By Cindy and Walt
After breakfast Rita pulled me aside. “I have a message for you.”
“Message from who?” I asked.
“Sylvia, ” Rita said.
“Now that is creepy,” I said.
“This coming from the woman who talks to a dead man,” Rita commented.
“I know that I’m not really talking to a dead man. I’m just answering the voices in my head,” I said.
“And you find that less creepy than a message from the grave?” Rita asked.
“Well if you put it that way,” I replied. “So what’s the message?”
“Run,” Rita said.
“Is that all, just run?” I asked.
“Without Sylvia the house of cards comes down. There is going to be a congressional investigation. The people who used to cover your asses are going to hide. If someone wants your ass jammed up, they can do it now. My guess is Sylvia knew someone who wanted your head on a pike,” Rita commented.
“I’m no longer involved with this group of cutthroats,” I said. “Bart and I run legitimate businesses. Did Sylvia have the same advice for him?”
“Yes, you should all lay low,” Rita said. “This will all blow over in a year or two.”
“So what happens to the operation?” I asked.
“Oh the work will go on. Someone has to keep the country’s business going,” Rita said. “It’s just the politicians are going to be in hiding till it blows over. So go somewhere and lay low.”
“I’ll give it some thought but I expect I’ll decide to lay low in Mossberg Ala. If they want me, I guess they will come and get me no matter where I am,” I said.
“It isn’t so much the politicians want you. It’s more that if someone else wants you, they won’t intervene,” Rita said. “From cops looking at you every time someone goes missing to drug dealers with a grudge.”
When she said it, I thought about the dog man in the swamp. I knew what she said was the truth. Some politician with a hard on for me would have me on a watch list somewhere. I could stay and live right, or I could run and live free. My other alternative was to just live free knowing there was no safety net under the wire.
It sounds rather cavalier, but it was something that really did deserve some serious thought. It sounded to me like a decision I should make during the long drive home when I wasn’t distracted.
There was going to be a sandwich buffet at noon, then they would prepare the room for the memorial service. People would be arriving from early in the morning till the service began at 3 PM. People who hadn’t seen each other for a while, some for years, would be in attendance.
I used the bathhouse that was used by men and women alike. I really didn’t mind men seeing me naked, but some women probably obsessed over it. I carried a pair of white panties and a black tee shirt to the shower room with me. It was for sure that I had not come to Church Camp to make a fashion statement. I pulled the running suit pants on before I walked back to the cabin.
One of the neat things about Church Camp, for which Silvia was responsible, was not changing the single bath house even though there had been some pressure from the guys to do so. The men were the ones who had a problem with women seeing them naked.
Sylvia’s answer had been, “We are all grown up here. It’s hard not to stand up for someone you have seen naked. The bathhouse stays asexual. She had even built a nest of new cabins with their own bathhouse, which was also asexual.
I sat around the cabin in my running suit bottoms and tee shirt while I checked the mail. I read the emails from the two men who were occupying my farm. Each of them sent me an email the night before. According to them everything was fine.
“Bart,” I said when he entered the cabin after his meeting with Andrew. “You want to ride back with me? I’ll be leaving after the service.”
“Do you have the Ranger?” Bart asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Then I need to see how much longer Rita has to be here. If she can come home in the next couple of days, I’ll stay. If it is going to be longer, I’ll ride back with you, if that is okay.”
“Of course it is okay, I did ask you,” I said a little pissed that he had to check with Rita.
I went back to my searches on the Internet. I found a live streaming newscast from each of the news networks. There was no mention of Sylvia by name but the bullshit about an American Foreign Legion was all over the place. Newsmen just loved a good sound bite and that one gave it to them. Swamp Dog was truly in the shit, I thought.
I stayed with the news until I went to the dining hall for lunch. It was no more than a ham and cheese sandwich on a fancy bun. I ate half then walked out with the half empty glass of dark beer.
I went back to the cabin to begin following the news online again. I stayed there until the service was ready to begin. When I returned to the dining hall all the tables and been removed. There was seating on the benches for about half the crowd the rest of us stood behind them.
The beer keg from lunch sat at the rear. Since everyone else was doing it, I filled a cup myself. I was talking with Bart when Rita and Andrew entered.
Bart watched with a strange look as Andrew approached the podium that sat on a few boards atop a few concrete blocks. The make shift stage put the speaker only a few inches above the audience.
“We are here to say goodbye to Silvia Porter. For the last few years she led our organization. We had great success under her leadership. She died as I know she wanted to go. She died in an operation launched in an effort to protect the organization from terrorist, to make the terrorist fear our names, to bring terror to the terrorist.”
“There are some dark days coming. We are going to see our good name sullied. We are going to be called some pretty awful things. We are going to want to take revenge, but Sylvia did not believe in revenge for the sake of revenge. Revenge had to produce a lasting positive outcome or she would not sanction it.”
“So we will swallow our pride and answer their questions and try to protect each other. It is what she would want.” Andrew stepped aside.
From the front row a man walking with a cane and fresh bandages on his face stood and walked onto the stage. “In this urn are the ashes of Sylvia Porter. Her body was Cremated in a crematorium we took control of for the night. Her body went through the crematorium that night along with the heart of the man who killed her.” Then the man lifted his cup and said, “Vive la mort, vive la guerre, vive le sacre mercenaire.”
There were tears in a lot of eyes when the men and women in the audience raised their cups. The service was over in just fifteen minutes. People stood and milled about. I found Bart and waited until he had a long conversation with Rita.
I avoided the beer keg for the twenty minutes it took for him to finish his conversation with Rita,
“Okay,” he said when he was standing in front of me. “I’ll get my backpack and we can get the hell out of here.”
“Hold on I have to pack,” I said falling in beside him. We walked all the way to the cabin before I could stand it no longer. “So is Rita staying,” I asked.
“Yes, I have no idea when she will be coming home,” he said.
“Or if she will be coming home,” I replied.
“Why do you say that?” Bart asked.
“These guy need a spokes lawyer and Rita is the obvious choice. To do that she needs to be either at the Swamp Compound or the Church Camp. She has family near the Church Camp, so it just makes sense,” I said.
You need to sell the tea company and move with her, or you need to let her go,” I said. “Hell you could probably get a million bucks for it.”
“And that farm of yours is worth five million. You turned that 50,000 ‘potalot’ into two million in two years. That’s a good return on your money,” Bart said sarcastically.
“Prick, you completely omitted that I bought that farm, built the greenhouse and made other improvements to the place, because you and Rita stole the tea business from me. I would have been perfectly happy to make $300,000 a year doing nothing,” I said. “But no I had to make room for that lawyer bitch.”
“Careful what you say,” Bart replied.
“I’m driving the fucking car, what you gonna do shoot me,” I said.
“I have a long memory and I’m patient,” he said. He took a long time before he added. “I think it is a good time not to be working for Swamp Dog.”
“Oh there was a Swamp Dog before Sylvia and there will be one long after this blows over. There have always been operatives like those at the Swamp,” I suggested.
“Well maybe someday I will do it again for the adventure, but it will never be for the money again. That freedom I owe to you,” he said.
“So, do you want to stay were you are, or take over the farm?” I asked. “You do know there is more money in the farm than in making tea.”
“Yeah, but nobody comes around the tea factory wanting to steal the stalks,” Bart explained. “Why don’t you work a deal with those two guys you have out there?”
“If you don’t want it, I will most likely do that,” I said.
“You will have to use that half ass lawyer in Williamston. You are right that Rita most likely won’t be back,” he said.
“I know Bart, it sucks don’t it?” I asked.
“Yeah, I can’t be just Rita’s husband any more than she can be just my wife. It has nothing to do with money,” he said.
“Yeah, once you get past the price of a Big Mac, it’s just about the score card,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said looking out the window. “You want me to drive?”
“Maybe later,” I suggested and kept on moving south.
“Where you going to go?” he asked.
“I don’t know maybe the old bank building on the corner,” I suggested.
“Good, I’m glad you don’t feel you have to run,” Bart said.
“I do have to run, just not all that far,” I suggested. “There is no one looking for me. I don’t think I want to give anyone a reason to arrest me.”
“You are running a straight up shop, why would they want to arrest you?” he asked.
If they want something I have they will frame me. If I do something a little questionable they will see the dark side,” I said.
“Every time you make a decision in the pot business it is questionable,” Bart agreed.
“That is true, that’s why I’m getting out of the business. If you and the two guys don’t want it, I will sell the potalot to some mega farm,” I said.
The two guys will be a better match,” Bart said.
Yes I know,” I replied. “I think they will be fair and honest with me. Plus I know how to keep an eye on them. Then again I’m out in the open right now. So if I ever want to sell to some mega farming company, now is the time to do it while I can take the money and run.”
“You would have to convert the money to something other than banking assets,” he said.
“Yeah like gold or diamonds, if I were to go on the run again I’ll probably take diamonds,” I said.
“If you run again, I won’t be with you,” Bart said.
“No offense Bart, but you never ran with me, no one ever did. Swamp Dogs crew provided papers, but that’s all they ever did. The State Police, back when there was one, provided the place for me to land, but in the end it was always just me,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose that is true. So if you sell out where will you go?” Bart asked.
“It wouldn’t be much of a secret, if I told you. Would it?” I explained.
We rode the last two hours in silence. I worked out a hundred plans in my mind, but settled on just one. I spent a lot of the time working the details out in my mind. We were twenty miles out when I called Sterlin.
“Sterlin put the dog up please. I should be there within the next twenty minutes,” I said into the phone. It was hard for me to believe I had been gone less than three days. It seemed longer. When I arrived back at the Catfish Farm, it was like I had never left at all.
The raggedy ass farm was home. I hated the thoughts of pulling up stakes yet again. But at least I had a plan. Bart left me in the parking lot. I stood there with a heavy backpack filled with dirty clothes to watch Bart drive his car away in the absolute dark of night. Like a thief in the night, I thought.
After Bart pulled out of the farm, I went inside my house. There were signs of the party from the night before no doubt. I spotted a large trash bag by the door. It was filled with refuge from that party.
There was also a stack of pizza boxes where the kitchen trash can normally sat. The two guys were nowhere to be found. Their vehicles were in the parking lot but Steve and Sterlin were MIA.
I wanted to know about my bed. I didn’t want to sleep in someone else’s bodily fluids. I had done that often enough, but something about not being involved in the placement of them made me a little uneasy about sleeping there.
Sure enough there were stained sheets and a pair of women’s panties in the bed. I didn’t even plan to ask. I just looked for the new sheets I had demanded they buy. When I found the new sheets on a storage shelf, I ripped the soiled ones off the bed. I carefully wrapped them inside themselves, then threw them in the trash.
It was after nine when the chore was complete. I was in bed exhausted by 10:30 PM. The boys were in the travel trailer, I expected, or maybe just one of them was. It didn’t matter I fell asleep anyway.
At 5 AM I was awake mostly out of almost a lifetime of waking early and getting out there to move about. I rolled the bike into the parking lot after disconnecting the charger. I noted that both Steve and Sterling were in the parking lot. They both pushed their bikes through the double fence then went back and released the dog.
When they pulled into the Dairy Queen minutes after me, I was already at the counter waiting for my bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and coffee. I picked a table that would hold all of us including Bart. He had come in after the boys. I had not been at all sure he would show, but he did.
Sterlin spoke first, “What we gonna do about the rest of the old man’s dogs. The county says they can’t be adopted.”
“Go by today and pay the adoption fee. See if they will hold them a couple of days. If they will, get the fence man out here and build a place for them on the meadow behind Greenhouse Three.”
“If he won’t hold them?” Sterlin said.
“Then buy more dog houses and put them inside the fences till we can build a place. You and me are responsible for them,” I said to Sterlin.
“That’s kind of how I saw it,” he agreed.
“After we get them taken care of, we need to have a meeting, the three of us,” I said. I finished my breakfast then went back to the Catfish Farms compound. We could have the meeting, but I wanted to be sure the Dogs were a part of any moves I made.
I still hadn’t made a decision, but I was getting close. It might be nice to move without the pressure of someone chasing. It had never been like a cop chasing a car. It was more outsmarting rather than out running the law. I had to admit I was damn good at it, not to have been a cop.
I had to wonder if I could survive a life that didn’t include that tension that comes from being wanted. I wanted my life to become normal one minute and then was boring to death the next. It was a big decision to make. If the three of us could survive all the threats from running the pot farm, we could get really rich. It really wasn’t about the money. I was probably the only under forty woman living in a one room cabin, who happen to have a net worth of over a million dollars. Money wasn’t anything except a number, till you spent it.
I just couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy with my money. With nothing to buy it just lay in a smelly old bank. What I really wanted was to be a great artist, but of course I didn’t want to work at it.
I felt like I was an artist, just not a great one. I had sold real drawings for real money, but not enough to support even my Spartan life style. So if I grew pot and made art which one was I. The answer was simple in the commercially judged society we lived in. I was a pot farmer, pure and simple. But I didn’t want to be only a pot farmer. That was a dream of millions of people, it just wasn’t my dream.
Maybe it was time for me to pursue my own dream not the dream of millions of other people. The period between leaving Farmer’s Grove and going into the pot business had been fun. I hadn’t had a lot of fun in my life, either before or since that time.
You know what? I have enough money, and I am free of both the police and Swamp Dog. Maybe now is my time, I thought. If it is my time what should I do with the time? I also asked myself.
“It’s going to be noisy as hell for a while,” Sterlin said. “The dogs are starting to arrive and I have to place houses for them either in no man’s land between the fences or inside the compound.”
“They might just damage the greenhouses, so let’s keep the dogs away from them,” I suggested.
“Yeah I thought you might say that, but we have a problem. There are eight fighting dogs and two bait dogs. The bait dogs are in pretty bad shape. I don’t want them competing with the fight dogs for food. I also don’t want the others competing with each other,” he said.
“Okay bait dogs inside the wire with us. Put the rest of them inside the run. Take them one at a time into the front gate area since it has the ability to be self-contained. You can feed them there,” I said.
“They all need more food. Food was their reward for winning, since they don’t understand the concept of being dead.”
“Can you fix them?” I asked.
“In about a hundred years,” he said.
“We probably don’t have that long,” I suggested.
“I can make them less aggressive, but they will never be family pets,” Sterlin suggested.
“Then let’s breed some watchdogs that can be family pets,” I suggested. “In the meantime take care of these dogs. Tell me what you need and you will have it.”
“Land, and dog runs. Not cages runs,” he said.
“Call the fence man, build them runs connected to the fence. You can let them into the no man’s land for exercise and they can live in runs big enough to keep them active,” I demanded.
“I can make do for now, but that would make it easier,” he said.
“Then make it happen. Just tell the fence man what you want, and have him call me,” I suggested.
“So Steve I have to ask you. Do you like working with the tea plants?” I asked changing he subject.
“Of course, it’s quiet and they don’t shoot at me,” he said with his infective smile.
“We can’t have Hannah here any more, so how would you feel about another one of Miss Sadie’s family to help you? Sterlin isn’t going to be able to help much. At least not consistently since he has to be available to handle the dogs.”
“You and I have handled it alone before,” Steve said.
“Yes but I probably won’t be available much longer, so let’s train someone,” I suggested.
“Okay, but what are you going to do?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know yet but I think I’m just going to have fun. Not sure what fun is really, but I’m going to try to find some,” I explained.
“What does that mean?” Steve asked.
“It mostly likely means you are going to manage the Catfish Farm, if you want the job,” I said. “There will be a nice raise in it.”
Sterlin looked at Steve and smiled. It was easy to tell that he was happy for him. “As for you Sterlin I want to see a business plan for a dog breeding and training facility with a dog rescue as part of it. I can find you some help if you need it.”
“Are you going to finance the rescue?” he asked.
“Did you know that God spelled backwards was dog. Maybe I’m trying to score some points,” I suggested.
“It’s going to take more than saving ten dogs,” Sterlin said.
“Well there is the fact that the old man is out of business. We probably saved a hundred more,” I suggested.
“Yeah we might have,” Sterlin said.
“So what is next?” Steve asked.
“Since Sterlin is going to be busy with dogs I will help you with the houses. But when we break for lunch, go to the diner and find Miss Sadie and get some more help out here.
“Sure I can do that,” Steve agreed.
When all the dogs were on site, the fighters were turned loose in the no man’s land between the fences. There were some territorial issues at first but they dogs worked that out without our intervention.
The two bait dogs were turned loose in the compound. They were terrified of us all at first. We waited till the two of them got hungry then tried to fed them by hand. The food had to be canned since they had no teeth. When I realized that, I wanted to go back to the swamp, so that I could kill that son of a bitch all over again.