Highwater, Texas, Population: 455 is an anthology of short tales set in Highwater Texas. The first, “Highwater”, finds Elizabeth Walker, candidate for Justice of the Peace, in Buddy’s Cafe sitting at the round table reserved for Bonham County’s elected officials, all men, and other prominent citizens, also men. Elizabeth wouldn’t have been sitting with these august citizens, since no woman had ever been allowed to join the men at Highwater’s 10:00 coffee hour, except Buddy had invited her. Since Buddy owns the cafe he is entitled to invite whomever he wants. The subject is Eliabeth’s suitability for the job of Justice of the Peace, whether poking at dead bodies is something a lady ought to do. Of course, Highwater hasn’t had an unnatural homicide since Nadine Hatcher caught her husband in bed with the hired girl and ventilated his hide with a 12 gauge shotgun. Ed Hays figures the jury should have found Nadine not guilty since her husband’s death was the natural consequence of his own sinning. Of course, Ed was sensitive about infidelity since his wife Jenny ran off the Pro-Seed salesman ten years ago. Which brings up an interesting point. Why hasn’t Ed divorced Jenny and vice versa? Why would Ed, who never gave away a nickel if he could help it, gamble that Jenny would never turn up to claim half his ranch? It’s a puzzle and Elizabeth can never leave a puzzle alone.
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“The Subject of Prosperity” – It’s amazing how often the citizens Highwater, or at least those in charge of local government, still believe whatever they are told, even when their gullibility has led to disappointment in the past. For example, the sham recording studio that free rent for five years on an empty building downtown. The sheriff found out just in time that the firm planning on pirating videos and selling them to China. While the men of Highwater hope for the prosperity a TV series filmed in town would bring, Elizabeth Walker, soon to be Highwater’s first and only elected official, is more interested in reality. Why has Mavis Palmer, Jake Palmer’s first wife who abandoned him and their baby son fifteen years ago, suddenly reappeared in Highwater willing to pay the town ten thousand dollars for the right to negotiate with the film company? Elizabeth would bet her ranch that the film company never heard of Highwater. So the question became what does Mavis Palmer really want.
“A Womans Place” – Highwater, Texas, pop. 455, is still getting used to its first female elected offical. When the town elected Elizabeth Walker as Justice of the Peace, they expected that she would let the sheriff do the heavy lifting just as the former (and senile) JP had done. The county commissioners assigned her the duty of checking with county employees on whether they wanted to increase, decrease, or cancel their county insurance, just so she would have something useful to do besides getting in the way of other elected (male) officials and maybe causing trouble. Elizabeth was incensed at the commissioners’ attitude, but it wasn’t like there was much JP work to be done, just trying to talk David Campbell into paying his overdue bill at Highwater Grocery before it’s owner sued him. David claims that the Lord will provide and Butch will have to wait for his money, and by the way, he wanted to up his county life insurance from $10,000 to $100,000. Given that David couldn’t support his wife and five kids on his present salary as county treasurer, how did he expect to do so after the new premiums were deducted? Besides, Highwater voters were gong to vote him out of office come next election and his insurance policy would be automatically cancelled. No one trusts a county treasurer who goes into debt buying lottery tickets. He might just dip into county funds to pay his gambling debts. According to David, the Lord would provide. Elizabeth figures the Lord is as tired of David Campbell’s taking advantage as the rest of Highwater is, so when David Campbell ends up dead, no one is surprised. Highwater believes David’s own stupidity and poor judgement killed him. Elizabeth is not so sure.
“Dearly Beloved” – Highwater, Texas, population 455, dozes in the shade of its own history. It isn’t that time stops in Highwater, as much as it slows way down by several decades. That’s why Elizabeth Walker is such an anomaly. She is the first female elected official in Highwater’s history, and the county commissioners (all male) aren’t quite sure how to handle her. As Justice of the Peace Elizabeth is in charge of a dead body until she determines the cause of death. As a woman Elizabeth believes she has a more acute sense of when something is not quite right than her male elected officials do. That’s why she is uneasy over the absence of the elderly Carruthers from church when the couple hasn’t missed a Sunday in over fifty years. And why is the sheriff trying to persuade her that she imagining things?