Waylon’s Escape Velocity
The doors to the Fort Madison Iowa State Penitentiary closed behind Griffin, locking him out. It was a nice change from two years ago when he’d been locked up for reckless driving, driving without a license, assault on a peace officer, and possession of stolen goods. The morning Midwest summer sun was warm on his face. He soaked it in, held it behind his eyes, and decided it was time to get back on the road.
The terms of Griffin’s parole didn’t allow him to cross state lines, but he had 10 storage units full of rare barnwood, market value in the low six-figures, sitting in a self-storage lot in Gresham, OR, just outside Portland. His lease had expired a while back for non-payment and could not be extended. In three days, the lot’s owner would put the units up for auction. Griffin couldn’t have that, not after he’d worked so hard to steal and stash the wood in the first place.
Amber, 2,000 miles away, who should have been there to pick him up, had the keys to the storage units. Griffin’s rig was under impound after the Wyoming incident. The stolen rig he’d used during the Iowa run had probably been, inconveniently, returned to its rightful owner, and even if it hadn’t, it was likely impounded along with Griffin’s rig. Incarcerated mechanical brothers states apart.
He had no keys, no rig, no ride, and no money, but he still had his brother Mervyn’s credit card. Figuring he could chance one purchase without drawing too much heat, he walked to the center of town and hailed a cab, wondering if the card was still good. He decided that if the card was declined, he’d jack the driver, take 61 two hours north until he hit 280, 280 to 80, dump the car at the I-80 Truckstop, and snag a ride from a fellow trucker going west.
Before the cabbie was close enough to clearly see him, Griffin bent and picked up a broken piece of curb and stowed it in his pocket. Thank goodness for lack of investment in transportation infrastructure, he thought.
The cabbie stopped. Griffin climbed in. The cabbie ran the card and paused, card in hand, looking at his payment terminal with a frown. The frown persisted for five seconds, 10 seconds. At 15 seconds, Griffin reached into his pocket and gripped the concrete knuckle. He’d hoped to avoid immediate descent into criminal activity. The 2,000 miles between Iowa and Oregon were a wide swath of land over which any minor infraction could catch him up. Make no mistake, he was going back in business, but he wanted his first official criminal act, other than breaking parole, which no ex-con counted on his recidivism tracker, to be again taking possession of stolen goods.
At 20 seconds, Griffin squeezed the concrete, pulled it out, and cocked his arm back, ready to strike. Then the cabbie’s expression changed from a frown to a flat line. “Okay,” he said, handing the card back to Griffin. “Where?”
Before the melee with the Iowa Troopers and his stay in the Iowa pen, Griffin’s CDL had been suspended after he’d purposefully jackknifed his 18-wheeler in the Laramie Pass after coming over the Rockies and through the Medicine Bow National Forest on I-80. Parking lot donuts were entirely pedestrian. You weren’t a true stunt driver until you had spun a rig with less than five feet of clearance on either side. Too bad for Griffin, the Wyoming highway patrol had been out in force.
License or no license, the salvage theft business didn’t slow down. It was especially hot in the Midwest states, Iowa in particular, with its rich history of farming and thousands of old and valuable out-buildings. Midwest real estate prices didn’t enjoy the same steady inflation as the West or East Coasts, but there were pockets of increased value for homes above $500,000. Where you looked at two homes side-by-side and couldn’t tell the difference between one at $550K and one at $750K, the difference was rare, stolen finished carpentry materials.
Next to gang murders and political scandals, salvage theft rarely made the papers, but Mervyn had been spooked after Griffin had stashed the take from the last Oregon job in the Gresham storage units. Mervyn had wanted to lie low for a few months and then contact their fence. No-go, Griffin had said, but Mervyn was being a pussy, so after the rig had been impounded and they found themselves stuck at the Sinclair in Laramie, Wyoming, big fucking green dinosaur laughing its prehistoric ass off at them, and Mervyn had stood to go take a piss, Griffin lifted Mervyn’s wallet, jacked an idling cargo van, switched out the plates as quick as he could, and, incredibly, made it as far as Des Moines, where he’d just loaded the first salvage take and was heading for a second, when the Iowa Troopers caught him.
Griffin suspected that Mervyn had been behind his capture, so he’d sent Amber, Mervyn’s wife, the third partner in the salvage theft operation, an itemized list of the charges on Mervyn’s card.
Griffin knew Mervyn, running his own sideline, was using that particular card, with occasional infusions from loan sharks, to fund his amateur porn production operation. Griffin felt confident that if Mervyn’s wife learned of his unfaithfulness, she would take down the Mosin–Nagant she had mounted on a rack above their bed and use Mervyn for close-up target practice.
The rifle had stayed on its perch, but when Amber had surveilled Mervyn and caught him not only watching live webcam girls, but filming his own productions of the girls with Mervyn as the star and Amber and Mervyn’s trailer as the setting, she’d stepped back to 50-yard range and put an arrow sporting a broadhead razor tip sticking clear through one of Mervyn’s thighs and out the other, pinning both legs together like a BBQ skewer, the camera rolling all the while.
Mervyn, a Gulf War vet, had gone to recover, work, and eventually live in the VA hospital, declaring himself done with the partnership, and Amber had flown across the country to seek solace from Griffin. The story about shooting Mervyn with the compound bow load morphed into Amber helping Griffin shoot his own load, with her as the target.
Griffin had felt bad about doing his brother’s old lady at first. Then Amber had confirmed his suspicions and told Griffin that Mervyn had not only tipped the cops to Griffin’s Iowa run but had posted Craigslist ads offering up the stolen barnwood stashed in Gresham.
Possessing neither the keys to the storage units nor the location of said units (Griffin had handled supply chain), Mervyn had been unable to deliver on the ads’ promises, but he did get a few visits from state investigators who said his ads’ descriptions were similar to salvage thefts that had occurred recently, and from salvage fences who were pissed that he’d one, offered up ghost material, and two, done so in a public forum known to have investigators sniffing around. Even underworld bosses were experts at putting pennies in vice-grips and squeezing the copper until alchemy produced gold, but why pay a bribe if you don’t have to? The fences gave Mervyn a full-contact class in salvage theft accounting theory. After that, Mervyn went back into recovery at the VA until he could make things right.
Griffin was done with his brother, but he wasn’t done with Amber. He needed those keys that were stashed under the floor in Amber’s trailer. Once he had those, he might stick around for another lesson in compound bow load release techniques, but then he was gone.
He’d told no one he was getting paroled, except Amber, so where the fuck was she? Probably pinching laptops and AV equipment from offices like a dumb bitch, he thought. Janitorial-assisted office theft could be lucrative, but it was high risk, unlike retrieving stolen goods long since forgotten, he hoped.
At the I-80 Truckstop in Walcott, Griffin called Amber’s trailer. No answer. Time was ticking. He now had two-and-a-half days to retrieve the wood. He called his Oregon fence, set up a meet for the middle-of-the-night three days out, said a prayer to the god of thieves to shine on him like he’d shone on the thief on the cross, and activated his personality in search of a long-haul ride.
* * *
The fence walked down the hall at the VA hospital in Portland and poked his head into room 1338. The occupant of the room was sitting up in bed, rubbing his legs where two identical scars, set parallel from each other, bulged from the side skin of each thigh. The occupant paused his self-massage and looked up.
“He’s coming, as you said he would,” the fence said.
The occupant nodded and went back to rubbing his legs.
“You are coming to the meet.” Not a question. “We dislike surprises.”
“Is my marker clear if I do?”
“Without a doubt.”
* * *
36 hours later, Griffin made Gresham at night and said goodbye to Dee, she of the pet séances. Dee wasn’t the strangest of rides he’d secured, the strangest being Rodger. Rodger believed his dead wife’s spirit had inhabited his prosthetic leg and thus asked Griffin to hold said leg so that Rodger could talk to his wife and keep his eyes on the road while he drove.
Everybody worships something, Griffin thought as he hopped down from Dee’s cab and walked toward a darkened ARCO station, stole four five-gallon red plastic gas containers, carried two in each hand to a nearby U-Haul lot, siphoned 20 gallons of fuel from one truck, loaded the fuel into and disabled the GPS tracker on and stole another truck, drove the truck to a loading dock next to a shuttered factory, stripped off all U-Haul markings, rendering the truck plain white, found some wire, dropped the leads into each gas container, connected them together, and ran the braided wires all the way to the truck’s battery, leaving a gap between the final connection and the power source.
* * *
The following evening, considering his truck theft a success, Griffin left the truck in its concealed spot and went to find Amber. He gave himself one hour to find her, after which he planned to go to her trailer, rip it apart until he found the keys, and proceed with retrieving the wood himself.
It'd been more than a year since Amber’s last visit to Fort Madison, and Griffin was itching to get some pussy, but if it came down to it, he wanted the money more than he wanted pussy. This mental transition to business got him thinking about logistics. The truck he’d stolen was large enough to hold all ten units’ contents, but that was going to be a bitch of a job by himself. Who could he trust on short notice? Amber’s kid? Wasn’t he 16 or 17 now? He decided not to worry about that. If help presented itself, and that help was trustworthy, he would pay said help a fair wage (or at least claim to do so) and send it on its way. If not, he’d handle the job himself.
He found Amber at the third industrial complex he visited, helped out with referrals from her co-workers. Amber, noticeably heavier up top than the last time he’d seen her, a fact she was exploiting to hide memory sticks down her blouse, immediately took a break and laid a heavy kiss on Griffin while apologizing for forgetting to pick him up. As he suspected, she’d been otherwise engaged in low-end industrial espionage. She pulled him into her burnished bronze Chevy Celebrity, wanting to do him right then and there. Griffin suggested she give him road head while he drove to her trailer where they could finish things up.
10 minutes later, one orgasm down, many more to go, Griffin and Amber entered the trailer, lost their pants, dispensing with fully undressing, and set to work on the couch.
* * *
From inside the bedroom, Waylon listened from the other side of the trailer’s thin interior walls, his ear pressed to the vent.
“In case you were wondering,” Amber said after they’d finished round two. “Mervyn’s still at the VA. We’ve got the place to ourselves.”
“What about your kid?” Griffin asked.
“Waylon? Ain’t seen him this side of six months. Think he’s staying with a friend. Says he don’t need me no more.”
“Is that a fact?”
“It is, and it’s also a fact that these aren’t real.”
Waylon heard a ripping sound and guessed that Amber (he’d never called her Mom) had torn open her shirt.
“Oh, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Griffin said. “They’re perfect circles. Can I touch?”
That confirmed it for Waylon.
“How many times did you fuck me at Fort Madison?” Amber asked. “Now you’re asking for permission to handle the merchandise?”
“It’s just-- They’re so nice and new.” Pause. “Mmm. Like a Jell-O mold or what’s that special mattress material that holds its shape?”
“Memory foam!” Griffin said, like he’d wagered all of his money on Final Jeopardy and hadn’t thought of the correct question to the answer until seconds before the jingle finished.
“But warmer,” he said.
“You can squeeze them into whatever shapes you like. Go on. Try.”
“Ah, yes. Not so much like memory foam, at least not full-on memory foam. Maybe half-strength memory foam.”
“You seen them commercials where the girl is bouncing on one side of the bed, and there’s a full wine glass on the other?”
“If you tried balancing that same wine glass on my tits, it’d stay put, but if you smacked the other one, it’d send that wine glass flying like when you step on a croquet ball that’s right next to another, and you hit the one you’re standing on with your mallet.”
“Fuckin’ A. Let’s try it. Got any wine glasses?”
“Fuck, Griffin. I ain’t got anything that fancy in this trailer. Besides, I can feel your hard-on, and I don’t wanna get off of you.” Amber started that turn in the conversation with irritation but had modulated to do-me. Griffin didn’t take the hint.
“Yeah, yeah. My hard-on’s good all the time. I could do porn, Baby, better than Mervyn ever could.”
“Hey, what? I’ll take care of you, but you’ve gotta indulge me first.”
“What you got that we can balance on one of them tits and send it flying?”
“I got some cigs in my back pocket.”
“Perfect. Let’s see ‘em.” Pause. “Oh, yeah. Those’ll do nicely.”
Silence from the front room for the next 30 seconds. Waylon began thinking he should escape through the window in the bedroom (the only bedroom; he had always slept on the couch, but after Amber and Griffin’s defilement of the couch, that option was out) before the cheater and her lover moved the festivities to the bedroom and found him. Then Amber cut in.
“You see. They’re so heavy, I can bounce ‘em with the pack on one of ‘em, and it stays put.”
“Dear Lord. That is a sight to behold. Can I smack the other one?”
“Damn, Amber! They must have flown 15 feet. Let’s do it again.”
“Enough,” Amber said, her voice turning serious. “I want you again. Right now. Plus, don’t you gotta clear out them storage units by tonight.”
“Shit. You’re right. Over $100,000 in rare barnwood. Already have a buyer lined up. Can’t lose that money. Otherwise, why the fuck did I come back here, right?” He laughed.
“Me,” Amber said, not with indignance but simply correcting, as though a grade-school child had said 9x7 was 64 instead of 63.
“Right, right,” Griffin said. Waylon could sense in Griffin’s tone that his eyes were shifting back and forth, calculating.
Waylon understood the look because he was, himself, calculating. $100,000? Waylon thought.
Amber seemed to have missed Griffin’s oh, shit tone. “Once we’ve got the wood and we’ve sold it, we’re out of here, right? We’ll have enough money so I can leave Mervyn and be with the right brother.”
Griffin spoke slowly. “The money should be enough for any number of possibilities. But enough with future business. I’m concerned with current operations. I see a couple of circular controls that are in need of preventative maintenance.”
“What about your parole?” Amber asked.
“What about it?”
They both laughed and then resumed love-making.
Amber giggled like a school-girl who’d just walked into the wrong locker room and seen the thingies for the first time. It was a grating, annoying sound that brought heat to Waylon’s face. He felt himself breathing hard, like he was trying to ramp up the courage to complete a cliff jump 10 feet across and 1,000 feet down. He realized his breathing was audible, and he forced himself to draw deeper breaths, held for five seconds, and repeated until he felt his heart slow, breathing quiet, and temperature drop.
“You’d better maintain these, Boy,” Amber said. “They cost a fortune.”
“Where’d you get the money?” Griffin asked.
“A nice gentleman at the plant where I clean decided to bring his luggage to work before heading overseas on a big trip. So of course I rifled through his stuff and swiped his Amex.”
“And then you swiped his Amex,” Griffin said.
“Yes, I did--went straight to the tittie doc, the one that advertises late at night on the network channels.”
“‘Bout time that cheapass cleaning outfit gave you a bonus.”
“You make your own luck, Griffin. Shall we make you a little more lucky before we retrieve the stash of wood? Head to the bedroom?”
Waylon’s heart kicked up again.
“Bedroom sounds good,” Griffin said, sounding distracted. “You just reminded me of a logistical problem. If I’m gonna get that wood out by midnight, I need a helper. Someone I can trust.” Amber started to protest. Griffin jumped back in. “Don’t get all excited. I need you for … certain things, but I need muscles for moving the wood.”
Waylon noted that earlier in the conversation, Griffin had been vague on where they would go post-retrieval of the stolen wood. Now here was more evidence of Griffin separating himself from people once he’d gotten what he needed. Waylon suspected that after screwing Amber, Griffin would disappear, off to raid more old and valuable farm salvage, enjoying the circular controls on another love-starved middle-aged woman who wasn’t opposed to credit card fraud and plastic surgery.
Waylon wanted to grab the Mosin–Nagant, rush out of the bedroom, haul ass to the couch, and beat the shit out of Griffin with the stock. He might even give Amber a whack or two. She had never been a great mother, but until she and Mervyn (he’d never called him Dad) had taken up with the salvage theft business, an attempt to supplement their janitorial and legitimate salvage earnings, there had at least been food in the house.
Then Mervyn had burned all his dirty cash on first paying to watch webcam girls and then paying more money, borrowed first from credit cards, then loan sharks, to produce them, gotten an arrow through his thighs for his troubles; Griffin had been shipped off to the pen, gotten to fuck Amber for his troubles; and Amber had moved to credit card fraud, gotten some nice accessories for her troubles.
What had Waylon gotten? A shitty-ass trailer that leaked when it rained, rattled like dice in a giant Yahtzee cup when the Gorge winds were raging, and threatened to broil, bake, or blast freeze him whenever the seasons changed. Amber was never there, except to occasionally sleep. If Waylon was asleep when she came in, he always woke up when she turned over her purse and dumped the winnings from her latest janitorial swindle on the kitchen table, the clicking of the cards on the veneer lessening his tolerance of the insane and prompting him to look for other living accommodations.
Waylon was as thin as sheet metal, but strong, lived on supplemental nutrition from the school and the feds, wrote for his high-school newspaper, and dreamed of a big job, such as a staff reporter for The Economist. Getting a job like that would require a great education, but he had no money. Mervyn’s experience with loan sharks had left Waylon scared of debt. Cashless and houseless (his wealthy editor buddy from the school paper with whom he’d been staying had gone on summer holiday with her family), he was forced to return to the trailer so he could prep for his SATs. A scholarship was still possible if he could finish out school with strong marks.
Then Griffin returned and had Waylon re-thinking his financing options.
As bleak as they were, the futures of the adult family members in Waylon’s life were assured. They would profit from crime, and when the chips stopped clinking down to the catch on that machine, they’d go stateside. Freedom on the outside or room and board on the inside--it didn’t matter to them; their futures were funded.
But not Waylon’s.
From the age of 12, they’d been trying to recruit him to be an accessory in their salvage theft business. He’d refused. That would not be his life. He wanted to make money based on the laws of supply and demand. He was seventeen-years-old, set to graduate early. When he wasn’t in class at the high-school, he was in the library reading the Economist, the New York Times, and books by Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman, Paul Volker, and Alan Greenspan.
$100,000, Waylon thought again. The money from the black market sale of barnwood--this was Waylon’s escape velocity. It would propel him to the university, to a real job, to a real family that he created for himself. Inertia wasn’t the factor that most weighed on lower America; it was lack of economic propulsion.
Griffin wasn’t going to do shit for the world with the wood. Whether Waylon took the money or Griffin recycled it into the business, the wood was making its way into a fancy renovation of some rich asshole’s castle, probably accenting a wall in front of which sat a grand piano that the rich asshole didn’t know how to play. Fuck that, Waylon thought.
The sounds of love-making continued, Griffin evidently dissuaded from his desire to find a helper. The sounds were getting closer. Amber, rather than sounding enraptured, Waylon thought, sounded like she was lugging garbage bags of half-finished lattes and gourmet lunches out to the dumpster. The middle-aged cheaters were running out of stamina, but their approach threatened him, so he grabbed his bag and slipped out the window.
Outside in the dark, he squatted out of view of the overhead pole lights and looked at his watch, covering its glowing face with his free hand. Just after 9pm. The weather was good, a dry and not-too-warm late-May evening. A good night for moving barnwood.
If what Griffin had said was true--that the storage units had to be claimed by midnight or else risk forfeiture--less than three hours remained before Griffin’s stolen property became the legal property of the storage company. At that point, Waylon supposed, the storage company would padlock the doors to Griffin’s units, making easy access problematic. Waylon thought the owner of the storage company was likely not so conscientious as to bar access to unpaid units in real time, counting down the seconds until he could slap a “REPOSSESSED” sticker, or whatever marker they used to indicate the unit was delinquent, and would be auctioned.
But those thoughts weren’t facts; they were rationalizations. They were excuses for inaction. When Amber and Mervyn and Griffin had wanted to use Waylon as bait to distract farmers from the true intentions of the salvage theft crew, he’d refused. He’d had good reasons.
He had no such good reasons now. 17 years of being a good citizen had returned to him no favors. He would approach the edge and control his descent into criminal activity or it would reach up from the smoky ether, the lightly glowing lava pits of the dark world of commerce, and drag him down, and once he lost his footing, once he was left with no other option but steal or starve, once he was fucking his brother’s wife in a shitty little trailer after breaking parole and scheming of ways to fuck her and then fuck her over, Waylon knew he would sink into the smoke and never rise again.
In ironic fashion, then, Waylon, still squatting, his back resting against the side of the trailer, resolved to keep his feet and to stand, just this once, with the criminal element.
He would join Griffin’s crew.
Staying in the shadows, Waylon moved silently several trailers down and slipped between the sidewalls of two single-wides. He knew the occupants of these trailers, Jules Pieper and Ayn Waterman, were elderly shut-ins and unlikely to bother him in his stakeout. He suspected both had been asleep for some time, and he took a chance that no one else would call the police on a youth who was lurking in the gap and probably up to no good. That he was up to no good crossed his mind, but he pushed it away. Bad, first; good, later.
Waylon waited. From his vantage point, he peaked around the corner and kept an eye on Amber’s trailer. The living room curtains were closed, so Waylon noticed only undulating shadows following the same looping trek. Those shadows told Waylon that the plan to acquire the barnwood was still on hold, and time was ticking down. He pulled in one deep breath after another, his eyes opening wide to both focus and release his frustration, his lips pursed and grinding down on one another like a pastry chef trying to work out a problem in the dough. He couldn’t believe these two idiots were in there screwing away their illicit assets, to say nothing about his illicit college fund. He struggled with the idea that his distaste for black money had transitioned so quickly into greediness when he stood to gain, but he was in this.
He found himself pounding the ground involuntarily, which helped relieve some of the tension that was building in his neck and shoulders--until one of his fists found a leftover surprise from either Jules’ Corgi or Ayn’s Beagle. Disgusted, he emerged from his hidey-hole and rinsed his offended hand in Jules’ birdbath, which turned out to be a mixture of 10 parts water and 90 parts bird shit and left his hands looking like he’d thrown water on a chalkboard and tried to clean up the mess with his bare hands. Chalked and be-shitted, Waylon felt his plan coming apart before it had begun. Then an idea struck him.
He searched the crumbling asphalt drive for a piece big enough to maintain true flight when thrown, launched it upward at the pole-mounted street lamp. He missed, found another piece, missed, another, and hit his target on the third try. The light shattered and Waylon sprinted down several more trailers, dropped into a drainage ditch, and ducked out of sight, waiting for the lookieloos to come out to investigate.
No one emerged. This shouldn’t have surprised him, as anything short of a gunshot wasn’t apt to motivate the trailer park residents to overcome inertia to look outside. The beat cops were a regular presence. They knew the residents by name. If someone called them, and if the complaint was anything short of I think someone is being murdered, they would likely be slow to roll.
The knocked out street lamp created a perfect dark spot in front of Jules and Ayn’s trailers, a spot in which someone, if jogging home, as was Waylon’s wont, could plausibly trip over Jules’ bird bath, go sprawling across the lawn, and adopt the descriptive state of beshittedness, thus requiring immediate attention to said person’s wounds and, Waylon hoped, diverting attention away from said person’s timely arrival, considering the criminal crew-planning dialogue to which said person had presumably not been privy.
Banking on this fool-proof rationalization, Waylon sucked in a huge breath, stretching his lungs against his rib cage, popping vertebrae, steeled himself against the coming pain, and sprinted into the darkness toward the spot where he remembered the bird bath was. He hit it dead-on, sprawled as predicted, scratched as predicted, didn’t break anything, thank God, but felt he had sprained or strained or charley-horsed a few body parts. No matter. He picked himself up and limped toward Amber’s trailer, pulled at the handle. Locked. So much the better. He pounded on the door with a closed fist in tired, slow intervals, the kind one would expect one to use if one had just had a head-on collision with a bird bath.
He heard quick movement inside. Startled movement. Movement that said I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Waylon smiled at the way the body’s reflexes betrayed the bravado of prepared words.
“Who is it?” Amber asked, tentative, afraid.
“Waylon.” Waylon said. “I’m hurt. Can you let me in?”
A pause, like she had to go through her mental list of all the Waylons she knew and match each up with the voice she had heard. Other than Waylon Jennings, after whom Waylon the Beshitted was named, Waylon was certain she knew no other Waylons. Probably she was doing a speed rehearsal with Griffin for how they would explain both their presence and their state of undress. Amber opted for no explanation.
The trailer went silent, vocally speaking, sounds of hurried footfalls, drawers sliding open and closed, and zippers zipping. Waylon realized the emotional intensity of the last half hour had drained him. He sat on the concrete top step leading to the trailer and rested his head on the door. After two minutes, he raised his fist again, thinking the lovers had perhaps split out the same window he had used, deciding they’d rather run away than explain things, when the door opened.
“Oh my God, Waylon!” Amber said, seeing her son in his dirty and disheveled state. Waylon had to give her credit. She sounded sincere, though that was probably due to all the Oh my Gods she had just practiced on Griffin.
“Hey,” Waylon said. “I need help.” He explained the unexpected darkness and the collision.
“My poor Baby. Let’s get you inside.” To Griffin: “Come here and help.” To Waylon: “Your uncle was just paroled and came home to visit.” Amber’s tone indicated this was a complete answer, requiring no further questions to elicit its accuracy. Griffin’s arrest in Iowa for reckless driving and salvage theft had been hotly debated locally. People speculated that Griffin, Mervyn, and Amber had been the leaders of a salvage theft operation that had plundered farms from coast to coast. The state cops speculated; the local cops speculated; but the Iowa cops had been the only ones who’d found Griffin in possession of stolen goods. He was gone for two years and suddenly appeared late a night for a visit? Made perfect sense.
While Amber used her superb medical training to apply a Budweiser can to Waylon’s swelling brow, Waylon further explained his friend’s travel plans and, thus, his own appearance at the trailer. They seemed to accept this. Waylon repurposed the Budweiser from an external to an internal analgesic, drained it, asked for two more, drained those, cleaned himself up, and wondered if his theater had been necessary. In any case, he was in and had their attention, so he steered the conversation toward money, how he didn’t have any and needed some for school. Griffin said he had just the cure, Waylon helping him out on a job, which involved moving wood (noticeably missing its adjectival modifier) out of storage units, but they had to go fast because his lease expired at midnight, no further explanation, but Waylon didn’t need one.
* * *
At the storage units, Waylon opened the rolling door on the back of the truck to find four five-gallon red plastic gasoline containers wired in a circuit.
Griffin saw Waylon looking at the cans and said, “Got a long way to go. Don’t want to run out of gas.”
Waylon nodded, suspecting the cans had another intended use, but he let it go.
Using appliance dollies, Waylon and Griffin spent the next three hours moving the wood from the storage units and into the truck. The pudgy teenage yoga baby at the front desk barely turned away from her episode of whatever Netflix had cut that week.
Approaching 2am, Griffin borrowed the storage unit’s phone and called someone, presumably the dealer, from the financial bent to the verbiage. Griffin said it was time to go meet the buyer and time for Waylon to go home. Griffin said he was short of cash and would put Waylon’s cut for the evening’s work in the mail. Waylon knew that was a crock of shit. As soon as Waylon let Griffin out of his sight, Griffin was gone.
Waylon watched Griffin pull out of the self-storage lot, wondering how he could give chase. Couldn’t let Griffin get away. Waylon had no idea how he would intervene in the illicit deal, and even less idea how he would make off with the cash bound to be (hoped to be) exchanged, but if he weren’t there, this was all moot. What to do?
He saw a single blinking headlight coming down the street. Floating a couple feet above this, a red light blinked in asynchronous rhythm. A biker was pedaling down the street, probably some granola-preaching asshole getting an early start on the day. The Portland area was full of them, and Gresham was no exception. What the hell, he thought, and charged the biker.
Waylon T-boned the biker at full speed, knocking him off and free of the seat and, Waylon hoped, unconscious. Waylon stole the bike and pedaled like mad but didn't go anywhere. One foot slipped off the pedal, which was really just a tiny nubbin, made for special biker shoes and not Waylon’s Nikes. The depressurized pedal carried its momentum around the crank, and the pedal circled and bit into Waylon’s shin, drawing blood, a sheet of it. In his heightened state of extreme cortisol levels, Waylon felt no pain.
Waylon looked down. The chain had come off. As Waylon realized this, the involuntarily disembarked biker recovered and came at Waylon, brandishing what could have been a gun, could have been a granola bar. It was impossible to tell at two-o’clock in the morning with the brightest light coming from the still-burning headlamp on the bike. But the light was facing Griffin and the truck, both of which were stuck at the light at the intersection just outside the parking lot.
Waylon reacted with the only weapon he had: the bike. He grabbed it by the handlebars, swung it around like a track and field hammer, and caught the attacking biker full on the side of his helmet. The biker went down again, struggled to get up, but slowly, and Waylon took the opportunity to reseat the chain and pedaled like an enraged hipster wanted to kill him, i.e. he obeyed reality’s call. But the blood-slicked pedals, combined with Waylon’s lack of specialized shoes made to clip onto the pedal nubbins like ski boots into ski bindings, made it impossible for Waylon to gain any traction.
He looked across the way to the light. Still red. Waylon went back to the biker, apologized audibly, kicked the biker in the head, stole his shoes, which were too big but were serviceable, popped them on his feet, connected the shoe clips with the pedal nubbins, and heard two satisfying clicks, each a half-second apart, just as Griffin’s light turned green.
Waylon nearly lost Griffin a dozen times, but managed to catch up on an industrial road a mile east of PDX. He couldn’t find the off switch for the headlamp, so he kicked it out with the hardened toes of the bike shoes. He dumped the bike in tall weeds and crept along the warehouse buildings, avoiding the minimal streetlights. This was easy until he approached the inner courtyard of the complex. City planners could take a few cues from the folks who planned industrial nighttime lighting. They could have played Friday night high-school football underneath those lights.
The deal was going down. Waylon wanted to make a move. He had no idea where the money was, if there was any money on-scene, but he had to make a move. Then he froze. No one had seen him, he thought. He’d positioned himself between stacks of pallets and dozens of table-sized spools of industrial wire. Waylon’s position was secure, but his emotions were stripped open and laid across the live wires of his exposed nervous system.
The buyer was Mervyn.
But then not Mervyn. Waylon saw an old, white-haired man sitting behind the driver’s seat in an ancient Caddie backed into the declined dock bay. The phone contact? He thought. Griffin and Mervyn began to argue. The argument turned physical with both brothers landing blows. The brothers knocked over rows of chemical tanks that looked like exceptionally tall bowling pins but did not sound like them. They sounded like the end of the world, like an exploding wind-chime factory. At least the end of the world was tonally pleasant. Then some of the caps on the tanks blew off and the tanks started flying around like hyper-energetic party balloons, adding a variety of whistling tones to the cacophonous industrial yard symphony.
Apparently not expecting this turn of events, the white-haired man emerged from his car with a gun in hand, leaving the driver’s door open, and attempted to separate the warring brothers. From Waylon’s vantage point, the car was unmanned. He broke cover and went for the car, ducking down beside the open driver’s door. He rose enough to look between the driver’s side window and the mirror to see the brothers and their elderly tag-team partner going at it.
Waylon crawled into the car and checked the glove box, under each seat, beneath the floor mats, in all the backseat pockets, above the visors--nothing.
Gunfire outside the car.
Waylon was about to beat it and cut his losses when he put his weight on the passenger side floor mat, which, when depressed and released, sounded like the thin metal bong of a four-drawer file cabinet into which an office worker had rolled a chair. Either that or a hidden compartment. Waylon guessed the latter. He pulled up the floor mat and the spiked plastic carpet underlayment, found the dictionary-sized three-dial combination safe, pulled it, and made his escape.
He was a block away when a huge explosion rocked the ground followed by dozens of other smaller pops. Waylon looked back and ducked as a flying propane tank nearly hit him center mass. He juked several times to avoid other flaming projectiles. The truck was engulfed. He thought he saw an outline of men inside the conflagration, like Nebuchadnezzar had come from the past to create a new fiery furnace from gasoline, propane, and barnwood. Only these men wouldn’t emerge unburnt. They wilted and added fuel for the hungry fire to consume. The scent of burning wood hit Waylon. Sweet at first, it was quickly ruined when sulfurous propane and burning gasoline caught up in the second wave of odors rushing away from the source of the fire.
Waylon turned and, box under his arm, stumbled along the side of one of the warehouses, trailing his fingers over the corrugated metal. When he was several blocks away, Waylon leaned his forehead against the building. The cool metal soothed his cut up and swollen face, and cleared his head. The clearing was sufficient enough for his hearing acuity to detect approaching sirens. For the second time that night, Waylon took up residence in a drainage ditch, and when the sirens were on top of him, a culvert.
The sirens passed. Waylon took out a long-term lease and stayed the night. He slept for a full 24 hours, waking only when the blood-loss deposit he’d put down drew the attention of the culvert’s feral inhabitants. He kicked the rats away, then nodded at them, one animal surviving and recognizing others’ attempts to do the same.
Waylon felt for the box, still had it. He realized he’d never opened it, had no idea if it contained rocks or cash or sand. His heart spun max RPMs in dread. He felt around, fingers closed around a piece of rebar, and used it to force open the box.
He smiled, thumb-fanned a stack, shut the box, nodded to himself, and crawled out of confining darkness into a night of freedom.