Monday, July 13, 2015

Fire Eater by Andrea Mosier (@1memphisgirl10) in 2015 Dundee International Prize anthology

Today on The Maze I would like to introduce you to Andrea Mosier, one of the ten finalists announced for the 2015 Dundee International Book Prize!

About Andrea's entry, Fire Eater:

Part I opens with Peyton Lyden, a middle-aged woman, working at a diner in Summit, Mississippi, when a man walks in claiming Peyton’s dead husband sent him. He has word that the feds want Manny Ortega, and they want Peyton to help them put the drug lord away. In Part I, Peyton looks back on the path that took her to working shifts as a waitress and living alone in a remote corner of Mississippi. We learn of her affair with a much older firefighter, who left behind a duffel bag with a dragon logo and the words “Fire Eater’ stitched in orange. The bag takes her across two countries, and as she heads west with Dan Ragsdale, her late husband’s friend, she reflects on her life with her daughter.

In her early life, Peyton works multiple jobs slinging hash and catering weddings in Biloxi, Mississippi, as her daughter Grace slips deeper into mental illness. By the time Grace turns seventeen, she discovers heroin, and when Peyton takes her over a thousand miles into the New Mexico mountains to get clean, Grace burns down a building, puts a woman’s eye out, and runs away with Ricardo Sanchez, the top lieutenant of drug king-pin Manny Ortega. When Peyton’s rancher-boyfriend is stabbed to death, Peyton discovers Sanchez’s confederate hiding in a ravine suffering two gunshot wounds delivered by the victim’s gun. She hacks off the toe of Tico Castanuj and mails it to Manny Ortega. Her bold move catches Ortega’s attention and begins a strange courtship of like-minded adversaries. That and the evidence she gathers, including a description of the car in which Sanchez does most of his “hits,”  goes a long way toward helping Lea County Sheriff Ev Lawson put Sanchez away for the crime. But when Lawson turns the evidence over to the FBI, Sanchez escapes across the border into Chihuahua. Ev and his old friend Dan Ragsdale boost the 1974 Buick out of Juarez and hide it in Ruidoso, where it sits for over seven years while Peyton and Ev Lawson marry and live out the rest of his years in Hobbs, New Mexico.

In Part II, we pick up with Peyton heading west to New Mexico with Dan Ragsdale at the wheel. Over the course of the trip, Peyton learns that Ragsdale is a hit man who hires on to spring kidnap victims. Ragsdale learns that Peyton suffers from PTSD, an ailment he knows something about from his stint in Desert Storm. It becomes clear the FBI is more than interested in regular phone conversations between Peyton Lyden and Manny Ortega. Over the seven years until Ev Lawson’s death from cancer, Manny Ortega has called Peyton to inform her of Grace’s miscarriage and the subsequent births of two grandchildren, as well as their deaths in a hot car at the hands of their strung-out mother. As she settles into her own brand of witness protection, Peyton is drawn deeper into Manny Ortega’s sphere until she finds herself striking a deal with the FBI to help Ortega turn state’s evidence on Sanchez. Peyton finds herself abandoning Los Etadios Unidos for a life in the Sonoran Mountains where she meets Ortega’s family physician, Juan Piccarro-Vasquez. But when the FBI double-crosses Ortega, giving Sanchez immunity, they simultaneously promote Sanchez to an untouchable position in the drug empire and set Grace free from prison for her testimony against Ortega, the man who delivered both her babies at his home.

In Part III, Peyton takes Grace back to Mississippi where her daughter succumbs to the worst suffering colon cancer can offer. Peyton ends Grace’s life, giving her an overdose of morphine. When the Ortega trial begins in Los Angeles, Manny’s lawyer prepares Peyton for her testimony, but there are surprises, not the least of which is an audio tape from seven years earlier in which Grace and Sanchez discuss killing Peyton for her insurance money. The state’s attorney drops the charges, but when the feds drag their feet arresting Sanchez, Peyton, afraid of making Juan and his daughter the target of Sanchez’s lieutenants, considers taking up Ragsdale’s offer to join him in his line of work.    


Long after it no longer mattered, I was told that she gave birth the first time under water. It was said that she and the man known as Ricardo Sanchez could not afford proper medical care but, in fact, Ricardo Sanchez was a man highly placed in Manny Ortega’s San Diego heroin operation and could not afford to be so close to emergency and police personnel who would easily recognize him. I discovered much later that Grace used a mid-wife in Tijuana who helped Ortega’s own wife, whom, Grace had heard, opted for a water birth, and Grace made up her mind to do the same. When the baby came, Grace sat in the birthing pool, held onto the rails, and pushed as the mid-wife told her to do. She lost her footing, and she and the baby went underwater. The baby came to life and Grace struggled for air until the mid-wife and, according to his own account, Manny Ortega himself pulled Grace out of the water calling the baby Pequeño Nadador, or “Little Swimmer.”

I had long ago stopped listening to the feds who insisted that Manny Ortega was watching me, or was obsessed with me, or somehow wanted to see me eighty-sixed because I knew the names of a few of his lieutenants. I left witness protection of my own accord and found myself slinging hash looking out the west-facing window like a spurned lover watching for a particular model truck with a particular man behind the wheel set to rescue her from her work-a-day life. I held down the swing shift, three to eleven, at Fortune’s Highway 98 Diner just outside Summit, Mississippi, and cleaned counters as the zombies ate the last of their coconut pie. And just when I thought I’d put the late crew’s fears to bed, leaving them patting their bellies and headed for their bedding, a man walked in the door.

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