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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 2

Frenchy hunched over the kitchen table with the blanket still wrapped around him as he ate the clam chowder. The soup didn’t taste very good – it was clam chowder, after all – but at least it was warm and it filled him up a little. It would have been nice to have had some crackers to go with it, but no such luck. Damn, it would have been nice if there was some food around the house once in a while, but there wasn’t and it always had pretty much been that way. What with everything, he had to remind himself that this was actually a good day, since he wasn’t in jail.

All the time he was eating, which wasn’t very long, he wondered what he should do next. While there were some things that needed to be done, the first obvious thing was to make contact with Matt and Larry. He couldn’t understand why neither of them had come to meet him at the jail, and he was pissed about that. Mary Lou was also high on the list, but it seemed likely that she would be in school, so there was no point in trying to call her.

As soon as he was finished and put the dirty dish in the sink, he grabbed the phone. Not surprisingly, there was no answer at either Matt’s or Larry’s place. It was a school day after all, so there was at least a chance that they’d be wasting their time in school. Last year they’d pretty well taken off when they wanted to, and Mr. Payne had usually overlooked the absences; the three of them were football players, after all, and Payne liked to suck up to the football players, cutting them some slack. They still showed up around school once in a while, just on general principles – it was where Frenchy made most of his beer deals, after all. He had to make sure that some of the non-football players showed him the proper amount of respect and teach them a lesson or two if they didn’t. But still – why did Matt or Larry do something as unimportant as showing up at school when there were more important things to do? Even his fucking buddies weren’t showing him much respect! That was something that was going to have to be dealt with, but not right this minute. There were other things that had to be done first.

Eventually, Frenchy realized that nothing much could be done till school got out, about Mary Lou or anything else, which might have been just as well since he was still pretty chilled. He thought about taking a nap, but then there were those stinking fucking sheets still on the bed – he could smell them on the blanket he still had wrapped around him. And on top of that, there were those stinking clothes from last summer still scattered around his bedroom. Didn’t his mother ever do any laundry around this house? Did he have to do everything for himself?

Well, shit, he thought. Might as well do them, and while they were in the washer, he could look around the house in several other places where he had emergency beer stashes. A couple of them were pointless to think about – the beer would have to have frozen solid months ago – but there were a few cans in the attic and a couple in the basement. That would at least give him a taste of the beer he had been denied for months, and might even do something to celebrate being out of jail.

He went back up to his room, gathered the dirty sheets and dirty clothes, and headed down to the washing machine in the basement with them. He wasn’t real sure how to do it – he hadn’t done it very often, considering that it was woman’s work and therefore beneath him, but he figured that if a woman knew how to do it, it couldn’t be very complicated. He filled the washer up, dumped in some soap, and set it to running. Then, since he was in the basement anyway, he went looking for his beer stash hidden in a pile of old junk stuff under the kitchen. Most of the junk was still there, but the beer wasn’t where he expected to find it. The pile had been cleaned up, and the beer had disappeared, apparently when it happened, so that meant his folks had probably drunk it months before. Fuck, now even they were ripping off his beer stash, not that it hadn’t happened before.

Pissed about it, he headed back upstairs and climbed up to the attic, which was uncomfortably cold. Nobody ever went up there, not that he’d ever noticed, but when he got up there he noticed with a sinking feeling that things had been re-arranged there too, and a lot of stuff was gone. After a little looking, he realized that a box that had once contained three or four cans of beer was gone, and another box that had once held another few cans was now empty of them. He pulled up a loose floorboard that had once hidden three or four cans, but they were gone too – along with a half bottle of vodka that was his final fall-back!

Fuck! That meant that all of his hidden emergency stashes were gone! He’d already looked in the refrigerator and in the cabinets, but there most likely wasn’t any beer in the house at all! That meant that he couldn’t even celebrate his freedom! That about meant that his folks had to have gone through the house with a fine-tooth comb to steal every fucking can of his beer! He stood there muttering and cursing at the open hole in the floor. Was this any fucking way to treat him after all he’d been through?

He was really pissed about it now, but realized slowly that it was cold in the attic, and that it was no place for him to be right now. He kicked a box in frustration, but it didn’t move very much – it was loaded with something heavy and it hurt – and then he headed back downstairs to try and figure out what to do next.

Without any other idea of anything he could do, he went back down to the living room, plunked down in one of the chairs, and wrapped the blanket around him tighter. Right now he needed a beer worse than he ever had. About all he could hope was that Matt or Larry had some beer lying around. If worse came to worst, maybe one or the other of them could run him over to Lame Badger’s on the reservation to get some more beer, but even as the idea came to mind he realized that there were two problems with it.

First, he wasn’t going to be buying much beer with the eight bucks or so that he had. Lame Badger’s base price was ten bucks a twelve-pack of the cheapest stuff on the market, a hell of a lot more than it would cost to get good beer down at the Super Market if he could have gotten it legally. He’d always figured it wasn’t worth making the trip for less than ten twelves, which meant a hundred bucks, which he didn’t have. But this was more important than normal – it had been months since he’d had more than a dream of a taste of the elixir.

Second, and even worse, having Matt or Larry drive him over there would mean that he would be giving up the secret that Lame Badger was his source for all the beer he’d peddled around town the last couple years. He’d always figured that so long as he was the only one who knew where he was getting the beer, he had a big chunk of the underage beer market in Spearfish Lake. If Matt or Larry knew where he was getting the beer – and he’d never told them – then the word was likely to get all around town faster than shit, and then where would he be? Screwed, that’s where!

Well, maybe one or the other of them would be willing to lend him some money and some wheels and he could leave them behind for the beer run. Or, if that didn’t work, maybe at least they might have a few lying around to cut the dust – that would be better than nothing, at least for today.

So Frenchy sat around stewing about pretty much the same things as the minute hand went around the clock again and again. After a while he went down to the washing machine, moved the stuff to the dryer, and started another load, then came back up and tried to call Matt or Larry again, but, as before, there was no reply. After a while, he heard the dryer buzz, so he went down, grabbed an armload of stuff, and moved the other clothing from the washer to the dryer. He went back up to his room, stuffed the clothes roughly into any available empty spots in the drawers, and turned to making the bed – still woman’s work, he snorted, but it was pretty damn clear that if it was going to get done he had to do it himself.

Once that was done, he headed back downstairs and tried to call his buddies again. There was no answer at Matt’s once again, but he was surprised to get an answer at Larry’s. “Hey, Bud!” he said, his anger having built all afternoon, “Where the fuck were you this morning?”

“What do you mean where the fuck was I? I was fucking in school! Where the fuck did you think I was?”

“Shit, couldn’t you have blown off school to come pick me up when they let me out? I almost froze my ass walking home! That’s no way to treat a buddy.”

“Some fucking buddy you are,” Larry replied. “I listened to you, I went along with you, and all I got out of it was to get my ass in trouble. On top of that, all that fucking trouble probably was part of why my father died.”

“Your father died?” Frenchy replied, still angry. “What does that have to do with anything? I couldn’t have had anything to do with it.”

“The fuck you didn’t. All that fucking trouble you caused me got his blood pressure higher than a fuckin’ space probe. His heart blew out on him a few days after you went to jail, and I’m still pretty pissed about it. I’ve been working after school to help Mom try to make ends meet. I just came home to change clothes. There’s going to be a stack of parts I have to clean.”

“Cleaning parts?” Frenchy frowned. “Fuck, isn’t that something you can put off?”

“No fucking way,” Larry replied. “It’s something I’ve gotta fucking do. After Dad died, Randy Clark out at Clark Construction went to bat for me and offered me the job. I owe him big time for that. He even got Judge Dieball to cancel my community service. He says that if I keep my nose clean, he’ll put me on as a trainee equipment operator after I graduate. The way jobs are around here right now, that’s nothing to fucking sneeze at.”

“But can’t you blow it off for one day? I need some help!”

“No fucking way,” Larry sneered. “First off, I’ve got to go to work. Second, I’m still on probation, and that means I can’t be hanging around with you. I’m not going to fucking blow this up just because you think you want to go out and screw around.”

“Some fucking buddy you are.”

“We ain’t buddies no more,” Larry sneered. “We haven’t been since Dad died and we’re not going to be in the future. I don’t have any more time for your screwing around. I never should have had time for it or maybe Dad would still be alive. Now fuck off, Frenchy, and don’t be calling me again.”

“Fuck you, Coopshaw,” Frenchy snarled as he heard the phone slam down. There was more he would have liked to have said, but he didn’t get the time to say it. That bastard Coopshaw had just put his name on the list of people whose asses needed kicking, and maybe near the top of it. So his dad died, so what? That didn’t give him cause to turn on a buddy and stab him in the back, did it? Shit, he couldn’t let that happen, or where the fuck would he be?

The hell of it was that any number of times Matt and Larry had held onto someone Frenchy didn’t like so he could deal with them without any chance of being hit back. Even if Matt was still loyal, it was going to make kicking some of the asses that needed kicking that much harder.

Frenchy sat in the chair fuming about it for a while, until he realized that if Larry was home, Matt might have gotten home by now. Matt had always been loyal, but on thinking about it he realized that it might not be a bad idea to start out as not quite as much of a hard ass. He picked up the phone and dialed it again.

Sure enough, Matt was home. “Hey, Matt,” Frenchy said. “What’s happening with you?”

“Shit, are you out of jail?” Matt said. “I thought they weren’t going to turn you loose till the first of the week!”

“No, this morning, and it was a goddamn long and cold walk home wearing only the clamdiggers I was wearing when we got picked up last summer. I expected you to come and pick me up.”

“Sorry about that, Frenchy,” Matt replied, “but I couldn’t have gotten out of school if I wanted to. I’m really stuck on a bubble and I can’t afford to miss class any.”

“What the fuck do you mean you’re on a bubble? Doesn’t Pansy Payne cut football players any slack any more?”

“Fuck, no.” Matt muttered. “First off, Payne ain’t there no more. He quit about the time we got busted, and nobody has seen him since. Besides, I ain’t a football player no more, not that football players get cut any slack either. It just ain’t the same place it was last year. I’m just trying to get through it and get the hell out of there.”

“You didn’t play football?” Frenchy said in surprise. “What the fuck happened?”

“Oh, yeah. You weren’t there. I was banned from extracurricular activities as part of my probation, so no football.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” Frenchy replied. “I haven’t heard shit about what went on outside since last summer. So I suppose the football team got creamed without us there?”

“Actually, no,” Matt replied. “Boy, you haven’t heard nuthin’, have you? They went eight and one in the regular season and wound up going two rounds into the playoffs. With the kids they had playing, that was a real surprise.”

“Eight and one? Playoffs? Jesus, we really missed out. What the fuck happened?”

“Oh, that’s a long fucking story. It seems after you got sent up, Eddie Awkerman decided to revive the pre-practice beer bust, and the cops wound up raiding it. The way I heard it Coach Will-Fart decided he wasn’t going to discipline the team, so he got his ass canned along with everyone at the party. They brought up the JVs to play varsity, and they got a former pro for a coach. They started out by beating Coldwater in the first game and never looked back. You know Lyle Angarrack?”

“Yeah, big wuss, doesn’t do sports, the wimp.”

“He did last fall,” Matt explained. “His kicking was the margin of victory in four of the regular-season games they won, and he scored a bunch of other points besides. That big fucker is stronger than dirt, and they named him MVP for the season.”

“Holy shit,” Frenchy replied in pure astonishment. “I can’t believe they could have done as well without us.”

“To tell the truth,” Matt told him, “the word around town is that everyone thinks they did better since we weren’t there. You sure you didn’t hear anything about that?”

“Like I said, not a fucking word,” Frenchy shook his head, realizing that Matt was still a friend. “Hey, look, it’s been months since I’ve had a beer. Can you help me out?”

“Afraid not,” Matt sighed. “It’s been months for me too, not that I’d want to risk it. The cops have become death on underage drinking, and they don’t cut football players any slack any more, not after what happened with Awkerman.”

“Yeah, but come on! I need some hair of the dog! Can’t we hop in your car and go get some?”

“No way, and for a number of reasons, the big one being my car ain’t running. It needs some computer gadget that’s going to cost four hundred and some bucks, and I’m trying to save my money. I don’t know why I’m bothering, I’m not going to be around after June anyway, if my luck holds out. Another of those reasons is that I can’t be seen hanging around with you. If I get busted for a probation violation I’m screwed. I mean, I suppose it’s all right if we can talk on the phone, but I can’t risk any more than that.”

“Yeah, but come on. Can’t you help out a buddy?”

“I really don’t want to risk it. The recruiter says I can go in the Army in June if I keep my nose clean. If I do he’ll see that my conviction gets waived. The way jobs are around this fucking town right now that’s about the only choice I got.”

“Yeah, but shit, man, the Army? You’re going to have your ass in Afghanistan so quick it won’t be funny.”

“Maybe so, but at least it’s out of Spearfish Lake. I get fucking tired of people laughing at me for the way we fucked up last summer. I’ll tell you what, I’m damn tired of this place. I’m just looking forward to graduating and getting out of here. That’s why I’m trying to keep my grades up enough so I can get in the Army.”

This was getting depressing, not that it already wasn’t depressing, Frenchy thought. First Larry tells me to go fuck myself, and now Matt tells me that he’s going into the Army. That means that some serious ass kicking is going to have to be done soon, and right now he’s sounding like he’s going to wimp out on me. “Hey, man,” he said. “I still need a beer, and I still need to get the beer business going again.”

“Don’t bother,” Matt told him. “I don’t know where it was you were getting your beer, but when Awkerman found that place up on the reservation where people can get beer, he spread it all over town. Everybody knows about it, and if people want beer and are willing to risk the cops, they’re taking a run when they want to, and getting it for a hell of a lot less than you charged.”

Oh, fuck, Frenchy thought. That meant that his secret connection with Lame Badger wasn’t any secret any longer, and that meant that even if he did have beer to sell he wouldn’t be able to make any money at it. What the fuck else was going to go wrong?

“How’d he find out about that?” Frenchy asked, a little anger in his voice now. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

“Fuck no, I didn’t tell him. I never knew where it was in the first place, but after it got spread all over town I figured it must be that Lame Badger guy that everyone is going to now.”

“Yeah, that was it,” Frenchy replied, mentally admitting defeat. “How the fuck did he hear about it?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Matt admitted. “The story I heard was that he heard that some guy was getting it on the reservation years ago, and he decided to go over there and nose around. I’m told he had a shit load of beer at the party before it got busted. There are still people in trouble over that, and Awkerman is one of them. He has to do three months jail time this summer when school is out.”

“He ain’t going to like it one bit,” Frenchy said. Awkerman really needed his ass kicked for blowing up his secret connection, but then he didn’t know it was the secret connection he’d been using. He must have just lucked onto it, but it was still bad news. It had been a good deal while it lasted, but it wasn’t going to work any more. But then, Matt was still a friend, and maybe he could still help out a little. “Hey, I know you think you’ve got to keep your head down, but maybe we can get together for a few brews sometime.”

“Not real soon,” Matt sighed. “I’m really hurting without wheels, and I don’t see getting them fixed until I’m back from basic training, which means next fall sometime. I shouldn’t have the probation hanging over me then. I suppose we might be able to get together then, but right now I just don’t dare to be seen with you.”

Frenchy pretty well wanted to tell Matt to go to hell right then, but he couldn’t let himself do it. He’d just apparently lost one loyal long-term buddy, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to want to sluice the other one just then. Matt still seemed to want to be friendly, but he thought he had his ass between a rock and a hard spot, and with no car there wasn’t much he could do for him anyway. That was really going to put a crimp in the ass kicking that needed to be done. “Well, fuck,” he said. “Any other bad news?”

“I’m sure you’re going to think so,” Matt replied. “I can’t even think where to start. Things have changed, Frenchy. In fact, they’ve changed a lot since last summer. It isn’t the place it used to be. I’ll tell you what, if you’re smart, you’ll get the fuck out of here and stay the fuck out of here. It’s too bad the Army won’t accept you with your record. That might be a way out, but they barely accepted me, so I know damn well the recruiter would show you the door.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t really want to be in the Army anyway. Too many assholes around, but if that’s what you think you have to do, I guess that’s what you have to do.”

“The big part of me doesn’t really want to do it, but another small part says what choice do I have? Look, Frenchy. It’s good to know you got out of jail all right, and I hope we’re still friends, but until this is a done deal we’re just not going to be able to get together. If I see you coming on the street, I’m just going to have to go the other way. I hope you’ll understand.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Frenchy grumped. “Sooner or later.”

Well, that fucking tears that, Frenchy thought as he hung up the phone. Matt was still apparently a friend, but he wasn’t going to be any fucking use. Not surprising; while he’d been the smarter and more loyal of his two main buds, he also was the wussier. It was a goddamn shame that he thought he had to let a buddy down, but again, with no wheels, it wasn’t as if he was going to be able to help out very much, anyway.

God damn, he thought. There are still asses to kick, more than before, and no help to kick them with. Now what the fuck am I going to do?

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To be continued . . .

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