Showing posts with label tough. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tough. Show all posts

Monday, March 19, 2018

Kennick, fiction by Nelson Stanley

"They picked on the wrong fucking Gyppo this time," roars the man my little cousin Nattie is to marry. I think about pointing out that, technically, he's Pavee, so some might argue he's not in the strictest sense of the word a Gyppo, but seeing as I've just got him out of bed and his eyes are rolling in two different directions and he's waving a shooter about his head, now is probably not the time. Despite the soft drizzle, sweat's sloughing off him like an ice cube melting in hot weather: I can still see white powder crusted around his nostrils. His gut hangs heavy and hairy over his belt, cinched to a degree he's not required since puberty.

"You might want to put on a shirt?"

"I'll put on no fucking shirt," and he pushes me out the way of the trailer door, goes wobbling across to where his Merc's parked in front of the lock-up.

Auntie Fiance is trying to shepherd the children inside a trailer but it's not every day you see a shirtless man screaming his head off and waving what looks like Judge Dredd's gun about as he fails to operate his own car's door. At least, not first thing on a Saturday morning.

"Francie mate," I babble, backing away, "We've got a dentist's driveway to tarmac, the machinery's been butchered-"

"I shall be doing the fucking butchering!" He falls down on his arse in the mud.

"Well, yeah, but we've got a Bomag with all its hydraulics smashed, we've got a-"

"I shall rip that fucking Duchie cunt's head clean off," he bellows, scrabbling to his feet, "and I shall piss in the hole for luck."

"You might not need a shooter, if you're just gonna rip his head off, Francie mate," I say, getting ready to fling myself behind the thin aluminium of the trailer door, for all the good that'll do me. "I mean, accidents happen-"

"I'll fucking accident you, you fucking Kennick cunt," he screams, wheeling away from the seemingly impregnable door of his AMG. He waves the piece at me, or at least, in my general direction. "Come over here. I need a fucking driver, and you'll do as well as anyone else."

I struggle with the mental equivalent of a slipping clutch.

"I- I don't think I'd be insured, Francie," I manage. "German car interiors always make me feel sick, too. It's the smell of the upholstery-"

"Get in the car, hedge-mumping cunt." The awful hole in the end of that ridiculous gun swings toward me again. The Merc starts with a purr. I fiddle helplessly with the complicated foot-operated parking brake. "Get me to Duchie's, Kennick. And don't crash me fucking motor on the way, or I swear to Jesus, Mary and Joseph I'll spray your fucking brains all over this here car."

***


I'd only gone down for my little cousin Emma-Louise's christening. In the church, Emma-Louise shit herself when raised up to the font. Nattie clung to my arm, burying her face in my shirt to stymie her laughter. We both agreed later that the clergyman had done well to make it to the end of the invocation. We all repaired to a pub to start the serious business of getting hideously drunk. While old men lined up to karaoke the standards of long-dead crooners, Aunt Kathy took me to one side.

"Kind of hoping you'd've got in there," she said.

"Eh? What? Me? With who?"

"Our Nattie." She regarded me seriously, as if over the top of a pair of glasses. She doesn't wear glasses.

"Nattie? B-but... She's me cousin!"

Aunt Kathy looked suitably horrified. After all, almost all of my relatives married someone they had a genetic relationship with: keep it in the family, like, or at least the tribe. My mother and father were, I think, second cousins. If that.

I grimaced, looked away around the room. Old men, supping pints. Small children dressed in posh but outdated Sunday best.

"Anything'd be better than the dinlo she's gone and got engaged to," said Aunt Kathy, sipping her gimlet and adjusting her hat.

"Who's that then, Auntie?"

She tilted her head and indicated the swollen bulk of Francie, swaying behind the mic, belting out "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" like half of Foster and Allen, if Foster or Allen weighed twenty stone and looked like they were smuggling breezeblocks strapped to their arms.

"Fat steroid boy on the mic?"

"He's a murderer," she muttered darkly.

"Say what?"

"Well. Accessory to. Held 'em down then buried the corpse, didn't he?"

"Jesus." I blinked. "Whatever happened to choring the wheels off of a vardo?" I asked. "When did we start playing proper gangsta?"

She shook her head sadly, took another pull on her gimlet.

"It's a wicked world, my sweet little chavvo."

***


We drive. I think I do well, in the circumstances: I only stall the stupid overpowered car twice, and Francie doesn't blow my head off.

"I really love your fucking cousin," he says, when we slow down to negotiate a cattle-grid somewhere, fat low-profiles clump-thunking over the grate. I keep my head fixed front but my eyes slide sideways toward him. "I mean, I really love fucking her, too. But I also love the girl. She will make me a fine wife."

I pull up to the deserted little industrial estate, park outside Duchie's unit, which is on the end of the row of three, the one with the least number of smashed windows, conspicuously graffiti-free.

With his free hand he reaches across and pulls the electronic starter out of the dash, stuffs it into his trousers.

"You wait here, get me?"

Relief passes through me in a wave of warmth, a tingling dream of ecstasy strobing up from my toes to the crown of my head.

"Here? Right-o Francie, no problemo like—"

"This is an AMT Automag, Kennick. I got five shots. That gives me two spare. Don't do anything that'll lead me to wasting one of them on you, eh?"

I nod.

"Good." Out the corner of my eye I can see his gut heaving; the sweat pours off his chest and mats the wild hair in the deep valley of his pectorals. He gives my head a friendly push with the gun, then climbs unsteadily out of the car.

I watch him wobble across the buckling, weed-strewn car park. The breath goes out of me in a long stream. I cannot imagine how this day can get any worse.

A tapping, on the tinted window to my right.

One of Duchie’s little helpers, Baz or Chris—I can't tell them apart—is leaning on the roof. He scrapes the barrel of the shooter he's been tapping the window with across my field of vision, makes motions I interpret to mean "Get out of the car." Outside, I shiver in the drizzle. His gun, I note with interest, is rather less compensatory than the one Francie was waving around, but is doubtless still big enough to ruin my life.

Ruin it some more, I mean.

Out of sight, around the corner of the lock-up, I hear Francie scream.

***


I ended up staying after the christening. Within a week I was out on the crew with Barry and Tommy and Vanni. Up at four, pile into a Transit van held together by rust and filler, drive to the arse-end of nowhere. Then ten, twelve hours laying asphalt.

"I'd let you on the mini-roller or the layer," said Barry, wiping a thick black smear across his sweating forehead, "But from the way you handle that rake I'd fear for me fucking life and for that of every other man on this site."

Then down the pub to drown whatever brain cells remained. It'd be digs in some flophouse if we were away on a job and when we worked closer to Francie's lock-up—upon which thirty or forty caravans were arrayed—Barry gave me the twins' old trailer to crash in. I'd collapse into sleep, hands shaking and numb from incipient nerve damage, burned all over and tired further down in my bones than I'd ever known possible. But it was good, it was good: family who I'd hurt and turned away from had opened their arms and welcomed me back, out of nothing more than the goodness of their hearts and my willingness to bend my neck over a shovel.

Tommy joked that Francie didn't like to get his hands dirty. He hawked a few cars on the side without bothering the taxman about it, via discreet adverts in the local paper. Every time he snaffled one up—part exchanges off dealer’s forecourts, mostly—he’d send the motors out to Duchie's, and they came back waxed and buffed, primped and shining. Upon their return, each one went straight into Francie's lock-up, a task he was fanatical about seeing to himself. And every morning, no matter how he reeled, bleary-eyed, from the previous night's excesses, he'd have the van started and warmed up before we'd swallowed our paint-thick tea and bacon butties, and he'd hump the toolboxes out from the lock-up and stash them carefully in the back. Always sniffing, red-faced, wild-eyed, even in the driest weather.

"You watch the Kennick doesn't chore those toolboxes, Tommy," he'd chide us. Tommy would grin and nod and mug, but he made sure, I noted, to keep the keys to the padlock chained to him at all times, and when someone needed something he'd walk over himself to dole out the tools.

We were contracted for a month's work in Cardiff, on a big crew laying a new call-centre car park: Vanni shadow-boxing and boasting of the time when, as a boy, Uncle Cyril and Uncle Jack had taken him to see Howard Winstone lose to Vicente Saldivar for the undisputed world's title; up to Doncaster to do a private job on a man's farm, where Tommy regaled me with tales of the days when Uncle Charlie and Uncle Durri would attend the races just after the war and Charlie once got into an argument with a man over a 10-1 shot and got a straight razor across his hip for his troubles.

I grew muscles I hadn't seen since I'd boxed and my "th"s all turned back into "F"s; I shaved more often and ate a lot of Joey Grey. I'd sit with the women, at a discreet, respectable difference from the men, and share a joke while the boys grumbled into their pints. Nattie would laugh with her head thrown back like a sword-swallower and chore roll-ups off me when she thought Aunt Kathy wasn't looking and I tried not to stare down her low-cut tops and stepped away when she moved close against me to whisper something conspiratorial that she didn't want the boys to hear, which was twenty times a day.

***


We'd got up that drizzly Saturday morning and found someone had broken into Francie's lock-up during the night. We'd all been out on the piss even harder the night before, celebrating getting the cash-in-hand work to tarmac a local dentist's driveway, a huge thing more autobahn than access route. He was going away for the weekend and wanted to return to find all the potholes turned into an asphalt billiard table.

I struggled out of bed to find Vanni, Tommy and Barry arrayed around the open door of the lock-up, wearing expressions you'd expect at a funeral. Someone had got in during the night. They'd jimmied the door, smashed the locks off the toolboxes, scattered tools all around the rough concrete floor; picks and shovels shattered, the mini-roller still on its trailer, sitting in a pool of hydraulic fluid, flaccid hoses hanging down like dead snakes. I set to helping Barry clean up: lots of stuff had been broken but weirdly nothing had been nicked.

"Gadjé bastards," said Barry, over and over, tears in his eyes. It wasn't just what it'd cost to fix the hoses, it meant we were down a roller, and that meant a day sorting another. "They'd burn us if they could get away with it!"

A crowd of relatives, near-relatives and assorted hangers-on had formed. No-one had seen anything, but everyone had an opinion that the next time some Gadjés from the local estate came calling, there'd be Hell to pay. Others counselled that we should move on—that, as ever, we had outstayed our welcome locally and should relocate.

"I can see the point in choring things," said Vanni, with what I thought a surprisingly philosophical tone, "but just smashing stuff up? Where's the sense in that?"

Tommy looked uncomfortable.

"Uh... I'm gonna go tell Francie that someone's knocked the shit out of his lock-up." He paused, big blue eyes fixed on me. "Actually, I'll go phone the man about his driveway, tell him we might be taking more time to finish than I thought. Why don't you go give Francie the good news, cuz? Cheer him up."

***


I'm sat next to Francie. My front teeth have been knocked through my bottom lip, but apart from that I'm okay. I'm sitting on an old metal oil can, attached by a tow-chain you could moor a battlecruiser with to the Irish Traveller equivalent of Mechagodzilla and over in the corner Baz (or is it Chris?) is doing something to a big crowbar with what I assume to be an oxy-propane cutting torch. It fills the air with sparks and the reek of burning grease and hot metal and ozone, but I think it's just for show.

"Holy Mary mother of fuck, Duchie, there's no need for that shite," says Francie, who evidently doesn't believe that it's just for show. "I can tell you to the very ounce where your stuff’s been going, like. If you was to have a word with my man Tommy-"

"Tommy?" I snap, "What's our Tommy got to do with this?"

"Shut up, Kennick," says Francie, squinting at me through purple swellings that render his eyes even more piggy-ish than usual.

"You sell out Tommy I'll fucking kill you myself," I snarl, spitting out blood. "Pavee piece of shit."

"Now now, boys. Inter-Gyppo racism is a terrible thing to behold." Duchie, a leathery Gadjé with something about him that reminds me of an ageing roadie for a heavy metal band, runs a hand through his greying mullet and grins a nasty gappy grin at me. "It's tearing apart your community. You'd think the oppressed could learn to all get along together, eh?"

"Traveller." I snap. "Inter-Traveller."

"Is it now? I don't know what you'd have to say about that, being a fucking Kennick of all things," mutters Francie, nearly lost in the spit and roar of the cutting torch.

One of Duchie's boys—whichever one isn't playing blacksmith over in the corner—lamps me around the back of the head. Francie has calmed down, but through the swellings and the drying blood glowers at Duchie with all the hate in the world.

"Got anything else to say, Francie?"

Francie holds his peace and flexes his shoulders, his huge meaty arms clanking the chain tight behind him, an action that drags me painfully to one side.

"That this morning wasn't nothing but a warning shot across your bows, Francie. You don't fuck about with me, I told you that." He shakes his head, a passable impression of a man gripped by a terrible and soul-deep sadness. "I know your lot's all in it together."

I start to say something and Baz or Chris steps around the front to punch me, having got bored of hitting me in the back.

"We're going to get all you boys in, eventually. One at a time. And we're going to sit each of you here and Chris over there-" the mush in the corner shuts off the cutting torch and turns around, the crowbar glowing before him in the gloom of the lock-up, smoke from his heavy welding gauntlets curling up into the air— "Is going to do to each of them what I'm about to get him to do to you, which is to ram this crowbar so far down your throat you'll be shitting sparks out your ringpiece like your arse was a fucking dragon."

From the look on Francie's face, I can only assume that Duchie is not the sort of fella who'd joke about this sort of thing.

"Then we'll get your little blonde piece in," continues Duchie, "And see what she's got to say about my missing fucking cocaine."

At the mention of Nattie I can't help it, a switch is flicked within me and I try and rise. Baz smashes me across the side of my face with the butt of his handgun.

I've been in a few decent street fights (and have run away from some really, really awesome ones). I've come off the back of a motorbike doing sixty round a bend and skidded for two hundred yards into a ditch, shredding my shoulder and busting my arm in two separate places. I've even had my heart broken a few times. Nothing I've ever done to myself or had done to me by an uncaring world has ever hurt quite so much as getting smashed in the face by that gun. I'm not sure if it's the heaviness of the thing, the oily hardness of it, or merely that it's just a terrible death-dealing device that should never be brought near a human being. It hurts like fuck and I proceed to squeal and yammer in a most unbecoming way as the entire left-hand side of my face fills with blood.

Through the explosion going off behind my eyes and my brain pinging about the otherwise empty expanse of my skull, I see Duchie kind of put his forehead in his hand and massage his brow, like a man with a nasty headache coming on; I see Baz throw back his head to laugh, hands on hips and beergut wobbling below his stained Polo shirt; I see Chris pause and join in, smoke still pouring from his welding gauntlets. I see Francie slip his chains and rise from his oil can beside me with blood streaming from his wrists like a suicide who's just decided ending it all is a bad idea, after all.

No-one is more surprised, I think, than Baz when Francie cops hold of his shooter and wrenches it free and proceeds to use it to batter seven shades of shit out of him. The look of horror on Duchie's face is a wonder to behold.

Chris, to be fair, is made of sterner stuff, and swings the crowbar around with both hands, legs braced, like he's felling a tree. The glowing end of it comes around and when it hits Francie it does indeed make a bit of a mess of the man's shoulder. Despite the horrific sizzling noise and the smell—hideous, like when you drop your lit fag on the upholstery of a car crossed with the worst barbecue fuck-up ever, exploding proteins and boiling fat and skin—he seems to remember that the thing he's been using as a club can be employed in a more efficient manner, and he shoots Chris right through the forehead.

I've never heard a gun go off before. No-one ever told me that they were so shockingly, world-endingly loud. I'm suddenly thankful for all the damage I've already done to my hearing at bad hardcore concerts. Chris goes over backwards with half his head gone to bloody ruin.

Duchie pulls out Francie's gun from somewhere. I cannot possibly imagine where he's had it stashed. I'm impressed he can heft it without keeling slowly forward under the weight. Francie appears to weigh up his chances; then he smashes Baz in the mooey one last time with the gun then lets it drop to the floor.

Duchie says something I don't catch, what with the tinnitus and all, and he thumbs something on the gun I presume must be the safety. Then it strikes me that the chains that previously held me are slack after Francie managed to wriggle out of them and almost without conscious volition I lurch forward—chain and oil can and all—through the intervening space and hit Duchie as hard as I can on the side of the jaw. We go down in a tangle and behind the cold hard bite of the adrenaline something inside me is cowering, waiting for the explosion of light and pain that's going to end the one attempt in my entire miserable existence to play the hero, waiting for the bullet that'll rip through muscle and blood and bone and the fat links of the chain are oily and cold and slip in my hands as I bring them down again and again and again on Duchie's head and as my hearing comes back I think "Who's making that fucking high-pitched shrieking noise?" and I realise that it's me and by then Duchie's head is just so much blood and matted hair and with a shudder like coming inside someone I love I finish and look up, nausea roiling against the earth-shattering world-ending pain in my head.

Francie is picking at the huge eschar—like a bad 90's tribal tattoo that's gone terribly wrong—on his shoulder, but he glances down and nods at me.

"That's not a bad job, for a Kennick," he says, conversationally, and I look at the blood on my hands and the bloody chain around me and my hands close on something else amongst the warmth of Duchie's corpse and I bring Francie's enormous handgun up, slowly, so slowly, it weighs a metric fuck-tonne, I've never felt anything so heavy but I bring it up steady and when I pull the trigger and shoot Francie right in the fucking face, he doesn't look a bit surprised.

***


You've got to put your back into digging, much like you've got to put your back into life. Feel the heft against your muscles. Feel the strain on your spine. Feel the sweat sting your eyes, the bitumen sear in your mucus membranes. The roar of the roller is the background static that clouds out your life, makes you lose sight of what you want, both for yourself and the people you care about. Tonight, it is joined by the rattle and gravelly churn of a cement mixer, one Tommy borrowed off a mush who owed him a favour over a horse or a girl, I can't remember which.

Laying a driveway properly is best approached as a craft: a technical problem to be solved by the materials available. It is not usual to dig down an extra six feet and fill the resulting trench in with cement before packing over the top of it with hard-core and then layering on the asphalt; men like Barry or Vanni or Tommy would, in the general run of things, call you a fucking dinlo for even considering such a thing, making such hard work out of a task that can be accomplished with much less effort.

This is not the general run of things. In this particular case it was needed, at least in Barry and Tommy's opinion, and I'd trust the pair of them with my life. In fact, I am trusting them with my life, and Vanni too, working the shovel beside me as we dig. I don't think the dentist is going to be disappointed with the workmanship of his new driveway which—when we've finished, sometime in the early hours of tomorrow morning—will be as smooth and black as the surface of an ebony lake, as an onyx horizon. Like a familial bond, it'll be solid and it'll go down deep, deeper than it strictly needs to. It will last that man—should he take care of it—a lifetime, and more besides.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Switchblade III, a review by Rusty Barnes

Switchblade Issue III boasts a number of contributors familiar to anyone who follows the small press crime scene, writers like Eric Beetner, Morgan Boyd and Preston Lang. As well, there are a number of writers I know mostly from their Twitter feeds and the occasional scuttlebutt. I realize it's still early on in Switchblade's career, but it's safe to say they've become prominent in a short time. All told, editor Scotch Rutherford has put together a well-done and entertaining issue here.

Some highlights include the aforementioned Preston Lang, who gives us "Press it Down," a story about a former musician turned mayhem artist, a granny who turns out to be skilled in the use of a golf club. I've found his stories always deserve more love than they receive: he's well-published, but merits further recognition, and kudos to Rutherford for recognizing that and giving him a spot in multiple issues.

In "Burning Snow," Morgan Boyd writes about how even a simple job like shoveling snow can become a criminal web of intrigue and violence. Told by our narrator Max, who's got a secret or two himself, the story ranges across the snowy landscape, artfully and simply revealed, to an unforgettable description of a fat man in flagrante delicto. The ending is a punch in the gut that  tells us what some of us could still stand to learn: some people never have the luck.

Eric Beetner's piece, "Family Secrets," about a child who witnesses a gruesome crime and is forced into a criminal act himself, is something I've found typical of Beetner, in novel or short story mode. His work is well-paced and  deftly written, always in service to the narrative, not flashy. It's solid prose exemplified by lines like "I didn't buy the fake sincerity in Mom's voice when she told me Dad would be okay. But beyond wondering if my Dad would live or die, I tried to figure out how in the world he ever come to be shot."

Other stories are largely successful but not necessarily my bag.  I recognize the effort each of the writers here, though, and I appreciate too the effort it takes to put out a quality journal several times a year. It's an often Herculean effort sustained only by the love you get from writers and occasionally from readers, and certainly not in monetary rewards. The kinks in the production process notwithstanding, I expect Switchblade to have a long successful career highlighting the best the small press crime scene has to offer for as long as Rutherford can keep the magic going on the back end.

The stories are out there waiting, and I see the job of small press crime journals like Switchblade, Pulp Modern and Tough to bring them to the forefront and provide an alternative--however the individual journals define that-- to the larger venue/larger payday every writer generally shoots for. Our job is to get large in vision, but stay small in practice, to highlight writers before they reach mainstream success, and to bring attention to those mainstream writers who still need the boost. Their success is our success. Every Switchblade issue, every Pulp Modern issue, every story, every time we get our names out there in the small press crime scene, is a success for all of us.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Tough Goes Print!

The rumors you've heard are true, yes indeed. We'll continue to publish stories online every week from February 2018 on and under the aegis of Redneck Press, will collect those stories and reviews in attractive print issues at mid-year and year's end. Writers will continue to receive $25 per story or review published plus a copy of the print issue in which their work appears.

Tough aims to publish the best crime stories we can find, online, in electronic versions, and in attractive perfect-bound editions which will retail at reasonable prices for those who want to support our mission.

There are many crime venues vying for your attention. Tough intends to be among the most prominent. Thanks for your support.

You can direct questions and submissions to Rusty Barnes (toughcrime AT gmail DOT com), but please read a few stories first to familiarize yourself with the stories we publish. It's just good manners.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The problem with improvisation, fiction by Ed Brock

At 2:35 a.m., Morris Blackmon stared intently at the corrosion encrusting the gas line feeding the water heater in what had been his home. It was his former water heater, to be more accurate. He spun a hammer in his hand, then tapped it on his thigh while he stared at the pipe. After a few minutes, he bent down and began reading the instructions on the side of the tank, his lips moving just a little with each word. Finally, he turned the temperature knob to its lowest setting, and turned the gas cock knob to the “off” position.

He opened the panel to make sure the flames were out, then stood, took a deep breath, and brought the hammer down on the rusty gas pipe. Despite the green and white, coral-like corrosion, the pipe did not break completely, but gas immediately began hissing out, rippling like a heat wave as it streamed into the air. Morris’s eyes watered and he was feeling dizzy by the time he made it to the door that led back into the kitchen. He slammed the door shut behind him and promptly stuffed a towel, which he had prepared for this purpose, into the gap between door and floor.

In the kitchen, he gasped for air, surprised at how quickly the odor of gas was already beginning to leak through from the garage. Or, he thought, maybe it was just soaked into his clothes. He put the hammer back into the drawer where it lived and walked back into the living room, where he flopped down into what had been his favorite chair, an old school black faux leather recliner marbled with cracks in its upholstery.

Everything in the house had been “his,” even though most of it was crap that Christine had picked out at WalMart, Target and countless yard sales. Still, he was filled now with a strange sense of longing, a desire to stay here that he had not felt even in the two months since he had moved out, since Christine and he had separated.

It was, of course, too late now.

He wanted a cigarette. He had “quit” for the millionth time a week ago, but now he wanted a cigarette badly. He knew where he could get one, but wondered if his need for them was really that strong. They were upstairs, in the bedroom, on the nightstand. They were on the nightstand next to the bed, next to Christine. Next to Christine’s body, that is.
Morris exhaled, flapping his lips and rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. Goddamn that crazy bitch, any how, he thought. He was just glad they never had kids. Christ, what if this had happened one night with little Morris Jr. sleeping so innocently one room over. It would be hard to explain that Mommy died because she had asked Daddy to choke her during sex – again – and this time he had held on to the rope just a little too long.

It would be pretty hard to explain that to the cops, too.

“So, Mr. Blackmon,” they would say. “What you’re telling us is that you went over to your former residence at your ex-wife’s invitation …”

“She wasn’t my ex-wife yet,” he would point out.

“Very well, Mr. Blackmon, your estranged wife, then,” the cop would say in that testy little smartass way they have. “So you go over there at your estranged wife’s invitation, with the intent of … performing a sexual act with her? For old time’s sake?”

“Sure.”

The imaginary officer nods, briefly covering his smirk with his hand.

“And then, the … encounter … just went a little too far, and you just happened to, accidentally, strangle the woman who had kicked you out of the house just two months prior, while performing this sex act. Well, I can certainly see how that could happen.

Oh, and I see here that you’re on probation. Well, I’m sure that’s just for parking tickets or something like that … oh, nope, it’s for assault and domestic violence. See, now, that last little part makes me think that the victim was the very same estranged wife who now lies choked to death upstairs. But, hey, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.”

Indeed, the police were not strangers at the Blackmon household. They had been fairly regular visitors in the two years and three months of Morris and Christine Blackmon’s pathetic excuse for a union.

Not that it was pathetic in the beginning. No, in the beginning it was beautiful. They had met in a bar, where so many other failed love stories begin, but they were so sure it would be different for them. After all, they developed respect for each other as throwers on rival darts teams. His friends called him “Bullseye,” and Christine’s called her “Sharpshooter.”

She had him on the ropes, but it was honestly close enough that he totally bought it when she let him win at the last round. Of course, he bought her a pitcher of Long Island Tea to “make it up to her,” so she definitely came out ahead. And then she gave him head in the car. How could they not fall in love?

On the other hand, she certainly seemed to take great relish in telling him the truth about that night six months later when they had their first real fight. It was a minor cut, but the first of thousands. That little memory brought him back to his current situation: how to ignite the big gas bubble in the basement.

In those panicky moments after he realized his sexcapade had ended in death, when he first conceived the “blow the house up with gas” plan, he contemplated leaving something metal in the microwave. Set the timer, open the basement door and head for the hills. 

Looking back now, however, he had his doubts. The police would surely notice a metal object in the microwave.

He also wasn’t sure that would trigger an explosion. Seemed like he had seen some episode on “Mythbusters” about that, but he couldn’t remember if they busted the myth or confirmed it. Unfortunately for Morris, he only had one chance to make it work.

He had known an arsonist when he was inside at Autrey, but the guy had been more of a firebug than a pro. They had worked in the boot plant together, talking shit while cobbling footwear for their fellow prisoners. So this arsonist, his name was Bud, one time fell smack in love with one of the prison bitches and decided to mnake him some custom boots. It did not end well.

The bitch, named Diamond, was very much in demand, seeing as he was as pretty as they come inside, a regular transsexual super model. Bud was not the only prisoner wanting to polish Diamond, and he was certainly not the biggest. So he gave the bitch the boots, and sure enough, he got a blow job out of it, but Bud wanted more. He wanted exclusive rights, but the very next day Diamond went off with some big Aryan stud, probably wearing Bud’s boots while getting banged.

Bud did not take this well at all, and he spent the next week or two muttering to himself and pilfering various items and chemicals from the boot plant. He showed Morris the finished product, a compact flamethrower, basically, and confided his plan to torch his old flame when he had the chance. The chance came, and Bud confronted the former love of his life, and his/her love of the moment, while they were going at it in a storage room. He pointed the little torch at the couple, said something like “This is what you get, you cheating bitch,” and pulled the trigger.

The device blow up in his hand, burning over sixty percent of his body. Diamond and her man escaped unscathed. So, yeah, there was nothing from his friendship with Bud that could help Morris with his current situation.

Maybe he could knock over a lamp. Wouldn’t the broken socket spark? No, no, it wouldn’t, not long enough to ignite the gas. He would have to find some way to knock one over after the gas had already filled the house, and he had no idea how that would work. God, he needed a cigarette!

Then it occurred to him. Maybe he could leave a cigarette burning in Christine’s dead hand, make sure that started a fire, then leave the basement door open and run for it? The idea of going back into the room with his dead ex-wife, much less touching her body, made Morris’ stomach contents knock on his mouth’s back door, but he realized this was probably his best bet. OK, so be it, he decided.

Then Morris started pondering another problem: could he really avoid being placed here at the scene of the crime. He had left his car in the parking lot of the little park behind the house and then crept up, with nary a witness, over the fence and to the back door. That had been in case Amy had woken up to find him missing and taken it upon herself to go looking for him here.

Christ, Amy. Christine had been crazy, but at least she wasn’t monkey-brained stupid like Amy. Morris had never met a blonder brunette. When he had first met her at a friend’s party, she at one point insisted that chickens are reptiles “because they’re cold blooded.” 

Fortunately for her, Amy had an ass that made it easy to forget the stunning emptiness on the top end of her body.

Thinking about the chicken comment made Morris chuckle. And, just at that moment, sitting in his rough-worn former black recliner, he was filled with the confidence that he was going to be all right, that he would succeed in covering his tracks. He just had to go upstairs and light a cigarette in his dead wife’s hand. Nothing to it.

And it was at that moment that the doorbell rang.

It was nearly three in the morning, and somebody was ringing the doorbell. And they were pretty insistent about it. Of course, Morris knew damn well who it was, and he also knew he had to answer it. It would be unwise to have a screaming woman at the front door, and while the screaming hadn’t started yet, it was coming, that he also knew.

Just in case, he went to the window, first. Sure enough, there stood Amy on the front stoop, smoking angrily and smoldering at the door, no idea she was being watched. Morris sighed, then sniffed, detecting just a hint of sulfur in the air, wondering for a second if it came from the basement or the front door. That was the moment he had an idea, the kind of idea that, at first, you shake off as clearly bad. But then it started to work on him, and for five or ten seconds before he opened the door, he let the idea ooze its way through his besotted mind until it somehow converted to good. Well, maybe not good, but doable.

Morris took a deep breath and opened the door. He had about three seconds to study Amy’s curious smirk before the sun ignited behind her head and blinded him. Just as he began to wonder what the sun was doing up at this time of night, a voice spoke with righteous belligerence from behind the glare. “Mr. Blackmon, could you tell us what you’re doing here?!” the voice brayed.

“Rusty?” Morris managed to croak.

Joshua “Rusty” Painter was Amy’s cousin, and suddenly Morris realized what was happening. Rusty worked as a cameraman for the local WGTI TV news station, but he had delusions of eventually being in front of the camera. He was also an asshole with a YouTube channel that nobody watched.

“Mr. Blackmon, why don’t you …” Rusty started before Amy realized she was the jilted lover here.

“Morris, what the fuck?!” she shouted.

Morris saw a light come on across the street, a warning of impending anger from the neighborhood, and since that could lead to police involvement he realized he had to move this show inside. He held up his hands in surrender.

“Amy, Amy, baby, calm down, it’s not what you think,” he said, realizing how very bad that was. Amy’s face tightened around a serious and explosive retort, and he seemed to feel some smug satisfaction from Rusty as he adjusted his camera for a better shot of the impending bloodbath. “I shit you not …” the woman scorned began.

Morris decided action was needed, so he quickly stepped up to his lady and put his finger on her mouth. “You really have to let me explain, baby,” he said. “Just come inside.”

For a second, he actually thought she might bite off his the offending digit. Then she seemed to grow calm, and that’s when he really grew afraid.

“That bitch in there?” she finally mumbled, her lips tickling his finger.

“Yeah, yeah, but she’s asleep, and we need to keep her that way, believe me, I’m so done with her,” Morris said, removing his finger and moving the entire hand and arm around Amy’s shoulders. She stayed stiff, but he felt her begin to relent and take a step toward the door.

“Amy, don’t do anything you don’t want to do,” Rusty said, just a hint of whine in his voice. The money shot was clearly getting ruined.

Morris glared at him. Amy waved him off and walked inside with the injured pride of a princess who had stepped out of the royal carriage into a pile of horse manure. Morris hurried in behind her, but wasn’t quite fast enough to keep Rusty from following. Oh, well, Morris thought, that might be all for the best.

The plan, such as it was, was to quickly move the unwanted guests back to the kitchen. Not surprisingly, Amy was not feeling cooperative, and as soon as the door closed she announced loudly “So, where is that bitch?!” Rusty, who had let the camera drop to his side, quickly hoisted it back up to his eye, sensing that the show was back on. Morris did not oblige him.

“She’s upstairs passed out, the drunk cunt,” he said, taking Amy’s arm and guiding her toward the kitchen. “Just come in here and I’ll explain, OK?”

Morris led his reluctant guests into the other room where Rusty immediately stopped and started sniffing the air. “Holy shit, is that gas?”

Turning only halfway around, Morris gave the answer he had planned on just five minutes before. “Yeah, yeah, the stove’s been acting funny, I had to turn it off. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it? It smells pretty strong, dude,” Rusty said, still standing in the kitchen doorway.

Amy spun around.

“Screw the gas. Morris, start explaining,” she said, arms crossed, eyebrows scrunched together.

What about this towel?” Rusty suddenly said, and Morris almost smiled.

Jesus, Rusty, what, what the fuck, what towel?” Amy stuttered. Morris turned to face the other man. “There’s a draft,” he said simply.

From the basement?” Rusty said.

Yeah, that’s right, from the basement,” Morris said, barely preventing a sneer.

Amy plopped down at the kitchen table and began shifting through her purse, finally coming up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Morris quickly laid a gentle hand over the lighter as she raised the cigarette to her well lacquered red lips. “Come on, baby, hold off on that, you know I quit,” he said softly.

Yeah, and there’s all that gas we aren’t supposed to worry about,” Rusty stage whispered.

Amy’s face hardened a second before easing into resignation as she put the cancer stick down. After all, his quitting was her idea. They had started together, but she weakened first. He smiled at the little pink lighter and Marlboro menthol on the table, happy to see it there, and then moved on. “So, this is what’s up,” he began.

What followed was one of Morris’ longer and better lies, despite the fact that he made most of it up on the fly. Christine had called despondent and drunk, he said, because her oven was broken and needed to be fixed, as did the rest of her life, it seemed. There had been talk of suicide, pills already taken, stuff like that. All this had taken place when Amy was supposedly asleep, so Morris had simply left quietly, not wanting to disturb her, to try to save his ex-wife’s life.

Well, I wasn’t asleep, you know,” Amy interrupted. “I wasn’t asleep because I already suspected you were seeing her, and Rusty and I were just setting a trap to catch your sorry cheating ass! Like I buy this bullshit!”

It’s no bullshit baby, I swear, I know it sounds like it but it really, really isn’t!” Morris stammered out, just totally winging it.

Oh, right, so you’re telling me you haven’t been coming over here before now,” Amy said. “And, you better be real careful how you answer that.” The last line was delivered with a cautioning wag of Amy’s finger, and Morris felt a strong urge to break that finger. There’s nothing worse than a stupid person who starts to think they’re doing something smart.

On the other hand, in this case she was completely correct. He had been to raid the old henhouse many times before tonight.

Meanwhile, Rusty was lingering over the basement door, sniffing, his camera hanging limply at his side. “You know, I swear the smell is stronger over here,” he said.

Morris nodded.

Well, maybe you should check that out in a bit, but why don’t you do me a favor and get ready to film, because I’m going to prove what I’m saying is true,” Morris said. “I’m going to wake up Christine and tell her to tell you nothing happened.”

This was a lie, of course, but Rusty excitedly began checking his camera and moving into position. Perfect, Morris thought. He couldn’t be exactly certain of what would happen next, but all the pieces were in place and it was time for him to exit stage fucking right.

Now, you two just wait here and give me a few minutes to rouse her,” he said, rising from his chair. “And Amy, honey, why don’t you go ahead and smoke a ciggy while you wait?”

He headed for the door as Amy picked up the lighter and cigarette. Rusty had let the camera drop to his side again and was turning back toward the basement door. “This is it,” he thought. “I just have to get out the door.”

He was at the passage into the dining room when he saw shadows moving ahead of him. The shadows stepped into the light and became Christine, looking seriously disheveled and rubbing her bruised neck, but most certainly alive.

Morris, baby, what the fuck did you do to me, you crazy fucker?” she whined, and then looked past him, her face hardening into solid bitchiness. “And what the fuck is she doing here.”

The shock of seeing the supposed dead come back to life passed surprisingly quickly for Morris, and he spun around, scrambling in his head for a way to stop what he had begun. He opened his mouth at the exact same moment that Rusty kicked aside the towel and swung the basement door wide open, and at precisely the second that Amy, smugly eying her competition, flicked her lighter into life. As the sulfur smelling cloud that had been caged in the basement rushed into the room, racing toward the flare in Amy’s hand, he had just enough time to say “Sh…”. The “it” was cut off by fire and sound and an end to all the things that used to belong to Morris Blackmon.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Raising Bigfoot, fiction by Eve Fisher

I was playing three-handed euchre at the Norseman’s Bar with Sam Hegdahl and Carl Jacobson one Tuesday night when Lyle Pederson came in all excited, calling out, “Boys! Got a surprise for you out at my place!”

“More lights in the sky?” Carl asked.

“You betcha. We’re gonna see a lot of crop circles come summer.” Lyle believes in UFOs. He sees a lot of them. He swears they land on his property. He’s made a shrine to them, a bunch of boards set up in a circle around an old baler, like one of them stone things over in England. “You come out in July, you’re gonna see something, all right.”

All I saw last July was a whole lot of wheat flattened down to the ground,” Carl said.

Well, it might have been a circle, if we could have seen it from the air,” I pointed out.

Looked to me a whole lot more like tracks than a circle,” Sam commented. “Government tanks, heading to a UN concentration camp.”

Lyle shook his head. “No, they don’t have nothing like that around here. Harold’s right. You gotta see them from the air. That’s why they make them crop circles, so they can see where to land, right, Randolph?”
Randolph nodded, but he didn’t seem that enthusiastic. Randolph’s one of those young drifters, show up every now and then, and he showed up at Lyle’s. Lyle let him stay on, help around the place.

But they don’t land,” Lyle continued. “I don’t know why. They fly over all right, and I see the lights, but they go over, to Jeb Olson’s place.”

Nobody at the Olson place for ten years,” Sam pointed out.

That’s my point,” Lyle replied. “Nobody goes there, so they could hide them pretty well, over there.”

Well, somebody had to be the goat, so I asked, “What are they hiding, Lyle?”

Lyle leaned over and whispered, “Bigfoot.” Well, he had my attention. “The whole place stinks of Bigfoot.”

You’ll believe anything, won’t you, Lyle?” Sam asked.

Now, Sam, you gotta think this thing through. You’ve seen those shows on TV, hunting Bigfoot? I watched them, learned all about it. Big, hairy ape-like things. And stink, Lord, they stink. You betcha. Now I know they say they’ve been around forever, like some kind of prehistoric man, but that don’t make sense, because there’d be more of them. But what come to me was, what if they’re being bred? You know, by aliens. And you hear about all those alien abductions, that strange stuff they do to folks, well, what if they’re breeding them with humans?”

Well, I was polite, but everyone else laughed themselves silly.

What do you think, Randolph?” Sam asked when he finally got his breath back.

Randolph shrugged. “Who knows? Besides, funny things happen out at the Flats.”

Yeah, and most of them happen ‘cause of liquor and hormones,” Vi said, delivering our beers.

Yeah, well, night before last Louise Sanborn saw them, too,” Lyle put in.

What, Bigfoot?” Vi asked.

No, the aliens,” Lyle explained. “She come out to stargaze, and she saw them. So did Randolph.”

We all looked at Randolph, who admitted, “We saw something.”

Louise says they whooshed right past and went over the horizon,” Lyle added.

So did they kidnap her or what?” Vi asked, glaring. She and Louise are not friends. Some of it has been Randolph, which is ridiculous. Vi’s married, Louise is a deputy sheriff, and he’s way too young for either of them.

Nah,” Lyle said. “But Larry Jensen’s shed was broken into that same night. Took every chemical he had and an old tub.”

The least they could have done was take Louise, too,” Vi said, and walked off.

Yeah, well, listen,” Lyle said, “I want you guys to come out to my place say Friday, Saturday night, and see what me and Randolph have been up to.”

We said sure, and Lyle went away, which was the idea. But he came back. Every night. Circles. Aliens. Bigfoot. By Saturday we recognized that he was going to come back until we went, so Sam and I climbed into Carl’s pick-up and off we went.

Lyle lives way out on the Flats, where the wind howls through like a freight train with nothing to stop it. The Flats make good farmland, but they’re different. Strange things happen out there. Ten years back, a tornado dropped out of a clear sky and whipped through the Flats like a knife through butter, and then vanished. And that was during the day; at night it can scare the crap out of you. Even Sam kept muttering something about “crazy” that sounded right to me.

And then out of the northwest came a blindingly bright light that zoomed in as fast as one of those Star Wars things, and as it came faster and brighter the car swerved and I ducked. When I came back up, the light was gone, the car had stopped, and Carl was gasping.

Wh-wh-what was that?” I asked.

How the hell would I know?” Carl quavered.

Maybe it was aliens,” Sam offered. He knows that deep down Carl and I both believe in aliens, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, and Bat Boy, especially late at night out in the middle of nowhere, though we don’t care to admit it in public. All Sam believes in is government conspiracy.

You want me to turn this car around and head home?” Carl asked, hands white knuckled on the steering wheel.

Yes,” I said firmly.
Look, let’s just go on to Lyle’s and get this over with,” Sam said. “Maybe he’ll have a drink for us. I’m freezing.”

That got Carl moving.

Lyle was out front when we pulled up dancing around, waving his arms and asking, “Did you see it? Did you see it?”

If you mean that laser beam that went overhead, you betcha, we saw it,” Sam said. “You’re looking awful pleased about this, Lyle.”

Lyle kicked the snow, and I’d bet he was blushing. “It was me.”

What do you mean, it was you?”

Come and take a look.”

We followed Lyle around back. Between the shed and the shrine something bulked in the dark.

What the hell is that?” Sam asked.

It’s my beacon,” Lyle said. He went over and did something and suddenly the same bright light shot out and blinded all of us. He did something else and the light arced into the sky, drowning the stars.

What the hell is that?” Sam repeated.

It’s my beacon,” Lyle repeated. “I was thinking, you know, they’re out there, all right, and they keep coming by, and they signal, and they leave messages, but nobody ever signals back. So I figured, I will. I’ll let ‘em know that we’re looking for them. So I got this baby.” He slapped the metal.

Where did you get it?”

Special ordered it from Minneapolis. Randolph helped me get it all hooked up yesterday. Tested it last night. Ain’t it great?”

He made a blinding circle around the farmyard. “For God’s sake, Lyle,” Sam barked, “turn it off before we get black helicopters buzzing us.”

How much did it cost?” I asked, blinking.

Oh, it set me back some, I can tell you that. You betcha.”

We spent an hour at Lyle’s, looking at everything from the spotlight to his shed. Not that there was anything to see in Lyle’s shed but what you could find on any farm, and if you want an inventory of the contents, just come on up. Lyle loves company. He’ll fix you coffee, fix you sandwiches, want you to spend the night. That’s what he did with us, talking a mile a minute the whole time. When he mentioned the Bigfoot footprints out in the field, I was happy to go, because I figured even Lyle couldn’t keep talking if his face froze shut.

It was a moonlit night so God only knows how Carl slipped. He hit an icy patch – maybe frozen Bigfoot prints – and, being no light-weight, slid pretty far. We had quite a time wrestling him back up to the house. It didn’t help that he’d sprained his ankle, and he was bellowing like a bull elephant with a toothache. It was enough to shake the snow off the trees, especially when we dragged him by his collar up the hill to the main house.

We were met half way by Randolph, looking pretty disheveled and mighty peeved for a hired man with nothing else to do. But he fetched a sled and we rolled Carl onto it and finally got him indoors.
***
Exhausted, Carl and I sat in Lyle’s warm and musty den while Sam helped Lyle in the kitchen. Randolph had disappeared back into his little cabin out back.

How you doing?” I asked Carl.

Fine,” he said, pulling away at Lyle’s whiskey like it was water.

You gonna be able to drive home?”

Doubt it.”

You gonna let one of us drive you home?”

Le’s spen’ the night here. Lyle won’t mind.” Then he passed out.

Lyle and Sam came in with sandwiches and coffee. “You know,” Lyle said, “I been thinking. I want them to know they’re welcome any time, but I don’t know if they know how to read Morse code or should I do a binary system?”

What are you talking about?” Sam asked.

The aliens. Communicating with them. With the beacon.”

Sam inhaled a sandwich and picked up another. “The only people that’s gonna be reading your messages is the NSA, the UN and the Chinese. They’ll pick you up on satellite and watch your every move.”

They’re welcome, too,” Lyle said simply.

We spent the night at Lyle’s, Carl on the couch and Sam and I bunked down in Lyle’s spare bedroom, but it didn’t work out too well. It wasn’t the cold – I’ve camped in worse – but Carl and Lyle both snored like two trains in a whistling contest.

I been thinking,” Sam said.

Socks in their mouths?” I asked.

What if there is something going on at the Olson place?”

I thought you didn’t believe in Bigfoot?”

I don’t,” Sam snapped. “But there’s something funny going on out here. I’ve had my eye on Randolph a long time. What’s he doing out here, young fella like that?”

He’s getting free room and board.”

Yeah, but that’s not enough to hold a young buck. He wants money, he wants a car, he wants –”

Randolph says he’s ‘not into material things,’” I quoted.

Now you see, that right there is suspicious.” Sam sat up in bed. “That’s not normal. Something’s wrong with that boy. Or he’s out here working for somebody. I’m thinking maybe the UN. Come out here, scouting things out. Lyle’s talk about all that stink out there at the Olson place. All those chemicals stolen from Larry Jensen. You put it all together, and what have you got? Think about it.” All I could think about was how thin Lyle’s walls were. “You got a secret chemical weapons plant, that’s what you’ve got.”

In South Dakota?”

Why not? It’s the perfect place. Out in the middle of nowhere, bunch of farmers, you can get away with anything. Why do you think they picked Randolph to scout? Nice Scandinavian boy, looks just like everybody else. I drove by the Olson place yesterday. To see if there was anything going on.”

And?”

Nothing. All boarded up and rotting. But what else would you expect? Anything going on at the Olson place, why, they’d do it at night, when nobody was around, wouldn’t they?” I got up and looked out the window. “Only makes sense. I’ll tell you what, Harold, get your coat on. Let’s go check the Olson place ourselves.”
Shut up.”

Don’t tell me to shut up!”

Shut up,” I repeated. “Someone’s coming out of Randolph’s cabin.”

Sam leaped up beside me. It was Louise Sanborn.

So that’s what Randolph was doing before we showed up,” I said.

And since we’ve been here,” Sam added. “Where’s she going?”

Probably parked down the road a piece.”

She’s no dummy. Didn’t want Lyle to spot her.” Then the cabin door opened again and Randolph came out, all bundled up. But instead of heading after Louise, he headed out towards the footprint field. “I knew it. See? He’s in on it.”

Oh, my God.”

There’s a chemical weapons plant, maybe a whole secret UN industrial complex over there. Come on. If we follow him we might could crack this whole thing wide open tonight.”

I was about to protest when Lyle suddenly pounded on our door.

Come on, boys!” he sang out. “It’s Bigfoot time!”

What are you talking about?” I asked.

The Bigfoot! Come on! Quick!”

Well, what you do with a crazy person is humor them, and I had two to deal with, so outside we went. The moon on the snow made it nearly bright as day.

What time is it?” I asked.

Feeding time,” Lyle said over his shoulder.

Feeding time?”

The Bigfoot. They come out to feed every night. You’ll finally get to see them.”

Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked.

Oh, he’s up ahead,” Lyle said. “He rousts them out for me.” Sam nudged me so hard I almost fell down. “Shh!” Lyle hissed, and put out an arm to stop us. We stood there, three Popsicles in the snow. And then… there it was.

Have you ever seen that Bigfoot footage they show every once in a while on those documentaries? Bigfoot loping along, kind of looking back over his shoulder? Well, there it was in front of us. Big, hairy thing, taller than Randolph (I knew what Sam was thinking). It wasn’t Randolph. No, this thing was huge, and it was hairy. It stepped out from the shelter belt, kind of gingerly, stepped out. It reached down and picked something up off the ground. Then its head swiveled towards us. I tried to become invisible. Then it leaped back into the shadows of the shelterbelt, and it was gone.

My God,” I gasped.

Amen,” Lyle said.

Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked. Told you I knew what he was thinking.

Right here,” Randolph said behind us, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. “I’m heading back, Lyle.” Lyle nodded, and Randolph trudged off.

Bait, huh?” Sam asked.

Honey on suet,” Lyle said. “They’re a lot like bears.”

Sam started walking over towards the shelterbelt.

Where are you going?” I called out.

I want to see its footprints!” Sam called back.

It’s gonna stink,” Lyle warned, as we followed him. He was right. Kind of a mixture of cat box and skunk and something else, sharp and nasty.

What is that?” I asked, gagging.

Bigfoot,” Lyle said proudly.

Sam was glaring like an angry lighthouse. “There’s something going on over there, and I’m gonna find out what it is.”

It’s just Jeb Olson’s old place,” Lyle said.

Or a UN industrial complex.”

Why don’t we just go back to the house and get some sleep?” I suggested.

Go ahead,” Sam said. “But I’m going over that hill.”

I’m coming, too,” Lyle said. He whispered to me, “I got to make sure he don’t spook them too much.”

So the three of us stepped into the darkness of the trees. A shelterbelt isn’t that wide a place, unless it’s a winter’s night and you’ve already seen a Bigfoot moving through it. We plowed through the deep snow, thick branches, dark shadows, and thickening smell until we reached the small rise before the Olson farm. Sam reached out one hand and waved us behind him. Then he reached deep into his parka and pulled out a handgun. Well, I’d always known Sam was an ex-Marine, and he’d claimed to never go anywhere without a gun. I’d just never taken him seriously. This was going to come back to haunt me the next time we quarreled over euchre at the Norseman’s.

At the top of the rise, Sam laid down in the snow and waved at us to do the same. Down below us was what was left of the Olson farmhouse and outbuildings after the tornado. But there were lights in the farmhouse, cold blue ones, like they were using fluorescents or maybe alien technology.

See?” Sam hissed.

Someone came out of the farmhouse. His back-lit silhouette wasn’t tall and hairy, but neither was it tiny and bulb-headed. The short, stocky man walked across the yard and opened one of the outbuildings. The reek that came out of there nearly knocked us down, as far away as we were. It was sharper than a goose farm on a muggy August day.

Come on,” Sam hissed. For a minute I feared he was calling on us to storm the place like commandos, but he was just sliding back down the hill.

Half an hour later, back at Lyle’s, Sam and Lyle were in the kitchen, sipping whiskey, and I was in the den, listening to Carl snore while I called my sister Matt from my cell phone. She was spending the week in Deadwood, doing everything a sixty-eight year old woman should not be doing, and wasn’t happy about being interrupted. But what Matt doesn’t know about the criminal element isn’t worth knowing. I got her to listen to the story – she laughed her head off at the Bigfoot – and when I was done she said, “Better get Bob Hanson on it right away.” He’s the local sheriff.

So you think –­”

I don’t think it’s aliens or Bigfoot or the UN, no,” Matt said. “Only don’t tell the boys that. It’d break their hearts.”

Great. So what do I tell them?”

How about not telling them a damn thing? I’m fixing to win a jackpot here, Harold. Later.”

She hung up, and I went back in the kitchen.

Have some coffee,” Lyle said.

No, thanks,” I replied. “I’d like to try to get some sleep.”
***
Sam and I went back out to Lyle’s the next night, the night after, and the night after that. We hiked out in the snow, through the shelterbelt, up the hill, and laid out at the top of the rise and saw nothing but the blue lights. One night two people came out of the farmhouse. One night none. The third night, three. No Bigfoot any night.

The fourth night was wicked cold. The air was so clear that you could see every star. No wind, thank God. It was so quiet I could hear Sam’s wheezing and Lyle’s creaking joints. And then they came. Out of the sky. A sound like giant beaters, everywhere. Lights that came out of nowhere. A fierce wind, nearly knocking me down. Something huge and black swooshed over us and I hit the snow. Sam did the same, but he rolled as he hit, pulling out his gun and getting it up and ready. More huge black things went over, and then they were gone, over us, over the shelterbelt and the rise and towards the Olson place.

Black helicopters,” Sam said grimly, as he came back up on his feet. “I told you the government was in on this. Come on, Harold. I wouldn’t miss this for all the gold in Fort Knox.”

Everything had exploded at the Olson place: dozens of people were running around. Half of them were all in black with big black guns, rounding up the other half. Between stench and smoke, my eyes were stinging so bad I didn’t know for sure what I was seeing. The noise was something else, too.

When the smoke cleared – and I’m not kidding about that – the men in black were tossing the rest into black vans that took off in a wave of snow. The helicopters were looming. Up on a little knoll, standing with a couple of the men in black, was Louise Sanborn.

What the heck is she doing here?” Sam hissed.

Well,” I said, “She is a cop.”

Everything secure?” Louise yelled at a man in black.

Yeah!” he yelled back. “Clean up crews will come tomorrow! What was the tip-off?”

Farmer up the road noticed the smell!”

Five minutes later, everyone was gone, including Louise, leaving Lyle, Sam and me in sudden, dark, reeking silence. I creaked my way from crouching to standing when Randolph’s voice came out from behind some brush.

Wow. What a show!” Randolph walked over to us. “Can you believe it? They even brought helicopters! Man, I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

Sam grunted. “Let’s get out of here before these fumes kill us.”
We plowed our way back up the hill, where we stopped and took big, deep breaths of fresh, cold air.

Now you tell me the truth, Randolph,” Sam pleaded. “Those were UN forces in those black helicopters, weren’t they?”

FBI,” Randolph said.

FBI?”

FBI,” Randolph repeated. “That’s what Louise told me. Or was it CBI? One of those.”

What the hell is the FBI doing way out here?” Sam asked.

Drug bust. That was the biggest meth lab in South Dakota. Ever.” Randolph looked coaxingly at us, while Sam’s face stayed blank. “Meth. Speed. Methamphetamine. Even you guys have got to have heard of them. It was a lab. A meth lab!”

So, you a cop, too?” Sam asked.

God, no,” Randolph protested. “Nobody’d want me in law enforcement.”

So it wasn’t a chemical weapons plant?”

No.”

And they weren’t rounding up people to take them to one of those UN concentration camps?”

Sam, where do you read this stuff, anyway?” Randolph asked.

It’s all over the place,” Sam snapped. “Everybody knows about it.”

No, it wasn’t the UN. It was a drug bust.”

Sam marched off, cussing a blue streak. Beside me, Lyle was crying.
#
That drug bust was the biggest thing to hit our area in years. People are still talking about it. Sam still doesn’t buy it. He says the whole drug thing was nothing but a cover story the government put out to hide what was really going on. It didn’t help that Randolph drifted off a couple of days later, to parts unknown. Sam said that was proof Randolph was part of it. You can’t change Sam’s mind.

Lyle was heartbroken. He’d welcomed those Bigfoot. He lived for UFOs. To find out it was just a bunch of drug dealers put him in a tailspin. Surprisingly, it was Sam who finally cheered him up.

You know, Lyle,” Sam said over euchre one night, “I been thinking. I’ll bet aliens really were raising Bigfoot out there, but then the drug dealers showed up and the Bigfoot got spooked.”

Lyle looked up from his cards. “So?”

So, the aliens decided that the drug lab had to be shut down. They’re good aliens, right?”

Lyle sat up straight. “Oh, yeah. You betcha.”

So they got a hold of the FBI and turned in the drug lab –”

How’d they do that?” Carl asked maliciously.

They can tap into any telephones they want,” I offered.

That’s right!” Lyle eagerly agreed. “They can. They just don’t interfere with us, because that would violate the Prime Directive.”

But this time they had to interfere,” Sam explained, “because the drug lab was bothering their Bigfoot. So the aliens called the FBI, and then they herded up all their Bigfoot and hid them to keep them safe.”

You think they’ll come back?” Lyle pleaded.

Bound to,” Sam assured him.

That’s great.” Lyle beamed as he got up and paid his bill. “I’m going home right now and put out some suet for them, you betcha. Let them know I’m still here, still waiting. I just wish Randolph was here. This’d make his day!”

There was a moment’s silence after Lyle left.

That was a kind thing you did,” I said to Sam.

I’m just glad he bought it.”

Of course he did,” Carl growled. “Now deal.”