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Excerpt of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth


January 2019
On Sale: January 15, 2019
320 pages
ISBN: 1510731792
EAN: 9781510731790
Kindle: B0773BBVCT
Hardcover / e-Book
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Also by James Charlesworth:

The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill, January 2019
Hardcover / e-Book

Excerpt of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth

Four hours in, his plan nearly dies. A storm whites out the sky above Icy Bay, obscuring the 18,000-foot glacial dump of Mt. St. Elias. He has piloted his secondhand DHC Beaver down from Fairbanks on a day that dawned brilliant with autumn, the wilderness a thousand-hued carpet. Now the system has stormed in from the southwest, roiling off the Pacific and blooming silver on the ridgeline of the Wrangell Mountains, the corridor of light from the retrofitted headlamps illuminating the precipitation that rattles the airframe and freezes on impact.

He is a veteran of this weather, has nearly twenty years of bush experience—has piloted this battered vessel as far north as Nome, as far south as Kodiak Island, has guided it through storms like the end of the world to set it down on strips of fireweed the size of city driveways, has logged more hours than half the so-called pilots flying commercial jets in the Lower 48. But today was the one day he had wished for calm weather, had hoped for clear skies to give him time to think. From Juneau, he will catch a flight south to Seattle, from there on to Las Vegas and then by car east to Omaha via Denver. But first there is the process of selling his plane. A potential buyer has responded to his advertisements in the equipment trader and is meeting him today at the airport. He has already sold his pickup truck, his guns, his hunting and trapping equipment, has already foregone every possession, including the cabin and parcel of land straddling the Canadian border where he’d thought he would spend the remainder of his life. Why has he done this? He has done it at the behest of the calling that has tormented him for the past three years. He has done it for the money that will help him to procure the object that has become his preoccupation, the motive that has led him to track down and send letters to the three siblings he has not seen in over twenty years, that has led him now—in the year of his forty-first birthday—to be on his way to Omaha, Nebraska, to find and confront the man he now refuses to call Father.

It almost dies up here, in the turbulent solitude of fifteen-thousand feet, impact ice in the air intake causing the engine to run rough, a drop in manifold pressure. The tachometer flickers as ice begins to form in the carburetor. The engine coughs and then is silent. He lowers the nose into the whine of wind and procession of cloud, flaps at cruise to maintain air speed, opens the throttle and primes with the wobble pump. Up ahead, invisible, is the face of a mountain, a cliff side, a spectacular death. If the restart fails, a dead engine landing is impossible. He closes his eyes and waits for it, and then, against every lesson life has taught him up to this point, the engine crackles and returns. The lights of the instrument panel dazzle. He reengages the controls and imagines he can hear the landing gear scraping the frozen peaks of the foothills.

The system passes and he is aloft in the blue dome over Glacier Bay, the archipelago speckling the golden ocean, an obscured face behind the grimy glass of this prop plane that has served him for two decades. The sun is at his back and showing purple on the snow-covered mountainside, assuring him. Yes, you were saved today. You were saved from certain destruction in order to finish what you have started. As he radios in his descent, he watches the light prism on the water and the tin rooftops of a salmon town and the icy ridge above and whispers something inaudible. Not a prayer—he doesn’t believe in God—but a pledge. To his twin sister, to his half brothers, to his estranged mother. And finally, to the man he refuses to call Father, the man whose far-off mansion on the plains marks the X-spot of this three-thousand-mile journey, the man whose life story will always serve as preamble to his own.

It begins half a century earlier.

On a sun-dried day in January 1956—seventy-five degrees in mid-winter, for there were no seasons here in San Berdoo, in the arid valley that separated the city of the stars from the desert—a twenty-four-year-old delivery boy named George Hill (though he went by Georgie in those days) arrived in his four-axle delivery truck in the sandlot out back of the burger stand that was the last on his route every Friday. He was sweating. He’d worked fifty hours this week. He and his wife had had an argument the night before, an argument centered around several small things and one not-small thing. When the raised voices had proven inadequate for conveying her feelings, she’d thrown a pot at him and struck him in the face, which was why he had a Band-Aid on his forehead, the skin beneath which was itching and driving him crazy. Yet another thing that was driving him crazy. His young son, GB, was turning five in two weeks, and he was afraid he’d stopped loving him. Or maybe he’d simply stopped loving his wife, the woman who only six years previously had advanced to the final round of the country’s most prestigious beauty pageant, whose graceful promenades across the stage and runways at Boardwalk Hall could not have predicted her proficiency in pot throwing, and who’d told him, just months before, that what he’d been dreading was true. She was pregnant again.

The first time he’d heard these words from Mary it had been confirmation of his arrival. Until then, he’d been a silent, restless boy, a directionless, insecure adolescent. He had avoided mirrors throughout his youth, originally because there were none to be found in the drafty ramshackle homestead on the Oklahoma panhandle whose 160 acres of dying fields had formed the bleak backdrop of his earliest years. Later because he couldn’t bear to look at himself: despised his lank greasy hair and olive skin and heavy brow. Hated his long arms and the unavoidable slouch that was his father’s slouch, the slouch of an overworked Okie raised up in spartan conditions on the great plains, on plows and in sweltering stables, endless days of sweat and sore muscles. In his siblings he had always detected inheritances from their mother, her stern but gentle eyes, her coarse but lively hair, her soft-spoken wisdom. But not in Georgie. He was his father’s utterly graceless offspring.

When they’d moved down here the summer the war ended, his father had one message for Georgie: “Never be afraid,” he’d told his young son, “to take a risk in life. You look at all the successful people in the world, I’ll tell you one thing they all have in common. They all had a chance to take a risk or sit on their ass. And not a one of them chose to sit on his ass. What do you think we did when we saw that dust bowl rising up around us? Did we sit back on our ass? No sir. We picked up and we moved on. And look at us now.”

This in his used Packard on the way south from Bakersfield, just the two of them, the rest of what had been a family of seven eradicated on the trip west over Route 66 and in the war in Europe. His father had heard of work in the newly thriving city of San Bernardino, a dusty valley in the center of a bowl at the foot of the mountains sharing the name of the same saint. He’d heard there were all sorts of jobs springing up for men willing to get up off their duff and do it. Good, honest work for a solid wage. Not this shady business on the grape farms, working like a slave for wages little better than the Mexicans’. He’d come down a week earlier and gotten them a place, had found a job cleaning swimming pools. Came home and told Georgie it wasn’t easy in this heat, wasn’t back breaking, though. Wasn’t nothing he couldn’t handle. Went back the next day and fell in the pool and drowned. Couldn’t swim. Was an Okie through and through. Nobody had been around to hear his splashing. The folks who owned the house had arrived home the next day to find a figure in a starched white uniform floating face down in their swimming pool. Had called the cleaning company, who’d come over to pick out the body.

They’d turned him over to orphan support, operated out of a mission-style building near the Rancho Cucamonga line. Two years spent prowling those crowded hallways, waiting in line for stale food and lying in hard cots staring up at a dark ceiling, four to a room. On his fifteenth birthday, Georgie and a group of them had formed a solemn pact to escape and set up on the outside, make some fast cash robbing jewelry stores and maybe some trains. They’d planned and executed a late-night liberation under cover of the smog-laden LA stars, had climbed into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, living in the wilderness for all of seventeen hours before one of their number was attacked by a coyote and had to be taken back down to the city, had to practically have his arm stitched back on, to hear him talk. Their plans for escape fizzled. The boy who’d nearly had his arm chewed off by the coyote was adopted within a month, which touched off a brief smattering of self-injury. It didn’t work. Georgie climbed up to the roof of the orphanage and stood looking down at the pavement six stories below, pictured himself executing a graceful dive to splatter on the blacktop, saw his blood, brown and dust- colored like the world he’d come from, the world he knew he belonged to though he couldn’t stand even to imagine the worthless, middle-of-nowhere people they’d been back then, working like dogs on 160 acres, twelve hours a day—and for what? An uncertain existence that could turn like a tornado and did just that the year the rain stopped and the blowing dust swept across the plain. What good was life if these were the sort of decisions it left you with? Whether or not to jump off the roof of a six-story orphanage, the last surviving member of your family? And what about those folks with the swimming pool? Those folks who could afford to have a tub of however-many gallons of water in their backyard. What was it that made one person like they were and another person like Georgie’s father? It wasn’t following a string of flyers a thousand miles west to grape country. It wasn’t packing your bags and moving to some upstart city outside LA. But if it wasn’t any of these things, then what was it? Georgie saw the haze drift off the desert breeze and thought he caught a glimpse of the same stars he’d once seen so clearly back on the farm, sitting on the back porch with his mama or off in the fields on a retired plow with his older brother Carl and little sister Debbie. He looked at the stars so long and with such fervency that he forgot entirely what he’d come up here to do, and when he remembered where he was and why and had crept over to the edge of the roof and looked down, it filled him with such fear that he had to fold his legs up against his chest, had to wrap his arms around his knees to stop trembling.

Excerpt from The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth
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