Sampler: His Way by Jim H. Ainsworth

The Circle of Hurt takes in this obscure and enigmatic stranger with the intention of helping him, but it is The Circle and the town that receives help.

The small Texas town of Riverby is on the road to recovery from scandals and corruption that led to the murder of their beloved sheriff when the wife of an eccentric professor commits suicide.

During a somber graveside service, her deviant son pushes the elderly funeral director into his mother’s open grave.

When the town’s stately funeral home is destroyed by fire and a small girl’s party dress is discovered in an abandoned shack, Riverby’s survival seems threatened.

Then a stranger steps off a train and hobbles across a field to free a man from a trap just in time to save his hand and possibly his life.

The Circle of Hurt takes in this obscure and enigmatic stranger with the intention of helping him, but it is The Circle and the town that receives help.

The chain of dark events is not broken, but light begins to triumph over darkness.

Jim H. Ainsworth

Sampler: His Way

On a Sunday Christmas morning, like most Sunday mornings, Riverby appeared as a quintessential small Northeast Texas town. Northeast Texas, like other sections of the giant state, is a place, not just a direction. The town square, as in many small towns in Texas, is the hub. Riverby Square’s gazebo was getting rained on. It rained just hard enough to make accumulated dust on the brick streets turn to a creamy pudding, but not hard enough to wash the streets and gazebo clean.

After visiting the smoldering ruins of the funeral home, Buckner Lowe sat on the square in his patrol car, watching the rain, singing the words to Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down.

‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday

That makes a body feel alone

And there’s nothin’short  of dyin’

That’s half as lonesome as the sound

Of a sleepin’ city sidewalk 

And Sunday mornin’comin’ down.

Buckner could do a pretty fair imitation of Johnny Cash back in the day, could play a pretty mean guitar. He had been pretty good at drinking too. But that was before June came along. Her father had been a cow cop and mentored Buckner through the training and education he needed to become one himself. Like always, Buckner was ready for June to come home. Every time she left, he worried that, like his mother, she might never return. Because of the fire, this absence was especially lonely.

A mile or so out of town, in services at By the River, an evangelical, non-denominational church, Reverend Enoch Essary, a founder of the church, thanked God for the rain, equated the slime on the streets to the past sins of the town and declared that the congregation must continue to pray for those sins to wash away. His sermon, of course, was on the birth of Jesus Christ.

Although almost nine years had passed since the town suffered carnage in the form of death and corruption, many, especially those who had spent their entire lives in the community, still had difficulty believing that such things could happen in their normally bucolic setting.

Money laundering and illegal drug and human trafficking had resulted in the senseless murder of Morgan Bell, their iconic and much-admired county sheriff. The murderer of the sheriff, a drug and human trafficker who had the audacity to call himself Angel, was shot by a local bank president—not for vengeance, but to keep him from talking about criminal activities the banker and others were involved in with Angel. Blood threatened to flow in the streets before the citizens realized that some of their most prominent citizens were engaged in crimes that led to violence. Now, they felt guilty and stupid for not paying closer attention, for not stopping it before an innocent man lost his life.

In the ensuing manhunt for Angelino Salinas, Toke Albright’s wife Lydia and son Freddy were severely injured by the killer. Toke went back into law enforcement and assumed Morgan Bells’ duties as sheriff. When Lydia died and Toke moved away to be closer to his son, he endorsed Buckner Lowe as his successor instead of Melvin Cobb, Morgan Bell’s biological son that he had not met until he arrested him for theft and intoxication. Toke admired Buckner’s work as a cow cop and felt that he was best man for the job. Melvin was just not ready.

A bank, car dealership, liquor store, honky-tonk, and horse farm, the primary conduits for the past illicit dealings, were all either closed or under new ownership or management now, their previous owners and managers in prison, but the stains on the town seemed to be permanent. Reverend Enoch Essary preached healing, but he was not above reminding his congregation about past sins with some regularity and warning them not to allow such things to repeat. He also asserted that Riverby was neither the first nor the last small town in America to be invaded by thieves and murderers. Enoch and his congregation prayed that the tragic events would gradually be only distant memories.

As they listened to Brother Essary express gratitude for the rain, the congregation wondered why it had not rained the night before—a night when one of their precious landmarks was completely destroyed. The Goodwins were Baptists and not members of By the River, but were admired and respected by the congregation. And they provided services in a professional and comforting manner in times of bereavement—services that all would sooner or later require. And most of them believed the fire was caused by an arsonist.

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