Accepted by Twisted Ink
It all started innocently.
They arrived at Yance’s place in a cloud of smoke, exhaust, and pot fumes. The trip had started with Duke and Weasel picking Boone up at his place. Apparently he had not informed his wife Madge of the upcoming road trip. When Duke and Weasel pulled up to Boone’s house on the morning of the departure, he hastily fled from the rundown dwelling to meet his hunting buddies. Madge was in hot pursuit throwing anything she could lay her hands on at him. As Duke put the truck into gear and started down the road, Boone was leaning out the window flipping Madge off. She stood in the yard cussing him out and flipping him off back.
After the entertaining but typical departure, they’d been on the road for 24 hours from southern California and they were ready to get the hell out of the truck. Probably not as ready as the Appaloosa mare in the rickety trailer behind, but they unloaded her into the makeshift pasture and focused on more important things. It had been a drunken binge of a drive, and all three had a whole lot of pent up energy just waiting to bust loose and get them in some deep shit.
The three California boys knew Yance from years past and good times down south, but this was the first trip to Trinity County and they were ready to enjoy some country fun. They parked the rig in front of the Skunk cabin where they would be staying, threw the duffels in the old building and popped open beers.
Daylight faded behind the mountains and trees as the bonfire started roaring. Amber sparks rose into the starred night sky and disappeared, swallowed by a velvet blackness that was unmarred by city lights. Duke, who had driven the whole trip, lasted an hour before he slipped into a slumber accompanied by snoring that would have jarred a hibernating grizzly. Now Duke was a sweet man with a fuse longer than the Empire State building; unfortunately, Boone was the one person who could make that fuse burn down in mere seconds.
Boone, always ready to pull an unusually cruel prank, preceded to light Duke’s socks on fire. The flames started small. Duke snored away until the fabric burned through and hit his feet. At 300lbs his leap to his feet was impressive and hysterically funny. Frantically he stomped his feet out in the dust around the fire, then adrenaline overtook the pain of burned feet.
The laughter slowly died as the huge, pissed off, and blistered Portuguese surveyed his audience. The only one who kept laughing was Boone. His beer gut still shook and his greasy face glowed red with amusement under his oily brown hair.
Colburn, a homegrown Trinity boy who was a regular at Yance’s house, stopped Duke halfway to Boone. “I don’t think so big boy. It’s a little too early to start brawling just yet.”
Yance, knowing a fight would get his ass in trouble with the wife, stepped in to help. “You two big sons a bitches. You haven’t been here a goddamned hour.” Thoroughly disgusted at having to play peacemaker instead of hellion Yance stormed off into the Skunk cabin, a solution in mind. He emerged minutes later rolling a 55-gallon drum on its edge. He pulled the canvas top off, and the California boys’ eyes went wide like kids at Christmas.
“We had a good harvest,” Yance sported the grin of a proud father as he looked at one of his barrels full of harvested pot.
The mood swiftly changed from possible brawling to that of kids getting in the cookie pot and knowing they wouldn’t be caught. Temperance came down from the main house after putting the kids away and watched the grown men deteriorate in children. Eventually Duke convinced her to take a puff from his pipe. She eyed the big man cynically as he handed the pipe made of welded together .243 cartridges to her. She took a small puff and noticed that it didn’t taste quite the same as a pot pipe normally did. On the second drag she heard the contents within the pipe snap and pop and then she started coughing. Tempy tossed the pipe back to Duke as her face turned red and she bent over with her hands on her knees to cough deeper and ease her irritated throat. She knew she’d been had, normal herbs didn’t make that crackle and pop, but herbs laced with cocaine sure the hell did. Duke lost his poker face with a raucous laugh. “Ha, you just had yourself some coco puffs there Tempy!” the big man’s face turned red as he laughed and howled over his successful deception.
After he watched the building shenanigans, Colburn decided to head home and stay away from Yance’s crazy ass friends. He preferred the relatively sane life of an honest pot grower to the crazy shit that Yance’s friends obviously preferred.
Weasel bored with pot and beer, disappeared into the Skunk cabin and could be heard rummaging through his duffels. He returned a few minutes later, already twitching. Yance laughed at the coked up antics of the lanky man. Thoroughly lost in wonderland, Weasel danced his way around and over the fire repeatedly. His jade eyes were blurred with the drug-induced haze but they still managed to hold a strange glow in the twisting firelight. The party lasted long into the night before the fire burned down and the drug infused men passed out on the grass amidst a gossamer web of ease.
Duke woke before Weasel and Boone. He carefully layered several socks onto his feet and limped up to the main house where Yance, Temperance, and the kids lived. Temperance was up and had breakfast nearly finished. The coffeepot danced merrily on the stove and Duke’s stomach growled in approval at the smell of cooking sausage. A morning hangover and the fuzziness left by too much pot didn’t aid the throbbing in his mistreated feet. Temperance handed him a roll of gauze and nodded towards his abused appendages. He removed his socks and cautiously wrapped his second-degree burns.
His mother had drilled him for years in the Bible, but only some of it had stuck. Never one to ignore what he remembered from the good book, he pondered the best “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” response towards Boone’s transgressions. His eyes fell on the lined up mugs, all white except for one faded blue mug. Out the window Yance’s garden sprawled across the slope. Duke’s brain leaped to an answer. Tenderly placing his gauze wrapped feet back into his socks, he gimped into Yance’s room and shook his long time friend awake. “Get up you little bastard.” Duke avoided a flailing limb and jerked the covers off the bed. “Wake up, goddamnit!”
Yance cracked a blue eye open and peered menacingly at the intruder. “What in the holy hell do you want? I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”
“What’s the hottest pepper in your garden?” Duke smiled a little.
Knowing what that smile meant, Yance swung his feet over the bed’s edge and into his cold boots. Shirtless and in long johns he led Duke to the garden and pointed out the small patch of Habanero peppers. They glistened red and orange in the morning sun, seemingly innocent and harmless.
Duke carefully picked the ripest peppers and secured them in his coat pocket. Smiling happily at his impending revenge he shuffled back to the house in time to file in with Boone and Weasel. Temperance had breakfast laid out and was setting the coffee filled mugs by the men’s plates. Duke cut her off and grabbed the last three mugs, knowing full well Boone couldn’t even handle chili powder. With his back to the men, he quickly retrieved a Habanero pepper from his pockets, cracked it open and rubbed its oil all over the blue mug’s rim, then squeezed some of the juice into the steaming black coffee.
Behind him, Boone started bitching about not having his coffee yet. Very careful not to touch the blue mug to the other two he held, Duke turned and distributed the mugs. The blue one went to Boone. Yance noticed the blue cup Duke handed to Boone, and how everyone else gathered around the breakfast table had white cups. In fact, everybody but Boone noticed.
Boone was too busy griping as usual. “Took ya long enough to get my coffee you Portuguese bastard,” Boone took a hearty swig of the coffee and opened his mouth to spout off again, only to stop, mouth open wide like a gasping guppy fish.
Duke calmly sipped from his mug, a smirk pasted across his wide face. Everyone else sat and waited, knowing something was up.
Boone took another swig of coffee, and stopped. Sweat popped out on his brow, “Jesus Christ that shit’s hot.” He wiped his lips, “Goddamn it! Why’s that so hot?” Boone, his face red stared at everyone accusingly. “Man that’s hot! Man that’s really fucking hot!” He jumped from his chair and ripped open the refrigerator door. Like a dog digging after a gopher he tunneled into the fridge, food and beer, and anything else in his way flew into the air behind him to land haphazardly on the table and the floor behind.
By now the other three men were laughing hysterically at Boone’s panic, while Temperance gaped at the mess occurring before her eyes. The two kids watched the animal who was invading their fridge in stunned silence. Finally he reached what he wanted. Boone pulled out the jug of and milk and proceeded to dump it over his face. Milk went everywhere and Temperance’s face went two shades of red as the entire gallon glugged out of its container. The laughter continued as Boone, soaked in milk sat back down at the table and attempted to eat his breakfast. Unfortunately the blisters on his lips made it rather challenging. Yance opened his flask, spiked his coffee with Crown Royal, then passed the worn flask around the table.
Breakfast ended and they all rose to leave, but Temperance met them at the door, mop in hand. Silently she handed the mop to Boone and pointed to the milk-covered floor. Boone started to step around her and was brought up short by Yance’s two kids. They eyed Boone angrily, more than willing to get in a brawl with him even though he outweighed them by a couple hundred pounds, “That was our milk.”
Cornered by the two kids, Temperance, and the watching men, Boone grabbed the mop and cleaned the floor to the sound of stifled laughter, then returned to the door and the chuckling men. The two kids continued to glare, obviously insulted by his infringement on their supply of milk.
Safely out of the house, Boone breathed a sigh of relief and they all piled into Duke’s truck. The rattley old Ford rumbled up Corral Bottom Rd with its doors bulging. Yance, tired of being smashed, slithered out the back window and rode in the bed of the truck, Weasel soon followed the example, taking his pot pipe with him. The road was old and winding, but it was paved and it could see a lot of traffic during hunting season which was only days away. That didn’t stop pouting Boone from bailing out of the moving truck when they rounded a corner and saw three does broadside in the road.
Duke screeched the truck to a halt about the time Boone let loose with his canon of a pistol. The booming shots echoed in the narrow canyon. Five shots later, the does were long gone and Boone stormed back to the truck, but not before Duke saw Boone’s wallet sitting on the floorboards of the truck where it had fallen from Boone’s pocket in his mad scramble out of the door. Duke smoothly pocketed the wallet that contained Boone’s driver’s license and money.
Unaware of the missing wallet Boone plopped back into his seat, “Well what are you fuckas waiting for? Let’s go find some more deer to shoot at.” At this point it was obvious that the four had reverted to a “if its brown it’s down” killing spree where anything that moved wasn’t safe.
After a few hours of driving and near hits at deer, the four headed back to home base for lunch. Boone finally realized that his wallet full of money for the trip was gone. He instantly and correctly assumed the guys had them. He interrogated Yance, then Weasel and Duke. He even took a shot at interrogating the kids and Temperance. The whole time everyone else knew Duke had his wallet, but they weren’t going to give up the gig just yet.
Boone realized no one was going to tell him where his wallet was and began another round of pouting. “If we were in my truck, we’d be going home you slimy bastards.”
Kane, never one to keep his peace laughed, “Well I guess it’s a good thing we ain’t in your goddamned truck then aint it?”
Everyone continued to ignore Boone, and the more they ignored him the worse his pouting got. After an hour or two, he packed all of his duffel, stacked it in a pile in the driveway and sat down on it. At this point Yance, Weasel, and Duke were hysterically laughing at him, which didn’t help matters, but it was impossible for them to keep a straight face.
Even Yance’s kids made fun of Boone’s display. Jubal, the oldest, watched the big man with disgust. At only nine years old, he already possessed a healthy load of sarcasm and cynical mind. Jubal’s little sister, Echo, refused to even acknowledge Boone’s presence.
Yance finally realized this had the potential to ruin the whole trip so he tried to talk Duke into giving Boone back his wallet. Duke wouldn’t hear anything of it. He was holding a grudge as big as his blisters and his mind could not be budged.
Later that night Yance and the California boys all headed to the local middle of nowhere hole-in-the-wall bar. Boone, still pouting horribly, pulled up a chair in a corner by himself. A few beers into the night Yance, Duke, and Weasel noticed Boone attempting to cozy up to the bartender. This bartender was a big Indian gal, with a few missing teeth and one hell of a chip on her shoulder, and she wasn’t having any of it. The three friends however knew from experience that Boone was a complete man-whore with no shame and that he’d keep trying until he succeeded or got the shit kicked out of him.
They waited for Boone to go take a leak in what the bar called the bathroom and then made their move. Duke called the bartender over, who by then was getting fairly annoyed at Boone’s persistence, and explained the missing wallet situation. It didn’t take much convincing to talk her into announcing at the bar that the game warden found two deer shot to shit on the side of Corral Bottom Rd. and a wallet with a driver’s license on the road with them, and that the cops were looking for this guy and were going to make an example of him for poaching.
Boone returned from his leak and the bartender had this gleam in her eyes. She waited a while for the bar to fill up before she launched into this whole spiel. She got into it and laid the story on thick and heavy. Boone just sat there and started going shades of grey. About the time he slowly got up and tried to ease his way out of the bar, Yance and the other two lost their control and busted out laughing. Duke, tears rolling from his face, continued to laugh as he chucked the wallet at Boone.
Being Boone, he bypassed the whole thankful he wasn’t going to jail stage, and went straight into pissed off. Red-faced he sat back down in his seat. “You mutherfuckas! I don’t why I’m friends with you pieces of shit. You mutherfuckas! Your muthas should be fuckin ashamed of the sons they raised.”
After a while he finally cooled down and got somewhat retrospective which was a scary thing coming from Boone. After several shots of Jack Daniels he looked at the other three, “You know God must be a woman, and she’s punishing me for being mean to my wife when I left.”
Duke snorted his last shot of Jack Daniels out of his nose and his eyes started watering. Everybody else at the bar cracked up laughing and the night kept on rolling.
The next morning Yance and the California boys headed out early without much incident. Temperance, glad to see the hooligans out of her hair for the day, woke the kids up and sat them down for their morning cereal. She grabbed the cereal box and realized it was completely empty. She vaguely recalled hearing one of the guys in the kitchen the night before. She knew it had to of been Boone.
Jubal and Echo were now thoroughly pissed off. Jubal being an observant kid left the house and returned with three boxes of cereal from the porch where the California boys had dumped their load of food. Across the front of these boxes, Boone had scrawled his name in giant Sharpy letters. Echo, completely in sync with her brother’s plan jumped from her chair and returned with her Elmer’s craft glue. Fully approving of the plan, Temperance helped her kids open Boone’s cereal from the bottom of the box. They emptied the cereal into a large jar and then hid it away in the back of a cupboard. Next, they filled the cereal boxes with dog food, used a lighter to reseal the plastic, and glued the bottom of the boxes shut.
They had barely finished this when the four men rumbled back into the yard. Weasel had forgotten his pipe and Boone had forgotten his pistol. Never one to pass up food, Boone grabbed his pistol and detoured into the kitchen after he grabbed his cereal from the porch, remembering he had emptied the kids’ cereal earlier that morning. Jubal and Echo’s eyes widened fractionally as Boone poured a bowl full of dog food and milk and began to chow down, nowhere near noticing what he was actually eating. Yance, Duke and Weasel walked through the door and stopped short. Yance who had just taken a large swig from his beer, choked and beer ran out of his nose. Hastily he wiped his face as Boone looked up.
“What the fuck are you bastards lookin at?” Still belligerent about the previous day’s shenanigans he was on the prod.
Already slightly high and drunk, Weasel nodded at Boone’s cereal. “Those are some good lookin Cocoa Puffs buddy.”
Boone took another full mouthful from his spoon and obnoxiously spoke around his food, “They sure as hell are.” He swallowed and then looked down at his bowl. His face lost some of its color and he gagged heavily.
Temperance, not wanting to clean up another Boone disaster, grabbed him by his ear and hustled him to the door and off the porch. The three men listened in disgust to the sound of Boone ralphing up his dog food breakfast.
Yance looked at his smirking kids, “Is that really dog food in his bowl?”
They nodded proudly.
Echo smiled hugely, “He ate our ceweal. So wes emptied his, and wes weplaced it.”
Yance nodded slowly and glanced at his wife, who bore an all too innocent look on her face. Duke, always a fan of Yance’s kids smiled hugely and tossed them a couple of candy bars from his pockets. The two shot from the house, candy in hand, whooping like banshees.
Duke glanced at Yance, “I’ve always liked your kids Yance. They remind me of, well, they remind me of me.”
After a slight delay in re-departure due to Boone still puking, the four headed back up Corral Bottom Rd. for round two. They made it a few miles farther than they had the previous day before they rounded a corner and came face to face with twenty head of Angus range cows. Weasel, who had grabbed his bow and arrow that morning leaned, out the truck window and placed a blunted arrow on the string. His lanky arms pulled the strings back to full draw and he let the arrow fly. The blunt center punched the lead range cow between the eyes. This cow gave a huge moan and her knees knocked together. Slowly she teetered and slid forward her legs buckling at the knees. She laid there a few minutes, then slowly wobbled to her feet and staggered towards the meadow to the side of the road, shaking her head in confusion.
Yance’s eyes went wide and nervous, “Holy crap Weasel! You knocked the bitch out. We’d better get. Those are the county judge’s cattle.”
Hearing a vehicle on the road behind them, Duke hit the gas and the horn and drove his way through the now spooked cows. He kept the speed up for a few miles before he slowed down. “You know Yance, a cow would fill up the home freezers a lot faster than a deer would.”
The men all looked at each other as the idea took shape. “That’s not a bad idea. We’ll need to go night hunting though,” Yance liked the idea enough that fear of a judge faded into the dusty cobwebs of his brain where caution resided. “Those cowboys take poaching cattle pretty serious up here.”
After a few hours of boredom and misses at deer they were thoroughly bored. They rounded another corner, and Weasel who had climbed into the bed of the truck again, yelled at Duke to stop. The truck screeched to a halt and Weasel launched from the truck bed towards the near vertical embankment off to their left. Two bucks stood halfway up the hill, nostrils flared in surprise. Weasel let loose with an arrow that missed by about twenty yards, and then proceeded to charge the steep hill in a manner a Marine would have applauded.
The two bucks fled into the trees at the top of the embankment but Weasel was a little to jacked up on adrenaline and the cocaine he had been snorting during the dull two hours prior to notice their disappearance. At the top of the 70-foot embankment he stopped. Yance and Duke stood at the bottom of the road and leaned against the truck as they laughed hysterically. Boone glad the entertainment didn’t involve him this time, snorted in amusement.
“Get down here you crazy bastard!” Yance shook his head at his friends behavior and then his eyes widened as Weasel yelled, “Catch me!” at the top of his lungs and launched from the embankment in a perfect swan dive. Weasel hit the embankment about 20 feet from the top, bounced high and then hit and rolled in great leaping bounds. He piled up in a heap of tangled limbs and ripped clothes against a huge cedar stob that lay in the ditch at the roadside. Somehow, he managed to miss all of the stob’s protruding branches, some of which were eight feet long and broken in jagged points.
From his tangled position, Weasel looked up at them in an honest drug-induced confusion, “Why didn’t you fuckers catch me?”
Unable to breathe from laughing so hard, Duke shook his head in disbelief and forcibly extricated Weasel from his entanglement. They loaded the half-unconscious Weasel in the truck and headed back to home base.
They carted Weasel to the bonfire and laid him out by it with a few beers. It wasn’t long before they were all passed out after the afternoon’s excitement. They woke as dusk fell and the crickets began to sing. Weasel, who was more than a little stiff, transferred to the driving position and headed up Corral Bottom Rd. Duke, Yance, and Boone held their bows at the ready in the bed of the truck. At the corner where they had seen the cows earlier, they pulled onto the side of the road and turned off the headlights. Stealthily they snuck around the corner towards the small field at the side of the road where they had left the cows earlier.
They heard the snort of warning, but not in time. The herd bull heard them approach and assumed they were dangerous wild animals, which really wasn’t far off, and charged headlong into their midst. Boone went down first. His holler of surprise woke anything within twenty miles. His notched arrow went loose and wide. Duke jerked in surprise and his arrow flew into the darkness as he dived for the cover of a log. Yance, a little more agile, went up the nearest tree like a catamount. From his perched position, he loosed a few arrows at the irate bull, but missed all of them.
Hearing the commotion, Weasel flipped on the truck lights and eased around the corner. The maddened bull stopped and eyed the truck. Head down he snorted and pawed the earth, then charged. He hit the truck square in the front grill and shoved it back a few feet. The bull staggered and shook his bloodied head then proceeded to turn and trot off, tail stiff in the air behind him with his cows bringing up the rear.
In the glare of the headlights, Boone picked himself up from the earth he had been stomped into, Duke emerged from behind his log, and Yance dropped from his tree. Amazingly, the two randomly loosed arrows had both found their marks. Two big Angus cows were sprawled on the grass in the headlight’s searching beams. Yance shrugged and pulled his knife from its sheath, intent on boning out the dead cows before the sun rose. Hurriedly the four focused on the task at hand.
The next afternoon saw a flurry of activity at Yance’s place. Knowing the fall roundup was coming within the next few days Yance hustled the California boys into action and cut the trip short. They wrapped the prime A Angus meat and put it at the front of the trailer under their gear and a load of firewood. Yance even tacked a firewood permit to the end logs in the pile to make it all look official.
The three drove off down the road and Temperance breathed a sigh of relief that the monsters were gone. Yance sat on the porch and watched them go, slightly relieved he could go back to being a normal pot grower and not have to deal with his crazy friends any more.
As it turns out the California boys met the ranch trucks and cowboys six miles down the road at the Y to Corral Bottom Rd. They waved and rolled on by.
After all, timing is everything.