BIG FRANK BATTLE LEANED AN ELBOW AGAINST THE HOOD OF HIS battered, flatbed truck and gazed with arrogant pride over his empire: his secluded valley, his sprawling ranch, his livestock. He had not the slightest inkling that before this particular morning played itself out, his body would fail him, the power he loved to wield so fiercely would crumble to dust and all the ugly secrets he had managed to keep hidden these many years would be laid bare to the world. A blood clot, a puny thing smaller than a BB, was about to kick loose, pump through his blood stream and wedge itself tight as a tick at the base of his brain.
Frank felt an odd sensation in his neck, automatically assumed he had slept wrong and rolled his massive shoulders side-to-side the way an old range bull will do, trying to work loose that bothersome kink. The soreness persisted, slowly intensified, and Frank stepped to the cab of his ranch truck, flung open the door, dug around under the seat and produced a whiskey bottle. He unscrewed the lid and tipped the cold glass to his lips. Alcohol traced a coarse passage, and for the moment, that seemed to soothe, or at least to mask, the first shallow evidence of the physical pain that would soon kill him.
Earlier, Frank had launched his morning as so many others before it: rising in the dark, dressing, ambling down the hallway in his stocking feet, pausing at the door of his wife’s bedroom, moving on. He rubbed his dry hands together, trying to work some warmth and feeling into them. As he came down the long staircase, the ankle he broke when a horse fell on him clicked each time it flexed.