I’ve been in the valley a long time. I know where the bodies are buried. Hell, I was the pall bearer. I don’t know if that makes it home, or if it means it’s time to be moving on.
It all started in October. I was heading up to Fools’ Lake. It’s tucked into the foothills, but there’s no real trail to it, and it’s pretty small, so I don’t know anybody who fishes it, but I heard there were goldens in there years ago, and I thought the exit creek might hold some spawning bulls late in the year. At least if there were no fish, there would be no other fishermen.
I pulled off the highway onto the forest service road and drove up it until it turned west and began to get steep. I parked in front of the gate, settled my pack on and started bushwacking across the clear cut with my Rottie male, Goblin. His markings are kind of muddy and he’s kind of houndy looking, but I got him at the purebred rescue for a song.
Now, I hate the clear-cutting bastards as much as I hate poachers, but in this case, I don’t think I could’ve gotten to the lake if it wasn’t for the clear cut. In fact it was seeing it from the road that gave me and my friend Mikey the idea one day coming back from the Pass.
It was late in the month and some of the first snows had come and gone. The day was bright and crisp. Just the kind of weather when the fish became pretty unselective as they tried to pack a few more calories in before freeze over. I had a good feeling about this.
Basically, I just kept the pass that drained the lake in sight and tried to head as straight for it as terrain would allow. The foothills here are the curdled cream of glacial run off, lumpy and bumpy and steep, and you never know what route you will eventually have to take. We’d been at it about ten minutes, Goblin ranging around but never far away, going straight up hill as if he were on the level, while I sweated away under my float tube and other gear. We crested a near horizon and dropped down into a little gully when I noticed Goblin pawing at something. I didn’t think too much of it, but I didn’t want him rolling in puma shit, or any other stinky thing, as he was wont to do. A dog rolls in one dead salmon in the fall, and you smell it every time he gets wet until the next salmon season. I called to him, and walked over to see what it was. We all have our bad habits.
There on the ground was something wrapped in black plastic, about the size of a hay bale. I didn’t have to see the individually wrapped bricks splayed around it out of its broken end to know what it was. I’d seen lots of these floating off the coast of Maine when I used to lobster as a kid. The drug runners would come in at night, float a bale just below the surface attached to a Chlorox bottle. The next day some lobsterman would pick it up while he was hauling traps and bring it to shore with his catch. Simple as pie, clean as can be, and lethal as hell if anybody caught you messing with it. In Maine, they kept a spotter on the beach to make sure everything went alright. Suddenly, the hairs on my neck stood up.
“C’mere boy.” Goblin is a very well-behaved dog. I don’t ask much, and I’m never unreasonable, so he generally agrees to what I have in mind. He’s got a penchant for stuffing stuff into his sizeable maw, however, and this time he came right over – carrying a brick. I just bent down like I was petting him and took it, holding it tight to my belly so that nobody behind me to could see what was going on. Then I just kept right on going, up to the lake like nothing at all had happened.
Turned out to be pretty good, too. I caught a golden (a Fools’ golden, if you will), though I didn’t land it, and a bunch of surprisingly fat cutties. I didn’t have time to fish the stream, but I figured I would be coming back. Whole way down, though, I thought about that dope and the brick stashed in the bottom of my backpack.
Once the sun goes behind the ridge, it gets dark fast, and cold. We got back to the truck just at dark, I loaded up and drove down the road. I live in a little trailer, like a camping trailer, up off the main road. It’s parked right on the edge of a ridge and it’s got a hell of view of the Cascades and the Sky river. I unpacked the gear on the tailgate and put it in a little shed. I looked at the brick for a while and then for some reason walked over and put it in one of the cubbies in my drift boat. Seemed like I should hide it and that’s the best I could think of.
I walked in and said “Honey I’m home!” to the picture of the sweet little school marm from back east sitting on top of my TV. It was long over between us, if you consider “long over” to be the weight of a semi sitting where your heart you to be, but nobody can say I’m afraid of commitment.
I made a Spam and Velvetta omellette, gave Goblin some raw chicken – he gets a leg quarter twice every day, morning and night. Then we each had a beer or two out by the fire in the yard. I really wanted to fish that lake, but as long as that dope was there, it just didn’t seem prudent. But I really wanted to fish that lake. It went around like that for a while.
I don’t really have anything against dope. You never hear of some guy getting stoned and beating his wife or crashing the car. Teenagers don’t do bong hits and shoot up malls. Nope. I’m all for the free market aspects of it, in fact. Quality keeps going up, and the price is practically inflation-proof. Seems like there should be a lesson there for other international trade, is all I’m saying. Eventually I figure a way to make it work out and then I went to bed.
Next day, I loaded up my gear and the Goblin and drove down the road ‘til I got cell reception and called my friend Mikey. Mikey, from his telling, used to deal a lot of dope, ‘til he discovered fishing and it turned his life around. I kind of believe him, too since he occasionally shows up with some poor soul whose life he is trying to turn around. That and all of the guns and fast sleeper cars he has lying around.
He prefers RX-7s and old Celicas. Fast in their time, with tons of aftermarket mods available, but they wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now and you can buy them by the six pack and have your own parts store. Mikey says, “Sometimes, when the devil knows you’re dead, but you haven’t spent your hour in heaven, you just gotta run for it.” I like that.
I picked him up and started back up to Fools’ lake. “I thought about it a lot yesterday, and this is how I figure it,” I said as I pinned it through the potholes. (My theory on rough roads is if you drive them fast, the wheels don’t have time to fall into the holes and it smoothes them right out. Mikey is one of the few people who doesn’t argue with my application of the theory.) “A plane in BC files a flight plan to come to the states and then goes through customs. After that, they do a fly-over some field and snag a cable on the ground, just like the old postal planes used to do. Then they winch in the dope and keep right on their flight plan, coming over the border and dropping it here where a spotter picks it up. They land in the US, clear customs, and go about their business.”
“Yeah, I used to get all my good shit from BC,” Mikey says as he pets Goblin absently. “That does make sense. Why do you figure it’s still there, though?”
“I been thinking about that, too. Either they just dropped it, and I came along all dumbass before they could get it, or they lost it somehow.”
“Case A, it’s not there today and we have a good day fishing,” says Mikey.
“Case B, Lord deliver me from temptations,” says I.
Goblin looked out the window without a care in the world and I kinda wanted to trade places with him.
We parked and packed up, taking a little more time checking gear and making a production out of it, and then headed back up the ridge. Once all this dope stuff was taken care of, I thought, I’m going to have to take pains to hide the trail so other people don’t fish the lake out.
Goblin put his nose down and lead us unerringly up the ridge, even though visibility was only a few hundred yards in the morning mist and I couldn’t see the pass. As we came over the swale the dope was still there. Mikey might not have even seen it for as cool as he was and we kept straight on to the lake, too winded and preoccupied with the hike to talk.
As we were rigging up our rods Mike said. “Fuck, dude, there is a lot of money back there. You know, don’t you, that Mary Jane sells for more per ounce than gold? That was a hay bale back there, probably 50 kilos. You could definitely put that addition onto the trailer.”
“I was thinking maybe get one of those above ground pools, too.”
“That too,” he said and then gave the rod a few false casts before heading down the east side of the lake.
I put a big old terrestrial pattern on, and when to a point on the other shore. See these lakes don’t have squat for life in them. The winds from the valley blow the bugs upslope and that’s mostly what the fish eat. Makes fishing for them pretty simple. I caught about a dozen more cutties, then finally hooked a landed a golden, my first, before it was time to head down. I still hadn’t gotten to the trib, but hopefully there would be another time.
We got back to the truck and loaded up.
“That was real nice, I want to thank you for sharing that,” Mikey said.
You don’t show all of your friends all of your fishing holes, but generally Mikey and I had a one-for-one trade off, and an unspoken agreement: I knew he would never come back here without me, and that he would never tell anybody else about it. That’s what makes a good fishing friend. What makes him an even better general friend is that, unlike ninety-nine percent of the people you meet, he thinks and then he talks.
I reached under the seat, grabbed two Dead Guy ales and handed them to him. “Opener’s in the glove box.”
“That dope was a pretty sweet find, too, he said handing me back a beer.” I figure it about 50 kilos, or just over 100lbs. Two of us could pack it out.
“I guess it’s Case B, then.”
“Yep. Definitely. There was some rain splatter on the plastic, so that had to have been there at least since Tues. I think they lost it.” Here I was thinking he might have not even noticed it.
“You gotta figure they are still looking for it. Or sending another shipment, though. I just get real nervous even being near that stuff.”
“I can’t figure that either, but I tell you what, when I get home I’ll make some calls and get back to you. Hey did I tell you I caught a golden up there! Actually landed two of them! That made the whole trip worth it.”
And we talked fishing all the rest of the way home.
I stayed off the mountain the next day, fished the Sultan instead. I went through every egg pattern and white leech I had, and finally in desperation switched to a purple leech and landed two bulls in ten casts. Still can never figure those damn things out, for a whole year, they only took white.
The next day, Mikey drove up the hill in this little Toyota four-by he had, just about as stripped down and built as one of those Baja racers. Goblin seems to remember how a vehicle sounds, because he just paced out without barking at all.
“Hey Ninja warrior, I hope you’re sober. We got some work to do.”
“Yup. I can move that stuff as soon as we get it.
“You know, I’m pretty happy with my life. Don’t got much, don’t need much. Good dog, nice view off the manse here. Some money left over for beer once I get my Vienna sausages.”
“I hear ya. I quit the dope game along time ago, for good reason.”
“I mean, it’s a risk-reward thing here. We could be risking everything, and for what?”
“A little trail maintenance.”
“And an above ground pool. “
“That’s about it.”
“Well, you are a damned fool without my years of wisdom, and I am not going to let you do this alone.”
“Kinda figured it your way.”
“I’ll drive, there’s no seat in that thing for Goblin.”
“Shit. I forgot, sorry.”
My grandmother used to say “In for a penny, in for a pound.” In for a brick, in for a bale I guess might be how to look at it tonight. I was of mixed emotions on this venture but once we started out, I figured to see it through. Mikey had brought some gear with him and we sorted it all out and talked over the plan. We had a few beers around the fire and around one thirty headed out. The moon was in its last quarter, but the night was clear. I pulled off the highway and turned off my lights, then we sat there for ten minutes while our eyes adjusted, and I drove up the road in the dark. We didn’t talk at all. I know my gut hurt from the knots and I was afraid if I opened my mouth I’d start blathering and either talk him out of it or get talked out of it. Besides we had a plan, all we had to do was keep to it. In my experience, once you get that far, you should just stop thinking before you screw it all up.
We geared up and started over the clear cut. The shadows from the moonlight were blacker than Goblin, but in between it was actually pretty easy going. We hiked to the swale and stopped. We looked around where we thought the dope should be, but there was nothing there.
“Souk!” I said to Goblin. That’s “seek” in German. Most people don’t know it, but Rottweilers are darn good trackers. It’s their all around utilitarian nature, plus their friendly demeanor, that makes us get along so well. Normally, I would give him something to scent off of, but in lieu of that, he was smart enough to bring back anything unusual. “Souk!” I said with increased urgency and he began to whine as he coursed about our position. I knew it was unfair and he just wanted to please me, but I was frustrated. How could we not have the sense to get a GPS bearing on this shit?
Suddenly, I had an idea. “Did you fuck me?”
“Yeah, I guess that was kind of dumbass. If you did, why would you be standing here with a target on your back?”
“Had to ask. How could we miss this?”
“We didn’t miss it, even if we did, Goblin wouldn’t have missed it. It got harvested. Somebody beat us to it.”
“Damn shame to come all this way for nothing. Woulda been a hell of a night for night fishing, too.”
We both laughed and I have to tell you, I was actually pretty relieved. Only times I’ve ever been happy was when I was poor. I don’t know why I keep fighting it. We double-timed it back to the truck and I drove down with my lights on, us laughing and telling stories the whole way.
“Damn, dude, I almost got back in the game. You are one dangerous fishing partner.”
“What came over us, we were like kids!”
When we got home it was about three. We were both pretty wired, but Mikey left. He didn’t like to leave his beautiful wife alone too long, and I understood that only too well.
“Watch your back,” he said as he got into the Toyota.
“Hi honey, I’m home,” I called and reached for the Bourbon.
Some time that night the rains rolled in. My trailer sounded just like it was being run through a car wash. There was to be no fishing that day. I tied some flies, I drank some, I played with the satellite dish and watched some soccer. I poured over maps making plans for future adventures. I just about completely forgot about the dope.
Good sleeping weather, though, especially once the Bourbon runs out. Next thing I know, Goblin is barking at the door. I was just sitting up when I heard a tremendous crash and the whole trailer lurched. The octagonal-cut pint glass I favor for my bourbon came off the shelf above the bed and cut a nasty gash on my scalp. Now I was pissed. I rolled out of bed onto my feet and the trailer lurched again. There weren’t too many more of those before Goblin and I took a little bobsled run down the ridge. I stumbled to the door and just got it opened when there was a final crash that brought me to my knees. Goblin tried to break past me, but I got him by his chain collar, wincing with the force the links cut into my finger tendons.
“Come on out Jarl!”
Well hallelujah, and who could that be? I was a bit fuzzy, but coming around fast. I stood up and walked out the door, only to fall flat on my face since my stoop was about ten feet to my left. Fortunately, I was too dazed to let go of the dog. I got up slowly, high beams in my eyes. Some fuckers had been ramming my trailer with a big old Dodge four-by.
“What the fuck?” Goblin was going ballistic. “Sitz!” I barked in German, and he sat right down next to me, although I could tell he didn’t like it.
“Where’s our dope, dirt bag.”
A man walked into the light and dropped me with the stock of a shotgun, just like that. There was no holding Goblin back after that. He hit him in the inner thigh, near the femoral artery and the guy went down screaming. “Shoot him! Shoot him!” But there was too much confusion and the dog was between us. “Aus!” I screamed, although it was against my best instincts, as it seemed that Goblin had the better handle on the situation. I was finally able to pull him off, and put him behind me. “Platz!” He laid down, providing what I hoped was an impossible target, his muddy coloring blending him in with the shadows.
“Shoot that fucking dog!” The guy was screaming over and over again.
“If you do, you better shoot me, too.”
He had crab-walked back to his partner.
“Shut the fuck up, both of you.” This voice was way too rational and cold for the situation. He stepped forward. “Where. Is. My. Fucking. Dope.”
I was wiping blood out of my mouth.
“I don’t…” I started to say, when in the worlds of Arlo Guthrie, he dropped an 8 x10 glossy color photo down on the ground in front of me. There was my truck, and my license plate broad as day.
“I know you took it. You were there three times and now it’s gone. I’m going to ask one more time, then I am going to shoot the dog, and then blow your arms and legs off one at a time until you tell me where it is.”
Did I mention I love that dog? My gears were pretty rusty but most of them were still there. “I’ll get it for you.” By now, I was on my feet. Goblin was still behind me. With his mouth hanging open and his tongue out, he actually looked kind of jolly. He loves this shit. “But it’s not here. I’ll have to get it tomorrow.”
“Can you believe this guy?” He looked back to his friend with the shotgun. “I’m not fooling around, I want my shit.”
“I told you I would get it for you!”
“Okay, I warned you.” He shrugged his shoulders. His buddy pumped the gun and blew a whole in my boat parked just to the right of me.
“Jesus!” I screamed as a piece of shrapnel caught me in the thigh.
I hobbled over to the boat. I heard the gun pump again.
“Easy Tony Soprano,” I said, and pulled the brick out from the compartment. “Like I said, it’s not here. It’s on an island in the river. And now it looks like it’s going to be a while before I can get it.”
The smart guy’s eyebrows when up. “Now we’re getting some where. He handed me a card. Tomorrow. Get it, call us.”
“Whoa. Not so easy. First there is this.” I waved vaguely at the boat. “Second, there is this,” I held my hand out to the rain. “First flood of the winter. The river is impassable.”
He looked daggers. “Hey,” I shrugged, you don’t want to go through all of this and dump it in the river do you?”
“When the river falls.”
“You got two days.”
“I’ll call God and get him right on it.”
He walked right up to me, nose to nose and grabbed the wound on my thigh.
“Two days.” He turned and walked back towards the truck. I was bent double but kind of pissed.
“I don’t suppose there is a finder’s fee?”
“I don’t like wiseasses,” He pointed at Goblin, “and I don’t like your dog.”
His buddy limped over to the driver’s side and got in, wincing. They backed out and I stood there watching. Then I turned to Goblin said “Break!” and passed out.
I probably wasn’t out long. A hundred-pound Rottweiler has a lot of poking power in his nose and doesn’t take no for an answer. Goblin poked and prodded me around. My head hurt from the hangover, the jaw was the size of a large arbor reel, and my thigh was a bloody mess.
First thing’s first. I took my shirt off and bound my thigh. Then I got in the truck maneuvered it to hook the winch onto the trailer and dragged it roughly back to my stoop. After that I got into my shed and took a pair of forceps off of my waders and went in to my fly-tying bench. Lesson 101. Leave some damn Bourbon in the bottle. I was going to have to do this the old fashioned way – with beer. I probed around with the forceps until I was sure the wound was pretty empty, and sopped up the prodigious blood using both of my good towels. Time to get re-married and register for new linen, I thought. I took a curved needle and some nylon gut I had and tried to pull the wound together, but it was more of a hole than a cut, so it was going to be one hell of a scar. I let the dog lick it a little to clean it out. I think the dog worries about me some, but I’m not so sure he wouldn’t just eat me if I dropped dead in the trailer. Finally I poured a bunch of Super Glue into it and went into convulsions until it set up.
I reflected on the view to the back of the trailer, somewhat improved by my friends. Suddenly I started laughing. Of course, they just had to use a Dodge Ram. I shared this with the dog. Goblin doesn’t always get me, but I think he’s mostly laughing at me anyway.
Suddenly, I was pretty tired. I wrapped the wound, got a big ol’ slice of Velveeta to settle my stomach, and laid down in my bed, away from the my recent remodel. About noon, I got up. Since it was raining, I didn’t even bother to visit or call Mikey, I just went down to the bar.
I was limping real bad by then, looked real bad, felt real bad, and was developing a might bad attitude. Goblin came in with me like he always did. He didn’t cuss, he didn’t fight, he held is liquor reasonably well – discounting the gas – which made him a whole lot easier to ignore than to eject. The bartender even kept a bowl for his beer.
“Looks like the devil knows you’re dead.”
“And this ain’t heaven.”
“Does he know I’m dead?”
Mikey held up a finger. The bartender took one look at me and brought him a bottle and an extra glass. It’s that kind of place. Mikey poured real quiet like, handed me a glass and held his up.
“Watch your back.”
And we both tossed them back.
“The guys who own the dope showed up. It appears whoever beat us to it, wasn’t them. They got pictures of the truck, which makes us – me – for it.”
“Me. The dog. Still here.”
“Pretty crafty. Finder’s fee?”
“Working on it.”
“Yep. Case C. Somebody else scores the stash and we get stuck holding the bag.”
“Didn’t see that coming.”
I smiled. “Thought you’d never ask.”
I figured it like this. In our greed we overlooked the one obvious thing. The spotter. Whoever was watching the site, he’s seen us – and anybody else who was there. If we didn’t do it, and he hadn’t turned anybody else up, well then, I had some questions for him. We had a few more to kill the pain, and gave Goblin to bottle to carry.
I drove up the highway onto the spur road. Partway up I pulled out the 8 x10, took a look, drove a little further, and parked.
“Let’s check something out. I want to walk through the woods on the left here for a while, off the road.” I held up the picture.
We got out. Walking was bad, but I figured it would clear the humors out and I should stick to it as part of my constitution. We only had to walk about a quarter of a mile before we found it, which was good because I figured I only had an eighth of a mile in me when we started. On a tree was an infrared camera with a satellite sending unit run off a car battery. Smart and low tech. You could get them from Cabella’s to watch game trails. Some guys even set them up so they could remote fire the rife and then go pick up the deer. Sportsmen, I think they call themselves. I reached over and unplugged it. Then I think I had a bit of nausea, because next thing I remember was Mikey pulling up in the truck and I had this puky taste in my mouth.
“Flesh wound my ass.”
“Ayuh. Now what?”
“Back to the gate.”
Mikey drove up to the gate, nice and slow, but I wanted to puke at every pothole.
“Inside and out, brother.”
Rain was clearing up by then and the sun hurt my eyes. I grabbed my fishing shades off the rearview as we pulled up to the gate and got out.
“Whatcha looking for?”
“We’re some dumbass somsbitches, Mikey. All that time we figured we was being watched, and we never checked on it. Definite optimists.” I started looking round at the ridgelines, and eventually went back to the truck for my binoculars.
I handed them over. “Double shit. How did we miss that?” There was a little trailer, not unlike mine, up the ridge at the end of the road. Made perfect sense. They were all over the hills, the logging companies paid some guy to just hang out and keep an eye on the equipment. Somebody comes along and offers him a little extra to do what he was doing anyway and la-tee-da, there’s your spotter. We hopped into the truck and drove off.
“I want to come in all unsuspicious-like.”
“If you say so.” Mikey was obviously doubtful of my reasoning.
We beeped as we pulled up and parked. It turned out to be unnecessary. There at the foot of the stoop was the spotter, in his skivys, socks half off, and missing the best part of his head, a sawed-off just a few feet away.
“Likewise.” I sat there and looked out the window.
“So how do you figure it, this guy gets popped because he looses the package?”
“Maybe, but then who got it? Makes more sense that somebody smarter than us whacked him and then took the package.”
“Okay, but how come they are not on Candid Camera, comme nous? Wouldn’t your friends have paid them a visit too?”
“Yeah, that’s a good question.” I grabbed the door handle.
“What are you thinking?”
“First, puke. Second, look around.”
“Just watch the damn dog and keep it running.”
“Watch your back.”
I got out and promptly fell to my knees. I puked for a bit and managed to get up. This was getting to be a long day. Goblin was whining to get out, but I told him to stay put. I walked up and looked at the body for a long time. The blast went in under the chin and took off pretty much the top of his head. The face was kind of mushy like one of those old-time dried apple dolls. I looked at the shot gun, then went into the trailer. This guy made me look like Martha Stewart. I sifted through porn and old food tins. On the counter by the sink I found some binoculars, much nicer than mine and focused them on the gate. I could read the Keep Out sign no problem. On the edge of the counter was a pad of paper from a windshield company. I picked up a pencil stub and shaded to read the impression. 735 UXC II. Shit, the plates to my truck and the number of times he’d seen it. His wallet was in his jeans on the floor and I pulled out the license.
I eventually got back into the cab into and let Mikey drive. I took out the license, “You know this guy, Mike Jenness?”
“I know him, local kid. Dumb as shit. Him and his brothers always doing one stupid thing after another. I think Tom is up in Monroe right now doing three to five or some such. Is that who that was? Couldn’t even tell with his face all creped up like that.”
“Well if it wasn’t he stole his wallet.”
“Damn. Stupid ain’t evil, you know?”
“I don’t think the devil cares, or if he can even tell the difference.”
“Seems that way.”
I dropped Mikey at the bar, then followed him home and hitched up his boat.
“Treat it like it wasn’t your own.”
“Watch your back.” Then I headed up the road to make some calls.
Some things stick in your brain the way a broken molar sticks in your craw. I’m telling you, I know this, you can argue the brain part but the broken molar is unimpeachable. I pulled the bottle out from under the seat and did some serious anesthesia on the way home.
Parked in front of my dream house was a blacked out Ford Exploder with big dumbass mags and wide low profile tires on it. Probably the first time this thing had ever been off the tarmac. I eased up and got out, telling Goblin to stay, but he wasn’t happy about it, and began barking and growling something fierce.
As I walked out between the vehicles two large black men got out of the Ford. “Evenin’” I said.
“Where the fuck’s my dope,” said the passenger.
I held up my hands “Whoa, I still got a day and a half.”
The two exchanged a look. “Whatchu talkin’ about?”
“Didn’t you send two associates to do that?” I pointed at the trailer.
The passenger smiled and it looked startling white in the dusk. “You start there,” and he hitched his thumb over his shoulder, “where you gonna go?”
Goblin was just about to chew through the door. “Goblin! Sitz!” It quieted him down some, but I could tell it was temporary.
“Well, they said it was their dope, now you say it’s your dope, how do I know who is telling the truth?”
The driver pulled back a very well-tailored coat to show me the butt of a 9mm. “Truth enough for you?”
I pointed to my jowl. “Unfortunately, they had the same argument.”
“Mr. Boon,” said the passenger. “I’m a businessman, not a thug. I assure you, you have my dope. Those other men were scamming you.”
“The were pretty persuasive. So persuasive, I told them I had it, even though I didn’t.”
“It’s your plate we got up on the mountain, Mr. Boon, how do you explain that?”
“I was up there fishing. I think somebody fucked you and wants to blame it on me. I think the other guys were in on it and got double-crossed.”
“Seems like you are in a pre-dicament. Those guys will kill you if you don’t deliver my dope to them, and I’ll kill you if you do.” He smiled at me again.
“Those guys will kill me no matter what, that’s why I’m not going to bother lying to you. Go fuck you selves”
The driver went for the gun. Goblin, who had been trying to chew through the glass gave up, and just launched his body through it. The shooter spun in that direction but hadn’t really processed what was going on. Goblin hit the ground, made an impossible turn and came around the tire out of the shadows. I went in the opposite direction. He looked at me and Goblin took him right in the forearm, wedged deep in his jaw. One shot hit the dirt where I had been standing. Goblin dropped him like a scarecrow and he started shaking his head back and forth with incredible power.
“Motherfucker!” His eyes were rolling back in his head. I picked up the gun and looked over the two of them at the boss. He looked calmly at his employee.
“All of this is so unnecessary. Please call off the dog.”
“Aus!” Goblin let go and trotted over to my side. I held the gun low next to my thigh. I don’t like guns and I couldn’t even tell you if the safety was off on this one, but I wanted to appear confident.
“My plate. How’d you get it?” I kept an eye on the driver as he scuttled back to the SUV and leaned against it nursing his arm. He and Goblin seemed to be entertaining each other. Something about a dog. It rattles your reptile brain. Your medulla oblongata if you will. So much more effective than a gun.
“The one you killed?”
“Pfft. Why would I kill that dumbass? He was dead when we got there. We found it inside on a piece of paper.” He reached inside his coat and I raised the gun, but he pulled it out slowly. From where I was standing it at least looked the right size to be from the note pad.
“I’m being to be straight with you. I didn’t steal your dope. I was fishing. I just want out. Seems like you should be talking to them other fellas. I think they had something going, but it fell through. Why don’t I just give you their number and you can work it all out?”
“I like you. I want to believe you. Hell, I even like your dog.” He looked at his sidekick. “Damn stupid with the gun, boy. Damn stupid.” He looked back at me. “But somebody’s got my dope, and I just can’t let that go.”
“Maybe it’s just lost.”
“Why am I thinking that’s not the case? Why is Mike dead if he didn’t know where the dope was or if they didn’t put there own spotter on site?”
“I hadn’t worked that out.”
“But you working on it. That’s good. I like that.”
“You got men setting up to take your shipment, you can’t just let that go, neither.”
“Well, I’ll deal with those men, if they exist. You find me some dope, I might just be able to keep you alive.” He looked at the driver. “Can you drive?” The driver grunted in acknowledgment and got in. “You got 24 hours,” said the boss. He flipped me a card across the roof and then he got into the SUV.
I walked over and tapped on the window, when it slid down I handed in the gun. “I don’t suppose there is a finder’s fee?”
The boss laughed. “I like you man, don’t make me kill you.” He motioned with his hand and the driver gunned it, spraying my much maligned trailer with rubble.
“Fuck.” I looked down at the dog. “Who’s a good boy? Are you a good boy?” His ass started gyrating like a Rapula broke-back lure. I rubbed his massive head. “I think I owe you a steak.” We walked up the stoop and made the small leap into the trailer. For almost a moment I had forgotten about the thigh. Damn jump made it hurt like hell.
“Honey, I’m home!” I got Goblin a steak out of the meat drawer and myself some cold Progresso soup out of the can. I got a bottle of Bella Dry Creek Zin out of the cellar, okay the closet, and poured a healthy slug into a Reidel stemless glass and put it on the floor next to his bowl. That was one sweet dog. We finished up and then I went outside and started a fire and got the bottle out of the truck. Today had been a long day. I hurt with dull aches places I did’t even remember getting shot. Tomorrow was going to be longer.
“Dog. You don’t mind if I dispense with the formalities, do you and just call you, Dog? Dog, I think those guys might really own that dope.” He looked up at me contentedly, farted, smelled his ass, looked at me like I had committed the grossest of offenses, and sprawled out near the fire. “I love you too man,” I continued. “Not that it makes any difference who owns it. First I got to find it, then give it to two sets of people. The only upside is that somehow we need to come out of this alive.” I looked down, but all I could see were the red bags under his eyes. He could’ve been asleep for two days the way he looked. I finished the bottle and tossed it into the fire. There were going to be some cold nights until I finished my remodel.
Next morning I got up early and headed to Mikey’s. He didn’t answer when I called so I banged on the door some.
“Jesus, Jarl. It’s date morning don’t you know, just me and the missus…”
He looked closely at me. “You look like hell.”
“The Devils’ pawn anyway. Suit up.”
It took him about five minutes, so I figured date morning wasn’t a total wash. On the way up, I explained it to him.
“Case D, Case C was a screw job and you are still stuck in the cross hairs. But now you got two devils.”
“What do you figure?”
“I figure the screwballs ain’t got it, we ain’t got it, and my well-dressed new best friends ain’t got it.” I patted the dog sitting between us for emphasis.
“It’s still on the mountain.”
“Now you got it.” I said.
We pulled up to the cabin. Sun was up. I pulled the brick out of from behind the seat. “Goblin. Souk.” Goblin put his nose down and began ambling about in concentric circles.
“Rain gonna wash it out?”
“Nah, holds the scent to the ground. He’ll be good.”
“Providing it’s here.”
”Providing that. If they had the dope, would I have gotten remodeled yesterday morning? He’s dead right there.” I pointed at the body. “He didn’t show them nothing.”
“He just got popped?”
“Been thinking tons about that, too. Don’t make no sense. Makes sense if they popped him and then put a spotter in place, but they didn’t do that or they wouldn’ta lost it. What I figure is the goof balls never cared about spotting the dope. They just set up their camera and planned on bushwhacking whoever came out. Jenness scored the drop as planned and either planned on double-crossing the suits and blaming us, or just hid it out of prudence. After waiting around for a while and nobody on camera, the goofs probably figured the same thing. They came up here to ask Jenness WTF and he tripped coming out the door and blew his own fool head off. ” I pointed at the socks. “Also, I’m just guessing here, but I think if somebody else had stuck that gun to him, it would’ve blown off more towards the back of his head.”
“Plus, why leave the guy, shotgun is untraceable. And,” Mikey added, “if anybody else had done it, they would’ve been on camera.”
“Exactly. That leaves the dope on-premise.”
“It’s all I got.” I grabbed a spade out of the bed and started following the dog out as he got into the scrub at the edge of the clearing. The Cascades are a lot of rock, and a lot of till. Some places you can’t dig at all; some places it’s easy. Not too far from the trailer, Goblin came upon a little holler. The duff was freshly disturbed and he began digging frantically. By the time I got there, he was already down to the plastic. “Good boy, buddy. It’s more steak and red wine for you tonight.”
“You some mighty spoil that dog.”
“Ayuh. But, tonight is date night.”
“Shoulda figured you wouldn’t splurge just on account of him saving your ass.”
We got a couple of sheets from the trailer and improvised sacks. It took four loads to get it all in the truck.
“Gonna cover that up?”
“Gonna call in the body?”
I drove like hell down the mountain and we made plans for the next day. River was still high, but a crazy man with two contracts on his head and a decent hangover could probably handle it.
Sometimes you get to make a plan, sometimes you get dealt a hand. There was not much planning to do here, I just had to connect the dots, and look for a way out along the way.
The next morning was befittingly crappy. It felt like somebody had upholstered the inside of my skull with shag carpet like some 70s party van, and yet the pain in my thigh was completely undiminished.
I didn’t want to involve Mikey because the Devil didn’t know he was dead, so I picked up the goofs at the pull out and drove them to the park. I’d worry about getting back to my trailer if it got that far. My boat was already in the water, with Goblin on a hard stay beneath a tarp in the stern. That dog would stay like that for two days if I told him to, providing nobody tried to get into the boat, and he made a real effective deterrent. Everybody on the river knew I had that dog in the boat, everybody except the two goons.
As the light came up I got my first look at them. Filthy with bad teeth, they would’ve been loggers once before meth became the major industry in the valley. They still wore the uniform though: greasy ball caps over unkempt hair, plaid wool shirts, and Carharts pants and jackets. They carried two big hockey-style duffles each. Mostly empty. It was the mostly that worried me. However, just because they were killers, they thought they were tough, and that gave me an edge. I began rigging a couple of Spey rods.
“What the fuck you doing?”
“You don’t look like dudes, but if I go down the river in a flood without rods rigged, people will automatically know something’s up. Now they’ll just wonder for a while about my strange customers and then forget. Relax.” I didn’t offer for them to get into the boat dry before I pushed off, but made them wade for it and climb over the gunwale. They didn’t seem to know any better and I scored one small victory, warm and dry in my Dan Bailey waders.
The rains had started back up and I knew we had a small window on the river before it was impassable, but I also knew we wouldn’t have any company.
It took all of my concentration to guide the boat through the rougher sections, especially as I was trying to rock the boat as much as possible without actually tipping it. They asked a couple of times how far it was, but I pretty much ignored them as we got tossed down the river. Finally, we neared my spot. There was a bigass sweeper just as the river split. Ninety percent on the front side and ten percent on the back side of this little island, a sandbar actually when the river was below flood. I got the boat to maximum velocity and launched it directly onto the bar. They were knocked forward in their seats and almost out of the boat. Right then I shouted “Hup!” and Goblin came out of the stern sheets directly onto the first goon, while the second started fumbling for one of the bags. I slid the oar out of the lock and jabbed him straight in the throat with the blade, knocking him backwards onto the platform on the bow. Goblin wasn’t doing too much damage through all the bulky layers, but the medulla oblongata effect was in full swing. I kept the goon pinned on the bow.
“You move and I’ll take your head clean off.”
Goon two had gone to duck and cover and was too busy to reach back for the duffles.
“Aus!” Goblin backed off, but kept his full focus on his prey. “It’s like this. You are going to take those bags and toss them back here. Soft like, and one at a time.” He did as I told him, nervous as hell about the dog. As each bag landed at my feet I picked them up and slung them hard as I could into deep water, keeping pressure on the oar with my other hand and shoulder. It felt like a couple of shotguns and some handguns, but I couldn’t be sure. While I had been rigging up, I was pretty sure they weren’t packing anything directly on them, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure about that either. “Now the coats.” As I watched them peel down in the steel rain, I’ve never been so happy for my Patagonia.
“You are so dead. I’m going to make you watch that mutt die, and then I’m going to kill you slow.”
“Ayuh, but you were going to do that anyway.”
“So, now what?” asked the other.
“I don’t care about the dope, never did. But I did find if for you, in fact you’ve been sitting on it this whole trip.” They began sputtering in synchrony, and I leaned a little on the oar. “I just want to get out alive. You can’t travel the river without me, so we are going to do it this way: Now that you don’t have guns, you just sit your asses right there, and we will float out. At the bottom of the run, you put your dope in the car and we part ways.”
The one in the bow smiled. “It won’t be over.”
“It will be over,” I said and they looked at my slyly, like they were dealing with an imbecile. “You,” I motioned to Goblin’s chew toy. “Get out and push us back into the current, then hang on and get your ass back in the boat, or I leave you here.”
He managed to get back in, but not without a good soaking.
“There is nothing to be gained by making a move on me before we land, boys. Besides, you can’t get by the dog. Just face forward and enjoy the ride.” For good measure, I had them put their hands on their heads and then rowed like hell for the take out. I was almost home, and thus had a lot more to lose than I did a few minutes ago. I was just hoping my nerves would last.
I grounded the boat at the take out and let them get out slowly. They looked at me like I was the stupidest guy in the world and then took off running for the car. That made me pretty certain they had other weapons stashed. They never got to them, though.
I heard a brief scuffle, and then my two well-dressed friends backed their SUV down the ramp. My criteria on the goons was: don’t ask, don’t tell. I didn’t want to hear shots, and I didn’t want to have bodies. The businessman assured me that wasn’t going to be the case and I like to believe that. On the other hand, I also told him I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days watching my back, and he told me not to worry about that, either. Life is a conundrum.
Sometime during all that I heard the unmistakable whine of a rotary engine take off down the river road. I just looked at Goblin and gave him a sad nod.
About a week later I took a break from working on the trailer and went fishing up to this little brookie lake that was stocked by the alphabet agencies during the depression but now is pretty much forgotten about. When I came home, there was a brand new Clacka Craft drift boat in my yard. I stashed my gear and started looking over the boat. Sure enough, right under the seat was a bunch of hundred dollar bills wrapped up into neat plastic bricks – my finder’s fee.
I was just dropping the seat back into place when Mikey showed up.
“Looks like you made out okay.”
“Ayuh.” I looked at him without saying anything for a while.
“Well, I been thinking. It never really was my idea to go to Fools’ lake. It was your idea.”
“And you got back into the business awful fast.”
“I don’t like what I think you might be saying here.”
“And it was always my truck.”
“How’s the RX running? You finally get that rotary fixed?”
“What are you saying?”
“Just thinking, is all.”
“Case E, set up and fucked by a friend?”
“Nah, you gotta watch your back.”
“Well, I guess this is heaven, then.”
“Close as we’re gonna get for a while.”
We laughed about it and had a few beers, but I never did tell him about the finder’s fee, and we don’t fish together so much anymore.