea where I’ve been?”
Jack sat silent.
“I’ve been in jail, Jack. It’s not my first time, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less pissed off about it. I’m even more pissed about the fact that I could be going back.”
“Look, man, that cop came to me. He already knew about me and you. He asked if I knew where you got the stuff or where you kept it in your house, and he said if I didn’t he would arrest me and tear apart my dad’s home.” He finally stopped to take a breath.
“And you sang like a damn canary, huh, boy?”
“No, I just said I don’t know.”
“Then who did you tell? No one else should have known about our arrangement.”
Jack hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Until that minute he had assumed someone he didn’t know and who didn’t know him had ratted on Gary, but in that moment he knew that was wrong.
It was Max.
“I haven’t told anyone. I just assumed they had been watching you for awhile and saw me come pick up that last batch.”
“Either way, that bell has been rung, but you have penance to pay. It cost some very greedy, violent people six thousand dollars to get me out of jail, and you’re going to help me pay them back.” He stopped at the end of Jack’s driveway and turned toward his passenger. “You have until next week to get that money for me.”
“How am I supposed to get six thousand dollars in a week?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” When Gary reached over and opened the car’s glove box, Jack found himself looking at the butt of a second gun. With help from a nearby streetlight, he could see this one was far more ornate, and that somehow made the threat of it even scarier. He wouldn’t be laughing about this with Max. “One week,” Gary repeated.
Jack exited the station wagon, walked up the driveway, and entered the front door to begin what would be the first of a handful of sleepless nights.
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