Thanks to my usual cast and crew of advance readers and editors
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me
Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you
Fill my heart with song
Let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, in other words
I love ... you
Written in 1954 by Bart Howard
[Recorded by Frank Sinatra - June 9, 1964, Los Angeles]
Featured on the 1964 album: 'It Might As Well Be Swing'
I would have bet an entire week's paycheck that yet another Frito-Lay Doritos delivery truck wouldn't have completely disappeared. Fully loaded of course.
OK, you can stop laughing now! Naturally, in the Sheriff's office, we all giggled and assumed that some major pothead had scored a legendary stash of uber-bud and then had world-class case of the munchies afterwards. Heck, that's what I thought too. The first time, anyway.
Just who the heck could eat their way through an entire thirty foot long delivery truck full of junk food in a single day? We'd checked every supermarket and convenience story in the county, and placed calls to the authorities in all of the surrounding counties seeing if anyone was trying to resell them, but that idea was laughable anyway. Both empty trucks had been found abandoned on remote county farm roads, filled with empty, ripped open bags. Big family sized or small lunch individual sized packages, it didn't matter — all of them had been torn violently open and were now empty.
Eaten? How? What other possible use did anyone have for a truck load of junk food? It was all just mostly ground corn, oil and flavorings ... nothing even the world's most brilliant meth-head chemist could turn into the next wonder recreational drug. Hopefully.
Anyway, when the second plundered snack food truck was found empty twenty-four hours later, the idea of degenerate stoners came back into my head as a serious option and I couldn't just laugh the notion away. We named our unknown felon the 'Doritos Bandito' and we gathered up a listing of the county's rather odder and more peculiar residents as suspects. It was an unfortunately long listing. Our rural county had a reputation for being rather liberal and 'free-thinking', with a long history of only loosely infringing upon residents civil liberties. Heck, even our elected county sheriff spent a chunk of the sixties wearing tie-dyed shirts with hair down below his shoulders.
More than a few of our nominally law abiding citizens supplemented their crops with growing marijuana in-between their corn rows. Normally, this was very low on the county law enforcement priority list, falling somewhere below getting more pie for lunch at Dot's Diner, and making sure that some of the more elderly rural residents got checked upon at least once a week and received a ride into town for weekly shopping at Roscoe's Maxi-Mart.
Still we compared suspect lists of who might be overly partaking of their own organic product and then divided up to pay each of them a visit. Fortunately, I struck pay-gold (or was it cheese coating?) at my very first stop.
Bob and Doug Rayburn were a pair of characters straight out of charactersville, as Lauren Bacall would say. Rednecks born and true to the bone, with a fondness for growing and smoking as much pot as they could safely hide, and turning at least half of their corn crop into a more potable sort of liquid refreshment ... albeit without the appropriate and necessary federal liquor taxes and stamps. They definitely fit the profile of 'junk food junkies', but according to Roscoe, their personal snacking tastes ran more to pork rinds and Moon-Pies. Better them than me.
Still, neither of them ever really caused much if any local trouble, and unless they'd taken a notion to bathe in barrels of the stuff, I really couldn't see what the weirdos wanted with the stuff. Okay, neither of the Rayburn brothers were mental geniuses, but this was darned screwy even for them!
I was sure that I'd found the culprits, but there was one slight problem. I couldn't find as much as a single corn chip anywhere on the property! They let me look everywhere I wanted to search without a warrant, except for the small barn where they kept their moonshine still. I could smell the corn liquor ... but no scent of either Cool Ranch, Extreme Cheese, Chipotle Ranch, or even Habañero seasoned corn tortilla chips.
I've got a pretty good nose and I'd stake my badge that not a single corn chip had been taken, eaten or bathed in, here.
They'd covered their trail well, and I had almost admitted defeat when I saw the big truck tire marks on their dirt roadway. With a more careful examination of the road closer toward the paved local county farm road, I could see that a couple of trucks had come and gone this way recently. I was sure that the stolen Frito-Lay delivery trucks had passed up and down this road, but where had they been driven to?
The county did have a helicopter, theoretically for search and rescue and getting folks fast to the country hospital about twenty miles away, but getting the authorization to use it for a surveillance operation was way above my pay grade. Our budget was bone-tight, and even a fast half-hour's flight over their farm and back was money that hadn't been approved in our annual budget. Neither was any overtime for legwork to do this hard way, but my dander was up and I was determined to get the answer, even if on my own time.
Since the Rayburn brothers weren't eating the stuff (at least not at home), and they didn't have it stashed near their house and barns, then where could they keep and hide the stuff? Since I couldn't get permission to do an over-flight, well at least not today, I decided to do the next best thing. About three years ago, which was yesterday by our county standards, the County Clerk's office had paid for a comprehensive photographic overlay map of the entire county. They used it to more accurately judge appraisals for farming vs other commercial land use and to better determine land boundaries. The big mosaic wall map in the Appraisal office was too small for my purposes, but I was sure that they had the more detailed original photos kept somewhere which would be much more highly detailed. It took awhile of digging, but I found the four photos that best displayed the Rayburns' property.
There were no other barns or buildings on the remainder of their property away from their farmhouse, at least not as of three years ago, but at their eastern land boundary there was a rather large old dried up old riverbed that was decent sized and probably wide and deep enough to hide all sorts of secret doings. According to the photos, trees grew tall and thick along both sides of the riverbed, which never usually carried more than a foot a water during the spring and fall rainy seasons. Right now in high summer, it ought to be virtually bone dry, and a suitable place for hiding nearly anything.
There was only one problem. The best way to examine this riverbed would incur a visit to Jane Wilson's house and farm, and we hadn't been on the best of terms since high school over ten years ago. We'd been an item, once upon a time and actually almost engaged for a while — until I received and accepted a job offer to become a sheriff's deputy.
It's a long sordid story, but back in the 1990's we more or less had a gang of thugs running things at the sheriff's office and at the county seat. Beatings, collection rackets and all sorts of thuggery were the order of the day, until the locals got together and cleaned house. We're squeaky clean these days, but it's too late for Jane and her brother Skip. Back in the day he was our star high school quarterback, until an undeserved beat-down put him for good into a wheelchair.
Sure, I had absolutely nothing to do with it ... in fact I was off, out of town at college at the time and didn't return until after the regime change — but now I was wearing that same uniform, and they could both never seem to forgive me for that.
I had the heat for her still, even ten years later. I'm a senior deputy now, with enough pay and decent county benefits to support and wife, and a family, but she just pretends that I don't exist at all in her world ... but no other girl in the county makes me smile and my heart race just to occasional catch the odd rare glimpse of her!
Rumor had it that the reason she never married either was that the old flame in her heart hadn't completely died either, but still we both tended to avoid each other. At our last random meeting about six years ago outside of Jillian's, my local watering hole, I'd bumped into her on the street and the reunion had not been pleasant. Memorable, unfortunately yes. She'd had a drink or three as well that Saturday night at a different club, and used a lot of extremely sharp language to blame me for all of the troubles in her life.
"Go to Hell!" and "I never want to see you ever again in my life!" pretty much ended any attempt I could make at conversation with her. She had meant those words ... and they had really hurt me deeply enough that I did make every possible effort at avoiding her from that point onwards. She always did her shopping at the Maxi-Mart on Tuesday mornings, so I made darned sure that kept myself busy at the other end of the county so that our paths wouldn't accidentally cross.
My friends tend to talk to some of her friends, but I think they're all under orders not to mention either of us to the other ... although a few of them keep trying to get us back together.
Other than crossing about five miles of Rayburn farmland in the dark, the best and shortest path to that dried up old riverbed was through the Wilson's land. Out of politeness, since I really didn't want to get a warrant for this search, I would need their permission.
I really considered passing the mission off to someone else, but they hated all of us in the Sheriff's office just about equally, so I'd just be passing the buck and the problem. Besides, I just had to know where the stolen chips were going ... and if tonight a third truck was going to disappear as well!
I couldn't think of a single peace offering I could make to help pave the path for me for meeting Jane again, after all these years. Flowers just didn't seem appropriate, nor did one of Dot's famous pies, let alone a bottle of wine or something stronger. Instead, I just put on my cleanest uniform, shined my boots, brushed my teeth twice, gargled with mouthwash until my face turned blue and prayed for the best.
The vision that greeted me at the door was worth all the years of yearning and waiting. Oh, yeah ... I wanted her just as badly now as I did those years ago and for just a moment I thought I saw that same exact longing and pain in her eyes as well. As ever, her mouth was much faster off the draw than mine was, and I quietly let her tongue scald me for the next minute or so, until I could get a word or two in edgewise. The old pain was still there, and once again like cream it had risen to the surface of her face. Any old feelings of love, if they still existed, were once again quite buried.
"Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!" she repeated, even more loudly, as I quietly stood there. The tears in her eyes were clear and reflected brightly off of her sky blue eyes that hot summer evening just as the sun was beginning to set.
"Just as quickly as I can," I calmly promised her, "but first, I'd like your permission to cross your farm to take a look at the riverbed that borders the Rayburn property. The brothers are up to something over there, definitely weird and possibly dangerous, so it really needs to be done. I wouldn't have bothered you or your brother if it wasn't absolutely necessary. Then, as quickly as I can, I'll 'toddle back to Hell' and leave you two alone. I promise."
Jane remained quiet, uncertain how to answer me, when I heard her brother's voice calling at her from somewhere inside the farmhouse.
"Jane, go ahead and let him go. I heard a loud crash or boom over towards their farm the other night, so those weirdos are up to something ... they always are. Marty, if you'll push my chair, I'd kind of like to see what they're up to as well, so I'll go with you."
Skip (he never used his given name of Clark), hadn't called me Marty since we were pals together in high school. He was two years younger than me but he got along well with my other friends and we got to be pretty good buddies before I left for college, and not just because I already loved his sister. The next year, the new sheriff brought in his thugs and cronies and our nice little county turned into a criminal pit of vipers. The year after that, his dream of a college football scholarship disappeared in a flurry of baton blows when a thug of a deputy beat Skip permanently into a wheelchair when he tried in vain to prevent the drunk and abusive officer from assaulting his then girlfriend.
Perhaps Skip had found forgiveness for me in his heart, but from the anger still plainly visible on Jane's face, her heart had remained firmly closed to me. I'd heard vague rumors that Roscoe, the former thug who had crippled Skip, had completed his family collection by raping Jane as well, but I'd never really heard this story confirmed, and I certainly hadn't asked her. The sheer malice with which she regarded my uniform really ought to have given me more than a bit of confirmation for that rumor.
"Bastard!" She muttered, lost in clear indecision. "Alright, I'll come along too ... and I'll push Skip! Then, afterwards, you can go fuck yourself for all I care!"
She meant it. For the next half hour she rolled Skip along towards the riverbed and made damn sure that I never got close enough to lay a single finger on either of them. Skip wanly attempted to play peacemaker, but Jane was having none of it, so the three of us strolled along in the gathering gloom more or less in silence.
Reaching the southern edge of the dry riverbed at the western corner of their property, we didn't notice anything notable either up or down the long ravine and soon, as we headed north, the tree covered ground soon became too rugged for Skip's wheelchair to travel ... at least at any sort of tolerable speed. For a minute I thought Jane was going to turn Skip's chair around and return back to the house, but he stopped her.
Marty, you're pretty big and strong ... lift me up and support me up under your arm. Jane, if you'll support my other side, I'm pretty sure we can make it through the brush and get close to the riverbed. If you'll both help lift me together?"
Skip had lost a lot of weight being trapped in his wheelchair prison. He'd always been lean and muscular and now his legs were little more than sticks. I could have carried him alone, easily, but Jane would have none of it. She grabbed her arm under Skip's shoulder and tried hard to pretend that I wasn't doing the same on his other side. As we lifted Skip up, our fingers and forearms touched and she darted back away from contact with me, but as our burden became heavier she pretended not to notice when my arm fell over hers as I tried to grasp Skip more securely. I didn't dare look at her face for fear of starting another scene with her.
Fortunately, we didn't have to carry Skip for more than another ten minutes until we found what I thought we were looking for. Looking through the trees I could see something poking out of the deep ravine. Tilted at an angle, with its nose slightly buried in the dried up riverbed, was a roundish oval metallic something or another. It wasn't round, it wasn't square, and it wasn't even particularly oval. From the looks of it, it had scraped a deep furrow across the Rayburn side of the farmland and had fallen into the ravine, which was about ten feet deep at this spot. Even Jane forgot to be pissed at me long enough to give me a suitable, non-malevolent 'What the fuck?' look.
I didn't have any answers either. Since nothing seemed to be happening down in the riverbed or at the Rayburn's farm, we decided to have a sit and wait until it was completely dark. After sitting in the growing gloom for well over a half hour, Jane was just muttering something about going down to look it over when we finally saw car lights approaching from the Rayburn farm, and so we waited a while longer.
Yep, the crazy brothers had done it yet again! Yet another, third stolen Frito-Lay Doritos truck now appeared as close to the tree line and riverbed as they could park the truck, and in the gloom of red truck taillights they slowly, as if in a drunken stupor began to unload their pilfered cargo.
Within the metallic spherical object in the riverbed, some sort of hatch opened and the brothers laboriously began to open packages of chips and then dump them into the hopper. I had to assume that the crazy twisted brothers had indeed found some weird chemical still design on the internet and were now using the junk food to make ... well, something. Now it was time to go down there and find out what!
After I found out what, I decided that I would have much, much rather remained entirely ignorant. The loony, often stoned and even more frequently drunk brothers were fueling a alien spaceship! Slowly, one load of junk food at a time!
Worse still, the ship was now complete with a four foot tall grey almond-eyed alien straight out of Hollywood central casting who seemed rather disappointed to discover Skip, Jane and myself intruding upon his crash landing site. When his unearthly eyes met mine, I knew then that we were all in serious trouble.
It wasn't quite like we had all joined together into a group mind, but I could feel his (was the alien a he, she, or it?) thoughts entering mine, rummaging around inside my brain and making himself quite at home. I did sense a feeling of relief though. I had no doubt that spending several days rooting about in the Rayburn brothers heads would have been trying and irritating for anyone.
I never got quite the exact sense of what he wanted or really needed, but my feeble knowledge of college chemistry did seem to provide him some satisfaction. Indeed, nearly a sense of relief! Doritos might have been all fine and well, but the vital ingredient 'it' needed (our visitor was a neuter, neither male or female) was only a trace element in most of the snack foods gathered.