I lived at the farm next door to my friend John for years. We grew up together, fought together and agreed to make up together. We were best buds.
Then the fire happened. Mom, Dad and my little sister Jennifer were in the house and couldn't get out. I was in the barn sitting up with a pregnant mare. I was nine at the time.
They said that it was a lightning strike that did it, but I never saw or heard any lightning. I smelled gas that night, but nobody would listen to me. After all, I was just a shell-shocked kid.
John's folks came forward to take care of me after the funeral. I thought that it was great that they'd do such a thing for me. That was until the little things started happening. I was no longer welcome at the family dinner table. All my chores had to be done before I had dinner, and they just happened to take me long enough to miss supper. Oh, I got a cold plate that I could heat up in the oven, but by that time I was too tired to appreciate it much. I slept on the porch, not inside where it was warm. I had a couple quilts and when it really got cold I either slept in the barn with the cows or called in a couple of dogs to sleep with me. Shower? Tub? Bath? I used the hose in the barn.
My clothing was enough to cover me, I guessed. I didn't think about it much until one day I looked through the yearbooks at school. Before my family died I was dressed well, in good jeans with cuffs at the bottoms, good boots and warm flannel shirts in the winter. After they died I was dressed in worn-thin pants that rode up on my ankles. I wore handed-down tennis shoes with holes in them. I wore two or three shirts at a time so that the holes didn't line up. Nobody said anything to me so I didn't think much about it. I was pretty much pulled inside myself for a long time after they died. I was learning to see the difference though. I was getting mad too.
On the way back home on the bus John told me, "You got dropped from the football team today."
Well, that just cut it. "I suppose you just slavered over the chance to tell me, didn't you? Ever since my folks died you've been one hell of a lot less a friend than you let on. I can't keep anything without it getting busted, like that pocket knife I got for Christmas last year. Now this. How long you been agitatin' to get me kicked off, John? Maybe tomorrow I'll ask a few questions. Maybe you won't like the answers."
"Now hold on here! My family's been puttin' you up free for years now, and that's how you pay us back?"
"Okay, John, Tell you what. Let's see what one of your hired hand gets and what I get. Let's stack up the work load, the clothing allowance, the room and board. I've never seen a nickel since my folks died. And what happened to the family property? Maybe I'd better see the sheriff in the morning instead of going to school."
John got a real red face and looked kind of sick. They'd been farming my family's fields for the last eight years and I'd not seen a red cent out of it. Yup, it was time to see the sheriff. I thought that I'd better stay out of the house that night. Maybe there might be a little gas pilot problem. I decided that I'd cadge a bed in the bunk house instead.
It felt funny not doing my chores that night. I wondered, though, how easy it would be to push a big pile of eighty pound hay bales down on top of me, or shut and lock the grainary door behind me before turning on the big grain screw that killed all the rats. A pitchfork coming out of the night was a pretty faceless weapon, too. When I told one of the guys in the bunkhouse why I wanted to sleep in there that night the guys got together and took me into town. We slept in the pickup until the sheriff came in. They shook my hand and went back to the farm to try and get in before they were noticed.
"What's this I hear about your poppa's farm just gettin' eat up?" "The Larson's been farmin' it now for the last eight years or so. I've seen none of it." I went on to point out what I'd seen, what I'd heard and what I'd seen in the school yearbook pictures. The sheriff looked kind of sad. "When they took you in everybody thought that it was all taken care of. It looks like whoever handled the probate is going to go to prison."
"John's father, Rich did the probate. I remember that."
The sheriff mumbled under his breath. "Well, fuck. What a goddamned cluster fuck." Then he spoke up a bit louder. "You're gonna have to go into the county orphan home for a little while, to keep you away from the Larsons till this thing gets straightened out."
I talked to two people, a lady and a man from the State's Attorney's office. Then an older guy without much hair came down from the state to talk to me. He used a tape recorder. I did what I was told to and kept my nose clean. When an older kid at the orphanage decided to see how tough I was, I showed him why they called me snake. I picked him up and threw him out the window. It was only the second floor. I didn't know what he yelled so much about. When the sheriff asked me what happened I told him that I threw the trash out. He said "You can't do that!"
"Sheriff, that's the way I've been taught. Somebody tries to treat me like a mare then I'm gonna either geld 'em or make 'em wish I had." I didn't catch any more crap from that.
It was about three years later. I'd gotten my Texas GED and a check for twenty one million bucks. My family had owned four sections that were under irrigated cultivation and the suit against the Larsons came through big as well. It didn't bring my family back but it sure put the brakes on the Larsons. John came up to me one day sayin' that his mom and pop were in prison and it was all a'cuz of me, then pulled a .44 out and tried to shoot me down. I grabbed that fist full of pistol and whipped him around like I had a rattle snake in my hand. I busted the shit out of both his feet, both his ankles, both his lower legs and damned near tore his arm out of the socket. The last I heard he was in a prison medical ward and they were still tryin' to patch him up.
I split up that money and tucked a whole bunch of it away where not even a politician could get at it. One of my storage places had an old 1960's white over red pickup truck sittin' up on blocks. It had been rebuilt from the frame out. The passenger side of the bench seat kind of lumpy, though. It was filled with a duffle bag packed full of bundles of cash. In another place I had dropped off a steel chest that was welded up tight. Inside it had another big duffle bag full of cash. If anyone sent them a couple specific lines of poetry in a letter they were supposed to send the chest back to the address it came from. I bought a nice little three room concrete cabin with an attached garage on a scrubby section back in the scruff north-east of Waco. Another cache was buried out back of there under a concrete-floored dog run. A million bucks in hundreds weighs nigh on twenty-two pounds so it wasn't a big reach to put three million in bills in an Army duffle bag with a little room to spare.
I asked the sheriff what he would do in my shoes. "You're like a mistreaded dog right now. You've been beat on till you don't know how to stop fightin'. If I was you I'd join the military, just to stay out of prison."
Now, I thought that was a pretty good idea. I looked into the different services. I'd never been on a boat and figured if anybody got the pukes it would be me. The Air Force looked like a bunch of white-gloved idiots, always preachin' about God, honor and service. I thought about the Marines but they kept pushing guys to get more and more training, trying out for more and more high-end groups that had an increasing chance of gettin' folks killed. Fuck that. I signed up for the Army. I looked at what they wanted to get out of a person by the time they left basic. I learned to whip out push-ups, sit-ups and run like my ass was on fire. The I learned to do the same thing with a seventy pound pack on my back. I learned to shoot a pistol and a rifle pretty well, then stuck my temper in my pocket and signed up.
I learned that every time somebody screamed at you they liked it if you screamed right back. I thought that it was pretty stupid, but that's what they wanted so that's what they got.
It was in unarmed combat at infantry school where it hit the fan. They told me to take out the guy with the pistol pointed at me. It was a big, mean-lookin' black sergeant with muscles on top of his muscles. I shrugged and said Okay. I grabbed his fist with the pistol in it and started doing to him what I did to John. It wasn't two shakes before I had four guys layin' on top of me while that sergeant was moanin' and groanin' as four guys picked him up on a stretcher. Well, shit fire! Tell me what you mean, next time!
Oh, I caught a real ration of shit for that. They had me exercisin' here, there, everywhere. When I finally bitched and told them that I'd done just what they told me to. A top sergeant said that I'd done it too well. I told him, "Well fuck, then get me the hell out of this chicken shit outfit before I kill some dumb ass that's stupid enough to ask for it!"
Now, back in Texas I'd just learned how to throw a knife as natural as breathing air. Big knives, little knives, fucked-up knives, things that kind of looked like knives. When they signed me up for an advanced recon unit and stood us all out there to try and teach us hand-to-hand, I knew that I was in trouble again. It was like a thunder-cloud just waitin' to bust out and smack my ass A big guy in a heavy red rubber suit stood there lookin' like a shaved bear while the top sergeant handed me a big old bayonet and told me to plant it in the guy's belly button.
Before you can say "Shit fire!" I flipped it end for end, took a pace and whickered that thing four inches deep into where I figured his belly button ought to be. He got snake-bit and fell over.
Well, it was deep shit day, all over again. I got to visit the sergeant that was wearing the rubber suit while he was still in the hospital. I told him to tape an encyclopedia or a phone book under the suit next time. It'd stop anything but a 30.06. He looked a little grey when I said that, but he thanked me proper-like before I left.
He was a nice guy, but a little flighty.
After that they sent me out with a little pack, an entrenching tool, a couple shelter halves and a wool blanket. What? I was supposed to get a ten degree sleeping bag? What, I was supposed to get chow twice a day too?
Hell, I'd been shat on by worse than them. I sharpened the edge of my shovel and took out birds, rabbits and raccoons. I dug a slit trench with a sleeping shelf that kept me out of the mud. I kept a little fire going built in a found soup can to keep my stuff dry and my canteen cup collected all the water I needed to drink. I didn't have anything to do while I waited to be picked up so I made a couple bolos out of pecked stone and some parachute cord. I always kept parachute cord wrapped around my belt.
A couple of weeks later I heard a couple of guys wandering through the area. I knew they were idiots--I could hear their gear jingle as they walked. One of them called out my name and said the exercise was over, come on in. I stuck my head up and damned near got it shot off. Let's just say that I wasn't very damned happy. I crawled back down to my sleeping shelf and thought about what to do. I figured that a blind and stupid enemy beat a plain stupid enemy. I waited for dark, then kept my eyes closed to let them fully adjust. I took a bolo in each hand, then slowly peeked over the edge of my trench. They were sitting there like they was back on base, scarfing their rations under the glow of a couple of green glow sticks. One of them straightened up, stretched and wandered over to a stump to take a piss. they didn't even hear the 'whoo-whoo-whoo' of a bolo winding up. I let go and had one of them tied up in a little personal basket, just his size. The other guy jumped up with his rifle in his hands, pointing this way and that. When he had it pointed away from me I whipped the other bolo around him too. I didn't know if they were the only two, so I took my time crawling over to their camp. What I didn't cart off I destroyed. I dug another slit trench a ways away, about ten feet from an asphalt highway. I left them naked and tied up with their shoe laces. I had two rifles, two pistols, plenty of ammunition, three canteens, two useless sleeping bags that only went up to my armpits (which I burned), three wool blankets, two ponchos, two decent bayonets and a bunch of other crap that I probably wouldn't use. I was glad to get the extra pairs of dry socks and a pair of dry boots that kinda fit, though.
A day later a helo came in low with a guy riding shotgun with a pair of big binoculars. I didn't bother shooting at either one of them even though the doors were open. I aimed at the transmission. When little pieces go off in different directions at high speed helos tend to drop like stones. Yup, I proved that rule again.
The next day three humvees ran over the area, picking up the guys. After they left I explored the helo. I found a half-assed emergency kit with a radio in it under the pilot's seat. I got the battery wet from a canteen someone left and waited a minute. Then I hit the xmit key. "You assholes ready to stop playing hunt the monkey? I ain't playin' no more games. The snake's comin' out to play. The next guy you send out to off me gets a third eye, then I get to go hunting. After all, fair is fair."
I released the key and scuttled out of there. I didn't know if they were pissed enough to pay for an air strike.
The next morning, bright and early, The whole damn' area got covered with Bradleys and troop carriers. I figured that they were getting serious. I'd hate to pay their fuel bill from that little extravaganza. I looked for a guy the same size I was. Since I was built pretty average, though tall, I didn't figure that It'd be too much of a challenge. I found a guy changing a tire that fit the bill. when nobody was watching I cold-cocked him and drug him into my slit trench, where I stripped him down and tied him up. Hell, he had a nice comfortable berth to sleep in. He shouldn't bitch.
I finished with the tire, put away the tools and sat in the co-pilot's seat with my hat pulled down low and coughing a lot into my hand. I bit a little between my first finger and thumb to make a little blood so that it'd look nasty. "George, what the fuck did you get into?" I kind of gargled out, "Shit if I know. -Cough, Cough.-" "Fuck. You just sit there and hold on until we get back to base, then we'll have the base doc shoot you up with the good stuff." I sort of half-assed a little falsetto "I feel pretty, oh so pretty!" "-Cough-Cough-" A bunch of guys laughed. I guessed that old doc was known for dispensing happy juice.
As the afternoon rolled on I let out a chest rattle now and again. The driver looked a me kind of serious.
We heard some radio chatter. "All right, that wraps up this little fuck-up. Let's get on the road again, boys and girls."
About three hours later our hum-vee pulled up outside an aid station where the driver took me by the shoulder and arm to help me get inside. Shit. Just what I didn't need. When walking past an office with the lights out I shouldered him into the door as if I'd stumbled. It opened. I whacked the poor guy in the back of the neck with the hilt of a bayonet, then eased him to the floor. I shoved him under a counter then pulled his shoelaces to tie him up and keep him in one place. I stuck my head up to find a box of kleenex. I shoved a handful in his mouth and secured them with his belt. It wasn't a good solution but it would work for a while. I scribbled out a note describing where my slit trench was and what a couple good field markers were to find it. Then I peeled out of my shirt. I checked the wallet and keys of the guy on the floor. I found seventy bucks, a hold-out hundred dollar bill and the keys for an F-150 pickup. I hoped like hell that it was parked on base. I saw six F-150s on the base lot. It figured that the sixth one opened to my key. I properly obeyed all local traffic laws until I made it out the gate. I was headed out of Oklahoma as fast as my ass could reasonably get me somewhere else while not attracting a trooper with a radar gun. I headed home, south, for Texas.
I figured that there were too many people in the Army eating each other's shit to let me get close to whoever tried to get me killed. Instead I decided to back down and go invisible. I decided to change my name. I remembered that Copperville Wyoming had a fire not too many years back that wiped out the court house. It made all the local news. That's where all the birth certificates and such had been stored. I bought a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt, an axe and a Swedish saw, then drove that pickup back into the hills to put together a place to live for a little while. I wanted the pot to stop boilin' before I stuck my nose out again. I had that pistol and rifle I'd been able to scotch out of the Army along with a few hundred rounds. I'd eat all right.
I did all right over the winter. It was no worse than a line camp. The was lots of firewood and I dug a little soddy that I lined with split logs to stay in. I slept on the bench seat that I took out of the pickup truck and kept warm with a couple of shipping blankets that the truck's owner had stashed behind the seat. I came out of the mountains lookin' nothin' like I did when I went in. The Copperville area consolidated high school had some year books that went way back. I picked a picture that kind of looked like me. I became Tim Strange. I had bought into a copy of my replacement birth certificate, social security card and high school diploma.
I was livin' kind of slim there for a while. I did manage to rent a post office box and send off for that chest of money that I'd put aside. I was in one hell of a fix when it came in. I needed an angle grinder to open it up and didn't have enough money to buy one. I was so close...
I stuck my temper in my pocket again and took a job as a night watchman at a warehouse. For my interview they sent two guys and a big dog in to test me me. I snatched up the dog by the hide at its neck and hips and held it between me and the men. The tried to wail away on me with axe handles and did a pretty good job of pissing off the dog. That's when I threw the dog at them. The dog did a good job of getting their attention before it ran off. I stomped their legs and took their axe handles away from ' em, then took their cash money and pocket knives away. When the warehouse owner found the guys lying in the ditch outside the warehouse fence come morning, I got the job. A week later I had the chest. Another week later I got my first paycheck and cut open the chest. The money was there. Six million bucks in hundreds and fifties. I had my grubstake.
I convinced the warehouse owner to stake down some coils of razor wire at the foot of his perimeter fence before I quit. I figured that would take care of most of his problems. The rest would no doubt come from inside.
I bought a cheap beater pickup for cash and drove south, for Fairfield, near Waco Texas. Well, north of there by a bit. My place was tucked up against the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area and within a good stone's throw of the Richard Chambers reservoir. It was a sweet piece of property that cost me more than a million when I bought the title to it.
I knew where the cabin's keys were that I'd hid out. I got inside and cleaned up both myself and the place. Before I left for the Army I signed the deed and left it under a rock making up part of the fireplace mantle. I dug it out, stuck some cash in a backpack and drove the eighty miles or so into Waco proper. It was after noon when I got there. The county government offices were open, so I got the place put in my name and opened a checking account with a debit card attached to it with fifty thousand bucks. I got the services turned on for the cabin then drove north to Waxahatchie, a far south suburb of Dallas. That's where I had that pickup in storage up on blocks. On the way I bought a new battery, a socket wrench set, twenty gallons of gas, a gallon of antifreeze, a jug of windshield washer solvent, a couple gallon jugs of clean water and a case of oil. I'd left that pickup high and dry with clean filters so that the fluids wouldn't turn to crap. I had no idea how long I'd want to leave it so I'd planned for the long term. The garage had been paid up for twenty years. I got the pickup down from the blocks. The tires held and had enough air to get me out of there. I filled up everything that needed filling, put in the battery, pulled out the choke, gave it a few pumps on the gas pedal and drove away another six million dollars richer. I had to stop and get new windshield wipers as they'd turned to a gooey mess in the heat. A little scraping with a razor blade cleaned up the windshield where they'd sat. All the empty containers went back into the truck's bed so that I could toss them into dumpsters a few at a time, except for the tools and gas cans. Thos went home with me.
The junker pickup still had the dealer's tags on it. I tore 'em off and left it where the my good pickup had been stored, with the keys in the ignition and the garage door propped half open. With any luck it'd be joy-ridden to death by the weekend. All the fingerprints should be gone by then too.
That was something that I'd have to watch out for. The Army had my prints on file and they no doubt still wanted a piece of my ass, even though I should have been the one trying to bite a chunk out of theirs for the crap I'd put up with.
Bein' a Texas ranch kid I'd learned Spanish right along side of English. I did a mid-life Spanish refresher by readin' both the English and Spanish newspapers every weekend. I stopped into a cafe once in a while to listen in and join the chatter. Nobody looked at me strange so I figured that I was fitting in okay.
I bought a replacement bench seat for the pickup and put a rifle rack in the rear window. A Savage 30.06 with a scope and a .30- .30 with iron sights went on it. I filled the glove box with ammo.
I hired a hydrologist to see what kind of water I had to work with on the ranch. With the reservoir almost in spitting distance I had all I needed, as long as I didn't get greedy enough to piss off the county land management folks.
I had some wind mills put in and some stock tanks. I had to invest in a fair-sized tractor to handle the big rolls of hay. The fences were in real shitty condition, almost worthless. I spent some money to have a bunch of local guys string fence for a couple months, splitting the place into four quarters. I had hay, water, land and built some stock shelters. I attended a few cattle and horse auctions before I figured out just what I was looking at. I paid for a few breakfasts at some local diners to get the viewpoint of a couple old ranchers. They grew up in the area and would give me the real scoop. I didn't want to work my heart out on something that I had no hope of succeeding at.
With just one section to work with a cattle ranch was an edgy proposition because of the labor costs involved. I'd have to buy feed and that payroll would never go away.
I thought about what I'd read about subsistence farming. I wondered if I built some homes at the edge of the section that I owned outright, spaced out enough for famlies to have a few acres but close enough to share the farming equipment, I might be able to get a few local families to buy in. If we ran maybe two hundred head of good cattle we could sell one or two at a time to pay for the winter feed, and a couple static watering grids should keep the fodder green and growing throughout the summer. The family's truck gardens would benefit from it, too. I was in no rush--I had no deadline. I'd have to see a lawyer about doing it up right. Maybe the way to go was to buy a few ten or twenty acre sites along side my section to keep my land intact. That may prevent any legal bullshit in the future.
I got the go-ahead from the land use people and the lawyer didn't see anything that stuck up and yelled as long as I kept full title to the original section in my name. I managed to buy eight five-acre plots of land adjacent to mine. They got surveyed, services run in, six-bedroom houses built and pole barn garages put up. I had some corrals laid in on the main property and good, modern horse stables built as well. Then I thought about how to find the people I wanted to live around me.
If I advertised in commercial papers then I'd probably get folks that were in it to make the business grow and increase the profit. Nope, it wasn't going to be incorporated like that. I thought about how some ranches worked through the thirties to the sixties, before it all became big business.
I started going to church on Sundays. I went to the local restaurants after services to get my face well-known, and to eaves-drop on the troubles people were having. I started writing down both family names and the sizes of the families, then what kind of problems they had. Mostly it boiled down to money, of course.
The place cost nearly three million back when I'd bought it as a hide-out and an investment. It was worth quite a bit more than that when I'd laid the money down, due to it being sold for back taxes, well below market value. I'd put more into it, both by buying the extra land and setting up the water access. In comparison the prices of the houses, pole barns, fences and farm equipment were trivial. I used an end loader to pry up the dog house slab to retrieve the last of my stash, some seventeen million bucks. The last million had gone to pre-paying taxes on the property. Most of it was still held on account. I opened a ranch account and started paying into it, about four thousand a month.
I got the preacher alone by offering him a home-made pork chop dinner. I bent his ear about setting up a small ranch, 1930's style using local families. People had done it for years as far west as in the truck gardens of California. Then I showed him around. We talked on it for months, sometimes bringing in old books and magazines from the local library and in two cases bringing in historians from a couple local universities. With the land already paid for, some put aside for the taxes, some stock to work with and a decent poke of cash to cover expenses it looked doable. We learned from the old journals that disease could kill off a whole ranch and everyone around it in a couple weeks. Everyone and everything would get their shots, that was for damned sure. The shot profile for visiting south-east Asia included Cholera innoculations. Hell, I'd pay for it, no problem.
Next came the families. Who would get invited, and under what terms? How would we kick out bad apples without causing ill will among the others? The preacher suggested that I talk to an accountant.
Now, Harvey had an idea to treat the ranch part like a company, part like a commune. His plan was for every household to have a budget. Hours spent at labor gained income. Produce, chickens, eggs, milk and butter would be sold for agreed on values, sometimes less than market price and sometimes more, depending on the labor reqired to make them. Keeping pigs and steer for feeding up to slaughter would be specific niches with their own payment schedules. Fodder would be purchased and supplied by the ranch, as would major equipment maintenance and fuel. Each household was responsible for its own utility bills and upkeep. Any property taxes would be my responsibility, as would trash pickup and education expenses such as school bus access. I promised that I'd pay for health insurance for the families and kids. A percentage of the profits would go to the families and the rest would devolve into the ranch account.
Whew! This was a great deal for the families. It would be easy to see if any one family had turned into slackers, living off the others like barrio fools. The lawyer suggested that we operate like a board of directors with me having an overwhelming vote as the major investor, yet remain silent unless there was a catastrophic need for an immediate purchase or other fiscally necessary override. In that fashion the families would manage their own bad elements without me having to play the heavy, yet stay within the law.
I talked to several larger families after Sunday services. I asked that they talk to the preacher about me then decide if they wanted to get into a business venture. Most of the families had relatives in Mexico. Some were farmers and some had worked on ranches. They were just what I was looking for. I wanted to buy into skilled groups of employees rather than have them have expensive accidents while learning.
I knew that we'd need supplies of grain, so everywhere I'd had a stable built I had a good grainary put in as well. The doors were all made wide enough to allow my smaller tractors with fork lift attachments and front bucket adapters access, or the doors were rebuilt to allow for them. That way grain could be moved in bags on pallets from the stables to the other areas it would be needed, such as the hog pens and chicken yards. Any milk cows would get grain too. Anything else would be a stupid waste. Milk cows turned grain into high butterfat milk by definition.
Once we started getting families moving in I leased a semi and a live-haul trailer. I couldn't get one for four months, but I could for six. At that time I had sunken diesel tanks put in so that we could take advantage of cheaper, bulk-rate fuel delivery. I had a few worries there for a while before I learned that several of the guys had CDLs and had worked over-the-road.
Once we had vaqueros and other hands on the place we took them along to the auctions. I learned that horses were trained in different fashions and the hands would work better with horses that were trained in a way they were familiar with.
Then we bought starter stock--fertilized beef and a half-dozen milkers. We had to hustle to get the milking parlors, refrigeration and separate grazing areas set up for the dairy stock. I had a couple more machine sheds put up for the tractor attachments, wagons and such. Next we put in parlors for the butter and cheese. We didn't sell any that first year. We consumed it all internally. We slowly geared up to higher production values but it wasn't anything that I demanded. We had chickens from day one.
The first winter and spring it was pretty crazy. I had to buy a goddamned school bus for the district to get service and that was expensive! (I found out a couple years later that the law forbade that kind of practice and I got most of my money back. I got the school board kicked out on their collective asses and a judgement filed against 'em too.)
I paid for food for everyone, and got big chest freezers put into each farmhouse. It was a lot cheaper to have a good steer or four butchered and wrapped, then split between the places than to buy packaged meat through the wholesale places like Costco. I was no dummy. I got into that deal, too. We did the same with hogs.
The crap from the stock was scraped down from the feed lots and set aside in manure piles. We'd till that into the gardens in the spring. Why waste good nitrates and organic matter?
I bought a new pickup for each family under the condition that they get rid of their worst ones. The families had between eight and twenty members. A lot of additions got built during that late winter. Since we had some time to spare I got the immigration status squared away--or at least off top-dead-center-- with everyone.
Things got busier in the spring. The trickle water systems went in both under the truck gardens and under where the animal feed crops were going to be raised. That tore the hell out of the fields and it took a while to get everything smoothed out again. Then I got busy trying to find some topsoil that was worth a damn. There were a lot of places around the mid-west that dredged out waterways on a yearly, semi-yearly or on a five or ten year plan. I sent off letters to some of the larger marine dredging operations in operation, including the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
A place in north-central Wisconsin did dredging at the edges of the swamps that surrounded the roadbeds all over the middle of the state. There was a lot of organics in what they pulled out. I contracted for sixty rail car loads. We didn't want to import their bugs and weeds, so I used a local place that used a steam conveyor process to bake the oil, diesel and gasoline out of soil removed from around gas station bulk tanks that had leaked. We could do a relatively fast shot at it compared to what the fuel cleanup required. The EPA liked us for keeping the invasive little critters and bacteria back in Wisconsin where they belonged. Once spread out on the fields it looked black with all the rotted moss that had compressed over the decades and broken down into something that was on its way to peat moss. It got dug in with an industrial cultivator and cast seeded with mixed hay and clover, then with nitrogen fixation innoculate. It must have been sweet feed because the steers and horses went ape-shit over it.
After the first year we scaled up the truck gardens and sold produce to the local groceries. A lot of little fields broke up the work so that the families didn't half kill themselves. We worked hard at finding the right balance between distributed projects and economies of scale. The money was coming in regular and the families were fat 'n happy.
I had income making up from my investments. It would always be slow going, but making back the nine million or so that I invested in the operation would take about twelve years, if not more.
I still had fourteen million bucks in duffle bags. Adding four grand a month to the working accounts nibbled away at the money laundering but it was sure slow going.
I admit it. I was drifting. I had no fucking idea what I wanted to do with myself. I had an income producing ranch and should have been happier than shit. I had no wife, no children and no roots.
Looking back at it, those goddamned rednecks were the best thing that could have happened to me.
It was early Saturday morning. I was sitting down for a biscuit and gravy feed at a neighborhood diner when a half-dozen local losers came in after drinking all night to soak up a little food before heading home to crash. A couple of them recognized me and decided to give me shit for hiring people that knew how to work rather than good old boys like them that had good old boy connections. Well, this came to that and the shit hit the fan. Once they busted up my shoulder with an axe handle I got mean. A lot of guys got cut. A lot of blood got spilled. I regret to say that almost twenty men went to the slab that morning. A lot of fools decided to add their comments to the party. I regret to say that I didn't hold back any. I went to a lot of funerals while wearing a cast. I can say that I'm proud that my neighbors didn't give me any shit about it. Some of the town folk got really pissy, but they didn't have a dog in that fight. Still, I figured that I was better off leaving the area for a while. I had to get a live-in nurse for a while because I couldn't care for myself. Not being to wipe your own ass is plumb nasty. Still, you do what you have to do. Carol was a plump girl that did more for me than any wife would have. I felt so bad about pushing my needs off on her that I did my best by her. She got a big chunk of her college loans paid off one night just before I left. I was divided as to my feelings for her. She was like a wife, and not. It was ... complicated.
I decided to get a passport. I figured that worst come to worst, I'd be shut out of the country but I wouldn't be locked in a little room with state department goons asking the same questions time after time after time...
I wanted to do a full break-over to another name and way of life. I figured that the gov'mint had less chance of putting a finger on me if I went off in a totally different direction.
First, I played the name game and got another set of decent papers, going back to a reasonably valid birth certificate and built everything up on top of that. It took about fourteen months to get it all together. I took the name of Tom Fetzer after seeing the name on the side of a case of wine.
I found a forty-foot steel hulled ship in Galveston called the Shady Lady. She was in severe trouble, but the shape of the thing called to me like a siren's song. She was BEAUTIFUL. Some idiot had let the maintenance go too long and the zincs failed. The hull had penetrations from rust, the bronze prop was a flaking sponge, the steering gear and main shaft were a mess. I had her dry docked. The hull and everything below the waterline got replaced. Gawd, was it expensive. The hulk cost 82,000 bucks. The hull replacement cost about 190,000 bucks. I had the new 5/8 inch steel hull covered with ion-sputtered titanium, inside and out. She'd had a few owners and a lot of hours put on her. I had the engines replaced with brand new Cat diesels, transmissions and new stainless steel tanks installed for fuel, water and waste water. All the feed lines got replaced too. The electrical lines were re-run where it made sense. All the switches and plugs got replaced all over the ship. The interior lights got replaced by clusters of LEDs and the air handling system was replaced.
At first, after I had the hull rebuilt, then the zincs and running gear installed I treated her as a private hotel room at a live-aboard dock. A charcoal grill and a comfortable chair on the rear deck made it a home away from home. The boat was so comfortable that I decided to live on her long term. I went whole hog and took all the classes that the Coast Guard said I needed to take. I got my captain's papers. That meanth that the Coasties figured that I wouldn't kill myself or anyone else close enough to the docks that they'd have to pay attention. The pilot house electronics got a good upgrade and the radios were replaced with current models that had digital filtering.
I butchered that poor ship. I had the spare bunks and second head torn out. I had it all replaced with another 500 gallons of fuel storage and a generous stores locker.
The ship had a half ton boom crane. A pair of fixed davits were in place for the jolly boat/life raft, leaving me space on the stern deck for whatever I wanted. I debated putting in a smart car. Instead I bought a narrow little European diesel truck out of Poland that fit on the aft deck with space to spare. I raised the lazarette hatches to increase the below-decks storage space. This let me put in four thirty pound propane tanks instead of the two ten pound tanks it came with while creating a raised step to access the jolly boat.
I made several trips around the Texas and eastern Gulf coast, then brought the ship into dock and headed home for the holidays. I went to church like I used to. I kind of blended in because I didn't look the same anymore. I felt myself relax into the hymns and the service. I hadn't gone to church for a while. It was nice to get back into it.
I was standing hip shot against the side of the stairs outside the church. I heard a 'smack' and looked over to see a big guy standing over a little kid. I had no trouble seeing red. When a woman put herself between the man and the boy and got belted for her troubles, knocked to the ground, I slid into a place that I remembered from a long time ago. I was Snake again. All it took was a quick jerk back and down on his hair while I bucked up as fast as I could with a knee. A quick, short snap later and he was a bag of organ meat on the ground. I looked around. Nobody would meet my eyes. I picked up the kid and gave the woman a hand up. I took them to Galveston, where I had the boat.
Juanita refused to let go of me. I was Carlos' hero. They took a while to get used to life on the boat, but not too long. Juanita shared my bed and Carlos called me Papa. After a couple years we went back to the farm to see if all the smoke had settled.
For a while it was "patron" this and "patron" that, both around the ranch and in town until I put the kabosh on it. I didn't need that sort of attention with a warrant or two no doubt still on my head. The way the girls threw themselves at me made me disgusted. You see, before all the fracas I couldn't have gotten laid around that town with a bucket full of hundreds. Since I came back with what was for all purposes a wife and kid then all the sweeties wanted to either give me a test drive or something more. Juanita laughed on the outside but I knew that she was worried on the inside. She bought a little .38 snubby pistol and carried it in her purse. I didn't think that she planted anyone but I stopped seeing few of the worst offenders after a while.
I paid the preacher a few hundred bucks to work up some sermons on the differences in the laws and cultures between Mexico and the U.S. I had no idea if it had any affect on the local culture. I wasn't plugged in to that end of things.
I went back to living the quiet life while keeping an eye out for lawmen. I took a few college courses through the local extension office. The three of us went out on the boat at least once a month, and often times more. Like most ten year olds Carlos thought that he knew everything. I had to lean on him to do his homework. He agreed when I called it 'paying his dues'. He couldn't help but grin like a fool when we were out on the sea, though. He reveled in it.
Juanita had a wide streak of cuddle-puppy in her. I adored waking up with her wrapped around me like an amorous octopus.
I pretty much fucked around on the boat, learning where all the wires went and what went where. Actually, I had one hell of a good time.