Saturday, June 8, 2013

How 'Rafter's Redemption' came about and some thoughts on writing fiction

  After working for over two decades in journalism, in newspapers to be specific, I had an itch that needed scratching when it came to writing style. I needed to not only re-evaluate the way I wrote, but what I was writing about.
  As you can imagine this took some time. Years. Then last year, I wrote my first fiction piece - Rafter's Redemption - a 40,000 word novella. I went with the idea that writing about what you know - or have experience in - makes for a stronger story.
  To be clear, this book is fiction. Not my life experiences. I've had people ask me if I was Rafter, the main character in the story? The answer is NO! Yes, I'm a Vietnam/Cambodian veteran, but none of the experiences in the book are mine. That goes for the pot growing part.
  I never got involved in growing, but I did move to Humboldt County in the mi-1970's when a lot of veterans were escaping the cities and coming up to Humboldt and growing weed. For the record, I've lived in Humboldt County - with the exception of a couple of years break inbetween - for three decades.
  That accounts for my familiarty with the area. Again, writing about what I knew. The challenge was pulling the story together while trying to be as descriptive as possible. My journalistic style was hard for me to deviate from and I struggled at times, searching for adjectives like a man in the desert despertly searching for water.
  Publishing my first effort on a blog like this has been informative.I've got terrific feedback. Many people couldn't understand why I didn't self-publishing this story on an e-book or something along those lines.
  My only answer to that is I wanted as many people as possible to read my first effort at fiction, and offering free access has accomplished that I believe. During the 10 weeks I ran it - a chapter per week- there were over 60,000 views.And, excellent feedback from viewers.
  Based upon the positive responses, I've decided to write another fiction piece. I'm not sure If I will try to self-publish (that takes a lot of work). I may shop it around with agents and see what happens. But I have to write it first! Any suggests? 
  Thanks for stopping by!
- Dave Stancliff

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

                                   CHAPTER 10
                                            FINAL  ACTS

                                        Rafter's Redemption
                                           By Dave Stancliff 
  A month passed as Rafter and Smiley recovered from their wounds. Jenny kept things moving. She cleaned the house and made their meals. She came up with little odd jobs that both men could handle in their weakened conditions.

   Sundance chased Mogli around the yard in the waning light of the day. In the drying shed, Rafter and Smiley recounted the pounds of pot. Each was wrapped in plastic and tagged with a number.

   “That’s 174 pounds right?” Smiley asked.

   “Right on.”

   “We can’t count on your buddy Lenny to help us get rid of these because he’s too busy bossing Rick’s smoke. Looks like you and I have to play salesman again.”

   “There it is. I’m think of selling mine out-of-state. I’m also thinking of moving out of the state. The magic of Humboldt County is gone for me. I need to escape these new ghosts we’ve created,” Rafter said.

   “So when do you plan on making your move?” Smiley asked. 

    “Soon. Not quite sure when, but soon…”

   Rafter straightened up and stretched as he stacked the last pound on the pallet. He limped over to the side door and stopped for a moment.

 “Are you coming?” he asked Smiley. 

  Suddenly both men froze.

  Every combat veteran knows the whopping sound the UH- 1 Gunship-Transport Huey helicopter makes. They brought you down in the middle of hell and were there when it was time to go back. 

  The sound of the rotor blades caused a different reaction in the two men. Smiley listened intently, weighing options, and wondering who was going to visit them. He was outwardly calm and calculating.

  In Rafter’s head he was in one of a dozen slicks, each carrying 11 men, flying over the Song Ve Valley. His squad was aboard one of the helicopters. The Hueys dropped, one by one, down to an open area between stretches of jungle. They didn’t know it, but they were landing on a hornet’s nest.     

  Rafter’s eyes glazed over and Smiley heard him shout, “Hey! I’m an American! Look at me! Look at me!” He raised his arms to the sky pleading to be picked up. Smiley wasn’t sure what to do with him. It was obvious he was having another flashback. The whopping sounds got louder.

   On the other side of the mountain Rick stopped watering his plants and looked up at the rapidly darkening sky. His sharp old eyes spotted movements on the dim horizon, then his ears picked up the familiar whopping sound. He sighed. Part of him had expected this day to come. The day when the government made its move.

  “Probably DEA…” he told Lenny, who was watching him tend the plants. 

  A blank look came over Lenny’s face and he looked up into the sky.

  “What the hell?” he replied.

  “Here comes trouble. C’mon. Follow me, we haven’t got much time.” 

  The two men ran headlong towards the house. Rick moved surprisingly fast. Faster than Lenny had ever seen him move. Rick was more of a mystery than ever.

  Leading the way, Rick burst through the front door and ran to his room in the rear of the house. Lenny stopped in the living room and listened to the increasingly loud noise overhead. His normally pale face was now chalk white. Who was coming? He hadn’t clearly heard what Rick said.

  Rick reappeared holding two M-16s and two bandoleers with extra clips of ammunition. He casually tossed a bandoleer to Lenny, who stood petrified in the middle of the room. Smiling broadly, he asked,

 Have you ever fired a rifle? 

Lenny’s head swiveled from side to side as he tried to speak. His mouth felt stuffed with cotton.

  “Don’t worry about it, my man, these things are really easy to use.”

  He offered him one of the M-16s. Woodenly, Lenny reached out and took it, surprised at how light it was. He couldn’t seem to form words.

  Rick studied him for a moment.

  “Well, it’s up to you partner. I’m going out and defend my crops from these invaders. These people shoot and then ask questions. Government sanctioned killers. DEA. I’ve heard rumors for over a year that a task force was forming. Looks like they’re ready to play. I’m outta here…”

  Lenny dropped the M-16. Lucky for him, it wasn’t loaded. He threw the bandoleer down and looked around for a place to hide in the house. He told himself that if he survived this situation he was done with selling pot. The whole scene had turned into a major bummer.

  Back at Smiley’s drying shed Rafter suddenly came to himself. He realized the helicopters meant trouble right now and hobbled as fast as he could on his bum hip to the house. Jenny stood at the front door looking skyward. 

  “Get Sundance and Mogli! Quick! To the bunker!” he shouted.

  Jenny instantly responded and went back inside the house. Rafter followed as best as he could. Jenny found Mogli and took him in her arms. Sundance ran to her and they went out the back door. Rafter stopped just outside the house and looked around.

  Where had Smiley gone? What was he doing? No time to find out. The tree tops bent under the force of the helicopter blades. He turned and followed Jenny into the trees.

  Smiley threw the last gas can aside and took out a book of matches. He’d saturated the barn - with their precious marijuana - in gasoline. He paused before throwing the match and thought about the money the weed represented. Gone now.

  There was no other choice. If they didn’t find his pot they couldn’t bust him and take his land away. Or his freedom. He lit a match and let it fall on the pile of hay in the center of the barn. Took a few more steps and struck another match, and another…
  Rick watched the first of the two helicopters land near his Jeep. They were both black with no markings. The men who poured out of them wore black and had DEA stenciled on their armored vests. Inside the house, Lenny was terrified. He jumped out a side window and ran towards the nearest trees. He wondered what the popping sounds were.

  The first two off the helicopter spun around, clutched their shattered helmets and fell. Rick’s .33 caliber hunting rifle used bullets with 250 grains of gunpowder. Enough to stop a charging Rhino, or shatter a plastic helmet like it wasn’t there.

  The remaining six agents scattered. Rick withheld his fire while they poured hundreds of rounds in his direction. The Redwood tree he was hiding behind gave him great protection. Rick might not have been a combat veteran, but he grew up hunting and was a crack shot.

  Five hundred yards away, to the south, Lenny lay down on his stomach in some dense ferns near the stump of an old Redwood tree. He figured out what the popping sounds were when he saw the muzzle flashes and a stream of red tracers stitching the growing darkness. He began to pray in earnest.

  Rick retreated on his belly, snaking through ferns and thick undergrowth, until he was 50 yards south of his original position. He took up a sitting position in a strand of young spruce pines and waited.

  He didn’t have to wait long. The agents also moved about and two had him spotted. They fired in his direction as he squeezed off a shot. One of the agents dropped his weapon and fell forward. Rick took two slugs in his chest and rolled over. 

  He couldn’t feel his fingers or move but he was still breathing. He was on his back and saw the stars between the giant trees surrounding them. A smile broke out on his face. He tried to say something to the men who gathered around him, pointing their weapons.

  Time stood still as a rivulet of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. He croaked once. One of the agents leaned over as if to hear his last words. Then one word came out, clear and strong,


  The sound of gunfire filled the night.

  Hyper alert Lenny heard him speak. It sounded like “Pig.” 

Then more gunfire. It was more than he could bear. He curled up into a ball in the dense vegetation and prayed no one would find him. He fell asleep from sheer exhaustion after several hours of pure terror.
  Kalispell, Montana - Rafter, Jenny, Sundance, and Mogli settled in for another winter of snow-oriented activities including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and touring. A year had passed since the raid and not one word from Smiley. 

  Thanks to Jenny’s aunt Susan, they had found a place far away from Humboldt County. An old boyfriend of hers had agreed to sell his luxury lodge in Kalispell. They wouldn’t be giving up anything in the scenic beauty department, he assured Jenny and Rafter.

  They lived close to Glacier National Park which contained a particularly rich biological diversity of plant and animal species. Their new neighborhood was 10,000 foot peaks, alpine meadows, lakes and streams, and nearly 50 glaciers. Getting used to the temperatures proved to be a challenge at first. 

  Money was no object. Most of Jenny’s money from their grows had been in three banks. She did lose some cash and all of her jewelry to whoever took their house safe in the raid. Rafter was in even better financial shape. Trusty Lenny had put his cash in two safe deposit boxes.

  When he called a week after the raid Lenny answered his home phone in southern California. He’d escaped and swore off selling pot. He was concentrating on his grades in college. He’d managed to save enough money to pay his way through college to a masters degree in business, if he so desired. 

  “You know they killed Rick,” Rafter told him.

  “Yeah. I read the story. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m going legit, Rafter. I’d advise you to do the same.”

  “No problem there. I promised Jenny to walk the straight and narrow when we move.”

  Rafter had called from Jenny‘s Aunt Susan’s house in Ferndale. After the call, he drove to Lenny’s house in a car rented by Jenny’s aunt. It took eleven hours, with two stops for gas.

  The two old friends drank a bottle of 19-year old scotch and talked about old times for hours.

  “You’re going to stay in touch with me, aren’t you?” Lenny asked, refilling Rafter’s shot class.

  “Of course. It’s not like I have all that many friends,” Rafter chided. “Seriously, you’re like a brother to me. I plan on having many good times ahead.”

  The next day they went to the safe deposit boxes and emptied them. They hugged. Rafter got in his rented car and promised to stay in touch. He thought about seeing his parents, then decided against it. Perhaps another time. It would take eleven hours of driving to get back to Humboldt County and he was eager to start his new life.

  Two days later Jenny and he bought a brand new Ford F-350 King cab and headed for Montana. Despite all the terrible things that had happened, Jenny was happy. She was with Rafter and that was all that mattered. Nine months after moving into their new home he asked her to marry him.

  Lenny and Aunt Susan came to witness their union. It was held in a small church just outside of the Kalispell city limits. Lenny got a surprise phone call before he left for Montana.
  Snow blanketed the ground outside the picturesque little church with it’s old fashioned steeple and bell. It was a picture right from a post card. The stained glass windows glowed in the afternoon sun, lighting the interior of the church.

  Only three trucks and one car were parked in the church parking lot. Suddenly another truck approached and turned into the parking lot. The driver jumped out and ran for the front door. 
  It was warm inside the church and Sundance, with Mogli patiently sitting on his lap, sat in the first pew. As the ceremony was about to begin, the preacher asked, 

“Is there anyone here who objects to this marriage?”

  Suddenly, the church door burst open and a tall, red bearded man with blue eyes hurried down the aisle. The preacher stopped short and watched him with a wary eye. All eyes turned to him as he approached the altar.

   “I’m in time, right?” Smiley said with a stern look. 

  The tense silence that followed was palpable. The preacher, an older man with a long white beard, looked at Rafter and then Smiley, trying to gauge the situation.

  Jenny looked at Rafter and then Smiley. Rafter watched Smiley intently, searching for an expression that would tip off his mood. 

  The silence was finally broken, Smiley asked, 

 “Can I be the best man?”

Dave Stancliff is a retired newspaper editor and publisher who currently writes an Op Ed column for a daily newspaper in Northern California.
He’s a Vietnam veteran (Tour of Duty-1970), husband, father, grandfather, blogger since 2008, and a lifetime Los Angeles Laker fan. You can reach Dave at or his blog, “As It Stands” at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

                                                       CHAPTER 9
                                            DEATH IN THE REDWOODS
                                                   Rafter's Redemption
                                                    By Dave Stancliff 

  Rick knew something was wrong when Rafter didn’t show up for the morning sweat. He was over an hour late. Not like Rafter. It was a special sweat, too. Lenny’s first, and he needed Rafter’s guidance. After smoking a joint with Lenny,  Rick shared his concerns and they agreed to go to Smiley’s house and see what was going on.
   Once Rafter was in a heavily forested spot surrounding with brush he stopped crawling through the old growth redwood. He leaned his head back against a tree and looked up and thought he saw infinity before passing out from loss of blood.

  Jenny cautiously led Sundance out of the hideout and toward Rick’s ranch. She didn’t know where else to go. They’d gone a short way when she noticed something strange;  bloody drag marks on the ground. She was no woodsman, but after several years of walking around these hills she had learned to recognize animal sign. And blood trails!

  All her senses went into overdrive as she carefully followed the blood-speckled drag marks. Minutes passed before she found Rafter. A shaft of sunlight broke through the canopy overhead and illuminated his pale face. She feared she was too late and had to fight back tears as she knelt down and felt his neck for a pulse.

  He was alive, but barely. Then she saw the gunshot wound to his thigh. The lower half of his body was soaked with his lifeblood. She felt his thigh until she found a  gaping hole still seeping blood. She tore pieces of cloth from his t-shirt to tie above the wounded area to staunch the bleeding, and to plug the hole.

   Sundance watched with wide eyes and softly called out Rafter’s name. Tears ran down his chubby cheeks as he watched Jenny work. He loved Rafter. He knew his Mommy did too. Rafter had to be okay. If only he would wake up!

  Smokey walked slowly. His whole body hurt and it pissed him off. He had just finished drinking a six pack of Budweiser to keep his buzz going. It was daylight outside and time to finish off this little drama. He would have to get the safe key before he killed Jenny, and thought he could manage that by threatening Sundance. What chance did a woman and a child have against him? 
  They couldn’t have gone far. He expected to find them soon. He cradled the shotgun in one arm like the hunters he saw on TV. Maybe he’d take up hunting after he resettled in Mexico. Of course, it would never be as pleasurable as this hunting expedition. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No doubt about. He probably should take pictures of the dead to prove he was a bad ass dude, so when he got older and his memory wasn’t as sharp, he could look at them.

  That made him chuckle. He entered the forest. He’d had time to think about it. This was the way to the ranch where their crazy friend Rick lived and he knew Jenny would try to get help. He knew the way. He’d gone with Smiley and Rafter to visit the crazy coot several times. A crude trail wound through the hills right to Rick’ s house. Even a city boy like Smokey could find it again.

  There was one other important thing Smokey knew. A concealed bunker he had discovered in his wanderings. One day he saw Smiley disappear into a thicket with a bag and return shortly thereafter empty handed. Being clever and curious, Smokey investigated and, after hours of looking he discovered the bunkers location. He had kept that knowledge to himself.

  Now, as he walked through the forest he grew serious and listened closely. They were out here somewhere and he was going to find them. There was still a lot for him to do. He had to dispose of all the bodies for starters. He went to the bunker first. They weren’t there.

  It was almost anti-climatic when he found them. Jenny was tending to Rafter’s wound when he stepped off the trail at the sound of Sundance’s voice. He was surprised to see Rafter after shooting him under the house. Apparently he hadn’t finished the job. What kind of man killer was he, anyway?

  “Well, look what we have here.” He mocked them casually waving the 12- gauge. “Two star-crossed lovers. Looks like lover boy has had it, but I can’t write him off yet. He’s a durable bastard. I’ll take care of him shortly. You and I have some talking to do first. Where’s your key to the safe?”

  “Who said I have one?” Jenny stalled. 

  “Don’t try that with me, girlie. Playing stupid is going to get your son hurt.”

  He reached out, grabbed Sundance’s arm, and pulled him away from her. Sundance cried out in terror. At the same time Rafter opened his eyes and weakly called out Sundance’s name!

   “It’s time for ‘The Price Is Right’ Jenny and if you don’t give me that key your brat is dead!”

   “No! Stop! Here it is!” she cried.

   She pulled a golden chain from her neck with the key dangling from it. 

  “Please! Here!” she pleaded and threw it to him. 
  He lowered the shotgun and Sundance,deftly catching the chain and key in mid air.Sundance took the opportunity to scamper to Jenny and clutch her leg.

   “That was sure easy, Jenny. Just to show my appreciation, I’ll kill you before I kill your brat. You know, so you won’t have to see me make cottage cheese out of him! This really has been a great experience but…”

  The zing of a Winchester is recognizable to gun aficionados. One barked three times and Smokey staggered around like a puppet whose strings had been cut loose. Blood blossomed on his back and he clutched his chest. The shotgun slipped from his nerveless fingers to the forest floor and he sunk down groaning. 
  Smiley spit a gob of phlegm at Smokey’s still twitching body and stood there with his Winchester. His left arm hung loosely by his side. He watched Smokey die,gurgling in his own blood,with contempt. 

  In the distance they heard the roar of Rick’s Jeep. As it came closer, they could hear Lenny calling Rafter’s name. Rafter, whose head was nestled in Jenny’s lap, looked up at Smiley and weakly asked, 

 “What took you so long to get here, bro?”

   It fell on Jenny to care for the two wounded men. She managed to get them into the back seats of the crew-cab with help from Rick and Lenny. She put Sundance’s in the front. Mogli rode between them. It was a bumpy road and the men groaned in spite of themselves. 

  Sundance was silent. Something unusual for him. Normally a chatter box, he had trouble saying what was going on in his head. He’d seen a man die violently. His world had changed. It was no longer safe and he was afraid. Mogli, who normally would have been yapping playfully, seemed to pick up the mood and lay quietly on the seat. 

   Jenny’s true character came to the fore as she took charge and maintained her calm.

   “We need a story,” she said.

   Smiley agreed out loud, but Rafter merely nodded, drifting in and out of consciousness.

  “How about a hunting accident?” Smiley ventured.

   “How would that work?” Jenny asked.

  “We can say that while deer hunting Rafter and I were directly across from each other at one point - by accident of course - and both shot at the same buck.”

   “I don’t know. You have a .30-30 Winchester and Rafter was hit by a 12-gage shotgun. There’s a big difference in the wounds.”

   “We can say I had the shotgun and Rafter had the Winchester.”

   “What about your wound? You were hit by a shotgun too.”

   “We both had shotguns?”

   “For hunting deer?”

   “Well hell Jenny, I’m trying…”
   “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to give you a hard time Smiley, but we need a plausible story for the authorities. Hospitals always report gun wounds.”

  “Wait a minute? Why go to a hospital? Nothing but questions there. I know a doctor in Garberville who has his own practice. He’s a friend. A fellow Nam vet. I bet he’d help us out.”

  “Okay…where does he live?”

  It was light outside when they pulled up in front of a small house in a tree-lined neighborhood off the main drag of Garberville. A sign hung on a stand in the middle of the well-trimmed lawn, “Dr. Harold West.” That was all the information on it. No hours or days. The dark green letters stood out sharply on the white backround.

  Jenny reached back and gently shook Rafter, who had dozed off. Smiley stared at the front door of the house, his expression unreadable. 

  “I’ll take it from here,” he said.

  The loss of blood was taking it’s toll. Smiley had trouble standing after he got out of the truck. He tried to clear his head and recall all he knew about Dr. Harold West. He was content to have a small practice with one secretary. He was secretive and had few friends. Smiley was lucky to be one of the chosen few.

  He had been a Marine, stationed in a hospital in De Nang. During the 1968 Tet Offensive. Viet Cong fighters broke into the hospital and slaughtered 18 bed-ridden men. He personally helped fight off the attackers and killed two of them.

  Smiley met him at a friend’s house, a grower, and they hit it off. Harold, whose soft voice was soothing, was the complete opposite of  Smiley, whose voice reverberated loudly in any room. Rumors were that Harold often treated people outside of the law. He gave “private practice” a new meaning by never advertising and seldom taking regular patients.  

  Smiley steadied himself against the wood door frame and knocked. Noticing a buzzer, he pushed it too. He heard a rustling inside and suddenly the front door opened. Harold asked,

  “What happened Smiley? 

  “Need help. My friend too. Bad scene. No cops.” 

  Harold’s eyes, wide with surprise, suddenly blinked. His expression became guarded. Then he looked at Smiley’s side and all the blood. A silent decision was made.

   “Get in here quick. I don’t have any patients today. What about your friend?”

   “Outside in the pickup truck.”

   “Go into the bathroom and wait for me. I’ll be right back.”

   Outside Harold saw the pickup and its three occupants. Not just one friend in need. He broke out in a sweat and walked up to the driver’s side.

   “Smiley said someone else is hurt,” he said without an introduction.

  Jenny gave him a weak smile and opened the door.

  “In the back seat.”

  Harold looked in on Rafter and saw blood from the waist down. His head hung low, chin on chest, and his breathing was rapid and irregular.

   “Can you help me get him inside?”

  Together they got Rafter to his feet. He came to, blinked his eyes and groaned in pain. Despite his misery, he was aware of a new person in the picture and a strange house. They managed to hold him up, and they struggled inside. Jenny went back to fetch Sundance and Mogli.

  Rick and Lenny worked silently and steadily, deepening the hole which would receive Smokey’s remains. Lenny felt as though he had stepped into a horror movie. Part of his brain screamed,

 “I’m burying a dead man! A bloody and bloated dead man! How can this be happening?”

  When the hole reached a depth of four feet, they stopped. They lifted the body and tossed it into the grave. They took a break for a few minutes before filling in the hole. Violent death was a new experience for Lenny. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and stared down at the crumpled body. Rick, who’d seen the handiwork of war, was unfazed by the deadly turn of events.
  Suddenly Rick spoke, 

   “This asshole is why you have to be careful,” he warned. 

   Lenny was surprised at Rick’s outburst and nodded his head, timidly agreeing to whatever Rick meant. 

   “It was a bad call, bringing that shifty-eyed bastard on to help. I was surprised when Smiley told me about him. He hardly knew the jerk! I predicted trouble. I sure hate it when I’m right like this,” Rick said.

  Without another word, Rick picked up a shovel and tossed it to Lenny, who was regretting his involvement in the cover up. They filled the hole with dark rich earth and tamped it down with their boots. Then they picked up nearby leaves and twigs and scattered them over the earth. Rick relieved himself on the grave site in a final show of distain.

  As they drove back to Rick’s place, both men were silent,  buried in their thoughts. Rick’s normal paranoia grew with every mile. Visions of law enforcement officers searching the mountain for Smokey danced through his fevered brain like imps in hell. How far would they look? Would they come looking for him at all?

  Lenny tried to re-normalize his world. It was shaken badly. He had become accessory to murder when he helped bury Smokey. The thought tortured him. He didn’t mind being on the other side of the law when it came to selling pot, but this new development was more than he ever bargained for. He glanced at Rick lean face. A blank slate. Whatever was going on behind those dark eyes was carefully concealed.

  When they finally pulled up the house, Rick broke the silence.

  “Just how fast can you move my pot?”

Coming May 28th - THE FINAL CHAPTER - Chapter 10 - FINAL ACTS

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

                                 CHAPTER 8

                                   Rafter's Redemption
                                   By Dave Stancliff   

   Sgt. Borgalac kept asking Rafter for his canteen of Scotch. His shattered face gleamed wetly under the full moon’s light.  Sprawled out on the ground, without ears, eyes, and genitals, Hansen lay in a growing pool of blood in the middle of an alley. Suddenly he sat up and pointed at Rafter.

   “Where were you buddy? I didn’t stand a chance?”

  Rafter screamed so hard he fell out of bed! But he didn’t come to his senses. Still wrapped in his nightmare, he got up off the hardwood floor and lunged across the room. He began swinging his arms and making contact with walls and a lamp on the dresser, which he sent flying off into the dark room.

  The shattering lamp woke Sundance and he immediately began to cry. Jenny jumped out of bed and ran to Sundance’s room. Her mother’s instinct blindly led her to him. She held him close. A wail of anguish startled her, until she realized it came from Rafter’s room.

  Out in the drying shed, Smiley and Smokey were working on their second bottle of Jack Daniels. As usual, Smiley wasn’t holding his liquor as well as Smokey. He was nearly blind drunk. Smokey had drunk more than usual and was feeling reckless. Maybe it was because he felt so physically strong. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been laid in months.

  “So you see the way she looks at him?” Smokey asked.

  “What the hell are you talking about? The way who looks at who?” 

  Too drunk to back down, Smokey went on, ’Jenny of course. Your old lady. She gives Rafter that look a lot.”

   “Look a lot?” 
   “You know what I mean. That look. Where you want someone to have sex with you.”

   “Sex? Who? You mean Rafter and Jenny? I told you before they’re just friends.”

   “Hell yes. Are you blind or what? I bet she’s been doing him when you’re not around for years now. They must have been laughing out loud behind your back all along. Hell, I’ll bet Sundance is his kid!”

   “The hell you say…”

   “Listen…I didn’t want to bring this up again, but your partner has been plowing your ground for years.”

  Smiley stood up and shook his head as if to clear it. Then he raised the bottle of Jack Daniels and took a hearty slug. 

  “We’ll see about that,” he said, slurring the words. He stumbled towards the main house.
  Jenny was so proud of Sundance. Once she explained to him that Rafter was having a bad nightmare, he settled back down in his bed. Then she was able to go into Rafter’s room and check on him. 

  He was leaning against the wall, head down and sobbing, when she came into his room. Without thinking, she went up to him, wrapped her arms around him, and gave him a hug. He kept sobbing. She held him close and felt his terrified heart beating in his chest. 

  Smiley walked into the room! Snarling like an animal he awkwardly lunged across the room and barreled into them! Jenny fell backward and Rafter wobbled around, but kept his feet. They embraced like two enraged bears and thrashed around the room. Rafter bigger and stronger, broke loose and threw a combination of punches that knocked Smiley down and nearly out.

  He’d never been hit so hard in his life! His jaw felt like it was broken and he was sucking air between what he was sure were broken ribs. Unable to stand, he waited for more punishment.

  Rafter staggered around the room throwing his arms blindly around like windmills. They hit the wall, the chest of drawers and  paddled at the air furiously. Then Smiley saw the blank sleepwalker eyes and knew what was going on in a flash of understanding. 
   Rafter was having one of his damn nightmares!

   He stopped and sagged against a wall. Jenny came up to him and hugged him. Smiley was suddenly sober as he looked at the panting, tortured soul before him and realized his mistake. Jenny was between them, facing Rafter, softly speaking words of understanding and assurance. She looked over her shoulder once at Smiley and saw that he understood what really was happening.

  Jenny knew he was drunk again and spending too much time with that snake Smokey. She instinctively knew Smokey was to blame for this incident. She felt no pity for Smiley, and wasn‘t concerned about his injuries. She had stopped feeling anything good about him a long time ago.

  Clutching his side, Smiley got up and walked out of the room burning with shame at his stupidity. He went straight to the drying shed to see Smokey. Despite the pain in his ribs and jaw, he kicked Smokey’s ass around the shed almost leisurely, inflicting pain and then taking a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniels, before continuing the beat down. It lasted for an hour before Smiley passed out drunk.  
   He should have tied Smokey up or run him off the property. It was too late for that. Smiley was deep in his drunken sleep when the shotgun roared! He was lying on his stomach and his back was suddenly turned into a bloody mess! Smokey looked down at the ragged flesh and the growing pool of blood and felt a warm rush in his loins. 
Something had snapped inside him after the beating. For the first time in Smokey's life he was ready to take someone else’s life. He’d known where Smiley kept the old 12- gauge shotgun in the drying shed, the one they sometimes let him use when they were out tending the gardens. The beating had sent him over the edge. He got the 12-gauge, shot Smiley, and turned his attention to the house.  

   He could barely walk, he was so sore. His eyes were so swollen and he had to squint through slits to see. After shooting Smiley, he grabbed a pocket full of shells and hobbled toward the main house.

  Jenny couldn’t stop Rafter from leaving the house. His hallucinations had taken over and he was somewhere in Southeast Asia running from an invisible enemy. She didn’t follow him out of the house because of Sundance.

   She heard a shotgun blast outside. Reacting instantly, she ran to grab Sundance. Next she ran to her room and grabbed the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson she kept in the dresser drawer beside her bed. She slipped it into the pocket of her robe and ran to the back door. Mogli followed them.

   The adrenaline pouring through Smokey’s system was better than the best Meth he’d ever had. It made heroin look tame. He could see how people got addicted to this pleasurable rush that came when you killed someone. Shooting Smiley had turned his monster loose, and now he stalked the others with eager anticipation. His time had come. 

  Jenny took Sundance and Mogli to the “hideout.” It was a concealed bunker the three partners had built for protection a couple of years ago. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d pass the hideout because it was well camouflaged. There were cots and camping gear stashed inside. Several folding chairs stood next to them. A complex air exchange and duct system was cleverly concealed from the outside. 

  There were boxes of C-rations and plastic jugs of water in the bunker, along with a battery radio, a 20 gallon tank of propane for the camp stove, and stacks of magazines to read. There were three battery powered lanterns and a box of flares. A small round wooden table sat in the center of the room.

  She was starting to doubt herself for running to the bunker when she heard Smokey’s voice,

 “Hey! Don’t be shy! It’s just me…come on out! I just want to play with you guys. Don’t you like to play games Sundance?” 

  Jenny put a hand over Mogli’s mouth, but he didn’t resist. It was like he understood he had to be quiet.

  Smokey couldn’t see where they were and was hoping they hadn’t gone too far. That they were still within range of his voice. He didn’t feel like chasing them right now. He was feeling the effects of the beating. It was still dark out and he needed something for the pain. 

   “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a little while,” he called at the tree line where he supposed they had disappeared. 

   He still had one more thing to attend to before hunting Jenny and her brat down. That crazy bastard Rafter was roaming around somewhere. He went back to the main house and started up the steps to the front door. He heard a moan. He froze and listened closely. There it was again! Someone was under the house and  it had to be Rafter. He backtracked and looked at the wooden skirting surrounding the house.

  It became a deadly game. He got down on all fours, crept up to the intricate lattice work and peeked under the house. 

   “Come out, come out wherever you are!” he called.

  At first there was no sound and he wondered if he’d imagined the groan? Then he heard it! Another groan. He saw movement from that direction, 

  “I’ve got you now, you son of a bitch!” he shouted, firing the shotgun!

  Rafter howled in pain when the shot struck his hip! He was still in the clutches of his hallucinations and didn’t know who he was. He was stuck between reality and the mother of all nightmares. He had no idea who would want to shoot him. 

  Only his survival instincts could help him now. He didn’t move despite the horrendous pain and slowed his breathing.

  Smokey, who pumped another shell into the breech, peered through the wood work and saw Rafter’s outline clearly against the first rays of morning light. He wasn’t moving. Damn! This killing stuff was fun! He had no idea how easy it was. Who would have thought? He wondered if there was any beer in the house? He was thirsty.

  Rafter heard footsteps above him and knew his attacker was inside the house. Animal instinct told him he had to move now. To get help. He was bleeding profusely. Ignoring the pain, he crawled to an opening in the lattice work and pulled himself through onto the wet grass. 

  He stopped crawling once and looked at the sunrise heralding a new day with shades of pink and orange at the skyline. Memories stirred. Names rattled around in his head. Lenny. Rick. Jenny. Who were they? Then instinct took over again and he crawled toward the tree line.

  Jenny knew she couldn’t stay in the hideout forever. By now, she suspected Smokey had shot Smiley. She tried not to think about him dead. She had no idea where Rafter was, or if he was still alive. She had heard another shot hours ago and suspected Smokey had shot him too. That 12-gauge made a distinct sound. She prayed Rafter wasn’t dead. It just wouldn’t be fair. There was so much she wanted to say to him.

  Sundance agreed it wouldn’t be fair when she shared her thoughts with him. With four-year old wisdom, he assured her everything was going to be all right, and he would look out for her. She smiled at him and thought he looked like a little angel with his golden locks. Then she slipped her hand into her robe pocket and held the pistol for reassurance.

Coming May 21st - Chapter Nine  
                DEATH IN THE REDWOODS

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

                                  CHAPTER 6
                                        DEADLY HARVEST

                                   Rafter's Redemption
                                                By Dave Stancliff
  Christmas 1973. Smiley, Jenny, Sundance, and Rafter inside the trailer. A small live spruce in a pot, decorated with tinsel and tiny silver star ornaments stood next to Rafter’s cot. 

  The room was warm, thanks to propane. It was snowing outside. They sipped Jack Daniels and opened presents. Sundance, still wearing an elves hat, slept in his crib. He was a sound sleeper and they didn’t have to whisper for fear of waking him.

  The trio tried to adjust to the piles of money on the bed. After paying a $5,000 commission they had $120,000! They were elated to see so much money laid out before them in $100, $50,$20, $10, and $5 bills.

  It was the most money Rafter and Jenny had ever seen in one place. Smiley had seen Rick’s payoff the year he worked for him. It amounted to $500,000 and came in a suitcase. Still, seeing their money in piles by denominations was awesome. It was proof they could make a living growing marijuana. 

  It meant they could continue to live on the mountain and pursue a peaceful way of life on their own terms. They all felt strongly about their personal freedom. They divided the money as agreed, Rafter got half, and Smiley and Jenny the other half.

   “Toast!” Smiley said, holding up his glass - a mason jar. “To another successful season as farmers!”

  They touched glasses and repeated, “To another successful season as farmers!”
  “I have a proposal for next season’s profits,” Rafter said.

  “What?” Jenny inquired.

  “I think we should divide them three ways next time. I feel guilty about getting so much and you two having to split the same amount. We’re all partners, aren’t we? Jenny will be as just as busy as we will, if not more so because she’ll be taking care of  Sundance too. I’d feel better if we split it three ways. What do you guys say?”

  Smiley immediately raised his glass, “Bravo Rafter! Gotta hand it to you bro…you’re a good man! I agree. Let’s split it in three.”

  “I don’t know what to say.” Jenny blushed furiously. Her face felt hot. “Thanks.”

  “Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we can make some decisions about upgrading our living quarters,” Smiley suggested. 

  Getting permits to build was a drawn out process that required going to several locations and dealing with bureaucrats. Rafter hated going to the court house, which stood next to the county prison, and to the County Planning Department a few miles away. He couldn’t expect Smiley to take care of everything. So he went along and let Smiley do most of the talking.

  Smiley didn’t seem to mind haggling with people and always maintained his smile. Rafter secretly would get pissed off at a clerk’s stupidity and his heartbeat would increase. He also grew more uncomfortable around groups of people. He sat with his back to the wall when they ate in restaurants.
  His sense of being on guard was heightened in public situations in spite of himself. The hell of it was Rafter didn’t know why he felt that way. He seldom found something humorous, despite Smiley’s constant jokes and funny observations.Rafter found himself forcing a smile at times. His old rubber face was now a rigid sculpture with a scar. All he wanted was to go back to the mountain and spend time in the woods. His only joy was Sundance. 

  He was glad he had found Smiley and realized he would never have made this kind of money in a factory. Just the thought of being trapped inside four walls, eight hours a day, made him sick. What would have happened if Smiley and Jenny hadn’t picked him up that day? Where would he be now? The realization that he probably would have been homeless sobered him. Smiley and Jenny had become his best friends. They all respected each other’s space and enjoyed being together. 
  “Tracers and screams. Fernandez tried to pull Enriquez to safety by his arm while firing his M-16. They were engulfed by black bodies savagely bayoneting them…Sgt. Borgalac stared sightlessly into the night…his head cleaved wide open…suddenly he sat up looked at Rafter and demanded his Scotch!”

  Sweat poured down Rafter’s face as he gasped and woke up from the nightmare. He lay there with heart beating fast, adrenaline coursing through his body like acid, and wondered when the nightmares would go away.

 After Sundance was born, Jenny started thinking about marriage. She was afraid to approach the subject with Smiley, as much as she loved him. The idea of being rejected at any level was too painful to contemplate. The idea of getting married never passed through Smiley’s head. 

  Rafter wondered if they would marry someday, but since they never talked about the subject he assumed neither was interested in matrimony. Even when Smiley talked about “his son” marriage didn’t come up. Sundance’s birth affected Rafter deeply.

  For reasons he didn’t understand, bringing Sundance into the world had changed him. Life seemed to suddenly have a purpose. The miracle of birth was a stark contrast to the deaths that continually reoccurred in his nightmares. He felt he’d been given a chance to redeem himself. His heart easily made room for this new person in his life.

  Alternative lifestyles were becoming the norm in parts of Humboldt County. The “back to earthers” invaded the hills to escape San Francisco’s failed hippie paradise, and they weren’t the only ones who fled to the backwoods to escape urban madness.

  Vietnam veterans seeking distance from those who hated and feared them in the cities found rural living suitable. Most of them hated and distrusted the government that had sent them to Southeast Asia to die for no good reason.

  They were survivors who found themselves outcasts in society. Men like Smiley and Rafter. Each had a story, but the common denominator was distrust of government. Any government. So when a chance came to make money illegally, on their own terms, they took it. 

  Other Vietnam veterans came to southern Humboldt County with the “back to earthers” and adopted their communal lifestyle. They learned to grow fruit and vegetables. They raised bees, goats, cows, and pigs. Many built crude shelters that were never approved by any planning department or county commissioners. 

  The rare Vietnam veteran visionaries like Smiley and Rick, prided themselves on building safe compounds with secure perimeters. That meant they worked with the “man” so their structures wouldn’t be torn down by anal  authorities. 

  The plan was to become totally self-sufficient, and still have some conveniences. Big generators were the key to softer living. Smiley and Rafter copied Rick’s idea and installed solar panels on the roof of their new three-bedroom house. Solar power was still in it’s fledgling stage, but people did obtain solar panels, often secondhand.

  Smiley and Rafter dug out the foundation and paid a local contractor, another Vietnam veteran, Justin Stillwater, to pour it. Stillwater also helped them frame the house. The Redwood plank walls and the cedar and pine floors were milled at Rick’s ranch. His portable mill often came in handy. 

  The Redwood tree came from Smiley’s land. It was highly unlikely anyone would notice. It wasn’t an ancient Redwood, but still stood 80-feet tall. The cedar and coastal pine also came from Smiley’s property. This helped keep construction costs down.

  When they finished the house, a true labor of love, they invited Rick, his girlfriend, the 10 members of the commune near Rick’s property, and their contractor friend Justin over for a house-warming celebration.
  Several members of the commune played instruments and they partied through the night, smoking weed, drinking booze, and dropping LSD. The big open living room easily accommodated the visitors. Little Sundance slept through most of the night and only woke once for a quick feeding and change.

  September 1975. Smiley and Rafter sat near the wood stove in their new home. They were both dirty and tired from the day’s labor in the woods. Their camouflage shirts and pants still had mud clinging to them. Rafter still wore his boonie hat. Smiley’s hat hung from his neck, down his back. 

  Jenny was making dinner in the kitchen. Two - and-a-half year old Sundance ran through the house with a truck in one hand and a race car in the other, making high pitched machine noises. His Mario Andretti t-shirt was on backward and he was barefoot. His long blond hair flowed down his back as he raced from room-to-room in noisy glee.

  Following closely behind him was Rafter’s new puppy, a Pug named Mogli. A 4 ft. by 8 ft. safe stood in one corner of the room.. In it, stacks of money from the last two harvests, almost three million dollars, were divided into thirds. Each third was in a leather suitcase with a combination lock. There were also two Winchester repeating rifles, and the ammunition for them.

  Several pieces of valuable jewelry belonging to Jenny were in a gilded box with silver pot leaves adorning the four sides. A gold watch lined with tiny but perfect diamonds, nestled next to it. A gold necklace with a ruby pendant, and matching ear rings completed the set. 

  “So what do you think? Four more weeks?” Rafter asked Smiley.

   “Sounds about right. We’ll call Jesus after the harvest. This year let’s call him on November 28 and arrange the meet. He was pretty eager to get his hands on our bud last Nov. 21st. Making him wait another week ought to give us another ace-in-the-hole when we discuss price.”

  “I’m thinking we could bump it up two hundred a pound this season. My friend Lenny has been keeping me up on the street prices for quality weed and our buddy Jesus is making a killing,” Rafter said.

  Smiley pulled out a wooden pipe from one shirt pocket and reached into the other for a plastic baggie of bud. Carefully selecting a sticky nugget he pressed it into the pipe bowl. His Zippo lit the pungent ingredients. After taking a deep hit, he passed the pipe to Rafter. Rafter took a toke, and Smiley said, 

  “We got $1,500 per pound last season and I did kinda feel like we gave it away. I’ve heard our bud is the biggest seller in Porterville and the Loco Park gang has a growing reputation. If you know what I mean.”

  Rafter passed the pipe back and nodded, “Yeah. 

  They’re apparently showing off their wealth in cars and jewelry lately. Other gangs are envious of Loco Park’s good fortune.”

  Smiley exhaled a cloud of smoke that drifted lazily across the room. 

  “Everything points to $1,700 a pound then, bro. So be it.”

  Jenny called, “Dinner’s ready! Where’s Sundance?”

   Just then, Sundance raced into the living room and tackled Rafter’s leg! They played for a minute before Rafter picked him up and carried him into the dining room, squealing with delight. “I want ice cream!” Sundance demanded.

  Jenny was happy. Sundance was her main source of happiness. She loved Smiley and Rafter. One as a lover, the other as a brother. She loved her beautiful house with its double gables and a front porch made out of redwood. 

  She was proud of the pretty white picket fence around the foundation, hiding the fact that the house was on piers and had a crawl space beneath it. She enjoyed all the electrical devices in the house that made her life easier. All possible because of their newest and biggest generator.

  Jenny loved the spectacular scenery surrounding the house from the large picture windows. She smelled the fresh air. Her parents had got over the shock of her having a baby out of wedlock and actually grew to love their grandchild. Aunt Susan was her confident and best friend. She could buy anything she wanted. She’d say, “What more could a girl ask for?” And that was the problem.

  Despite pushing her feelings for Rafter into a hidden space in her mind, she thought about him at odd moments. Wondered what it would be like to be with him? Somehow her love for him was breaking through her barrier of daily denial and changing from the kind for a brother to something entirely different. 

  He made her heart  and stomach flitter unexpectedly, even when Smiley was nearby. He seemed to like the things she liked, unlike Smiley who was mostly interested in having sex. 
She and Smiley seldom talked anymore. Smiley was always too busy. Or drinking booze. 
  Rafter, who was just as busy, found time to talk with her and play with Sundance. Smiley’s father instinct appeared sparse if existent. He certainly didn’t have enough patience to deal with a rambunctious two-and-a-half year-old. Even his own two-and-half year old. The two never seemed to have made a connection.

  Rafter and Sundance, on the other hand, were as close as father and son. Sundance followed him around like a faithful hound dog. Rafter always seemed to be there for Sundance’s firsts. When he walked. When he talked and said 

"Da Da" to him. 

  When he fell for the first time and scuffed his knees. Smiley didn’t see their bond as anything unusual. He would correct the baby, and point at himself and say “Da Da.” The thing was, Smiley didn’t enjoy doing things with Sundance. He had no patience with him. To himself, Smiley admitted he had little or no interest in Sundance. He didn’t know why. He tried at times, but his efforts always came off flat and awkward. It made him feel guilty.  
  Rafter certainly didn’t appear interested in Jenny as a lover and seemed content with their platonic relationship. Jenny spent her days and nights conflicted. 
  The diner was empty except for the four men who sat at the rear table. The waiter in the small Mom & Pop diner poured out four cups of coffee. Two of the men were Hispanic and sported heavy gold chains dangling from their open madras shirts. One blue and the other brown.

  Their shoulder length jet black hair was combed back and looked carved into place. One wore a diamond earring. When standing, you could see the sharp center pleats in their baggy brown trousers. They wore Italian designer shoes that reflected the light. 

  Sitting across from them were two tall thin white men. Neither wore jewelry. Both had long hair pulled back in ponytails and wore bright multi-colored Hawaiian shirts and levis. They wore hand crafted logger boots. Smiley’s baseball cap had a Smiley face on it. Rafter wore a brown felt fedora. He also wore a pair of blue-tinted circular sunglasses, despite the muted lighting in the diner. 

  They ordered breakfast and casually ate, sharing small talk. None of them wanted to appear in a hurry. That wouldn’t have been cool. After three years of being partners Rick and Oscar had developed rituals for negotiation day. An hour passed before Oscar opened the negotiations.

 “How was your season?” he politely asked.

   “We had challenges. The weather was good. The quality is top shelf,” Smiley assured him.

   “How much do you have for me?” Jesus blurted out. 

  The others looked at him with disapproval.

  “Hey Homie…where’s your manners?” Oscar asked.

    Jesus reluctantly apologized. “What’s the pound price this season?”

   “Everything considered, we believe $1,700 per pound is reasonable. Especially with the reputation our buds are making down south.”

  “What the hell? I paid $1,500 last year! That’s a two hundred dollar increase!” Jesus sputtered angrily.

  “What’s the matter with you homie? This is business. Prices change according to the market. You’re embarrassing me,” Oscar growled menacingly.

  Tension filled the air. Rafter and Smiley shifted in their seats. Jesus stared at Smiley. Oscar scowled at Jesus. A minute passed in sullen silence. Finally Jesus spoke,

 “All right. $1,700 per pound. How much do you have?”

  A sigh of relief escaped Oscar who knew his hotheaded cousin could be an ass. He wondered for the thousandth time how Jesus had managed to take control of the Loco Park gang. He could be dangerously unpredictable.

  “We have 125 pounds dried and cured,” Smiley said, staring steadily into Jesus’s eyes.

  Neither man had taken his eyes off the other since the flare up.

  “Good…then I need to know when and where the transaction will be,” Jesus replied, returning the stare.

  “Two days from now. Here’s a map to the shopping center where we’ll meet in Willets,” Smiley said.
  He pulled out a folded piece of paper from his top pocket and handed it to Jesus.

  “We’ll meet at 10 p.m.” 

  “We’ll see you then, my friends.” 

 Oscar stood up.

 “I’ll get the tab.”
  Two days later.

  It was dark and the lights in the middle of the parking lot caused car and people shadows that stretched toward the supermarket and across the small strip of stores. It was warm and people wore shorts and tee shirts.

  A black King Cab pickup truck was parked in the center of the lot. Two men sat inside impatiently waiting. The radio played, “Money” by Pink Floyd,

  “ Money, it's a gas - grab that cash with both hands - and make a stash…” 

  “We never brought weapons before, Smiley. Why now?”

  “Listen bro…like I told you before, I have instincts that some people don’t. It’s why I survived out in the jungle. I wouldn’t be surprised if our pal Jesus decides this is the day to end our partnership and reap the profits from our labors.”

  “If you really believe that, maybe we should call this transaction off. Talk with Oscar and let him know your concerns.”

  “Okay…let me put it this way. We really need to sell our weed. I’m not 100 per cent sure he’ll try anything. I’m feeling the need for caution. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

  “No. But borrowing Rick’s 9 mm seems like an abundance of caution.”

  “Bare with me bro…everything’s probably going to be fine. I just feel the need for an equalizer.”

A black Riviera pulled up next to them. Then a black Ford van pulled up on the other side. The van’s side door opened. Both doors on the Riviera opened and two men got out. Jesus and a stranger with two brief cases. Smiley immediately suspected foul play when Oscar wasn’t there, but opened his door and stepped out. 

  Rafter opened his door and walked around to unlock the truck’s camper. The stranger set the two brief cases down on the cement. 

   “Where’s Oscar?” Smiley calmly asked.

   “He got sick and asked Jorge to come in his place. They’re homies,” Jesus said.

   Rafter unlocked the camper. Then he came around the side of the truck where Smiley was, stopped a few feet back, and waited to see what would happen next.

   Unseen by either party, a homeless man blended in the outer shadows. He shambled along, wrapped in a dark blanket. His street instincts were pure and when he saw the black pickup, the Van, and the Riviera in the center of the parking lot, he stopped. His eyes focused on the emerging figures. He slipped further into the shadows behind a stall of shopping carts. 

   He was young and his hearing was good. So was his eyesight. His name was Smokey. Not his real name, but his street name. 

  Normally he had a hand-rolled cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He was a stoner who depended upon his friends to get him high. Now he perked up his ears and listened: 
  “No phone call. That seems odd to…” 

  Smiley broke off mid sentence as Jorge reached under his long-sleeved blue checkered shirt for a gun! 

  Smiley was faster and shot Jorge in the head before he cleared his .38  revolver. Jesus fired a quick shot in Smiley’s direction and jumped inside the Riviera. Smiley rolled on the ground towards the car. 

  The car’s engine started. Smiley rose, took aim and fired three quick shots into the driver’s side. Two struck Jesus in the head and he pitched sidewise striking the horn which blared angrily as the engine raced. 

  The van door slammed closed and it came to life, screeching across the parking lot towards the main highway. It’s occupants obviously didn’t  want to continue the fight. Rafter, who hit the deck when the shooting started, got up and ran to Smiley, who grabbed the brief cases. 

  “Are you all right, bro?” Rafter asked.

  “We have to move fast. Let’s get out of here.”

  The car horn blared away. Smokey stared. He had never seen someone get killed before. This was so out of his normal existence he was stunned. Shocked. He couldn’t move, even when the Van’s lights hit him and it looked like the driver was going to barrel into  him! Then the pickup truck passed and Smokey stared at the passenger and driver. He got an especially good look at the passenger just before they turned onto the road.

   Rafter and Smiley peeled out toward the highway heading north. Rafter drove. Smiley opened one of the brief cases and swore, 

   “It’s full of newspapers! The sons of bitches!” he roared.

  The incident was a game-changer. Smiley had killed two men and was paranoid about the law catching up to him so he stayed drunk. Rafter worried about witnesses, but a week after the shootout it became apparent the law had no solid leads.

  The shooting was sensationalized in newspapers across the country. Two known gangsters shot by an unknown person or persons. No leads. Authorities baffled. No trace of drugs found. No large wads of cash concealed in the Riviera. The two hand guns the gangsters used were clean of identification and provided no clues. It would go on to be the story of the year in Willets;

 “Who shot the gangsters?”

  The ramifications of the shoot-out came to them a week later when Rick stopped by in his camouflaged Jeep.

  “That was a really bad scene bros…what happened?” he asked without the usual amenities like “hello,” or dapping. 

  “They set us up, Rick,” Smiley scowled.

   “Your friend Oscar wasn’t there bro…” Rafter said, as if that were explanation enough.

 “Where’s my 9 mm?” Rick asked.

   “I took it apart and threw the pieces into the Eel River,” Smiley said. “I’ll buy you another one.”

  “I mainly wanted to know that no one else would find it,” Rick explained. “Might have caused me some trouble.”

  “Now what?” Rafter asked.

  “I don’t know. I’ve been trying to contact Oscar and he’s not returning my calls. That’s not a good sign. One of the guys you killed was his relative. A cousin or something.”

  “Yeah, I know. Jesus had it in for me though. What else could I do? I was defending myself. If I hadn’t borrowed your gun, I wouldn’t be here now. That’s a fact.”

  “What I want to know is why wasn’t Oscar with him? That broke our agreement,” Rafter asked.

  “I hear you bro…I just don’t have the answer right now. All I can say is, lay low and don’t leave the homestead for a while. Get rid of your truck. Buy a new one. I’ll do what I can to find out what happened. Just be glad you live up on this mountain. You don’t have to worry about your neighbors ratting you out,” Rick reasoned.

 They talked for nearly an hour before dapping and parting.

  Jenny was hysterical when she heard what happened. She clutched Sundance to her chest and stayed in her room for several days. She couldn’t bear to talk with either of them. Smiley had killed two men!

  He was up front about it and expected her to understand. She didn’t. The whole business of growing pot had taken a deadly turn and she didn’t like it. The killings upset her world. She never expected anything this horrible would come from gardening. 

  They were just farmers. Not gangsters. She’d worried about the money connection from the start. It was a necessary evil, they assured her. They would make sure there was no trouble. Rick’s connection was tight. It was just business.

  Sure. A business that went bad. Now death was a by-product of their hard work and peaceful existence. The real world interrupted their happy little haven. Now the stink of sticky buds came with the stink of death. The two would be associated in her mind now. 

  She knew what Smiley had done in the Nam. She forgave that and wrote it off as doing his duty. This was different. The man she thought she knew was still very much a killer under his smiling mask. He was more complex than she realized. 

  It didn’t surprise her that Rafter wasn’t involved in the shoot out. That he didn’t kill anyone. He was a Vietnam veteran too, and had faced what Smiley did, but no blood was on his hands this time. 

  Rafter often shared his regrets with her about the people he had killed overseas. Smiley never showed any remorse for what happened in the Nam. It bothered her at times, but she knew people reacted differently to stressful situations. How had it come to this?
  When Rick finally reached Oscar on the telephone, the first thing out of his mouth was, 
  “What happened? Where were you?”

   “Easy bro…I’m dealing with a lot of angry home boys right now. They want to find your friends really bad. Some are asking me to sever ties with you, my friend. I wasn’t there because Jesus called and said it was postponed for a day. He lied to me.”

   “Sever ties with me?”

   “They’re your friends and right now my homies want blood. One white boy would be as good as another. Especially since you know them. We have to stop doing business bro. There’s no way around it.”

   “Can’t say I’m happy about this, but I know you’re right. Maybe someday down the line we’ll meet again and have a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

   “And smoke some of your loco weed too,” Oscar added.

  The phone line went dead. Rick looked around his living room as if searching for something. The walls were bare. The room was sparsely furnished. The wooden rocker he sat in. A small brown couch. An end table. He was comfortable with the Spartan look.

  He felt a sense of loss at this parting that went beyond financial. They had some good times back in the Nam. He’d never forget them. Now he had to deal with this new reality; he didn’t have a buyer for this year’s crop.

  Rafter and Smiley decided they had to reach out and do some sales work if they hoped to get rid of  their 125 pounds of pot. Rafter called Lenny, who was now a junior at Cal State Fullerton, and offered him a way to make some serious money. Lenny realized he had a built-in customer base at the college and selling top-of-the-line weed would make him a quick profit. 

  Rafter started him with one pound and he advised Lenny to bag it up into ounces, and quarter-ounces, to sell. He gave Lenny the pound on a Friday morning. By Sunday, Lenny called to say he had sold it all and could he have two more pounds? In three months Lenny sold 25 pounds.

  Smiley was busy too. He hooked up with some Hell’s Angels and successfully sold them 50 pounds before sensing they were going to rip him off on their next transaction. He was a survivor after all, and his instincts were as sharp as a Samurai Sword made by the fabled master Amakuni, who created the first one. The last thing he wanted was another shoot out. After two months of dealing with the Stockton Chapter of the Hell’s Angels he decided it was time to move on.

  Rafter and Smiley agreed there would be no crop that season. They still had 50 pounds left over and it would require more sales efforts. The time for planting was passing. Secretly Rafter was happy with their new arrangement. They’d made a ridiculous profit already. He didn’t need more.

  He had three full suitcases of money totaling over a one and a half million dollars in small bills. It was enough for a lifetime. After they sold the rest, he planned to tell Smiley he wasn’t interested in growing more.

  He knew it would mean leaving Jenny and Sundance. Perhaps that would be the best thing to do, despite the fact that he loved them both. She was Smiley’s woman. They didn’t have to be legally as far as he was concerned. They had a child together, and he didn’t want to come between them. 

  Still he would sorely miss them both. He admitted to himself he loved her more than was safe. He didn’t want to cause trouble. He had no right. They had taken him in and treated him like an  equal. He couldn’t betray either of them, no matter how much he desired Jenny and wanted to be with her and Sundance as a family.

  The easiest thing was to continue to funnel pounds to Lenny, who had branched out considerably. Rafter spent more time in Southern California, saying it was necessary to monitor Lenny’s progress. He finally leased a furnished apartment in Fullerton that allowed animals, and bought a new burgundy Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

  He spent most of his time in the apartment with Mogli, listening to music and staying high. Lenny sold the rest of their weed. Then one day Rafter was back in the jungle! He was cooking eggs and suddenly he was running through elephant grass so tall he couldn’t see where he was going!

  As the days turned to weeks, Rafter went outside less and less. Lenny stopped by once a week to give him money and report on his progress. He never stayed long. Rafter’s moods troubled him.

  A black veil settled upon Rafter’s soul and nightmares nagged his nights. It had been a while since they bothered him so often and they had never been as intense as now. His days became hazy. Unclear. A challenge to reality. He experienced flashbacks, forgetting where he was. 

  One day Lenny stopped by and got the scare of his life. Driving along the 605 Freeway. Lenny couldn’t believe how much money he was making. He couldn’t wait to tell Rafter he’d sold the last of his weed. He was concerned about where to get more. This was the last of Rafter and Smiley’s crop. 

  He knew Rafter had connections up north, and hoped he could supply him a new source. Lenny got out of his Mustang, grabbed the brown leather suitcase full of money, and headed for Rafter’s ground floor apartment.

  It was a warm June night and a full moon glowed in the heavens. Lenny knocked on the door, despite having a key. He heard movement inside. A dog barked excitedly. Seconds pass into a minute. Then two. 

  Finally Lenny pulled out his key and inserted it. He didn’t want to be outside too long with all that money. He opened the door. The only illumination in the room was a lava lamp. It cast an eerie red glow on Rafter who was huddled in a corner, snarling like an animal! Mogli barked at Lenny and charged him, nipping at his ankles. He meant to protect Rafter at all costs. Lenny was horrified.

  He’s never experienced anything like it in his young life. He froze after taking two steps into the room. The suitcase slipped from his fingers. Fear tickled his guts. Rafter’s eyes were pinpoints and his front teeth bared like a wolf‘s. Time stood still. Minutes passed and the only sound in the room was Lenny’s rapid breathing and an occasional grunt from Rafter. Mogli stopped barking and retreated to Rafter’s side.     
  “Rafter…it’s me, man. Lenny.”

   The silence was stifling. Rafter stopped grunting. Sobs replaced the grunts.
  “Rafter…listen to me, man. It’s Lenny. Everything’s okay.”

   “No,” was Rafter’s suddenly strong reply, 

   “Nothing is okay!”

Coming May 6th - Chapter 7