A Rewarding Career

I cranked the spark plug wrench on the weed eater while Glew’s phone played on speaker. I stopped and rubbed my shoulder. That catch might not ever go away. I cranked the wrench.

Ritch.

Ritch.

Ritch.

Glew said, “Easy with the wrench.”

I feinted a jab toward Glew who backed up with his ear pointed toward his cell phone which lied face up on my work bench. I set the weed eater on the floor and pumped the fuel bubble a few times. Then I grabbed the cord. Glew said, “Fairfax, please.”

He cranked up the volume on his phone. He’d placed a bug in the back of a dive bar that fed right into an app on his phone. We listened.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. When we walked in, I thought that dude was going to tip over and crack like a china plate.

Second Voice: Man, I know. I know. But you have to take advantage. I’ve been telling you that.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. We gotta take a week off and live it up now.

Second Voice: Nah. We should sell it, man.

First Voice: Not me, player. That Chippendale’s wide open. We can hit him again when we get low. What’s he gonna do?

I looked at Glew and mouthed the word ‘Chippendale’. Glew nodded and held his finger to his mouth.

Second Voice: Gotta play it smart, man. We can’t know that. And ain’t no way I’m hitting him any time soon. You know how it’s done.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. Let’s get to it. So we can get off and do our thing. The green dragon gonna take us places!

Glew lowered the volume. “Damn, man. I hope this isn’t true.”

I said, “Who’s ‘Chippendale’?”

Glew picked up his phone. “I’ll show you.”

I tried the weed eater a few times. I’d replaced the old gas with new and cleaned the carburetor and now I’d replaced the spark plug. The old girl still wouldn’t come to life. I huffed a few times and then I accompanied Glew for a country ride. Glew didn’t say much for a while, dabbing at his temples and puffing a thin cigar. “’Chippendale’ may and I stress that it may-

I said, “Right.”

Glew blew a smoke ring through the window. “It may be my buddy ‘Chipper’. I went to school with him. Really poor kid but he was smart. His real name is Chase Powell, but he had these buck teeth and everyone called him ‘Chipper’ like a chipmunk. He really didn’t mind, but you know, I felt for him.”

I said, “You would.”

Glew waved a hand. “I know, Fairfax. Bullies are good. They toughen kids up and yada yada.”

I smiled. “All right. So he was a smart kid. Now he’s a dealer?”

“Just pot. He works at some place out north on their computers. He’s a nerd who lives by himself and likes to smoke a little weed. It’s legal so many places now. Tennessee just needs to catch up.”

I tilted my head back. “Civilization is so convenient…until they attack something you happen to like. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about, right? Chipper’s your dealer?”

Glew turned up a Bob Marley song. I chuckled. Glew swayed with the rhythm and puffed that cigar like he was in slow motion. What all did he have packed into that cigar?

We arrived at Chase ‘Chipper’ Powell’s place. It was a quaint little blue house in the sticks. Kind of like something you might see in an old Claude Monet painting. Shrubs covered the windows nicely and the front lawn could definitely use a trim. Who knows? Maybe I could put the old weed eater to use once we got this done. After all this marijuana talk, “weed eater” gave me a different image in my head besides a lawn tool.

I followed Glew up to the front door. He rang the doorbell. No one answered. I peered through the shrub covering the front window as best I could but I saw no movement. Glew rang the doorbell again but nothing happened. I eased around the side of the house until I reached the back porch. Shrubs and vines concealed the back wall of the house, leaving a sliver of blue exposed. A sandal stuck out past a vine. Glew walked up to me. I pointed toward the sandal. Glew took off his hat and walked around. I followed.

The sandal shot back. Glew threw up his hands. “Hey. Whoa! Take it easy now, Chipper. It’s me, Wally.”

Chipper rubbernecked around a shrub at me. His auburn hair was trimmed very short. His face looked like a boy’s-incapable of facial hair. A pair of sunglasses with green rims covered his eyes. He stared straight at me like a cornered cat. I scratched my beard. “How you doing?”

Chipper said, “Not…um…just not…not so good…not cool, man. Not cool.”

Glew said, “Take it easy, Chipper. I was just out in the area and decided to stop by is all. It’s been a while.”

I stepped around for a better look. Chipper wore a long sleeve pullover. He pulled his sleeve down in a hurry but I spotted a bandage. Chipper kept his eyes on me. Glew said, “How’s it been going?”

Chipper rubbed the back of his neck. “Not so…not good, man. What do you want here?”

Glew said, “I don’t know. Maybe a little snack?”

Chipper pointed at me. “I don’t like this guy.”

Glew said, “Chipper. Come on, man. This is George. He’s my friend. You know a friend of mine is a friend of yours.”

Chipper looked off and lit a cigarette. I turned away from them, peering out over his backyard and then up at the sky. Glew made small talk. After ten minutes or so, Chipper said, “Hey, man.”

I turned back toward him. He held his hand out. I shook it and he gave me some kind of shake that required five moves. I went with it as best I could. Chipper looked at Glew while pointing at me. “This man right here needs a snack. Mellow him out a little.”

Chipper fell into a laugh that took off slow and sped up. Glew pointed at him and winked at me. We entered Chipper’s humble abode. Glew handed him some cash. Chipper studied me over. Glew patted his shoulder. “He’s cool.”

Chipper went to a back room, followed by Glew. Chipper came back out carrying a dragon-shaped bong. Glew said, “Oh wow, man. Don’t you have two of these?”

Chipper didn’t answer. They sat and enjoyed some smoky intoxication while I tapped my fingers on the arms of the plush chair I sat in. His house contained no beaded curtains or posters of Bob Marley and I didn’t see any Jimmy Buffet or Willie Nelson music although he did own quite a few old records. With their business conducted, Chipper thanked us and walked us out. With his sunglasses off, the sunlight revealed a small bruise developing under his eye. When we got back into Glew’s car, he said, “No doubt about it.”

We drove over to the dive bar. After an hour at the bar, I had counted two waitresses, one bartender and three fellows in the kitchen. Our voices on that recorder had to be two of those kitchen fellows. The bartender sounded like a grizzly bear with cold.

So we returned to his car and waited it out. When one of the fellows in the kitchen left, we walked over to him, putting on a drunk act and asking for directions to a motel. The guy told us everything he could. His squeaky voice did not match the voices on the recording. So we thanked him and retreated to a spot behind the dumpster in back.

We waited for over an hour. I moved my shoulder around, working out a cramp. “Damn.”

Glew said, “Why so stressed, stud? You should have toked with us…man.”

I shook my head and massaged my shoulder until it loosened up a little. The back door opened. I ducked down.

The other two kitchen workers headed for a white Camry. I pulled on my black ski mask. Glew followed suit. We stepped around the dumpster with only twenty feet between us and the thieves.

The back door opened again. One of the waitresses ran toward the kitchen guys. She jumped into the bigger one’s arms. They shared a long barrage of kisses while the other one played on his phone. We ducked back down. I removed my mask. Glew did the same. The two guys talked for a while. Without a doubt, these were our guys. However, they climbed into the Camry along with the girl and fired it up.

Glew stayed hunkered down and ran to his car in the next parking lot. I followed behind him, not looking at the kitchen guys. By the time we got into his car, the white Camry turned out of the lot.

Glew cut off a truck pulling in on his way out. The driver laid on the horn and yelled a string of cuss words at us. Glew lit a cigar and drove a comfortable distance behind the Camry. We traveled a few miles down the highway until the Camry pulled into an apartment complex on the north side of town. The shorter of the kitchen guys got out and walked up the stairs. I slid out of Glew’s car and headed on up. Glew followed the Camry back out onto the street.

I took my steps with a gentle motion. The kitchen guy reached the second story and walked to the first room on the right. I made it to the door. The kitchen guy held the door open, staring at me. There was no need in pretending anymore. I threw a jab at his face, figuring he’d step back. I actually caught him with it though, and then shoved my way inside. He drew back to hit me but I shoved him into the wall behind him. He pushed back with the strength of a mouse. So I gave him a big shot in his gut which dropped him to the carpet. I turned and closed the front door. A set of keys dangled from the lock. So I snatched them up and slid them into my pocket.

I dragged him to the living room and shoved him down onto the sofa. “Where’s the duct tape?”

He leaned over, holding onto his stomach. I grabbed his black hair and leaned his head back. “Duct tape?”

With his mouth ajar, he pointed toward the kitchen. I let him go and backed to the kitchen. Searching through the drawers with my hands, I prodded along until I felt a roll of duct tape that was nearly used up. I turned my eyes to it for a split-second. The kitchen guy rushed to the front door.

I bolted across the living room and grabbed his shoulder before he could get out. He wrestled away from me. So I dove onto his back. He went down just outside the door. He yelled, “Help! Somebody-

I dragged him back inside by his belt and then placed my knee into his back. From there, I took the duct tape and wrapped his wrists. My shoulder ached when I wrapped his mouth. I placed him on the sofa and pulled on the tape roll. It was empty. So I peered around the room. The guy said something underneath the tape. I grinned. “Naw, naw. You got rabbit in your blood, son.”

I found a lamp in the corner and unplugged it and wrapped his ankles with the cord. “I don’t blame you. If anyone tied me up, I wouldn’t think of anything but getting free. However, I wouldn’t take what isn’t mine either.”

Not anymore at least.

“So just point to the stash you took off of Chipper earlier today.”

He looked at me like I spoke Chinese.

“Don’t make a jerk out of me. Just motion with your head toward which room it’s in and I’ll get on out of your way.”

He didn’t change his expression. I sighed. “Okay. I’ll just tear the place apart then.”

Despite his mumbling and yelling beneath the tape, I entered the first bedroom down the hall where I found a pipe and a bong and a Bob Marley poster. Still, though, I found no stash.

When I came out, he yelled at me through the tape with large eyes. I took a few steps toward him. He nodded as if I were bringing him water after a trek through the Sahara. I turned and walked to the back bedroom anyway.

Inside, I found a queen-sized bed with his picture beside it. Another picture hung on the wall of him standing beside an older lady. A closer look revealed an undeniable resemblance. This was his mother’s bedroom. I chuckled. Ah, but he could have placed it in here. So I rummaged through her chest drawers and her closet and underneath her bed. I don’t see any need to tell everything I found in those places but I didn’t find any weed stash there either.

When I came back out, he beat his head against the sofa and stomped the floor, still staring at me with bulging eyes. I walked over and removed the tape.

Shrrriipp.

“Ah! Damn, man. That’s my mom’s room.”

I said, “Yeah. Now tell me where it is.”

“Dude, what are you talking about a stash? I smoke a little weed sometimes. Yeah, but I haven’t ever stolen anything. I swear, man. You got the wrong house, dude. I swear.”

I replaced the tape over his mouth. He leaned back and rammed his head toward my head with all he had. I drew back in time and then I jabbed him in the jaw. He fell back and then shook his head, stomping the floor again.

I checked the last closet in the place and under the sink and a few other places. Glew sent me a text message, letting me know he’d returned with a smiley face icon beside the message. So I walked to the door and looked at the guy on the sofa. “We got you now. And leave your dealer alone. Just smoke a little weed like a nice boy. Because if I come back, I’ll take a lot more than the stash back.”

He still gave me the same scared eyes like he didn’t know what I talked about. I bolted down the stairs and climbed into Glew’s car. “So he had it. Huh?”

Glew swallowed. “It wasn’t up there?”

“Damn it. You got to be kidding me.”

Glew rubbed his nose. “He went to the girl’s place and followed her inside but he only stayed a minute. Then I followed him to his apartment a few miles down the street. I searched the whole place but I couldn’t find a thing. There was barely any food in there even and the kid denied everything.”

I said, “Mine did, too. Are you sure they did this?”

“Hey, you saw Chipper.”

I said, “And the bug you had on was the one in that bar? You’re sure?”

“You heard the voices. They match up.”

I said, “Let’s hear it again.”

Glew played the recording on his phone again. I shook my head and had him play it another time. I cracked my knuckles. “Okay, they rob Chipper. Then they have to stash it somewhere. In the bar you think? The dumpster maybe?”

Glew pulled out of his parking spot. “We’ll go check it out.”

A fifties green Ford Fairlane passed us. The woman driving glanced our way. I said, “Stop the car.”

Glew stopped. “What is it?”

“Green dragon. The one guy said that they’d get there with the green dragon.”

Glew snapped his fingers. “The dragon bong. They took the other one.”

I said, “Did you see it at the guy’s apartment?”

“Um…no. Was it in there?”

I shook my head. “The green dragon is that car. That’s the guy’s mom. I saw her picture in there.”

I pulled the guy’s keys from my pocket. There was one old Ford key on there. The woman was nearly in the apartment. I ran out of Glew’s car over to the Fairlane. I shoved the key in the trunk lock and turned. When the lid rose, the street light illuminated the plastic that encased the stash in the corner of the trunk. I grabbed it and then shut the lid and tossed the keys across the lot. When I reached Glew’s car, the woman raced down the steps. Glew made it to the exit but a string of five cars rolled by. The woman raced toward us. Only her eyes looked a hell of a lot scarier than her son’s did. “Damn you, Glew. Get moving.”

“And get hit?”

The woman beat her palms on the passenger window, yelling, “What did you do to my son? What kind of animals are you? I’ll get you! I will get you!”

The final car passed. Glew tore us on out of there. The lady yelled after us and pulled out her phone, trying to take down Glew’s license plate number. Glew said, “So they had green dragon take the stash to them. That’s actually pretty clever.”

“And incredibly wimpy. Getting your mama to take all the risk.”

Glew coughed. “Well, yeah. Man, look at it just lying there.”

I turned my eyes to the brick of weed between us. “I reckon Chipper’s going to be a happy man.”

Glew said, “Shit. Like we’re giving it back.”

I watched Glew. He peered at me out of the corner of his eye. “I can take my cut. Right?”

I grabbed the stash and held onto it. Glew said, “Ah geez, stud.”

We rode out to Chipper’s house. At midnight, his house looked like a hovel eaten up by black vegetation monsters. When we handed him the stash, his mouth dropped. I thought he might have been having some kind of spell. Then he jumped into the air over and over like he had an invisible pogo stick beneath those sandals. He bowed before us like we were gods. We tried to leave but he insisted on giving Glew a cut of the stash. While he separated the portion, Glew wouldn’t look at me. “Don’t say it.”

I said, “Uh-huh. How do you feel now? The job is the reward itself, Glew.”

“Well, geez, stud. We help a lot of folks. There’s no reason we can’t take a little something for ourselves.”

Then Chipper returned with Glew’s reward and insisted on giving me something. I turned him down on pot, a cool rug and a few old records but when he showed me his brand new weed eater, well, I gave in. Glew dropped me off and said, “Feels good to get a little reward. Right?”

I admired my new weed eater. “You know, it actually does.”

I enjoyed a good night’s rest. The next day, I woke up at the crack of noon and after breakfast, I took a look at the weeds protruding from the ground around my shop and smiled. “It’s about to be all over for you.”

I primed my new weed eater and massaged my shoulder for a moment. I gave it a crank. Then I gave it several more cranks but nothing happened. I sighed. “I knew it.”

The Happy Followers

Glew stopped off at a convenience store just as dusk fell over us. I followed him inside and bought myself a cup of coffee and a package of powdered donuts. Glew got his usual Nutty Buddy and a peach Nehi. The woman behind us in line said, “What are you doing, oh brother of mine?”

Glew’s face lit up like a candle. I stepped out of the way and took his refreshments and paid for them. Glew’s sister stood around six feet-a couple inches shorter than Glew. She kept her blonde hair tied back with her two daughters corralling around her. The youngest one peered at me like I was a zoo exhibit. The oldest one hugged Glew. After his sister brought him up to speed on her life and how a responsible person lives, I inched toward the exit door when the oldest daughter looked at Glew. “Why does a man follow a woman?”

Glew chuckled. “That depends. Usually it’s a bad idea from what I’ve found. Of course, we’re men. We tend to go for bad ideas.”

The girl gave no reaction. Glew dropped his smile and said, “Why?”

The girl pointed toward outside. I looked out at the parking lot. A woman walked by, playing on her phone. A man followed behind her, staring at her back with his hands stuffed into his pockets. Glew walked up beside me and took a long look. When he turned to me, I nodded and left the store. Glew bid farewell to his relatives.

I followed the man out of the parking lot onto the sidewalk. The woman couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and ten while this man could be two hundred and twenty easy. She walked along with her head in her phone while the man’s focus did not shift an inch. We crested a hill until we must have passed the fifteenth house on the right. The woman stopped. The man paused, like a cat waiting for a bird to fly down to the ground for some dropped seeds. I stopped as well. I looked back. Glew’s jeep sat parked in a driveway twenty feet behind me. I turned back.

The woman slipped her phone into her purse and pulled out a set of keys on her way to the next house. She bounced onto the porch. The man followed along, still with his hands in his pockets. When she pulled the front door open, he pulled a hand loose from the pocket.

I walked toward the porch. The woman shut the door and locked it. The man stood by the porch, watching the woman walk by her window. He wiped his lips and then turned. He looked around and past me. Then he took a second look at me. I watched him, wearing a trace of a grin. He swallowed. I tipped my head to the side. He broke his stare and walked away from her porch to the sidewalk. When he ventured a look back at me, I walked toward him.

The man crossed the street to the other side and walked back toward the store. I followed along, keeping close. He crossed the street to a grocery store parking lot. I crossed the street, keeping an eye on him despite someone honking their horn at me. When he walked into the grocery store, I stopped. Glew pulled up beside me. I got in and he parked the jeep. I said, “Did you let the boys know we wouldn’t be making it?”

Glew said, “Yeah. They sounded kind of sad.”

“I bet they would. I reckon I am a little, too. Nothing beats night fishing.”

A few patters of rain hit the windshield. I said, “Then again, maybe this fellow’s got good timing.”

We watched a collection of folks straggle out of the grocery store, pushing carts and pulling hoods over their faces beneath the increasing downpour. After an hour, I walked into the store. I walked down the row of aisles, checking each one. Our boy did not appear.

I ran back outside where the rain had died off and hopped into Glew’s jeep. “Head back over to the lady’s house. He split on us somehow.”

Glew started the jeep and pulled into traffic. A row of nine cars sat between us and the street. I climbed out and jogged onto the sidewalk. When I crossed the street, a car honked at me. Another driver yelled out the window. I jogged to the other side of the intersection and then crossed the street. I pushed myself until I reached the crest of the hill. The front door of the house stood halfway open.

I raced up to the porch. The TV flickered through the window. Yet, I didn’t see the lady. I moved toward the door.

The lady walked by the storm door into the living room. If she hadn’t been slipping heaphones on, she would have caught me. I hunkered down, stepping off her front porch.

I walked around the side of her house. Our boy might be inside, hiding in a closet. Maybe he gave up and walked home in the rain. I nearly got a little sad at that thought. Then I walked around to the back of the house where a carport covered a grill along with a push mower and a bicycle. I walked on in, watching for movement but I didn’t see any. Glew parked his jeep on the street. I took one last look at the carport and then walked toward the jeep.

I turned back to the carport. White rails held the roof up. At the top of the farthest rail, a spot of mud hung there, looking like it might drop off any second. I smiled.

I walked to Glew’s jeep. He rolled the passenger side window down for me. I leaned in and said, “Open the back hatch.”

The locks clunked. I opened the hatch and retrieved my fishing pole. I switched my hook on the end of the line with my biggest treble hook. Glew cut the engine and stepped out. I whispered, “Follow me.”

We eased up to the carport, keeping our eyes on the roof’s edge. I stood in the driveway and pointed underneath the carport. Glew walked in and stared up at the carport ceiling. I kept low with my thumb on the caster. Glew leaned his head back where his ear pointed upward. I watched the roof’s edge. Glew edged toward the far right corner and pointed up. I winked at him and swung back and cast the hook over the ledge onto the roof. Once I had it set, I yanked.

“Aaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!”

I yanked on the line five times before our boy crawled to the ledge and then high-tailed it down the same white rail where he left a muddy track earlier. When he hit the ground, he bounced back up, charging me. I stepped to the side and stuck my leg out, tripping him. Glew pulled out the duct tape. I tossed the rod and climbed onto his back. I shoved his face into the ground and tugged on the treble hook lodged into the back of his head. He fought me, screaming. I said, “Give me your hands.”

He screamed louder and struggled.

I pulled on the treble hook until tiny blood droplets popped out of his head. “Give me your hands or this just gets worse.”

The stalker groaned and let his arms go slack. I wrapped five strips around his wrists while Glew wrapped the tape around his ankles. We carried him to the jeep. He moved less than a corpse. Once we had him loaded up, I closed the hatch. We hopped into the jeep. The lady inside opened her front door and stood watching us, holding one headphone away from her ear. I waved to her. Glew drove us away. I said, “I’ll call the boys.”

We retrieved our boy’s wallet. Then we drove to his duplex apartment and took him inside to his bedroom where we shut him in. An hour later, we sat him in a chair in his living room. I said, “So, Mr. Darryl Pudwell. Now that we’ve established that you do seek attention, we’re going to make sure you get just that.”

Darryl stared at me.

I opened his front door. Four men walked inside. Glew closed the door after them. I said, “Yeah. These fellows right here have been needing something to do. They love to fish but well, fishing gets boring for any of us after a while. Instead, they’re going to keep you company from here on out. You can bet that at least one of them will be with you, sitting close by here at your residence and then when you venture out to the store or happen to creep by a young lady’s house. Yes, sir. These good men will be with you every step of the way.”

Darryl shook his head. “No.”

One of the boys put his hand on Darryl’s shoulder. I said, “Yes, Darryl. You wanted a friend. Now you got four. I’m sure you’ll all be very happy together.”

Glew walked out. I followed behind him with the four men standing around Darryl and smiling as if they were taking a family reunion photo. We’ve known those men a good while. I think they’ll make good friends for Darryl. After all, a former marine, a retired drill sergeant and two ex-cops need something to do.