By Cindy and Walt
After our bike ride to breakfast on Friday, we went back to working inside the houses till time for the big breakup, as I thought of it. Sterlin headed for the Vet and Steve headed off to the factory. I checked all the gauges Hannah had installed in the houses. I could tell the temperature in each of the houses as well as the humidity.
After I assured myself that the environment was within limits, I began pulling weeds. It was hard for me to believe that we had weeds growing inside the green houses, but they showed up every few days, not a lot, of course but some. With that in mind, whenever I had a few minutes I walked the houses and pulled the new weeds. It also gave me a chance to inspect the plants. At the same time I looked over the beds for animal poop.
For the very first time I found rabbit pellets and three of our youngest plants with missing leaves. It was no big thing that one or two leaves were gone. The real problem was that whatever caused the loss would be back until it was stopped.
I had a box of mouse traps just for such an event. I figured it was time to put them out and see how many of his little friends were going to come to the next party. Just in case, I also set the rabbit snare by the one small hole I found in the wall. The rabbit snare was just a loop of soft pliable wire formed to a loop. The loop would close over the rabbit’s neck and strangle him as he tried to free himself. We would most likely have to repair the damage to the wall where the entry hole was located. That I knew was just the cost of doing business. When I was satisfied that I had done all I could, I left on my trip to Walmart for something to wear to the memorial on Sunday.
I had a feeling that Bart would be driving back with me on Monday. Since he most likely would leave Rita to attend to Sylvia’s affairs. I would enjoy the company on the long drive home. I had hoped that Sterlin would make it back with the dog before I left for the Walmart store, but alas he didn’t. I decided to make no purchases for the dog without checking with Sterlin. I decided that a few cans of dog food were a safe enough purchase, so I added them to the list.
My plan was to buy something in black for the service. I decided to stay in character as the pot farmer so I bought a pair of fitted black jeans, a black tee shirt and a black faux leather jacket. The outfit cost me right at $100, which I put on my personal debit card. Until further developments all purchases, no matter how small, went on the debit cards. I was not going to part with any more cash until the shit shook out. If I had to have something for the company, it would go through the company credit card. Anything else went through the debit card. I decided to always put the maximum cash withdrawal on the card whenever I made a purchase as well.
When I got back to the compound, there was a loopy Rottweiler looking at me curiously. “Well dog how you doing, is Sterlin taking good care of you?” I asked it. Curiously enough he didn’t answer. I got back in the truck to blow my horn.
Sterlin came around my cabin carrying a leather lead. He went inside the no man’s land between the fences. When inside, he approached the dog. He spoke calmly but firmly to that big ass dog. “Down,” he said.
The dog reluctantly turned away from me. The dog had never barked, but he had given me a menacing growl as a warning. That stopped when Sterlin put the lead on him. Sterlin walked him through another fence then closed the previously open gate. The gate had been open giving the dog access to the no man’s land all around the perimeter.
“He is still getting used to the place. He didn’t know who you were, but he will learn,” Sterlin replied. “He is still a little frightened after that beating he took from his last owner.”
“Speaking of that did you go back and release the owner from the cage yet?” I asked.
“It’s only been a day. He isn’t hungry enough yet,” he said.
“Get in the truck, we are going to go make sure he didn’t die on us. If he did we are going to dispose of the body,” I said.
Sterlin got into the truck with nothing but the dog leash in his hand. I considered that a good sign. “You aren’t going to like what you see,” Sterlin almost whispered to me.
“If there are other dogs they need to eat. I’m not going to let them starve,” I said.
“Yeah, I was thinking that as well,” Sterlin said. Then he gave me directions down what were no more than paths through the swampy area. The cage, where I found the old man, was inside a shed. It was made of chain link fence with a top on it. The posts were attached to a concrete slab. It’s where he trained the dogs to fight. Blood and shit covered the floor. I could only imagine the horrors that took place in that box.
The old man was cowering in a corner. He was covered in blood and dog feces. Fortunately not all of it was from the dogs. One of his eyes was badly swollen shut and some of his ear was missing. That particular wound still oozed blood.
“Sterlin did you beat the shit out of him then threw him in this cage to bleed out?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am I did,” he said as a reproach to me.
“Good work,” I said. “Go ahead and kill him. A few weeks in the swamp with the gators, he will never be found.
“Please no,” he begged.
“You know what PETA is?” I asked.
“No,” the old man whined.
“Well I am going to give you a choice. You either surrender these dogs to the shelter and confess to dog fighting right this fucking minute, or we are going for a walk in the swamp. The three of us are going in, but we won’t all be coming back. Do you understand?” I asked.
“I ain’t going to do no fucking time. I’d rather die,” he said.
“Good for you, I do respect a man with convictions. Open the gate Sterlin and bring him along,” I demanded. He tried several times to change his mind, but I had stopped listening.
“See if he has a cell phone,” I said to Sterlin. Sterlin shook his head. “Where’s your phone?”
“In the house,” he said.
Sterlin went into the house can came out with the phone. We walked behind his compound deep into the swamp. When we arrived at a branch of the Alabama River I removed a wooden number two black pencil from my cargo pants pocket. I always carried two of them just in case I broke one on the ribs. “You got any idea what a dog feels when he dies?” I asked.
“Please no,” the man said. He was old overweight and scared to death. He also reeked of dried blood and dog shit.
“I don’t know either, but I bet he is so full of adrenaline that he doesn’t feel anything. It’s too bad that he can’t tell us. You are going to die right now, so tell me how you feel about that.”
“You are going to kill me over a couple of dogs?” he whined.
“Looks like,” I said as I forced the number two pencil into his brain through his ear. He fell to his knees with the pencil still sticking out of his ear. Sterlin and I waited a few minutes for him to stop twitching, then I removed the pencil.
“Can you help me throw his sorry ass into the swamp?” I asked.
“Yes, I will gladly help with that,” Sterlin said.
“Nobody else needs to know about this, right?” I said.
“About what?” Sterlin asked.
“Okay, lets get his phone and then drive to that boat landing on the main Alabama River. The one near the Fishermen’s Guest House.”
When we got there I said to Sterlin, “Dial 911 and say Help. Nothing more,” I said. “But leave the line open and try to sound scared.” One minute after Sterlin tried his acting debut the phone went into the river.
“You gave them enough time to get his name, but not the location of the phone. The river was just in case they could find out our location, right?” Sterlin guessed.
“Beats me, the Sheriff is going to find the dogs,” I said. “Is that man in the diner going to remember you?”
“Just have to wait and see,” Sterlin said.
“If they ask you, the man was alive when you left him. They are going to establish the time of death as a day later. So you should be able to fly with it. You and I were out to lunch, so lets go to lunch at the diner.”
The Lunch Lady Special was a tuna fish salad sandwich and chicken veggie soup. It was all good, but best of all was the iced tea. Sterlin, I noted like all the Swamp Dog people, had nerves of steel in public. He talked and made jokes with me over lunch. We wanted them to remember us and I am pretty sure they would.
I had no idea what he would do when alone. It really didn’t matter I had my own demons to slay.
“And you do it so well,” Liam said.
“The world is a better place today,” I whispered.
“What?” Sterlin asked.
“Nothing, just thinking out loud,” I said.
When we got back to the compound, I found a rabbit in the snare. “Damn that was quick. Let’s get rid of the body and patch that hole in the greenhouse wall.”
“I think the dog would like that rabbit. We know it is healthy meat,” Sterlin said.
“Do it then,” I said.
Sterlin stayed with the dog while I went into town again. “What the hell is this I hear about you and Sterlin going to lunch and not stopping here?” Steve said.
“It was business. Everybody doesn’t need to be involved in everything,” I said. “So did you get your delivery made?”
“Yes and now Sadie’s nephew needs some help with the final run of the week,” he said.
“Tell me what to do,” I demanded.
Later that night we were all gathered around the picnic table outside the cabin. It seemed as though Sterlin liked to grill out. That suited me just fine and I know it did Steve as well. I was able to combine shredded lettuce with some other things to make a salad. So we had a salad and a very large hamburger steak with Italian bread. Hell Sterlin even grilled a couple of beefsteak tomatoes. When the meal ended I took the extra burger and went to the fence. I unlocked the gate and passed the burger inside. The dog stopped growling long enough to eat.
“When you cook at night, cook one extra for the dog,” I said.
“I was going to anyway,” Sterlin said. “I always slipped my dogs food from the mess hall. Fuck a bunch of Vets. If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for the dogs.”
“Here, here,” I said raising the beer can.
We were all up at 5 AM again the next morning. Breakfast at the Dairy Queen was a somber affair that morning. “Did you know her well?” Steve asked.
“Not really. She saved my ass from the Federal Police,” I said. “After that I worked for her.”
“She saved me from a life on the streets. After I mustered out of the Rangers I drifted,” Steve said. “I was just about to turn to drugs when I remembered the man who met the plane when I got home. He said he could arrange a soft landing, if I needed it. Well I needed it. He was a recruiter for Swamp Dog.
I kept his card all that time. All that time was only four months. I called the number and a Black Caddy SUV picked me up the next day. I went through the training, then went back to war on the Swamp Dog’s dime. I was a scout sniper till I just ran dry.
Sylvia said she needed someone to keep you safe,” Steve said. “So here I am.”
“She don’t need anyone to keep her safe,” Sterlin said. “Trust me kid, it wasn’t about that. It was about staying safe and working through the demons.”
“Well it looks to me like she needs someone to keep her safe. She might be having a gang war over her pot,” Steve said.
“If that happens kid, with or without us, the body count is gonna be high,” Sterlin said staring at me.
“Let’s talk about the security system we have now. I am going to pull the plug on the sensors, but leave the cameras. I want them connected to the Internet so we can look the compound over from a mile away. I don’t like surprises.”
“I have a drawing and I have spotted some of the monitoring crap. I’ll clean it out for you while you are gone,” Sterlin said. “You need to call the company before you leave to tell them not to get excited when it stops working.”
“I’ll do that Monday. I won’t be able to talk to anyone till then. In the meantime keep your heads down. You know the code, just don’t arm the system,” I advised the two of them.
“So while you are gone, can we use your place for a party. It’s pretty hard to fit any more company in our place, if you know what I mean,” Steve said.
“Go to Walmart and buy a set of sheets for my bed and when Monday mornings comes burn them,” I said without cracking a smile. “While you are at it, how about showing some respect.”
“I didn’t know Sylvia well, but I know she wouldn’t mind,” Sterlin said.
“That much is true,” I agreed.
It was noon before I left headed for the Church Camp. I knew I would be sharing the cabin with someone else. That was if there was a cabin for me to share. I might be forced to drive to the closest town, which was why I started the four hour drive at noon.
I got to the Church Camp at five since I tended to dawdle when I was going somewhere I didn’t wish to go. All the way up to Church Camp I tried to remember or maybe to decide how I felt about Sylvia. She saved me from the State Police which later became a branch of the Federal Police. They were using me and most likely would have gotten me killed. So Sylvia most likely saved my life. I suppose for that I owed her.
Then to counter balance it, I owed her for not allowing Bart to lead a rescue party onto the Island Resort to free me. So for me there was the sweet and sour aura around Sylvia. I decided that it was going to be impossible to decide how I felt about her.
“She was a ballsy woman,” the voice in my head said. “That doesn’t mean every decision she made was a great one. Was everyone you made the best possible one when you look back at them all?”
“No, I suppose not,” I said.
“Then forgive her and then forgive yourself,” Liam said.
By the time I reached Church Camp, I had forgiven Sylvia, but I didn’t really know why I was at the memorial service. It was a closed private service for her close friends, which I wasn’t. Still I had done business with her, so I came to see her off.
When I checked into the Camp there was a young man and woman greeting everyone. “I’m Rose Seabold,” I said.
“Yes Miss Seabold, we have a cabin for you. But as you might expect, we are cramped for space. You are going to have to share it with some other people,” the woman said.
“That’s fine. I don’t think any of us are here to be a prick,” I suggested. “Any idea who they have me sleeping with tonight?”
“Jeremy and Alice somebody or other. I’m lousy with names,” she said. “There is also a couple Buddy and Rita something or other.”
“I know you are lousy with names. It’s okay the names are almost always part of the fiction we live inside,” I said.
“Geeze old girl, you are getting to be quite the philosopher aren’t you,” Liam said.
“What I am getting tired of is you talking to me when we are not alone,” I said.
“Since I don’t really exist, I’m the only one who can talk to you when you are not alone,” Liam said.
“I always knew it. You are trying to drive me crazy,” I said
“If you keep talking to me when you are not alone, people will indeed think you are crazy,” Liam said.
“Hell Liam, I am crazy,” I replied loud enough for the people around me to hear.
I went into the cabin to which I had been assigned. Jeremy and Alice were excited to see me, it seemed. Alice cried and Jeremy laughed. “Damn you look good Alice,” I said.
“Well I couldn’t be you, and still be all frumpy looking could I now,” she said,
“No, don’t tell me you are MI5‘s whore?” I asked.
“Okay I won’t tell you,” Alice said. “If you are looking for a change of scenery I’m sure I can find you a soft spot to land.”
“I’m gonna keep that in mind. Don’t be surprised if I light there one day,” I said. She just smiled as an answer.
“I’m surprised Jeremy isn’t hanging out there. You guys grew up as citizens of the world,” I said.
“I’m not that comfortable as a government man,” Jeremy explained.
Just then Bart and Rita came in. Rita took one look at me and began to cry. I had no idea what that was all about. Before she had a chance to explain one of the staff members came for her. They made it clear she was the only one invited to the very private meeting.
“So Rose what you been up to,” Jeremy asked.
“Oh, I’m growing weed,” I said.
“Really? They tell me Sylvia used to make a liquor laced with pot,” Jeremy said.
“Who told you that?” I asked.
“Andrew, who else,” Jeremy replied.
“So you two got drunk and talked about the loves of your lives?” I asked.
“Something like that,” Jeremy admitted.
“So who was yours?” I asked.
“You of course,” Jeremy said with a puppy dog look. I was shocked speechless. He left me hanging for a moment. When I tried to say something he said simply “Gotcha.”
“Asshole,” I said.
“Bitch,” he said. Then I hugged Jeremy, before Bart could smack the shit out of him.
“I can’t believe they expect us to sleep in children’s bunk beds,” Jeremy said.
“Come on Jeremy didn’t you ever sleep in one of these when you were a kid at summer camp?” I asked.
“Alice and I never went to a Church Camp. I went to Science Camp, and Alice went to Band Camp. We stayed in a converted motel when we were away from home,” Jeremy replied.
“They have nothing like this in France, however, I have slept in much worse places. There are no mattresses at all at some military installations,” Bart said.
“Am I the only one who went to a Church Camp?” I asked. They all nodded their heads. “Well trust me, as they went, this one is luxurious.”
“Since all the bunks are no more than a sheet of plywood with an innerspring mattress, I suggest we just move all the furniture to the side and share our blankets,” Jeremy said with a leer. We all looked a little disgusted at the idea. “Sylvia would like the idea,” he added.
“Why don’t we go to dinner and rethink that idea,” I suggested. Dinner turned into a large drinking and story telling event. Most of the Sylvia stories were about Swamp Dog, but Rita talked about Sylvia the Sheriff the Game Warden and the Private Investigator. “Those were the days back when she was still respectable,” Rita said. “Then she became the Sylvia you all knew.”
I noticed that Andrew never showed up at the last supper, as I thought of it.
It was after 10 PM when I stood to leave. “I for one am going to roll up in a blanket and go to sleep assuming I can make it to the cabin.
“What I really did was walk to the cabin, lay claim to one of the three bottom bunks. Then I pirated the WiFi signal from Church Camp’s Internet connection. An hour later when I had worn myself out, I turned off the little desk type lamp over my bunk and went to sleep.
Even though we were there for a memorial service the 6 AM run was not canceled. When I began the run at the back of a group of young operatives and Bart, I was a little surprised to see that Jeremy wasn’t with us. The run was ten kilometers but I dropped out at the five kilometer mark. Riding a bike doesn’t require the same breath control that running does. Especially since I rode a power bike. I wasn’t the only one who fell out of the pack. There were a few, but only a few. Most of the operatives made the run easily.
At breakfast Andrew was in high demand. We were all low on the totem pole, but there was gossip around that Andrew would be taking over at the Swamp. Some even suggested he had taken over control weeks before the operation in which Sylvia was killed. Some even went so far as to say Andrew was responsible.
Me I had no theories. It had been a few years since I was in contact with the Swamp Dog in an operational capacity. I had been in Mossberg almost three years, I thought. Then I added, more or less, to my thought. I wasn’t sure if I should count my time in the Caribbean as time living anywhere.
“You know at least the food is good,” I said to the others at my table.
“The chef from the Swamp came for the memorial service. She was a friend of Sylvia’s. Sylvia brought her to the Swamp Dog.” Jeremy explained.
“What I want to know is who let her out on a mission?” I asked.
“It wasn’t just any mission. It was the one that none of the politicians would sanction. She went to make sure they didn’t try to sabotage it. She went to make sure someone was along that had the stomach to teach the lesson that had to be taught,” Bart said.
“What lesson is that,” Rita asked.
“The Russian lesson, ‘So you are willing to die for your beliefs but are you willing to let your family and your dog die for them as well,” Jeremy said. “It’s harsh, but when a man’s willing to die, you have to do something else to discourage him. A black hole prison isn’t going to work on the truly motivated.
When you are doing the killing and have their blood on your hands, you have to be able to kill the actual terrorist as well. If you don’t he will just come for you. It’s just the reality of this war,” Bart said.
“I couldn’t do that,” I replied. “Not the dog.” Bart just looked at me but said nothing.