Dead Cats

by Patrick Strickland

I’d known Coach Tarp since the first year of middle school, had seen him turn from nice to just alright to all hateful like, and I didn’t appreciate the way he sized me up right now. Like he’d never seen me before in his life.

It must have been a hundred degrees outside, and we were boiling in the locker room, a little brick shack thick with the stink of sweat. It was our first day of ninth-grade football. Coach Tarp smiled at a slant and slapped a hard hand on my shoulder, nudged his assistant coach and said, This boy’ll make a damn fine tackle dummy for some big bastard whose sack has already filled up, will he not?

I’m not a tackle dummy, I told him. I knew I was talking bullshit, but I also knew you were meant to protest when someone ragged on you like that. I plan to play, Coach.

Alright, alright, son, he said, and laughed. He nudged me with the sharp of his elbow, made a face to say he was just giving me a hard time. Still, I knew he meant what he said, at least in part, and although I had protested, I couldn’t have given less of a shit about football. A few kids in the locker room cut up with him. I didn’t even hold it against them. Besides, they’d all end up on the B-team with me and the rest of the players whose names Coach couldn’t seem to recall. I would’ve signed up as the water boy if that meant an extra two hours I didn’t have to go home to my old man. Those days, anything could light his fuse. A dirty dish forgotten in the kitchen sink and you were out front doing wind sprints, him hollering at you to stop dragging ass. Leave the lights in the living room on and you were under the hot sun in the yard pulling weeds all day. Talk while the Cowboys were on the twenty-yard line and you’d catch a backhand to the face.

The little brick shack we used for a locker room breathed hot as a motor. It was already September, but most days still ran north of a hundred. Just when you’d think the weather was taking mercy on you, the next day the sun would damn near skin you alive. We suited up between the steel storage containers and laundry bins stuffed to the lip with towels. It smelled how I imagine dead cows stank. Coach Tarp sauntered back to the athletic office and lumbered around, sipping from a silver thermos that declared him Coach of the Year – 2000.

Mannard came in the locking room, chomping on chaw, chest bulging. His first name was Stanley. As long as I could recall, everyone had just called him by his dad’s family name, though to my knowledge Mannard’d never known him. He was a shoo-in as starting linebacker, mean as a chainsaw. I looked up from tying my cleats and watched him hunch forward in front of the storage locker. He was sucking in heavy, slow breaths like he wanted to summon strength from somewhere deep and dark inside himself. He placed both palms flat on the locker door, steadied himself, and hammered his forehead into the steel ‘til thick bolts of blood ran in zigzags down his cheeks. I looked away. How was someone meant to react to that?

Mannard was a year older than the rest of us. He’d failed ninth grade the first time around, but the school gave him another stab at it. He had mangled features and mashed-up nose, a face like a bulldog you might find gnawing on bones beneath a weatherworn old car in the corner of a junkyard. Acne crisscrossed his shoulders. Veins mapped his arms, thick as corndogs. Everyone had heard rumors he injected himself with testosterone from the time he was young, maybe as far back as middle school. I’d once seen him, when I was in the seventh grade, get wrestled to the earth by a kid in his class. The boy was the better brawler, that was obvious, but Mannard fought his way back to his fight and then beat him blue with a backpack full of big, thick textbooks. The campus cop came sprinting from his office, dragged Mannard away smiling a mouthful of small, grey teeth.

Mannard turned to the rest of us, grinned, slapped his bare chest twice. He swiped blood from his cheek. For the first time, I realized why I feared him. It wasn’t because he was mean or scary. It was because looking at him made you feel even worse about how much you let people shit on you. Coach Tarp walked back into the locker room and folded his arms. C’mon, boys, he said, and together we all walked out to the field and lined up.

School district budgets had been slashed one year after another, and we stood on the football field among wild weeds and dying dandelions. The chalk yard lines had faded a dull white, and the goal post stood at a slant. Coach Tarp walked down the column of boys, assigning each player a position. He pointed at Mike White, a lean, muscular boy who could sprint a forty in under five seconds. You: quarterback. He pushed his finger Mannard’s way: This one’s easy—linebacker. He listed off each position, offensive and defensive, A-Team and B-Team, and reached me at the end of the line. You: B-Team linebacker, he said, and looked like he was trying to hide a smirk.

We on the B-Team all had to pair off across from our A-Team counterparts. We braced ourselves as they hurtled our way, ready to run right through us. When our turns came, we were meant to do our best to knock them back on their asses.

Through my facemask I could see my old man watching up in the bleachers. He held a Coke can I’d bet my kidney he’d filled with Wild Turkey. Six or seven years earlier, in Peewee League, I was half a foot taller than my teammates. I had big, bulky shoulders for my age, and could outrun anyone, even the cornerback. My old man would come to my games, a big grin always on his face. Each time I drilled someone, he would yell goddamn right and that’s what the fuck I’m talking about. On weekends, we’d drive over to the YMCA weight room and he’d make me do squats ‘til my knees nearly gave. But in the seventh grade, I stopped growing, my old man lost his job not long after, and he started tipping back the bottle after Ma moved out.

Mannard’s turn came first. I tensed my body as best as I could. I glanced back up at my old man once more as Mannard tore ass my way. He didn’t move his feet all that fast at first, but he steady built speed, nailed me like a sack of hammers. My back slammed on the ground, my breath left my lungs, and I staggered to my feet, the world soft at the edges and pocked with white specks. I stood up and got my helmet off just in time to vomit the pizza the cafeteria had served at lunch. The other players were looking at me with some kind of pity. I wished someone would laugh, but none did. The silence just made my grief all the heavier.

By the time I gathered myself, Mannard was already hunched forward across from me. I wanted to—but didn’t—look up at my old man in the bleachers. I took three frantic breaths, set my legs apart in position, and then steamrolled toward him. I hit him like a battering ram but dropped like a brick. He was still standing.

Coach Tarp stood off on the sidelines with a fist knotted over his mouth. Although he tried to muffle it, he laughed from somewhere deep in his throat. What had happened in his life since he headed the weekly prayer group at our middle school, back when he nodded in sympathy as we recounted our experiences with the Lord, I couldn’t say.

All practice long, the parents huddled in the bleachers. They all screamed their kids’ names and clapped. My old man slouched off to the side, all on his own. He lowered his lips to his Coke can every few minutes. As I took my spot back on the B-Team side, his face was all daggers, chewed me up. I couldn’t stand it and broke eye contact. Coach Tarp turned to his assistant coach and nodded toward Mannard. Meaner than a junkyard dog, is he not? he said. That boy will be in the news every week.

I looked up again and my old man had disappeared. In an hour and a half, I would inch through the front door and find him waiting there on the couch, his hands folded over the leather belt coiled on his lap.

* * *

We were all headed to White’s house, three weeks out from the first game. His family lived on N Avenue, a long line of squat, splintered shacks that sagged at awkward slants and shed paint. Bagfuls of garbage lined the street outside. His neighborhood was near mine and not much different.

It was around nine at night, a Friday, and I parked my old man’s Ford Ranger far off down the street in case the cops came. They protected the other side of town, patrolled our side. Clouds welted in the sky. The only streetlights that worked flickered like bug zappers and shadows swelled and contracted. I walked up to White’s and along the way passed a few men sitting on lawn chairs circled around an Igloo cooler. They spoke in quick Spanish and smashed empty beer cans under their soles.

White’s parents had gone to Harrah’s Casino in Shreveport, where they were probably gambling away money they didn’t have. They’d made him promise not to have anyone over, but when I shouldered through the front door, there were forty or so football players shuffling around the living room. Kids slashed beer cans with pocketknives and shot-gunned them right there in the kitchen. Suds splashed all over the linoleum and they cheered. On the back porch, I spotted my cousin Jack sucking on a Marlboro Red. You’re limping, he pointed out.

A month of getting pounded by Mannard will do that, I told him.

Lots of tail here, he said.

Sure is, I told him. But I planned to keep my distance because I didn’t know what to say if someone asked how I expected any playtime this season.

Jack bucked me with his shoulder as if to say get a load of this. A few players from the A-Team were sprinting in place in the backyard. White stood off in a corner, cupping his hand over the telephone and yelling into the receiver. No, there’s no party here, he said, but the grunting got so loud you couldn’t make sense of anything he said after that. He slid his phone into his pocket and walked over to us on the porch.

My folks just saw someone famous at the casino, but I couldn’t make out his name, he said. Said he had a great big dog with him, a German Shepherd.

Mannard appeared next to us. He wiped the sweat off his Keystone Light can onto his forehead. German Shepherd’s a good dog, he said. He tilted up the beer and drained it, crushed the can in his palm.

* * *

For as long as I could remember, Mannard had lived on my street. He stayed with his mom and his stepdad, who drank on pace with my old man. Which is to say, he could put back a twelve pack and still work on his truck till the sky drained of sunlight and night fell upon the neighborhood.

We had only spoken once or twice, Mannard and me. A couple summers earlier, my old man sent me outside to pick weeds, punishment for some wrongdoing I could never remember, maybe nothing. The sun pounded me, shredding away layers of skin on my shoulders. Ma was still around, and it seemed like every time she gave my old man hell, he sent me outside to snatch weeds. I was working fast, trying to get the whole thing over with. I stopped for a breather and saw Mannard outside on his lawn. He had a dog with him, a pit bull whose fleas you could damn near see from across the street. The dog dashed alongside Mannard as he chased down stray cats. Mannard grabbed the cats by their napes and yanked them from the ground like dead flowers, stuffing them in a garbage sack.

A small, dirty cat, maybe a kitten, leaped into the hollow shell of an Oldsmobile sedan in the yard. Whatever color it was, I couldn’t say—its matted fur was tarred with oil and muck. The car had been there since before Mannard and his family ever showed up. Someone had stripped it of all its parts, and it sat propped up on cinderblocks. The mirrors were gone, and weeds grew through the space where the engine was meant to be. I wondered how many microwave meals and six packs that Oldsmobile had paid for.

Mannard kept hunting the stray cats ‘til he filled up the sack. Inside, they clawed and kicked and cried, but he just knotted it tight at the top. When his stepdad busted out of the front door, I knew Mannard was in for it. The man was thin, wiry. That meant nothing. My old man looked like he’d never eaten a lick of food in his life, but if he got his hands on you, they may as well have been steel.

Crouched in my yard, I watched his stepdad grab Mannard by the slick of his neck. He jerked him down to the earth. I was old enough to know that our parents were searching for guidance as much as we were, and that when they came up short, retribution fit just fine. A breeze bustled garbage down the street, and I felt pity for Mannard. It broke your heart to learn it could happen to even him, an ass whooping.

But Mannard bounced back to his feet. He charged and drilled his stepdad, knocking him down back-first in one swift move that peeled away all my pity and let envy move into its place. Wounded, his stepdad hobbled to his feet and went inside, muttering. Mannard slung the sack over his shoulder, mounted his bike, and pedaled off, creaking like a screen door all the way down the street.

Two hours dragged passed and I was still outside. I looked around at where time had rubbed patches of the yard bald, and the remaining grass felt dead and prickly under my feet. I picked weeds slower than before, distracted by what I had seen, but I also knew my old man was inside on the couch, five or six beers deep already. I heard the creaking before I saw Mannard ride up, moving as slow as a funeral.

Hey, he said.

I looked up twice before I realized he was speaking to me. Hey, I said. He was pretty worked up about the cats, huh?

What? he said, and then understood. Naw. Wasn’t that. Caught me stealing smokes from his pack.

Oh, I said, and because I did not know what else to add, I asked, But where did you take those cats? Shelter or something?

Mannard laughed. Naw, he said. Not a shelter.

Where then?

Dropped them off an overpass over the highway.

I let out a laugh but stopped when I saw his face stay the same, serious.

Dropped them? You dropped them? Like onto a car?

Onto a big rig, yeah. Must have been going eighty when they hit it.

I only nodded, and he must have sensed something was wrong because he put a hand on my shoulder.

They’re only dead cats, he said, squeezing. Some things are just meant for hurt.

* * *

We lost our first game, but Mannard broke the tackle record, and that was a good enough reason for everyone to celebrate. White called us all over to his house—his parents were gone again, playing blackjack in Oklahoma.

I was out back, with Jack again, and for no good reason I was wondering how everyone made it to White’s, whether their parents had driven them, whether their parents had warned them to behave, whether their parents believed what everyone said, that White’s folks were home chaperoning the party.

My old man had never wanted to delay his drinking, so he let me take his truck anytime I had something to do. It was a single cab, a ninety-eight, and empty cigarette cartons crackled beneath my sneakers whenever I drove it. Most of the time Jack and I drove around, each with a beer can between our legs, gassing it through red lights and laughing, looking for a parking lot where we could stand around.

In the backyard, Mannard tackled a defensive lineman, a guy maybe twice his size. Mannard ran him into a cluster of azaleas, trampled right over him. White looked at me with a resigned look on his face. They were already dead, he said, and it took me a moment to understand he meant the flowers.

Within a half hour, the place emptied. Only a few of us stood around in the kitchen, drinking the last of the canned beer. I turned away from the others and choked down one of the back pills I had lifted off my old man. I had plenty—ten, maybe eleven—but why share?

As the pill hit my head, I started drinking the dregs of nearly empty beer cans left on the counter. I gave each a shake, and then winced down the piss at the bottom. Wish we had more beer, I said.

Mannard folded his arms across his chest. He had drunk eight or nine beers, but it didn’t come out in the way he spoke. What we need to do, he said, all calm, is find someone to rip off.

I laughed, but then White said, I know someone. A girl across town. She sells Xanax, four bars. Always carries a ‘script on her.

Who is she? Mannard asked.

Just some girl, White said. Real smart, but dumb as all hell. She’s honor roll or some shit.

Wait, I said, unsure why.

We could fleece her good? Mannard asked.

I’ve got these airsoft guns, White explained. Look just like Uzis. We put a bit of black electric tape over the orange tip, and that’ll do the trick. Easy.

At first, I had no notion of going with them, and even thought about going home, but it was Friday—my old man would be on a warpath. Maybe it was the pills talking, but I offered to drive.

Mannard turned to me and glared hard. You sure?

Yeah, I said. Fuck it. Why not?

* * *

The pickup trembled over every bump in the road ‘til we crossed the highway and the streets became smooth and easy. A country singer wailed on the radio and I twisted the knob to crank up the volume. In the passenger seat, Mannard pressed his face to the glass. His breath fogged little birthmarks on the window.

I turned into Indian Estates, a neighborhood I had only heard of. I knew kids on this side of town drove nice cars and went off to expensive schools, but still, all I could think was how impossible it seemed that a neighborhood like this existed in the same city as us. I almost felt guilty driving my old man’s pickup—with rust on the sidewalls and Confederate flag sticker on the back window—in an area where the pool houses were larger than any home I had ever lived in, a place where Audis and Beamers lined the curbs.

White sat in the bed of the truck, next to my old man’s weed eater. He tapped on the rear window and I rolled it down. Turn here, he said. I skipped the signal and swung left on Wiltshire Avenue.

Wiltshire? Mannard said. The fuck kind of name is that? We in fucking France?

Wiltshire’s in— I said, but White cut me off and said to take a right at the next stop sign.

I bet these motherfuckers eat snails, Mannard said.

Park here, White said. He pushed his head through the rear window and into the cab. It’s around the corner.

Mannard opened the door and hopped out, and White jumped down from the bed. White told me to stay there, said he only had two masks and that we’d need to split quick.

I leaned back in my seat and listened to the country singer cry about someone he lost, a wife or a dog. My hands were shaking. I kept thinking I could plead ignorance if the law came, that I could insist I only gave them a ride across town as a favor.

But they stayed gone a long time. The pills began to fade, and awake again with a fresh alertness, I worried something had gone wrong. I pictured some rich parent standing at their window, phoning the police, red-and-blue lights storming up around the bend behind me.

I left the pickup running, got out, and walked down the street, following its curve, almost tiptoeing. Their bodies took shape around thirty yards out. Whatever concern I’d felt for Mannard and White washed away. Mannard had an airsoft gun trained on a girl, and White stood nearby, hustling his junk with one hand and clutching his piece with the other. The girl was digging around in her trunk, lamppost light shimmering in her hair. She turned and handed what I guessed was a pill bottle to Mannard, and he pressed the piece to her forehead. She carefully crouched and lay on the curb. My heart sped up. The girl was shaking, too, and I felt fear for her. I pictured myself running full speed and hitting Mannard from behind, knocking him down just long enough for her to get away.

I took a couple breaths and prepared to push off my back foot, but Mannard and White were already running my way, laughing, and plain as day it hit me that I was as guilty as anyone else. Shame shot up inside me. Then, I felt burned up with anger, anger that they’d done what they’d done, anger that I’d come along at all.

Later, when we rolled past a cop car shaded by night in a parking lot off the road, my heart jabbed around in my chest. The interior light clicked on inside the squad car, and I looked over at Mannard for a cue. But he wasn’t paying attention. He had his face in his hands, tears rolling off his fingers.

* * *

Coach Tarp told us all to sleep in the morning before the game that next Friday, but I woke before sunrise. My old man had a handful of my hair. He dragged me from my bed and slung me to my knees on the floor. A bug crawled over my foot, but when I tried to kick it off, my old man shoved me face first into my mattress. You fighting back? he said.

I said nothing, only bit down on the sheet.

Turn around, he said.

He had a ziplock full of pills in one hand, a belt in the other. You want to tell me where you got these?

I found them, I said.

Now you’re lying?

Scout’s honor.

And you think it’s funny, too? He tossed the pills aside and started snapping his belt, sharp.

No, sir.

He said let’s see how funny it is. He belted my back raw and my heartbeat throbbed in the small of it.

I braced myself and bit down on the sheets again, but he was already done. He smacked my skull once and left the door open, humming all along the hallway the same satisfied tune he always did.

* * *

It was around ten, a few nights later, and I hadn’t seen my old man since he hunted down the pills. The television was on, whispering out in the living room. I was sprawled atop the covers, sweating. My bones ached—Mannard had come to practice fired up all week. Sweat soaked my body, and I wiped a t-shirt across my chest when I stood. A knock came from my window.

I pressed my face to the glass, trying to make something sharp out of the shapes shifting about outside. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, but Mannard was standing there. He had a bruise under his eye, a black and purple spot. I opened the window.

I wasn’t about to ask, but he said, He got me good while I was asleep.

Sorry, I offered because I didn’t know what else to say and asked if he wanted to come inside.

Not why I’m here. Listen, he said. I want your help with something.

I climbed out the window and he pulled a pack of Marlboro Reds from his pocket. He lit one and passed it to me, then lit another for himself. We walked down to the street and followed it to a T-intersection, where an abandoned home was nearly blocked from sight by shoulder-high weeds. Get a load of this, he said, pressing through the brush and stopping at a bush. He pulled up a Go-Ped.

How’d you get that? I asked.

Across town. Let’s go for a ride, yeah?

I climbed on behind him, steadied myself with my hands on his shoulders—they felt like railroad ties. We rode past burned-out streetlights and shadows, bounced over potholes that felt as big as craters. I never asked where we were headed, but then the homes stopped and the street shot us out onto Fourteenth, where a small shopping strip housed a Taco Bell, the Mexican Bazaar, and the Eastside Easy Pawn Shop.

He killed the motor and said he needed to go inside.

I was looking at the Bazaar.

No, he said, pointing at the pawn shop. Here.

But I still didn’t follow.

I’ll be quick.

I understood, told him I was sorry but that my old man would—

Naw, man, he cut me off. You stay outside. That’s all. Just shout if someone comes. You can hide over there. He pointed at a leafless tree next to the Taco Bell.

Man, I want to help, but…

Just make like you’re waiting for a ride. Aren’t going to be any problems.

I tried to make myself small under a scatter of shadows beneath the tree. He snapped the lock on the steel gate and elbowed a break in the glass door. A tingle crawled through my arms and legs. My chest grew tight. Clouds charcoaled, snarling in the sky.

Something shattered inside the pawnshop, and after a few moments the alarm screamed across the parking lot. Mannard appeared in the doorway, waving his arms. Just go, he said.

I left him the Go-Ped and tore off. I hadn’t made it a hundred yards when I looked back over my shoulder and saw the cruiser skid into the parking lot, its red-and-blue lights staining the store fronts. I ran ‘til I thought I would retch, and then I ran faster, turning down a street leading to our neighborhood, the shadows lashing my body all the way home.

* * *

I stayed home from school sick with worry for two days. I really was ill, holed up in my bedroom. I teethed my thumb tips raw and waited for a knock on the front door.

But no one ever came looking for me. On the third day, I went out to the living room and sat next to my old man on the sofa. The Cowboys were down by seven, and he was rotten. Troy Aikman threw another interception, and my old man hurled a beer can at the screen. Worthless, he said. Fucking worthless.

He grabbed the clicker and flipped channels ‘til he found the local news. The presenter was talking about rising youth crime in the city, and her face tightened as she went on. A young robber had targeted a local pawnshop, she said, shuffling a stack of papers in front of her. She said the police department had arrested a star football player in connection with the incident.

Mannard’s mug shot appeared on the screen, and I wondered how he looked so calm staring into his ruined life. My old man shot me a look and my back stiffened. Stanley Mannard had a promising future ahead of him, the presenter explained. But he made a grim choice. When police arrived, he was fleeing the scene of the crime on a motorized scooter. He had a backpack full of cash, an old radio, and three firearms he allegedly stole.

As it turned out, the cops damn near opened fire on Mannard. He tried to outrun the cruiser, but there was no hope. He hopped off the Go-Ped and cocked a shotgun, aimed it right at the officers chasing him. But when he pulled the trigger, aiming skyward to fire off a warning shot, the gun only clicked. My old man now stared at me sideways. That’s the boy lives right across the street? he said.

I stayed quiet.

It is, isn’t it? he said. Sweat crawled on my forehead. He’s a damn fine linebacker too. What a goddamn shame.

* * *

Within a week’s time, Coach Tarp moved me into the starting position. He had no choice, but it felt like Mannard had given me a gift of some sort. A strange sense of hope filled me, and I started thinking I may just make it out of town one day. You’ll do fine, Coach told me. Then he stared hard at me, like he wasn’t so certain, and slapped me on the shoulder.

My old man even started talking to me. I would come home from practice each day, the sunset bruising the sky outside, and he would be there, sober and ready to talk about my future. He wanted me to spend more time on the squat rack. He taught me his favorite formations when he played ball in high school. He made sure I got to bed at a decent hour. He phoned a coach at a D-3 school somewhere out in East Texas.

He showed up to the first game I started. He wore a new t-shirt still stiff with starch. Williams Football, it read in big block letters. He shook hands with the other parents, taking a seat next to them and resting his elbows on his knees. When I looked up right before the starting whistle, he was cutting up with the Whites. He pointed down at the football field, right at me, and I waved their way.

But I played awfully. I barreled at whoever carried the ball and wound up flat on my back, cleat marks across the chest of my jersey. I drove headfirst with closed eyes and missed my target every time. I leaped and landed on my face guard. When the bullhorns blew and half-time was called, I jogged to the bench and sat, scanning the bleachers. My old man was shaking his head, hobbling down the steps. He slipped a flask from his pocket and disappeared behind a row of trucks in the parking lot.

One night about halfway through the season, I understood I had blown it for good. It was nearly November, shortly before dusk, but it felt as if the whole world was aflame. I walked home and found my old man crumpled on the couch, beer cans piled up around his feet on the carpet. The Keystone Light can in his hand was sweating.

At least I made the starting lineup, I said, but the words tasted false in my mouth. His head sagged low to his chest. He closed his eyes, but I kept at it. If I keep at it, I may get good enough to play ball in college. Maybe even a scholarship.

The Cowboys gathered on the thirty-yard line. Troy Aikman squatted into position. The others fell into a shotgun formation. My old man cracked one eye and fixed it on the screen. Aikman ran a few yards to the left and found his footing. Together, my old man and I watched the quarterback cock his arm back and let loose. The ball arched high, shivered in an uneasy spiral—an interception. I looked back at my old man on the couch. He took a swig of beer. What a goddamn shame, he said.

Outside the dusk gathered and the air ran the coolest it had in months. I crossed the street and climbed into the Oldsmobile in Mannard’s yard. The kitten was curled up in the glove box, still stained with oil. I petted the cat, but when I tried to scoop him into my arms, he scratched and contorted and wrestled himself away. I sat for a second in the driver’s seat, watching the shadows outside shift and shiver. A breeze picked up. Then, I was on my feet, exhaustion spreading through my body and down into my limbs. Even as the wind knocked around in the night, I sweat in sheets. I sprinted ‘til my legs burned. The cat leaped from a bush and I dove for it, snatched at its nape, but I came back emptyhanded, and when I hit the hard earth, my body rolled and rolled and rolled until it stopped.

Patrick Strickland is a writer and journalist from Texas. His short stories have appeared at The Barcelona Review, Pithead Chapel, The Coachella Review, and Cowboy Jamboree, among others. He’s the author of two nonfiction books, most recently including The Marauders: Standing Up to Vigilantes in the American Borderlands.