Seven Years If It’s a Day

The hills of eastern Kentucky, near Hyden. (Monte Dutton sketch)
The hills of eastern Kentucky, near Hyden. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Ever since I wrote my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, readers have asked about a sequel. I always said “never say never,” but I’d had my fill of its unlikely hero, Riley Mansfield. No sequel is in the works, but perhaps this is a start in that direction. I don’t know. I awakened thinking about Riley, and decided it was time to revisit him, seven years after the events described in Audacity.

The walk down to the mailbox wasn’t far, but it was hilly. The right knee, operated on so long ago, was wearing out again, and there wasn’t a damn thing Riley Mansfield could do about it. He now understand what was meant by the term “trick knee.” One morning, he had left the cabin to run a few errands. He’d had to wait for a prescription at the pharmacy, and when he’d risen from the chair, his right hand had slipped slightly when he’d put his weight on the arm. The knee slipped a little to the right, but it hadn’t hurt until he’d gotten back in the truck, stopped at Dollar General, and noticed it aching while he picked up some raisin bran and bread. By the time he’d gotten back to the house, he could barely walk. That was a Sunday. For the rest of the day, and then the next two, he’d hobbled around and spent as much time as possible with an ice pack on it. By the time his doctor’s appointment had arrived, it was about the same as it had been before the slip, which was weak. The doctor x-rayed it, then sent him to an orthopedist two days later, where he’d had an MRI, and then the orthopedist’s office had called to summon Riley in for “an evaluation,” and Riley, who knew there was damage to cartilage and the knee cap, figured he’d wind up having a nice, minor, arthroscopic procedure that would only require a week or two before he could get on with life, knee restored and strong.

Ah, hah, hah, hah!

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

What the doctor, whose name he had trouble remembering, had told him was that cleaning up the damage would induce only the briefest of good, that the problem with his knee was arthritis, and that the only solution was a knee replacement, which being only forty, he probably wouldn’t want to contemplate unless it got a lot worse. The doc even said he’d recommend against wearing a brace because “that would only cause it to swell.”

In other words, it wasn’t going to get any better. If it went out again, the doctor had said to come back, and he’d give him a shot of cortisone.

Thanks, but no thanks. Riley had left the doctor’s office bummed, and the next two weeks had blossomed into one of the more creative bursts of songwriting he’d ever experienced, due in part to the fact that he’d spent most of the time stoned.

              My daddy used to say / You gotta be a man / You gotta pull your weight / You gotta work the land / Every time I tried and failed / He turned away from me / And by the time I was a man / It was too late for him to see.

              Oh, scuppernongs and muscadines / Bubble gum two for a dime / Orange Crush over ice / Sawmill gravy over rice / That’s the way / My world / Used to be.

Six years removed from the various incidents that had led him to a national reputation as a hero in the War Against Terror, much had changed. He wasn’t at all bothered that his celebrity had faded. He’d never wanted or enjoyed it. He was now financially secure. He and Melissa, his partner during the year of his crisis, had been married for five years. He now had a cabin in Kentucky, up on a hill, where he and Melissa could get away. Back in Henry, his nephew house-sat while he was away. In the hills near Hyden, he was near his songwriting partner, Eric Hayes, and guitarist Wade McKeever, both of whom had been with him when he’d nearly gotten himself shot on the Washington Mall. Hyden was closer to Nashville, where Riley frequently had business, and a safe distance from Henry, where life had only grown more complicated since he’d been swept up in terrorism and government conspiracy. Somehow, the good people of South Carolina had held it against Riley that he’d helped expose a president as a murderous crook. Even after Sam Harmon had resigned, the Palmetto State had still voted Republican, joined by only Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Utah. Riley couldn’t even remember the name of the Republican nominee – seems like he was Harmon’s vice president – but he could remember the names of the states that whoever it was had carried.

Riley thought the world a better place, just maybe not South Carolina.

Not that Kentucky was a bastion of liberalism, but Riley felt safer there. Six years might have been a century. People were vaguely aware that he was somebody. They just didn’t know whom. His friends knew all about him, but most other folks didn’t care to know. He was just a nice fellow in a poor, humble, coal-mining town, up in the hills and isolated. Hell, Twitter hadn’t even caught on. Everybody was on Facebook, though. It helped them keep up with the University of Kentucky’s basketball team.

He took comfort in reading the local paper. “Chicken coop burns!” and that sort of thing. He liked reading about the run-of-the-mill works and deeds of run-of-the-mill people. He wondered if he’d have been better off had he not stopped some poor dupe from blowing up an airplane, had he not been pursued across most of the country by a madman bent on his destruction, and if he hadn’t given up so much of his privacy that people now expected him to drink with them, get high with them, anywhere, and any time. Those were his fans. His enemies still wanted to kill him, figuratively, he hoped.

Melissa walked out on the porch, where it was cold. She brought coffee that was hot.

“How’s the knee this morning?” she asked.

“It’s a pain to walk back up that hill. Level land ain’t bad. This ain’t the place for level land. It’s good for it, though, I reckon. It’s weak. Maybe the walk every day makes it stronger.”

“Have you noticed it?”

“Shit, no,” he said.

“Well, what’s going on in beautiful Leslie County this week.”

“You know it’s the Redbud Capital of the world,” Riley said. “Says so right here on the masthead.”

“Somehow, that does not surprise me.”

“Yeah, we got a lot of bud ourselves.”

“But enough of our silly lives,” Melissa said. “What’s going on with the Rotary Club?”

“Ah, pancake supper before UK vs. Tennessee on the big-screen at the community center. Five dollars, all you can eat.”

“I’ll pass.”

“It’s for a good cause,” Riley said. “Let’s get high and then go.”

“We are not going to make a spectacle of ourselves,” Melissa said.

“Might get a song out of it.”

“Odds are, you’ll get a song, anyway.”

              If this tale seems unfamiliar, I recommend a purchase of the novel that precedes it, The Audacity of Dope, which you can find here:


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