Wouldn’t it be fun if…?
A dishonesty conveniently ignored?
We walked towards the sun. Railroad tracks were lined with tall shrubbery and were ideal for concealing critters like rabbits and pheasants.
Though this has been some years past now it comes back to me as if it was yesterday.
Our mostly silent progress between the rails punctuated by groups of screeching and cawing crows. The sound of crunching gravel under our boots was comforting. As the sun heated up, it brought out the familiar and, to me, not unpleasant smell from the creosote saturated ties. Freddy and I had driven the five miles from home with our shotguns, our backpacks carried peanut butter and black raspberry sandwiches, cokes and shells.
We’d walked a couple of hours from the edge of town out about five miles and soon we’d be turning around again to head back to my pick up.
High overhead, large v shaped formations of Canada geese were flying south for the long winter ahead. Their honking heard clearly through the clear sky. This was one of my favorite times of the year.
Off in the distant my fifteen-year-old boy Freddy and I could hear several farmers tilling their soil to prepare for the coming winter. Not all farmers still tilled after harvest, but those that did could be heard and spotted from miles from the dust cloud churned up.
Thanksgiving weather in Illinois was always a toss-up. Often enough times through the year’s there’d already be snow on the ground. Not this year. The Illinois weather was stuck between hot summer and the chill of autumn. I was sorry I’d worn my heavy jacket.
This was a time in my still almost younger days and I found smoking a pipe full a comforting thing. Eventually, that was a habit I’d start leaving behind. But then, it brought me a measure of joy to prepare my pipe with a fresh bowl full. I enjoyed the rich maple flavor tobacco. My favorite when on occasion I smoke now is Frangelico Liqueur.
Of course, that was then. Yesterday afternoon my brand new Turkish meerschaum pipe arrived. A world renown meerschaum artist had carved a one of a kind of pipe with a design I’d come up with. The price shall remain my little secret. The pipe will sit next to my scrimshaw pipe in my display. For those worrying, the scrimshaw came from a long deceased sperm whale, whose skeleton was preserved under a bank of coastal sand in the ocean off the Arctic pack.
I have to admit that a part of these ‘hunts’ with Freddy apart from priceless father/son time the payoff was the pipe ritual like preparing my bowl, tamping the tobacco down just so, not too much so that it would make it impossible to stay lit. Neither filling the bowl with the sweet smelling stuff too light otherwise it would burn through too quickly. After lighting up, we’d continue along our slow, comfortable progress down the track.
Hiking around in the countryside or when we were fishing were the only times, I’d smoke any more. Truth be told, smoking was a disgusting thing to be near if you didn’t smoke!
The folks had invited us to Thanksgiving lunch, and we’d have unholy hell to pay if we screwed up and arrived late. God, heaven forbid! I’m thinking more here about Freddy’s mom rather than my in-laws. Lana would have my hide.
Like those old cowboys and Indians movies where only the Indians committed unspeakable atrocities to the ‘gentle’ settlers. An off topic: and we thought the Russians mastered the art of disinformation!, we’re just now getting around to facing at least some of our grisly past.
I thought of John Wayne, the cavalry captain, after being asked by the young, still green private whether the arrows sticking out of his back and chest hurt and he answered in his almost legend voice, ‘Son, it only hurts when I laugh…’
‘Hell, I know who she is. Shit, the woman almost killed me that one time. I’d deserved it, no two ways about it. But every once in a while you dodged the bullet in this thing we call life or living.’ Walking along the rail brought up unusual thoughts, often seemingly meaningless, but then often paralleling my reality. But it was for my writing.
We walked on and still hadn’t fired a shot. Hell, in a way, I was relieved. If we did manage to kill a rabbit when we got it back to the house, guess who’d have to gut and clean it. Damn right. Me. Frankly, I wasn’t much in the mood for either killing a rabbit, and even less cleaning it. Those days were gone now. Even Freddy’s zeal for hunting down the furry critters had waned. His young teen years had pulled him into other orbits that included me less and less.
A son peeling away from his dad. Happens every day, in every home, in every corner of the globe.
I was still insisting on doing these things with him, which always gave me the chance to look out for him, make sure he wasn’t running with the wrong pack. In our community there were some serious teen aged drug issues that had recently claimed the lives of several kids. The Mexican organized crime cartel along with their US counterparts were sneaking brown heroin through the southern border.
The time I’d continue to devote to walking the countryside with our shotguns would be determined by how devoted Freddy remained to cleaning his gun after the outing. The detailed cleaning routine I’d taught my boy was sacred. No short cuts allowed. Simple: Were Freddy to start cutting corners cleaning his gun than that’d be it. Nothing lost really, no hard feelings, it would just mean it was time to move onto other kinds of activities. Who knows, like maybe going to the university and playing catch on one of the many sports fields or with the excuse of finding something in the library.
More importantly, was my desire to get Freddy accustomed to the university environment. So that when that day arrived that our boy would start college he will have already gotten a flavor of the scenario, on the surface at least.
Of course, we were season long ticket holders for the universities’ football home games. Hard to find a more plentiful place to see some of god’s finest creations. Not my intention to give the erroneous impression that we’d go to catch the game only to see the pretty girls. Hell no, we were devoted fans to the old team. That all those nubile coeds were there in numbers only added to the thrill of going.
I call it rounding out. ‘You see Freddy, it’s what we could call ‘rounding out’. We want to go to the game, of course, but part of the joy of going is getting to see so many pretty girls. No harm in that as long as we are respectful. That’s what I’m trying to teach you. Be a gentleman, be considerate. On a date, never, ever lay a hand on a girl unless she absolutely wants the same thing. Sometimes it’s absolutely impossible knowing. In that case, best to back off.
Teaching my son about as many things as I could while he still listened to me gave me great pleasure. I knew the time was approaching where the pull and pressures of following the trumpet call of fellow youths would take him away from me. Not literally, he’d still be at home for several more years but emotionally, impossible to resist was the pull of the raging hormones and evolving social priorities.
It’s what all families face these days, more now than before. Just consider the ‘opposing forces’ in society today, so many traps a young person can fall victim to. All those things in this out-of-control society that conspired to take one’s child from a life of productivity, community, behavior that would lead to a meaningful life.
Again, these were things I enjoyed teaching him. There were right and wrong ways of doing each thing. There always would be, and the thing was always evolving. What fit in days past may not fit in today’s reality, it really changed. The girl watching thing was very subtle, nothing brutish, no cat calling. Simply how to appreciate, respectfully, the opposite sex. Gods’ finest creations. But I had to present these things in a relaxed and not carried away manner.
‘You see Freddy? When it comes to women, it’s a two-way street, you on your side, she on hers. So a real man will not force himself, a real man can suggest, but if she says ‘no’, then it’s ‘no’, pure and simple.’
Freddy knew he could challenge the things I’d share with him. The term ‘real man’ lately prompted him to question my usage of the words. I’m learning too, and strangely enough, I’m getting it.
‘So, like, dad. What about using the same words regarding women? What is a ‘real woman?’ My son had begun challenging me and I found these exchanges helped me immensely. I was getting it. So, my horizons were being pushed outward, too.
Our other activity was fishing. This was an easy one, and something that could carry a young man and now more and more woman to the end of a long and mostly trouble free life. No trouble caused, no laws broken. Fishing was one of life’s finest and healthiest activities.
My boy was right on the edge. Becoming a man in the right way meant doing things orderly and carefully. Freddy was turning sixteen, and it was when he took more notice of the full and plump peaches hanging from the tree branches all around. Hell, I was just trying to guide the boy down the right track.
In life, it’s like watching out for the unexpected. When as a youngster spending a couple of weeks on a construction job in New Mexico I closed my eyes to get all the damn soap off before the stinging in my eyes started and a big scorpion piled out of the murky shower drain when the soapy water reached his hideout. I moved my foot and a white hot pain as bad as any I’d ever felt made me see all blurry for a second. Opening my eyes to see the huge scorpion going hell bent to get away, crushed him with the scrub brush.
Normally, had it been outside, I wouldn’t have killed the creature. But letting him live just meant he’d be back again tomorrow for another go at my foot.
I’d say to him, ‘Just wanted to clear up that part about the fairer sex, nothing dark, or creepy like. A gentleman is nothing if he isn’t up front, extending a hand in greeting and looking into her eyes. Hell, nine out of ten times a woman will out stare you, anyway. For crying out loud, she already knows there might be an interest there. Is it mutual? Keep things respectful and if it’s meant, then you’ll magically be invited to cross that line, sometimes happens almost on its own. Not quite, but that other stuff you only learn from introducing yourself.’
Plenty of hedge apple trees grew along the tracks, often good hide outs for rabbits, even pheasant. The best, though, was using the fallen, useless fruit for shooting practice. Big green fruit about the size of softballs with a very rough surface was perfect for launching into the air and then try to hit them on the fly with your shotgun.
I tossed one of the big apples. Freddy lined up and fired two times. His second shot caused the fruit to jerk, telling us he’d hit it. Freddy set down his shotgun on the warm rail and ran down the incline into a stand of wild rose hedges, looking for the target. Part of the fascination was to observe, up close, the damage a shot gun blast inflicted. I’d taught him to never run with a shotgun in his hand.
He momentarily disappeared into the bushes covered in tiny, pink wild roses. ‘Hey Dad! Dad! You better get down here!’ The alarmed tone in his voice was obvious, perhaps even fear. ’Oh shit?’ I thought. Did he hit something, a fawn? What? I picked up my pace as I went to where he was.
Breaking through a thorn filled rose bush, a natural clearing appeared. In the center of the clearing appeared to be large suit case size bales of something neatly stacked four high and four across and five deep or eighty total. My Swiss Army pocket knife cut through the several layers of black plastic protecting the contents.
I guessed the bales to weigh about fifty pounds. I quickly googled what it was worth and at two thousand bucks a pound and some four thousand pounds, there were approximately eight million dollars piled there alongside the tracks.
It was a massive cache of marijuana. The bales carried a symbol stamped on all sides, no doubt the symbol of one of the cartels.
‘What I don’t like, Freddy, is that they’re stacked, which means someone will be coming for them. If they’d just been lying around all careless like it would’ve meant they got tossed off the train in a panic. Someone who was waiting for them stacked these. We just stepped into a big problem Freddy.’
‘Hey! Over here guys, pretty sure it was over here!’ The sound of men approaching as they crashed through the underbrush got our attention. ‘I heard a couple of shotgun blasts near here. Come this way and meet me on the tracks!’
Freddy and I knew the ground well and circled away, leaving the tracks as, in an arc, we soon distanced ourselves from the bales and the approaching men. Eventually reaching my pickup truck, now a safe distance from where the marijuana was, I called the police.
One of three, maybe four, things happened. I shall leave it to you to decide what option was taken.
So, the cops were dirty and in on it and immediately sent a squad car to our house. Our town was small and pretty much everyone knew everyone. After I identified myself on the phone, the cop thanked me for the tip. There was just enough wrong pause, odd tone and uneasy flow in the cops’ words that made me doubt. Of course, we weren’t home, as we were at my in laws for Thanksgiving.
I wasn’t too worried as the weed was intact, so there was no reason for the bad cops to come after us, which would’ve turned it into a colossal mess.
Or the cops were honest. They quickly arrived and, after carefully recording every detail at the site, moved the bales to a safe, evidence holding storage place in the confines of the police station. The news went viral. The next day me and Freddy were on CNN being interviewed. They put us up for the night in a Chicago hotel, meals not included.
That we were shooting at hedge apples rose the hackles on the back of the local anti-gun lobby, who hit the streets demanding the FBI to investigate me and my family. In the end, this clown show cost me my small animal feed business and our house and my crappy old fishing rig.
Eventually my wife left me for a weight lifting science teacher at the Wilmington community college. Freddy and I went west. My ex soon after discovered her new husband liked little boys, was arrested, and the cops discovered a trove of child porno films he sold out of the basement. He was sure that he was marrying into money because he’d heard from CNN about the bales of weed.
Or. Freddy and I walked back to our pickup and then drove back near the dump off site. We watched as the men climbed into a full pickup and drove away, presumably to get more help. Freddy and I loaded up six bales of the weed and left. Following my father’s philosophy that in survival one can always ‘take what you need but leave the rest…’ The eventual six hundred thousand dollars we got by selling it very carefully gave us enough for Freddy’s college fund and a brand new Bass Tracker fishing boat and trailer with all the top of the line trappings.
It was easy finding buyers in bulk, it’s all on Google.
Or! Me and Freddy soon discovered that amongst the bales rather than just the one stamped slogan, there were several slogans imprinted on the bales, but that they weren’t from an illegal supplier or cartel. The key being was that the weed wasn’t from the nefarious and deadly Mexican cartels. In fact, it was a theft gone wrong. Someone had stolen the weed from legitimate and quality licensed growers from Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska and ultimately abandoned amongst the Illinois, wild rose bushes in panic.
The three legitimate grower operators were ecstatic and paid us eight hundred thousand dollars to reveal their products’ whereabouts. In all the hoopla, three bales went missing. Two years later me and Freddy picked up two spanking, brand new, decked out, Honda Africa Twin motorcycles with which we took a trip across Africa. Mom was pleased as punch with her deep blue, metal flake Toyota Sequoia.
And then finally, once again, the final scenario played out as described in the previous paragraph with one exception. The three bales of weed did not go missing…
Take your pick, dear gentle reader.