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The Chicken Hanger

Ben Rehder

Publication Year: 2012

 Ricky Delgado works as a chicken hanger at the poultry plant in Rugoso, Texas, a small border town just thirty miles south of Laredo. His quiet, illegal lifestyle is disrupted when he learns that his brother Tomás has been shot and injured shortly after crossing the border. Together, Ricky and Tomás must make a decision: to risk their illegal status and seek justice, or remain silent and endure the injustices common to all “wetbacks” within the states. Meanwhile, Ricky is fighting a battle within his own body, a disease he acquired in the poultry plant, unbeknownst to everyone but the crooked manager and the company’s doctor.

The townspeople of Rugoso have long been used to Mexicans entering the states illegally. The street signs, billboards, and food labels are printed in both English and Spanish to accommodate more consumers. Even the judicial system has a growing number of authorities with Spanish last names, and Herschel Gandy is sick of it. A wealthy Rugoso ranch owner and self-appointed defender of the border, he has taken to firing warning shots at illegals crossing over on his ranch. But when he finds a bloodied backpack near the place he had been shooting, the repercussions of his cover-up game affect the entire town. 

Warren Coleman, the best border patrol agent in Rugoso, has been struggling with his conscience since allowing a trio of illegal aliens to cross one morning. One was obviously injured. After stopping a van smuggling drugs over the border, Warren shoots and kills the driver in his partner’s defense. He is immediately thrown into national spotlight for his heroism, or brutality, depending on the source. While visiting his partner in the hospital, Warren again runs into the illegal with the injured hand. Fearing the consequences of his decisions, Warren must decide between leaving Rugoso for a new start, or pursuing his growing suspicion that there is more to discover about the Mexican’s injury. 

The Chicken Hanger confronts the present-day controversy of politics and prejudice along the Texas-Mexico border. Rehder weaves between multiple perspectives and opinions of those protecting America and those hoping to become Americans, and asks whether a man’s worth is measured by his citizenship, or by the life he leads. Long-standing arguments about border control in the South and the motives of opposing sides create a suspenseful tale of one illegal immigrant’s fight for justice in the land of the free.

Published by: TCU Press

Title page

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pp. vi

Many people helped in various ways with this manuscript. I’d like to thank Becky Rehder, Helen and Ed Fanick, Jill and Emelio Rodriguez, Mary Summerall, Meredith Deutscher, David Parker, Toodie Sweeten, Jane Chelius, Mike Farris, John Barber, John...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-9

Ricky Delgado sat in the waiting room of the small medical clinic and wondered whether he smelled like chickens. It was, of course, a valid concern. Did he carry the stench of live poultry? He’d had a chance to wash his face and hands before bicycling over from the plant, but without a full shower,...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 13-20

You start with nothing. No home, no vehicle, no clothing except what you’re wearing. No clear sense of where you’re going or how you’ll get there. Like a hurricane victim, but you chose this, because it’s better than what you had before. If you’re lucky, you know somebody who knows somebody...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 21-25

Wayne Skaggs had a fish mounted on the wall behind his desk. It looked like a trophy bass on a wooden plaque, but Ricky had heard about it from some of the other workers and knew it was really a toy—a birthday gift that Wayne’s wife had given him a few months earlier. Push a button...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 26-32

Sometimes, when Herschel Gandy spoke to his father, he wished the miserable old man would just die already. Sure would make life easier. Like right now, Sam Gandy was calling from his home in Houston, saying, “Walter Sevier is giving me hell about those scouting cameras. Wants to know why...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 33-37

Warren Coleman’s wife Ellen was throwing together a casserole, since it was her night to cook and his night to do dishes. Canned chicken breast, with noodles and mushrooms and diced green peppers. The old standby. Nothing fancy, because she had papers to grade later. She taught...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 41-47

Howard Iczkowski was eighty-four years old and couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept past five in the morning. That wouldn’t be so bad, except he could never fall asleep before one o’clock the following morning. Make sense of that. A tiring cycle: sleepy all day, but he’d never developed the ability...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 48-54

Sometimes he drove up and down the bank of the river for hours at a time, patrolling. Other times he’d just park on a hill, where his white Chevy was easily visible. Every thirty minutes or so he’d stick his .45 out the window and fire a few rounds into the dirt. A warning. Letting the mojados know they’d have...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 55-61

After two hours, they called Tomás’s name, and Ricky went with him to a large room separated into smaller rooms with curtains. There, in one of those rooms, they waited again; Tomás in a bed, Ricky in a chair. Ricky could hear somebody moaning. In the room next door, a man and a woman argued...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 62-69

This waiting room also had magazines, mostly written for American women. One article revealed the secret to deeper, more satisfying orgasms. Another proclaimed that it could help you get rid of cellulite forever. It was nearly four o’clock when a nurse appeared in the doorway to the...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 73-79

Ricky had unpleasant dreams, and in the morning, his temperature was one hundred and three—the highest it had been yet. He was achy all over, and he found himself needing to cough frequently. His head was pounding, and he could feel a large ulcer forming on his tongue. He took three aspirin...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 80-86

Warren stepped into the hospital room. Looked around. Had no idea what to say. The TV was on, with the volume turned low. A Mexican soccer game. The young patient was looking at Warren—not fearful, but curious, or maybe confused. Probably thinking: This white guy ... not a doctor...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 87-94

The wetback’s phone rang while Herschel and Clayton were repairing holes in the eight-foot deer-proof fence on the southern property line. The high fences surrounding Gandy’s ranch were designed to keep his superior deer on the ranch while keeping inferior deer off the ranch. It was...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 95-100

Warren Coleman was parked on the shoulder roughly one mile north of where he and Danny had set up on Wednesday morning. The difference this time? He was in his own vehicle, a blue Chevy truck, and he could see the open gate to the ranch Tomás Delgado and his fellow travelers had...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 101-104

Fifty yards later, she came around a line of trees, and sure enough, a trailer park came into view. Six dilapidated mobile homes sat on either side, their noses toward the road. The light was weak back here—just bare bulbs weakly illuminating front porches. There were only a few cars, and they...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 107-113

Howard’s friend, the lawyer named Peter Wynn, had a very nice office. The waiting room featured a leather couch beneath an oil painting of a deer with many antlers. There were two matching chairs on the other side of a glass-topped coffee table. All of the furniture rested on a rug that appeared...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 114-120

Warren couldn’t remember the last time he’d watched a University of Texas game, because he’d always been out in the field on Saturdays. When he went back to Hebbronville, he’d have a more regular schedule. Weekends off. Nights, too, because that’s what he’d told Ray Ortega. Not asked, told. No evening...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 121-125

When they broke for lunch and a cold beer, Herschel was still fuming about the coffee creamer. What was the point of speaking to a man named Benavides? As futile as talking to a congressman named Hernandez or a district attorney named Cortez. Waste of breath. And frustrating. Scary thing...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 129-134

I'm nothing but an old Polack,” Howard said. “My granddaddy was born in Warsaw in 1887. Factory worker. He came over in 1910, through Ellis Island, like everybody else. Millions of them, coming from damn near every country you can name. Funny thing about that island. Did you know it’s...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 135-139

Herschel thought it still seemed unreal, like when you wake up to the lingering remnants of a disturbing dream. For those first few seconds, you’re still in panic mode, thinking you’re really falling, or you’re naked in public, or you went ahead and married that bitchy ex-girlfriend. But in your...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 143-149

He nodded, but didn’t respond for several seconds. Then he said, “Okay. All right.” He sat down at his desk. “Look. At first, when Wayne Skaggs called me yesterday, I have to admit, I was pretty angry. But I’ve had a chance to think about it, and I’ve cooled off. In fact, I want to thank you. Because you were...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 150-154

A n hour later, as they walked out of the sheriff ’s office, then across the parking lot toward Peter Wynn’s Mercedes, Ricky kept waiting for this ridiculous charade to come to an end. Surely the sheriff had alerted la migra and the federal agents would show up at any moment. Perhaps they...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 155-158

Warren was driving and talking on his cell. Or listening, mostly. “Yeah, he was pretty upset,” Ellen was saying. “I could see it in his face. But he said he understood. I think he was afraid you might come down here and kick his ass if he caused any trouble. It’s funny some of the things...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 161-165

Wayne Skaggs pulled into the parking lot of a crummy little diner on the outskirts of Rugoso. He locked his SUV and walked inside, carrying a brown paper sack. Not a big sack or a small sack, just a medium sack. The kind of sack that could comfortably accommodate five thousand dollars in...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 166-170

The real estate agent—mid-forties, wearing too much makeup and a pants suit—was stretching it. The “veranda” was nothing but a concrete patio, and— because the backyard was treeless—the patio would be only slightly cooler than the inside of a kiln when summertime rolled around....

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Chapter 25

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pp. 171-179

Brent Nielsen hoped Herschel Gandy would now comprehend the full stupidity of his actions. The shooting was being investigated, and the victim had filed a lawsuit. Deep down, Nielsen couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of satisfaction....

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Chapter 26

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pp. 183-189

Maybe it was because Ellen spent all of her time on her feet, burning energy at the front of a classroom, or because she’d always had a light appetite, or maybe she simply had a high metabolism, but she still had the same lean, trim figure she’d had twenty years earlier when they’d started dating....

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Chapter 27

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pp. 190-198

Herschel Gandy was not a big man. He was perhaps an inch taller than Ricky, and slender, with soft features and an unshaven jaw. Both of his eyes, Ricky noticed, were blackened, and his lower lip was swollen. He wore starched jeans, a cowboy-style shirt, alligator-hide boots, and a straw Stetson on...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 199-204

The television mounted on the wall was tuned to a Mexican telenovela, and many of the people in the room—almost all of them Hispanic—were watching it. Or maybe it simply gave them someplace to look while they awaited word of a loved one....

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Chapter 29

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pp. 205-210

Lindeman said, “The good thing is, that dog gave me an idea. With all the rain on Sunday, we’re having a hell of a time figuring where you dug with that Bobcat. But they got dogs specially trained to find a body. A foot deep, six feet deep, it don’t matter. If it’s down there, they’ll find it. Just a matter of time. We...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 213-218

Groggy, but he knew where he was. He remembered what had happened, to a point. Leaving the office building. Waiting at the curb. Herschel Gandy approaching with a gun. Aiming it. Ricky recalled an overwhelming sense of despair and futility. Intense pain in his shoulder and chest. The shrill...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 221-222

For six weeks now, he’d been working as a cook at the Tastee Nuggets in Rugoso. He had been conducting himself as a model employee, and his boss had already hinted that Ricky would be a candidate for the next assistant manager position that opened up. The restaurant job was a vacation compared to...

About The Author

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pp. 223

E-ISBN-13: 9780875654959
E-ISBN-10: 0875654959
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875654362

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012