By Cindy and Walt
True to his word Steve followed me with his emergency lights flashing. He was taking the job of protecting me seriously. Seriously enough to get out of bed at 5 AM, I thought. He crawled along behind me till we got to the Dairy Queen. I parked my cycle in the same parking space as Bart’s tricycle.
“Who else rides one of those strange looking tricycles?” he asked while I was putting the helmet into the basket on the rear of the tricycle.
“That one belongs to Bart. He used to be a business partner of mine,” I informed him.
“Should I worry about him?” Steve asked.
“Take it easy Steve. Honestly, I can look out for myself,” I informed him.
“The commandant said you would be resistant. I’m supposed to hang around you anyway,” he said.
“You can hang around as long as you become a pot farmer,” I explained. “You need a cover and I need a worker.”
“There is more to it than I thought, but I can do it I’m sure,” he explained.
“Let’s go inside and eat breakfast, before we argue about who is going to do what today,” I said with a smile.
Inside I ordered my food then walked back to the booth where Bart awaited us. “Morning Bart,” I said.
“Good Morning Rose, so who is your friend?” he asked.
“Bart, meet Steve,” I said.
“Isn’t there more than just Steve?” he asked.
“Just Steve will do,” the younger man replied.
“Well then ‘just Steve’ you got a full time job keeping Rose safe. She will go along for a while acting normal, then out of nowhere she will get a wild hair up her ass. Then she gets into all kinds of shit,” Bart said.
“I’ll take care of her don’t worry. I’m really good at what I do,” Steve said.
“Don’t under estimate Rose. She has quite a knack for scaring the shit out of everyone,” Bart said.
“Bart you do know that I’m sitting right here,” I said.
“Yeah, but you aren’t correcting me are you?” he asked.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said. “As for you Steve don’t humor him. He is a pain in my ass, and he is married to an even worse pain in my ass.”
The two of them were circling each other like dogs ready to attack. If not literally then at least symbolically. I didn’t enjoy watching, even if I would at one time have found it cute.
“So what do you think of our breakfast spot?” Bart asked.
“It’s nothing special,” Steve said.
“There really isn’t much else except the diner in town. We sometimes have lunch there,” I said.
“Are those the only two places to eat in town?” Steve asked.
“Yes, the others are all like in Williamston or some other town. Of course I’m not a gourmet so one is the same as another to me,” I explained. I turned my attention to Bart. “So Bart how is Rita?”
“Rita is just fine,” Bart said. “She got permission for Hannah to start the courier business. We can advise and she can deliver sealed package for us, but no handling of loose product.”
“Well good, at least she won’t lose too much ground,” I suggested. I had explained Hannah’s situation to Steve on the morning of the day before.
“You over paid her?” Bart said. “I knew you did. You are just too soft hearted.”
“Hanna didn’t skim for money,” I said.
“Of course not,” Bart agreed. “She is the kid who had never been one of the cool kids. She saw a chance to be part of the group and she took it. It was just a bad idea, but she didn’t have anyone to tell her that it was.”
“Is that right?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, that was pretty much what happened. I even had suspicions and looked the other way,” I said. “I’m a little guilty as well.”
“I can understand that for sure. I was the male version of Hannah. I stole cars to take other kids for joy rides,” he said. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You know when she is making those pot deliveries you could ride along. I keep hearing that. Even legal this shit can be dangerous. I was going to ride along, but I wouldn’t be much help in an ambush.” I meant every word of it.
“Yeah, I had thought about that as well. Mostly if Rose decides to send her crap to market with Hannah, there is a good possibility some clown will get a wild hair. I sure wouldn’t want Hanna to get hurt,” Bart said. “Maybe we need to buy her a crew cab and I could go along as well.”
“I’m glad we held off till now to buy the truck,” I said.
“Yes,” Bart said. “We need something that will seat up to three people. It needs a full size cargo box on the rear. One of us needs to buy it and lease it back to Hannah.”
“You are right. She may never get the hang of the business. If she doesn’t we can buy her out and put her to work for her own company, that should be legal,” I suggested.
“Why the fuck you worrying about legal?” Steve asked.
“Because Rose is the only one smart enough to keep our asses out of jail. For the last ten years she has stayed one or two steps ahead of everybody,” Bart said.
“Everybody but Sylvia,” I said.
“Sylvia knows every fucking secret in the whole world,” Steve said.
“Amen to that,” I agreed. I took a deep breath then continued to address Steve. “We have the houses all planted now, so we can run to Williamston to buy a truck for Hannah.”
“Sounds like a fucking kid’s novel, ‘A Truck for Hannah’,” Steve said.
“Yeah a Christmas story,” I agreed.
“Today we need to run the mister, then we can go to Williamston for lunch. After lunch we can have a truck for desert. You do drive don’t you.”
“I drove here didn’t I?” Steve said.
“I mean you have a license, lot of people who know how to operate a vehicle don’t have a license,” I replied.
“I have a Florida driver’s license,” he said.
“Good,” I suggested.
On the return home there was more traffic, so Steve very nonchalantly blocked it. The other drivers had to pass both of us, so a lot of them followed behind for a couple of miles. When they did pass us there were some pretty nasty looks for Steve and me. I thought they probably shouldn’t shout, since Steve was one bad ass mother fucker suffering from PTSD. You talk about your road rage gone bad, film at eleven.
I decided right then that a stop at the Williamston thrift shop’s bike rack was in order before the truck dealer. The bike was going to be necessary to save a life. The life it saved would most likely not be Steve’s. Hell it was very likely that in a confrontation with a Swamp man, it would be the local bad ass fisherman who died. That would turn the whole damn County against us. We just didn’t need that in order to save the price of a twenty five dollar used bicycle.
First we watered the pot plants, then we secured the place with the alarms. They would be monitored both by the alarm company and by me as well on the smart phone. If we had to rush back we could do so. I loaded both shotguns into the truck just in case that became necessary. My truck had that small rear passenger compartment, so we propped a shotgun on each side of the rear area. I missed my rear window gun rack, but I would never be able to get to the shotgun fast enough, if I were to use one of those racks.
The thrift store was on the highway into Williamston. I found a multi speed bike on the chained rack. Of course the lady with the key couldn’t be found for twenty minutes. Then she had to figure out which key on the ring of a hundred opened the lock. Then and only then could she pull the chain through several bikes to release the bike I wanted. All that shucking and jiving meant it would be a late lunch.
The bike was an older six speed model, but hell Steve was in good shape, I thought. I paid thirty five bucks for the bike. I also insisted we stop by the local auto parts store for a can of bearing grease. I knew how to grease a wheel maybe even the wheel man I thought. Then I decided to stop thinking dirty though like that.
When we got to the truck dealer, I had the bike in the bed of the truck. I’m not sure I looked like a serious biker or trucker at that point. Probably I just looked like a rube, ready for the shucking.
The man who came out was at least sixty. He was dressed way to well for a small town car salesman. He was most likely one of the many people who lost their executive jobs due to the liberal’s ideas about spreading the wealth. The best he could do at his age was find a job selling cars on commission. I felt sorry for him, but I had more than my share of shit jobs the last few years. Maybe not for the same reasons but what the hell did it matter anyway.
“Hello there,” he said extending his hand first to Steve then to me. “I’m Roy, so looking to trade that old Ford in on a new Dodge?” He was looking at Steve when he spoke.
“Not me partner, but the lady is interested in buying a truck,” Steve said making it plain who was in charge of the purse strings.
Roy the salesman didn’t miss a beat, “So what you got in mind Ma’am?”
“Let me explain something. I have no brand loyalty. To me it’s all about the price,” I said. So I need something that does not require a special license endorsement at a decent price.
“Well I think we can beat anybody’s price on a comparable vehicle,” Roy said.
“I’m looking for a cube van with at least jump seats behind the front bench seat,” I said.
“How big you want the cube,” Roy asked.
“At least sixteen feet and it has to be driveable by anyone without any special training or license,” I demanded. “And Roy, don’t run me all over the lot. So why don’t you go look at your inventory and find me the lowest price truck that meets those specifications. No special orders or other nonsense just something I can drive home today. Just your closest truck to what I want, and your best price, that’s all there is to it,” I said.
Steve and I sat with a cup of coffee while Roy looked the information up. “Okay little lady here you go, eighteen foot straight truck. Got a V8 Diesel in her.”
“Sounds fine so how much?” I asked.
“Well it comes with,” Roy began.
“Roy, I really don’t care till I hear the price, then we can talk about what it has or doesn’t have,” I suggested.
“Forty two thousand and change,” he said. “You aren’t going to get a better deal anywhere.”
“Okay thanks,” I said.
“You are just a lookie loo aren’t you?” he said as I stood to leave.
“Roy you think what you want,” I said. I grabbed Steve before he pounded on Roy. “Steve, we have places to go.” He just nodded never taking his eye off Roy.
On the way out of town we passed a convenience store that also was a U-Haul truck rental agency. I swung a hard left. They had a large U-Haul truck with a for sale sign in front. I pulled up beside it then walked around. It took two hours and some trips to the bank and Insurance Agents office, but at the end of that two hours I owned the truck.
“Steve drove it home. He had also test driven it for me. We stopped by and left it with the man, who had checked out the small Ford truck I drove. The plan was for him to take care of the routine maintenance, and to give it a good ‘look see’. In order to have all that done, I had to leave the truck, so Steve rode back to the catfish farm in my truck.
“You can ride a bike?” I asked, dropping the tailgate on my truck.
“Is that for me? I thought you were buying it for yourself,” he replied. “Sure I can ride a bike. It’s been a while but they say you never forget.”
“First take it to the shed to figure out if it all works. While you are there clean and grease it. If you don’t know how to grease the wheel bearing look it up on the Internet,” I suggested.
Even though it was late we worked on the three green houses a couple of hours. The plants he and Hannah had planted the day before needed to be checked. There was also the liquid fertilizer to be applied to the plants in one of the other houses. The schedule we adhered to wasn’t absolute, but it was strict enough to insure every thing Hannah taught me was addressed. Of course Hannah hadn’t known everything about growing pot at first. Together we learned even more over that first year.
All the things we learned were also incorporated into the schedule. It was like the bible for a pot grower with 80% of the information on which I based my operation was from Hannah. I would and did admit that to anyone who asked. It was one of the reasons I wanted to keep her close somehow. I felt like I owed her.
I showed Steve how to mix and apply the fertilizer before I went inside to make notes on the day’s purchases. Once the purchases were logged into the company’s books, I returned to the greenhouse to check the work in progress. I made damn sure that the mix of chemicals was correct before he ruined the whole crop. It seemed correct so I allowed him to continue. Hannah had spent the time while we were out running around Williamston catching up with her chores at home.
The next morning at 5 AM it was a ride to the Dairy Queen for breakfast. I was surprised to find Bart there again. It was becoming a regular thing for him to have breakfast with me again. Steve pulled in on the bike a few minutes after me.
“You gonna admit that you got beat by a girl?” I asked in good humor.
“A girl who cheats,” he said.
“I admit that I take advantage of the things I do best,” I said. “I would hardly call that cheating. It’s like the humble snake. Most are comparatively small, they slither through the dirt, and he is slimy, but he does what he does quite well.”
“Geesh, it’s too early for philosophy,” Steve said. I could tell he was finally getting comfortable and his personality was coming out.
“Fair enough,” I said.
Once inside he got very angry at the girl behind the counter. I thought I might have to get Bart to help calm him down. I apologized and got him to a table. He almost burst into tears. I was beginning to worry and also to be pissed at Sylvia. She promised me no violent head cases would come my way.
“Steve are you okay,” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said as he stood to walk out the door. I was about to go after him when Bart stopped me by taking my arm and shaking his head.
“Let him go, he needs to be alone. You remember how it is,” Liam said. Maybe it was back, the voice in my head, because in my own way I was as sick as Steve.
“You know how it is, I want to fix it. I want to fix it all,” I said angrily.
“You want someone to fix you. There is no fucking pill for it,” Bart said breaking in on my conversation with myself.
“You don’t want to fix yourself?” I asked.
“Hell, I don’t need fixing,” Bart said.
“Bullshit, I guess I’ll head home to see if Steve shows up for work today,” I said. I got a bag from the cashier. “I’m sorry about my friend, he just got back from the middle east, he’s still a little rattled,” I said.
“He weren’t no worse than a spoiled teenager,” she said with a laugh.
“If he is concerned about coming back in, I’ll tell him you said that,” I said.
“Sure, he is always welcome, if he is with you,” she said.
When I got back from my ride, I saw Steve waiting by his trailer in the cold. Well it was cold for Alabama. He was still wearing the hoodie he wore to breakfast. It didn’t look like he had been inside at all.
“Rose, I am sorry about this morning,” he said.
“Let me tell you this Steve one time. I will do all I can for you, but I’m not a doctor. The lady behind the counter said not to worry that you were no worse than a spoiled teenager. So tomorrow you suck it up and go back in there and apologize whether you mean it or not,” I said.
“I will and I will mean it,” Steve said.
“Good. It’s time we water the other two houses, then we are going to pull the plants in house number three,” I said. Before I could start to work the phone rang. I wondered who would be calling me at 7 AM. I looked at the screen and saw that it was Hannah.
“Hello Hannah, what can I do for you?” I asked.
“I know it’s time to harvest the third house, do you need me?” she asked.
“Yes, but there is no way I’ll have you here. All it would take to have you go to prison would be a leaf stuck to your shoe. Steve and I can take care of it. I am going to need you to check Steve out while he starts the seeds. Oh yeah Hannah, those bees are still yours, if you want to harvest the honey,” I advised her.
“That would be great, and I’m sorry I can’t help you,” she said.
“Steve and I will have the package sealed and loaded in your new truck in a couple of days. I am going to want you to take it to the USDA warehouse,” I explained. “I’m going to send Steve with you.
“Do you not trust me?” she asked.
“He is not to watch you, he is to watch over you,” I said. “There have been some robberies at the farms in other states. It’s just a matter of time before it happens here.”
“Okay, I like Steve. I don’t mind him coming along. When is the truck going to be ready?” she asked.
“Most likely it will be ready this afternoon. We are going to water then pull plants for the rest of the day. So give me a couple of days to package this crap and we will be ready to sell it to the exchange.
The growing and sale of pot was cumbersome after the government got involved. They tried to keep it in a free market, but when they got involved it was less about quality of the leaf and more about the bulk. They just tossed everybody’s leaves in together. They sold that mixture to the packagers. It was a sloppy way to do business, but that was the new controlled economy for you.
Even so, I was making way too much money to complain. Since I spent very little money, my portfolio kept on growing. It was hard to believe that I was headed into a twelve month period where I might gross three quarters of a million dollars. That was even with the government interference in my business. I could double that by just selling half my crop to the street dealers.
At five Steve and I went into town to pickup the U-Haul truck which I had bought used. I paid the Mechanic, but Steve drove it home. I stopped on the way home for a take out pizza.
“We got a problem,” Steve said to me when I climbed down from my pickup truck.
“What kind of problem?” I asked.
“Somebody got through your million dollar security system,” Steve said looking a little pleased with himself. I had spent several minutes when he first arrived explaining it to him in detail, to which he just mumbled and shook his head.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked.
“The greenhouse tractor has been moved,” he said pointing to the tractor parked at the doorway to the sorting shed.
I removed my shotgun from the truck and walked beside Steve who had what looked like a black plastic pistol. I knew better, but it looked like a toy. When I reached the sorting shed, I opened the door carefully. We had pulled about half the plants in the greenhouse. I could tell from the stacks that at least one bundle of ten to fifteen plants had gone missing.
“What kind of thief smart enough to bypass the alarm system takes only a dozen plants and leaves ten times that many on the tables?” I asked.
“I don’t have any idea,” Steve said.
“I don’t want to jump to any conclusion, but I’m thinking Hannah, or one of her friends, is involved in this,” I guessed. “We need to sit down somewhere and work this out. One thing I have learned from working for Church Camp is anything can be hacked. I want to see if anyone is on the cameras.”
We ran the CCTV footage. “They didn’t even bother to cut the camera feed. Looks like only two of them. I’m guessing teenagers in ski masks,” I said. “It looks more like Hannah all the time.”
“Maybe not. You showed me how to reset the alarm my first day. I’m sure Hannah knows how to do it as well. So these two clowns are wearing masks because they didn’t know how to disable the camera.”
“Okay I’ll buy that, but they knew what day we started to harvest, and when we would be gone,” I said.
“Anyone could intercept your phone calls,” Steve said.
“They don’t need to be that much of a techie. A fucking drone can plant cameras and listening devices these days,” I said. “A drone wouldn’t trip the security system either.”
“So how did they get in?” Steve asked.
“That my friend is the big question. There is no way they drove in here,” I said.
“How about they walked in loaded a bunch of plants on the electric greenhouse tractor then drove them back to the front and passed them over the gate,” Steve suggested.
“Why did they take the tractor back?” I asked.
“To give them time to disappear?” Steve asked.”
“With a little luck we wouldn‘t have found it till tomorrow giving them more time to get away,” I suggested. “So where are they now?”
“You know these people better than me, so your guess is better than mine,” Steve stated flatly. “You going to call the cops?”