Familiar territory. They surrounded my town. They offered sanctuary to me at various times in my life. Rough times; good times. I often ran “8 rows in.”
From there I could monitor the streets without being detected. I ran eight rows in and laid down in the soft, sweet soil. Bees buzzed. Birds flew. The world quieted and stilled to the sounds of the trees.
My senses shifted to another channel. Something in a tree was creating mammoth racket. Leaves made large clacking sounds as they rolled atop one another. The sweet orange wood and sap scented breeze stung the nostril innards. Something was not quite right about it. I sat up and sniffed at the air like a hound. Long, slow sniff. Everything was fine. I lay back down and exhaled.
The insides of my eyelids crackled with crazy patterns. Faces exploded into stars raining through red skies. Then……..a whiff of something odd again. This was pissing me off. I couldn’t relax. I sprang to my feet and rumbled in no particular direction. Before long I stumbled on it. I was not surprised. It was that kind of day.
There before me lay a corpse in gym shorts and a dirty t-shirt. Fucking Frankie.
I laid there on my weight bench breathing. A banana peel was hanging in the rafters above me. I could smell it. Used cognac was running laps in my brain. Fumes escaped my nose and were sucked back into my eyeballs. Voices whispered in whirling fan blades.
I could think of ten good reasons that a homicide detective would want to talk to me. I could think of reasons that all kinds of detectives would want to talk to me. I always respected OJ Simpson for his proactive nature. I was never shy about pulling the trigger on a situation. I was never shy about action. Now this.
I wandered into the house and grabbed a beer and chugged it. I rolled a joint, grabbed a lighter and went back into the garage. I lay back down on the weight bench and lit the reefer. Smoke drifted up to the banana peel and whirled towards the exhaust fan. My brothers had installed it on one of their visits and had a fight on my roof. They haven’t spoken to each other since. I wished they were here now. I took another deep hit, held it a couple of seconds and exhaled. Relief rushed over me and a hot liquid seemed to build pressure behind my ears. I thought of Frankie and smiled.
The gas can had about a gallon in it. That would be enough. Gas can in hand, I wandered back into the groves. Eight rows in, I turned towards Frankie and ventured forth.
Frankie and I had met in the sixth grade. He was good with girls then, he had an easy way of talking to them. I would just stand there turning shades of red while he dazzled with his banter. That’s about the time that we discovered the refuge of the orange groves.
It stuck with us. Eight rows in, we were safe. No cops would venture that far into the groves.
There was an urban myth that a Vietnam vet called “Leatherneck” lived in there. Everybody understood that is was just a myth, but still, you didn’t want to take any chances.
I figured Frankie had gone eight rows in after his cornholing to kind of find some childlike safe place. He was wandering in the direction of his apartment it appeared, when he met his untimely demise. I would give him a good examination before the cremation. Yes. If it was the work of Leatherneck, I wanted to know. I figured a slit throat would be Leatherneck’s signature. I still had half a joint. I might need it for the autopsy.
When I reached the body, I stood looking for a while. Frankie’s face was planted firmly in the earth. Straight down into the dirt. I lit the joint, what was left of it and smoked it to a curled gray ash on my thumb. I swooned a bit, grabbed a stick, and stumbled to him. I poked at the body. It was a stubborn body, just like Frankie. I poked at the neck to see if it would turn enough for me to see if it was the work of Leatherneck. I put the stick under the neck and pried. The stick broke. I thought I heard Frankie sigh.
The weed was really kicking in. I began to think it was the wrong drug to help me through an autopsy and cremation. Maybe speed would have been better. I grabbed the gas can and twisted off the cap.
“Here we go Frankie.”
I doused him good. Then I doused his ass again for good measure. I wanted his butthole gone.
Yes, squinnies. They were ground squirrels and they were hated by farmers in Iowa and maybe other states as well.
Nothing feels as god-given as a rifle, butted against my cheek, oils mixing with the oils of my forefathers. That smell, the gun oil too, the dull gleam of the barrel as I focus on the bead. Spent gunpowder is the scent of the dread threat. Yes, the deadly sense of smell. That little stretch of pasture that had been a dump at one time. Scorched earth and little pieces of glass with dull edges now.
There was a stump. A tall stump as stumps go. A ten year old kid could stand behind it and rest a rifle just right to sight down that barrel and pick off sqinnies easy. Easy… pull that trigger slow. Hold your breath now and squeeze off the round.
The way they died reminds me of insanity somehow. Insanity exists in such a rigid world of parameters. That’s the way death came to squinnies. They all lay there kicking frantically for the same two point five seconds.
“Hey Grampa, I got one!”
Grampa’s laugh was a bit like an owl’s hoot: “Hoo hoo hoo. Throw him in the burnin’ barrel. Hoo hoo hoo.”
The barrel was where all trash was burned. It wasn’t just a rust colored barrel; it was a rust ridden barrel. It was a round barrel of rust. The bottom was gone. The squinnies went in and were forgotten until Grampa lit the trash. The smell was musky, sweet and sickening. I turned and vomited through my mouth, nose and eyes, it seemed. I wiped vomit from my eyelashes and wondered how that happened. Frankie’s milk was curdling. His Rice Krispies were popping. I crawled a few rows away, found an orange on the ground and stuffed it peel and all into my mouth, and chomped down hard.