The Rancher's Nephew by Drake Koefoed - HTML preview

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The Rancher’s nephew

 

01 Farewell to Code”

 

By Drake Koefoed

 

 

Frank James  walked up the stairs.  He came to the second floor, and went into his lawyer’s office.  Robert and Katie were there.  The lawyer, Al Goodman, came out.  “Come on in, Frank.”

Can Robert and Katie come, too?”

“If they do, you do not have confidentiality as to whatever you say.”

“I don’t see that I need it.”

“Let’s all go in.”

They went into the office.

“Frank, we have what I think is the best we can do.  It’s not right, but it leaves you with something, and gets you out of all this.”

“OK.”

“You know that Central owns that ranch in West Texas.  So the deal is, you will be given title to it, you will give up your rights to all the code in question, in other words, everything you have ever written, and you will be released by all the parties to the lawsuit.  Since they love to sue people, I can predict that Westlake will go after you if you write anything at all, whatever language.  I’ve reduced my fees to get you out of this, but if you start any new programming venture, I will not do that again.  In other words, you will have to give up your profession.”

Katie talked through her tears.  “Frank wrote a lot of that stuff years ago.  Libraries.  Some of the stuff they claim, they disassembled out of shareware he wrote before they even were in business.  They have source code that looks like some kid hacked it.  You look at Frank’s code, and it’s like a textbook on how to program in assembler.  Some of their comments are plain wrong.”

Frank put his hand on Katie’s.  “It’s a rip off, Katie, we all know that.  But I can get out with a little bit.   Anyway, the stuff I could prove is mine the easiest is DOS libraries that are not worth much any more, anyway.   Al, this will help Robert and Katie, won’t it?”

“Of course it will.  Without you, Robert and Katie can say they didn’t know about any infringement, and they can even show how Westlake ripped you off.  Bill Coleman can call you as a witness.  This release is for any and all, and etc.  The only way I can see for them go at you would be slander, and if you say it in court, they can’t do that.”

Robert’s jaw set.  “So all I have to do is throw my best friend to the wolves, and everything will be fine.”

“You’re letting him through the fence, Robert.  Maybe we should get Bill on the phone.  He has waived contact, but…”

“Let’s not worry about it.”

Frank took up the pen.  “Robert, this will help you and Katie.  Once I am out of the case, any infringement would have to be proven against you.  Katie can read assembler with lots of comments and sort of know what it’s doing.  You can do about the same with C.  You put me on the stand, and I start talking about the interrupt vector table, stack relocation, binary arithmetic, and all kind of shit.  The jury will say we have this nice couple who wanted to start a business, and then they got connected with this programmer who dreams in hexadecimal, don’t doubt for a moment that I do, and if they want a few hours of testimony about machine language, I am up for it.  We can give Bill five thousand questions that I can answer, and you cannot.  I can talk for a week without saying one thing the jury understands.  What’s going to happen when I start talking about re-entrant code?”

“They will say it’s irrelevant.”

“Bill makes an offer of proof, and shows the judge that the very part of the program we were talking about is re-entrant.”

“Al, do you think this could work?”

“Oh, yes.  Technical evidence often mystifies juries.  Bill could go on as long as he wanted.  He could call in an expert to explain recursive routines, and that would be about it.”

“What is recursion?”

“See recursion.”

They laughed.  

Al said, “Before we even get that far, Bill can call him in for a deposition, and sit there with Frank, and grind him down for a few days.  Or possibly, we could get Aaron Miles to do the depos.”

“Aaron Miles?”

“Frank knows him.  A programmer with a law degree.  Aaron could be difficult.”

“He could.”

Frank signed.  “I think this will help you guys, because you can blame everything on me.”

Katie shivered.  “God help me if I do that!”

“Katie, please, as soon as I am released by all parties, blame everything on me.”

“I could never say that.”

“Katie, as soon as they sign, everything is my fault.  You didn’t know, you thought it was right, nobody told you.”

“I can’t say that.”

“You didn’t think anything wrong was being done.  It was not, and it has not, so just say that.  You are certain that I didn’t do anything wrong, which is true.  Westlake can’t code his way out of a C:\> prompt, which is a fact.  You have faith in me, and you know I didn’t steal code from those clowns.”

Frank signed each of the marked spots.  “Robert, once this is done, you can go at them with whatever you want.  Am I right, Al?”

“This agreement does not admit anything.  It merely says Frank is out of the game with the little ranch.  221 acres.  Space to stretch your legs.”

“This one is the attorney fee thing.  I’m getting 5% of the stock, and my wife is getting 3%.  We have to have an annual stockholders’ meeting, but we can have more if we like.  We’ll talk on the phone, and she will take the minutes.  On the list of oddities, they left $14,000 in the corporate account.  You can spend it on the ranch, but not on personal stuff.  We’ll discuss corporate formalities at the stockholders’ meetings.”

Frank signed that one, too.  “Robert, you might still beat these guys.  Bill can still call me as a witness.  There is a little airstrip on the ranch for crop dusters.  That’s how I got in and out last time, when I looked at the place.  Pretty easy to come here if you need me.  And pretty easy if maybe you want to vacation next spring.  We have a little boat, rooms, maybe you could hunt if you wanted.”

Katie hugged Frank, and Robert shook his hand.  Dave left, and took the old Buick to the garage he had done business with for years.  There he picked up a 12’ trailer that had been checked out.  They had bought two spare wheels for the trailer, but the tires were not much.  He left his new number at the ranch and paid his bill.  He went to the apartment, and with the help of his next door neighbor, Steve, and Steve’s brother in law, Allen, they put everything in the Buick and the trailer.  Frank gave Steve the key to return it to the landlord.  Steve and Allen would take the stuff they wanted, have St. Vincent de Paul take what it wanted, and then clear the place out.  The landlord had rented to Frank with a worn out carpet, and an apartment ready for a repaint.  Years later, it looked pretty sad.  The landlord would give Frank his security deposit and pro-rate the last month’s rent if Frank would leave the place ready for the construction guys.  He did so, making himself as rare as a coelacanth.  The decent landlord.

Frank had checked his fluid levels, and so he was ready to go.  He took I-5 to Bakersfield, and I-40 east to Texas.  He went through the Mojave and on, sleeping at truck stops.  At Amarillo, the car started hissing and steaming.  Frank pulled into a run down service station with stacks of used tires in front.  He stopped as far out of the way as he could.  He opened the hood, and saw where the steam was coming from.  

“Just a hose, cowboy.  If I don’t have it in stock, I can get it in an hour or so.”

“Let’s look at it.”

The mechanic, actually the owner, popped the lever on the radiator cap.  It hissed.  He put a large wet towel on the radiator and broke the cap loose.  He looked at the hose.  “Don’t have that one.”  He got on the phone and asked about one.  “She has a Gates for $18.45 or some Chinese junk.”

“Gates.”

“She will be here in half an hour or so.  We need to let this thing cool anyway.  You could crack a block putting cold water in it now.”

“Have you had lunch, Don?”

“I’m Ralph.  Don used to work here, and I inherited the shirt.  I am about ready for lunch.”

“How is that place across the way?”

“Not great, but all right.  A little more expensive than it should be, but it’s there.”

“Can I buy you lunch?”

“That would be right southern of you.”  He banged on the door.  “Mom, will you watch the station for lunch?”

“Ya.”

Frank and Ralph went across the street and into the restaurant.  Ralph said, “Get the number one.  It’s kind of a one trick pony thing here.

A waitress who was only about 25 but already looked like she had seen better days came with menus.

Ralph said, Tina, could you get me the double cheese #1 with fries and a chocolate shake?”

“I imagine I could.  And you?”

“#1 cheese.  Jalapenos if you have them.  Onion rings if I can, chocolate shake.”

“We can do it.”

She took off.

“She doesn’t seem too happy.”

“She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby, and then he died in a rodeo.”

“Oh.”

“It’s one of those ones you don’t get over.  She had, what to her was everything, and now she and her mother have this baby to care for, and she isn’t going anywhere in life now.”

“One third of her actuarial life expectancy, and she’s already expecting nothing good in the future.”

“It’s pretty bad.”

“I have some idea what it’s like.  My own problems may not be so bad.”

“What are yours?”

“I’m a computer programmer who can’t write code any more because of how I had to settle a lawsuit.  So I’m moving to take over Jack’s Big Bird Ranch.”

Tina brought their burgers.  They ate quietly.  “Frank, that is a little place by Big Bird lake?”

“Yeah.”

“I met Jack once a long time back.”

“Working on cars?”

“Yeah.  He bought some tires from me once.”

“I might want some if there are better ones in your pile than on the Buick.”

Frank paid the bill, and they went back.  Ralph put the hose on, and Frank only had to give him $20 for the part, the labor was lunch.  Ralph found two wheels that would go on the Buick, and threw them in the trailer.  “$15 for both.”

Frank paid it.  He got back in the car and headed down the road.  Late that night, he got to the ranch.  Jeremy opened the door for him.

“Frank?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Jeremy.  Your ranch hand so far.”

“I will have some work for you.  I need to sleep for now.”

“Do you want some stuff unloaded?”

Frank went to the library, where there was very little.  “This is going to be the study/office same as it was.  I want to put the office stuff here.  My desk looking out the window with my chair behind it and the file cabinets over there.  Probably you will want me to help with that.”

“Got a hand truck and a dolly, so I can do that if it won’t keep you up.”

“OK, if you want to.”

“The rest of this stuff?”

“Kitchen stuff in the kitchen.  If you have inspiration about how to organize it, do so, and put post it notes on the doors and drawers to say what is in them.  Tool boxes in the tool room.  We don’t want them out in case it rains.  Put all the bedroom boxes in the bedroom across from mine.  You are using the 3rd one, right?”

“Yes.”

“So things you don’t know what to do with, put in the living room.  Al has you on worker’s comp and all that?”

“I just call in my hours.”

“OK.  I’m going to sleep.  Don’t be too noisy, and we will figure some things out in the morning.”

Frank hit the shower and went to sleep.

* * *

In the morning, Frank went to the kitchen still wet from the shower, and made omelets, pancakes and cinnamon rolls.  There was no bacon or sausage so he just had to make do.  He got in the little loader, and ran around the perimeter.  He went inside, and found the mail, a garbage can full, and the phone, which had a full mailbox of 200 or so messages.  He sorted through the mail, throwing out bulk rate mail unless it came from Caterpillar or Victoria’s Secret.  Many of the messages referred to the web site, so he got on Jack’s computer to see what he could see.  The first screen was a batch file called by autoexec.bat.  It told Frank where everything was.  The first pick on the menu was ‘Read Me First.”

“Nephew, I am assuming if you started here, I must have died unexpectedly.  There will be a lot of loose ends.  I have left you extensive information on how to run the ranch, who you can trust, and who you cannot.  There are customer lists, suppliers, and all kinds of things like that.  This is a very hard part of the country to make a living in, but I have done so, and so can you.  You must take care of my obligations.  A  man to whom respect is due always does that, please do not let me down.”  

Frank sorted through the mail.  He threw out the junk mail, put the catalogs from companies like Cabella’s and Caterpillar in a box, and sorted the personal mail alphabetically.  He began listening to the voice mail, determined to clean it out.

“May I speak to Joseph Ralls?”

“Speaking.”

“Sir, my uncle died several months ago, and left some rock orders unfilled.  I am trying to fill them as fast as possible.  Would you still like the petrified wood for rock tumblers?”

“I would.”

“I’m not sure how long it will take me to pick the banks for quality material, but I will fill your order if that is what you want.”

“I would like that.  We like to do lapidary work.”

“If you have a slab saw, I might find you a piece or two for that sort of thing.”

“If I could cab some of it, that would be really nice.”

“I will note your envelope, and see if I can find you something nice.”

The something nice was a lovely piece of moss agate and petrified wood that barely fit in the box.  Joseph Ralls would probably not live long enough to cut all the cabochons.  

Frank called some more customers, and then went to the hillside and collected the things they wanted.  Jeremy wanted to go get some beer, so Frank gave him some money, and went up on the hillside and collected as much petrified wood as he could.  It got very hot, so he came back down, and called some more customers.  About half just asked to have their checks shredded, but even some of those said they would consider buying from the ranch again.  Frank had put a couple of loader buckets of rock on the iron table in the shop.  He sorted through those, throwing the junk out a little chute that led outside.  

He filled boxes for the customers who wanted rocks, and sent back checks to the ones who were unhappy.  When you got a check back, it came with a discount card that said the ranch was sorry, but Jack had died while their order was pending, and they could have 20% off if they chose to order again.  

By the second day at the ranch, he had made his peace with everyone on the list, and shipped 200 boxes of rocks.  He got the answering machine cleared, and most of his stuff stowed in good places.

That little outdoor cooking area outside the kitchen will do you well, nephew.  It doesn’t smell up the house, and it doesn’t make a mess you have to clean up.” 

Frank went through the contacts list.  He called some of them.  Rocks were very popular.  He got orders, and filled them.  He picked through piles of rocks, and found some he could sell.

eBay is pretty expensive compared to our web site, but it will do some volume if you want to turn rocks into money.  Just up the price to cover the fees, and when they get their order, they will have our web site’s address, so they won’t need to go to eBay again.  Some of them do.  So what?  Let eBay make some money.”

Frank moved some rocks around.  He put a few in the little air conditioned work area.  He boxed up some that were not even ordered yet.  He went out to the barn and saw the horses.  Clyde, the Clydesdale, he already liked.  Rastafarian, the bronc, he did not.  He called his next door neighbor, Freddie, on his west side.

“Freddie, could we sell Rastafarian at the auction?”

“We could, but I can do better.  Give me 10% to sell him on the rodeo market?”

“I will.”

“Jan, on your east side, wants to buy those cows.  She would give you what you could get at the auction.  You have like 100 acres of pasture.  You can make a little bit on cow/calf if you want to learn, but really, they are just big pets if you don’t have a couple sections.  Jack knew it all, and he did make some money at it.”

“You think I should get out of cattle?”

“Probably.  Want to go to the auction tomorrow?”

“I would like to.”

* * *

The auctioneer spoke some beszeebedob.  A steer came in.  

“A thousand pounds.  That is what we count in a unit of cattle is a thousand pounds.  I’ll buy him for 1220 but I won’t get him.  

There were several bids, and Freddie stopped at 1220.  Another rancher bid 1260, and Freddie let go.  

“They are going to go a little high because people think they will get some rain, and make out.  Your best bet is, you get the rain, and then let Jan graze your pasture if it comes.  If it doesn’t rain, you have no grass, you have nothing to sell, and no cattle to feed.”

Another steer came in, 1250.

“The packers will have him.  I want a few in the 500-800 pound range if I can.  Jan is land short.  She knows all you need to know about cattle, but she only has 550 acres.  She will give you a thousand for stripping your pasture to dirt if it’s a good year, and 500 in a bad year.  You don’t know cattle, and there is no reason for you to learn.  If you want to make money, learn about oil.  I’d let Jan use that pasture if I was you.”

Another steer came in, 665#.  Freddie did some waving, but then he stopped.  “I can’t see him at that price.”

“How do you decide?”

“Well, the gamblers think it will be a wet year, whatever.  I expect an average year, which is not very good.  So I work the projected profit from that, and if I cannot buy for less than that, forget it.”

A cow/calf pair came in.  1423#.

“Pay attention, Frank, this is what you are selling.”

The bids went past Freddie pretty fast.

“You might do better here than selling to me or Jan.”

“I would have to pay for hauling, also.”

“I would charge you fifty bucks.  I bring my truck whenever I come here anyway.”

“What should I get for those cows and calves?”

“About 20 thousand.  Now, you are into the rock thing.  The hill there is worth nothing to a cattleman, which is Jan.  It grows a blade of grass a week in a good spring.  Get yourself out of the cattle business and sell rocks if that is what you do.”

Frank called and inquired.  Jan wanted to sell the hill.  She wanted a 20 year grazing lease on the pasture.  Frank would still be able to cut firewood there.  He could hunt and fish.  Jan would get the grass.  Clyde could be out there, but no beef.

Frank talked to Robert, who talked to some other people, and a corporation was formed to buy a gravel sorter.  The machine itself was a piece of junk, but the investors didn’t care, because they were looking to lease it for a few years and sell it to Frank.  The hill itself became less than a hill at the workings of Lincoln Seismographic, a company that knew quite a little bit about explosives.  Lincoln shot the hill with the usual huff and dust.  Frank sorted gravel, and Big Bird, Texas, that metropolitan center it was with a population of 894, became the place to go for driveway rock in the entire county of Big Bird, comprising 42 square miles, and 7,987 people, some of whom liked it there.

Frank went through the rock, and picked out some nice petrified wood.  He sold it on the ranch’s web site.  The buyers who had been mad at Jack for dying had got over it.  Emails came in with love and affection.  Frank was making an astounding thousand dollars a month, sometimes.  

Jan came over sometimes.  She was about Frank’s age, and not too hard to look at.  She usually came with some cheap whisky.  No sparks flew, and when 40 is in the past, you know when no sparks are flying, and you accept it.

“Frank, did you ever think out a plan for this place, how you would make a living?”

“Well, I have that hill I bought from you.  So I can sell petrified wood and agate.  The rocks that are not worth rock hounding, I can sell for driveways, maybe grade some of them with the grading bucket.  We could probably pump from the lake and make a lot of grass if you wanted it.”

“But since that is not what I am talking about.  What are you going to do with yourself?  

“You know a little about my past.”

“You were a hard driving guy with an off the chart IQ writing software at the edge of the art.  You got screwed over by some low lifes, and now you seem to be content to pick through rocks.”

“I’ve given up on the system.”

“What’s left?”

“Just living as free as you can.  Jefferson said all men are created equal, but he was a slave owner.  We have less freedom today than they did under King George.  I’m not going to worry about it.  Man is a doomed species.  Too destructive and not near enough co-operative.  By the year 3,000, this planet will belong to the cockroaches and nematodes.”

“When does the curtain come down?”

“That’s a real interesting question.  If you knew the exact time, who would do what as the time came?  Would truckers bring groceries on the last day?  You could write a thriller based on that, but.”

“Frank, do you think it is inevitable?”

“No.  I don’t see how it can not happen, but history could prove me wrong, and I hope it does.”

 

02 Frank and the World”

 

 

Frank went through the rocks, and picked the good ones.  He boxed them and went on.  He was not troubled by talk about the world ending, because he knew it would.  He filled boxes with nice rocks.  He lived in the moment as best as he was able.  He put labels on boxes, and took the pickup to the post office to mail them.  

He took Clyde out to pick up firewood.  A couple of local guys wanted to cut it, so Frank had paid them to do it.  Whether they had done the work they said they had was another issue.  There was a loud hissing sound from the highway.  Frank unhooked the sled, and got on Clyde’s back.  They went to the highway, and found a car spitting steam.  No life in danger.  Frank came around to the driver’s side.  “May we be of assistance, Ma’am?”

“The way my life has been going, I was ready for a knight in shining armor on a white charger.  But I guess I get a guy in overalls on a grey Budweiser horse.”

“He is a Clydesdale, Ma’am, his name is Clyde.”

“Imagine that.”

“If you would like, we can get your car off the road, and I have a telephone, you can call for service.  I even have a guest bedroom if you are unable to get your car going.”

“I suppose we should get it off the road.”

Frank got down, and pulled a piece of rope out of a saddlebag.  He rigged to the frame of the car, and Clyde’s harness.  “When I put my hand down on the left, the old fashioned brake signal, then use the brakes.  We’re going to put your car on the left side the house, and see about a mechanic.”

He took off, and the car came.  Down the drive they went, with Clyde trotting, easily pulling the car.  They went to the side of the house, Frank signaled a stop, and that was it.  Frank took Clyde to the barn, brushed him a little, and fed and watered him.  He came back to the car, and led his rescue into the house.  “Frank James.”  

“Cleopatra.”

“My name, see, my mother was raised by her grandparents, so she decided she would name her first child Frank or Elaine.  Then she married Mark James, who died before I was born, but that made me Frank James.  Not a joke.”

“Mine is not a joke, either.”  She threw her driver’s license on the table.  “Cleopatra Magnolia de la Cruces.  Most people call me Cleo or Cle.”

Frank called Freddie, who told him there was no way to get a car fixed at this hour.  If it was a hose, she could fix it at Frank’s.  Otherwise the station would open like, 9 or 10, and there was not a good alternative.

“Well, Cleo, the bad news is you’re stuck in Big Bird for the night.  The good news is, you’re invited for dinner, and I have a spare bedroom.  We can look at in the morning, and if it’s a hose, we’ll just buy one and you are on your way.”

Frank went into the kitchen and started figuring out dinner things.  “Cleo, you want a burger, stir fry shrimp and vegetables, or chicken?”

“Has anyone ever picked the burger?  If you can make stir fry, you have it going on, bro.”

Dave started the rice cooker.  “It will be half an hour for the rice.  I usually let it get done before I start stir frying.  There is beer and wine, hard stuff in that cabinet there.  If you can find it you can drink it.  I need to check on my web site.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.  Hey, Jeremy, would you call Jan and ask her to dinner?  I see Freddie down at the garden.  This is Cleo here.  Her car broke down, so she is here until tomorrow, we get it fixed.”

He went out to see Freddie.  

“Jan’s critters pretty well ate this down, Frank.”

“That means a lot of weed seeds digested and not sprouting.”

“Jack was going to divide this garden in three, and graze the ones he wasn’t using.”

“I could graze and disk, and get rid of the large weeds.  Even the Bermuda grass doesn’t like being disked five times in a summer.”

“I have time to do it.  I will trade you for something like some time on the metal lathe or whatever.  Jack had a lot of tools I liked to use once in a while and couldn’t buy.”

“I’m sure that will work out.  Will you disk the garden in the next few days?”

“Sure.  We’ll be planting in a month or so.  Oh, I sold Rasta, so we need to go to the bank, deposit 90% in your account and 10% in mine.  I know the buyers, the check will be good.”

They went in, and Frank made everyone dinner.  There was some brandy, so that was poured after dinner.  Jan and Freddie left.  Jeremy and Cleo got going on unpacking.  Frank looked in the closets.  “Jeremy, these shirts and pants are way to small for me.  Do they fit you?”

They did.  The empty boxes became Jeremy’s stuff.  He got a lot of stuff that fit him.  There were some dresses, too, that had been there since Jack’s wife died 30 years ago.  Most of them fit Cleo, who took them and promised to donate to thrift shops if she didn’t like something.  

Cleo’s mom liked porcelain puppies and milkmaids.  Frank found a lot of that sort of thing, and there were lots of old newspapers in the wood shed.  That stuff went in a box to go with Cleo.  

The owner of the service station, Alfie, came by, changed the hose out, and asked Cleo for $50.  Frank paid him and told Cleo she could work it off.

Jeremy wanted to know if he had a permanent job.  Frank said he did.  Jeremy could get an old mobile home real cheap, and place it at the East Gate.  He could pay $100 a month rent if he could work it off.  That was fine.  They would need to talk to the City.  

They went on with unpacking and all, with Cleo taking everything off a given shelf, wiping it clean, and putting the stuff back.  While she was wiping, Frank was sorting out things he didn’t want.  Cleo and Jeremy would grab what they liked and Frank would take the rest to Big Bird Antiques and Stuff.  

By last light, the kitchen was pretty well organized.  Everyone went to bed.

* * *

In the morning, Frank made a nice breakfast.  Cleo headed on to her mom’s house, and at a respectable hour, Frank and Jeremy went to see the City.

The City was glad to see them, in its persona of mayor, chief of police, director of public works, and a few other things.  His name was Alvin “Red” Lee.  The mobile home project would be fine.   It wasn’t in the city limits, but what Red okayed was never challenged by the county supervisors.  No paperwork was needed.  The City could tow the mobile home over, and dig a hole for drainage.  A big piece of paving trash would go over it.  There would be no permits, no fees for permits, no problems.  Jeremy would need to do some weed eating and sidewalk sweeping, clean the gutters of the City’s building unless he was afraid of heights.  The City could throw in a little tow job as long as Jeremy understood that he would have to work pretty hard for these things.  There was mopping and bathroom cleaning, trash to be thrown out.  The taxpayers were not going to do something for free.  They were going to get their money’s worth.  Red would drive the truck himself, but he would not be on City time, so he would like a couple of yards of rock for his driveway.  All these things were agreed.

Red towed the mobile over, and picked up his gravel.  He went back by his house and spread it on the drive.  He went to the corporation yard, and got the backhoe, and a big piece of paving trash.  He dug the hole.  Frank filled it with gravel, but for an oil drum that was the sort of septic tank, and pushed the paving trash over it.  Red asked if Frank would grade out his driveway with the grading bucket on the little loader.  Frank said he would, and they agreed on $25 for the job.  Jeremy would have his own electric and water unless he elected to use lake water.  

Jeremy put some rocks in the edges.  The drain hose fit in one little notch.  Frank dumped some rocks around, and a little rocky soil around.  He went back to the house, and selected rocks until he was tired, and went to sleep.

In the morning, Jeremy was gone.  Frank checked orders on the site, and printed some labels.  He decided to go back on eBay.  He listed 70 boxes of rocks available because he thought he could make that many.  He selected and boxed all evening.  

In the morning, he had 41 orders, comprising about 500 pounds.  He printed the labels, and stuck them on with some really nice clear plastic stickers Jack had bought.  He ordered another thousand of them.  They were 9x6, which was more than enough to cover an eBay mailing label.  You could trim the label with scissors or the paper cutter, and then stick it on the box with a single piece of stuff that was like packing tape.  He took his packages to the post office, and spent the rest of the day selecting rocks.  

Frank opened the rolling door and brought some selected rock in to the selecting table, and shut down the sorter.  He picked up the junk and put it in the deselected pile.  He parked the loader and closed the rolling door.  He went in and called Robert and Katie.  Robert answered and put him on speaker.

“Hi guys, just calling to tell you I’m happy with my new place and hope you are happy too.”

Robert said, “A lot of the steam seems to have gone out of the lawsuit.  We think they might have blown it letting you out, because we can say well, Katie can read assembler with Frank’s comments, but we are not real programmers.  Bill has a co-counsel now.  A lawyer who codes in K&R C and assembler for DOS.”

“Roberto Gonzales y Benavidez.”

“How did you know that?”

“Small world of assembler programmers.”

“So Bill is doing it right?”

“You telling me.  He will ask the clown why does Frank always save the registers, and he won’t know.  He will ask why in this routine, he doesn’t save ax, and he will not know.  Then you will call me, and I will say it’s an arithmetic procedure, so ax is going to be wiped out anyway.  The caller won’t want the contents of the ax register because it is itself an arithmetic procedure, duh!  Why don’t the routines in Double_The_Function save any registers at all?  This is the guy who supposedly wrote it, and he will not know.  It saves in a buffer because it’s fucking re-entrant.  Roberto will ask him why it says ‘call Double_The_Function’, and the clown will not know why.  To paraphrase Elvis Costello, I wish him luck with a capital F.”

“Tell me why you are happy” Katie said.

“Well, I have this nice little ranch, and I just bought a hill of mixed rock with lots of petrified wood in it.  I got a little gravel sorter.  I’m getting lots of orders for rocks.  I may never be rich, but I am making enough to get by, and not doing anything I don’t want to do.  I have space for you to have a second honeymoon here.  West Texas is hell in the summer, but in spring or fall it can be pretty nice.”

“Being happy is what it’s all about.”

“That’s right, Katie.”

They signed off.

Frank went to the selecting table and turned on the music.  He filled boxes, and listened to tunes.  The junk rocks went into a chute that the loader was sitting at, so the useless rocks were captured easily.  If the loader was not there, they would be on the driveway, where they could easily be picked up.  Picking rocks went much faster without the dirt and sand.  

Frank picked rocks for about 4 hours, and eventually got tired of the skin being worn off his hands.  

Frank checked the time, and since he had unlimited long distance, he called a friend in the Philippines, Stephanie Soledad.

“Frank James calling for Stephanie.

“Hi, Frank.  I was just thinking about you.”

“Do you know about Westlake and all that?”

“Like a Philippina can’t read the news?”

“I’m settled out of it, got a ranch in West Texas, and doing well.”

“How about Robert and Katie?”

“Still in litigation, but I think they have the best of it.”

“Westlake claims infringement?”

“Yeah.”

“He couldn’t write hello.com.”

“Tell it, sister.  I folded my hand because of fees.  Anyway, The only things I lost that had any value were some little Unix utilities and some libraries in Sun assembler.  They won’t be able to use that stuff.  I have a ranch. 221 acres plus I can’t remember what, just bought an old gravel sorter.  I’m putting petrified wood in boxes and making a living so far.”

“You should get out of the US, come here, and buy a piece of shoreline.  Take rich Americans and Europeans out fishing, get yourself a nice girl to cuddle and kiss.  There are half a million of them who would go for you.  A third of them just because you treat ladies nice.  Buy yourself one of those big steel boats you like.  Something in the 80’-155’ class.  America is so last week.  Get with it, my man.  Asia is going up, America is going down.”

“I’m not ready to make a move like that.”

“You should have years ago.”

“You may be right.”

They signed off.  Frank selected rocks into the wee hours, and boxed them and taped them heavily with the express mail tape.  He got on the computer, and printed out a bunch more shipping labels.  He labeled boxes, and stacked them in the ranch pickup.  He could say he was caught up if he didn’t look at the orders coming in.  Many emails suggested he should sell grit and polish.  He got tired of them, and sent an email to a manufacturer asking what grit and polish would cost in drums.  There was quite a markup in the materials, so Frank ordered a drum of each grade, and the polish.  He went to sleep.

* * *

In the morning, he got Freddie, and they went to the bank, the post office, and the grocery store.  When they got back, Frank had calls to return, starting with one from the company leasing the sorter.  If Frank was up for it, they would modify the lease to be sort of a mortgage.  Instead of a fixed lease payment, Frank would pay based on his balance, so they would be able to spend some of their capital now instead of waiting until the lease end.  Frank was up for it because if he had the rock to sell there was no point in it sitting around when it could be paying off the sorter.  They wanted a slam banger full right away.  Did Frank have 25 tons of 3/8 minus?  Maybe.  He could sort bank run and put the big stuff in a pile to be selected later.  The company would have the driver, Paul, scale out and go to Frank’s place.  He could stay a couple days if necessary.  Frank would let him use the bathroom and sleep in the spare room, and whatever he liked to eat, he could get it at the market on the way in, or take the Buick or his tractor to the store later.  Everyone was happy.  Paul came in a few hours, and brought a bunch of groceries in.  They put them up, and went out and loaded the rear trailer.  Paul dropped it out of the way, and they put the last of the 3/8 minus in the front box.  Paul parked under the conveyor for 3/8 minus.  They went over to the house, and Frank showed Paul the outdoor cooking area, something that is quite common in Korea, but not much known in the US.  There was a cold water sink, a barbeque and some counters with old stuff like electric frying pans and griddles, a George Foreman grill, a toaster oven and so.  It had a tin roof, and windows all around, normally open.  The windows provided screens to keep bugs out, and could be closed in the winter to keep rain out, and let the place get a little warmer.  The cutting board was situated at a window with no screen.  When you trimmed vegetables, you opened the window, and you could flick the junk out the window.  Bones were put out in the morning for the cats, and what they did not eat went to the barbecue to get burned next time it was fired.  Meat left out at night was too likely to attract skunks.  Paul could cook here any time he was around, at whatever hour.  

They went back out, and Frank fed the sorter from the bank, taking the sorted but not selected to a pile by the rolling door of the selecting room.  The conveyor dumped the 3/8 minus in the truck.  Since Paul was not driving until the morning, they had some beer.  

“The switch for the lake water is that timer switch on the kitchen wall.  There are bibs for the 1 ½ hose in the garden and over by the hillside.  Don’t run it with no flow.  There is a regular ¾ connection on the pasture behind the selecting room.  If you leave that on, the pump in the lake will not overheat.” 

Frank started it up, putting a sprinkler on the sorter to keep down the dust.  They kept at it, moving the truck once in a while as it filled.  By late evening they had filled it.  Paul went to sleep, and Frank stayed up.  He went on eBay and bid on some large lots of music cds.  

* * *

In the morning, Paul was already gone.  There was a fax showing his tonnage, 25, and the scales he had used.  Frank started putting measured amounts of fuel in the sorter so if he forgot it on, it would not run all day.  He ran it all day anyway, but putting the fuel in a gallon or so at a time.  The water running from the sorter got kind of messy, so he dug a small hole in the ditch for a settling pond, and called the City to see if Red could make him a good settling pond and re-cut the ditch with the grader.  Those things could be done.  The City needed some rock for gravel roads anyway.  A few days later, the ditch was cut, but there was no settling pond.  Frank was busy with sorting rock, so he didn’t call and find out why.  

Freddie came over while Frank was selecting rocks.  He had a clipboard, and some lists.  “I just disked your garden and that little kitchen garden for the last time this year.  Now we see what you want to grow.”

He pulled out a list.  “This is what Jack grew last year.”

“I don’t like cucumbers.”

“Jan sells vegetables every year.  She gets half.  There will be a lot of people disappointed they can’t buy cucumbers this year for their pickles.  You have the pump in the lake, so you can make a crop almost any year.  Some years all my stuff burns up.  We need you to make sure we can have pickles and stuff.  The corn we could buy, but I like to have the local stuff.  The melons, everyone wants them in the heat.  Cantaloupe at breakfast, watermelon at lunch, Cassavas for dinner salad.  Tomatoes, if they make, they are great, but it gets too hot for them to set fruit most years.  Jack used to plant a row of them out of the greenhouse, and every five years or so, we got some good stuff.

“Nephew, I mix the tomato seeds, so some are cherries, some are slicing ones, whatever.  Things that did well here.  Put them one seed to a cell pack cell, figure four hundred plants, and you can sell that many more, so plant a thousand or so.  Some sandy dirt, some cow manure, put it in the rice cooker and use it the next day or whenever.  About 20 flats.  Everyone complains that they are not selected for variety, but they buy them anyway.  Put the seeds in water, let them get kind of slimy for a few days, then rinse them well, and dry them in a strainer.  Keep fussing on them so they don’t stick together. 

Grow some Marigolds, Mexican Marigold, Mexican sunflower.”

Frank though for a moment about this extraordinary man he had never met.  “What will it cost me to plant last year’s plan?”

$60 in seeds about $20 for the planting.  You’ll make it back real easy.  Let’s go see if Jack saved any pepper seed.”

They went in, and there in the garden shed were several pounds of pepper seed.  Bells, Jalapenos, Serrano’s, the Hungarian wax peppers, regular chilies, habaneras, bananas, and Cayenne.

Forget my bill, Frank.  I’ll plant your place and then use the rest on mine.  Sound good to you?”

It’s a deal.”

Nephew, you just keep the seed from your peppers.  Cut them lengthwise, and pull out that white thing that has the seeds on it.  Rub them off into some container or other, and mark it what they were.  Put the peppers in that dryer in the greenhouse.  The screens have to be in place to keep bugs out.  Sell them on eBay, ¼ or ½ pound to an order, or a flat rate box.  Try an offer of 13 ounces first class or a 2# express mail, maybe.  There is an email contact list, so you can send one to everyone who has ever bought peppers.  Do that just a few times a year so they don’t unsubscribe.” 

Frank gathered the pepper seeds.  He handed them to Freddie.  “Can we do one more disking before we plant?”

Maybe.  We will if we can.”

* * *

They had dinner with Jan, and talked about this and that.  The conversation wandered to the latest Syd Silver movie, The Devil’s Daughter.  Freddie thought some of the stunts must be special effects.  Frank thought not.  “They say she does her own stunts, like Jackie Chan.  I think it’s real.”  

Pretty hard to imagine.”

I have the DVD.  Want to see ‘the making of Devil’s daughter’?”

They went into the spare room, and Frank started it up.

Syd was being interviewed by a grey haired but still handsome Michael Douglas.

Did you have a stunt double for this movie, Syd?”

No.  I do my own like Burt and Jackie.”

Where should we start?”

The best one.  When peanut torpedoes my destroyer.”

How was this planned?”

I was going to be in the wheelhouse, and the torpedo would hit high on the port side, make a great splash.  The force of the explosion would roll the ship to starboard, and I would jump from the wheelhouse roof at full starboard roll, about 90 feet.”

You have no problem with jumping into the ocean from 90 feet.”

No.  I has my SEALS training for dat.  I be little itty bitty sea otter but I be tough.  I make dat dive no pwoblem.”

What happened?”

We gots us a cheap torpedo, way back surplus, and it hit real low.  The worst place, really, just above the keel.”

What happened then?”

Well, she rolled to port instead of to starboard.  She took water very fast, so she would have had a lot of suction when she went down, take your little Syd with her.  So I climbed the mast as fast as my little feets could go. And got right to the top.  There was still some radio junk up there, and if you go into the sea and they come later, they can mess up your day.  So I climb to the top of it all, and think on suction and masts coming down like huge sledgehammers, and I pick my time to dive, and pull out deep and far.  And Syd gets lucky, so I is here.”

The clip was shown.  She jumped off the radar disk into a perfect swan dive, and a textbook insertion.

Frank turned off the TV.  “Let’s have a brandy.”

Jan said, “I don’t see how she could make herself do it.”

She had to.  You understand there is only one way out, you do it.”

Freddie said, “You could convince me it’s the only way but to actually do it?”

‘You do what you have to do.”

“I don’t think I could.”

“Well, maybe not.  I think you could.  Syd Silver is a professional.  She has done that kind of thing before.  She might have dove because she was afraid to stay on deck.  It’s like I am running from some guy with a gun, and I have to choose between going into the lion’s cage, or in with the Cape buffalo.  I would go in with the lion.”

They went home, and Frank got on the old computer.

“There will be times, nephew, when you just can’t find your way.  When it looks like there is nothing you can do.  There always is, but sometimes it is a choice between two things you don’t want to do.  Well, you will have to cowboy up and pick the lesser.  You do the best you can of that, and mostly it will come out all right, usually easier than it looked.  The way to get fucked is to be afraid.  Don’t ever be afraid.  Face life, live it, and survive it while you can.” 

Frank went to the selecting room.  He filled some boxes and went to the computer to see where they should be shipped.  There were a lot of shipping labels.  Frank printed them and started filling boxes.

The phone rang. It was Katie and Robert.  

“Frank.  How are you doing?”

“Real good.  We just got a summary judgment on your Sun Assembler.  The judge said there was no proof of infringement.  The supposed author couldn’t explain how anything worked.  Albert Kendall said there was no way he wrote it.”

“You got Albert Kendall?”

“We sure did.  The man who wrote the assembler says this is not their code.  And he also said he had used a lot of your stuff in examples for the textbook, and that this code is ‘covered with Frank James’ fingerprints.’”

“Wow.”

“He showed some of your code, and the guy who said it was his couldn’t explain how it worked.  Then he said Frank James would have to teach him and he explained some of your little tricks that are in his textbook.  I had Break_it_fast printed out, and I couldn’t see how it worked.”

“It’s triple re-entrant.  When the third call comes back, you know the result, so you return.  But you return to the original caller.  It’s only 43 lines of code.”

“We really stuck him when we asked what would happen if you ran Foundation_and_result with a minus one on the stack.”

Frank giggled.  “Did you do that for the judge?”

“We sure did.”

“So it played the code backward, selected out the high bits, and displayed.”

“’Frank James wrote this.’  The judge was stunned.”

“I got that idea from Styx Allum.”

“Everyone gets ideas from Vern Buerg, Fred Brucker and Styx Allum, but they didn’t steal their code.”

“What do you think, Katie, if you ripped off Styx?”

  “If he got mad, I might have a 20 hour call on my phone bill to Kingston, Jamaica.  He might laugh something off, or he might get really mad.”

“Westlake has to be thinking about me getting really mad.  What if he wakes up at 0430 and starts thinking about what I could do?”

“You won’t.”

“No I won’t, but Katie, think about how much he would worry because I could?”

Robert laughed. “You could send him a few lines of code that would trash his software, but never do it.”

“Someone like Brucker could tell you who wrote it.  You would never do something like that.”

“You ever read his code?”

“I have not, but give me a few thousand lines, and I will know a lot about his thinking.  Even without reading code, I can tell you that Fred’s would have straight margins and his comments would be grammatically correct.  Some programmers would say move some address into such and such a place, and it would not line up with the instruction above.  Fred’s would.  He would count with the CX register.  Some programmers love certain instructions, and some never use them.  I read some code once, the guy never used a move string byte.  I can’t write a thousand lines without one.”

“What would you do, hypothetically, if you wanted to get at him?”

“I would do nothing.  Someone who wanted to make him uncomfortable might spread rumors of logic bombs, time bombs, and crap like that.  But I don’t think it’s the way to go.  It borders on illegal, and it’s undignified.  Let him have his own nightmares.  Be the virtuous man, and let him compare himself to you and find himself wanting.  You can have Bill ask him about the Sun Assembler.  Find people we sold little jobs to years ago, and prove some of that C belongs to you.  Destroy his credibility in deposition, and he will know you can do it in court, too.  Keep your eye on the ball.  What do you really want?  Frank is gone.  Don’t think about Frank.   Can you make your business work again with sufficient concessions from Westlake?  If you can, build it back.  You don’t need Frank.  I would come back if it were possible, but it probably is not, so.  I have a friend in the Philippines who wants me to come and start a commercial fishing and party boat business there.  Maybe you could get up and out with a couple of million and we could go do it.”

“Maybe we could.  We’ll be talking to you soon, Frank.”

They hung up.

Frank selected rocks for an hour or so.  Jeremy came in.  “Haven’t been here in a while.”

“You were not under any obligation to be.  Got your water and electric?”

“Yeah.”

“Everyone seems to have something bugging them today.  Do you?”

“What am I going to do for my rent?”

“Lots of options.  You could select rocks or pull weeds, run some errands, whatever you like.  You’re a good worker.  I’ll always have something you could do.”

“You say that.”

“You don’t believe it?”

“Maybe not.”

“Why?  You could make ten trips to the post office, be worth $100 to me.”

“You don’t need me really.”

“I don’t need anybody, but you are for sure a lot of help to me, and I like having you here.”

“You don’t understand.”

“It’s been a long time since I was 22, but I remember it as a really hard time.  I wanted the girls, but it seemed like whichever one I liked didn’t like me.”

“It isn’t like that.”

“I’ve been on this planet more than twice as long as you have.  I might know something useful to you if you want to ask.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“That’s pretty fucking unlikely.”

“Well, I like this girl, Shelly, that works at the café, and I guess she likes me, but I can’t seem to get anywhere with her.”

Frank looked at the time, and called the café.  “Is Shelly in tonight?  I know she’s busy, but may I speak to her briefly?  Hi, Shelly, Frank James.  Your friend Jeremy thought you might be available to select and box some rocks.  Are you working tomorrow?  Jeremy, could you train her tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sure could.”

“What would you think of 1-5 tomorrow?  Jeremy can show you.  Great, see you then.”

“Let’s get down there so you can become an expert.”

They went down, and Frank showed Jeremy how to pick petrified wood and agate from junk.  The basic rule is, if it’s pretty, keep it, if it’s ugly, put it in the driveway rock.  Frank showed the not terribly complex folding up of a medium flat rate box, the advanced technology of wrapping it with lots of priority mail tape, and how to cut labels with the paper cutter and stick them on the boxes.  There were already a bunch of pending orders, so this was not theoretical.  Frank left Jeremy selecting, and went to bed.  

* * *

 

03 Matchmaker”

 

 

In the morning, Frank made breakfast.  Jeremy, who had worked late, didn’t show up until near noon.  After they ate, Frank sent Jeremy to pick up Shelly at the café.  He went to consult with Jan, who was talking about buying a Jersey cow.  Frank was in favor, and would pay 60¢ a quart for mason jars of milk that had been pasteurized.  Frank had a lot of ornamentals and even fruiting trees and such, so he couldn’t just let the cow wander free, but she would be able to come over and eat if they could work it out.  Jan mostly just wanted to be encouraged.  There was a yard on the East side of Frank’s place that would be a good place for the cow.  Frank could throw careless weeds and such to the cow.  Jan could tell what ones the cow would want.  Frank didn’t want the cow in the garden, but there were lots of weeds and grass coming up along the fence line road.  They could cut a gate in the fence somewhere, and then just tie the cow to a car or something, let her eat all of that.  What was growing in the ditch from the sorter might even be better, but all her cows were eating that.

A water cannon from a big Offshore Supply Vessel would have been very handy, but the two to three million dollar buy in sort of shot that idea.  Also the fact that Big Bird lake was not deep enough for such a vessel.  There was Frank’s little submersible pump, but it would barely be able to keep up with the garden, which, should it fail, would cause disappointment on the part of friends Frank had not even made yet.

Jeremy and Shelly selected and boxed rocks for the afternoon.  Frank and Freddie went to the ‘big’ city to buy seed and stuff.  Frank got 100 48 cell flats, and some flower seeds, including the stuff Freddie wanted him to grow, where there were no seed in stock.  Frank got into the 50# bag of cat food thing.  There were two kids trying to sell kittens for $2 each.  They had 4, and Frank gave them $10 for the kittens.  He went to a vet to have them get their shots, and while that was being done, they went to a building supply and got a cat door.  They paid the vet, and headed back to the amazing vistas of Big Bird Texas.

Freddie disked the garden and the kitchen garden one last time, and promised to plant tomorrow or the next day.  The weeds died rapidly on the very hot day that followed.  Frank planted tomatoes, Mexican marigolds, and Mexican sunflowers in pots.  Since the seeds were there, he also started cosmos, zinnias, peppers.

Freddie planted corn, watermelons, squash, cantaloupes, honeydews, cassavas, cucumbers and so.  That night it rained.  A week later, it was dry enough to disk, and Freddie did the part that was not yet planted.  Lots of small weeds died then.  Several weeks later, Freddie cultivated, destroying a lot more weeds and getting a look at the little plants coming up.  Frank had sorted a lot of rocks, but when Paul came back, he needed to sort more.  Jeremy and Shelly were selecting, too.  Their wages took up most of what Frank made on the rocks, but there was a little left.  Paul took the Buick to the store, and then took the little boat on the lake.  Possibly he would take the Buick home, or maybe bring his wife with him next time.  In theory, Frank should have had the rock, but it seemed to just slip away.  When he did his tax, he found out what was happening.  He was making some pretty good money.  The CPA was not overjoyed with the bookkeeping, but if ever one is, let us all know.  Frank knew what he had been paid and what he had paid others.  If there is a difference between those, that is income (or loss) and that’s it.  There is some kind of strange thing where the IRS has wanted to tax people for stock profits they do not have.  The 16th Amendment says “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States and without regard to any census or enumeration.”  That would sort of sound like incomes was a known thing, wouldn’t it?  Not what some congress wants to call income, but actual income.  

Frank, fortunately, did not have any of that income that you never actually had but is still called income, so he was able to pay his taxes, and did so.  Congress of course steals and wastes most of your tax money, but on the other hand, it does finance the Marines, who are worth much more than we pay for them.  I can hardly imagine someone so stupid that they would try to invade a country of 300 million people with 700 million guns, but just in case they come to Texas, I wouldn’t mind a Marine digging a foxhole in my front yard.  I’ll even make her coffee with cream and sugar.

Frank set about filling Paul’s truck.  The pile got him started, but then he had to go with what came from the sorter.  Paul being on the lake, Frank had to move the truck himself, but it was not real hard.  He took bank run and sorted it, and put the unselected stuff in a very large pile near the barn.  He scooped up the sludgy stuff out of the ditch and put it in the sorter, which sent most of it to the truck.  He was doing pretty well until a car came down the driveway and stopped near him.  It had a hard engine knock.  The kind that means the car has about 50 miles left on it.  It was a crummy old Chevy that was clearly not worth a rebuild.  4 soldiers got out of it.  “Our car has something wrong with it, Sir.”

“Last time I looked, I didn’t even have butter bars on my lapels, so it isn’t ‘Sir’.  ‘Frank’ should do.”

“Do you think you can help us with the car?”

“I can smash it with my loader if that will make you feel better.  I could push it in the lake.  It’s got a bad engine knock.  You might get it down to town on its own power and sell it for $150 or so to be crushed.”

“The problem is, we need to be on base in 12 hours.”

“Come on inside.”

Frank got the number at the base, and the commander’s name, Col. Elvin Rickett.

He called, and asked for Col. Rickett.

“Colonel Rickett.”

“Frank James.  I have 4 of your troops with a car that won’t get to base with two prayers.”

“It’s up to them to get here.”

“Their car has an engine knock, Colonel.  They can’t.  But you could send a car, a chopper, or a small fixed wing aircraft and get them.”

“We don’t do that.”

“Well, ask their company who can come get them then.”

“Nobody is on leave.”

“So what do you expect to do, then?”

“They show up or they are awol.”

“They are stranded.”

“Their problem.”

“You shouldn’t even be an E-2.  You’re a fucking shithead.  You’re a fucking disgrace to the United States, Colonel!”

“Fuck you, too.”

“Fuck you Colonel!”

Frank dumped the phone on the hook.  “Well, I guess I didn’t help much.”

He went back to the barn with the soldiers.  He found Jeremy and Shelly.

“Can you drive these guys to base, Jeremy?”

“Hanging sheetrock with Willy in the morning.”

“Shelly?”

“Working in the café.”

“I have to fill that truck.  OK, guys let’s think hard.  I can trash that car, get $150 or so for it, or I can let you park it in the weeds for a while.  Do you want to keep it?”

“No.  If it’s junk, junk it.”

“You own it?”

“Yeah.”

“Sign it to me so I can.  Take my Buick, and don’t run it low on oil.  Here is $100 so you can put gas in it.  You can get someone to bring it back?”

“We might buy it from you.  Would you take $1500 on payday?”

“Can’t do that.  I need $1000 for it.”

The owner wrote a bill of sale on an old envelope and put his address on it.  He also receipted the $100 Frank had given him.  He said if he could find the pink, he would send it.  Else, he would do a lost title application and send that.

Off they went to serve their country and the scoundrels who run it.  Jeremy followed Frank to the service station, which was also the wrecking yard.  The Chevy went for $125.  Frank wondered if there was something else he could use for a second car.  Alfie showed him a Toyota pickup.  It was real beat up, but Alfie said it had no mechanical problems.  $600 would do it.  Frank drove it, liked it, and bought it.  Alfie ‘knew it worked fine’ so he put an inspection sticker on it.  “If the horn or the lights or something doesn’t work when someone looks at it, remember it worked when you got it.    Frank took it to the city and got the DMV papers done by Red, who put on his DMV hat pretty fast.  They went back to the ranch.  Frank got a call from a guy who wanted a box of rocks and a bag of coarse grit so he could get started faster.  Frank pointed out that he would get less rocks that way, but he didn’t care.  Frank asked him if he could order on the web site so there would be a label.  He could note wanting the grit, and Frank would see if he could fit in a few pieces of choice rock if he had them.

Frank went back to sorting rocks.  Jeremy got the special order off the web site, and packed it so that would be done.  They parked the Toyota inside, near the door to the selecting room.  They put the orders in it, so someone could take it to the post office in the morning.  Jeremy and Shelly had the orders done.  Frank looked over the mail.  The soldiers had paid for the car, so he sent them the title.  He put it on the dash of the Toyota to go out with the boxes.  Cleo’s mom had sent a card with thanks for saving her daughter, and all the nice things, too.  She sent a check for $200.  Frank asked Jeremy if he and Shelly wanted two bills.  They did, so he signed the check over to Jeremy, and told him to go through the house, dust, vacuum, pick up clean up and all that.  They took a lot of trash and floor sweepings out, most to the wood shed, which was slowly building a big collection of boxes, trash, and junk wood.  The outside wood stove could take a pallet of junk, so some pallets had been brought over.  Uncle Jack had left instructions on how to use the outside wood stove.  It was basically a furnace that ducted air to and from the house.

“You will get lots of junk wood.  You should try to accommodate people, because they may really need the $5 they don’t pay at the dump.  I never save ashes for the garden because there is so much junk in it.  I always accept chipper crap from the tree service, and manure from whoever wants to get rid of it.  Put it way out back near the lake, and then you won’t have to smell it.  Put in the garden when it doesn’t smell any more.” 

Frank saw the logic in this.  Jeremy and Shelly would be back to do some more cleaning.  Frank sorted some more rocks, and finished the load.  Paul came in.  He had caught some crappie and a bass.  The cats came and cleared up all fish waste problems.  Frank and Paul cooked the fish and some vegetables.  They ate, and Paul went to sleep.  Frank selected rocks until the wee hours.

* * *

In the morning, Paul was gone.  Frank continued to cook batches of soil in the big rice cooker.  He sifted the dry stuff into pots and planted them. He put them in the greenhouse, and pulled the tomatoes that were in cell packs.  He potted them into 3” tall packs and returned them to the greenhouse, and watered everything in.  He filled boxes until the orders were done.  He put out an old sign that said ‘Flowers for Sale’.

In the morning, the flowers started going to their new homes.  Many buyers brought boxes or stacks of nursery containers.  Frank planted tomatoes and marigolds in the next unused row.  Supposedly the marigolds repel root nematodes.  Frank thought they did.  In any event, you needed the marigold seeds anyway.

Jeremy had a nice bunch of native sunflowers.  Freddie had disked the area very early, and the rain had got them going.  Jeremy and Shelly pulled the big weeds, and dragged a bunch of hose from Frank’s garden, hooked up some water cannon, and run 40 gallons a minute for the night.  20,000 gallons of water on about 1/8 acre.  That amounts to 3 ½ inches of water, enough to matter quite a bit in the growing of plants.  Uncle Jack had mown some marigolds with a riding mower, and saved the mess in boxes in the woodshed.  They had disked in the mess, and it was coming up all around the trailer.  

Frank started watering his tomatoes with the proportional mixer, adding a little bit of fertilizer with micronutrients to the water.  With 80-90 degree days in the greenhouse, the tomatoes grew noticeably larger in a day.  Frank held the price line at $1 for a six pack, or $.50 for a 4”.  A customer sold Frank some oddballs, quart nursery cans, for 2¢ each.  The Mexican sunflowers went into those because they were growing so fast.  

Frank went on the lake with the little boat.  The next thing he remembered was Jan yelling at him from the shore.  He came over.  “What’s up?”

“Were you asleep?”

Must have been.”

“You’re not very afraid of the water.”

“This isn’t the Bering Sea.  You want to fish?  Got everything here, but maybe could use some water, maybe a few beers.”

“I’ll get some water and some Bacardi.  You got lots of bait, another pole?”

“Yeah.”

She got a case of water and a bottle of Bacardi 151.  They headed for the dam.  “You may know more than me but I imagine the biggest catfish are by the dam.”   “That’s what I want is a big blue cat.”

“They get most of them on trot lines.  Those should be outlawed.  That is commercial fishing.  These little mud puddles should be reserved for sport fishing.  I might even prohibit heavy line.”

“What do you plan for today?”

“Wind from the North, so we will go up near the dam and let down two rigs, bounce the bottom and haul them up a little.  If we get a fish on, you will take it.  If we bump the bottom, you will roll up a few feet.  Hang on to the tiller for a minute, please?”

He tied the rigs and baited them with chicken livers, washed his hands over the side, and dried them on a towel.  He put the one starboard aft, and had Jan put the other starboard forward.  As the sounder showed them the depth was increasing near the dam, he turned hard to port, cut the motor and tilted it up.  He let down, bounced, and rolled up a few feet, putting the pole in the holder.  Jan had done the same.

“Did you get over that sense of being somewhere you don’t belong on the water?”

“Mostly.  Maybe there is a little of it left.  I know I am a land animal, and even this little lake, it would be pretty hard to swim across.  But this boat has flotation, a radio, life jackets, a flare gun, and stuff like that.  It would eventually drift ashore, and we would walk.”

“Strange how you have it thought out.”

“You always should”

They took a few drifts, and Jan thought they might as well go in.  Frank said she should give it one more try, for the twilight.  The boat had lights.  They went back up, and turned the lights on.  They let down again.  A few minutes later, Jan had a big fish.  Frank rolled up.  “Take it easy.  There is nothing he can do really.  If he runs, we can follow him.  Keep your line tight, and put your tip over the bow, let him tow the boat if he can.  No need to get him in.  Let him wear himself out.  Get him away from the bottom where you could foul on an obstruction.  Keep your pole tip up.  You’re doing it right, Jan.”

“I’ve never hooked a fish this big.  Maybe you should take him.”

“No way.  I’ve caught lots of big fish, now it is your turn.  When you get done wearing him out, we will get him on the side, and you will counterbalance us by being all the way over on the thwart.  I will gaff him, and haul his head over the gunwale, and you will keep one hand on the pole and use the other to help me boat him.  Once he is aboard, you will pay most of your attention to the balance of the boat, and I will bash him with that piece of pipe, we will put the boat on the trailer, and fillet him and put him in your freezer.”

“He’s really your fish.”

“He is your fish, Jan.”

The fish came close.  “Jan, lighten your drag a little.  I want you to wear him out a little more before we put him in the boat.”

“What would we do if he is too big?”

“He’s a blue cat about 120 pounds.  You can handle him.  If he was three thousand pounds, we would wear him out until he could hardly breathe, then beach the boat and beach the fish.”

“Can that really be done?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve done that?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me your fishing story.”

“No.”

Why not?”

I don’t tell fishing stories.”

Tell me what happened.”

We were halibut fishing in a 24 foot Carolina.  I had some real big hooks on, big as your hand.  I got a small halibut, and a big shark got him.  We worked him for a few hours, and were not getting anywhere.  Another little boat, like 40 feet or so, talked us out of cutting off.  They let him have a few rounds from a Garrand.  30-06. It could have drawn other sharks, but that did not happen.  Everyone and his cat was on the radio saying this fish should be taken.  We worked on him a few more hours, and he was getting weak.  Some Eskimos wanted us to beach in a little cove.  Well, they knew the waters, and they kept saying how hard the season had been, and they really needed the meat.  So we beached the Carolina, and I got up out of the sea, and worked on that nasty thing for two hours or so and got nowhere.  Five or six guys worked on him all night long, and in the morning, he was in the surf.  A boy of maybe 14 walked into the water and put a cable on him.  They hauled him up on the beach with a bulldozer, and you would not have wanted to be around when they cut him up.  It was like a slasher movie.  I have some pix from it, but they are black and white, out of focus and there is a big defect from the camera that ruins most of the shots.  It was a disposable camera.”

The catfish came alongside.  “Jan, this is it.  Keep the boat in trim, and when I get the gaff in him you can help.”

Frank put his finger and thumb around the line, showing Jan he was not pulling on it.  He slid the gaff under the gill cover, and pulled the catfish aboard, handing Jan the gaff handle, and smacking the catfish one good one with a piece of pipe.  He took the boat in, put it on the trailer, and went to the house.  He hung the fish from a scale, and weighed it at 128 pounds.  He called Freddie, who came over to congratulate Jan.  Jeremy and Shelly also came, and Frank took lots of pictures.  Jeremy wanted the head.  They called the café, and it would certainly be possible to cook some catfish, put some in the freezer and such like.

They all went down there, and more pictures were taken.    The café would keep the junk for Frank’s cats.  Jan allowed everyone who happened to be there a free catfish entrée.  The café got some money for fries and drinks, so that was no problem.  The editor of the local paper came and got the story, direct from Frank who had been right there.  In the Frank story, Jan had put a line down while Frank dozed in the sun.  She had struggled mightily against the immense fish while waves swirled around the boat, and then gaffed her catch and taken it to the café to be seen before she filleted it and shared it with her neighbors.  Frank might have had a little to do with the filleting, but the photos only showed Jan.  Local girl makes good.

Frank left, assured that the hero had a ride home, and selected rocks, boxed grit orders, and all those interesting things he had come to know.  He went to sleep in the wee hours.

Jeremy called Frank in the morning.  A ten wheeler was there, wanting to come in.  

Frank got Jeremy to make the driver a cup of coffee, made himself one, and took a very fast shower and got dressed.

You must be Frank.”

Yeah.”

Mitch.  Can I get a load of drain rock from you?”

Uh, yeah.  Do you like this stuff?”

It would be fine.”

Well, we don’t have a scale.  You can get weight at the cotton gin if you need that.”

I don’t.”

Then we do ten bucks a bucket, which is a third of a yard, about.  That’s a little over a thousand, so $30 is about 1.6 tons.   You can probably be legal with ten buckets.  You can look at your springs, or go to the gin and see.”

Can you just sell me ten buckets of drain rock for $300?”

Sure.  I have that much, anyway.”

Load me.”

Frank did so, and Mitch gave him three hundred dollar bills.  Frank went to the bank and deposited them.  The teller told him they were good bills.  Frank went to the grocery store and got some beer, and filled the gas tank.  He went home and selected rocks until dark.  He went to the greenhouse and turned on the lights.  The tomato plants were getting huge.  He watered everything.  He thought he should have done something to draw business tomorrow, Saturday.  He went back in the house feeling blue.  

This place gets to you, nephew.  It’s a sad part of the world in some ways.  When you get down, you have to realize it is just something that will be around a little while and be gone.  I like to go see Clyde.  Clyde is never blue, and he loves to see you.” 

Frank went out to the barn.  Clyde came over and rubbed faces.  Frank took him out in the corral, and tried to get on his back with nothing to hold on.  Finally he made it with some pulling on Clyde’s mane.  Clyde trotted around the corral.  They went back in, and Frank combed and brushed the immense horse.  Clyde really did seem to know Frank was down.  After a while, he wasn’t any more.  He gave Clyde some dry ears of corn, and went back inside, and went to sleep.

* * *

In the morning the farrier, Thomas came by.  He looked at Clyde’s hooves.  “How much does he walk on pavement and hard rock?”

Very little.”

I should take the shoes off him, let him be barefoot.  I’ll come by every few months, get a beer from you, and look at him.  If he isn’t getting excessive wear, he does not need shoes.”

Let’s do that.”

Cost you $20 to take them off.”

No problem.”

Jack never listened to me, but maybe you will.  If you don’t want Clyde, he is worth about $2,000 bucks.  If you want to keep him, take care of him.  He should get one of those scoops of oats every day.  Corn is all right, but oats or wheat is better, and it’s only like $15 for a bag.  He should be getting a vitamin and mineral supplement.  The stuff in the red and white buckets at the feed store is good.  Put it on top of his oats.  Keep those things where he can’t get at them, because he could die from eating too much.  Horses need you to look out for them.  In the wild, they live ¼ of the life they live domesticated.”

He started taking the shoes off Clyde.  “Let me show you something.”

He went into Frank’s tack room and found a little tool.  “This is for cleaning out their hooves.”

He lifted Clyde’s foot.  “See this little rock?  You find one like this you get it out right away.  Like this.”  He flicked the rock out.  “When you have a horse, he helps you with what you need to do, but you’re obliged to take care of him.  Let me tell you a story.  There were some animal rights activists, and they came to a ranch where they trained stunt horses.  These are the horses that act like they have been shot, and fall down, that sort of thing you see in westerns.  They called the ranch and asked if they could look around, and the owner says ‘Sure’.  So they come, and they park alongside the ranch house, and there is a pasture the other side the driveway.  Where the retired horses live.  So they get to talking to the rancher, and this horse comes by, running like a bat out.  And he suddenly takes a fall right beside them.  Head over heels.  Then he gets up, and comes to the fence, wants to know if someone has an apple, carrot, something.  The rancher gives the animal rights folks some apples or something to give the horse.  The horse was showing off.”

Is that what we all do, Thomas?”

It might be.  Nobody wants to be a has been.”

But.”

We all are.  Look at the astronauts.  They couldn’t decide who should go to the moon.”

A chimp went first.”

That idea would wreck the whole thing.  It would show the absurdity of the entire manned space program.  Next thing you’re going to tell me is that a man with a pencil and a notebook can’t solve arithmetic problems as fast as a computer that executes 700 million instructions per second.”

So why send a chimp?”

Because you don’t believe instruments that Newton could have admired?”

That is not working for me, Thomas.”

We wanted to see a man do it, be there.  He didn’t accomplish anything.  We already knew the rocks on the moon were the same crap we put on the driveway.  They have no more value than that piece of crap I just took out of Clyde’s hoof.  But I was thinking about something else.  You want to put a man on the moon no matter how stupid that is to do.  You test everyone, and they have to be perfectly healthy, they have to be able to inhale such much air.  They have to run, and piss the right chemicals, and so on.  We’re picking the best of the best.  What else can you do to say who is the best?  Who has the pinkest fingernails, something, anything!  Then we put him in a cockpit and drive it from Houston, like we always did.  We let our chimp walk on the moon, and then what?  That guy, who competed to be the best of the best, has been to the moon, and now there is nowhere to go.  There is nothing to strive for.  When the parade ended, so did his life.  There is nothing to do after this.”

I wrote programs in the stratosphere of computers, and had it all taken from me.  Now I select rocks and pack grit in boxes, but I don’t feel like my life is over.”

Thomas took the rest of the shoes off and threw them in the scrap metal box.  “You didn’t want a parade.  You were not a seeker of glory.  You might think people don’t know you but the fact is, by the time you parked that old Buick, most of the people in Big Bird knew who you were.  And I’ll tell you something else.  Most of them like you.  They think you’re nuts, but they don’t mind that too much.  They have no idea what your code did, but they know it was really intellectual hard core thinking stuff.  But you don’t think you are better than other people.”

Would a check be inconvenient for you?”

Oh, it was pretty easy.  I won’t charge you.”

You can get me when he needs shoes, maybe.”

He won’t, I don’t think, but I will come and look at his feet.  You don’t know shit about horses, do you?”

I know to feed them a little oats and some of that stuff in the red and white buckets.”

“Do you know why he should be running around with the cattle?”

“Well, he might like the company.”

“Aside from that, he hates coyotes.  Jack saw him put one in the air down there.  Said the fucker flew 50 feet.  When a calf is born, it can’t defend itself against coyotes.  Donkeys will take them out, but when you get kicked by a Clydesdale, you stay kicked.”

 

04 Is it Really Wood”

 

 

The next morning, Jeremy and Shelly made Frank an offer.  They would walk the pasture, the hillside, or dig the sorted and not selected pile.  They would collect the good stuff and box it for $2 a box.  If they picked up a rock on the sorted not selected pile, and it was junk, they would throw it in the deselected (driveway rock pile).  They would not use the sorter or the loader.  They would fill grit orders for $1 each.  

“That’s not a lot of money to you guys.”

“Well, we know you do a lot of it yourself because the margin is small.  We won’t do well by hours, but we can work any time we like, and we thought, well, you wouldn’t mind being ahead by a few hundred boxes, all stacked in the room by your sorting table.”

“What if I want them labeled and taken to the post office?”

“Included.  But we use one of your trucks.  We don’t spend any money.”

They walked into the open work area, and measured the spaces.  Frank marked on the wall with a stick of sidewalk chalk.  “We could put 500 boxes along here.  Put the old desk here for a work table.”

They emptied out the old desk, and rolled it on the dolly to the new spot.  Frank provided some marking pens and stuff.  He got on eBay and printed his orders.  He was using pastel paper for them.  On eBay he had to print one sheet at a time, because the orders were listed by when they came in.  The web site was better.  It allowed Frank to select the usual box of rocks and print the labels for all of them.  For Jeremy it would not much matter.  He cut the eBay labels and the web site labels in separate groups on a massive cast iron paper cutter.  Red was a small flat rate box of coarse grit.  Grey was a medium box grit kit.  Sky blue was a box of rocks.  White would have a note written on it, a special.  Frank brought the labels to the new shipping area.  Jeremy and Shelly went to labeling, and loading up the Toyota.

Frank took off his shirt because the day was warming.  He went to throw it in the laundry, and there was a rattlesnake in the basket.  Frank called Freddie, who came over with a carrier, a grabber, and a stick with a ball on the end.  He swung the ball around slowly, a little too far from the snake for it to strike.  He reached out with the grabber, and caught the snake by the neck, and put it in the carrier.

“Cindy will loan you the carrier and the tools.  She’ll pay maybe $8 for this guy.  You can get about that for the skin if you know how to work it down.  Split the belly, take the lower jaw off, and skin your fillet.”

He picked up Frank’s phone and called the buyer on speaker.  He put on a silly hissing voice.  Cindy, thisss isssssss Freddie.  I have a ssssssssssnake for you.”

“Good.  We like ssssssssnakesssssssss.”

“I’ll put it in the sssssame place.  My neighbor needsssss the carrier and the grabber, the decoy.”

“Where Jack wasssss?”

“Yeah.”

“He had the tools for sssssssnakessssss.  We’ll bring another, but don’t let anything happen to it.  $26.85 our cost.”

“Frank knows what your stuff looks like.  He will save it if it turns up.”

They both hissed and hung up.

“The carrier has a one way door for a rodent to go in.  You put it in the shade.  North side of the wood shed is what they will expect.  You put a piece of bread in there, and if a rat comes along and goes in to get the bread, the snake eats him.”

“This is the first rattlesnake I have seen here.”

“It won’t be the last.”

Freddie went home with the snake.

Frank got a call from a girl who wanted to know if the petrified wood was really wood.  Frank explained how silicates replace wood that decays over centuries in an anaerobic environment.  The girl wanted to know how all that could happen when God had made the world in six days. Frank explained that a day for God might be a lot longer than a day for us.  The rocks were hundreds of millions of years old, and had been brought to Texas by glaciers a million years ago, probably.  Glaciers might only move a few inches a year, but they could cut mountains in half.  Did she have web access?  Great.  She should look at Frank’s website.  There were links to geologists around the world, and to Texas A&M, and lots of cool places.  There were eight thousand photographs and a million words of text about geology.

The phone got handed over.  “This is grandma.”

“Your granddaughter was asking about petrified wood, Ma’am.”

“Do you sell it?”

“That’s probably why she called me.  We sell about a ton a week.”

“And then people tumble it.”

“Right.  We sell grit and polish and tumblers, too.”

“Could she make any money doing that?”

“Prices on eBay tend to about match what it costs to tumble the rocks.  It’s a hobby, or maybe you have someplace to sell for good prices, like a truck stop or a pawnshop.”

“What would you do?”

“Depends if you can afford to buy stuff that doesn’t have much point to it.  You can resell the tumbler when she gets tired of it.  As far as cost effectiveness, you want the single 12 pound barrel.  The little 3 pound one is the least money.  All of ours come with rocks if you like.  It makes the shipping more, of course, but most people want the rocks.  We fill the barrels full, but you need to look at the instructions on the web site.  You don’t run it full.  There has to be space for them to roll around like in a dryer.”

“Where else should I shop?”

“eBay.  Make sure you compare apples to apples.  My best deal is with the rocks and a grit kit.  The rocks, best deal is to come here with a pickup.  $500 for all you can eat.  Pick your own.”

“We’re not that serious.”

“Well, get on my web site, see what you can see, and if you like something else better, you looked and I appreciate that.”

Red came and wanted to know if Texas Department of Transportation could get rid of 900 feet of highway divide that was all banged up, and well, they just didn’t want it actually.  The City wanted some coarse drain rock, like 2x1 or so.  Would $100 fill the ten wheeler?

The drain rock was fine, but the highway divide, in 50 foot sections, might be too big to be handled.  No problem, because TDOT would bring them on a big skateboard and flop them right where they belonged.  Frank loaded the ten wheeler, and then the big truck came, and with a little pulling by the loader, dropped the huge pieces of concrete where they needed to be.  The driver unhooked from his skateboard and pushed them together.  There were some links to hold them.  Then he left.  Red got the ten wheeler.  He wanted to know what was it like inside the microprocessor.  Frank said it was like being on Mars.  You could never live there.  You could visit, but never really know the place.  A world of pure logic.  Endless highways with no guard rails.  A place without compassion or concern.  Red took his load.

Rattlesnake in the laundry.  Was it really wood?  What is it like to be inside the microprocessor, a virtual world?  

Paul called, and wanted to come with his wife, Sarah, get a load and fish.  Frank would keep sorting.  Frank put up a sign on the sorted but not selected pile asking that if someone found a worthless rock, he would appreciate it being thrown into the sorted deselected area.  The highway divide neatened up the piles, something that Frank liked.  He was used to the neat and tidy world of the microprocessor, and liked things orderly.  

He found Cindy’s snake carrier behind the wood shed, along with the grabber and the decoy.  Later, he found a snake, so he put it in the carrier, and called Cindy and Herbert Morales rattlesnake processors.  He got the voicemail, which was a hissing and rattling sound followed by “Thissss is Cindy.  We’re probably out sssssssnake catching.  If you have ssssnakessssss leave a message with your sssseller number.  We will pick up your ssssssnakesssss in the next few days.”

Frank left his number and name and telephone.

Frank sorted some more rocks, and ran out of interest.  He went down by the lake and sat on a rock under a willow tree.  That didn’t seem to do much, so he came back up to the house and listened to the phone messages.  Someone wanted a price on a large flat rate box full of coarse grit.  Frank put it in a garbage bag and filled the box.  He called back, and the guy liked the price, so he gave Frank a credit card number.  The box went into the Toyota  and that was that.  The grandmother of the little girl rock hound called wanting a box of small rocks.  Frank told her to put it on the web site, and it would ship tomorrow.  He filled a box with small stuff, and printed her label, putting the box in the Toyota.  

Jan called, and brought over Ned, the next neighbor east.  They had Coke and Bacardi, Frank had ice.  Ned had some herbal smoking material.  There was a little dirt road along the lake shore, so they could go back without going on anything the State Police could patrol.  Jan had permission to go on every one of the 26 bits of road around the lake.  Frank was fine with the neighbors passing if they didn’t leave the gates open and have Jan’s cows get out.  The gates already had signs saying “right to pass revocable at any time.”

Jan’s cows were making some noise down by the lake.  “Frank, get Jack’s .22-250.  It has night vision.”

Frank got the rifle and scanned with the scope.  “Coyote.”

“Pop him.”

“Your cows are kind of close.”

“It’s a good rifle with a good scope.  Close doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

“Freddie, it’s close to the lake.  A ricochet could hit on the other side.”

Frank said, “Shoot from the little observatory on the roof, but you’re fine here.”

Nephew, that .22-250 is a tack driver.  It’s zeroed at 200, so you can go by the mil dots.  The lake shore is a thousand yards, and you can hit a skunk that far, but you should be on the roof so you don’t bounce a round off the lake into someone’s house.  That rifle has killed coyotes at 2,000 yards.  Don’t talk about it, but you can do it.” 

Frank went upstairs, and knelt at the rail, resting the rifle.  He acquired the coyote, and slowly squeezed the trigger.  The recoil was not bad, but the sound was.  Frank reacquired the target, and the coyote was down.

Freddie took the rifle and looked.

Left of the big mesquite, about 50 yards downrange of it.”

He’s down.”

Freddie handed the rifle to Jan.  “Nice shot, Frank.”

She put the rifle into the work area and came back out.  

Will this make the neighbors nervous?”

No.  They will know the sound of that rifle.  Jack was a great varmint killer.  He shot a rattlesnake in the head from 300 yards from the roof here.  Don’t try to tell anyone, they just think you’re making things up.”

That’s a third of a minute of angle.”

He could shoot.”

Freddie picked up the joint.  “You know Randy, the taxidermist?”

Know who he is.”

He will want that coyote hide.”

He can have it.”

Randy can connect you with the Sioux.  If you want a bear coat with rabbit lining, and you have a few hundred bucks you can spare, they will do it.”

I don’t need a bear coat.”

Probably not.”

Freddie re-lit the joint.  Jan went in the house and got some ice.  She made some rum and Cokes.  

Ned, do you ever talk?”

Not much, Frank.  That’s all right?”

Yeah, but I’m interested in what you have to say.”

Nothing for now.”

Jan laughed.  “Frank, Ned likes to hear people like you speak.  If you go to a rodeo, there are guys who want to ride the bronc, and guys who want to drink a beer and watch it done.  You look at a talk show, and they have a few people at the table, and a million at home watching.  Fact is you are more interesting than most of those talking heads.  Ned wants to listen.  He isn’t dumb, he just likes to watch the show, is all.”

We are not leaving you out, Ned?”

No Frank.  Like Jan says, I just like to watch the show.”

OK, we are not being unfair or anything, then.”

Not at all.  You know what I would like to know is how you would fix the economy.”

Freddie laughed.  “A slow rising pitch goes right over the plate at shoulder height.  Babe Ruth swings…”

We bailed out Chrysler with taxpayer money.  We bailed out the Wall Street banks with 700 billion dollars of taxpayer money.  For their greed and stupidity.  Socialism for the rich.  Nothing for the poor.  Now turn this idea around.  Let AIG go bankrupt.  Let Goldman Sachs go bankrupt.  If the price of cattle went down, lots of our neighbors would go broke.  That is who should be bailed out.  People who have worked hard for 40 years and the market fails them.”

“Why did we give the railroads  trillions of dollars worth of land to encourage the robber barons?  In a country that was actually for the people, the people would own the rails, like they do in Europe.  The people should own the power plants, the highways, and all of the infrastructure.  Then let everyone see what he can do with his own little ranch.  Put the inheritance tax back.  W Bush got rid of it because it taxed the only thing he can do.  Inheritance creates dynasties, which means worthless people get richer on money their robber baron grandfathers stole from the workers.  We need to help the poor.  We have people who can’t make it.  Pay them anyway, and have them sort bottles out of the trash at the landfill or something.  A guy’s in a wheelchair, no disability.  He can answer the phone.  Bedridden?  No disability.  We will pay you to answer questions about the earned income credit.  Choose 8 to talk to Cecelia about how to claim the earned income credit.  We don’t insult her with some giveaway nonsense.  She works for a living like the rest of us.  Everyone has a right to a living but they have to work for it.  Want to make more, then get into enterprise, and work harder.  Want to do something other people don’t?  You can make a little more money and good for you.  I have more than most people, but I worked 80 hours a week to get it, and then got ripped off for most of it.”

Jan smiled.  “He might even tell you what he really thinks, Ned.”

“Justice.”

Jeremy and Shelly came with a bowl of cat food, and a definite following.  They set it down, and the scarfologists went for it.  Every cat, is, of course, born with a baccalaureate in scarfology.  They usually acquire advanced degrees at an early age.  Two of the caboodle who were already working on their masters degrees were hunting grasshoppers.  Frank hoped they would all come in for the night, because the last coyote was still out there.  Pound for pound, the felines had it all over the canines, but these guys, at 4-15 pounds, would not be able to handle a 40 pound coyote.  Their 40 pound cousin, the Canadian Lynx, would be.  The coyote would have a chance similar to that he would have against a 200 horsepower Olathe wood chipper.

One of the kitties sat on Jan’s lap, and one climbed up on Frank, purring in his ear.

Freddie rolled another jay and passed it around with Jeremy and Shelly.  Frank sipped his Coke and Bacardi.  Frank and Ned took a toke.  

Frank asked, “Does everyone know Jan caught a 128 pound blue cat?”

Shelly said “No way.” Not really meaning disbelief, but more astonishment.

“I was in the boat.  It weighed in at 128.”

Freddie said, “That might be the biggest fish ever caught in Big Bird lake.”

Jan said, “Frank told me about catching a 3,000 pound shark on hook and line.”

Frank went in the house and got his pictures.

Freddie looked them over.  “What did they do with him?”

“It’s a female.  We ate her.”

“Is shark any good?”

“All right.  Kind of like catfish.”

“Something you are not saying.”

“They also eat the guts, the eyeballs, everything.”

“Got some cool stuff for us to look at?”

Frank went back in the house, and came out wearing a sealskin coat.  He had some tusks from walrus, and killer whales.  He took the coat off and handed it to Jan.  He fished a roach out of the ashtray and lit it.  “The big ones are from a walrus, and the pointy ones are from a killer whale.  The shoot a lot of game these days, but these teeth came from an orca that was killed with spears.  A long time ago, I think.”

“Did you have to do things to prove yourself and all?”

“No.  But you do things to be polite.  Boiled seal kidneys is just the beginning.”

“What do you do?”

“I would say this was ok but I really liked the barbecued sea snake.  Well, better than fish guts and stuff.”

“So these guys are from where?”

“They are Americans.  But you see, you have to get along.  We wanted them to bring supplies out to the boat with their helicopters.”

“They eat fish guts but they have helicopters.”

“Uh huh.  Most of the pilots are ex-military.  They fly in shit that nobody in the lower 48 would think of.  Blizzards, zero visibility, gale force winds.

Shelly asked, “Where are the other 2 cats?”

Frank called for them, but they didn’t show.  

Shelly called, and they finally showed up.  She took one, and Jeremy took another.  Frank had a cat, and so did Jan, so they were all present and accounted for.

Freddie said “They don’t know how dangerous it is out there.”

The cats were taken in, and everyone went home.

* * *

In the morning, Jeremy and Shelly wanted a paycheck, so Frank ran the accounting program.  He mentioned that they should consider tax rates and all in deciding to whom to attribute the income.  Frank would not lie, but he would certainly go by what they told him.  They should both get debit cards.  They would not need to pay for checks.  They could buy things and not have to carry cash.  Frank could deposit money in their accounts with the accounting program, and they would not need to cash or deposit checks, or wait for them to clear.  Jeremy and Shelly wanted checks, so Frank cut checks.  Randy had gotten the coyote, skinned it, and the carcass had been eaten by enormous hogs at a ranch south of town.  

Jeremy and Shelly went in the Toyota to the post office, and wherever else they were going.  Frank ran the water on the garden.  He printed mailing labels and put them on the old desk with a brick on them to make sure the wind didn’t blow them around.  He ran the sorter for a few hours, and got tired of that.  He moved the hoses in the garden, and pulled a few big weeds.  It was kind of swampy so he let that go and went inside to return phone calls.  Many were just inquiries about rocks.   People had the phone number from years before the web site.  Once they found out they could order on line for less money, they went that way.

He returned a call to someone who had seen the pix of big stuff on the web site.  

“Les and Sally Barker rock shop, this is Les.”

“Frank James.  You left me a message.”

“I saw some big pieces of petrified wood on your website.  What kind of money would we be looking at?”

“$500 for a pickup of little stuff.  Some of the big pieces, $200 to $500.  It’s probably academic, because the post office limits at 70# and I have links to some LTL truckers on the web site, but they don’t seem to be hauling much.”

“My wife and I deliver nationwide.  We have a Kenworth T-2000 and a 48 foot flatbed trailer and a little forklift.  We also have a 36” slab saw that cuts 16” rocks, and a flat lap that can polish them.  We sell display slabs to museums and rock shops.  We have a pallet that comes out around 3 tons.”

“Some of those rocks in the pix are way over 16”

“Salvino limestone has eight foot saws.”

“Blades must be expensive.”

“Twenty thousand.  But they will cut your wood.  You just need to pay their prices, which are truly outrageous, as are mine.”

“Where are you guys located?”

“Home is Oklahoma, but we are on the road most of the time.  We’re in Corpus Christi today, going to Seattle.  We will see you this evening or tomorrow morning if we may.”

“All right.  I’m sure I can bring you some business.”

Frank seemed to be out of a lot of things, so he got in his truck and headed for town.  When he was near the grocery, he saw a van with a black haired man talking to a little girl with very light blonde hair.  He pulled his .357 out from under the seat, and put it in his back pocket.  He parked the truck so the van could not get out, and put his keys in his pocket.

“What’s going on here?”

“He’s looking for a lost dog.”

“Get on the ground, spread eagle.”  He held the .357 on the man.

“You’re making a mistake.”

“If so, don’t move and cause me to make a bigger one.  Don’t confuse me with someone who won’t shoot.”

Frank called 911.  Red was there real fast.  “Put that gun away, Frank.  Elaine, don’t ever get in a car with a stranger.  If they point a gun at you, you still do not get in the car.  He cuffed and stuffed the man, and had dispatch call Elaine’s mom.  He had a tow truck take the van to an impound yard.  “Elaine, your mom is coming to get you.  Stay with Frank.”

Elaine’s mom came real fast.  “I’m Melody.  Oh, my gosh.  That guy almost got my daughter.  Thank you so much.  I’m not a bad mom.  My husband is long gone.  She gets out of school early, and she should know, but… She is so trusting.”

“It’s not your fault, Ma’am.  We are just not ready for evil.”

He went to the grocery store, and home.  He got a call from Carl Lake, who wanted to sell some terra cotta clay.  Frank had no idea what to do with that.  Carl told Frank that Frank had a kiln and potter’s wheel that Carl had been asked to look at by Jack.  Carl could come over later today.  That would be fine.

Frank pulled some weeds, but the task seemed beyond mortal efforts, and he went inside.  

There was some commotion outside, and Frank put the harness on Clyde and rode out to see what was going on.  The school bus had broken down.  Melody was driving it.

“I think we should get it off the road.  We can put it in the shade of the house.  Let’s rig it and you put on the brakes when I put my left hand down.  The old brake signal.”

“Can your little loader tow this bus?”

“I think the kids will like it better if Clyde does.”

“He might hurt himself.”

“He won’t.”

Frank looped a chain on the frame of the bus, and made a line fast to that.  He clipped the line to the harness, and got up on Clyde.  They began to pull, and it looked like nothing would happen, but then the bus began to move.  Clyde walked around to the East side of the house, and they unhooked there.  Frank put Clyde back in the pasture after a little face rubbing.

Frank called the school, and got the principal, Harold Blake.  He promised to be over soon.

 

05 A Home for Everything”

 

 

Harold Blake came pretty soon.  His secretary was calling the parents.  He had a list of the kids, and he checked off who was going with whom.  He took a few home himself.  Melody stayed.   Elaine was two doors down from Melody’s house with Melody’s ex husband, who could for sure take care of his daughter.  It turned out Jan was Melody’s aunt, so she could get a ride home any time.  The neighbors came over again.  Carl came, and they all helped drag the kiln to the gas outlet in the kiln room.  The kiln room could vent to the greenhouse for spring, outside for summer, or the work area and machine tools for winter.  The wheel got put a little ways away in the air conditioned selecting room.  Carl replaced the foot pedal, and it ran fine.  He did something with the computer controller of the kiln, which also worked.  He went through the programs and saw nothing wrong.  Frank would know by first firing, if something was wrong, and Carl would fix it.  They unloaded some terra cotta clay, and Frank paid Carl for it and the service.

Les and Sally Barker came a little later.  They were looking at the big rocks when a police car came down the drive.  Red asked Frank if they could go inside.  Frank took him to the study.

“We got that guy.  Failure to register, had some nasty stuff in the van.  Your bust might work out for us, or it might not.  I was going to have you get a carry permit, but this is better.”  

He handed Frank a detective’s badge.  “I need to pay you for an hour or two a month for legal reasons.  You’re my sniper, back up guy or something.  The City will buy the ammo for your target practice.”

He got in his car and left.

Frank went back out, and had a drink with the gang.

“So what did Red want?”

“He was going to get me a carry permit, but he reconsidered.  Gave me this instead.”  He showed the detective badge.

Freddie shook his head.  “This might mean if someone pulled out a joint, you’re the police now.”

Frank took a little glass jar out of a bunch of junk by the barbecue.  “Fascist pig, actually.”  He took a roach out of the jar and lit it, took a toke, and passed it to Ned.

Les said, “We want to talk big rocks.  Let’s not do it stoned.  We have some great weed for later.”

They went out.  He pointed at a big piece.  “We could go a thousand on this one.  Sally?”

“Two thousand.”

“So Frank, let us have all the big rocks for $5,000?”

“OK.”

“Load us.”

Frank did so.

“You sell a truck with 1,000 for $500.  Can you go us $2,000 for a three ton pallet if we buy 25 tons?”

“$16,666 a truck”

Sally said, “Make it $18k.  We select.”

“Will you toss your junk into deselected?”

“Sure.  We will have a crew of mostly Cherokee to sort, and they won’t leave your piles picked over.  The people who watch your gate can’t be throwing junk when they need to make a living.”

“That’s Jeremy and Shelly.  They’re my ranch managers.”

They loaded the big rocks and then Les and Sally wrote a check and left.  They also left a folded piece of paper with some real good weed in it.

The whole bunch got together in a bit, and Frank told Jeremy and Shelly about the new deal.  Jeremy was all right with it because of the promise that the piles would not be left picked over.  “We still do all the web site and eBay orders, though?”

“Sure.  These guys are jobbers.  They sell big rocks to museums and millionaires.  They sell three ton pallets to big rock shops from Washington State to Maine, Southern California to Miami.  They are not getting your work.  If it looks like you are coming short on work, we’ll make an adjustment because you guys come first.  I’ll put the new sorted stuff on the selecting table for you.”

Jan put some beef ribs on the barbecue.  One of the advantages of being a beef producer is that you eat the best.  Clowns pay less for a steer with a bad leg.  That same steer is less active, and instead of having the hard muscle of an active animal, he has the tender marbled meat.  The steer the ribs came from had been butchered at about 900 pounds and could hardly walk.  You could nearly lick the meat off the ribs.

Frank started the game.  “If you could be some animal current or prehistoric, what would it be?”

Jan thought a brontosaurus would be cool, because they could always find something to eat.  

Freddie wanted to be a cheetah, so he could run 70 miles an hour.

Ned would be a giant sloth, because they took things calmly.

Frank would be an eagle, for the view.

Jeremy would be a lion.

Shelly would be a crocodile.  She would mind her business, and you would mind yours.

The cats worked over the bones vigorously.  When they were done, the bones could be put back into the barbecue and become soil additive.  

The gang headed out, and Frank found himself alone, in that strange state where you were drunk, but nodded off and sobered up, and now want something to do.

Frank went to the shop and started throwing pots.  He threw about twenty, and went to sleep.

In the morning, he put the pots in the kiln, and ran them on the A cycle, Carl’s safe one, where you slowly baked the water out of the pots, and then took them up to cone.  He went out to the garden and took out his aggressions on the weeds.  The melons were starting to make.  

Jeremy came and asked if he wanted some help with the weeds.  

“Yeah.  The weeds and I don’t know what.”

“Remember that thing about free floating anxiety?”

“Yeah.”

“Emotions just float.  Anger, despair, anything.  They are there for no reason at all.  Your anger could be explained as PTSD or it’s just left over from childhood or something.  It turns into self destruction or you want to beat hell out of some guy in a bar.”

“You think emotions come from nowhere, and mean nothing?”

“I don’t know if I would go that far.  But kind of.”

“So man goes around trying to satisfy these meaningless impulses with the most powerful brain of any animal that ever existed?”

“You’re the smart one here.”

“Supposedly.  You can cut these weeds until you get tired of it, or it gets too warm.  You two can do the rest of the chopping in the early mornings if you want.”

“Will you load the sorting table for us?”

“Yeah.  I’ll get that done.”

While he was closing the rolling door after loading it, Jan drove in the back way.  

“Want to ask you several things.  Would you come over to close a gate when we get a steer chased in it?”

“Sure.”

“Would you go with having your pasture ripped on the contour by a D-6?”

“Yes, but don’t plow down my big mesquites.  Under 4” trunk, push them out if you like.  Bigger, leave them.  You can plow down the pears and pile them, and I will burn them next winter.  Barrels and pincushions and all those other cacti, please save them.”

“If I hire a rock rake, and pile the rocks of my pasture and yours, will you haul them away, no charge either way?”

“Sure.”

“And can I put grass seed on them both with a crop duster?”

“Sure.  Your seed, your grass.

As they headed over to her place, she said, “I would like some rock in some mud holes.  I can show them to you when we get the steer loaded.  Melody will drive him to the auction.  My dog, ding dong and I will run him in.  You stay over the fence until he goes through, and then just push the gate.  It latches when it closes.  If he tries to come back, make a spooky weird sound.    A rebel yell, or a flying saucer sound, what ever.  I’ll ride my horse, and he is a real good cutter.  This mess over here is what I want to gravel.  What will it cost me?”

“Keep your cows in the corral so we can leave the gate open, and we’ll just call it loading, $10 a bucket, and I will grade it out a little for free.”

“Gotta love that price.  Let’s put him in.”

She drove Frank to the gate, and went over to get her horse from the shade of the barn.  She and ding dong went out to get behind the steer, and gave him a little feel of being chased.  He zoomed across the pasture and into the gate.  Frank jumped over the steel rail fence and pushed on the gate.  The steer turned to look back, and Frank said “OOOOOhhhhooooowahhh!”

.  Jan put a boot to the gate Frank was at, and shoved it closed.  It clanged, and latched with an authoritative clunk.

The steer ran from them and into the chute funnel.  Melody closed the other gate.

Jan rode back over to the barn, tied up her horse, and came back with the pickup for Frank.  “General Chennault will be fine.  He has water there.”

“Your horse is named for the guy who led the Flying Tigers?”

“I’m a retired Air Force Major.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Started in ROTC, went to learn instrument mechanics.  The boys wanted to fly.  I only wanted to fly to go somewhere neat on leave.  Never met an island I didn’t like except for the Aleutians, and Iwo Jima.   So I got put behind a desk, and I flew it pretty well, so I ended up in charge of all kinds of things.  When I retired, my parents were getting old, and I came back to help them with this little place.  My dad taught me cattle with my ABCs which was good because I didn’t learn much in the school.  They had the same system as today.  Good old boys with grade school educations teach high school.”

“What did you do in school, Frank?”

“AS in Physics, MS in computer science.”

“They wouldn’t let you teach Algebra.”

“I wrote a program that does algebra, but you can’t say that.  Because of the lawsuit, I can’t claim my own code any more.”

“What does it do?”

“You put in an equation and say ‘solve for x’ and it goes through it step by step, just like doing a problem in your homework.”

“So kids copied it into their homework, and that’s why the teachers hate you?”

“No.  It was ‘show me how’ which asks you to pick the operation you want.  Attrition, Distraction, Uglification or Derision or Square Boot, and try it.”

They came to the loader.  “Can you just follow me to the mud holes”

“Yeah.  You want 2 x 3/4 for your bad mud holes?”

“Get me some, please.”

They went  back and forth a few times, and covered the worst spots, graded around a little, and they were done.

“So I owe you?”

“$30.  Do you think I could get some tobacco, though?”

“I’ll ask…”

“I don’t need to know who.  Let me know when it gets muddy somewhere.  Shallow mud, ¾ drain rock.  Deep, we use rock about half the depth of the mud.  You don’t want it sticking up to turn an ankle on.”

“Are you doing pretty good, Frank?”

“They paid $5000 for the big rocks, and it will be $18,000 for their truckload.  I hope you don’t feel bad about all this money coming out of your rock pile.”

“Not at all, Frank.  Jack was the first person in at least 10 million years to dig into it.  You’re making money, but you work all the time.  And if Jeremy and Shelly leave, you will have to do it yourself or find someone else.  Melody wants to pick rocks.”

“If Jeremy and Shelly want to let some work go.  I’m not about to take food out of their mouths, but if there is more than they want, we will let the work out.  Shelly hasn’t been feeling too good.  She comes out in the afternoon, Usually.  Oh.”

“Yeah, big Oh.  In a rational world, people would wait until they were 25 to have kids, but that isn’t what they do.  They have a child when they are not financially established, and before they can pay the expenses.  Well, this isn’t going to be the first Texan who got baby clothes from the neighbors.”

Frank went back to the house, and got a call from the Barkers asking if they could bring their crew, camp out and load the truck.  They wanted to select some ¾ clear, and all the larger grades.  That would be tomorrow or the day after.

Frank called the sellers of the sorter.  They were glad to hear there would be more 3/8 minus, but they really wanted some ¾ Niles mix.  It would be clear of clay and silt, but sand from 1/16 up would need to stay.  They were going to do some terrazzo.  Bank run.  Not picked over.  Frank could not produce it because he did not have the super fine sorting screen.  They wanted 10 loads, if they bought the screen, what could he give them in 50,000 pound loads?  Frank would go them $50,000 and the screen for 500,000 pounds of ¾ bank run Niles mix.  He would pay off the sorter out of the $50,000.  The screen was shipped.

The Barkers agreed to select from ¾ up.  They would be allowed to put anything that ‘put an ear up’ on their truck.  That put Frank in the position of perhaps selling a very valuable piece for tonnage.  He agreed.

Frank sorted as fast as the loader could go until it blew a cylinder.  He got the parts, and spent most of the day in the open work area, at least out of the sun, running the evaporative coolers, and taking the little loader apart.  He had put some of the parts back when the gang came over.  

Jan said, “I know a guy who would help you with this loader.  This is Gabe.”

“I probably have it.”

“Gabe also knows where you can get a big Caterpillar track hoe.”

“115 foot reach with a 36” hoe.”

“I will never be able to afford a machine like that or have a need for it.”

“The owner wants out of a nursing home.  His kids are talking sell it for scrap.  I can make it run.”

“Let’s see what we can do.”

Caterpillar evaluated the machine for free.  The kids were all for Dad living out by the lake. They made an apartment out of Frank’s boathouse.  The track hoe was brought out where the old man could see it.  After about a month, “Emily” threw out the first plume of exhaust she had thrown in a quarter century, and tore into the hill with her massive bucket.  She took the old man for a ride around the lake ripping junk trees out of the ground, and pushing mountains of gravel onto the road.  She dug a nice little minnow pond for one of his old friends.  She picked up gravel and rock from the lake and filled mud holes and such.  After the tour of the lake, she brought him back to the boat house, and he went to sleep.  He never woke up.  Emily dug his grave.  

* * *

 

Emily tore the hillside to bits, and fed the sorter like a farm wife feeds a lost kitten.  When the Barkers came, they were pretty impressed.  They brought their crew in a bus labeled Episcopal Church.  It turned out that the Episcopal church had never required membership for someone to go to the school.  In times past, the white kids in the public schools had beat up on the Cherokee kids.  In the Episcopal Church schools, that had not happened.  Perhaps someone had been smitten mightily.  The crew put up a neat row of tents, and set to selecting rocks.  Jeremy ran the sorter, and with Emily’s immense help, Frank kept it running.  When darkness came everyone wanted to keep going.  Jan brought over a calf killed by a coyote.  She also had the coyote in her pickup, and the rock selecting gang skinned him, and ate him as well.  If the coyote had ever been sacred to the Cherokee, it was no longer.  

The truck was full, and so everyone packed their tents and followed Frank to the market at first light, and it was open.  A miracle, perhaps arranged by a Kiowa Medicine Woman known as Jan.  Many boxes were loaded on the bus, with milk, sodas, bread, mayo, mustard, and such, and a lot of sliced meat and cheese.  Onions, peppers garlic, lettuce and tomatoes.  The bus was loaded, and it went home.  Frank went the other way and arrived in the middle of the morning.  

He started sorting again.  This time he had the super fine screen on the bottom, but that did not keep him from making a pile.  It would make some very nice concrete.   In the afternoon, Paul came to get some more 3/8 minus for paths.  A limo came into the yard.  Frank went back to Emily and loaded the sorter some more.  The driver got out of the limo and waved his arms.  Frank came down and drove up to the limo, parking so his exhaust was on the side of the limo, a deafening noise.  The driver made a cut motion, and Frank yelled, “I’m busy.  Call me later.”

A man in a nice suit got out of the limo.  He motioned ‘may I speak to you?’ in quarry talk.  Point to yourself, then your mouth, and the operator, then hold your hands upraised.  It is not the gesture of a superior, but that of an equal.  Frank shut Emily down.  He came down the ladder.  “Gonna get a lot of crap on your car coming here, buddy.”

I am Emilio de las Penas Urillio Mecina.  You may call me Em, if you like.”

“Em, I am Frank James.  You may call me Frank or whatever you like.”

“Frank, I am building an office building in Chicago.”

“Been there.  Too windy for me.”

Em smiled.  “I expect to buy off your commitments.  How many to you have?”

“Not so much but I have people counting on me.”

“Not legal obligations.”

“Moral ones.”

“Those would matter to you?”

“They would.”

“Well, what I want is a surface layer on my ground floor.  It’s 800 by 2,300. about two million square feet.  A surface coat will need about 5,000 yards of concrete, and I want it.”

“I might not be able to do it, but maybe I have an idea for you.”

“I’m listening.”  

“The best things I have are big petrified wood pieces.  My customer, Les Barker, can cut them in slabs, or have it done.  Instead of the usual method, you put thick slabs into the wet concrete, and use, of course whatever you want to buy from me to fill in.  Now say you are making the way to the elevators.  You use yellow rocks in slabs to do the road.  The way from the elevator to your office is big slabs of petrified wood.  Of course you use some of my stuff to fill in, but I don’t have what you really need.  Something in the dinosaur bunch to greet visitors.  One of the rooster dinos.”

“You speak to everyone this way?”

“Sure.  If you think you are better than me you can fuck off.”

“Would you care to speak to the President of the United States?”

“If you like.”

He handed the phone to Frank.  “Frank James.”

“Please hold for the President of the United States.”

“I don’t hold for anyone, Ma’am.”

He handed the phone back to Em.  “He isn’t there.”

Em handed it back.  “The President for you, Frank.”

“Frank does not do corruption, so just go away.”

“Frank, let this guy have some rocks.  Charge him way too much.  Some people do things for the fed that you can’t know about.  Be a pal.”

“He wants to tie up my operation and shut out my legitimate customers.”

“Let me talk to Em for a minute.”

He did.

“Frank, will you sell bank run?”

“I already am.”

“For how much?”

$3250 a truck”

“So if the Unites States starts sending trucks paying $4000. you will fill them?”

“Yes.  But I need to check in with the current order.”

Frank called the sorter sellers, and they said tell the man who they were, and that they would wait, so Frank did that.

“We are going to send trucks.”

The trucks did come, and lots of rocks were hauled off to the places the Federal government takes things.  Frank called the sorter sellers again, and they sent Paul to get the first load of Niles mix.  Emily got him loaded quickly.  Jeremy ran the sorter to keep things going.  Shelly selected and filled the box orders.  By mid afternoon it was pretty hot, so they went in.  Jeremy and Shelly finished the orders and got to the post office with them.  When they came back,  Frank mentioned that Melody wanted to select rocks if they had more than they wanted.  

“We need the work, Frank.”

“It’s yours.  So is selling the garden stuff.  I thought what we would do is, you get 25% of sales.  You can get a thrift shop wallet, like one of those big ones women carry in a purse, that has a coin purse on it and all.  You’ll keep change in it, but when it fills up, we’ll divide it.  I will post your share as pay advances.  So we are square with the IRS, and our comp carrier.”

“We are going to need some more work if we can have it.”

“Jan and I thought there might be something to explain Shelly not being out in the mornings so early.”

“I guess you weren’t the worst pick around here for a detective.”

“Jan says there will be baby clothes and stuff, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“That will be a lot of help.”

Frank went to the study and did his bookwork and returned phone calls.   One of them was from the County Director of Public Works, Ronald Anderson.

“Public works.”

“Frank James returning Ronald Anderson’s call.”

“Frank, thanks for calling back.  This is Ron.  I was wondering about some rock for the fairgrounds.”

“What grade, how much?”

“We have some bad mud holes, and lots of slightly muddy places.  The lot, which is the worst, is two acres.”

“265 yards an inch deep.  You probably need 500 to a thousand yards.  I may have 600.  We could start with the big stuff in the big holes, see how it goes.”

“What will it cost?”

“Three bucks a ton.”

“I can go 40 miles one way and pay $7”

“Well, this is overflow from what is really a rock shop supply, and we want to help the neighbors keep the mud off their shoes.  But we’re not very big.”

“You can grade?”

“Just a little loader with a grading bucket.  Don’t y’all have a motorgrader?”

“Out of service.”

“Get it going while you spread rocks, have a contractor roll it?”

“Maybe.”

“You can buy what we have.  But we will not have a lot more very soon.”

“Hours?”

“First light to last light.”

“You have that trackhoe.”

“I can move rock, but the sorter is a choke point.  It takes a day a load for a slam banger.  Perfectly fine by me, because we will find about $2,500 in petrified wood and agate in that.  Kind of a joke for you because you need a real quarry.”

“What about a borrow pit with your trackhoe?”

“Here by the lake where I wouldn’t worry about having it break down, sure.  But out in the dry land where people would want a stock pond, it would cost a lot to bring it back home, and I don’t have a truck and trailer.”

“Ask around if you would.  In the meantime, what do I need to do to buy what you have?”

“Weigh in at the gin, weigh out at the gin.  However many buckets it takes to make weight, we will know, and after that, you can weigh if you want, or we can just count trucks.”

“Sounds good.”

The county’s trucks started with the biggest rock and worked their way down to the 1 ½ x ¾, and the bins were empty.

 

06 First Amendment Bless America”

 

 

“Every Fourth of July, you have to play along with patriotism here.  It requires no sacrifice.  Just flags, bunting, and the pledge of allegiance where we all swear loyalty like good little Nazis.  We celebrate the freedom we no longer have.  I wish every one of these little flag wavers had to go back in time and serve with me at the Chosen reservoir.” 

Frank sorted rocks.  He filled up the selection table, and sorted rocks until it got kind of warm.  He went into the shop, and looked at the machine tools.  A massive drill press with ‘Massachusetts Iron Works 1878’ cast into its lower frame.  A rack of square shanked wood and metal drills stood beside it.

The next machine was a 24” planer from about 1950.  The old cast iron frame.  After that was a huge metal lathe, about a 16” swing and a 6’ bed.  Frank turned it on and heard it hum, and watched it spin.  He turned it off.  

There were a few knocks on the door.  Jan came in.  “They’re neat even if there is not much use for them.”

“May we be so lucky.”

“Sounds like you’re down, Frank.”

“Kind of.”

“You need something new in your life.  Maybe a girl friend.”

“Lots of luck on that score.”

“You think you are too old or what?”

“Or what.”

“Melody likes you.”

“If she had come along in the upper cretaceous when I was her age, that might have worked.”

“Age is just a number.”

Epoch is a word.”

OK, we’ll let that rest.  I would like to make some pots.”

Well, there is the wheel.”

What would you charge me to make a kiln full?”

Well, I read the gas meter before and after a firing, that was about $10.  I used two bags of clay, another $10, and a little electricity for the wheel, so I guess it costs me $25 or so.”

Depreciation and maintenance?”

I don’t know.  I would never have bought this stuff, but it seemed silly not to get it working when I do like it.”

Would $35 a kiln load do it for you?”

Yeah, but what are you going to do with them all?  I can tell you, it’s hard to sell them.  Your cost on a pot is about the same as retail on one the same size.  That means you need to sell at twice the price of the commercial stuff to break even.”

I want to start cacti from seed.  In your greenhouse if I may.  And then put them all around the house, on the porches and such.”

I’ve tried to start cacti from seed, and they never came up.”

You were not using Kiowa seeds.”

Let’s go out to the greenhouse and look about.”

They went over there, and Frank pointed out the north west corner of the greenhouse.  “You can use that space there.  It will be too dark in the winter, though, so you will have to have somewhere outside.”

Let’s go back in.  I want to look at the machine tools.”

I was thinking of cleaning them or something.”

They went in, and Frank did a little sweeping and such that didn’t need to be done.  They looked over a small band saw mill.  “You could make some small lumber on that, but there isn’t much around here.”

Jack made me some cedar shelves.  He cut the wood on that saw, and then turned dowels out of the scraps, and made like, inch by 12 out of it, then planed it in that little planer there, and built a nice little thing for shoes and stuff.  He was always doing things like that, that took days to do, and ended up being nice, but not worth the work.”

The sky outside darkened.  “Jan, do you suppose it will rain?”

They said it might.”

Do you know how to throw a pot?”

No.  Will you show me?”

They went in the little air conditioned place where the sorting table and the potter’s wheel were.  Frank told her about wedging clay to get bubbles out of it, and how you put the sloppy stuff on the plaster block to get it solid again.  He showed her how to center.  How you make the pot the thinnest at the top before making it thin below, and how a nursery pot has to have a little draft so the plant can come out when it needs to go in a bigger pot.  He did a little parody of an idiot instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College who would not allow his students to make planter pots.  The clown said the potter would be thinking all the time about the plant that was going into the pot, not his art.  This same bozo was all in favor of coffee cups with holes in them so they were useless.  Paid as if he knew something, he took a salary in the art department deterring students from combining the art of the potter with the art of the horticulturalist.  Frank’s view was that this came to the same thing as telling an artist he could make paper Mache but not paint it.  It distinctly reminded one of Jamie Wyeth’s statement that the best thing a school could do for an artist was to expel him.  Frank thought just firing the entire art department and teaching students to write and count their money would be better.

* * *

A beat up 4 door Ford came down the driveway going far too fast.  It turned sideways did a 360 degree spin.  Out of the vehicle came a mass of curly black hair which gave some indication of having someone under it.

Frank opened the door, and this tiny thing under the hair, which weighed 85 pounds, picked him up and spun him around like a child.  “Is you happy to see little Syd, Frank?”

Yes.  Jan, this is my friend, Syd Silver.”

Pleased to meet you.”

Jan took a good look at Syd.  She was a very small and very solidly built woman.  She was so hard cut that you could look her over like an anatomy picture to identify the muscles.  

Frank, is that your track hoe?”

Yes.  The hill is mine, but the other side is Jan’s.  You can push rocks around, but please don’t push any down unless you push them by the gravel sorter.”  He handed her the key to the track hoe.

Who is she, Frank?”

Syd.  I used to know her in my programming days.  I did some things for the Navy.”

Syd Silver?”

Yes. She was something that barks but is not a dog.”

You were writing code for the Navy.”  She put her hands over her eyes.  “That kind of things?”

Might have been.”

 “What did she do?”

I don’t know, I wasn’t there, nobody told me, I don’t understand the question.  I don’t remember, I didn’t see.  What was the question?”

Jan went to the window.  “She has Emily on top of the hill, and the arm all the way up, and she is standing on her hands on the bucket.”

She was going to do that.”

Can’t you tell her to stop?”

I can, but she won’t listen.”

They got beers and sat at the kitchen table.  “Frank, what’s with this Syd?”

The shrinks say borderline psychotic, and bipolar.  They give her drugs but they make her feel bad, so she won’t take them.”

How did she get into the SEALS?”

She wanted in more than they wanted her out.  They said women couldn’t do it, she was too short, she had to cut her hair.  They tried to get her out on a psych review, but she got in front of some admirals and acted normal, and so they let her in.  She never does what she’s told.”

Emily came up to the house.  Syd leapt out.  “I has finds a nice rock.  Can I has it?”

Frank looked at the rock.  It was a great petrified log, about 10” around and 3’ long.  “You can keep it, Syd, but you can’t put it in that car.  It would break an axle.”

I’ll get it later.”

Are you still at the place in Virginia?”

No, I retired, so now I am just going here and there.”

Are you going to settle?”

I have a place in New Mexico in the badlands.  Next to Dave Cale.”

We could get your rock shipped there.  I’m selling to a couple who sell rocks all over the country.”

She wrote the address on a scrap of paper.  Dave Cale would verify it for Frank.

He is the Shellys Rock Cactus and Truck Stop, Shellys Rock, New Mexico.”

Let me see about getting your rock taken over to your house.”

Les?  Frank James.”

I was just going to call you.  We could come by.  Can we get a couple of pallets of rocks?  “I know we said we would buy full trucks, but we’re coming from Arkansas and have most of a load.”

Where you’re going, would it take you through New Mexico?  I have about a 500 pound rock that a friend wants to take to Shellys Rock Cactus and Truck Stop.”

We want to go there anyway and see about fossils.  Also wanted to see about rock hounding at your place.”

Jeremy has the exclusive on rock hounding here.  Not really a contract, but they need the work.  Let me put Syd on.   She’s the one who has the rock, and she knows the owner of Shellys Rock Cactus and Truck Stop.”

This is Syd.”

Les.  Do you think we can rock hound at Shellys Rock?”

You have to ask the Apache Chief there.  Him and Dave are real tight.  They hunt my land, and pick up arrowheads to sell at the store or put in museums and such.  Ask the Chief, Robbie, about my land, too.  He won’t stop you from walking out there, although it will be very hot this time of year, but like, I don’t want any digging with equipment or damage to cacti or that kind of stuff, and I don’t want anything Robbie objects to.  You could also ask Dave’s former girlfriend Alice, at A&D Quarry near Smithfield, Texas.  She will for sure let you rock hound.  She might charge you five bucks a day or something, and you can fish also, no license required.  Stay out of the way of the equipment, digging only for a rock that had an ear out, fill the holes back in.  No damage to cacti or her baby trees, vehicles to stay on the roads.”

We have an 18 wheeler.”

Alice has a few things that small.”

We’ll see you if you are still there when we come in a couple days.”

I probably will be.  Talk to Frank again, will you?”

Les, do you want some rocks selected?”

As many as they want to select.  I would take ten tons.”

Jan came with Jeremy and Shelly.  

Les, Jeremy and Shelly just came in.  Would you like to talk to them?”

Please.”

Frank handed the phone to Jeremy.

Jeremy, will you make up a pile of up to say, 10 tons of select for us?  However much you want to pick.”

Frank, what will we charge?”

For you and Shelly, and nobody else, ½.”

Jeremy, do you guys have any 55 gallon drums that won’t bust if we put rocks in them?”

Frank, oil drums for rocks?”

Cecelia has lots of them.  $12  each but it’s got to be a truckload.  I want some salvage oil for the track hoe tracks.”

Jeremy, I heard that.  Get them opened on the top, no real sharp things hanging out, about 20 ¼” holes in the bottom, mopped out with dirty gas from a wrecking yard or something, just so my customers can put them in their rock shops.  We’ll pay for the whole truckload, but don’t let anyone take our drums unless you get like $25 or something, we can buy more, hopefully.  Will she deliver to you?”

Ya.”

Order a truckload.  I will pay when I get there, or we can use a COM check.”

When he gets here, Jeremy.”

They signed off.

Frank looked up.  “Let’s figure out what we’re doing.  Shelly, would you call Cecilia and ask for a truckload of opened oil drums, and three of something I can use for track lube?”

She did. “Two hundred drums used once each, $18 each, so she wants $3456.  All flame cut on top and drains on the bottom.  The track lube she will throw in.”

Tell her we want them.”

Jeremy, can you go get us $3500 in $100 bills?  Take the toy truck and put the nine under the seat.  Self defense only.  The money isn’t all that important, but if you feel threatened then shoot to stop.”

Shelly, will you get her to spot the drums reasonably?  We would use the pallets  but if she wants to dump them, somewhere a loader can pick them.”

Hi, Melody.  Did you come to pot around with Jan?”

Yes, I did.”

OK, you guys have the potter’s wheel.”

Syd?  Want to show them how to throw pots?”

I want to do something with Emily.”

Jan, do you have something to rip up and destroy over there?”

Pears and my junk mesquites.”

Syd is an expert operator.”

 “Just over there is Jan’s place.  She will let you in that gate down there. You can go rip up some prickly pears and junk mesquites.”

The big machine rumbled down to the gate, and Frank saw Jan open and close the gate when Emily went through.  She climbed back aboard Emily and they went for a tour of the pasture.  Jan got off, and Emily headed out into the pasture and started uprooting little trees, pushing rocks out of the ground, and smashing prickly pears.  

The massive machine dug a few little stock ponds in the seasonal creek and went on to obliterate an old shed, pushing it into a heap of junk and then running it over several times.

Frank turned to see flashing blue and red lights.  The cruiser came alongside him.   Red was driving.

Let me take you to your house to get your gun and a picnic  basket.  I have an MP-5 and a Remington 700 BDL .338 with a Leopold Vari X 3 4x16 scope on it.  Which do you know how to use?”

The Remington.”

 They tore up to the house.  Frank grabbed some bread, peanut butter, milk, and some other stuff ant threw it in a small cooler

This is Bonnie and Clyde at the roadblock, Frank.”

They ran down the highway a while, and parked the cruiser crosswise in the road at an open gate between two deep bar ditches.  Red took a spot in the deep ditch and weeds alongside the gate.  Frank set up about 100 yards back .

The suspect was doing about 90 miles an hour on a dirt road.  He was reaching out of the driver’s window shooting at the cops behind him.  That is a fool’s move, which my dear reader can easily learn by trying to shoot her .357 at a stationary target behind her car while it is parked in a safe shooting area out in the boonies.  A belt fed machine gun in the back of a pickup or a station wagon might be pretty dangerous, but a handgun or an automatic rifle, not so likely.  

Red said “Fire at will.”

The vehicle went into a slight curve that took the police cars out of the backdrop, and Frank acquired the target, elevated to about head height, and squeezed off a round.  A bullet hitting tempered glass has a doubtful trajectory after the strike, but this one went fine.  The car went off the road, turned over in the bar ditch, and slid to a stop upside down.  Frank chambered another round, pocketed the empty case, and elevated the barrel to avoid an accident.  He put the safety on.  Two deputies were coming up on the car, one on each side.  One opened the driver’s door, and unlatched the safety belt.  He motioned the EMTs over.  They put the suspect on a stretcher and took him to the ambulance, but you could see he was not going to the hospital unless just to be pronounced dead.

Everyone came out of the bushes.  Frank cleaned the rifle with the kit in its case, and stowed it in the police car.

They drove off, with the Sheriff waving to them.  The FBI took over the scene.  

Red and Frank went back to Frank’s house.  Frank stowed the picnic basket in the refrigerator, and went out on the deck.  Red decided to go home.

Syd walked by on her hands.  “So Frank, it was you, wasn’t it.”

He threw her the cartridge case, which she put in her pocket, standing on one hand.  Jan and Melody laughed. Ned didn’t say anything.  Freddie just sort of smiled.  

Freddie turned on CNN.  “In an apparent attempt to run a roadblock, Arthur Valle, suspected of a crime spree all over the southwest, including a dozen murders, was shot dead by an FBI sniper.  Now we bring you live to the scene.”

Syd giggled, still on one hand.  “Where nobody is alive to tell.”

A very pretty blonde lady stood on the road nowhere near where the round had been fired from.  “From somewhere near here, the sniper fired down to that spot where you see the overturned car, a distance of about 450 yards, a very long distance for a rifle.  The FBI has declined to identify the shooter.

The show went to something else.  Freddie turned it off.

Jan looked over to Syd.  “Could you make that shot?”

No problem.  He got him coming out of the curve with no lateral motion.  Not a hard shot.  No backdrop problem.  A sniper could have done it in a lot harder problem.”

Tell me.”

Well, take a Remington police and military rifle with a Seurat barrel, goodbye to $20,000, and a Centurion 25 x 60 scope, kiss off another $20,000,  It would be pretty easy.  An expert could make that shot at 2,500 yards, so.”

So the guy who did that is not a marksman?”

The shooter was a sniper.  A marksman is a rifleman who hits his target once in a while.  I’m saying he didn’t need to be very good with a rifle for that shot.  It was done right, but it doesn’t tell you if he’s really good or not.  “I’ve see Alan De Chaine shoot ten .38 cartridges off a fence rail at 600 yards in ten shots.”

* * *

Frank and everyone made some tacos and stuff, and went out on the patio to eat and drink some beer and tequila.

They passed around a few joints, and told lots of jokes, and even played some music.  Frank had a cd player and some J.J. Cale and Clapton.  Then most everyone went to sleep.  The cats went into the house, being too small to do anything else.  Perhaps they wished they were leopards and could prowl the night.

Syd got her usual 3 hours of sleep, and hung out in the brush in the dark.

* * *

In the morning, Syd was running around getting into everything.  She made some scrambled eggs and coffee, petted the cats, went up on the roof to look at the view, and came down to see if Frank was awake.  He was, just barely, so she asked if he wanted his prickly pears and small mesquites torn out, and he gave her the key to Emily.  She went out on the pasture, and uprooted prickly pears and small mesquites.  She parked Emily, and got Clyde to help her, and dragged a bunch of the small mesquites over by the wood shed.  She took Clyde back to the barn and brushed him until he was tired of being brushed, and gave him some oats.  She went to the garden and hacked down some large weeds.  She took the little loader and put ¾ x 3/8 on the driveways and graded them out.  She unloaded the little cooler in the refrigerator, and drank some coffee.  She went back outside and found a working chain saw in the barn, and cut up a lot of the wood she had brought over.  

She came in, and washed the dishes, and still nobody was up.  She went out to the barn and started messing with an outboard motor that had not run since the American People had profoundly disappointed her by electing Ronald Reagan.

In less than half an hour, she had the outboard running, and within the hour, she had it running well.  She went back in the house and made some pancakes and bacon, and at last got someone else awake.

Frank came and ate breakfast with her.  

Will Alice be mad if I come and want to fish?”

I hardly know her.  You can fish here if you want.  I have a pretty nice little boat.”

I got your Johnson 50 running.”

That I never figured out.  I don’t need it, but running, it’s worth some money.  The little boat has a 25 on it.  All you need for this lake.”

I want to do something more than fish for catfish.”

Fish for Marlin?”

Pointless.  No good to eat.”

How about going around looking at cacti?”