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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 10

Saturday, March 19, 2011

There was a small hole in the lining of his coat, and it seemed like a pretty good place for his thirty-two bucks, at least for the night and to get it out of the house in the morning. Frenchy set his clock for seven, which gave him an hour past his normal time to sleep in. When it rang in the morning, he was up and around quickly, and in only ten or fifteen minutes was out the door.

It was just as long and cold a walk to get downtown as ever, and he didn’t have to be over at the courthouse for his community service until nine. But, after another lousy dinner the night before and the shit his father had pulled on him, with the money in his pocket Frenchy felt like having a treat. He stopped short of the courthouse and went into Rick’s Café, which was busy on a Saturday morning. It was just as well that it was more of a working place, and kids didn’t go there much; while he recognized a few faces, there was no one there that he really knew, and especially no kids that he knew. After a week of working with Sven and the crew, the school and all the stuff that went with it seemed even further away than ever.

Reasoning that the little money he had was better spent on food for him, rather than on slot machines, when the waitress came and poured him coffee, he ordered a big breakfast – three eggs, pancakes, sausage, toast, home fries. He sipped at the coffee while he waited, enjoying the freshness and the warmth. It didn’t take long for the meal to arrive, only a few minutes. It tasted wonderful, especially compared to the cold canned vegetables he would have to have had at home. He knew he didn’t have the money to eat like this every day, but after the week he’d had, he felt he deserved a treat. He took his time eating it, enjoying every bite, then when it was over with sat around quietly drinking coffee until he had to go.

He got to the courthouse early enough to check in with Mr. Derbyshire for his weekly probation appointment – he’d left a message the previous week that he’d have to check in on Saturday since he was working – and that didn’t take long. Derbyshire said that it was good that Frenchy had found a job since there weren’t a lot of them to be had, even lousy ones. Frenchy passed along the word that Sven was looking for more help, and Derbyshire commented that he hadn’t had a lot of luck with people on probation working for the logger, but some had been able to stick it out, at least for a while.

Frenchy was done with the probation appointment with plenty of time to spare for the community service crew, so he waited around in the warmth of a foyer in the back for everyone to show up. Two of the people who showed up in the next few minutes he remembered from the week before, but the third, much to his surprise, was Shelly Battle.

He knew the little brunette pretty well – she’d been a cheerleader when he’d been on the football team a year and a half before. They’d been at several parties for a period of a couple years or so – not really there together, but she was something of a friend if not a girlfriend. He knew that Shelly planned on going to college, so they were in different leagues, so to speak, but at least they were familiar with each other.

“Shelly!” he said, “what are you doing here?”

“This fucking community service,” she frowned. “Thank God I’m almost done with it, only a few more sessions. I missed last week, I had a cold. I guess I heard you got out of jail, and I was sort of expecting to see you back in school.”

“Not this year,” Frenchy shrugged. Probably not ever, he didn’t want to add – after the incident with Jahnke and his buddies a week ago he doubted he wanted to go back there ever. “I spent too much time in jail to be able to graduate this year, so Mrs. Wine and I sort of agreed there was no point in my going back till fall.”

“Yeah, well, too bad,” Shelly sighed. “I’m counting the days until I can get out of this town and away from my father. I’ve got a summer job lined up at a Girl Scout camp downstate, and that should keep me gone most of the time. Mrs. Clark helped me get it.”

“You got problems with your old man?” Frenchy asked. “I know how that works. What happened?”

“Long story,” she sighed. “You know about the football team’s pre-practice beer party getting busted, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I heard about it, but not a whole lot. Sounded to me like somebody didn’t know how to keep their mouth shut.”

“If anyone could figure out who that somebody was there are a bunch of kids who are still ready to kill them,” she shook her head. “Most of us just got busted for Minor in Possession, but a few like Eddie Awkerman really got nailed. My dad decided we were going to fight it. He thought the sheriff didn’t have any business messing with that, and he got a lawyer and all and told me to plead not guilty, so I did. Then most of the kids who got busted just took a guilty plea and got slapped with fifty hours community service, mostly picking up junk along the roadside and shit like that. Well, it was a couple months before my case came up to trial. I don’t know what that fucking lawyer told my dad, but he was all set to fight even though it seemed like we still were going to lose. I figured that if I lost they were really going to slap it to me, so when it came to trial I just went ahead and pleaded guilty while my father was blowing his top at me. I got a hundred hours since I didn’t plead guilty at the arraignment, but I still think I would have got nailed for a hell of a lot more if it had gone to the jury.”

“And your father is still pissed, I bet.”

“Oh, shit, do you ever have that right! I try to not spend any more time around the house than I have to. He calls me the gutless wonder. I’m a fucking traitor to the ideal of freedom, or something, but he’s not the one who would have had to do time, or go out and shovel snow, pick up cans, and shit like that. Most of the other kids who got community service were able to get theirs out of the way before the weather got too bad, and it was just stuff like picking up trash along the roads and like that, not too hard. Mrs. Wine got them to set up some make-work projects at the school too. But me? No, I was too late for most of that. I have to shovel snow, gut out road-kill deer till I barf and shit like that, all the time listening to my father bitch about how if I’d had any guts his lawyer could have gotten me off. I know goddamn well he couldn’t have and don’t want to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t copped out. My guess is that I would have had to do some jail time, and I didn’t need that shit on my record.”

“Being in jail ain’t no fun,” Frenchy said. “I can tell you that. Most of the time it’s boring as shit.”

“And you eat a lot of goddamn venison,” Shelly snorted. “I know it; I’ve butchered more of it than I need to for a lifetime. I’ll tell you what, I haven’t had a boyfriend since Eddie and I broke up last summer, but if I ever have a boyfriend that tells me he’s a deer hunter, he’s out the door right then and there.”

“I feel about the same way, as much of that stuff as I’ve eaten in the last seven months,” Frenchy retorted, while his mind was working quickly. Shelly hadn’t really been much of a member of the crowd he’d run with a year or so before, but sort of on the edges of it. If she didn’t have a boyfriend now, was it possible that she might be available for some fun and games? Things weren’t the same as they once had been, but it might be possible. Maybe it was worth looking into a little. If it worked, it might even help with his ongoing horniness that had bothered him for months, and especially so since Mary Lou slammed the door in his face.

Unfortunately, about that time Porter came into the foyer and said, “Looks like about everybody’s here that I was expecting. People, I’ve got some news you’re not going to like.”

“Oh, God,” one of the older guys moaned. “Not the fucking deer again.”

“You guessed it,” Porter said. “With all the snow we’re supposed to get tomorrow there’s no point in going out and shoveling today, and the road crews brought in four road kills yesterday.”

“Aw, shit,” another guy said. “I knew I ought to be sick today. Well, I’m fucking going to be sick now.”

“Christ,” Shelly said. “I hoped I was going to miss that. I’ve only got a few more hours and I’ll be done with this crap.”

The work was done in an annex off of the jail kitchen. Fortunately, the room was not heated very warmly, which helped keep the smell down as Porter led the group out there. “One good thing about it,” he said. “They’re all pretty scrawny, so you should be able to get through them fairly easily. There’s not much meat on them this time of year. I’m thinking maybe I’ll talk to someone about telling the road crews to just not bring them in for a while, until they fatten up a bit.”

“It’d be a damn blessing,” one of the older guys said. “Knock it off for three months and I ought to be done with this stuff.”

It was smelly and it was messy. The deer were road kills, of course, so they’d been pounded pretty badly. Porter rejected one of the four carcasses right away, saying that it smelled a little too far gone to him, and had the guys haul it out to the dumpster. Porter had them put on white coveralls and rubber gloves before they got down to business.

One advantage Frenchy had – and it was about the only advantage – was that he had no idea what he was doing, and everyone else there had done the chore at least a little. That meant he didn’t get quite as involved with the work, which started with field dressing the deer, removing all the internal organs and hauling them out to the dumpster. “Part of the reason this stuff tastes so bad,” one of the guys said, “is that they usually lay around a while before they get picked up, and the gut taste gets into the meat. If you shoot one and gut it where it drops while it’s still warm, it’s not quite as bad.”

Frenchy didn’t think there was any way it could taste good, but mostly just stood around and tried to be helpful, trying to not lose his good breakfast while he did so. The next step was skinning the carcass, which again, Shelly and a couple of the guys knew how to do from having done it before. From there on, it was mostly a case of removing what meat they could from the bones with sharp knives. No attempt was made to do a neat job of butchering; the meat was just chopped off any old way and thrown into a grinder. After grinding, the meat was gathered into plastic bags of about five pounds each and hauled into a nearby walk-in freezer. What was left over was hauled out to the dumpster.

It didn’t go quickly, mostly because no one wanted to do it very badly and everyone tried to get out of as much work as they could. “Come on, people,” Porter urged several times, “I don’t like this much better than you do, but the sooner it’s done the sooner it’s over with.”

It was after noon before they were essentially done, although the work area still needed to be cleaned up. “Might as well knock it off for lunch,” Porter said. “We can clean up the work area after lunch, and then I think I can let you guys go and give you credit for the full day.”

“Don’t tell me what we’re having for lunch,” Shelly replied, wrinkling her nose. “Venison SOS again.”

“How did you guess?” Porter said.

“Because that’s almost always what they have,” she shook her head, reached for her coat and turned toward the door. “I can’t hack that stuff, especially after smelling that shit all morning. Let me know when you get back to work, I’ll be outside.”

Frenchy could agree with her, and not just because he wanted to be able to talk to her some more. For once he’d had a good breakfast and he had some money in his pocket so he could have something else to eat before he had to head back to the garbage at home. It only took a moment to decide to follow her.

It took him longer to find his coat, so she was a ways ahead of him. He found her in a cul-de-sac around the corner of the building, where the bitter pre-storm wind couldn’t get at her. She’d pulled a cigarette from somewhere in her coat and was in the process of lighting it. “Christ, Frenchy, I hate that,” she said as she took a deep draw of smoke. “That’s the worst fucking job they throw at us. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Porter will talk them out of bringing in any more deer until I’m done with this.”

“It wouldn’t break my heart,” he said. “And I’m just getting started at it.”

“God, the smell of that meat just about makes me want to barf,” she sighed. “Hey, I should have asked. You like a cigarette?”

“I’d take one,” he said. “They don’t let you smoke in jail and I haven’t had the money since I got out, so maybe I’m broken of it a little. Still, it would taste good and might even help kill the smell of that fucking venison.”

“That’s why I do it,” she said, reaching in her coat pocket and pulling out a pack of Marlboros. She extended one to him, and handed him her lighter.

In a few seconds he had it lit, and the strong, rich taste of the cigarette almost got him a little lightheaded. “God, that tastes good,” he said. “You don’t know how much I missed that.”

“It’s got to be pretty bad,” she sighed. “If we get lucky maybe they’ll forget we’re out here until they get pretty well done cleaning up.”

Frenchy took another drag on the cigarette, wondering how to get the conversation around to where he wanted it to go. He let out the smoke and decided there was nothing to do but to go ahead with it. “Hey, I know food is about the last thing you want to think about at a time like this,” he said, “but what do you say when we get done we go someplace and have something decent to eat?”

“I better not, Frenchy,” she said, taking a drag on her own cigarette. “Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind spending some time talking with someone who’s not trying to put me down every step of the way. I won’t be able to stand to eat anything for a while anyway and if my father knew I was hanging around with you he’d throw a shit fit. That would be on top of the shit fits he throws every time he sees me.”

“It’s got to be pretty bad,” Frenchy observed lightly, thinking of his problem with his own father.

“Yeah, I try to not hang around the house any more than I have to, but it’s not easy. Thank God Mrs. Clark took a little pity on me. I baby-sit for her pretty often, and sometimes I go over there to just get out of the house. I mean, it’s not like I have friends to hang out with any more.”

“What’s this?” Frenchy frowned. “I always thought you were one of the popular kids.”

“I used to be,” she sighed and took another drag on her cigarette. “Somehow, after the beer bust got busted, I became one of the school outcasts. Things at the school are all messed up from the way they were a year ago. A lot of the popular kids aren’t so popular any more, especially after we got kicked out of football and cheerleading last fall. Hell, somehow Lyle Angarrack got to be a big cheese around the place, God knows how.”

“I heard he did pretty well at football and surprised everyone.”

“Yeah, he did. He still can’t run thirty yards, but somehow they discovered that he could run five yards through a bunch of blockers with a football in his hand. Then, to top it off, he got a partial athletic scholarship from some little college someplace. Now just who the hell ever thought that would happen? But Lyle and those ninth and tenth graders who became the varsity, somehow they got to be big deals while a lot of us seniors just got shoved to the side.”

“Shit happens, I guess,” Frenchy said. “Hell, I was a big deal there and you’re about the only one left who will speak to me.”

“Yeah, and then only if nobody knows about it,” she sighed. “If anyone saw me with you I’d really catch hell. Like I said, I’ve become the school outcast. I’ll admit I fucked a couple guys at the party, but Vanessa Robideaux must have done eight or ten. Somehow, I became the school whore out of it, and she was just the one who got taken advantage of. The only thing I know is that she got to the rumor mill first and started trashing me before I could do it to her.” She took a long drag on her now-stubby cigarette, and pitched it off into a snow bank. “I mean,” she continued, “it really pisses me off that she was the whore at the party and I get stuck with the shit.”

“Well, in the end, it’s all high school shit,” he said. “It don’t mean nothing in the real world. I’m out of it now, and you haven’t got but what? Two and a half months or so and you’ll be out of it too.”

“Yeah, and out of Spearfish Lake, thank God,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing this place in the rear view mirror.”

It was pretty clear to Frenchy by then that he didn’t stand a chance of getting anywhere with Shelly. It was nice to think about but he could see that it just wasn’t going to happen. Still, it was good to stand and talk face to face with a friend, and she’d been one, if a sort of distant one. It was the first time it had happened since he got out of jail, and it felt refreshing. He bummed another cigarette from her and they stood there talking for a while longer, mostly about school stuff that really didn’t interest him that much anymore. Like he’d told her, it was all high school shit and he was just as glad that he didn’t have to deal with it. He might think about the GED program sometime, but he realized without making any kind of decision that heading back to school in the fall just wasn’t going to happen.

After yet another cigarette and more talk, Porter came out to find them. It really didn’t take them long to clean up the butchering room, but it brought back all the gut-wrenching stink of the morning. About the best that could be said about it was that they were free to go when they wrapped up early, and got credit for two more hours than they’d actually worked.

Outside, Frenchy said goodbye to Shelly, and she responded that she might see him next week and might not, depending if she could get some evening community service in over the course of the next week or so – a little more would see her to the end of the requirement. It wasn’t exactly a kiss-off, but Frenchy realized that he wouldn’t be seeing her again, except maybe if they happened to run into each other downtown.

It was only after she left in her car that Frenchy realized that she hadn’t mentioned the business with Alan Jahnke the week before. It was probably all over the school, he thought, even old news by now, but she must have been aware that he would have been pissed if she had brought it up. It was more high school shit that he was glad to have behind him, but Jahnke still needed his ass kicked sometime for pulling that shit on him.

Originally, Frenchy had plans to head back over to Rick’s Café for a large but late lunch, but the dead deer smell was still on him, and he had no appetite with it all over him. He decided that the best thing he could do was to go home, get out of the stinking clothes he was wearing, take a shower, and get on some clean ones. There was nothing to do but to head for home, a long walk in the cold wind with a few snowflakes in the air.

On the way, he happened to think of the twenty-six bucks he still had hidden in the lining of his coat, what remained after his breakfast. Maybe it would be better if he didn’t have it in the house, he thought, so he took a little detour to go past a place where he had on occasion hidden a little marijuana when he and his buddies had been able to score some. It was still there and still a secret, so he hid a twenty and a five in it and hoped for the best. Even if it did disappear, his folks wouldn’t be the ones to get it.

No one was home when he got there – a little surprising for a Saturday. He went up to his room to discover that it had indeed been ransacked, obviously by his folks looking for his money stash. The drawer where he had hidden his money the night before had been pulled out and dumped on the floor. Even his peanut butter and bread had been taken from its hiding place – fortunately he’d come close to using up both.

The hell with it, he thought. First things first, which was to get rid of the dead-deer smell. He got out of his clothes, dumped them in the washing machine, and went up to take a good shower. Once clean and dressed in clothes that didn’t smell of dead deer, he spent some time picking up the mess in his room, not taking a lot of care with it since he figured it was going to happen again. All the time he worked on it he got madder and madder, and realized that he didn’t want to be home when his folks got home. It would be another pissing match, nothing more.

Once he got the mess more or less cleaned up, he went down to the phone, called Sven and asked, “You got anything that needs doing this afternoon?”

“Well, yah,” Sven replied. “I need ta work on da tractor a bit, an’ I can use an extra set a hands. You want I should pick you up? I can come right over.”

“Yeah, that’d be fine,” he said, reflecting that he wouldn’t have to be around when his folks got home. Shelly had Mrs. Clark, and he realized he was lucky to have Sven.

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To be continued . . .

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