Mysteries, murder, and a day in court

What intrigues me about the oil business are the people who dig the holes and kill each other for the money.

The Muse followed me into the oilfield as an old day ended and a new day was not ready to wipe the sleep from its eyes and fight the early chill. The cold never lasts long, but, for a while, you can watch your breath fog the air around you.

I looked at the Muse.

He wasn’t blowing smoke not even when he was blowing smoke, which he usually was.

I let him hang around because every writer needs a Muse, or so I’m told, and he was as cheap as his advice.

He gave it. It stunned him when I took it.

We walked into the edge of a clearing and looked at an old pump jack surrounded by a thicket of trees and bramble brush. The rig had rotted away or been torn down. It was useless.

But once it had been stained black, the color of oil. Once it had broken the back of the Great Depression that lingered over the East Texas landscape like black shadows of the grim reaper. Once it had been a gusher, spilling out sixty-eight hundred barrels a day.

Now it pumps three barrels of oil a day. But it’s still pumping.

“I have a new novel I’m writing,” I told the Muse.

“You going back to Germany?” he asked.

“Not this time.”

“What you gonna write about?”


“It’s a dirty business,” he said.

“That’s what intrigues me,” I said.

“What’s intriguing about digging holes?”

“It’s not the holes.”

“What is it?”

“The money?”

“The haves and the have nots.”

“What intrigues me,” I said, “are the people who dig the holes and kill each other for the money.” I nodded toward the old well, the Daisy Bradford Number one. “That’s the well that started it all in East Texas,” I said.

“When was that?”

“Nineteen thirty.”

“You going back in time again,” the Muse said.

“I like back in time,” I said.

“You didn’t live it.”

“No, but I’ve talked to a lot of old timers who did.”

“Can you trust any of them?”


“Who’s that?”

“My father.”

“Did he get rich?” the Muse asked.

“He was one of the roughnecks who worked day and night so others could get rich.”

“Ever make him mad?”


“Why not?”

“He had a job,” I said. I shrugged. “In the Great Depression, a man who had a job, any kind of job, legal or otherwise, considered himself rich.”

“You writing a mystery?” the Muse asked.

“I am.”

“Who’s your detective?”

“Don’t have one,” I said.

“Got to have a detective,” the Muse said. “All good mysteries have a detective.”

“I have a newspaper publisher,” I said. “I know the newspaper business.”

“Why not a reporter?”

“Small town,” I said. “Small newspaper. One-man operation. He digs up the news, writes the stories, sets the type, and rolls the press.”

“You ever do that?” the Muse wanted to know.

“I did.”

“You miss it?”

“I do.”

“Why?” the Muse asked.

“All of the great stories are found buried inside eight-page newspapers in towns with less than a thousand readers,” I said.

“You can go broke doing that,” he said.

“I did,” I said. I shrugged and grinned. “But when we had a murder trial, they sold popcorn out front, handed out funeral home fans to fight the heat, and packed the courthouse so tightly that the judge could have sold tickets and made enough money to retire.’

“You gonna have one of those?” the Muse asked.



“I am.”

“I might read it,” the Muse said.

“I was hoping you would help me write it,” I said.

“I’ll help with the sex scenes,” he said.

“There won’t be any of those,” I said.

“That’s what I was hoping,” he said.

The Muse left me there beside the Daisy Bradford, lost in the memories, trying to imagine what the night must have been like when the oil burst out of the ground and rained down on the just and the unjust alike.

We like to think we’re among the just.

We would rather write about the unjust.

And I know most of them by name and the rest by reputation. They’re lining up now and signing up for a page or two in the novel. The really bad ones will probably occupy a chapter or two. And the evil ones will own the book.

The villains always do.

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