Apr 8th, 2006 - 14:14:19
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Banjo Lane: Chapter One
How Scary Larry Became a Cook and a Farmer and How Hayes Learned about Work.
It had been a productive Tuesday. Hayes had managed to acquire a foodstamps debit card. In addition, he had collected a free food box. Most importantly, he had managed to convince the phone company that he was Cletus and to turn on the telephone at 1234 Banjo Lane and send the bill to his overseas address.
This, of course, would alert Cletus that his house was occupied but it wasn't like he could drop everything and rush home. Hayes never planned too far ahead anyway.
Hayes had taken straight driving seriously and affected one of Cletus' old man hats while driving his old man car. He chuckled at his cleverness. He had gone to several drug stores and paid money for cold capsules. All merchants keep them behind the counter now so shoplifting wasn't an option.
Scary Larry needed the ephedrin in the pills in order to cook meth, and all the clerks were paying attention to who was buying cold pills in more than occasional purchases. The only way to do it was to make the rounds and buy a package of the stuff every week or so from each retail outlet.
Also Hayes had made a semi-conscious decision not to meet with Linda K, his Parole Officer. Linda didn't know where he was living and in his mind, it was as if that were never going to change. There was no way that the law would ever find him living in his father's house at the end of the road or cruising around in Dad's straight arrow Buick. He had also sweet-talked Brandy's new phone number out of her mother. Hayes was very good at being charming when it benefited him.
The numismatic shop in Eugene had given him folding money for Cletus' Ben Franklin half dollars and other silver coins in Hayes' baby cup. Money was a problem. Money was always a problem but it wasn't going to be this coming September when he harvested his crop. The Buick didn't smell so good after Larry's half-hearted attempt at cleaning the sour wine out of the interior. It was still as low profile as ever though and smoking cigarettes helped reduce the smell. Hayes turned onto Banjo Lane keeping an eye out for the hot blonde who lived on the corner. Dee Dee was no where in sight but hubby Ken was getting out of his 12 cylinder BMW and made a mental note of the license plate of Cletus' car.
Ken McCally was 65 and California wealthy. He was unaccustomed to lowering standards and reducing expectations. He didn't have to. This was his fourth marriage and he was closely monitoring his current wife. Dee Dee turned heads in a little black dress and could even still pull off a white thong over a dark tan poolside, but time was closing the gap.
Deirdre's good looks were not entirely artificial but they were at their absolute apex. She had gotten to the point where she enjoyed working out and even running to the end of Banjo Lane and back three times first thing every morning. She never ate seconds and rarely dessert. Looking good was her profession and they both knew it.
She now needed her eight hours beauty sleep every night. She was spending more time at hair salons and nail boutiques to draw attention to her extremities. There was no frumpy underwear in her walk in closets. Dee Dee couldn't indulge in more than a token glass of wine or snort of coke without paying the piper the next morning. Should she make the choice to party like she wanted to and sleep in rather than run her six miles at dawn, her days in the House of Ken would be numbered. Ken was experienced at protecting his assets. Should Deirdre decide to chunk out, then they would have to do lawyers and while she might make him bleed for a year or two, in the end she would be out of his life and cash flow, her credit cards canceled, staring a hated real job in the face.
He would make sure Number Five was half his age or less. He could afford it. His favorite line from Gone With the Wind was Rhett Butler declaring: "Money may not buy happiness but it will buy some of the most remarkable substitutes."
Kenneth A. McCally thumbed through the bills as he watched the red Buick round the corner and then turned and walked up the embedded flagstones to his trophy house and wife.
Hayes lifted the receiver on the telephone. Sure enough, it worked. He dialed Brandy's number and it rang, rang, rang. Oh well, he would try again later.The weather was cold and sunny. Scary Larry was right in that it was time to work up the plots for the marijuana plantation this spring. Larry was full of shit about a lot of things, but he just may have grown some dope in the past.
He wandered out to the barn. The bus was backed indoors now with the driver's side a couple feet from the disused horse stalls so as to leave access. You could close the sliding door of the old barn and have ample room to walk in front of and behind the heavy bumpers.
Larry had a little meth still cooking on the old workbench across the back wall behind the rusty Bluebird. Hayes banged on the side of the bus.
"Hey Dawg, Rise and shine. Let's do it."
"I'm up bro."
Larry had been crashed out on his moldy mattress after several days of tweaking on his home brewed meth. He felt pretty good after 12 hours of sleep.
He sat on the bottom step of his bus and pulled on dirty socks and his old biker boots with the buckles on the sides. The bus roof was low enough that Larry could not stand upright inside. He stretched expansively on the barn floor and yawned, rolled a smoke and farted as he lit it. He stepped to the barn door and urinated in the mud.
"That's better. What've we got for gardening tools, bro?"
Manual labor was something that Hayes had avoided all of his adult life. He had tried tree planting for a day once as big brother Zach did it and it seemed to pay well.
"We got all kinds of stuff like that in this little room here." Hayes moved to the old tack room and opened the Z braced door. There was no electricity in the barn so he had to feel through the cobwebbed darkness for the stack of rusty shovels in the corner. He handed out implements to Larry who segregated the whole from the broken and stacked both categories on the outside wall of the little plank room. Hayes' hand closed around a wooden handle that was in the very corner of the tack room, long covered by a layer of splintered cultivating forks and the like. Out came a strange looking tool, a heavy hoe with a four foot handle or better that had clearly been hand carved, probably out of Oregon ash. Larry whistled and held the heavy digging tool up to the light.
The iron head of the hoe looked different than anything similar you could buy today. It had been hand forged by the old sergeant's firstborn son, a functional blacksmith. The hoe head had survived the fire that destroyed the original barn on the place and somebody had made it a new handle out of a straight hardwood limb with a spokeshave. The old wood was worn smooth by long dead hands and had the grip and heft of a pick only longer.
"Just the ticket for scalping where we're gunna plant, bro." He admired the balance of the tool like it was a fine hunting rifle. "The first thing we need to do is make our approach into the field where we're gunna grow. From now on, nobody ever walks through the gate. That's the first place the pigs will check from the air. We can walk through the barn here to the fenceline out back and move as close as you can along the wire. Then, we'll cut a hole in the old over grown fence, right at the corner, and make tunnels through the brush like the gooks did back in The Nam."
Hayes was fairly certain that Scary Larry had never been to Nam. His bullshit wore many hats. Still, it didn't cost anything to act like he believed him. Whatever his experience with "gooks," Larry's concept made sense. A major trail through the old gate into the back field would show up graphically from the air. You'd be able to see the trails through the summer grass to each pot plant. The brush was thick enough along the old fence line that if you were willing to regularly crawl on your hands and knees, you could leave no trace visible from the air.
This was starting to sound like work. Still, it would be money under the table that the government couldn't steal from him in back child support. "You right, Dawg," Hayes agreed. I know there's a fence pliers and some rose clippers somewhere. There are plenty of gloves on the work bench."
An hour later, they had breached the fence at the corner and were carefully snipping a narrow tunnel through the scotch broom and blackberry vines. the ground was soggy and their knees got wet and muddy but the brush itself was almost dry. Larry insisted on removing every piece of cut vegetation in its entirety and piling it at the entrance of the tunnel. They would burn it later or haul it away in the truck and dump it on BLM land next door.
Larry remained incredibly focused for a tweaker and his example wore off on Hayes. He worked under the bikeless biker's tutelage and they made a good ten meters of tunnel before they decided they had enough for the day.They stood at the mouth of the tunnel and Scary Larry swiftly rolled a pair of flawless cigarettes as they surveyed their progress.
"This old apple tree will cover the entrance to our tunnel when it leafs out." Larry scratched a kitchen match on the seat of his pants and let it flare before lighting their smokes. "I think we should hang a hammock here in the spring so if the pigs notice a lot of foot traffic coming back to this corner, they'll see a reason for it."
Hayes was starting to use his head on the project. He had had some vague notion of just planting some good weed and trusting to luck that the pigs wouldn't spot it. "I think we could weave some berry vines into the piece of fence wire and close it like a door when we're not using the tunnel."
Larry nodded. Blood dripped off the end of his big nose where a blackberry vine bit him. "That is a most excellent idea, bro. You're thinking like a gook now."
The sun was going behind the BLM timber and it got cold fast. The two pot growers went back inside the barn where Larry examined his still on the workbench and got an arm load of dirty clothes out of his bus. "I wanna use the washer and drier and take a shower, bro."
"You don't gotta ask, Dawg."
They tracked mud into the house through the back door. Glass still crunched under foot from Hayes' break in a week ago. Somebody really needed to fix the broken window.
An hour later, Larry was standing by the woodstove drying his freshly laundered beard. He looked like a Lil' Abner character in Cletus' old Ben Davis pants. The legs were too short, the waist too big around and they were held up by suspenders. You could see the HD tatoo on his bare chest through the gray hair. Hayes was in the kitchen emptying cans in a sauce pan. "I wonder what okra and creamed corn taste like."
"Sounds good to me, bro. You up to smoking some bud and powder?"
"Hold that thought Dawg, I'm gunna try calling Brandy again. If I can get her to come out here, she'll do anything for a good buzz of the demon snuff."
Brandy was a professional welfare recipient since she turned 17. She lived in a state subsidized apartment complex with her three children by different fathers and learned to work all the angles of the system.
She was still a good looking woman in her mid 20s with big brown eyes and long black hair. She used enough meth so that she was a chic ten to fifteen pounds underweight but it had not yet destroyed her looks. Her small breasts rode high and she still had her teeth.
Her life moved to the rhythm of external forces. CSD threatening to take her children. Eviction from Section 8 housing because of her latest stud reported as living there with her. Busted for shoplifting. Drug overdose. Power turned off. Phone turned off. Amateur prositution--sex for drugs with children in the next room. YOU ARE A DEADBEAT letters. Sick children. A brief trickle of money at the beginning of the month and then three weeks of utter penury. Month after month after year. It never ocurred to her that life could be any other way.
"Hey Gorgeous Girl, this is Hayes. I'm out of jail."
"Why should I care?" They both knew this was just an act and that Brandy would always come groveling back to Hayes for more abuse.
"Who loves you, Babe? I worry about you and the kids."
"You do not. You wouldn't hit me if you really cared."
"Hey, you hit me first." This was true. Hayes was always able to subtly provoke Brandy into hitting him first. The long suffering Springfield police were not interested in investing time sorting out domestic disputes and generally hauled the male half of the problem away in the back of a prowl car.
Nobody in Brandy's circle held a job. Most of her friends and acquaintances had no work experience and could only hope to land the most menial sort of bottom rung occupation and stay there--providing the company didn't do urinalysis. They had started doing major drugs in high school and never graduated and had lost any motivation they might have had except for the next score.
It is possible to make just as much money collecting public assistance as working a deadend McJob--and every day is Saturday. Not even military recruiters would afford a ticket out of this backwater of ambitionless second, and even third generation welfare recipients. Today's modern volunteer green machine doesn't want professional couch potatoes. No losers content to pass their days smoking dope and watching Captain Kangaroo on worn out televisions while waiting for meager electronic welfare "checks" at regular intervals.
Generic cigarettes on "payday," jailhouse smokes the rest of the month. Cheap, powerful meth that gets stronger every year and forty ounce bottles of liquid crack. These are the "stuck on pause" generations.
Most conversations with her cohorts revolved around how wasted they had gotten the night before or who was screwing who,who's welfare money had been electronically withheld and who had stolen what from where.
"Come on out to the house, Sweet Thing. We got what you need here."
"Who is 'we?'" Brandy demanded.
"My main man, Larry, is living in his bus in the barn. He's a short order cook."
Hayes was a flawless judge of human character. He was especially adept at playing the female psyche like a Stradivarius. He could make almost any woman do what he wanted her to if he could keep her talking long enough. He was a master of manipulation. He could cause most women do his will and think it was their idea. Admittedly, Brandy wasn't much of a challenge.
The suggestion that methamphetamine was available at the little Loveless house at the end of Banjo Lane was all it took to get her rear in gear. She was a methwhore, first and foremost.
Then, too, she viewed Hayes as a success. At least as successful as anyone ever was in her life's sphere. While he didn't waste his days working a job, he had a roof over his head and always some sort of drugs in the house. If he needed a ride, he boosted a car. He stole as much as he needed to get by and a little more for gracious living. He didn't mind children. In fact, it even seemed that he liked them at times. This was possibly due to young children taking him at face value and not looking too hard behind the facade that he presented.
Brandy didn't have a lot of options in her life as far as men went. Not many doctors, lawyers or Indian chiefs were interested in a long term relationship with a young woman who liked to shoot meth when she could get it, with three unruly children, living in a dive apartment. In her world, a small time to medium size drug dealer was a catch indeed.
Television was Brandy's distorted little window to the outside world. She didn't care about world news or current events but devoured the network pap of beautiful people with dynamic lives in fine, sparkling homes and driving new cars with gold tipped exhaust pipes. If the deck had been stacked differently, that would be her with big tits and a perfect smile armed with credit cards that never maxed out. There would be no problems in her life that couldn't be resolved in an hour minus commercials. Jealous men without tattoos would compete for her attention.
She had been having a carnal little affair with Raul, the local dealer in her neighborhood. It hadn't lasted as Raul liked to sleep in and the kids liked to get up early, whammo heavily sugared cereal, and bounce off the thin walls.
He would keep Brandy shot up on meth and she would be his as long as he wanted. He would leave in the afternoon to sell his wares and return to her squalid apartment in the early morning. He even paid the electric bill when the power was cut off. It wasn't the most satisfying relationship, but it was much better than nothing.
Brandy wanted to be taken care of. Her parents had divorced when she was a child and she had been passed around between relatives and foster homes. Her mother wanted to party unencumbered and her father left no forwarding address. Skinny little Brandy shuffled from home to home with her clothes and few possessions dumped in a couple of garbage bags.
She would feel attachment to her latest ersatz family and then she would become inconvenient and it was time to be relocated. Some times she would be molested in her new environment. Sometimes beaten. Sometimes both. Occasionally neither. She reached the point where she would accept sex as love sort of like food stamps equal money.
At 16, Brandy was at the crossroads of her young life. She could have taken a number of trajectories that might have achieved escape velocity from her existence up to this point. She occupied space at school sometimes. She wasn't stupid and even got high marks on subjects she found interesting.
She traded sex for drugs and not too surprisingly wound up pregnant. It was certainly possible for her to have had an abortion but she did not do so. It was more a case of the path of least resistance than any conscious decision on her part. Maybe a child would love her.
Brandy found herself with a full time career of jumping through hoops with low level bureaucrats who control the valves of public assistance money. There is no such thing as true or false in this world. There is only correct and incorrect responses. It was clear even to her that she was damaged goods as far as marrying an upwardly mobile man with a profession, or even a chump with a job.
Mom got old and fat at forty-five and fetched up in a run down trailer park on the outskirts of Eugene. She was willing to be part of Brandy's life again and even gave the children a sense of family.
Brandy called her mom's number and left her a message to come get the kids. She broke out the bottle of raspberry flavored, vodka reinforced cough syrup and gave her three children a double dose of the stuff with a table spoon out of the kitchen sink.
Billy, Pamela and Jacob knew what was up as Brandy stealthily gathered her coat and purse and tried to disappear out the door while they sat watching Dukes of Hazzard on the old TV. The children ran crying after their mother as she slammed the door and locked the deadbolt in their faces. She stood outside in the wet darkness waiting for their wailing to subside as they went back to watching '67 Dodge Chargers flying 200 meters through the air. The high performance Robatussin took effect and the kids sat down and dimmed out. Hopefully Gramma would check the answering machine sometime tonight.
Brandy walked down the concrete stairs to the big parking lot to her 20 year old Honda Civic. A tire had gone flat last week and it had the tiny "for temporary use only" spare on the driver's front. The turn signals didn't work and the windshield was cracked but it had a stick shift so you could almost always start it with a little help. Brandy could usually recruit help pushing the car without much effort.
Tonight the beat up little car started electrically. The hole in the muffler wasn't getting any smaller and burning oil fumes came through the back window that wouldn't shut all the way. The gas gauge needle was past E but it would flicker when the car cornered so there might be enough to make it to Banjo Lane.
There were dozens of bottles and cans on the back seat floor. Brandy stopped at the Dairy Mart and with the 35 cents in her pocket was able to trade the stale beer containers for a pack of generic cigarettes. The woman-oriented-woman cashier admired the tattoos above the belt of her low riders as she flounced through the glass door. The clerk's eye shifted to the child seats visible in the back of the Civic.
Brandy eased her Honda up to speed on her way out of town. Once rolling along, the car didn't make so much noise and as long as you didn't have to change lanes, it was possible to avoid official attention. Brandy had been stopped at night a while back by a Eugene cop. Fortunately, he was willing to ignore her many vehicular shortcomings for sex. The Eugene PD had cleaned house since then and she might not be so lucky next time.
The faded Honda made the short dash south to Cottage Grove in the wet darkness. Brandy lit the first cigarette out of her fresh pack as the Civic wobbled down the freeway on its mismatched tires. The car was so wretched that the Lane County Sheriff's Department had declined to impound it last month when a traffic stop revealed that Brandy had no automobile insurance.
The county wanted vehicles that could be held hostage for a couple thousand dollars and everybody involved knew that Brandy would just walk away from this heap and they would be stuck with it. She idled through the Grove as quietly as possible, catching most of the lights just right. on the far side of town she opened the throttle and the little motor sounded big through the ruined muffler.
Brandy had been to the Loveless house many times before. Hayes always lived there when he was out of jail and Cletus was out of the country. Somebody had stolen the BANJO LN sign again and she almost missed the turn off. For some reason, people liked to steal the sign and it took the county longer and longer to get around to replacing it each time due to cut backs in the Department of Public Works. There was a new monster mansion on the corner that added to her confusion. It was all lit up and somebody stepped out on the porch as she downshifted and threw the car into the turn at the last second when she decided that this really was Banjo Lane despite the missing sign and new house.
"Kenny, did you call the realtor about buying the dump at the end of the road?"
"I did, Dee. Kathy said she'd look into it. She knows the house. The Seautons next door to it have wanted to buy the place ever since they had their home built. It belongs to a man who works for Haliburton overseas a lot. His deadbeat son and his dope buddies occupy the place when he's out of jail.
"She says it goes in cycles. Eventually the police will come and bust everybody and things will quiet down again. The old man has never wanted to sell in the past. She says our lot was part of the original spread belonging to the house at the end of the road."
"Another junky car just went blasting up the road. I want that shack torn down. There is entirely too much riff raff going by our house since people started living there."
"Yes Dear. Isn't it time for you to do your situps?"
Brandy's old car shuddered and sputtered and ran out of gas. She was able to coast past the Seautons' driveway and pull far enough into the ditch so the car wasn't a problem. There wasn't usually much traffic at the end of Banjo Lane anyway. The lights were on in the Loveless house and she could hear death metal thumping on the stereo and smell chimney smoke.
She snapped off the headlights, left the key in the ignition and stood for a minute and enjoyed the darkness and fresh country smells of the foggy night. She would like to move out of town some day. The lights and car alarms and constant yelling in the low income housing complexes where she had to live made her unhappy. It would be nice to plant daffodils in flower beds and share a roof with a man who tolerated her children and paid the bills.
The Honda was canted into the ditch enough so that the driver's window rattled when Brandy collected her purse and coat and let gravity shut the door. Thunk. An owl hooted in the darkness not so far away. One shoe had a crack in the sole and her foot got damp on the short walk to the front porch of 1234 Banjo Lane.
Megadeath stopped on the old stereo and Hayes opened the front door.
"There you are, Beautiful!" I was starting to wonder. Saw car lights and figured it must be you."
Brandy had mixed feelings about seeing Hayes again. He could and did shift from kind and loving to cold and mean in a heartbeat. On some level she knew that cold and mean was his true color and that anything else was just a cheap latex paint job on top of that. Still, Hayes was a consummate actor. Nobody knew the true Hayes--possibly not even himself.
It was a relief to be away from her fighting, squalling brood. It was a relief to be off the road with her horrible old car. It was so decrepit that arriving at any destination was hardly a given any more. Hayes would supply her with gasoline. He might even steal her some new tires off another Honda. He had done that before. He would take care of her. It might not be much, but it would be a heap more than anybody else would bother. He would be warm and loving and attentive for a while. When Brandy whined or became too needy, he would become distant and evasive and would start setting her up so she would hit him so he could return unto her blows manifold.
Brandy sighed to herself and stepped up on the rotting stoop. Air bubbled audibly through the wet crack in her shoe sole. Hayes took a step forward and hugged her, sliding his hands down her ectomorphic ass. He stood on his toes to kiss her as she was an inch or two taller than he.
"Missed ya, Babe. We gunna lay some pipe tonight." His hands returned to the bare skin above her belt. "Jeez, Honeychile, you're cold. Come in by the stove. We got a fine fire going." He took her hand and led her through the door.
Scary Larry was entertaining himself by stringing together electrical cords in the living room of the little house. He was sitting cross legged on the floor wearing a black Harley Davidson sweatshirt with his Dogpatch pants and was systematically untangling a huge Gordian knot of orange and yellow extension cords removed from the below deck cargo hold of his bus. When he freed one, he would connect it to his growing string, taping the connection and covering the join with bread bag plastic and electrician tape that Cletus had left on the back porch. His plan was to run power out of a window to a handy tree, and then down the old fence line common with the Seautons to the barn so he could watch his porno tapes and have a light bulb in his old bus.
"Larry, this is Brandy, the light of my life--Brandy, this is Scary Larry, my main man. We're gunna grow a million dollar's worth of fine bud this summer."
Scary Larry put aside his extension cords and rose to his feet. "Hi Brandy, Heard good things about you."
The house was destroyed. Mud was tracked everywhere and the kitchen sink heaped with dirty dishes. A funny smell emanated from the range as Larry was simmering a saucepan of iodine solution to evaporate all the useless tare so he could use the concentrated iodine crystals in his meth cooking. A damp draft came through the broken pane in the back door. A dismantled television took up space on the living room floor and rifled boxes of mostly paper were scattered carelessly. Everywhere.
Brandy stood with her back to the woodstove. The heavy iron radiated a generous heat that she never experienced in Section 8 housing. If you turned on the heat, the electric bill would balloon to unmanageable proportions and then the power would be shut off. It must be nice to be able to go out and rustle any old form of wood and warm the house like this. Hayes handed her the Mickey Mouse tumbler filled with icy cold Olde English. He had chilled a forty in the ice choked fridge freezer until the 8% malt liquor had nearly frozen. Brandy didn't really like tweaker brew but she disliked reality more and the world was a better place drunk or stoned. There was slush in the top of the glass.
"So what's new with you, Good Looking?"
What was new with her? She had moved to a different same apartment complex to get away from Hayes. The three children had developed a taste for alcohol. They would take any unguarded beer from table or floor and start drinking or run after glasses of cheap whiskey to dip their fingers in it and suck them dry. Brandy knew this wasn't a good thing but it did keep them quiet.
Hayes didn't need to hear about Raul. Her car was falling apart and she really needed a new one. Her car. A safe topic if she didn't whine about it. "Hayes, Honey, my car ran out of gas in front of your neighbor's big house. I hope they don't mind. It's not in the way or anything."
"Oh, yeah? Right next door? Probably they won't mind. A cuppla homosexuals from Gay Bay in Cal. Both queer as football bats. The alpha fag told Dad they wanted to buy the place here. Pissed him off. He said it's because they don't want to have to look at white trash up close."
Scary Larry opened an old round cookie can with a Santa embossed on the lid. The bottom of the tin was covered with an inch of Top tobacco and little packets of rolling papers. A blackened glass smoking pipe rested on the carpet of tobacco. He started rolling perfectly cylindrical smokes.
Brandy saw what he was doing and retrieved the pack of generic filters from her purse. "Well lookee here!" said Hayes. "Storebought smokes. Share the wealth, Babe."
Larry set down his completed hand rolled and accepted a tailor made from Brandy. Cigarettes just kept getting more and more expensive. The price of a carton of coffin nails would afford a top quality drug high of your choice.
Brandy flicked her bic and they all lit up. It was refreshing to draw on a factory cig. No matter how well you could roll your own, they never drew as well as a name brand American cigarette. Generics were almost as good. Some people said that the big companies put gunpowder or something in their tobacco to make sure their cigarettes burned smoothly and didn't go out. A generic cigarette and a glass of icy Olde English 800. One of life's little pleasures.
"I had just enough money for a pack of butts, Hayes. I could have bought gasoline but I hadn't had a real smoke in sooo long."
"I completely understand," Hayes nodded. "You're pretty much stuck buying cigarettes. Gasoline you can get anywhere."
Larry blew smoke rings. "We'll move the car tomorrow. We don't want to annoy the neighbors while we are trying to maintain a low profile this summer." He arose and walked to the kitchen to check the level of his iodine.
Hayes and Brandy "enjoyed" a cyclic sort of relationship. It always started out exciting with plenty of sex. Hayes would make money materialize from somewhere and they would go places and do things. They went all the way to the coast once and broke into a family cabin for a few nights at the beach. Then Brandy would have to devote time to her children which was a full time job. Hayes would openly "lay pipe" with other women and looked at her dully when she remonstrated about it.
If she started drifting too far out of orbit, Hayes would entice her with just enough meth and sex to keep her coming back. After all, she was burdened with three children and couldn't realistically hope to attract anything better than Hayes.
Hayes usually had multiple methwhores circling around him like a small swarm of flies. He liked it fine that way and made each one feel special and that when he was through playing the field, it would be just she and Hayes.
Brandy would eventually forget Hayes' cardinal rule of "no whining" and then he would bait her into smacking him and then he would beat her good. Sometimes the police would become involved and sometimes not. Brandy would go away and sulk for a few months or Hayes would go to jail for the same and then they would start another hand of the circle game. Brandy always repeated the same actions sincerely expecting a different result THIS time. This time it was going to be just like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seatle.
"Jeez, Baby Doll, you stink. You been tweaking?"
That was true enough. Brandy had been wired up on the last of the meth Raul had left her and had been up for two days before she finally crashed. She just hadn't gotten around to showering today with kids running wild all over the place. She was somewhat ashamed. "Yeah."
"Well, jump in the shower. I'll throw what you're wearing in with Scary Larry's duds. He was fixing to do a load. You can wear Dad's bathrobe. I'll scrub your back and then we can lay some pipe."
Brandy loved having decisions made for her. She stepped into the scuzzy bathroom and turned on the shower's hot water. She hoped Mom had checked her phone messages.
The house at the end of Banjo Lane was a cozy retreat from the hardscrabble grind of daily reality. The electric bill was paid automatically like magic and there were no landlords hovering on the door step at the end of the month. Brandy hated having to keep the children quiet while pretending nobody was home until the rent collector got bored and went away.
The out of pocket rent for her nearly new Section 8 apartment was only fifty dollars a month but sometimes drug needs or food for the kids got in the way. There was even a free telephone here.
Hayes certainly had it together. Every year or so his old man would come home and displace his comfortable lifestyle but sooner or later, Dad would go away and life would instantly revert back to normal. Cletus even quit changing the locks as it did no good.
You could always scrounge firewood for the stove in winter. Hayes' brother used to take his fire fighting pulaski and hike into the BLM woods on the other side of the derelict fence and find a fir tree that had died from light suppression. Zach would pick one that he thought he could pack and drop it with powerful blows with the axe end of his tool, trim the limbs and then heave it up on his shoulder. He would stagger home, bent under a thirty foot pole, axe in one hand. When he arrived behind the house, he would shrug the log onto the ground with a thud and breathe heavily for a minute. Then he would fetch the balky old chainsaw from the barn. After starting the saw in a cloud of smoke, Zach would buck the log into rounds and stack the wood on the back porch. There was no way that Hayes would stoop to that kind of Man-well labor.
There was a supply of seasoned lumber in the barn and Hayes would tote in a few dry 2 x 4s at a time and cut them up with Dad's electric chop saw on the back porch. He would leave the electric heaters on too. Dad was going to get a pumped up electric bill statement sooner or later in Iraq, and then he would know that Hayes was out of jail.
Brandy looked like a stick wrapped in a gunny sack in Cletus' bath robe. She was brushing her long black hair over her face as she dried it by the wood stove. Her narrow feet swam in a pair of mules that might have belonged to Hayes' mother.
Larry loaded one of the last big pieces of seasoned oak and jiggled the stove door behind it until it latched. The temperature had dropped and an icy rain was falling Hayes reported, returned from pissing off the front porch.
Finally satisfied that her hair was nearly dry, Brandy brought it over her left shoulder and brushed it some more before securing it into a pony tail with a leather tie. Her hair was very black and straight and the ends turned up slightly.
"We should smoke up the last of the crank." Larry decided. "I need some more cold caps to brew up another ounce. But I do have enough here to get us wired."
He brought out the glass pipe from the Santa can and loaded it with white powder from his big wallet on a chain. Brandy reflected as she accepted the pipe: Hayes had his very own meth cook right on the premises. It was obvious that she was probably going to have to put out to Scary Larry in order to keep the pipeline open. But she was a methwhore and that's what methwhores do. She would worry about the dynamics of this situation later.
Hayes applied a turned up butane lighter under the sooty pipe and she inhaled for all she was worth as the crank burned. She held the acrid smoke as long as she could and suddenly the world was a much brighter place.
As the denizens of Banjo Lane smoke their dreams away, we can indulge in a brief history of meth and Scary Larry.
Methamphetamine is a relatively cheap high these days. During the Second World War the German Army as well as the Allies handed out amphetamine to the troops to keep them alert during protracted combat. The side effect of paranoia was not necessarily a bad thing under fire.
Marijuana growing was the main entrepreneurial drug in Lane County until the early 80s. Then meth cooking took off to supply a burgeoning market for "poor man's cocaine."
The processes used to produce meth were large and smelly and produced copious waste. The typical solutions to disposing of toxic meth residue are not generally eco-friendly. Out of sight, out of mind would be the maxim. If there is an abandoned well on the property the meth cook is squatting on--problem solved. Where do the gallons and gallons of red and brown liquid crap go when you pour them down a well? Away.
Another popular technique is to load a bunch of five gallon pails of toxic slop in the back of of a pickup or car and take them for a ride out to a BLM landing at night and stand them in a row in the brush or in plain view.
Perhaps a BLM employee will find them and call the haz mat coordinator. Perhaps Bubba and Billy Bob will find them first and use them for target practice. Whatever. It's no longer the meth cook's problem.
These large, smelly operations are fairly easy to spot by neighbors who tire of erratic behavior by antisocial people unencumbered with jobs who collect dismantled automobiles in their front yard.
Frequent screaming and cursing from the end of the road coupled with random gunshots? Maybe the odd explosion or two? Strange, rancid ammonia smells on the wind? The possibility exists that somebody is cooking big meth in your rural neighborhood.
Eventually some amateur chemist devised the smaller, simpler "cold method" of cooking meth. A couple of jumbo plastic drink cups with snap on lids, a little tubing, and the aspiring cook is in business.
These little plastic stills will generate meth an ounce or two at a time without smell. You can operate a meth still in the trunk of a car. Most of the expendable supplies needed are readily available at Feed and Seed stores and supermarkets.
The only real bottleneck to meth production is acquiring enough pseude epedrine in factory produced cold capsules. Merchants who sell over counter cold remedies keep their stock behind counters now to discourage tweakers from shoplifting the stuff as fast as they put it on the rack.
Let's say you need 60 grams of ephedrine to cook up an ounce of meth. That's two and a half ounces. If a cold cap comes with 60 milligrams of the stuff then you get not quite a gram and a half per package of 24 pills. You will need more than forty packages of 24 cold pills each to brew your ounce of meth.
Average Joe probably buys one or two packs of cold tabs a year. Store managers and clerks know exactly what Joe Tweaker is up to when he wants to buy cold medication pills by the gross. The only way to hoard up enough pills to make meth is to constantly make the rounds buying a package here and one there. This process is time consuming but since most meth makers and users don't waste their lives working jobs, they can do what it takes to keep their supply going.
Some meth users claim that injecting the finished product reduces the resulting side effect of paranoia as opposed to smoking the stuff. Others believe that smoking it with marijuana achieves the same effect. Some users prefer to snort it like cocaine.
While you can make a cogent argument that people can smoke reefer without it ruining their health or lives, there aren't many people willing to take the same position with methamphetamine. It is a big monkey on your back and very few serious users ever walk away from meth addiction. Some people seem to be able to use the stuff "recreationally," on an occasional basis. This is not the way to bet. Unfortunately, employment-based, random drug testing has encouraged a shift from smoking weed to meth bingeing.
Marijuana is detectable in your system for weeks and traces of a weekend meth binge are gone in a few days.
Once Methamphetamine owns your ass, your life becomes a race to the bottom. You don't have time to waste on a job. Professional meth junkies wind up living in old camp trailers, shacks and buses on somebody else's property. Meth users' children come out with the very short end of the stick.
For some reason, hard-core users gravitate to small communities 20 to 30 miles outside the Eugene/Springfield area. They "commute" into the big city in order to steal household goods that they hope to sell or trade for meth or precursors to make the stuff.
If the junkie owns a car, it is usually on its last legs with no retail value. If it was worth anything, it would have been sold to buy meth. The typical meth user's car is an old heap, maybe with valid plates, registered to somebody else. If the police should actually show while the user is ripping off your house, he can just run away and leave the 20 year old Japanese car with a quarter million miles on the clock. No great loss. The registered owner will then be hassled by the police. Everybody implicated will then perform the "I sold it" song. Urban junkies frequently ride little bicycles.
After meth tweakers rips off your house, they need to convert your former possessions into ready cash. This is difficult as average citizens are probably not interested in buying obviously stolen tools, TVs, personal computers and long arms. Other junkies have no compunction against appropriating your former material goods but they have their own stolen merchandise to pedal. When the junkie finds a buyer, he is not likely to get more than ten cents on the dollar for your goods. Fortunately meth is a very affordable habit as far as drugs go. Lane County has so many meth junkies that there is no room in jail for them all. They don't want to be rehabilitated--they want their next fix. There are not many career advancement opportunities for meth junkies. They generally wind up toothless and dead of overdose or stroke or some similar meth related affliction. Perhaps overdosing is the most "win-win" situation that can be hoped for in methamphetamine abuse. The user experiences the ultimate rush and society has one less drain on its limited resources.
Scary Larry had been cooking meth for years. He was inexorably being drawn into a terminal orbit around the stuff. Larry had smoked dope ever since he was a teenager. Even now, his main diet consisted of marijuana and alcohol, usually garnished with his own meth. Born and raised near Chicago, Larry enjoyed the concept of the wild and free life in sunny California. He thought it would a great thing to move out there and ride a Harley Davidson and go and do as he pleased. Charley Manson and his "family" dominated the media and Larry was fascinated with the idea of living in the desert with nude, nubile women--and dune buggies.
Larry McGraham fit dead in the slot for conscription into military service. He was the perfect age. He had no ambitions as far as college deferments. He could walk and talk, had an IQ of over 100 and had no physical impairments MEPS intake medical technicians couldn't overlook. Drug testing wasn't a part of military tradition in 1970.
Larry registered for the draft without giving much thought to the consequences. He came from a solid, middle-class neighborhood where you paid your taxes and worked a job that you hated until you retired and continued to pay bills until you died. His parents would never divorce because of what the neighbors might think. Robert Lawrence McGraham avoided his wife via all the overtime he could stand at the boiler factory and all the Schlitz he could drink at the corner bar.
It was no huge surprise to anybody when Larry was noticed that he had won the lottery--the draft lottery that is, and that he was going to scenic Fort Lewis, Washington for Basic Combat Training. He gave his two weeks' notice to the manager of the auto parts warehouse where he worked. Mr. Bodnar told Larry to not worry about it and leave at the end of the day and come get his full week's check on Friday. There was a black and white photo of younger, thinner Sergeant Bodnar and half a dozen other men in dirty uniforms with steel helmets and M-1 rifles framed on the wall of his office. There was snow in the background and the seven men weren't smiling very hard.
In April of 1971, Larry and a DC-8 load of other young men arrived at SeaTac and got on green buses for Fort Lewis. Their hair and civilian clothes went away and they wore Mr. Greenjeans uniforms with E-5-2 stenciled on white maggot tags sewn above the US ARMY on their shirts. They learned to march and run in new leather boots and do many, many pushups. They got their fair share of junk on the bunk (field gear inspections) and Chinese fire drills.
They lived in white wooden World War II barracks and were one with the cold. Their bunks were exactly six feet long and they learned that a team of two could make two bunks faster and more likely to pass inspection than a couple of individuals could each make one. Drill sergeants with combat patches and Combat Infantry Badges did their level best to train the young men to instantly react to sudden noises and think about it later.
Private McGraham discovered that he was very good at shooting an M-16 rifle. He could almost always hit the 500 meter target with an M-16A-1 which supposedly had a maximum effective range of 460 meters. Larry had taken a battery of aptitude tests before being sucked into the merry military and he now took more with his cohorts. Ninety percent of the other recruits got 11B (Infantry) stamped on their paperwork and that was all there was to it.
There were class A (dress uniform)) payday formations at the end of the month where the recruits got to salute the paymaster and sound off with: "Sir, Private Tentpeg reports for pay!" The paymaster would count out 97 dollars and change and admonish Pvt Tentpeg not to spend it all in one place.
Oh, yes. And there were shots. Larry had never liked needles and the thought of donating blood made him faint. The recruits of Echo Company walked in T shirts with sleeves rolled up like cattle between lines of OJT medics who inexpertly stabbed them in both arms at the same time with dozens of inoculations. Blood ran and Larry felt sick. One day Private Zoltan and Private McGraham were replaced on KP and sent to main post for more extensive aptitude testing. Private Zoltan amazed everybody with his ability to rapidly compute complex mathematical formulae in his head. A former artillery officer in Echo Company took Private Z in a room with a bunch of paper, a slide rule a map, and an M-16 plotting board (no relation to the rifle).
Lt. Brown defined some terms and explained what a mil was and posed Private Z some practical application questions on shifting artillery fire from a known point. Lt. Brown had worked out the answers in advance and sat stone faced as the Pole from Chicago with the BCT haircut responded within seconds with solutions that were so little off from the lieutenant's as to make no practical difference to a 155 shell.
Pvt. McGraham sat through hours of silly tests that reminded him of the little time passers in a childhood Humpty Dumpty magazine where there were three or four pictures of the same dog and little Larry looked to see what made them different. The Army's version was a somewhat more complicated than one dog not having a tail, but it was the same game.
After 11 weeks of fun in the rain and the dreaded graduation ceremony, The Echo Echidnas gathered around Senior Drill Sergeant Krum as he read their orders. Most of the graduates shouldered their duffel bags and made the short hike across the parade field to Advanced Individual Training of 11B (infantry). You could take out all the money you had in the bank and bet that from there, it was a given that they would go to the Republic of Viet Nam.
Private First Class Zoltan was going to Army finance school and would wind up at Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana. Some howitzer battery or mortar platoon lost a walking fire control center and never even knew it.
PFC McGraham was going to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. That was odd. He hadn't been in this man's army very long but he knew it was unusual for Army privates to go to Air Force bases for training.
Larry found himself enrolled in a six week class with two dozen other selected individuals. The curriculum was interpreting aerial photos. It had never even occurred to him that there was anything special about looking at a photo of the ground. He learned how to use stereoscopes and the parallax effect to calculate the height of an object from a two dimensional image.
His new environment was positively civilian in nature. Other than wearing a uniform, it was little different than some sort of community college. The class was composed of junior officers as well as enlisted and even had a few women. All the services were represented except the Coast Guard.
Larry found that he had weekends off and partied at Fort Walton Beach. He was able to score a little weed to go with the beer he bought with his pitiful paycheck. Upon graduation, PFC McGraham declined the 30 day leave he could have taken before leaving the US. He wanted to get his year in RVN over with. There was nothing to care about back home anyway. Within a week he found himself in a 707 with 200 other fools in khaki uniforms headed to the Republic of Viet Nam.
The vast majority of the other men wore the blue trim and crossed rifle collar brass of infantry grunts on their uniforms.
Specialist 4th Class McGraham was clearly a REMF (Rear Echelon Merry Fellow). He worked in air conditioned comfort looking at aerial photos. There was plenty of slack time and no guard duty or KP. He was skating.
Air Force Master Sergeant McPhereson would bring fresh black & white and color photos of jungled area for Larry to examine in a quiet plywood cubical. He was never told anything about where the photos were taken or what he was looking for. He knew that other men in his section were given the same photos and that people upstairs compared their different interpretations.
Larry's military service was almost a 9 to 5 job. He usually wore clean jungle fatigues and boots that would never see a jungle. Occasionally somebody would shake up the area with a bicycle bomb or B-40 rocket but being shot at wasn't part of his daily routine.
There was plenty of off-duty time and Larry quickly connected to score all the drugs he could want. He bought flip top cigarette boxes of high performance marijuana already twisted into perfect joints. Potent heroin was dirt cheap and he learned to smoke and snort it.
President Nixon gave the armed forces a considerable raise in 1972 and SP4 McGraham could afford more dope than he could possibly consume and still have plenty of money to buy beer for himself and Saigon tea for the working girls off post.
Life wasn't bad. The lifers left his section alone and he showed up showered, shaved and relatively straight for duty each morning. Larry had a rifle with his name on it in the arms room but he had never used it other than weapons familiarization and an annual qualification. It turned out that he was a natural at interpreting aerial photos. He swiftly figured out that he spent a good part of his time examining photos that could only be part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail far to the north.
The name might imply a single four-lane trail like an American freeway, but the actual fact was the "trail" was more of a trail system, like a braided stream. When American air power hammered one little channel, the stream of south bound ants would move to another.
Air Force and Navy "fast movers" would paste grid squares of jungle with high explosives and napalm based partially on McGraham's judgements on what might be foot prints and bicycle tracks that weren't quite erased through gaps in the canopy.
When it was cold and rainy, the porters and NVA would build fires to sit around and dry out along the trails. The Air Force had a sizeable stock of old Falcon heat seeking air to air missiles.
While designed to follow the infrared radiation of an airplane exhaust, the Falcon would also cheerfully home on a camp fire from miles away. On particularly nasty nights, the southbound combatants would be huddled around fires singing patriotic songs about Uncle Ho, when a flight of Falcons would come to call. SP5 McGraham was part of the team that made this happen.
Spec 5 Larry R. McGraham was adept at being a functional, drug using alcoholic. First Sergeant Mathis never had to tell him to get a haircut. He was always a few minutes early for his shift. He appreciated being in the rear with the gear and did not wish to wind up out front as a grunt.
Alcohol and tobacco was a large part of the military's "corporate culture." It was completely expected and accepted that everybody drank like a fish on their off duty time and offices and buildings were positively blue with cigarette smoke.
The months flickered by and eventually Larry became a short timer. He wasn't going to re-enlist although he realized that he would most likely have to mark time for at least six months of stateside duty. He heard rumors that the Army would forbear left over time in service once you came home from RVN if it was quite clear you had no intention of re upping. After all, what could they do to you--bend your dogtags and send you to Viet Nam?
The day came when SP5 McGraham got on the freedom bird and flew back to the world. He wound up in Fort Ord, California owing the Army seven months and a few days. He had a physical jones for the almost free heroin he had left behind in The Nam, but he was able to shrug it off within a week. He didn't have much choice as he was unable to score H at his new post.
Larry had more than 30 days of leave coming and so he traveled to San Francisco and paid cash for a brand new '72 Harley-Davidson FLH. It was a big loud bike with lots of chrome and black and white paint. He had never been on a motorcycle before and so rode the thing low and slow back to Monterey, grinning from ear to ear.
The Army wasn't sure what to do with people like SP5 McGraham. They had no intention of making the military their home. They had seen the elephant in Viet Nam and were taking up space until they could return to civilian life in less than a year.
A recruiter offered Larry an early out if he would join the National Guard for one year and get 90 days dropped from his Regular Army enlistment. He considered it but decided no as he did not want to play army once his time was up. He had seen the NG coming into Fort Ord to do two weeks of annual training in the out backs of Camp Hunter-Ligget. He had successfully avoided getting dirty and shot at so far and it entirely possible that a Guard unit he joined might be activated and sent to Viet Nam. He did not want a CIB.
As an E5, SP McGraham found himself rostered for Charge of Quarters duty on a regular basis. This was a 24 hour shift of monitoring his company barracks on a weekend. It was excruciatingly boring and he would disappear for half an hour and get high, leaving his two CQ runners to man the desk. Scary Larry had found his work ethic.
The next day found Larry and Hayes in the brush. The brush was soggy and Hayes was wet and cold and bleeding from tunneling through the mix of broom and blackberries. Dad's pickup sat behind the barn near the fence corner with a heaping load of cut vegetation removed from the "project," as he and Scary Larry referred to the dope growing operation in the ferral pasture on the other side of the overgrown fence.
"Jeez, Dawg, this is getting to be an awful lot like work", Hayes grumbled.
Larry paused. He was standing in a low spot of berries and had carefully relocated the runners with his shovel. He had been spading a bucket of dry cowshit into the site with a fire fighting shovel.
"Keep the faith, bro. The more we put into this gig, the more we'll get out of it. Preparation is the key for a successful grow."
By now it was completely clear to Hayes that no matter how full of shit Larry was about many things, he was an experienced dope grower or at least had paid attention to someone who was.
They spoke quietly whenever they communicated in the back field as they were no more than a hundred and fifty meters from the Seauton's house and they didn't want anybody to notice their secret garden.
The Seauton's rarely poked around outside their house during the winter. They had a fine acre lawn around the big white house with mansard roof. Cedar-like shrubs were lined out in front. They were not yet big enough to effectively screen the house from Banjo Lane but it wouldn't be too many years.
Jesus-Maria, their yard man, came around once in a while in the off-season. He had no reason to penetrate the jungle of blackberry that peaked ten feet tall and completely covered the old fence that approximated property line.
There were dozens of volunteer fir trees that screened the Seauton's house from the Loveless back field. Many were thirty feet tall and they still had green limbs all the way to the ground. They had not yet shaded out the berry vines and together, fir and blackberry composed a formidable deterrent to casual wandering.
Keith and Bruce Seauton had flown up from San Francisco to avail themselves of a marriage certificate when Multnomah County near Portland was handing out same-sex marriage licenses. They had liked what they saw in Oregon and bought a rural lot from Kathy the realtor, next door to the Loveless home. They had spared no expense in having their custom home built. It had Italian marble in its professional kitchen and a big garage to house their matching Mercedes and the big diesel pick-up they bought upon moving to the Willamette Valley. Everybody knows you must have a 4WD truck with gun racks if you live in Oregon. Matching Harley-Davidson Road Kings waited for spring along the back wall.
The Seautons kept to themselves and were not likely to poke their nose in the business of others. They had valued the vacancy of the little house at the end of the road and were not happy to notice its sudden occupancy. They particularly disliked seeing Larry's smoking bus trundle past their fine house and make itself at home next door.
Bruce and Keith were beyond the job scene. They had made their pile and checked the stock market pretty much for the entertainment value each morning. They flew to Europe several times a year and partied regularly in the Bay Area. It would be Keith's 60th birthday the end of January.
Meanwhile behind the blackberry screens, the work on the "crop" was progressing. Hayes returned to the barn for another bucket of primo fertilizer. There was a six inch layer of stratified cow shit on the concrete floor under the lean to cow feeder off the side of the barn facing the overgrown field. He broke up chunks with the edge of a scoop shovel and chopped them small enough to load in the white plastic bucket.
He was heartily sick of crawling on his hands and knees through the muddy runnels under the brush pushing pails of shit in front of him. It was starting to remind him of tree planting. His brother Zach had planted trees for a couple of winters for Deuce Reforestation before it went out of business. He seemed to like it although he never talked a lot about anything.
The two brothers were very different in many ways. Hayes shunned physical work whereas Zach seemed to actually enjoy it. Zach liked to get up early in the morning and Hayes preferred to sleep until noon. Zach always had money in his pocket from tree planting and it didn't matter how hard Hayes schemed and scammed, he never got much cash. If he stole something, nobody wanted to pay him what he thought it was worth.
Once in a moment of weakness, Hayes decided to try planting trees. Zach shrugged and said that he'd ask his foreman if he wanted to try a virgin on the crew.
The next morning, Zach shook him awake in their little bunkhouse that Cletus built at some incredibly rude hour. Hayes tried to explain to Zach that he had changed his mind and that he wanted to sleep in but the genie wasn't going back in the bottle.
Zach removed the blankets and grabbed him by the ankles and dragged his butt on the floor. Thud. He whined and complained but Zach wasn't listening. Half an hour later Hayes was passed out in the passenger seat of Zach's Datsun pickup on the way to the gas station across I-5 from Lane Community College.
An old Dodge stretch van pulled up and Zach manhandled him through the sliding door into a back seat. The rig smelled of sweat and stale beer and dope smoke. He leaned against the window of the second seat and fell asleep, his brother beside him.
The van's directional tires howled on the freeway for half an hour and then Hayes felt the rig slow and take an off ramp and the pace slowed as the Maxivan swayed through curves on secondary pavement. Rain pounded on the thin tin of the roof and the wipers hit top speed. The driver turned off on a steep gravel road and the Dodge started making clanking and clunking noises. It was hard to sleep through the bouncing so Hayes sat up and rubbed his eyes.
Through the bleary windshield of the van, Hayes could see the back end of a small covered truck laboring up the hill in front of them. The little convoy rounded a bend in the road and came to the dead end of a landing. A green Expedition was parked off to one side and a tall man with a red beard got out of the car and shut the door. He was wearing boots that came high on his calves with his faded cammo pants tucked into the tops. He wore a cammo shirt with old army tags and patches and a yellow full brim hard hat.
The foreman parked and switched off the engine. The sliding door rolled back and the van exploded with life. Tree planters poured out into the rain and fog. They stretched and urinated with their backs to the stiff wind. Somebody opened the back doors and started pulling muddy planting hoes and tree bags from the narrow space behind the last seat.
The man in the yellow hard hat opened the doors on the back of the ton and a half truck and pulled out a huge plastic tub and half a dozen plastic five gallon water jugs. Hayes could see the rest of the cargo box was stacked floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes and paper bags before the inspector shut the doors. It rained harder.
The tree planters were putting on heavy green rain gear. "Get out of the rig, Hayes." Zach was shoving his feet into bright orange rubber "Captain America" corks.
"I don't have any rain gear," extemporized Hayes.
Zach nodded and handed his brother his own set of Uniroyal Rainsters. "Now you do. Get out of the rig."
Hayes could see that he was trapped. What had possessed him to open his mouth and say that he wanted to plant trees? Zach had his boots on and was busy pouring water out of the blitzcans into the big tub. It rained still harder. Hayes put on his brother's rain gear and got out of the van and slid the door closed. he had a red hard hat and a pair of lug soled K-Mart boots.
He could see the eight man crew was half Mexican and half white boys. The tall man was handing Pedro cardboard boxes from the back of the truck.
"Bag a box and pack a bag," said Kevin the foreman.
The men thrust their 17 inch hoedad blades under the plastic bands that held the waxed cardboard boxes together and levered to the side. The bands popped and the planters grabbed bunches of dark green fir seedlings.
Instantly, the tall man in the yellow hat was at the tub of water. "Dip those trees all the way to the root collars and hold them. The contract calls for two minute dipping. We can do it with a stop watch."
The men dunked their bundles of trees, held them for a few seconds and then put them in the silver tree bags with a belt to go around around the planter's waist. The water in the root systems made the little trees much heavier. It also started the roots drawing water from the soil when planted. Zach bagged up two silver tree bags and handed one to Hayes. Then the men passed around paper bags full of smaller fir seedlings. They dipped the stock and put them back in the paper bags and rolled the tops of the bags closed.
The passenger door of the Expedition slammed and a very short woman in full rain gear clumped up to the tub. Her big yellow hard hat made her look like a mushroom.
The wind boomed and the rain flew sideways. Zach handed Hayes a muddy paper bag full of trees.
"Over the side," said Kevin.
Hayes struggled into his tree bag. He was amazed at the dead weight. Following the lead of the other men, he put the paper bag on his shoulder and grabbed his hoe by the collar where the steel joined the wood.
He hadn't really looked over the side of the unit before. It was very steep. The ground had been burnt after it had been logged and some areas were black and some were still covered with limbs and other logger litter.
The man in the yellow hard hat led the way. He had two paper bags of dipped trees tied to his long handled shovel with dirty, wet parachute cord. He lugged this arrangement like a heavy suitcase down the hill, switching hands every hundred feet.
Hayes moved his feet. The tree bag strap was already cutting into his side. He was breathing heavily. This wasn't any fun. He could see Zach at the head of the pack. His brother turned around to see where he was and got out of the file of tree planters to let Hayes catch up to him.
Down, down, down went the crew. Greasy mud slid under their feet. Past blackened stumps and rock faces and charred logs. Rags of fog moved swiftly below them on some errand. Hayes could see a brushy creek below but couldn't hear it over his own heavy breathing.
"Park your bags by this stump," said Kevin.
"Make sure the bags are closed tight and put them upside down," directed the man in the yellow hard hat.
Hayes gratefully off loaded the bag from his shoulder. He slipped and fell on his ass. The tree bag around his waist anchored him to the ground.
"Get up Hayes, the party is just starting." Zach reached down and pulled his brother up by the wrist. They slid down the hill after the rest of the crew.
Finally, they reached the brush and cedars alongside the fast moving stream. Kevin took his hoe and drove it into the ground with one hand. He wrenched the handle up, breaking a hole in the ground while unerringly picking the biggest fir seedling out of his bag, rolled the roots into the hole as he pulled the hoe towards him. Stomp once on either side of the tree and move eight feet away.
The rest of the crew lined out eight feet apart and started planting trees. It rained harder.
Hayes swung his hoe experimentally at the ground. It stuck perhaps four inches in the ground.
"Swing like you mean it," Zach explained, slamming his hoe into the ground up to the collar. He worked a giant seedling into the soil and stomped it shut.
After striking the same spot three times Hayes got a hole in the ground. He planted the tallest tree in his bag. The top rode higher than his shoulder. It wasn't perfectly vertical like Zack's but it was no longer pulling down on his tree bag belt.
The man in the yellow hard hat stood on a stump, watching the crew plant.
"What is he doing?" asked Hayes of his brother.
"Shut up and keep planting," said Zach. "That is the stumplord. He works for the Bureau and his job is to make sure that the unit gets planted correctly." He ruthlessly planted trees as he talked. Hayes looked for the next place to plant. Zach planted three rows of trees behind him and then worked back. The rest of the crew was long gone, laterally covering the bottom of the unit. A fog bank obscured the the timberline the crew was planting towards.
When they reached it, they would plant back on their own line. If Kevin had guessed correctly, they would run out of trees right where they left the paper bags. Zach's wet clothing steamed as he planted. His bag was more than half empty and Hayes had planted maybe 20 trees.
The rain moderated and the crew was planting back rapidly towards them. Kevin had misjudged and the men got to walk the last fifty yards to the bags of trees. The big seedlings were packed 150 to a box and the paper bags held 200 somewhat smaller trees.
The men laughed and joked in English and Spanish as they reloaded their bags and crammed the wet paper empties under logs and down hollow stumps. This time they lined out and planted straight up the hill to the landing. They were working an L pattern on the unit. Hoedads clinked and chunked in the hillside as the men planted two lines each up the hill. Zach took some of Hayes' trees and he was able to move a little faster.
By the time the brothers gained the landing, the crew was bagging up and were getting ready for another run down the hill. The short woman was out of the rig watching closely to make sure they were dipping their trees all the way to the green. The stump lord was still at the bottom of the unit inspecting trees. Each man loaded up 200 trees of the smaller stock. They stepped over the side and planted their way down the line without packing a bag on their shoulder.
The rain stopped and Hayes realized that he was wet from sweat by wearing rain gear. Zach trailed wraiths of steam behind him as he moved. Hayes would not have believed it possible to work hard enough to generate steam. They bagged up and started down the hill.
The inspector jumped up on a tall stump. "Kevin, your new man is planting crappy trees. Make it stop."
"I'll work with him." Zach volunteered. "Watch closely." He demonstrated the breaking open of a hole and how to twist the fibrous roots into the hole and then gently shake the root system so that it was hanging straight down in the hole. Two quick stomps formed the letter V around the seedling and it was home. "Now you do it."
It took Hayes much longer but he began to get the hang of it. Antonio was out of trees and he came and took at least half of Hayes' and shared them out. Everybody was planting back up the hill with almost empty bags. Hayes felt like he was going to float away when stripped of his trees, leaving him perhaps a dozen. The planteros could plant uphill faster than he could walk. The rain started again.
When Hayes and Zach scrambled over the edge of the landing the men had grounded their equipment and were eating. Armondo ripped an ear off an empty box, making sure it had a long taper on the end. Reggie flicked his bic and the paraffin in the waterproof cardboard caught. He held it in his lee and then placed it in an empty box.
The tiny flame clung to life and pretty soon the end of the box was involved. The men drew around and ripped up a box and carefully tended the young fire. The flames bit into the cardboard and Zach leaned a whole box across the first one. The fire was cooking now. It would consume a whole box every minute or so. Rivulets of molten paraffin flowed. Armando tossed on a paper bag. It didn't burn nearly as well as the boxes but the fire was hot and consumed the bags too.
The men laughed and ate and dried their gloves and hands as they made a horseshoe around the blaze. The wind spanked and the smoke moved nearly horizontally. Hayes examined his hands and discovered blisters as he ate a sausage and cheese sandwich his brother gave him. His borrowed hard hat was spattered with mud that the rain was washing away. His brother moved him back from the fire. "Don't melt my raingear."
All too soon the last bag and box was burnt. The stump lord sat in the Expedition and filled his face. His shovel leaned on the fender as he read the comic page of the Register-Guard. The short woman monitored the after lunch bag up. She called for more water in the tub. She was very good at doing the paperwork associated with tree planting. She was more than happy to keep the records up to date and the stumplord was delighted to spend all his time standing on stumps at the bottom of the unit watching people work.
After everybody bagged up, the truck was two thirds empty of trees. Hayes sucked down a quart of water and staggered down the hill. They didn't have to go as far now that the bottom of the unit was planted out. He was getting a little better but he was still no great shakes at the tree planting game. He looked up the hill and saw smoke bloom. The stump lord must have thrown on the boxes they had just emptied.
This was insane. Nobody in their right mind would ever plant trees for a living. Zach was planting like a machine beside him. Three and four trees for every one he put in the ground. His brother never flagged and every tree he planted was within an inch or two of eight feet apart. It rained harder.
The crew planted back to the top and unloaded the last bags and boxes from the truck. They dipped and bagged up but there was still an extra box even after each planter heavy bagged all they could pack. The stump lord stepped up and took a spare tree bag and dipped the last box full all the way to the green. The reason the old tree bag wasn't in use was because it leaked. Dirty water dripped down the inspector's leg as he followed the herd.
The last run of the day almost completed the unit. A couple three acres at the rim of the landing lacked two thousand trees to complete. Hayes was rummy with fatigue. One thing was certain. Hayes Loveless was NOT ever going to plant another tree as long as he lived. Tree planting was like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It felt really good when you stopped. It rained almost horizontally as the crew loaded their tools in the back of the van and removed their boots and rain gear and collapsed in soggy puddles on the vinyl seats of the old Dodge. Kevin talked to the stumplord for a minute and then jumped in the driver's seat and started the van rolling down the hill. Hayes was asleep in an instant. Zach sat beside him and drowsed sitting with his hands folded in his lap. And that was Hayes' one real day of work in his life until this scheme to raise a killer weed crop.
Chapter Three of Banjo Lane
How Brandy went on a shopping spree
Money was nonexistent under the Loveless roof. It would be weeks before Scary Larry's disability check arrived. There was no alcohol in the house and drugs were scarce. Larry and Hayes had recycled all the butts they had saved and rolled up some really foul jailhouse smokes. They were almost out of even these. With the advent of food stamp debit cards, it was impossible to buy food items and recieve change in real money that could then be spent on beer and cigarettes. It was time to face the facts. They were going to have to steal something.
"There's nothing for it, Dawg," said Hayes. "We gotta rip off a house. Maybe we can find some cash but probably we'll get a bunch of stuff we'll hafta sell."
Scary Larry nodded. "We don't have many options. I'd love to go through your queer neighbors' place but that might be a little close to home. They're always there anyway, seems like."
It was true, The Seautons stayed home a lot and there was no way to predict their comings and goings. Once in a while you might see Bruce or Keith at the mailbox but they generally wintered indoors.
The week before, there had been a huge party of some sort at the big house next door. At least two dozen new expensive cars, some with California license plates, parked in their drive and up and down Banjo Lane. Hayes had considered checking to see if the cars in the darkness had been locked but they hadn't been out of the necessities of life then so he had let the opportunity pass.
Stealing household goods when you needed money was a hassle. On one hand, if you were just out for a good time, ripping people off would certainly fill the bill. Or if you needed something specific-say a chainsaw-stealing a saw out of the back of a pickup was certainly better than paying money for one.
But breaking into somebody's house to steal stuff to convert into cash was never very efficient. All the pawn shops in Eugene and Springfield wanted photo IDs and would even take your picture in the bargain. This could come back to haunt you. You never knew what you would wind up with and even if you stole something very expensive, it wasn't going to buy any beer until you found a buyer willing to pay cash money for stolen merchandise. In a month or two riding lawn mowers would be in season. You could always sell a nice riding mower for a couple hundred dollars in April to somebody--no questions asked.
Hayes had devoted hours to looking for Cletus' pistols. He was starting to believe that Dad had given them to a friend to hold or even taken them with him to Iraq. It was a given that they would use Scary Larry's car. Larry had hustled the dough to buy it when the original owner was informed by Oregon's DMV that he had given up driving motor vehicles and was off the road for good. The old man died a month or two later and Larry had never transferred the title. Should they have to ditch the car, the police would trace it back to a dead man..and dead men tell no tales. The plates were due to expire in June. Larry would have to register it or buy another heap with good plates. Of course, he could continue to drive it around until busted by the police. He didn't have a driver's license to revoke.
The Ford Fairmont limited what they could steal. Riding lawn mowers were out. If they encountered a Harley that wasn't locked down with serious chains anchored in concrete, it would have to be ridden away unless they could steal the owner's pickup too.
They were pretty much limited to stuff that would fit in pillow cases. The general method would be to break into a house that hopefully had nobody home and taking pillow cases off the beds, filling them with any small salable items and fleeing the scene.
DVD and compact discs were good. You could only sell them at a dollar a disc or so, but that would keep you in beer and smokes. Rifles and shotguns were so-so. Nobody wanted to pay much for hot long arms. Handguns were sweet. Every punk wants a pistol.
Cash, of course, was king. If you could steal cash, that's what it was all about in the first place and you didn't have to waste your time pedaling household stuff that nobody wanted at ten cents on the dollar. Credit cards were OK. If you didn't use them yourself, you could sell them quickly to people who specialized in credit card fraud. Tools and so forth out of somebody's shop were a guarantied sale but again, you didn't usually get a lot of money for them. In this day and age, you would automatically tour the medicine cabinets for cold caps since supermarkets and drug stores were mizerly about handing them out. Breaking into houses didn't usually pay a lot but it beat working a job. Anything beat working a job. You could always crap on the rug too, to add insult to injury. There was a supreme sense of satisfaction about ripping off, and shitting on, some sap of a taxpayer.
There would need to be some re-con first. Larry was right. It was a bad idea to rip off your own neighborhood. Hayes would be the number one suspect if anybody on Banjo Lane got burgled. All the long time residents would remember Hayes the Highschool Dropout hanging around and hosing their gas tanks and stealing bottles and cans out of unlocked sheds. He was good at making friends with their dogs so Rover would all but hold the flashlight when he came sneaking around at night.
No, they would have to go somewhere else to steal stuff. That brought them up against the logistical problem of gasoline. The Fairmont was almost out. Larry's bus wouldn't have much. Dad's truck was just about empty after driving a couple of heaping loads of blackberry vines out to dump on BLM land. The Buick had maybe a quarter tank but it was registered to 1234 Banjo Lane and that was bad.
Larry rolled a pair of smokes and they lit up the twice-burned tobacco. "Maybe we ought to go to Lorane." speculated Larry. "It's far enough that the sheriff isn't going to go there. They come right out and say they don't do property crime any more in the county due to budget cuts."
"I was in the clink with a guy from Lorane. He said that they were having a problem with a peeping tom and the sheriff even drove out and gave a talk at the Grange hall. The only question any of the locals had was 'when can we legally shoot him?' Lorane might not be a good idea."
"Well, there's always The Grove, bro. Seems like a lot of people work that turf, though, and the cops will come within the city limits. We gotta do a gig out of town."
Scary Larry's bus had a drain plug on the bottom of the gas tank and so they were able to recover almost three gallons of rusty gasoline in a bucket from the old GMC. Hayes was able to siphon a couple of gallons from the Buick which gave the Fairmont close to half a tank. It was going to have to do.
It was dark and wet, although it wasn't actually raining at the moment. Hayes and Larry were dressed in dark clothing with felony shoes and were skulking around a house that apparently had nobody home and there were no dogs on duty. It wasn't a wealthy looking home but it must have something worth ripping off.
They had smoked a little meth in the car with a glass pipe before hiking to the scene of action at a little past one a.m. The housebreakers had been casing the neighborhood for hours. They didn't have the gasoline to keep looking for a better mark. This house was barely visible from Territorial Highway. There was one old car in the driveway but it was clearly dead. The run down house appeared lived in but it felt like the tenants were gone for a few days.
The white car was parked less than a quarter mile away at the beginning of a large side road that led through a rural neighborhood and out to private and federal timberlands. It shouldn't look too out of place there.
Hayes stealthily circled the house looking for an unlocked window or door. There weren't any. He attempted to jimmy the back door with a big screwdriver. The door wasn't very stout and eventually the wood splintered around the lock and it pulled open. No dogs yammered at the noise and the nearest neighbors were at least a hundred meters away.
The two thieves listened in the darkness for a minute and heard nothing. "It's show time!" whispered Hayes and flipped on the hall light. The house was cold. It had not been heated in days and was at ambient temperature. The beds were made in the two bedrooms. One room looked like it belonged to a teenage girl. Hayes shook the pillow cases off the pillows and handed one to Larry.
It certainly wasn't the Rockefeller mansion but it was going to get ripped off just the same. Hayes found a shelf of DVDs and started bagging them while Larry looked around for booty. Larry discovered a dozen bottles of hard liquor in a kitchen cupboard. From almost empty to almost full. Whiskey, vodka, rum and schnapps. He looked at his pillow case and instead dumped out a cardboard box of canned goods on the floor and tenderly packed the bottles in the box.
There was a fairly new TV that would replace the old one that Hayes had taken apart to fix. Larry hefted a gallon cider jug almost full of pennies. This wasn't shaping up to be Shaft's Big Score. A personal computer that must have belonged to Fred Flintstone sat on a desk with some school books. Hayes was disgusted. He would be ashamed to brag about this heist in jail. No guns, no hi performance stereo, no drugs other than half a packet of cold caps. So far the biggest swag was a jug of pennies. How many dollars in a gallon of coppers?
"Hey, bro!" Larry emptied a tea cup full of state quarters into a pillow case. At least they could buy some smokes now. There was nothing of significant value anywhere.
Hayes opened the freezer on top of the fridge and discovered it was full of meat wrapped in white paper with Ken's Kustom Kutting tape holding it together. Somebody had bought some local beef. Well Hell. Larry shrugged and started loading frozen roasts and steaks into a pillow case.
They would never divert hard earned money for buying meat. Hayes grabbed the last package of frozen T-bones and saw a quart container of ice in the back. Something about it warranted a second glance. He looked closer and thought he could make out a credit card in the block of ice. Things were picking up.
A framed photo of two women arm in arm with snow capped mountains behind them hung on the living room wall. A couple of women oriented women, Hayes decided. That's nice.
Larry looked down in the fridge. There wasn't much food but there was a six pack of 16 ounce Bud cans with one missing. Into the box with the booze.
Hayes found a heavy glass piggy bank under the girl's bed. Money was money but this was almost embarrassing. He disconnected the DVD player from the television, rolled the cables around it and stuck it in a pillow case. At least they could watch the DVDs they had stolen. It was time to flee the scene. Hayes picked up the TV and grabbed two pillow cases. "I'm gunna pack this junk down to the road." He told Larry. "You keep looking until I get back."
"You got it, bro. We don't want to wear out our welcome."
Hayes stuck a finger through the loop of the jug of pennies. It was heavy. He staggered out the back door stooped over by the weight of the coins in one hand and the TV in the other. Lumpy pillow cases banged his ankles.
Alone, Larry looked around the living room. This was lame. Wait a minute. What was that? There was an envelope where the Sony TV had been sitting.
As soon as he picked it up, he knew there was money in it. FEB RENT was printed on the used envelope in black ballpoint. There were quite a few 20 dollar bills. He wadded up the envelope, threw it in the corner and stuck the cabbage in his pocket.
He moved to the master bedroom and went through it again. Not much. He bagged a package of C cell batteries just to be stealing something. The alarm clock read 1:42 (am). It was a nice new one so he unplugged it and put it in a half full pillow case.
Hayes was back and they made a final sweep of the place but it was Maggie's drawers. Larry cradled his box of bottles with a pillow case in each hand and started out the back door.
"Right behind you, Dawg," said Hayes. "I'm gunna leave them a surprise being such losers." Larry shook his head. "Be sure and dowse the lights, bro."
Larry hid his loot in the bushes at the beginning of the long gravel driveway and took off walking down Territorial Highway for the getaway car. Hayes was marshalling everything in the ditch so he could load it in seconds when Larry pulled up. It was an early Wednesday morning and all the wage slaves were in bed.
He hoofed the 200 yards to the intersection where the Fairmont was parked and looked around to check if any cars were coming. He couldn't see headlights or hear motors. The old white car started like it always did. Larry put it in gear and returned to the scene of the crime. He stopped by the driveway and Hayes flashed out of the brush and loaded the back seat with their ill gotten gain. In half a minute Hayes was riding shotgun as Larry pulled smoothly away.
Hayes breathed heavily for a minute and then laughed. "We did it, Dawg! We ripped 'em off good! I left a nice souvenir in the middle of the living room too. They didn't have shit but they do now!"
"Hand me a cold one, bro."
"Oh yeah! We got beer. Too bad those assholes didn't leave us some cigarettes.'
"There's a few recycleds left in the ashtray."
They popped the cold beers and lit the harsh home rolleds and enjoyed the ride on the dark deserted back road. Headlights glowed a mile or more behind them. Larry accelerated around a corner as he didn't want some county mounty closing behind them and seeing a television sticking above the back seat.
The old white Fairmont outstripped the lights astern and Larry throttled back the thrifty six cylinder. The gas gauge read a quarter tank.
"Let's get some smokes at the Grove." said Hayes.
"We need to dump our loot at the house first, bro. We don't want to explain to the pigs why we are driving around with a TV and a bunch of pillow cases in the back seat. Not to mention no driver's license. Hand me another beer."
"Good point, Dawg."
Larry turned in at Banjo Lane and quietly drove to the end of the road. Not even Dee Dee McCally was up to mark their passage. Hayes tossed the dismantled television set in the front yard with the rest of the trash. He parked the new TV where the old one had sat since he and Zach had watched The Muppet Show in diapers.
It was the right thing to do. He fetched the old Mossberg out of the closet and inserted the bolt, chambering a skeet load as he did so. Hayes flipped on the outside light as he stepped out on the porch. He pulled the scarred stock into his shoulder and drew down on the ruined TV, visualizing his favorite screw at the county jail. Bang! went the shotgun in the early morning silence. Pow! went the picture tube at five meters. Dogs barked for miles around. He felt much better about the woefully wimpy haul.
"Good shot, bro. We better smoke some crank. I'll see what I can pinch up."
The stolen meat was packed in the little freezer and the tub of ice sat in a mound of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Larry emptied another pillow case on the kitchen table.
Hayes counted the state quarters. There had been nearly thirty dollars' worth of commemorative coins in the fine china tea cup. "That should buy us some beer and cigarettes, Dawg, let's mosey for the 7/11 in the Grove."
"They ain't selling beer yet, bro. Let's wait until we can resupply. We still got us some homeys to smoke...got some likker too. Jack Daniels?"
Hayes looked at the clear glass jug of pennies. "I wonder how many dollars are in this? We can take it to Safeway. They have machines that count chump change."
"Yeah, maybe we ought to take it in a coffee can at a time just in case somebody hears about a cider jug being snatched."
"What the hell you rip off an alarm clock for, Dawg? You gunna get a job where you need one of these things?"
Larry hung his head in shame. "I don't know what I was thinking. There was so little worth stealing, I guess I had to take something."
"Those sorry assholes. See if we ever go there again."
Hayes wandered over to the kitchen sink and turned on the hot water and reduced the block of ice in its quart container. "If that ain't the damnedest thing." Said Hayes. "Why on earth would anybody freeze their credit cards in ice? Makes no sense."
"I heard about that on the radio, bro. People do that if they have a problem charging shit just because they can. They freeze their cards in ice so they have to think about it a little before they go charge up a bunch of crap they don't need."
"We have here a golden opportunity to max out Evelyn S. Joneser's credit cards for her if we move on it." He held the half dozen cards up to the light. "This looks like a job for Brandy. Oops. This one has a photo on it and it don't look nothin' like Brandy."
Hayes was gone for several days. He drove to Eugene and chauffeured Brandy and her three children around to big department stores and she had charged more than a hundred dollars but less than 150 at each stop with one of Evelyn's cards. She wore her straightest clothes and left the gothic makeup at home. None of the cashiers thought twice about the young mother with whiney children or even noticed the young man in the dirty jean jacket and baseball cap.
Hayes had parked the Buick in the middle of the parking lot at Gateway Mall in Springfield. Brandy knocked herself out charging all the day to day things she lacked around the new run down apartment and Hayes let her. They filled the trunk and back floor of the Buick with new bed linen and pillows and disposable diapers and even a microwave oven. As soon as Brandy cleared a check out line at one store, she would hand off the shopping cart and Hayes would hustle it out to the car while she force marched the kids to the next store for another mini-spree.
Hayes moved the scene of action to Valley River Center in Eugene and they repeated the process. By keeping it small and spreading the wealth, Hayes was pretty sure they could get away with it.
The Buick filled rapidly and the scam artists had to drive twice to Brandy's apartment complex to unload the loot. Brandy was high on the rush of shopping. It probably wasn't quite as elegant as the beautiful people on TV but it was much better than the utter parsimony that normally defined her life. She hadn't bought anything that she hadn't desperately needed right now in years. The concept of using Evelyn's cards didn't phase her a bit.
Her welfare neighbors didn't get out much and had little better to do than observe who came and went, when, and with what and who. She would cook up a story about how her boyfriend was a respectable dope dealer who made lots of dough and taken her shopping today.
Without three child seats in the back seat of the car, they could haul more stuff but Hayes felt that the children completely diffused any possible suspicion and the checkers would want to move the passel of squalling brats out of their area as quickly as possible. They defrauded grocery stores. Brandy would charge a couple six packs of tall beers and a carton of cigarettes along with the groceries. She kept her purchases at under a hundred and fifty dollars and nobody thought twice about her.
Hayes had learned a few things about credit card scams at Lane County's Crossbar U. The "professors" had all 'almost gotten away with it' but had slipped up on something. Usually somebody got too greedy. Credit cards were easy to use until they got reported stolen. That had apparently not happened yet or the cards wouldn't work. Nobody did time for credit card fraud anyway.
By keeping her purchases small and ordinary, Brandy was flying completely below the radar. When you tried to scam cash or buy big things with a credit card, cashiers wanted to see identification. Buying gasoline with a regular credit card would set off alarm bells somewhere if the owner had never done so in the past. Hayes longed to buy a package of cold caps at each store stop but he knew that this would be just enough to stop the steady flow of merchandise out the door. It could even involve the police.
While Hayes wasn't getting a lot out of this credit card operation, Brandy was and Hayes would be able to cash in chips for a long time to come. He was smoking factory cigarettes and drinking name brand beer and was certain the pipe of crank he had in his pocket was good for serious non monetary consideration later.
Finally one of the credit cards registered as limited out and Brandy had to substitute another. Hayes decided that they had milked this gig long enough and it was time to walk away. There were probably three thousand dollars' worth of household stuff piled in the corners of Brandy's little living room. Her normally barren kitchen had lots of food.
It had been a long day. Hayes carried up the last bags of groceries while Brandy dealt with tired, hungry children. He took the stolen credit cards and cut them up into tiny pieces with scissors and flushed the handful of plastic splinters down the toilet when the cramped bathroom was vacant. It never happened. What credit cards? Next he would round up all the paper receipts and flush them too.
Twenty miles away as the crow flies, Evelyn S Joneser looked with disbelief at the pile on her livingroom carpet. The animal that had done this had wiped its ass with a new pair of her relaxed fit underwear from her dresser.
Evelyn and her daughter, Danielle, had driven back from Southern Cal where they had been visiting the folks. They had started early in the morning to beat the traffic and had made good time in Evelyn's new Volvo.
Evelyn had had a vague uneasy feeling the past couple of days but couldn't say why. Now she knew.
"Mom, somebody stole my piggy bank!"
"Danny, don't step in that! Maybe the cops can DNA test it or something... Oh, God damn that asshole! He stole February's rent. Who would've guessed anybody would mess with that old TV?"
She dialed 911 and was informed that her house being burgled did NOT constitute an emergency. Her call was shuffled around and eventually she got to talk to someone who confirmed that her problem was at the very bottom of the totem pole. Even having her rug crapped on cut no ice with the sergeant. She walked around with the cordless phone surveying the damage. The desk sergeant explained that nobody was coming to investigate the break-in and that Evelyn needed to file a claim with her homeowners insurance.
"You don't do house calls? Just what the hell do you people do except hand out traffic tickets?"
Her collection of Lusty Lesbian magazines were scattered like autumn leaves around the bedroom and it looked like some were missing. The house had been thoroughly rifled. At least the thief would never find her credit cards frozen in a block of ice in the top of the fridge. She opened the refrigerator and then the little freezer and was shocked to find even the meat had been stolen. The ice covered plastic was gone.
Oh hell. She would have to call Mom and Dad again for more money. Barely 24 hours before, she had received the usual carping and career counseling about getting a job and quit being a professional sponge. She had always countered with there being no jobs in Oregon. Dad would respond with something like: "Well, why the hell do you want to live there then? You should move back home and get a job. Even your ex-husband held a job when you were married. There must be something you can do if you're going to insist on living in Ore-gone".
Dad stubbornly refused to buy a house up here for her to live in no matter how she represented it as a good real estate investment. She was sure that he was hoping to force her to move back to Simi Valley so he and Mom would see more of their grand daughter.
"Just shut up and send checks!" she wanted to yell. The folks had lots of money. Why should she have to waste her life on some drudge job that she hated, to make minimum wage and get out of bed every morning before she wanted to? Instead she had to smile and make nice. She was their only child and they would die sooner or later and then she wouldn't have to eat their shit any more.
Oh God. Who did she need to call about the stolen credit cards? This was really bad. Speaking of really bad, the pile of shit in the middle of the room wasn't going away on its own. "Danny, Honey--I have a job for you..."
Brandy and Hayes laid pipe while the kids bickered and bounced off the walls and tried to crash through the locked bedroom door. Finally Brandy had no recourse but to leave out glasses of beer to shut them up and shut them down.
She was starting to get needy and so it was time for Hayes to return to Banjo Lane and start growing marijuana plants indoors in preparation of planting season.
Scary Larry had mentioned that the time was right to start the plants under electric grow lights in a closet so they could hopefully transplant in early May. He had pulled some four foot shop lights out of the magic cargo well beneath the deck of his bus and set them up in a closet in the house. They lacked a few grow light bulbs to get it going but Larry had already started some umteenth generation Thai seeds germinating.
"But I don't want you to go now," said Brandy on the verge of whining.
"Honeychile, I'm a busy man. You know that. I got a crop to get in the ground so we'll be fartin' through silk this fall. I just took some time off to take care of you and the kids."
Brandy was mollified by all the needed things that Hayes had 'bought' her with Evelyn's plastic. She had cigarettes and beer. She wanted all the crank she could shoot forever but what she had was a lot better than a sharp stick. She knew better to make an issue out of the situation. There was a two foot scrape in the passenger side quarter-panel of Hayes' Buick when he approached it in the parking lot. The car had been in like-new condition. His dad had always parked it at the far end of parking lots to minimize his baby being thumped by car doors and rammed by runaway shopping carts.
He stooped and looked at the scrape, deep enough to deform the metal as well as remove the paint. Oh well. Hit and run by one of the denizens of the Section 8 housing complex. Likely one of the junk cars in the parking lot had maroon paint on its bumper. Some 300 pound welfare whale couldn't see over her belly to drive. He shrugged and started the car. It hadn't been a bad couple days. He had made big points with Brandy. There were six or eight six packs of beer in the trunk as well as several cartons of name brand cigarettes. He felt warm and fuzzy from so completely getting over on Evelyn Joneser. He and Brandy had certainly laid lots of pipe. It was good. He donned Dad's old man hat and disappeared into the traffic.
Somebody had made a plywood BANJO LN sign and tacked it on the wooden post where the original had been unbolted. It was an excellent job. It was the same size the metal sign had been and it had been coated repeatedly with a green paint not far from the standard color used by the county sign shop. The letters had been carefully marked in pencil and painted in silver. It wouldn't reflect light at night but it was better than nothing. Probably old Mr. Strand. He liked to make things. Hayes remembered Mr. Strand's shop before the divorce. Mr. Strand showed him how to use a table saw without cutting his hands off. He would stop and say hi one of these days.
Hayes rounded the corner and waved at the blonde, Dee Dee, who came out in the gathering dusk to see who he was. The Buick hummed by with its new Midas muffler. It was still a straight ride. Smoke was coming out of the chimney as he parked in the muddy area next to Scary Larry's heap. Larry was counting his inventory of cold pills on the kitchen table. His hands were stained brown from dealing with iodine.
"Hey, Dawg, how's it hanging?" said Hayes as he dropped a carton of real smokes on the table by the bikeless biker.
"Could be better--could be worse too, bro. No doubt about it. We need to get out there and hustle a bunch of cold caps before I can cook the next batch. Need another jug of iodine too."
"We'll get on that tomorrow, Dawg. We made good on those credit cards in the ice. Wasn't such a bad score after all."
"Um-yeah, hey bro, I cashed in about half those pennies. Got forty-three dollars and bought some tokay and smokes."
"Party down, Dude. We just gotta hang til payday this fall. It's about time to go do the food stamp thing again and maybe we can sell something we ripped off."
"Amen, bro. If we can round up enough cold caps to brew an ounce, we could sell some of it and do the rest--Oh yeah, I gotta tell ya--we got Ronnie living in the newest trailer out back."
"Who the hell is Ronnie?" Hayes wanted to know.
"Veronica. An old acquaintance. She just got evicted again. She's not very together."
"So are you a unit? Do you play hide the wee wee? This is the first time I've heard you mention her. How did this happen?" This had been the furthest thing from Hayes' mind a minute ago.
Larry thoughtfully swilled warm tokay from the bottle and drew a generic cigarette from an open pack. He ran it beneath his big nose appreciatively before he stuck it in his hairy face and lit up.
"Ronnie used to be a stone fox, bro. She did too much PCP one night a few years ago and ain't been quite the same since. She's harmless. I made her take a shower when she got here. My bro, Loomis, called me. Couldn't think of what else to do with her. She is housebroke. She sobers up when she runs out of booze and has to bicycle to the beer store for more. She gets a disability check. I gave her the schnapps to keep her happy tonight. I don't like the stuff anyway."
Hayes digested the news. It didn't matter much that somebody was living in one of the wretched trailers behind the house. It sounded like she wasn't playing with a full deck. Maybe she could be fleeced for some rent money. Sure enough, there were now two extension cords routed out the back window. The crack between sash and sill let in a distinct breeze. Maybe he could fill the gap with newspaper. Good idea. He would get to it when he fixed the hole in the back door window. "Hey Larry, Where'd you score the firewood?" The stove was glowing with a wealth of coals that had been generated with something heavier than a few 2X4s.
"Oh yeah, bro. I checked out the old chainsaw and mixed up a little saw gas and it ran! So I sharpened on it and took your dad's truck over on the fed land and cut up a dead tree on the ground--I think it was a fir--whacked it into 10 foot chunks and brought it home. The saw was duller than my sex life. Is there a saw file around? I could only find a really old one. I hack off a few chunks as needed."
"Far out, Dawg." Hayes was impressed. It would never occur to him to go cut real wood. 2X4s and electric heat would do it as far as he was concerned.
Hayes wandered around the house with a beer trying to divine hiding places that might hold Dad's pistols or other valuables. He reached up and poked the cardboard boxes on the top shelf of the closet in the master bedroom. Three of them were quite light but the forth was a little heavier.
He parked his beer on a dresser and fetched a chair from the kitchen and took down the heavier box. It was full of photographs. Some of them were in frames but most of them were just loose. Curiosity overcame him and he stepped down from the chair and carried the box and his beer to the kitchen table.
Scary Larry sat smoking and drinking, his pills pushed to the side. "Whatch you got there, bro?"
"I think it's just photos, Dawg. Seems a little heavier than most of the other boxes of crap so I figured I'd shake it down." He pawed to the bottom of the box to feel for any treasures that might be hidden there. He felt a heavy hardwood frame towards the bottom of the Spam box and tilted it up to the side to keep the loose snapshots from spilling out.
A young man wearing rumpled khaki faced the camera in black and white, arms akimbo. He was smiling and standing on a truck hood through a ragged hole in an airplane wing.
Hayes had to look hard to convince himself that the airplane was real. It looked more like something Bozo the Clown would fly. It was a single engined tail dragger parked on main wheels that popped sideways and down out of the fuselage below the leading edge of the mid mounted wing. A pair of men at the front of the tubby airplane had stopped removing the cowling from the air cooled engine and were smiling at the camera too. They wore baggy shorts with baseball caps. All three men were darkly tanned. The sun had been very bright when the photo was taken and you could count hundreds of rivets. Part of a white star in a dark circle on the side of the aircraft showed over the back of the truck.
The camera angle was looking down on the two mechanics but a little up at the man in khaki, so it was likely the photographer was standing on a 55 gallon drum. There were palm trees in the background.
"Who's that, bro? You look just like him." Larry was piqued by the large photograph.
"That must be Gramps. He's gotta be younger in the picture than I am now. I remember him. He died of cancer when I was four or five."
"Those have got to be little Japanese flags painted on the side of the airplane."
Hayes unfolded the wooden leg on the back of the photo and sat it on the table. Returning to the box, he sifted through haphazard strata of photographs. Dad had stopped taking pictures when he and Mom got divorced. There was nothing newer than 1990. There were quite a few black and white photos from the fifties when Cletus was a young man.
He pulled up another heavy frame from the bottom of the box. "Check it out, Dawg, This one looks like you!"
The man in the photograph did have an immense beard like Larry. At first Hayes thought that it was one of those gag pictures taken at the county fair where you don old time cowboy, Indian or saloon girl costumes and have your photo taken with prop guns in sepia tones so it looks like an heirloom from the 1800s. He was a tall man seated in a heavy chair. The photo itself had been badly dogeared across one corner before it was framed. He had three broad chevrons on his dark sleeve with the points facing down. A curved sword in a metal scabbard lay across his lap with the basket hilt to his right. In his relaxed hands he held a banjo as if he was about to play it. His eyes were bright but if he was smiling, you couldn't tell it under his huge moustache.
A woman stood at his side with her hand on his shoulder. She wore a long dark skirt with her hair up and did not smile.
"Who are they, bro?"
Hayes had no idea. In the bottom right corner of the photo was scratched June 1865 so that it stood out in white.
It was an amazing photograph, clear, focused and well composed. He had never seen it before. It made you want to know who this couple was and how their old photo came to be in a cardboard box on a high shelf in a closet at the dead end of a country lane near Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Larry's cigarette died of neglect on the table edge. He stared at the photo. "He must have been an Army musician--see he has a French horn for an insignia on his cap."
"Yeah, that's it." nodded Hayes. I guess he must be a relative but I've never heard a word about him. Never seen this photo before."
He stood the tarnished frame with the banjo player by the wooden one of Gramps with the airplane just as the phone rang. Hayes picked it up. It was Big Barbara wanting to know if Scary Larry was there.
"Larry who?" lied Hayes swiftly. "Oh, Scary Larry? No I saw him last week in Eugene....in a pawn shop." After a few minutes, Hayes said "Yeah, sure--Goodbye" and hung up the phone.
"Hey, Larry--the next time I see you, I'm supposed to tell you that you're a creep and a lying sack of shit and that you should go fuck yourself. Oh yeah--the cops have been by Big Barbara's house looking for you. They didn't say what for. Sounds like Big Barb didn't like having the cops stop by for a visit."
Larry grimaced. He had been quite content to decamp from Barbara's life and could have cheerfully gone til his dying day without hearing from her again. Cops looking for him was worrisome. He could think of nothing other than cooking meth that should bring the cops looking for him. These days, the cops didn't have time or jail space to deal with prostitutes, nickel-dime drug dealers, car thieves or other small time criminals. But they would make an exception for meth cooking and sales.
Larry always tried to put a lot of shade on his meth cooking. He didn't sell as much as he smoked and snorted with his friends. But people knew and somebody might have squealed on him for a lighter sentence--exaggerating the amount Larry cooked and sold. He wasn't about to call the police to find out what the beef was.
Copyright ©2006 by Norm Maxwell
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