Attention New Readers!
Go to right side of page for links to Prologue and all the Chapters.
By Dave Stancliff
Spring. Robins and Larks trading insults with sparrows. Patches of fog still clung to the thickly forested area that surrounded the humble homestead. Clean fresh air. The smell of wood smoke from the fire pit the three figures huddled around. An hour passed as they ate breakfast and talked about the weather.
Finally, Smiley stood up, and stretched his lanky six-foot four frame and declared,
“It’s time to go. I want to show you the spots I picked and it’s going to take most of the day to check them out.”
Rafter smoothly uncoiled from his folding chair ready to go. Grabbing a pre-packed ruck sack, Smiley set off toward the rising sun. Rafter, who wore an Army surplus web belt with canteen and knife, grabbed his ruck sack, and followed.
Jenny watched the men disappear into the forest and wondered exactly how far along she was? She knew she had missed her period prior to hooking up with Smiley, and they had only been together two months. He wasn’t aware she was pregnant, but she had to tell him soon. Thanks to the loose flowing dresses with pants underneath, her belly was well hidden. She couldn’t keep hiding it though. Luckily, he wasn’t as interested in having sex since Rafter arrived. He was always busy and exhausted from the day’s labors.
All three slept in the tiny trailer; Jenny and Smiley on the small bed, and Rafter on the other side of the room on a wood and canvas WW II Army cot. The men stayed up late every night talking and smoking weed so she could go to bed and fall asleep before Smiley joined her. He seldom woke her. Now her belly was getting too big to ignore and she knew it was time to see a doctor and find out how things were going.
That meant she was would to have to tell Smiley she was with child. Remembering Sonny’s reaction to this news, she was concerned. But Smiley was different. They were best friends and lovers. She decided to say it was his baby. Who’d ever know but her?
Yes, the more she thought about it, the more comfortable she became with the idea. There was a risk she misread him and he would be upset with the announcement, but it was worth a try. She sensed a goodness in him.
There were no other options in Jenny McQueen’s life. Her family didn’t understand her. For them the final straw was when she was arrested while protesting against the Vietnam war. Her wealthy and very conservative parents were appalled. After posting her bail they told her she was going to go to college and stop acting silly.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have good grades. She could have done very well if she had wanted to go to college. She didn’t, and told her parents. They said,
“As long as you live under this roof you’ll do as we say.”
So she packed a suitcase that night and left the next day, choosing to leave a note rather than have a face-to-face confrontation. She still loved them, but she was her own person and they’d just have to accept it. She was 18 years-old after all.
So Jenny hitch-hiked to San Francisco and lived in a commune. She lost her virginity to a hippie named Sonny who had long blond hair, blue eyes, and played base guitar. Things were good with them until she missed her period and told him about it. He got uptight and accused her of trying to “tie him down” and really “bumming him out.”
With the cards down, she took the hint, packed her suitcase, and moved out of the apartment building they shared with numerous other musicians and hippies. She wanted to get away from the whole scene.
She had an aunt living in Ferndale who would welcome Jenny if she showed up on her doorstep. Her Aunt Susan was a free spirit and the family black sheep. Jenny had been to Humboldt County several times to visit her during summer vacations and loved her dearly.
Aunt Susan was quirky and funny. She lived alone, and had never married. She was an artist, and good enough one to make a comfortable living at her craft. The Victorian home she lived in was perfectly in a row of similarly preserved Victorians and Queen Anne’s. Each yard was manicured with loving care. The colors contrasted beautifully and visitors came year around to take pictures of these homes.
How did she meet Smiley? During the North Country Fair in Arcata, a college town north of Eureka. This annual event brought out hippies, tourists, college students, loggers, and fishermen from throughout the county. Vendors sold everything from fish tacos to handmade scarves and sweaters. There were herbs, fresh vegetables, and ornamental plants for sale. Jugglers intermingled with the mass of humanity packed into the downtown plaza.
Loud music blared from speakers positioned around a local band playing a Jazz tune at one end of the Arcata Plaza. Belly dancers and a parade of people dressed in wild costumes, undulated around the square, which featured a bronze statue of President William McKinley in the center. Smiley followed the parade, dancing along happily.
Jenny was sitting on a small bench watching the revelers when she saw him. What was it about his red hair and blue eyes that turned her on? She flashed on Sonny’s blond hair and blue eyes and cringed, wondering how long it would take before she started to show. She’d decided to keep the baby and was at peace with her decision.
Then she watched Smiley do his lanky Big Bird dance moves, long hair flying behind him. He offered his doobie to a young woman. She took a hit and passed it on to another dancer. Forgetting about the doobie, Smiley danced on blissfully unaware of how silly he looked to any “straights“ who might be watching.
The center of town rose to a nearby hill where Humboldt State University seemed to peer down benevolently upon the festivities. After a while Jenny got up and slowly walked to her aunt’s purple VW Bus parked next to the Post Office. She was lonely. She saw Smiley bending over the hood of a black Ford King Cab pickup truck across the street and her heart skipped.
“Hey!” He called out to her. “Have you got jumper cables?”
The men went from one pre-selected spot to the next with Smiley showing Rafter the reasons they were picked. It was a hot, exhausting hike up and down steep mountain sides. They finally sat by a creek in the late afternoon and took a break before heading home. Smiley lit up a doobie and passed it to Rafter.
“Here’s the thing, man. We still need some supplies and I don’t have enough cash to get them. Rafter accepted the doobie, took a long draw, and passed it back.
“No problem. We’re partners, right? I still have almost $300. What do we need?”
Smiley pulled a crumbled piece of paper out of his wallet. “We’re going to need at least two shovels, two picks or pickaxes, another ruck sack for hauling stuff, fence wire, some knives, pliers, an ax or bow saw, heavy-duty garbage bags, rope, liquid fish fertilizer, blooming mixture, soil additives like vermiculite, mulch, or some commercial mixture, bone meal, and some peat moss.”
“I have no idea how much that adds up to, but we can find out, I suppose.”
“It’ll be close because we still have to buy seeds or cuttings too,” Smiley assured him.
They sat silently for some time watching the water sparkle under the sun. Both men were feeling mellow, each with his private dreams drifting to another place.
“Wait until we have to haul stuff,” Smiley said, breaking the spell. “We’re going to work our asses off, bro!”
“Don’t mean nuthin,” Rafter replied.
“Right on bro! It don’t mean nuthin…”
Jenny was waiting for them when they got back. She’d prepared a simple meal and made sugar cookies for desert. Rafter didn’t know if it was his imagination, but Jenny looked more beautiful than usual. There was a glow to her features.
Smiley sensed something too. He had fallen in love with her in a very short period of time and sometimes it troubled him. He’d become attuned to her moods and knew she was nervous now. He wasn’t sure why.
They ate dinner and enjoyed small talk for about an hour before Jenny decided the time was right. She stood up.
He looked away from Rafter who had been talking with him.
“Could you come in the trailer for a moment? There’s something I want to show you.”
Puzzled, Smiley got up from his folding chair, glanced at Rafter with a look of surprise, shrugged his shoulders, and followed her inside.
Jenny lifted her blouse, exposing her belly. Her stomach showed a noticeable bulge. For once, Smiley was speechless. Time stood still. He had never known his father, always a sore subject. Now he was going to be one. Then, as if his brain suddenly made the connection, he blurted out,
“We’re going to have a baby?”
Jenny knew it was going to be okay.
“Yes,” she said, matching his excitement, “We’re going to have a baby!”
“Wow! I can’t believe it! I’m going to be a Dad!”
He threw open the trailer door.
“I heard! Congratulations to both of you!”
“I’m going to be a Dad…”
The men opened a bottle of Jack Daniel and celebrated. Jenny, who was felt sick, went to bed early. The men exchanged stories throughout the night, their laughter startling the family of skunks who lived in the nearly finished drying shed.
A coyote howled at the full moon. A female black bear and her two cubs ambled nearby, carefully avoiding the noisy humans and their fire.The earth moved, shifting on silent gears, and when morning light chased the remnants of the night away, it revealed the two men, passed out on the ground beside the now cold fire pit.
Back breaking days followed. Despite being in good shape, both men were exhausted at the end of each day. The got up at dawn and worked until there was no light. Hauling supplies to the gardens proved to be a test of determination. They cleared the bed areas and prepared the soil, hacking away with their picks and shovels, removing roots and rocks from the beds.
Afterward, they mixed in soil additives. A typical bed was 6 feet by 10 feet. A half bale of peat moss was scattered over it, 10 pounds of bone meal and 15 bags, weighing 40 pounds each, of commercial manure. All those supplies had to be hauled in on their backs for the six gardens.
Rafter was a good student and paid close attention as Smiley fenced off a bed. He ran the thin wire around the bed and explained deer would usually be deterred by it.
“Nothing’s perfect, but it’s worth the effort.”
The water system was the most time-consuming chore of all. They ran hundreds of feet of plastic hose from the creeks to water the sites. Each creek had to be dammed to hold water for the thirsty plants. They got cuttings from Rick at a generous price, and bought 125 of them culled from his mother plants. Twenty-five for each garden. Once prepared, the cuttings were transferred to their new homes.
The ball of soil around the roots of each cutting had to be carefully planted in a baseball-sized hole in the garden soil. More back breaking, tedious work. The work didn’t stop there. It was necessary to constantly check on the gardens to see they were properly watered and adding liquid fish if they needed more fertilizer.
“You see how the larger leaves are turning yellow and the smaller leaves are still green?” Smiley asked one day.
“The problem is Nitrogen deficiency. Remember what I recommended for it?”
“Let’s see…oh yeah! I should add nitrate of soda or an organic fertilizer.”
“Right on bro! Now add some and we’ll check out the rest of the girls.”
The fencing had to be maintained and they had to deal with deer and other wildlife on their rounds. Despite the passage of frost, it was cold enough to make every task a little more challenging.
But as the days turned to weeks it warmed up. They shared carrying a 12-gauge shotgun for protection. Hours grudgingly slid by as they worked side-by-side, silent in their own thoughts.
When they took breaks, they talked about their experiences in the Nam. Both were against the war, for different reasons. Smiley had no regrets about what he did in Vietnam. Rafter did. The thing they shared was the desire to live a simple life with the least amount of rules.
Peace and love were something to be embraced. Make love not war. Soon, they knew a lot about each other. More than ever they became brothers. They had their differences, but respected each other enough to live with them.
One day, during a break in their activities, Smiley talked about his fear of becoming a father.
“Never had one, bro. Never celebrated Father’s Day. Barely knew my mother, who ran off with a drifter when I was six years old. My father’s brother, Uncle Tony, raised me.”
“What happened to your Dad?”
“He was shot during an argument in a bar. He was unarmed. His killer emptied his six-shot Smith and Wesson revolver into him, finished off his whiskey and walked outside never to be seen again.”
“The cops never caught him?”
“Nope. But my Uncle Tony did. He loved my Dad, even though he didn’t approve of his wild ways with whiskey and women. He tracked Daddy’s murderer to a little shit hole town in Nevada and emptied his shotgun into him as he stumbled out of a bar. That case is still unsolved today.”
“Sorry to hear about your Dad.”
“Don’t mean nuthin…I was better off being raised by my uncle. He wasn’t always getting into trouble and he owned land. He told me many times I was better off, and would have a chance of making it in the world because of his guidance. He and my Aunt Dora were religious folk and spent a lot of time reading the Bible to me.”
“That’s hard for me to imagine. There was no religion in my house growing up.”
“That’s hard for me to imagine. There was no religion in my house growing up.”
“Sometimes I think we had a little too much. I always felt like I had to redeem myself for my father’s exploits.”
Smiley slowly got up. Break time was over.
After the big announcement, Jenny drove to Ferndale the next day to visit her Aunt Susan. She found her cutting roses in the front yard. She wore a floppy straw hat and a pair of bibbed overalls with a bright pink blouse peeking out. A loving embrace.
She led Jenny inside for a glass of tea. Mortimer, Aunt Susan’s Siamese cat, followed them, winding in and out of their legs. Hours later, after a few phone calls, Aunt Susan set Jenny up with a doctor. Over steaming Mango tea, the women talked.
Nothing shocked her aunt, and Jenny realized she always had her to fall back on. She hadn’t fully realized that until now.
“Do you love him?” Aunt Susan asked, offering a slice of fresh pound cake.
“I think so. I wish I knew for absolutely sure. He’s such a kind and funny man. He’s looking forward to the baby’s arrival.”
“It’s good that he’s supportive, dear. I’m a little troubled that you don’t seem sure you love him, but that can change in time. When are you going to tell your parents?”
Jenny choked on a crumb of the pound cake. Clearing her voice she replied,
“Not anytime soon. Maybe after the baby arrives.”
“Any talk of marriage?”
“No. The subject hasn’t come up,” she admitted.
“That’s all right darling. Just know that you can count on me.”
Feeling less lonely on the drive home, Jenny settled into her pregnancy with a loving determination to have a healthy child.
Out of sheer exhaustion, Rafter missed the fresh bear sign. For some time now, the men had been aware of several black bears in the vicinity and avoided them as much as possible. He was leaving the last garden of the day when two black bear cubs crossed his path.
Startled, he turned in time to see an enraged blur of a she bear hurtling toward him! The protective mother bruin knocked him down. Paws of fury slashed at him. Teeth bared, she snarled, as he kicked and tried to push her away.
Suddenly a rock hit her snout and she roared in terrified surprise.Instantly breaking off the engagement, she scrambled away as another rock hit her in the head. This unexpected attack confused her and she quickly ambled into the nearby undergrowth.
“You okay?” Smiley approached Rafter, who was unsteadily trying to stand up.
“That damn bear tried to kill me. Why didn’t you shoot it? You have the shotgun.”
“What would have happened to those two cubs without their mama?” Smiley asked.
“Oh well…silly-assed me! I thought I was more important to you than some black bears!”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, bro. I’ve been around bears all my life and have used the rock method before instead of killing them. She was just teaching you a lesson for getting too close to her cubs.”
“I’ll be damned. Where’s this compassion coming from? Aren’t you the same guy who collected ears off of your kills in the Nam? I’m surprised by your protective attitude toward wildlife.”
“I grew up in the country. You learn some things that’s all. Animals have never been my enemy. The gooks were. Let me see your arm. Looks like she nipped you.”
“Damn straight! And look at these claw marks.”
“You’ll live. She wasn’t rabid. Just protecting her cubs. We’re almost home and Jenny can take care of it for you when we get there.”
Growing up, Jenny wanted to be a nurse. Her parents said she should strive to be a physician.
“You make more money as a doctor,” her mother patiently explained to her when she was in third grade.It was always like that. She wanted one thing and her parents wanted another for her.
They tried to map out her life and she resented it. By the time she hit junior high, she acted out and got in trouble, mortifying her mother, who was the President of the local PTA. They didn’t seem to understand she had a mind of her own.
Checking Rafter’s wounds to be sure they were clean, she smeared on an antibiotic jell and carefully wrapped them in gauze.
“The bite mark was the deepest, but it should be okay,” Jenny told him.
She gathered up her materials and headed for the trailer.
“Damn,” Smiley cracked. “You look like some war hero or something all bandaged up like that.”
The next day Smiley took Rafter to Rick’s ranch. They walked along animal trails that led over hills and out into a flat area. Smiley’s ranch bordered Rick’s 320 acres. Smiley led him to a sweat lodge next to a cabin and said this was where Rick was waiting for them.
“Rick’s a funny guy, bro. He may have taken too many trips in his day, but he’s got a heart of gold. We became good friends during the last couple of years. He’s a Nam vet like us. Just go with the flow of the conversation and be yourself.”
Sweat poured down the men’s semi-naked bodies. Rafter and Smiley braced themselves as Rick added more water to the stones in the center of the sweat lodge. The skunky smell of marijuana mingled with their musky sweat. They passed the long peace pipe Rick had carved years before. His eyes rested on the two men as he considered what to say.
Rick took daily sweats and was used to the intense heat. Rafter found it hard to breath at first. Smiley had a year’s experience in sweat lodge meetings and was comfortable. Rick claimed the practice renewed his spirit, and it made him more willing to talk with people. To share experiences. To impart his gems of hard-earned wisdom. To listen to others.
“Nearly time to consider harvesting,” he said.
“It’s true,” Smiley replied. “That’s why we’re here today.”
“Questions on what to do?” Rick asked.
“No. You taught me well. I’m, we’re, here to find out if you know people who would buy our weed?”
Rick pulled on his long salt and pepper beard with little beads entwined in it, as he considered the request.
“I want to see you bros do well. Us Vietnam vets need to stick together. I do know of possible buyers. My connect is another bro in Southern California. We were stationed together in the Nam back in ‘68. He’s a Mex, but he’s one of us. His people don’t particularly like gringos, but we’ve been able to work around that little detail so far.
“The important thing about him is that he’s a pipeline to cash because he has connections with Mexican gangs who have lots of money to spend. They have no problem coming up with large amounts of cash in small bills. You just have to be careful dealing with these guys. They’re macho little suckers, and their egos are easily bruised.”
“Does that mean you’ll give us your connection?” Rafter wondered.
“No way. You’ll probably meet him, but he’s got friends that could work with you guys. I think I can arrange that.”
“Am I right in estimating that our 125 plants will produce 125 pounds?” Smiley asked.
“Pretty much. You’re still not out of the doghouse when it comes time for harvesting. Things could happen. Mold. Mildew. They’re seldom a problem in this higher altitude, however. Sometimes intruders destroy, or steal, your gardens.”
“What’s the market on pounds?” Smiley asked.
“I’m locked into $1,000 a pound this season,” Rick calmly answered.
“Holy crap! That’s a lot of money!” Rafter said. “How about us? Should we ask that much?”
“Absolutely. You’re selling one of the best hybrid strains around, my Grand Daddy Purp. We need to stay together on the pricing. Not too many people have it yet. It’s strictly stone city, bro. This stuff rivals the pot we had in the Nam. It makes their crappy Mex weed look sick with it’s stems and seeds. You will be offering nothing but buds. Fresh, well-cured buds. The best the Humboldt County has to offer.”
I like the sound of that,” said Rafter. “I can’t imagine splitting $125,000 for just nine months’ work.”
The conversation died down and the three men sat sweating, deep in their thoughts. Rick finally motioned that it was time to leave the crude sweat lodge. Outside, a slight breeze carried a chill in the air. It was early October and the harvest was only weeks away.
Rafter and Smiley got dressed. Rick watched the two men trudge up his private gravel road to where their truck was parked. He was a little man, at 5-foot, seven-inches, and older than they were. Their size didn’t intimidate him at all. He was use to dealing with larger men.
They claimed he had “little man” syndrome and that was why he was such a scrappy guy. He recognized they had “big man” syndrome and mistakenly thought their size gave them an advantage in all situations. It was a stupid stereotype that more than one person had found untrue when it came to dealing with Rick.
Long odds only challenged him. As one of eight children born to a dirt poor family, he learned early in life that anyone wanting to succeed must be willing to sacrifice. Being a survivor meant you had to be clever, fast, and fearless where he grew up in the Arizona desert.
Every day was hard, hot, and soul-sucking for the McNeese family. When Rick turned 18 he signed up for the Army. It was his only means of escaping the dreary hardscrabble hell he was raised in. There was talk at the time of Americans fighting in some faraway South Asian land called Vietnam. That didn’t bother Rick. Anything was better than his life in that miserable desert.
Rick was saved from combat in Vietnam because he was a great mechanic. The Army took advantage (a rare occurrence) of his skill with vehicles and put him in the motor pool. He spent his days fixing the engines of trucks and jeeps. His nights were spent partying at the NCO club.
He managed to get involved in the black market after meeting his Sp/6 Oscar Flores. The two men were rebels at heart and quickly discovered they made a good team at buying, and selling black market goods. They built up considerable stashes of illegal greenbacks after two tours in Vietnam.
Oscar went home first and Rick sent him their loot hidden in souvenirs. They were brothers so Rick didn’t hesitate to send their accumulated wealth. It added up to nearly a half million dollars. More money than either man had ever dreamed of making before going overseas.
When Rick came home, he met Oscar in South LA. Oscar gave him a backpack filled with $250,000 in cash. They were both established and vowed to stay in touch. They were bros after all.When Rick went north and fell in love with Humboldt County he bought the land where he now lived. He got the proper permits and built a sturdy little house. He paid for amenities like a well, a septic system, and a huge gasoline-powered generator for electricity. He went with the best of everything.
After a while his money began run low and that was when he learned how to grow marijuana for profit. His eastern neighbors were a group of hippies living in a commune. They grew all their own food and pot. He made friends with the group, many of whom were former “Diggers” from San Francisco, and soon learned how to grow marijuana.
When his first crop was ready for market, he called Oscar, who agreed to buy it. After smoking Rick’s Grand Daddy Perp he was sold. It was better than anything else he could get. It took a while to negotiate the price, as both men were crafty bargainers.
They finally settled on $800 a pound. That was the first crop. The next year, the second crop went for $900 a pound. This year, Rick was asking $1,000 a pound. Not bad for a dirt poor boy who dropped out of high school and had to pass a GED test to get into the Army.
Rick knew he would need help when he started out and decided to try a temporary partnership. The temporary partner would get one-third of one season’s profits and learn how to properly grow, harvest, and cure bud for production. Every year he took a new partner, after interviewing numerous candidates who were looking for a living in the woods. They had to be hardy. The work was exhausting and called for a huge commitment.
He also hired people to help him harvest and trim the plants. His system worked beautifully, and Rick flourished as a pot farmer. He tended to give preference to other Vietnam veterans, out of loyalty. When Smiley showed up, Rick liked his sense of humor and apparent desire to work hard and get ahead. It was an easy working relationship and the men enjoyed each other’s company.
Rick, who learned from his neighbors which mushrooms were safe to eat, had a habit of tripping on the psilocybin ones, and he always had some on hand. He listened to their voices, as Rafter and Smiley disappeared into the tree line on the trail. After a couple of minutes he turned his attention to a shriveled specimen from his fanny pack, and thoughtfully chewed it.
Early October. Jenny’s water broke as she was hanging some clothes on the line next to the trailer. Smiley was in town picking up supplies. Rafter was working on final improvements in the drying shed. Anticipating the coming harvest, he was whistling when he heard Jenny cry out in pain. He threw down his hammer and ran outside to see her bent over next to the trailer.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concern written on his face.
“Ba…baby’s coming…..” she said in between rapid breaths.
Rafter knew nothing about delivering babies. His heart hammered his ribs, but he tried to sound calm,
“Jenny…let’s go inside the trailer. Can you move?”
She nodded, her face scrunched up in pain. Holding her arm awkwardly, he guided her slowly up the steps into the trailer. Once inside, he led her to the bed. She sat down awkwardly, her back against the headboard, embryonic fluids leaking down her legs.
“Boil water,” she said, surprised at how calm her voice sounded.
Rafter filled up a large kettle with water and put it on the propane camp stove on the makeshift kitchen counter. As he waited for it to boil, he studied her face and was relieved to see no apparent panic. She pointed to a stack of baby blankets and cloth diapers neatly folded on her tiny dresser. In between contractions, she said,
“We’ll need those.”
After a few minutes, Jenny got up from the bed and walked across the room. She steadied herself against the wall when the next wave of contractions hit. Rafter watched helplessly. She straightened up when the contractions stopped and started walking again.Puzzled, Rafter asked,
“What are you doing? Shouldn’t you lie down or something?”
He was clearly out of his element and didn’t know what to expect. Jenny understood that and said,
“Walking…moving around…is good. Makes things happen faster.”
Relieved, Rafter turned to the boiling water and asked what to do next. She pointed at a stack of white hand towels, doubled over and grunted, then told him to boil four of them. One at a time. Then put them in the green mixing bowl next to the coffee pot. Once that task was complete he turned to her awaiting further instructions.
“Will you light those two candles?”
She pointed to the top of the kitchen cupboard.
“Aromatherapy will help me relax. I learned that in my child birth classes.”
Things went pretty well for nearly eight hours, then started turning ugly. Jenny called this sudden change “transition,” cursing men in general. One moment she felt sick, shaky, and cold, and huddled under the bed’s covers. The next, she threw the covers back and hurled abusive language at Rafter. She’d wept, apologized, then suddenly snarled like a tigress. Her eyes lit with anger and the desire for vengeance on the perpetrator of her pain.
Rafter was horrified and didn’t know what to think. Was this normal? She was like a female Jekyll and Hyde. He was able to calm her with foot and neck massages now and then, but for the most part, he feared for his life! He had no idea that sweet Jenny knew words like that. He’d never heard her swear before. Or threaten physical harm with such gusto.
Then Jenny settled down and began to push. This went on for nearly an hour before a healthy-looking baby boy popped into Rafter’s sterilized hands. As instructed, Rafter carefully held his slippery charge and cleared his airway. He was rewarded with a scream of indignation as the baby took his first breath.
Jenny managed to smile as he handed her the howling, wrinkled, red-faced newcomer. She quickly guided the baby to her waiting nipple. He latched on instantly, and she closed her eyes in utter exhaustion.
Following her instructions, Rafter cut and clamped the umbilical cord and waited for the placenta. When it emerged he gathered it up and put in in the glass jar she had placed beside her bed.. She told him she had plans for the placenta, which bothered him little, but he complied.
After helping Jenny clean up, Rafter slipped outside and lit up a doobie. He was still shaking from the experience. He’d witnessed many deaths in Vietnam. He had blood on his hands and couldn’t forget it. Now he’d experienced something life affirming. Redeeming.
He’d witnessed the birth of a new soul. It humbled him. Something in him stirred when he thought about that moment when he held the baby, willing him to breath. A door opened in his heart, and this un-named baby boy stepped in.
More than one thing changed for Jenny that day. The earth shifted slightly. She had a son. She also found herself feeling very close to Rafter. Their shared experience had thrilled them both. Somehow Rafter didn’t look sinister any more. The thought gave her a warm feeling.
Then she remembered Smiley. She realized she was committed to him, and she had convinced him this was their child. There could be no thoughts about a romantic relationship with Rafter. He was just a good friend. It had to stay that way.
Meanwhile, Smiley was sleeping in the drunk tank at the Eureka County jail. He’d had too much to drink, and made a fool of himself, and been arrested for public intoxication. His truck was impounded by the police.
Jenny and Rafter had no idea what had happened to him, and without a phone or means of transportation, they were helpless to find out. It wasn’t until Rick stopped in his jeep the next day, that they could get Jenny and the baby into town and have a doctor look at them.
They took Jenny and the baby to the Arcata Open Door Clinic. Then they searched for Smiley. It was Rick who thought of checking the Eureka County jail. In a twist of timing, Smiley was released when they stopped by and they ran into each other outside the County Court House. When informed he had a son, Smiley shouted in joy,
“C’mon bros! Drinks are on me!”
They named the baby Sundance Dan McQueen-Holt. Jenny and Sundance stayed with her aunt in Ferndale for a month until the men were done with the harvest.
The harvest was a grueling process. They used machetes to hack the limbs off with the buds, leaving the stalks intact in the ground. The stinky bundles were hauled by hand to a pickup truck. Depending upon the terrain, they drove the truck as close to each garden as possible, in order to ease their workload.
They worked till the last rays of light fled into the night. For days they hacked and chopped. They worked by lantern light each night in the drying shed, draping the heavy limbs over ropes strung the length of the shed. Air slits with wire screens were cut in all four walls for ventilation. Because they had no electricity, they couldn’t employ oscillating fans like Rick used in his drying shed.
The limbs had to be rotated regularly and watched closely for any signs of mold. If some appeared, the limb had to be thrown out so it didn’t spread to the healthy buds. It was a labor intensive process, but vital if they hoped to properly cure the buds.
As they worked, they talked about things. Sundance was a favorite topic for Rafter. Smiley wondered if the baby’s fine blond hair would eventually turn red like his? Rafter responded with a joke:
“The less he looks like his daddy the better! Hopefully, he’ll take after Jenny.”
Smiley reminded him that Sundance was a boy and really shouldn’t look too much like his Mom. This new person made them both examine their lives. Smiley had moments of panic as he thought about the responsibility attached to fatherhood. He kept waiting for his heart to flip flop over his son and was saddened when it didn’t. The initial glow of being a father was wearing off. Meanwhile, Rafter acted like a babbling idiot around the baby and went out of his way to play with him at every opportunity.
Drying completed, the long-awaited day to trim their product arrived. They trimmed every waking moment and carefully bagged the buds in plastic turkey bags. Each bag held one pound. The number of bags grew. The men talked and dreamed. Jenny nursed the baby and watched them work; prepared to give them food or drink at a moments’ notice. Days slipped by in a haze of smoke and conversation.
One day, as Rafter was talking a walk, a VC stepped out from behind a tree and leveled an AK 47 at him! Rafter pulled his shotgun off his shoulder and fired at the black clad Viet Cong! The loud boom echoed through the trees and birds scattered in startled surprise. The noise brought Rafter back to the present.
He stood still, holding the shotgun at port arms, and tried to slow his breathing. It had happened again. The flashbacks seemed to occur more often lately for no good reason. What was happening to him?
He had talked about them with Smiley several times. Smiley didn’t seem to have this problem and he never talked about having nightmares. Still, it was helpful to talk with someone who could understand, and who had also undergone many life-and-deathmoments in Vietnam. Once Smiley suggested he was just overtired and having “daymares.”
The big day finally arrived. The sun was setting in the distant mountains and an owl swooped down over the drying shed in search of prey. Smiley squeezed a medium-sized bud between his thumb and forefinger. It rebounded slightly when he released it. The smell was skunky and pungent.
He handed the bud to Rafter who tore off a bit and packed it in a wooden pipe Smiley had carved. He handed the pipe and Zippo lighter to Jenny who had returned to the homestead the day before, toting a chubby and happy Sundance.
She lit it, took a hit, and passed it to Smiley. Both men watched her exhale and waited for her response.
“Wow…I didn‘t know weed could pack a punch like this!” she exclaimed.
By the time the pot was burned to ashes the trio were babbling happily and flames from the pit fire made shadows dance across the dirt and into the nearby tree line. Mama Bruin and her two cubs came to a halt when they saw the fire. Nothing but trouble there. She herded her rambunctious cubs off in a safer direction. There was no telling what those man things would do next. As she ambled away she thought,
“There goes the neighborhood.”
You didn’t just walk into Juan Rivera’s neighborhood unless you had a damn good reason. He ran an 18th Street gang that was part of one of the largest street gangs in America. It got its start in the 1960s near 18th Street and Union Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.
Rivera was born in Los Angeles and was awarded more respect than those from other areas. Gangs generally functioned independently, but would join forces when combating rival gangs or law enforcement. Their street colors were blue and white.
When Rivera’s younger brother Alvaro got out of the Army, Juan quickly found a place for him in the organization. Alvaro presented him with a wild plan to make money that intrigued Juan. He had a connection, a close friend from Vietnam, who had been his partner in the black market trade there. They had smuggled $500,000 in cash out of Vietnam and split the money when they both were home.
This friend, a gringo, was so trustworthy he sent all their greenbacks to Alvaro to hold until he came back from Vietnam. He had big conjones and ideas. His latest was selling marijuana that he grew up in Northern California. When Alvaro sampled it he was impressed and told Juan it would be easy to sell at a premium.
“It would have no trouble competing with the Panama Red, Columbian Gold, Thai Sticks, Vietnamese weed, or anything else on the market. And the price is right,” Alvaro assured his brother.
As an added attraction, the seller wouldn’t waste their money on stems and seeds that normally came with a pot purchase. They’d get sticky buds dripping with THC.The result of that arrangement was several years of fat profits for all concerned.
Everything went smoothly after each harvest and the 18th Street Gang soon had a reputation for the best pot around. Rick and Alvaro met once a year to transact business, at a different location each time. There was no need to be in contact the rest of the year.
This year was going to be different. Rick had called Alvaro before their annual meeting date on November 22nd and asked for a earlier meeting on neutral ground. They decided to meet in Stockton at a Denny’s restaurant.
The two men sipped their coffee in companionable silence after finishing breakfast. Alvaro finally broke the spell,
“So what’s up bro? Why this meeting?”
“Got a favor to ask you,” Rick said.
“This ought to be interesting.”
“I’ve got two friends, Nam vets, who are my neighbors and in the same business as I am. They’re cool. We watch out for each other up on the mountain. They’re just starting out. This year is their first harvest. They’re growing the same strain as mine, Grand Daddy Perp, so you know it’s excellent.”
“Sounds like competition for you my friend,” Alvaro observed.
“Not the way I’m thinking. I’m hoping you will provide my friends with a link to your homies in another city. A person, like yourself, with push, who can make things happen.” “I’ve got friends all over the state,” Alvaro bragged.
“Do you have any place in mind?”
“I was thinking Porterville. It’s nowhere near your operation and closer to my friends.”
“Porterville is a good pick. I know some guys in Sureno gangs there. Let’s see, there’s Loco Park, the Brown Surenos, Barrio Sur Trece, Campos Locos, and the Original Buster Killers…oh wait! My cousin Jesus Fernandez runs Loco Park now. He might be interested in doing business with you.”
“The question is, can my friends trust your cousin? You and I are bros with a history or we wouldn’t have anything to do with one another. Would there be any accountability?”
“Depends on what you mean.”
“What if Jesus decides to rip my friends off when they show up with a 125 pounds of high grade pot? How could this be prevented?”
“Jesus listens to me. If I tell him to treat you fair, he will. I’ll tell him about my profits from this wonder weed.”
“Forgive me bro, but I need more assurance than that. Would it be possible for you to be there when their deal goes down?”
“I have to hand it to you bro. You think things through. I’ll do it, but you know me, I’d like a small slice the pie for my trouble.”
“I understand and respect that. How about each side, your cousin and my friends, kick in a commission for you? Say $5,000 each? That would be $10,000 for a few minutes work. How does that sound?”“I would have to sell my cousin on that, but it shouldn’t be too hard. He’d be making so much money it wouldn’t matter. Seeing as how I’m family, he’ll know this connection will be righteous. Blood matters in these things.”
“Sounds like a plan, then?”
“I’ll call you next week. I need some time to visit in Porterville. I have other family members there too.”
“Sounds good bro.”
Outside, before they got into their cars, the two men slowly dapped. Fists bumping, hands sliding up and down while elbows clashed slightly in a complex pattern only they understood.
An observer pulling a newspaper out of a rack near them paused and watched curiously.
A short white man with long brown hair bound with a black bandana, wearing torn jeans and a black Mickey Mouse t-shirt; and a Mexican with jet black hair combed back in a duck tail, wearing brown baggy pants and a long-sleeved checkered shirt. Apparently their slapping and gentle punching was some kind of ritual. Now that was something the observer didn’t see everyday. He’d have to tell his wife about it when he got home.
Chapter Six - DEADLY HARVEST - Coming April 30th
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