One Hand Clapping Installment 3

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Chapter 3

 

I walked out of the office, passing John leaning against the wall in his chair.

“He’s a live one.  We’ll need a couple of beers.”

Behind the bar, I pulled and opened a couple of Pacificos, grabbed a lime for each and headed back to the hall.

John took the beer from my hand, squeezed the lime into the neck.

“So, what’s up?”

“Dean’s number is a Langley number.”

“So?”

“Langley’s CIA.  The CIA’s charter specifically prohibits domestic ops.  I’d say Hood River is definitely a domestic operation.  Remember the fallout when Nixon used a bunch of agency bagmen?  The Watergate deal. Big no-no for those guys.  This sort of stuff is DEA and FBI territory.”

“Anderson told you this?”

“No, Anderson was out.  I made a call to a guy I worked with and got a quick read on Anderson.  Nothing on our buddy Dean.”

“What’s this old number shit?  I didn’t know you worked for those guys.”

“I didn’t really.  When I was in Nam and then after, in a couple of deals, I was working with them, but not for them.  Sort of joint projects.  I was what they now refer to as a contractor. After I quit and before I moved to Breckenridge, I did one last hard gig in ’75.  They had four guys up in the Highlands, in the Golden Triangle, who’d been working with the Hmungs in their poppy growing and weapons training.

“Everything intertwined back then.  Hmungs grew poppies with the Agency’s help and advice.  Air America, flew the paste to a lab in Hong Kong.  The cash from the paste and then the China White bought weapons back in and paid folks off-the books. We funded the really deep black black ops for the Agency.  Air America flew the stuff back and forth.  Cash off-the record. Self-supporting loads flying both ways.  Probably still works that way, somehow.  I’ve heard pretty interesting rumors the Agency ran the same deal supplying the Northern Alliance before we moved into Afghanistan. Remember the contractors in some of the firefights on CNN just before the invasion? Same deal. Contractors consulting. Poppies for cash for the Northern Alliance.

“Any way, with the fall of Saigon, some Agency guys were trapped up in the Golden Triangle.   For a large sum of cash, and the dubious promise of permanent retirement, I gathered together a team, went in and extracted them.  My only contact since has been my Control.  I’ve done several informational jobs for him over the years.  We stay in touch.  No hard stuff.  Too old.”

“You looked OK on the hard stuff today.” John laughed, shaking his head.

“That was soft.  I want this guy out of here and I don’t want the dope to surface in any part of it.  I’m too close to some stuff after Nam to have that happen here.”

John took a drink, wiped his moustache.

“You don’t have to mix much with them on this, if you don’t want to.”

“How’s that?”

“Have Greg handle it.  As Chief, he would have a lot of leeway.   On the record or off.  As they leave, he can hand them his card, ‘Any questions, give me a call.’ With a little local egg on their face, they may want to stay out of town for a while.  Don’t mention the dope. Dean’ll clam up too.”

“Makes sense.  I’ll call Greg.”

Tracy answered at the station.  “Greg’s out, Charlie.  Can he call you later?”

“Have him call me as soon as possible.  It’s business.  In the next ten minutes would be great.”

“I’ll page him.  Are you at The Grill?”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll be a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

I set the phone down on the desk and leaned back in the chair to wait for Greg’s call.

It rang almost at once.

“So, what’s all this business shit?  Someone hold up your bar for the twenty-seven bucks and loose change in the till?”

“No.  I wish.  I have a spook in the walk-in.”

“You need an exorcist, not a cop.”

“CIA.  The Agency.  A Spook.  For some reason, looking for quiet place I guess, this guy ended up in The Grill, taking pot shots at his buddy running out the door.  Something went sour.  Real sour.”

“How do you know he’s with the Agency?”

“He gave me a phone number and a confirmation number.  The phone number’s a covert operation desk at Langley headquarters.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Greg, this is no joke.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I just want the guy out of my life.  Simply.”

“I thought you were out.”

“I am.”

“Well, as they say, ‘Only in Hood River.’  Where do I come in?  Book him on a weapons discharge?”

“No.  I don’t want to do this as a ‘Book him, Dano’ sort of deal.  I want you to help me turn him over.”

“Official or unofficial?”

“Let’s start unofficial and hold the official in the wings in case they move back.”

“I’ll change and be down in a few minutes.”

“Great.”

“This could be great fun.”

“I’m glad you think so.  I think it’s a bloody hassle.  I was rid of these jerks and now they’re busting up my bar.  I’m pissed.”

“Lighten up.  We’ll dump the guy and you can go back to your simple life of pulling micro-brews.  OK?”

“Yeah.  Sure.  Wear that red ball cap with the bird logo.”

“Anything else?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“This ought to be a gas.  I haven’t dealt with these guys for years.”

“Great.  See you in a bit.”

“I can’t wait.”

“Shit.  I’ll bet.”  I hung up the phone.

John looked me.  “And the dope?”

“I think I’ll keep it as security ’til I’m sure these guys are going to leave us alone.”

“Think it’s a good idea?”

“Yeah.  With a couple of pictures of the crew, me with the goods and the pictures, I ought to be OK.  It’s all leverage.”

“OK.  You’re calling the shots.”

 

Chapter 4

 

Using my cell phone again, I called Anderson exactly fifteen minutes after the first call.

“Fourteen Forty.”  The same calm female voice answered.

“Hi.  I’m calling back for Anderson to see what he wants to do with Dean.  Is he around?”

“Mr. Anderson is right here.”

“I’ll bet.”  The Control is always right there.  Always.

“This is Mr. Anderson.”

“I called earlier…”

“Your name, please.”

“You have all you need to…”

Very firmly, he interrupted me again, “Your name, please.”

“Listen, Anderson, cut the bullshit.  You only need to know what you got off the line a few minutes ago and that I have Dean.  If you are trying to string me along to trace the call, I’ll give you a hand.  Got a pencil?  The number is 503…807…17…13.  It’s a cell phone.  It’s GPS disabled.  The billing is JCS and Associates.  201 South West Morrison, Suite 1204, Portland, Oregon.  If I’m giving you the number, you can bet Dean isn’t there.  It’s actually my attorney’s office.  They’re paid very well and very protective of me.  Shit or get off the pot.  Do you want Dean back?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, then Anderson answered,  “We want him back.”

“Fine.  How long before his back-ups get to Hood River?”

“They are on their way now.  Perhaps 45 minutes.”

“OK.  We’ll meet at a place called The Grill.  It’s on Oak Street between 5th and 6th about halfway down on the left as you’re going east.  There will be a guy at the bar drinking a tonic and a lime.  About 55, in pretty good shape, six-three or so, rugged in a Ralph Lauren sort of way.  The Chaps look, but warn your guys, he grew up on a very different block.  He’ll be wearing a red ball cap.  In one hour…”

Anderson interrupted, “I think it might be better if we met at the…”

“Listen, Anderson, I have Dean.  I make the rules.  You have a problem with that, I’ll see the paper gets him first, then the local cops can have round with him, and they’ll let you have what’s left after they’re done.  OK?  It’s my way or my way.”

“Your way.”

“In one hour from now, not before, two of your guys walk, understand, walk, down Oak toward the Grill.  Don’t even think about sending in the troops.  OK?”

“Fine.  One hour.  Two men.”

“Right.  They get to the Grill.  One sits on the bench in front of the little bookstore across the street, the other walks into the bar and asks the guy, the older guy at the bar,  “I’m looking for Dean.””

“I’m looking for Dean.  Then what?”

“We’ll take it from there.”

“Now wait a minute…”

“No, you wait a minute.  Your guy Dean put one round in the ceiling and was about to take out a customer when I decided enough was enough.  We’re doing it my way.  I can call the newspapers and the cops…”

“I don’t have much of a choice.”

“Right.  Do a good job on this one deal and you may just save your sweet Langley ass.  See your guys in an hour.”

With the mention of Langley, he hesitated for a moment then replied, “One hour.”

“Right.  In one hour and ten minutes, Dean will be on the front page of tomorrow’s Hood River News, Oregonian and the Seattle Times, so be on time.”

“We will be there.”

“Bye, Mr. Anderson.”

“Good-bye.”

I walked down the hall and retrieved my beer from the floor next to John’s chair.  He sat leaning against the wall with the automatic resting on his thigh.

“So what’s the deal?”

“They want him back.  In an hour, a couple of guys will be here to pick him up.”

“Simple as that?”

Before I could answer, a voice demanded from the bar, “Hey anybody home?  How does a guy get a drink?  Is it serve yourself day?”

I could hear a fist pounding on the bar top.  “Yo, anybody home here?”

John and I walked out to the end of the hall.  At the middle of the bar stood a tall well built guy in yellow baggie shorts and faded Mt. Hood Jazz Festival T-Shirt from a decade ago.  A red ball cap sat on the mahogany bar top.   His hair, mostly gray, was short cropped in a monk’s type horseshoe around his head.

Greg saw us, grinned and said, “So, how do you get a beer in this place?  Beg?”

“Close.”  John walked behind the bar, reached into the middle back cooler and pulled out another Pacifico.  Presenting it to Greg, as if a bottle of wine, he said stiffly, “Today, sir, in light of the occasion and the presence of our unexpected honored guest, we are drinking Pacificos.  Would you care to join us…sir?”

Greg looked keenly at the bottle.  “Ah.  A vintage bottle.  The middle of last week, no doubt.  It was a great week, it was.  Are we drinking these with a lime or without?  With a glass or without?”

“The lime is a matter of personal preference, but we generally consider the fact they travel and arrive in a glass container sufficient for our needs.”

“Great.  I’ll take one,” he paused, “With a lime.”

“Coming up directly, sir.”

Greg watched as John served the beer with embellishments and a lime balanced on the neck.  After squeezing the lime down the neck, he took a long pull.  “Ah, yes.  Last week. That is the week.”  Then, looking at me, said, “So, you caught yourself a spook.  You haven’t done that for a long time have you?  Thought you’d quit the game.”

John glanced at Greg and then at me, quizzically.

“I have,” I replied

“So you want to tell me what’s going on in this little yuppie micro-brew bar of yours?”

I shrugged my shoulders and started in on the happenings of the last half hour, finishing with the recent conversation with Mr. Anderson.

“I’ve a brief case the guy leaving dropped. I’m keep as collateral ’til things cool down.”  Not bothering to detail the contents, I hoped Greg wouldn’t pry.

“Not a bad idea.”  Looking at his watch, Greg asked, “So, when are they going to be here and do you have any thoughts on how we proceed?”

“Fifty-six minutes.  It’ll be simple.  You’ll be at the bar.  John behind it.  I’ll be outside.  When the one comes inside, I’ll pick up the one outside and bring him in.  We pat them down.  Take their weight.  We bring out Dean, take a roll of happy reunion pictures for old times sake and send them on their way–without their heat and their briefcase.”

“You really think it’s going to be that simple?”

“Yeah.  There’s enough open in my file they won’t want to fuck with me.  If they start to dig, they are going to get a ton of questions and I don’t think they want that.  They want to get in, out and beat feet with Dean.  The big problem, after they get out, will be the fact we have a roll of pictures of the three of them in a Hood River bar.  That’s going to keep them away.  I hope.”

“You’re calling the shots.  John?”

“Fine with me.  I used to deal with these guys in Baghdad.  I always did OK.”

He smiled and shook his head.

Sitting at the bar just before my time to set up outside, the phone rang.  I picked it up.

“The Grill.”

“Charlie, you answer your own phone.”

“Joey.  How you doing?  Long time.”

“Doing great.  So you got my message.  How ’bout a game tomorrow?  You up for it?”

“Not a chance.  It’s a 4-hour shot, one way.  It’d have to be for the best game of ball ever.  And even then, I’d think twice.”

“I talked to Eddie after I got your message.  He’s got a chopper coming up from a re-build at h is shop in Aurora.  It can land in Hood River in a couple of hours.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Would I kid you?  Are you coming or not?”

“Wish I’d known earlier.  I dropped Carole off at the airport in Portland this morning. She’s headed back to Chicago.  She could have stayed another couple days.”

“Bummer.  I didn’t know you guys were still seeing each other.”

“We took a few years off and got back together a couple years ago.  Actually, this time we see a lot of each other, between her skiing and my getting back for the Bears’ home games.”

“Shit.  A long term deal for you.” Laughing.  “Almost married.”

“Stuff it.  What’s going on?  Bumping numbers and using a different name isn’t for some hot game.”

“Well, it’s a long story and a short one.”

“Let’s hear the short one.  I have company coming in a few minutes.”

“I’ll try.  Is this phone OK?”

“I’m out, but let me go back to the office.”  I put the phone on hold and said to John and Greg, “I’ll be in the office for a couple of minutes.”

Walking back to the office, I wondered what Joey couldn’t handle himself?  This day was becoming a very strange day as blasts of the cold past tumbled in hot all around.  My edges started to rag out.

I picked up the phone in the office.  “OK, I’m back.  Let’s hear the short one.”

“Great.  You know, I spent years cleaning the stuff Dad left when he died and the Uncles settled with me.  I’ve done all right.  Most of my investments paid off real well.  Made some great pre-IPO angel investments in small technical development companies worth a bundle now.  All the bucks Dad left were clean well over 20 years ago.  Took a lot of work and trouble on my part, but I’m totally, 100 percent, legit.

“So anyway, about a year ago, I start hearing rumors of some new guy moving into town.  Dope.  Started into the street scene right off with real clean China White.  I still see the Uncles and the Cousins on the holidays and so on.”

“China White?”

Joey’s story began to set me on edge.  An edge too close to the day and too close to our mutually removed past.

“Yeah.  China White.  The real stuff.  The stuff from the labs in Hong Kong.  Sometimes it’s delivered in stereo cabinets.”

He laughed and paused.

“So, anyway, about a week ago, Peter, you remember Peter from Chicago?”

“Yeah.”

“Well he just drops in on me at the Blu and says, ‘You should have talked to us, Joey, before coming back in.  We could have helped you and would be happy to have you back.  Now you’ve stepped on a lot of toes and the younger cousins are pretty mad.’  I tell him I’m not in the market, not even close.  He says, ‘Sure,’ shakes his head and walks out of the club.  Doesn’t even have a drink and flies back to Chicago.”

“He flew out from Chicago just to drop in like that?

“Right.”

“And he didn’t believe you?”

“No way.  So, I go out and do a little checking.  Through a couple of friends on the street, I find that I’m back in business in a big way.  I have the best and the finest China White.  Straight from the source-type pure stuff.  All the guys who’ve been in for a long time with Mexican Brown and the Afghani shit are still holding, ’cause no one is buying anything but the great white stuff.”

“Good for you.”

“Charlie.  I’m not dealing.  I’m clean.  I don’t even do an occasional line any more.  Shit, I only drink at special occasions and that I keep to a couple.  I’m clean.”

“Where do I come in?”

“I want you to find who’s putting it out.”

“Call the cops.”

“Yeah.  Right.  I have friends there, too, and the word I have is, in a couple of weeks, we ought to have a Joey Rico feeding frenzy simultaneously in downtown Seattle and Chicago.”

“Joey, I haven’t been on the Chicago streets for almost 30 years and, even then, I was only a part time player.”

“Maybe part time, but big.  Big shots at regular intervals.”

“I’m out and I want to stay out.”

“You’re big on information.  I know you are still connected. You never let go of connections. You knew the big shots and ran in the right circles on both sides of the fence.  We ran together, only you were a bit higher on the ladder ’cause neither side could figure you out.  No motivation either way.”

“And?”

“And you had an ear to the top long after I was 100 percent legit.  I’m stuck.  I’m my father’s son, so I can’t go to the cops.  I’ve gone straight, so I can’t go to the family.  I’m stuck.  All I want is a direction.  I don’t need the person.  I just need to know which way to look.

“So, anyway, there’s more.  On a stupid hunch, I called a friend in New York a couple days ago, just to see how things were going.  He’s part of the Family.  He said not well.  Some guy moved in with semi-loads of China White and you can’t give Mexican Brown away.  There are some pissed people on street corners in New York.  He’d heard it was from Chicago and said if I heard anything to give him a jingle ASAP.

“Charlie, I’m getting set up.  Maybe we’re getting set up.  I need to know what’s going on.  I’m not calling any markers on this.  It’s a big one, I know.  Just come up here for a couple days, talk and look around.  Maybe buzz out to Chicago for a day.  If you don’t like it, walk, I’ll understand.  You are the only person I could think of who could walk in, get a clue, and walk out without anyone noticing.”

“Thanks for thinking of me.”  I shook my head wondering.

“Really.  It’s true.”

“Is there a handball game?”

“Yeah.  The club Doubles Champs from two years ago.”

“Shit, Joey, all your water’s over my head on this one.”

“If you don’t like it, walk.  I mean it.”

“OK.  I may walk.  Straight info.  Nothing but talk.”

“Fine.  A car will meet you at Boeing when you land.  How ’bout dinner?”

“Sure.  This may be a good time to leave for a few days, anyway.”

“See.  It’s a good thing I called.”

“Yeah.  Right.  This’ll be an in and out deal.  I need to keep my distance, same as you.”

“Info.  In and out.”

After I hung up the phone, I sat and stared blankly at the cluttered top of my desk.  The day turned thick.  First the China White in the bar, then Joey calling about the same stuff surfacing, with his name on it, which means our names, in Chicago.

It had to be a coincidence.

I hoped it was a coincidence.

One Hand Clapping Installment 2

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Read from installment 1 click here

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Chapter 2

            (Hood River, Oregon)

 

Later that morning, Carole left for home, for Chicago.  After dropping her off at PDX, I drove the 65 miles back up the Gorge to Hood River mulling over Joey’s call.

The sun burned through the early morning clouds and the day promised to warm considerably.  The first true warm spring day.  A day for shorts and T’s with a fuzzy top to break the early chill.

Massive ice age floods carved the Gorge only a few thousand years ago. In a couple days, the equivalent of one and a half times today’s North American rivers funneled through the Gorge, a narrow mountain gap in the Cascade Range.  With walls now rising some 4000 feet in places, the days are an endless joy of shape and change, light and dark.

Twenty years ago, I’d taken my part of the biz and bought a dive bar in Breckenridge, Colorado.  With the gentrification of the town, the loss of the true ski bum to the entrepreneur seeking business opportunity, I’d sold.  And did very OK.

After a couple months of traveling, I found Hood River on the dryer end of the Columbia River Gorge.  For over 100 years the valley produced fine apples and pears.  In the early 80’s, the tales of wild summer winds started leaking out to the windsurfing world.  To the east, the Great Basin desert bakes in the summer, often creating a 50-degree differential with the ocean beaches only 200 miles away.  In an effort to equalize, the cool maritime air rushes toward the hot air.  All summer the winds blow 40 or better.  The influx of sailors built to a torrent.  Hood River became the summer windsurfing capital of the world.  And they all leave on the first of September.

The town combines orchards, tourism and athletics in a single setting.  With the sports–windsurfing, white water kayaking, climbing, skiing on Mt. Hood–the town carries the closeness of a familiar mountain town.  The hundreds of acres of long standing orchards give the town an underlying stability.  And the Hispanic pickers add a dose of salsa to what otherwise would be any other white bread yuppie resort town.

Turning off the freeway, I crossed the bridge over the railroad tracks and into the center of town.  Two blocks up the hill, I turned right into a narrow alley and parked, squeezing the Trooper between a dumpster and a brick wall with the remnants of a painted Coca Cola sign barely visible.  Tossing the last of my coffee and the cup into the dumpster, I walked into the back of the Grill.

The building originally served as a fruit warehouse.  Ten years ago or so, the escalating paper value of real estate in downtown Hood River theoretically no longer made industrial use the best and highest use.  The packing company built a new warehouse and packing plant up in Odell, in the middle of the orchards, and divided the old space downtown for commercial “opportunities”.

For some reason, timing, wrong tenants, bad weather, the project never took off.  When I found Hood River, I also found the old Alvik Warehouse empty and for sale.  I bought it and, not knowing what else to do, took one end and cobbled together a bar.  In the next year or so the rest of the space filled out as the Grill started drawing customers.

The ceilings are 15 feet with open industrial metal web trusses.  The river side has large industrial-style metal mullioned windows with chicken-wire glass.  On a clear day, you feel like you’ll land in the river if you fall out a window. The snowy bulk of Mt. Adams lies an apple’s toss away.

After buying the building, I wandered around the Northwest looking for furnishings and a bar back.  The chairs and tables caught my eye at different times and places.  None come close to matching.

The bar back is another story, a true classic.  Mahogany, 10 foot and a bit high, with mirrors, glass door below-counter beer coolers and booze racks on each side of the mirror. Originally a fixture in Baker City bar, to the east, it sat disassembled collecting dust and chicken droppings in a barn for years, maybe 20 years.  I was having a beer in the Geiser Grand Hotel and mentioned, “I ‘d like a bar like that.”

The bartender, an old timer, said, “I know one.  Only it’s quite a bit bigger.  And in a barn.  In pieces.”

A couple phone calls later and a short ride out of town, I was looking at what I knew would work perfectly.  Work perfectly with a bit of restorative work, that is.

The bar itself is a single wide mahogany plank spliced down the middle of its 40 foot length.  Maple butterflies secured the splice. A mix of equally old bar stools sit screwed to the floor along its length.

Walking in, I nodded at John leaning on the back bar coolers in his normal, languid manner.  Growing-up on an orchard at the foot of Mt. Hood, John carried the attentive relaxed manner of a long-time mountain kid.  Seasons matter, the rest of it will fall in place, you simply let it ride a little.  After ski racing on the Hood River High School team, for the University of Colorado on a scholarship, he’d been tagged for the U.S. Ski Team Development squad.  After graduating, in a fit of post-September 11th redneck patriotism, he joined the Army and shipped off to Iraq.  He was a slender, deceptive six-four, with a huge mustache.  The ponytail he grew after getting out of the Army just got longer.  Coming and going in style, his hair remained pulled straight back through the years.

At one of the middle tables, toward the front, two men argued.  One, standing, wore a satin purple muscle shirt and a pair of wild brush stroked jams.  With his cropped hair and short sculptured broad build, he looked like a miniature Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The other, leaning back in his chair, looked tall even sitting down.

As the guy standing ranted, punctuating every phrase with arm motions, the one seated casually looked at his fingernails, carefully not paying attention to the growing tirade from Muscle Beach.  In a yellow polo shirt and white tennis shorts, he sat with the air of a New England blue blood.  No doubt, for generations his family shopped the same stores and vacationed in the same house on Martha’s Vineyard.

The two men, so totally engrossed in their own scene, didn’t notice I entered.  Staying in front of the bar, I passed John and moved toward the street, closer to the action.

“The case, man.  Give me back the fucking case.  The party’s over, asshole.  You guys like the shit, right? You won’t pay, so give it up.”  The purple shirted muscle man pounded the table.

Shaking his head, the preppie inspected his cuticles.  A leather brief case sat under his chair. Softly he said, “Make your call.  You’ve got yours. Check it out.”  He looked at the little guy, “The case is mine now.”

As the one standing straightened up, I heard him say, “Shit,” under his breath.  He switched personas.  He became calm.  Reaching into the waistband of his jams, he pulled out a small blued automatic pistol.

Very evenly, coldly, he spoke again to the man sitting, “OK.  Now, real slow, reach under your chair and give me back my fucking case.”

The lanky one paid close attention now.  Slowly with deliberation, he picked the case from between his legs under the table.  As he came up with the case, he exploded into the table pushing it up, and into, the surprised muscle man.  With a last twist of a flying table leg, the tall guy set the table directly on top of the smaller man as he fell on his back to the floor.

Leather case in hand, the Prep headed for the door in a full sprint.  John no longer leaned against the coolers stroking his mustache.

Squirming from under the table, the Junior Terminator put one round into my corrugated tin ceiling.  Dropping the case with the shot, the Prep continued at an even faster sprint toward the seeming safety of the open door.

Once free of the table, the little guy stood, feet apart, both hands on his weapon, swinging to aim at the fleeing man, now without the brief case, just reaching the door to the street.

Without thinking, I picked up a chair and swung across his outstretched arms.  The gun, knocked from his hands, skittered across the floor stopping short of the brick wall on the far side of the room.

He followed and reached down for it.

Right behind him, I grabbed his shoulder, pulling him back, “No.”

He glanced over his shoulder at me and came up with a right roundhouse.

I ducked inside, stood back up against a left into his solar plexus.  He gave a sharp gasp with the loss of air.  I put a right and a left jab into his jaw.  The first one was square on his chin, slowing him.  With the second, I connected below his ear, snapping his head sharply back to the right.  His knees gave and he dropped against the wall.

There was a time, long ago time, I reveled in such encounters.  A time long ago.  No more.  Picking his gun off the floor, I pulled a chair up, flipped it around in front of the little Terminator and sat in it backwards, my arms resting on the back.

I was pissed.  Adrenaline made it difficult to steady the gun in my hand.  My breath was sharp and deep.

Shaking his head to clear himself, he came out enough to realize I’d pulled up the chair and his gun was loosely pointed at his nose from a few feet away.  I flicked the safety on, then off with my thumb.  The soft clicks finished pulling him out of his haze.

“Hey, asshole, customers popping customers is not a good way to build business.  I don’t get off on it.  OK?”

“I’m with the government.”

“Sure.”  I held out my hand.  “ID?”

“Shit, I don’t have it on me.  Do you think I’m stupid?”

I looked at him sitting against the wall with his legs out straight, “You don’t really want me to answer that, do you?”

John resumed his familiar relaxed, bemused pose against the back bar.  Glancing back at him, “John, go pick up that brief case and let’s see what these guys were arguing about.”

John walked to the brief case lying on its side, almost at the door, hefted it, smiled and walked back with it.

“Want to open it?”

“Go ahead.  You take the honors.”

He set it on the table next to my chair and tried the clasp.

“It’s locked, but I may have the key behind the bar.  Just a sec.”

Reaching over the bar he picked up the large chef’s knife for cutting drink garnishments.  He moved in a mock Errol Flynn sword dance, “This ought to work.”

Slicing the leather just above the clasp, he opened the case and pulled out three packages wrapped plain brown waxed butcher paper.  All the same, the size and shape of a medium sized bag of rice, he laid them in a row on the table.  He looked at me, raising his eyebrows.

With some reservation, “Go ahead.  Let’s see what we get for our birthday this year.”

The size of the packages.  The look.  The neatly folded corners to create a tight wrap.  The even rectangular shape with all the edges rounded.  Everything was right to be completely wrong. I wanted to know what was in the packages.  At the same time, I knew what they held.  I hoped I was wrong.

As John started to open one of the packages, the Muscle Man silently watched from the floor.  Slowly, he moved one leg back, seeking to get a purchase for moving away from the wall and out of his rather immobile awkward situation.

“Move that leg any more and I’ll put a round right in your cap.  Understand?”  I pointed his gun at his knee.  “Any questions?  Legs out straight.  Back flat against the wall.”  He hesitated.  “Now!”

The man returned to his former resting position and John went back to opening the package.  The paper covered a plastic bag stretched full by a white powder.  Coke.  Two-kilo packages of cocaine.

John popped the corner of the bag with the knife and loaded the tip.  Taking a very small pinch, he dropped it on his tongue and rolled it around his mouth.

“Whoa.”  He shook his head in dis–belief and offered me the knife tip.

I took the taste and as it hit my tongue knew instinctively from the sticky texture, it was not coke.  It was China White.  Heroin. Smack.  The new hot drug of choice in so many upper society circles.  The sweetness spread across my tongue and onto the roof of my mouth as my tongue moved, spreading the taste around. So sweet.

In the years since my final foray into Nam, a full year after the official withdrawal, I consciously and studiously avoided any taint of my loose days before.  I set that trip as a hard divider.

The three bags sitting on the table in The Grill breached the dam creating a flood of memories.  Good.  Bad.  Distant and yet completely immediate.

I wanted to be rid of this guy and not have him return.  Ever. And I wanted it done now.

Old drug.

New drug.

I wanted none of it back in my life.

None of it at The Grill.

While finished, I could not afford to have it appear near me.  Even as a bust bystander.  And in this case, tagged a participant.  My bar.  My turf.  I was physically involved.   The carefully created distance remained significant, but not enough to risk the questions brought about by six keys of China White surfacing in the waters around my life.

“John, call the cops.” I paused, “And call Andy, down at the News.  Tell him we got a live one and he ought to run over with his camera.  Give him a couple minutes’ head start, then call the cops.  Pack this shit up and toss it in my office.  I don’t want any hint of it being around with the cops or the papers.”

I turned to the guy on the floor,  “You can be the front page tomorrow.  ‘Tourist beef-cake shoots up Hood River bar.’  Part of your fifteen minutes of fame.”

“Wait a sec. . .You want to make a deal?”  He sounded worried.  “I’m really with the government.”  He nodded his head.

“No, you wait.  There’s no outside dope investigation going on in town.  The chief’s a good friend of mine.  We had dinner last night and there’s no one but locals working town right now.  He ought to be real happy to have a little chat with you on your activities leading up to the last few minutes.  Mentioning the dope will only get you in way deeper than you already are.  I’d let it drop if I were you.”

He studied the wide board pine flooring between his legs.  I looked at his gun.  It was a well balanced Italian 9mm.  A Berretta.  Smoothed from being carried, he’d had this weapon for a while.  Turning it over in my hands, I noticed the numbers were missing.

“Nice piece.  Nice it has no numbers.  The cops will just eat that up”

I looked over to the bar.  John still hadn’t moved, amused.

“John, make those calls.  I’m tired of holding this guy’s pop gun.”

“Sure.”  John started down the bar.

“Wait,” brow furrowed, he spoke looking at the floor.  “I got a number you can call to confirm I’m with a government agency, OK?”

John stopped and leaned against the wall next to the phone.

I thought for a second, then turned to John.  “You know how to use one of these, don’t you?”

John walked over, smiling, and took the pistol from my hand.

“Let’s see if I can remember from those far away days across the ocean.  I pull this little dealy and the bullets come out the pointy end.  Right?”  He grinned at me, then at the muscle man on the floor.  Pointing the automatic at the guy he said, “Cool.”  He flicked the safety on and off to get the feel.

“He’s yours for a bit.  If he tries anything, shoot a leg or a foot, then hit something very final.  No more questions. OK?”

John slid onto the chair as I stood, “Not a problem.”

I walked to the bar returning with a napkin and a pen.

“OK, let’s have your numbers.”

“Call 703…542…14..40.”

“And who do I ask for?”

“Mr. Anderson.”

“And who are you?”

“Dean.”

“I just got a brilliant idea.”

From the front of the bar, I picked up a leash lying on the windowsill, “Let’s tie Dean up and toss him in the walk-in.  I’ll feel better with a couple of extra steps between us while I call for his confirmation.”

John smiled and nodded.

Dean slowly extended his wrists toward me.

“No way, on your belly, dude.”  He reluctantly rolled belly down on the floor and put his wrists behind his back.  I looped the leash around his wrists and finished up tightening it at his elbows.

Lifting, John and I, a hand under each arm, brought him to his feet.  Keeping our hands on his arms, we walked him back to the walk-in cooler and settled him against a tall stack of Full Sail cases.

In the open door, I turned to John.  “Same goes here.  Pull up a chair in the hall.  If he tries anything, nail him.”

To Dean, trying to get comfortable in the cold and against the beer, “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.  Your Mr. Anderson will be out, busy or something.  If I leave a number, he’ll get back to me as soon as possible.  I won’t leave a phone number.  I will leave the number of a couple of old friends back in the same area code and my old ID number.  Mr. Anderson can call and find out a little about me.  Not a lot.  There isn’t a lot immediately available.  I’ll mention I have you hog tied in a cooler dressed for a beachwear fashion show in Santa Cruz to put some immediacy in their situation. Don’t expect the cavalry, I won’t give them a lot of time to make the call or to make up their mind.”

Dean looked at me with a growing mixture of disbelief and surprise.  “Huh?”

“You don’t think I ended up with your piece and you ended up keeping a bunch of beer company because I mix a decent margarita, do you?”

Closing the door, leaving Dean in the dark, I walked to the office to make the call.  I started to dial the number on the napkin and stopped, hanging up after the second three-digit group.  Leaving the napkin on the desk, I ran to my Trooper, pulled the cigarette lighter charger out of my cell phone and returned to the office dialing as I walked down the hall.

“Fourteen forty.”  The evenly modulated female voice answered on the second ring.

I paused a second before answering.  “Hi.  I have Dean, who says I can call this number, ask for Mr. Anderson and everything will be OK.  Is Anderson around?”

“Mr. Anderson is out of the office at this time.  Can I take your number and have him return you call?”

“No thanks.  You have Mr. Anderson call to verify me, just to make this interesting, OK?  Phone number to verify is 703…453…1237.  ID Number 327…2…550.  He just has to ask for Control.  I’m sure he knows the routine.  You might also tell Mr. Anderson his buddy Dean is dressed for a day on the beach and I have him hog tied in a freezer for safekeeping.  Dean’s fairly anxious about his situation.  In fifteen minutes from now, I’ll call back and expect to talk to Mr. Anderson.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir.  If you could hang on. . .”

”The number you’re trying to trace is an ID blocked cell phone from the 503 Portland, Oregon exchange.  Not easily traceable.  Understand?  Fifteen minutes.”  I hung up.

Sitting at the desk, I decided to call an old friend in Washington, D. C..

“Boyd Mitchell, please.” An even modulated male voice this time.

“May I tell Mr. Mitchell who’s calling?”

­”Charles Stone, an old friend.”

“Just a minute, Mr. Stone.”

I waited with D.C. pabulum music force fed into my ear hoping Boyd was in and I could get through to him.

“Charlie,” Boyd came on the phone laughing.  “How you doing?  Where are you?  And what do you need?”

“I’m doing great.  I’m in Hood River and I need some information.”

“What sort of information?”

“A quick fix on a couple of guys.”

“Well, if it’s not deep, no problem.”

“Got a pen?”

“Sure.”

“Write this number down.  703…542…1440.  I need to know about the number, a Mr. Anderson and a guy working for him going by Dean.”

“The first is easy.  That’s a switchboard at Langley.  It’s an operations division. You know, covert stuff.  The other will take a couple of minutes.  I’ll get Joyce on it and be back with you in a sec.”

The wretched music returned while I waited for Boyd to come back on the line.

“So, Charlie, what are you doing?  This is a real switch from what the rumor mill has you doing.”

“I am very retired. I sold the bar in Breckenridge a little over 15 years ago and, not knowing anything else legit, started another in Hood River.  I pull beers.  That’s it.”

“As I remember, just after we got back, in ’70 or so, you bought a condo in Breckenridge.  Still have it?”

“Yeah.  I get out for a few weeks skiing every year, to stay in touch with the Rockies.”

“Get to Chicago much?”

“Some.   A lot of friends there.  I go back once in a while for special events.  Parties, Bears games and so on.”

“Here’s Joyce.  Let’s see.  Mr. Anderson is an old Asia hand with some experience in Central America. In the late 90’s he became involved with Afghanistan and then with Iraq, of course.  Has been attached to the DEA a couple of times, so he must have foothold in that area.  Recently, it looks like he’s been doing something back in Afghanistan or Pakistan from the people on his list of contacts.  Nothing on your Dean fellow.”

“That’s interesting.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, this guy Dean’s trussed up in my cooler right now keeping the beer company.  He got pissed at a guy and was about to take some pot shots at him when I took him out.  The guy leaving dropped a briefcase six keys of very pure China White.

“After a song and dance, he said call Mr. Anderson before I called the local paper and the cops.  I got the standard routine.  Anderson’s out, leave a number.  For kicks, I left our old control number and my number.  I thought I’d give you a ring to give you a heads up.  What’s the CIA doing in Hood River?  Isn’t that a little out of bounds?  And what’s the dope doing here?  Domestic investigations?”

“Way out of bounds.  This information is all without ringing bells.  Want me to go deeper over the next couple of days?”

“Don’t bother.  I’ll work out a fast and clean hand off.  Something with leverage in case they come back at me.  You coming skiing this next winter?  Or are you still begging off?”

“I’m too old.”

“Get serious.”  I laughed.  “I have a friend you’d hit it off with. She’s a red head and a ski instructor.  A good friend.  I’ll set you up.  You’d get along great.  Both of you old enough to be sensible, but neither passed out of childhood.  Actually, she’s coming off a divorce and strictly into having a good time.”

“I may take you up on it.”

“Just do it.”

“Easier said.  Gotta go.  Good luck with Dean.  Let me know if I can do anything more.  Stay in touch, OK?”

“Thanks.  I will.”

Before getting up, I thought about the two of us.  We’d seen tough times.  Boyd lived for getting out of each foray and back to Susie, even when they weren’t getting along.

In the early 70’s, in Cambodia, he got malaria.   Thinking of Susie kept him alive for the time it took us to get the word out and a med-evac in.  His divorce from Susie had done him in for a couple of years.  Maybe still.

Since the days overseas, we talked every year or so, a couple of times managing to meet halfway in Chicago for a long weekend and a Bears game.

He’d threatened to visit Breckenridge ever since I bought the condo, but never made the plane.  I had to remember to push this time.

Push hard.

One Hand Clapping Installment 1

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PDF download available :  click here

 

One Hand Clapping

            a novel

        T. Keith Liggett

 

 

 

“They say you should not suffer through the past.  You should be able to wear it like a loose garment, take it off and let it drop.”

Eve Jessye

Born January 20, 1895

 

 

 

 

            (May 1970, Mekong River Delta, Viet Nam.)

 

I’d been out too long. 

The sun hit the edge of the paddy next to me. 

I was sprinting.  On the dike.  Half crouched.  Abruptly, I was thrown back and twisted to the right.  Then something else grabbed my hip, twisting me back, folding me in half, around to the left.

I heard the shots after I was hit in the hip.  A short thumping burst from a heavy AK.  I remember thinking, “At least the guys at the perimeter will come looking for what’s left.”  Then I hit the water.  Warm.  Like a womb.  Surrounding.  I lay on my right side and half on my stomach, twisted into the water and the dark mud and soft green stalks of the rice.  I felt for my Browning and couldn’t find it.  I tried to crawl, but my legs wouldn’t work and only my left arm moved.  I knew I was bleeding.  I was getting weaker.  Fast. 

The pain began. First dull, then coming as sharp bursting stabs.   I started falling in and out.  I came in and heard some guys talking.  Sing song talking.  Talking Viet.  They were laughing, too.  Boasting.  They finally got the Night Man.

I went out.

I came in again.  Flying.  Soaring.

I was back in Colorado, Aspen, moving over the Highlands and into Maroon Creek towards the Bells.  It was fall.  The aspens stood full spent gold all at once, throughout the basin.  Deeper, richer than any year I remembered.  They stood, barely moving in a late afternoon breeze.  I felt the last heat of the late afternoon wind and marveled at the deep greens of the evergreens against the gold of the aspen leaves.   The air carried the hard sharpness of moving toward night and the moldy odor of fallen leaves lying wet on the trails. 

As I soared up the basin, the air changed.  The higher I went, the cooler it became.  And it was noisy.  And I was so cold.  Shaking to the beat of the noise.

I was out.

In. Still flying

Over Santa Cruz, right over Steamer’s Lane,  Chris and Doug hung down below waiting for a set.  The only ones out.  Doug rode the board I’d sold him before leaving, the Hobie.  I waved and shouted to them.  I wasn’t very high.  The wind was offshore.  As the waves stood up in the shallow water, the spray lifted off the crests and drove sheets of white smoke across the blue of the fall swells.  Chris and Doug kept watching for the set.  Waiting.  They didn’t see or hear me. 

I wondered if I was dead.

I went out.

In. 

I hurt, but not so bad.  A muted comfortable hurt.  I couldn’t move.  Something held me down.  Kept me on my back.  I pushed.  I tried to sit up.  I couldn’t.

It was dark, really more dusk like. I was inside.  I slowly realized I was in a big room.  A low humming permeated air. Windows ran along both sides the length of the room.  I lay next to one of the windows.  In the half-light, I saw others in the room.  They looked like puppets in storage.  All held up by srtings and sticks.

And I had strings.  They came out of my left arm, just like a marionette.  My right arm was strapped to my chest.  Tight.  Real tight.  I still couldn’t move my legs.  And a string came out of my crotch.  Another came out of my stomach, on the left, just above my hip.  I couldn’t figure out what they’d move.  All I could move on my own was my left arm.  A little.  I wondered if the strings made the rest of me move.

I was in a hospital, but whose hospital?  There was a palm tree outside.  That didn’t help.

I remembered the talking about the Night Man.  They’d thought I was dead.

The guys must have found me.

For a little over three months, I recovered in Okinawa.  The first round entered below my right collar bone, passed through just above the lung and exited below my shoulder blade.  They put that together fairly easily.  The second round entered just above my left hip taking a bunch of intestine, clipping a kidney and then headed out.  That was a bad one.

In a month, I was sort of up.  My legs didn’t work all that well.  The doctors kept mentioning things like trauma and shock and I’d be fine in a bit.

“How long?”

“Oh, a while yet.”

After three months and a couple days, they figured they’d fixed all they were able and sent me back across the pond.  The Marines were generous enough to grant me a 45 day leave.  A band played as we walked to the homebound 707.  Played for the guys in chairs, on gurneys and in boxes, too.  I’d almost finished two complete in-country tours and then added some time in the hospital.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go home.  Or even remembered the location or meaning of “home.”

I wanted to be away from people.  Men.  Women.  Children.

Away.

Leaving the plane in Hawaii, I told the Duty Sergeant at the gate I’d finish the ride stateside space available when I felt like it.

In an airport shop, I bought a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of bleached white cotton pants with a string tie waist.  After changing, I stashed the uniform and my satchel in a locker.  Walking out of the terminal, I hailed a cab, still looking like a jar head, but not quite feeling like one.

I asked the cabbie to drop me at a good local travel agency.  Seven dollars and some odd change later, he left me at the door of a little storefront four blocks off the beach.  In the windows, the posters were faded from months in the tropic sun.  With the reds almost totally gone, so blue, they looked like surreal underwater shots.

Walking in, I immediately started shaking from the cold.  An ancient air-conditioner banged away in a back wall window sounding more like a Huey gunship than a machine making cold air.  At one of the two desks an older Japanese lady sat.  The other was empty.  I walked over and sat in the single chair in front of her desk.

She looked me over.  “Good morning.”

“Good morning.  I’m looking to go somewhere a little different.”

“Yes?”  She figured me in the service.  No doubt she saw enough R & R guys walking in looking for something a “little different.”  Clearly, she was not interested.

“I just spent a couple tours in Nam and the last few months in a hospital.  I want to be away from people.  I don’t care about booze, dope, or girls.  I want a bungalow on the beach, warm water, occasional good waves and no people to deal with.”

She smiled, nodding her head.  “I think I understand.  Do you wish to stay on this island or would you travel to another.”

“Makes no difference.”

“Perhaps I know of the place.  Please, let me make a telephone call.”

A couple hours later, I watched the waves pass below the pontoon of a seaplane heading I really didn’t know where.

The house sat back to a grove of trees fifty feet back from the palms delineating the storm line of the beach.  A bookstore on the big island shipped me books on the seaplane once a week.  Evenings, I experimented with recipes from the Dishes from the Orient cookbook I found in the kitchen.  Each day finished on the beach with an hour or so of reading poetry outloud to the waves.  Ferengetti.  Snyder.  Ginzberg.  And the steady pounding of long riding Pacific breakers.

In the middle of the third week I received a post card.

“Charley, Don’t worry about your stuff.  It’s safe at your folk’s old house.  Catch a wave for me.  Joey.”

I wondered how Joey found me.

It was a relief, but I didn’t really care, one way or the other.

 

Chapter One

(Late March, Wyeth, Oregon)

 

Every morning I sit or walk.

I seek the day.

The present.

That day, I walked.

Carefully, dis-engaging my arm and legs from Carole, I rolled from beneath the down quilt and tucked it back around her.  Pulling on a pair of fleece pants, a heavy long sleeved t-shirt from the District 12 Star Championships and fuzzy pullover, I headed out for the walk.

The clouds hung low, loose across the mountains.  The upper slopes lost in a flat gray, devoid of fine detail.  The bottoms sat rich with the spring sharpened greens of vine maples and white bloomed dogwoods scattered among the orange brown basalt cliffs.  The pines stood still in the morning calm, holding summer’s green in these last of winter’s dark days.

The grasses on the path to the river dripped with dew.  It wasn’t raining, but brushing through, my shins quickly became wet and chilled.  Without a breeze, the morning air parted thick with moisture and the smells of spring growth.  Winter’s broken end carried in the air.

The path drops from my house across a small meadow then into a narrow draw leading to from the river.  The Interstate bridges the draw and the wildlife of the valley pass freely below the road.  Tracks of deer, a doe and a couple fawn, a raccoon, a large cat passed leaving tracks in the sandy soil since the rains early the night before.

The Columbia River’s water level changes depending on the Corp’s whims.  Overnight, they decided to lose a couple feet.  Walking across the slippery cobble of the exposed river bottom, reaching the water, I dipped my hands.  The cold numbed my hands to the wrist.  Cupping a little, I wet my forehead and cheeks, moved back to the shore and began my walking.

I walked.  I listened to the birds, the muffled traffic on the highway, the lap of the water on the shore.  I watched greens change from blade to leaf.  The buds ready to burst, rust brown on the branch, tomorrow or the next day leaping into the air with a new green that almost fluoresces.

Finding the practiced pace on the path I’d worn in the months and years of my time at the river, I connected with the day.

Back at the house, I ground coffee and started a pot dripping.  Noticing a message on the phone, I punched in the code to replay the messages from our time out the night before.

There was only the one.  Joey’s.

“Hey, Charlie.  How ya doin’?  And how’s the Gorge these days?  I need a handball partner the day after tomorrow.  It’s a hot, hot game.  How ‘bout it?  No?  Come on.  At least think about it.  It would be good to play again.

“Seriously, this is Joey, Joey R up in Seattle.  You’re a hard one to find these days.  I’ve had a guy looking for you the last couple days.  All he’s found is your bar, a new batch of micro brews and a hangover.  Do you work any more?

“I have a bit of biz I need taken care of.  No ob’s on your part.  I’m not calling any markers on this one.  I need some outside, straight on help.  Should be simple.  Maybe not.  Just give me a listen and walk if you don’t feel good about it.

“Call me at the Blu.  No area code.  Bump the numbers 5 and above by one.  I’ll figure you’re in the Gorge.

“Be talkin’ to you.”

I called the Blu Flamingo in Seattle leaving a simple message, without my name, “I’ll be out until noon or so, Joey can reach me after that” and my slightly altered phone number.

Then wondering what Joey was up to, I walked back into the bedroom with a couple mugs of coffee. I stripped and climbed back into bed. Carole turned to me, with a low humming threw an arm and a leg across my still dew dampened cold body.

“How was your walking?”

“I sat.”

She poked my ribs.  “No you didn’t, you’re too cold.”

First tousling her short blond hair, I dropped my hand to her hip and pulled her closer.  Yoga. One day, not yet, I’d give in to her entreaties to join her in that practice.

“It was good.  There were some big cat tracks in the draw.  Maybe a bobcat.”

“Hmmm.”

I lay there with the taste of coffee in my mouth wondering what Joey wanted.  What was the “biz”?  We’d not been in the biz for a long time.  All social for years.

The Wonder

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Late last night I sent an email with three attached poems to three friends. As with so many writers, I have a small group of peers I pass on words for critique. An approaching lit journal deadline (two days) prompted the email and I hastily decided to submit a batch of three connected poems. The email (with attachments) asked for comments on the poems, the order and any other thoughts.

One email. Three attachments.

Sent without thinking. A click of the send button. Gone. Off.

Even later last night, I received the first response.

“Sand in my toes, listening to Mexican music and waves on the beach. . “

Three recipients to a single email. And I thought about the distance. And time.

One recipient will be ensconced in 901 Fernie, comfortable condos in the re-purposed old school in the middle of town. Another recipient is visiting family in London (the original in England) and the last (first to answer) is lolling around on the beach in Mexico.

20 years ago this sort of effort would have involved separate letters to three very dispersed locations. Copies. Envelopes. A trip to the post office. Waiting in line and buying a bunch of foreign postage stamps. A week to get there and a week to get back, assuming good weeks on both ends. Today, push send and it’s literally there. The first reply dropped into my in-box less than two hours after sending the original email. Written on an iPhone. Pina Colada in one hand. Warm sand between the toes. The soft hiss of waves breaking on the beach.

The wonder of it all.

Fernie is Back

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We’re back. These are the Fernie ski days we live for. When I left my house Thursday morning a few cms covered the walkway. At the end of the day, fresh snow broke my boot tops.

On the hill every run was new tracks knee deep. And light. And there was no one. No one.

Ski,

Ride up.

Ski.

Ride up.

Repeat until the legs give out.

Let’s go here. Let’s go there. Let’s just go.

This is the Fernie we love. Yahoo. Let ‘er rip.

A New Year

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My Year starts with the opening of the ski hill, not with an artificial, overblown and facile celebration on December 31. There’s a simple unexplainable joy in those first 20 feet sliding down the ramp at the end of the first ride. There’s a freedom. A whole new world opens in that single moment and becomes real. Tangible. A fundamental shift in the world.

We are skiing.

And underneath it all is the question, the nagging doubt, Do I remember how to turn? How much have I lost over the summer?

As with most of our fears, the answer is, Get over it. You’re just fine.

At the top of the Bear I ran into a gathering gang. As we stood talking, the group became larger as one person then another joined off the Bear. The consensus was Cedar Bowl. As they skated off, I ducked into Lizard. They’d been up since the first chair. I’d just arrived and irrationally believed I’d forgotten how to turn. A couple runs down the edges of Arrow and Cascade and I was telling myself, Get over it. You’re just fine.

Stupid me.

Life is good. It’s a New Year and anything can happen.

tailored

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a poem for a snowy spring day.

tailored

old gnarled
carrying the shape of an orchard apple tree
the mountain ash across the street
stretches
spreads
naked
berries exposed

then this morning
in lieu of spring leaves
the ash accepts a suit
standing still as piles grow
on the branches
hiding the berries
and burying it’s feet
wrapped in the whole cloth
of winter

from
socks in the dryer (Salmonberry Press, 2013)

The Poet Trims a House

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When I’ve find myself wondering what am I doing? When it seems like I’m spinning my wheels writing, I seek for immediate tangible daily gratification. Something concrete. Do it. Look at it. Be done with it.

Hard work is good. Physical work is good. Physical work with a mental component is even better.

Most of this non-writing work is carpentry. At the end of the day, you stand back, look at job that is visibly further along. Real measures exist. The living room windows are trimmed out. The bedroom doors are hung. The floor in the hall is finished.

Recently I trimmed out a house in a traditional manner. The owner wanted the finish to reflect the old school craftsmen manner and quality. In that way, it was a traditional trim job. We installed all the wood from the walls out. Trimmed the windows. Laid the floor. Hung the doors. He wanted no end grain showing, so every piece of wood was cut at a 45 on the end and another matching, short 45 piece was slid in to finish the end into the wall. The grain, the stain, all had to match so as to be un-noticeable. Each finished window required the cutting and fitting of 23 pieces. From the extension jambs bringing the window casing out to the plane of the wall to the crown molding running across the head, each piece required thought, precision and care.

And now that I think about it, the project was as mental as it was physical. Each piece became a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge.

After the windows, we laid the floor.

The flooring was re-sawn four by six larch beams re-sawn, then run through a molder to shape into tongue and groove. The beams weathered heavily before being taken down and held spike holes with black stains from the rusted materials that once held them together. When we finished the floor, the owner spent hours filling the holes, matching each with one of four or five stained fillers he mixed for the job. Three coats of satin finish topped it off. The floor became a central feature of the house, finely finished with a rustic undertone.

As we worked on the floor, at the end of each day we could look back and state, “We started there and we finished here.”

Concrete.

Measured.

No question about the worth of the day.

And then, we hung and trimmed the doors. There were a bunch. Not as complicated as the widows, but similar. Only 16 pieces per door. But then remember, there are two sides to every door, so in reality 32 pieces trimmed out each door. Lots of little pieces. Finicky little pieces.

You learn tricks. Like using tape to hold a piece is only so good. There is bound to be a little slippage. When it dries, the edges will not remain exactly aligned. The best using good contact cement. Put two coats on the face of little piece and the larger piece. The grain tends to absorb the first layer of glue. The second layer really creates the bond. Let it fully dry and then –thunk—it holds.

That’s done now.

I am back to following up with editors, sending out queries, and trying to write little essays like this one to keep me feeling like am making progress.

And there is no longer any measure.

Wiley Coyote All Over Again

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Growing up on the Roadrunner cartoons affected a whole generation and a half. It was OK to blow someone up with Acme Dynamite. Acme Catapults were perfect for throwing things long distances. And so on. There was no PC. And there was good ol’ violence. Violence after a fashion, since most was self-inflicted by/on Wiley Coyote.

I thought of that Monday morning. We’ve been ripping along in full-on summer mode. A little cool the last few days, but remaining summer. Shorts, Flip-flops. T-shirts with a sweater in the early morning and then again in the evening.

And then Monday, we dropped through a trap door into another country and another world. The mountains disappeared. It was cold. No, not just cold, but almost freezing. And raining, snowing, groppling and then raining again. And blowing. It never blows in Fernie. And cold enough to look for long pants and even socks. Did I say cold?

What’s up?

Who pulled the Wiley Coyote dropping us unexpectedly through an Acme Trap Door in the sidewalk?

Whose hand is on the switch?

Flip it back. Now.

We’re a whole town of Wiley Coyotes dropped through a trap door into late fall/early winter and we need a ladder to get back up to the real world. We desperately need to return to our last precious vestiges of summer.

Anyone got the ladder?

Anyone?