Spring is coming. May all ready be here where you are. Temperatures going up, flowers poking out. Course the north east and the Maritime provinces are having or preparing for a winter storm as I write this. Old man Winter wants one more lay before he walks out the door.
It’s a hell of a time, spring in Kentucky. Brown dead grass replaced with green. Calving and fooling season. Easter. Resurrection. The world becoming alive again. Time to plant seed for the fall harvest. Check the almanac, it’ll tell you when.
Buds will pop out on tree branches, leaves will unfurl. Animals start moving around. Ready to eat something fresh. Birds flying back north, red breasted robin hunting worms on your front yard. A sure sign of spring, like goldenrod is for the fall. But that’s months away. A whole lifetime.
Dig out the camo for the spring turkey hunt. Gobblers will be strutting. The sap is rising and they want to plant their seed, you know. They’ll sometimes gobble at car doors closing. So call in one. Don’t want to kill it, take a camera. It’s an experience.
Tobacco. Float beds are used a lot. Plant the seeds in styrofoam trays and float em in water in the green house. Then when the time is right the plants are taken to the fields and planted. Fall is cutting and stripping time but that ain’t for months. It’s a progression. But there ain’t much better then driving down a country road and breathing in the scent of tobacco hanging in a barn. But we’ll get there.
Spring. Time to get up. Get going. Get out. Run through the fields. Skid around a curve on a country lane. Push the gas pedal down a little more and watch the dust billow up as you bump down the gavel road. Tear the plastic off the windows and open the house up. Air it out. Find a tree to set against. Air out your soul.
A simple job the old man said. As complicated as a pizza delivery. Just show up, get the pills and pay. Take them to the dealers and get money from them. Bring that back. If you can make them pay extra, keep it. But don’t jeopardize my business. Wendell’s fingers drummed on the door of his pick-up. Simple. Right.
He glanced at his watch again. The assholes were all ready a half hour late. The old man had said to meet them at a rest stop on 75 south of Richmond. At ten o’clock. Been here since a quarter to ten and still no sight. He was about ready to call the old man up when he saw the car swing into the parking lot. Monte Carlo like the boss had said. Two guys. They nodded when they cruised past and pointed to the restrooms. Wendell sighed. So much for quick and easy.
“You know, I don’t tend to make a habit of meeting men in restrooms. How about we get this over with so I can get the fuck out of here?”
The guys were in front of the sinks, leaning back with arms across their chests. He had to wonder if they’d practiced the look in front of the mirror. “Wendell? What the fuck are you doing here?”
Wendell frowned, trying to place the man. “Helping a buddy, dude. Got the shit?”
“Got the money?”
“Would I fucking be here if I didn’t? What the hell is wrong with you?”
They looked at each other. “Go ahead, Pete, tell him,” said the taller bearded man.
Pete. Now he remembered. “I will, man but shit. This is the guy shot Perkins.”
“Who gives a rat’s ass? Just do it.”
“Yes, Pete. You have something to say?”
“Well, um, Wendell, well we want more money. We went all the way down to Florida after these pills and we just ain’t getting paid enough.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Yeah it is,” the fat guy said. He reached into the gym bag on the sink, pulling out a knife. “Or we carve up that pretty face.”
“You seriously think this is going to work? What happens when you burn through this money and need more? The old man won’t give you any more runs and he’ll make sure no one else where either.”
“Fuck, he’s right, Billy,” Pete said.
“We got plans for that, Pete, remember? Besides, we could even sell the pills ourselves and make a pile more money.”
Wendell nodded. “You probably could.” He took a step forward and kicked, his steel toed motorcycle boot crashing into Billy’s crotch. The man screeched, the knife falling to the floor as he doubled over, clutching his groin. Wendell grabbed his hair and slammed his head into the sink with a hollow thunk. The screeching stopped and Wendell let him fall, turning his gaze on Pete. “What about you? You want to sell these…”
He started to turn as he saw the stall door opening in the mirror but not quick enough. The edge of the door caught him in the back and pushed him into the sinks. Pete saw his opening and started raining blows, fast and many. At least there wasn’t much weight behind them. Wendell shoved him away and dodged back as the man from the stall swung a knife at him, hissing as it sliced across his ribs. He dodged back, closer to the doors, Pete now between him and the knife guy.
It was a small guy, black suit, white shirt, no tie. Wendell had to wonder how he’d hooked up with these two rednecks. He spared a glance over his shoulder. The door was behind him but opened into the bathroom. Fuck. The guy grinned. “No running, buddy. Should have paid up.”
“Yeah? What’s your stake in this?” Wendell pressed a hand to his side, looked at the blood on his fingers. Looked like mostly a slice, but it burned like hell.
“Call me an interested investor. And I’d much prefer if I didn’t have to retrieve the cash from your corpse.”
“I bet. Sound like you’re from up north.”
“Don’t worry about where I’m from. Let’s just do this as easy as possible, eh?”
“My thoughts exactly.” He rushed the guy, dropping into a tackle and hitting him square in the middle. He could feel the knife slicing through the back of his leather jacket, cutting into his shoulder then they were tumbling over top the fallen Pete. He pulled the knife free, ready to drive it in again and Wendell reached for his hand, pushing it away and driving his forehead into the guy’s nose. He slammed the hand holding the knife into the floor, trying to knock it loose. Finally it fell from loose fingers and he pulled back, chest heaving. He could feel a vague pain in his shoulder where the knife had landed and knew it would be worse later when the adrenaline had worn off. Snarling, he kicked the guy in the ribs mercilessly, over and over, the heavy boots thudding in flesh. The man was stunned from the headbutt and weakly tried to draw in on himself but it did him no good. The blows just landed on his kidneys then.
Pete scrambled away, gripping a sink to pull himself to his feet. “Jesus Christ, Wendell, you’ll kill the bastard,” he gasped out. The door swung open and both men turned to look. It was an older guy, bald, shorts and sandals with socks. He took one look and stepped back, closing the door.
“Yeah, well, what the fuck do you think he was going to do to me?” The guy had rolled over to his belly and pushed up on his hands and knees, coughing. Blood and drool hung from his lips, mixing with the blood running from his broken nose. Wendell rubbed his forehead, wincing as the movement pulled on the wound in his shoulder. He growled again and kicked the guy in the face, knocking him over. Wendell didn’t know if he was knocked out or decided it was smarter to stay down. “Who the fuck is this asshole?”
“I don’t know his name. Some guy Billy was working for while he was in Canada. Wanted to clear a path, get a straight route for the pills to go north.”
“Uh huh. And robbing me in a bathroom would accomplished that how?”
“I don’t know, man. Cut out the middle man, I guess. Maybe they are tired of paying so much.” He licked his lips, eyes darting around. “It wasn’t my idea, you know? Let me go, won’t you?”
Wendell sighed, his breathing starting to even out. “Yeah. Get out of here.”
“What about a couple pills, man? I’m hurtin here.”
His eyes narrowed. “Get. Out.” Pete swallowed and hurried out the door. Wendell rifled through the man’s pockets, slipping the wad of cash in the wallet in his pocket. He tossed the knife in the trash can and, growling, kicked the guy once more for good measure. Then he opened a bottle, popping a couple pills in his mouth. That knife wound in the shoulder was going to be a bitch.
Outside he tossed the gym bag in the cab of his truck, wasting no time getting back on the interstate. At some point someone would finally call the police and he didn’t want be sitting there when it happened. He dropped off 75 on Boonesborough Road, pulling into the truck stop. He could hear police sirens racing down the highway and grinned. By the time they got any description, IF they got any description, he’d be too far away to have to worry. Might as well call in and get it over with.
“Put the old man on,” he told the girl that answered, shifting on his seat. The shoulder and the slice on his side was starting to bother him. Good thing he had plenty of oxy at hand.
“Wendell, you done all ready,” the old man asked when he came on the line.
“What the fuck is going on? You trying to get rid of me?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I got jumped by your fucking delivery boys. Them and some other guy. Not exactly the type to do their own planning. Which don’t leave many options.”
“And you think I’d do that? Fuck, man, I ain’t got to go to all that trouble if I wanted rid of you.”
Wendell grunted. “Could be your right,” he said. “Just thought I’d check. If it ain’t you, then someone’s trying to move in. Might want to talk to your people. Those two druggies said someone from Canada was wanting to cut out the middle man.”
“I’ll look into it. Where are you?”
“Truck stop down by Boonesborough. Got the pills. Reckon you won’t mind I hang onto the money, seein as how I got knifed over it.”
“Well then just deliver them up to Pike’s Holler and consider that your payment. And Wendell?”
“So far all I got on this is your word. Don’t be fucking me on this. I’d hate to lose you.”
Wendell closed the phone and tossed it on the seat. Fuck it. Plenty of time for a piss and some lunch. Patch up the shoulder a bit.
Pike Holler was up north, bordering the Ohio River. Not a bad place to bootleg shit, Wendell had to admit. Got the customers from both sides of the river, still plenty of woods to hide in. His uncle had lived up this way, used to make money trapping and digging up roots to sell to the drug companies. It was that kind of wild place. Nothing but hills and valleys. Damn cows didn’t even know how to walk on flat land.
At least the Darlins had put in a road all the way up to their place. Getting to his uncle’s cabin had required a ten minute walk. He held the wheel with an easy grip as he took it slow along the rocky road, wheels jerking one side to the other. This was one reason everybody had shitty trucks and brand new four wheelers around here. The road led down one hill, crossed a creek then up another hill, and at the end was the Darlin house. Two story, wood siding, ain’t seen a paint brush in fifty years. The outhouse was behind the house, on the hillside. Below was the creek that led into the Ohio. Yeah, it was that kinda place. Wendell turned around and backed his truck in. He wanted to be able to leave in a hurry if need be.
One of the Darlin boys stood on the porch, hands stuffed inside his jeans pockets, jaw working at a wad of tobacco. “Who the fuck are you?”
Wendell raised the gym bag. “Got this week’s shipment. Regular guy’s sick so the old man sent me. I know how much you owe so don’t try any shit.”
“That still don’t answer my question.”
“Don’t you know nothin, Cody?” A man stepped out on the porch, beer hanging in his hand, cigarette in mouth, almost a twin of his brother. “This here is Wendell Cassidy. And Cassidy don’t think he has to answer to anybody.”
“Bobby,” Wendell said with a nod. “Sorry to hear about your momma.”
“Uh huh, I bet. Mr. High and Mighty is a delivery boy these days, huh?”
“Just temporary, Bobby. Just give me the money and I’ll get out of here. Nobody wants any trouble.”
Bobby Darlin sat his beer on the porch rail and ground his cigarette out next to it. “You sure about that, big man?”
“This is business, Bobby. No need to let personal shit interfere with business.”
“Personal shit? That’s what you call it?”
“Bobby, I ain’t in the fucking mood. It’s been a long day and I don’t want shit from your ass. Just give me the money and you can have the pills. Or I go back to the old man and tell him we need new dealers. I’m sure you remember what the firing process is like.”
“Man has balls, don’t he, Cody,” Bobby said to his brother.
“Why don’t we cut em off, feed em to the dogs?”
Wendell sighed, dropping the gym bag at his feet. “You going to pay me my money or not, Bobby?”
“Well, we’ve been thinking. What exactly do we need you guys for? You don’t do nothin and take a big chunk of the money. We do all the work as it is so maybe we should just cut out the middle man.”
Wendell sighed. What was with people today? He rolled his shoulders, pain flaring from the knife wound. The old man was going to owe him big for today. “Believe it or not, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that today. But fine, Bobby. If that’s the way you want it.” He kicked the bag closer to the porch. “Consider this your severance package. I’ll just get out of here.”
Bobby laughed. “Oh you ain’t goin nowhere.” He walked down off the porch, stopping by the bag. “Never heard of Wendell Cassidy backing down so easy. What you put in here? Got it booby trapped with a bomb or something?”
“It’s just pills, Bobby,” Wendell said, glancing up at Cody. The younger brother was still on the porch, lounging against the rail. Barechested, the only visible weapon was a folding knife in a sheath on his belt. Bobby didn’t even seem to have that much. “Getting paranoid there, Bobby. Maybe you shouldn’t smoke so much of your product.”
“I could shoot you, you know. Trespassing. Nobody’d be able to do a thing. Fuck, who’d want to?You ain’t exactly a popular man around here.” He paced a little, back and forth in front of Wendell. “Mr. High and Mighty, at the mercy of the Darlins. Scared yet, asswipe? Ready to squeal?”
Wendell reached behind him, pulling out his Colt .45. He gripped it in both hands, firing. Three shots pounded into Bobby Darlin, dropping him into the dirt. Wendell stepped forward. Cody had dived for the door of the house as soon as the shooting had started, scrambling to grab the shotgun leaning against the doorframe. He aimed carefully, firing the last five rounds at Cody. At least four hit the man, knocking him into the wall of the house. Cody still tried to reach inside, his fingertips just brushing the shotgun when Wendell kicked him aside.
He searched the house, throwing all the money he found inside the bag. Look like he’d doubled what he was supposed to have been paid. Him and the old man both were going to make out ok and they still had the pills to sell. Finally he dragged Bobby’s body inside and lit the place. He didn’t think the cops would give a damn about them showing up dead but there was no point to being careless.
The truck rattled and shook back down the old farm road and up the hill. The flames were nice and high by the time he reached the main road. He dialed up the old man as he headed back home. “Yeah, I got the money. The job’s done. Gonna need to find yourself some new pillbillies though.”