Spearfish Lake Tales logo Wes Boyd’s
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 7

Saturday, March 12 – Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday went all right for Frenchy, considering everything.

One of the good things about working for Stromsen was that if things went well, he might get his community service hours cut – there was no telling how much, but any of it that got cut would be to the good. Still, with only five months till August and two hundred hours to get in, he figured that he might as well get done what he could while he could.

Mr. Derbyshire had told him that the Saturday work crew usually met out back of the jail at eight – they’d work right through, and a quick break for lunch along in there would count toward the time. What’s more, they usually served something for lunch on Saturdays – not a lot, but it was free, so that would cut the need to get his mother to come up with something he could have for lunch.

The crew leader was a retired Clark Plywood worker named Terry Porter who did this job for extra cash to supplement his retirement. He seemed overweight and tired from the word go, but was at least cheerful enough. He might as well be, Frenchy thought; it was clear from the first minute that he wasn’t going to be doing any of the work himself, although he’d probably be standing around watching to make sure that nobody screwed off too.

“Got good news for you guys today,” he announced to the people standing around. “The crew on Thursday gutted and processed the road-kill deer that accumulated, and the road commission didn’t bring in any yesterday, so that means you’re shoveling snow today.” That was just as fine as could be with Frenchy – it confirmed the story going around the jail that much of the meat eaten there was road kill. No wonder they served it so much – since they used the community service people to process it, it was even cheaper. No wonder it tasted so fucking bad! Since gutting out and grinding a dead deer was one of the more sickening things he could think of, he was glad to not have to do it today.

“Thank God,” one of the other community service people said. “I used to like hunting deer, but they’re safe from me for the rest of my life.” Obviously someone else found the job to be about as gross and disgusting as Frenchy did.

There were four other community service people who were there along with him; all of them were older than he was, up into what Frenchy guessed were their fifties. After asking if anyone needed to see Mr. Derbyshire that morning – none did – Porter herded the five of them into a beat-up old full-size van that had some snow shovels sitting in front of one of the seats. They were only a few minutes getting to one of the streets that Frenchy had walked down the day before. “Couple of you guys might as well get started here,” Porter said, pointing at a length of sidewalk that Frenchy had detoured around.

Soon all of them were working on sidewalks on different sides of the same block. Porter apparently felt like getting a little exercise, so at least he stood around and watched rather than sitting in the warmth of the van. It was another cold morning, although it seemed to be warming up a little more quickly than it had done the day before. The snow they had to shovel was deep and had lain there for a while, so it took some hard work to shovel by hand, but nobody apparently worked too hard, so Frenchy didn’t either. Everybody seemed to stop and take frequent breathers, Frenchy among them – moving the heavy snow was tiring, and he was still out of shape from lying around the jail for so long.

At one time when Frenchy was taking a blow, he happened to mention to Porter, who was standing nearby, “Why don’t these people shovel their sidewalks themselves? I mean, doesn’t the city say that they’re supposed to? I have to clean off the walks at home, so how do they get away without doing it?”

“Well, for the most part, there’s no one in these houses to do it,” Porter said. “These houses are pretty much all empty and for sale. Some of them have been foreclosed on. In theory if the owner doesn’t clean the walks the city is supposed to do the job and add it onto the taxes, but they know they’re not likely to get the tax money they’re owed on a lot of them anyway. And besides, the city has other things to do with their money if they can get you guys to do it for them.”

“You mean that no one owns some of these places?”

“Well, somebody owns them,” Porter told him. “Sometimes it’s a bank or mortgage company, sometimes it’s just somebody who wants to get rid of them, maybe somebody who got a job out of town somewhere else and can’t afford to keep the place up. If a person had some money he could pick some of them up cheap. If they’re willing to ride out the economy, some of these places could be worth some money a few years up the road, but right now the market is so lousy there’s no hope of selling them. You guys will be out here mowing these lawns in the next few months.”

It was something Frenchy hadn’t thought about, but the thought crossed his mind that one of these houses might prove a place to hide out if things went totally bad with his folks. Probably there would be no heat in any of them, no water, no electricity, but at least it would be out of the wind – that would be worth something. “It’d be nice to think about if I had some money,” Frenchy replied. “But I don’t, and that’s that.”

A little before noon Porter took off for a while, and came back with some foam boxes and plastic forks. Frenchy wasn’t surprised to discover that it was more of the venison shit-on-shingle he remembered from his days in jail; he still could barely stand the stuff, but at least it was food and it was relatively warm. He was hungry, so he managed to choke the foul stuff down, standing around outside the van. Frenchy took note of the fact that Porter didn’t have any of the meals; maybe he’d picked up a burger or something while he’d been gone. He probably didn’t like the shit any more than anyone else, but at least he didn’t have to eat it.

They didn’t take more of a break than that; they just tossed the trash into a bag in the van and got back to shoveling snow, again not any harder than they had to and Porter didn’t push them very hard. They worked on until three, still not working all that hard, until Porter told them to call it a day – the rule was that he couldn’t work the crew more than six hours a day. Since the van went back to the jail right past Frenchy’s house he was able to get dropped off, saving him a long, cold walk.

He hadn’t much more than gotten in the door when the phone rang. It proved to be Mr. Stromsen. “You done with dat community service shit for da day?” he asked.

“Just got in,” Frenchy told him. “Haven’t even got my coat off yet.”

“I just now got back from da junkyard,” Stromsen said. “Had ta dig through da damndest pile of tires you ever saw to get any dat looked like dey’d be any good. You want I should pick you up?”

Mounting the tire on the rim from the night before was as hard and dirty as it had been to take the old one off. The tire didn’t look like it was anything great, but it might hold for a while. They worked until after dark getting the tires remounted and doing a couple other things that needed to be done on the truck.

“Well, dat’s dat,” Stromsen said finally. “Ya done pretty good considerin’ ya don’t know what you’re doin’, yaaah.”

“Thanks, Mr. Stromsen,” Frenchy said. “I know I don’t know much about it but I guess I need to learn it.”

“Don’t be callin’ me no mister,” he smiled. “All da guys on da crew call me Sven, and you do too. Let too much of that shit get ’round, and dey be looking for a raise next, yaaah.”

“All right, Sven,” Frenchy said. “I can do that.”

“Good enough. I’m thinkin’ I don’t want to throw another tray in da microwave. You up for da special at dat Spearfish Lake Café again? Least I can do is buy after ya put in good work for me.”

It didn’t take Stromsen much of a sales job; soon the two were riding in the battered old pickup truck out to the restaurant. This evening, it was Swiss steak on special, and it tasted damn good – more than good enough to rid his mouth of the lingering taste of the venison SOS he’d had for lunch.

While they were eating, Frenchy got around to asking the question he’d wondered about off and on over the course of the day – just what was it they did out in the woods?

“I don’t want to tell ya too much, since ya’ll understand it better when we’re doin’ it,” Sven explained. “Pretty much what we’re doin’ is cuttin’ firewood out of slash limbs and stuff. The stuff dat’s too small we run through a chipper ta make wood chips, but dere’s some stuff we can chip and some we can’t, like we can’t chip no pine needles sometimes. It’s just hard to explain until ya see it. Da firewood gets sold here an’ dere, and da wood chips go to Clark’s. It ain’t no easy job and dere ain’t a lot of money in it, ’specially these days, but I keep going wid it, yaaah.”

Sven didn’t say much more about the job just then. It sounded like a lot of damn work to Frenchy, but at least there would be a little money in it. It didn’t take them long to finish eating, and Sven drove Frenchy back to his house. His folks were sitting in the living room watching something on TV, and Frenchy wasn’t in the mood to watch TV right then, or to have to deal with more crabbing from his folks, so he just went up to his room and turned the radio on. He was tired – more from the working with Sven than from the snow shoveling, and wound up going to bed early. At least there hadn’t been any more bad news, and best of all he hadn’t seen anyone he knew from the school.

For no good reason he felt a little better when he got up the next morning. When he got downstairs, his mother announced that he was on his own for breakfast and lunch, and probably dinner as well; she and his father had decided to take a run over to Three Pines and play the slots for a while. “Have a good time,” was about all Frenchy could say, hoping that there would be something he could find for breakfast, although he asked nicely if she could come up with some coffee and something he could make a lunch out of on Monday. She said she’d stop by the Super Market and see what was on the bargain rack.

There was something to eat, not a lot; a couple toaster pastries would make a start on breakfast, and there were a few cans of vegetables that he didn’t particularly like. Beets were about the least detestable, so he made a breakfast out of a can of them, knowing that he was going to be making lunch and dinner out of more canned vegetables, and maybe, if he ransacked the place and got lucky, something else. Even venison SOS sounded halfway decent right then.

He didn’t want to say anything, but he was just a little burned that his folks were heading over to Three Pines again. They spent all too much of their time over there, and it wasn’t the first time Frenchy had been burned about it. It was part of the reason that they lived so damn poor, even though both of them had pretty good jobs. All too much of his folk’s money went into the slot machines over there. Oh, yeah, they won small jackpots every now and then, but the money went right back into the slots and they never brought anything back.

It was part of the reason that there never seemed to be any decent food around the house, he thought, and it just burned his butt knowing that just about every cent he’d be giving them for room and board would be heading over there as well. Things didn’t seem any different now that they said they’d given up drinking; any money they saved on beer would probably go into the slot machines, in hopes of making a big hit some day. They didn’t seem to understand that the casino was there to take their money, and they had never learned that. Frenchy didn’t mind playing a little poker with the guys, but it wasn’t the same thing – at least there was some skill involved, but playing the slots seemed to him to be just pure damn luck with the deck stacked against you from the beginning.

It seemed pretty clear that any food his mother bought for him would be the cheapest shit available, and he hoped she’d save enough money from the slots to buy it, because working all day on a couple cans of canned vegetables didn’t sound very appealing, at best. He couldn’t work hard on that kind of a diet. Back when he’d had some money, he’d tried to eat somewhere else when he could, but it looked like he was going to be stuck with eating garbage for a while, at least until he got a check or two from Sven. Then, at least he might be able to buy some food he could work on.

The good part about them heading over to the Three Pines casino was that it meant they were going to be gone all day, and not on his ass. He’d have the house to himself, not that there was anything in particular to do. He wasn’t about to head out somewhere, knowing that the confrontation with Jahnke had to be all over town by now; if he saw someone he knew, the subject was bound to come up and he’d be pissed all over again. So he spent most of the day in front of the TV set, not that it was very good. Since digital TV had come in, they only got two stations these days, both of them from Camden, and the picture jumped in and out a lot. Of course, the folks weren’t going to spring for cable TV – that might be the money that made them rich on the slots.

All in all, that part of his life sucked too. It was pretty damn clear by now that he wasn’t going to be making big money working for Sven, but maybe, when the weather got warmer, it might be enough to move out of the house, especially if he could move in with somebody. But there were other things that had to be done first, and wheels were one of them. Best to just stick it out the best I can, he thought. As soon as the probation is over with I can get out of this fucking town. No idea where that will be, but somewhere else.

*   *   *

At a quarter to seven on Monday Frenchy was standing by the front door, waiting for Red, whoever he was. Amazingly enough, his folks had saved enough money from the slot machines to buy a pound can of coffee and some bread and lunch meat so he’d have something of a decent lunch out in the woods. Maybe they got it before they went over there, he thought; it sure didn’t seem like they had anything when they came back. He’d already eaten one of the sandwiches he’d made; it seemed like it would be better than eating a can of cold lima beans or something.

Just as he was beginning to wonder if Red was going to show up at all he heard the honking of a horn out in front. He quickly grabbed his lunch box and thermos and headed out the door, to see a beat-up old Chevy with a lot of dents sitting at the curb. He hustled out to the car and opened the door. “You’re Red, right?” he asked of the thirtyish man with the bloodshot eyes sitting behind the wheel.

“I am if you’re Frenchy,” Red replied in a slurry voice, making it clear right from the beginning that he was a boozer. “Sven said I was supposed to pick you up. I wasn’t sure if this was the right place or not.” Frenchy could smell the beer he’d had for breakfast on his breath, and it just reminded him of the fact that he still hadn’t had any of that beer he’d been promising himself for over seven months. This might be a possibility, he thought; if he got to know Red a little, he might be willing to buy him a six-pack or two. He’d have to be careful where he drank it, though; not around the house for sure, and with no wheels, probably not much of anywhere else. Something else to think about. One of those abandoned houses he’d seen on Saturday might hold possibilities, although with the snow on the ground it would be obvious that someone had been there. Well, maybe when the snow left, in a month or two. There might be other possibilities; he’d have to think about it.

“Yeah, I’m Frenchy,” he replied.

“We better get our asses out there,” Red replied. “Sven don’t like it a lot if we’re late.”

*   *   *

Sven and another solid-looking guy in his thirties or forties were standing around when Red and Frenchy arrived. “Well, at least we ain’t in trouble for being late,” Red snorted. “Turk and Mutt haven’t showed up yet.”

Red pulled his battered old car to a stop to the side of the barn. “Morning, Red, Frenchy,” Sven said as they got out. “Red, Frenchy and I got your truck fixed over the weekend so it might ought to be OK.”

“Good deal,” Red replied. “I wasn’t looking forward to working on the ground all that much today.”

“We’d have found somethin’ for ya to do, yaaah,” Sven said. “I guess you already met Frenchy, he’s da new guy you brought in. He just got out of jail on Thursday so he ought to fit in with the rest of us. Frenchy, dis guy here is da other truck driver, Shank. He and I are the only ones that have done time in da state pen. Red, ya got any idea where Turk and Mutt are?”

“No idea, didn’t see no sign of them.”

“I think that’s them coming now,” Shank said as a beat-up old pickup truck came up the road.

In a minute or so it pulled into the driveway and parked next to Red’s car. Another solidly built guy, maybe a little older than Red, got out, and a tall guy somewhat younger. “Sorry if we’re a little late,” the older guy said. “But we stopped and got some doughnuts.”

“Real good,” the taller guy said.

“You get enough for everybody?” Sven asked. “Might as well pass them out now, yaaah.”

“Yeah, we did,” the older guy said, reaching inside the truck for a bag from the Super Market. While the doughnuts were being passed out, Sven introduced Frenchy to the new guys. The older guy was Turk, the tall guy was Mutt. Frenchy drew a chocolate crème-filled stick, which tasted pretty good in spite of being cold – it was the first doughnut he’d had in months, which helped to add to the sandwich he’d had for breakfast.

It didn’t take long to go through the doughnuts. “Might as well get started,” Sven said. “We ain’t gettin’ nothin’ done standing here. Same place as Friday, da same deal. Frenchy, why don’t you ride with me so we can talk about some things?”

In a couple minutes Frenchy was in the pickup truck next to Sven, while the others followed behind in an old dump truck and the covered stake truck he had worked on with Sven over the weekend. “We ain’t workin’ real far out, which is good,” Sven said as they headed down the road. “Did it seem to you like Red had a beer or two in him?”

“He smelled a little beery,” Frenchy admitted, not knowing if he was getting Red in trouble or what.

“Yaaah, he did to me too,” Sven said. “Probably a little hair of da dog. He must have had a pretty good weekend. I don’t mind him showing up with one or two in him and he knows it, but he also knows dat I don’t want to catch him wid more, or having it out in da woods with him. He does like his beer. Well, so does Turk. Turk don’t drink all da time like Red, but every now and then he goes out and gets really smashed. Good workers, though, both a dem, dey both been with me for a while.”

“That’s good to know,” Frenchy said. “I sort of wondered.”

“Shank, well, Shank is OK,” Sven continued. “He’ll get a bit lazy once in a while so I have ta keep after him. Dey call him ‘Shank’ because he got stabbed with one while he was in the pen. Tough old bastard though, it didn’t slow him down much, he pulled it outa his gut and stabbed the nigger right back with it, got him a good one too. Mutt, well, Mutt is kinda dumb, well, more dan kinda. He don’t drive at all, and we don’t let him use a chainsaw, but he’ll do da job once someone shows him what to do. Nuthin’ too complicated, though, an’ we don’t let him run da chipper, either. He’ll stuff any goddamn thing he can find in it like he don’t know the difference, and I guess maybe he don’t. He’s the only one of us dat ain’t been in jail, although I guess he was in a state home for a while a few years ago. You don’t want to go startin’ anythin’ with any one of dem, ’cause except for Mutt all of dem are fighters an’ they been ’round a while. They all know not to start anythin’ too, because I’ll pound the crap out of them before I fire them. But you get past all that, dey’re all pretty good guys as long as dey’re sober.”

“I’d imagine all of them would have trouble finding other work,” Frenchy said, beginning to understand how Sven could get by paying minimum wage for what was reported to be pretty hard work.

“Yaaah, dat’s true,” Sven said. “Just like you with your reputation. I don’t want to say dat dis is your last chance like it is for some of those guys, since you’re still young yet. But I’ll damn tell you dis, Frenchy – except for Mutt, you look at any of those guys, including me, and you can see how you could wind up if you don’t clean up your act and keep your nose clean.”

<< Back to Last Chapter - - - - Forward to Next Chapter >>
To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.