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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 11

March – April 2011

It turned out that his folks had been keeping their eyes on the weather too. With the storm moving in, they pushed their weekly run over to the casino up to Saturday. As far as Frenchy could tell – and he didn’t ask – the change of date didn’t appear to bring them much luck, for it seemed like they came back about as broke as usual. That meant he had to do something out of the house on the snowy Sunday, since he didn’t want to have to spend the day around the bitching and crabbing that was sure to go on all day. He gave some thought to grabbing the snow shovel and seeing if he could make a few bucks shoveling walks, but realized that if he did he was sure to be met at the door with a demand to hand over the money that he made. So when Sven called and asked if he’d like to work on the tractor some more, Frenchy took him up on it.

Of course, he told Sven about the scene with his father on Friday, and thanked him for insisting that he get a bank account. Sven told him he wasn’t surprised, and that he was welcome to keep any loose cash he might not want to put in the account at his place, along with a loaf of bread and peanut butter or something. As a result, after that Frenchy rarely had more than a dollar or two on him at home, mostly in change at that. He never put more than about twenty bucks in the secret hiding place a few blocks from home, and then only so he’d have a little cash available if he needed it. Most of the money he made went into the bank account, which was building up a little although still a ways from being able to get a decent car.

As Sven had told the crew on Friday, they spent Monday and Tuesday working around the barn, cleaning up after the storm and delivering more firewood. Along with that, they dug some of the more seasoned stuff out from under the accumulated snow and stacked it in the shed where it could dry and be gotten to more easily when needed. On Wednesday, they headed out into the woods again, a different direction from town, and started working on the fresh aspen that had just been cut by the Clark Plywood crew’s cutter-stripper.

The cutter-stripper was something, and over the next few days Frenchy got to watch it for a few minutes. It featured a big claw-like handler that gripped the trunk of the tree just above where a hydraulic-powered saw cut the tree off. Then the tree would be rotated sideways and pulled through the handler, which stripped off the bark and branches in seconds, leaving it as a pile of slash, while the log was cut to the appropriate length for pulpwood. A loading machine followed along behind, picking up the pulp logs and loading them directly onto a truck. It took a minute or less per tree, and there were a lot of trees out there.

They didn’t get a lot of time to look at the cutter-stripper operation since they were busy themselves. Due to the nature of the trees they didn’t get a lot of firewood out of them – the branches were usually too small and didn’t make good firewood anyway, although they usually got a dozen small pieces or so per tree. But, as Sven had said, just about everything else went through the chipper. They didn’t use the tractor much here except to pull a large sled where they stacked what firewood they got. Either the chip truck or the dump truck towed the chipper from pile to pile, where they set up shop for a few minutes before moving on to the next pile of wood. It made for a busy day, although there was less picking up firewood than they’d had the week before. Now the dump truck only made a couple runs a day to the barn with firewood; most of the time it was loaded with wood chips for the pellet mill.

Day followed day as they worked at the lot that had been cleaned off by the cutter-stripper, even after the machinery left to go on to another spot. It was very physical, and Frenchy could feel his muscles building up to the point where he felt like he was in better shape than he’d been when he’d been playing football. He wasn’t so exhausted at the end of the day now, and his skill with the chainsaw was improving – he no longer felt like he was slowing things down when his turn came to run one of them.

At the beginning of the second week on the new lot, two new guys nicknamed Dink and Clutch joined them, so Frenchy was no longer the new guy. Clutch didn’t work out very well, and quit after only a couple days, but Dink was doing a fair job and settled into the crew. It was just as well, because the following weekend Turk went on a bender, got into a fight at Fern and Judy’s, and on Monday was back in the county jail – he’d been there before, and Sven said he’d be back after a couple months. “He do dat once, maybe twice a year,” Sven shrugged. “Been like dat for years.”

Dink was somewhere in his forties to look at him, and was the only one of the crew who wasn’t a local. He was a wanderer, and had just showed up at Sven’s one day, and lived in a pickup camper in the back of an old pickup truck. Dink wasn’t much of a talker, but they learned a few things about him around the lunchtime bonfires. Apparently he’d once been married but got tired of it one day, and just got in the truck and drove away from his old life. The rest of the crew got the impression that he’d worked at odd jobs all over the country, never for very long. It seemed to Frenchy like it might be an interesting life, and there were times he wondered a little about what it could cost for a pickup truck and a camper. A halfway decent pickup wouldn’t be cheap, but there were old camper boxes sitting around, and some could be had very cheaply. It was something to think about even if he couldn’t do anything about it right then.

As they got into April things eased up a bit – while it still could be cold out in the woods, it was no longer the bitter cold it had been a month before. Occasionally a day would come along that almost felt nice. There were days that they’d leave their heavy coats in the pickup and work in their coveralls. Sometimes it was warm enough that they could see the snow pack start to melt; the little streams that they crossed to and from the sites they went to were running full beneath their cover of sloppy ice. Some days the roads and the woods were pretty sloppy too. It was clear that spring was coming, along with the spring breakup time when the work in the woods would have to cease for a while because the roads would be too muddy and sloppy to be passable, even with the tractor.

Things continued about as bad at home as they had before. Frenchy’s father continued to browbeat him for his paycheck as soon as he got in the door on Fridays, and there were a couple times that it appeared to be getting close to getting physical. Frenchy had long been more or less afraid of his father, but after a few weeks on the job he was more confident in himself. Slowly he came to the conclusion that if his father wanted to start something he was prepared to finish it, even though it would mean the end of the less than comfortable arrangement he had with living at home. A fight with his father might turn into a domestic violence call and could wind him back up in jail, which is why he didn’t let it get violent, but he figured the day could some sooner or later. As often as not, when Frenchy got back from doing his community service on Saturday he’d find his room ransacked again, obviously his folks looking for wherever it was he’d hidden his money, but he’d learned to not give them the chance to find any of it.

The community service sessions on Saturdays went a little better. The next weekend, Porter announced that they’d be laying off the deer for a while – in the late winter they were just too skinny and starved to bother with. That was a relief all around, even if it meant that there was more snow shoveling instead, but as the weather warmed the end of that was in sight too.

Frenchy didn’t mind the snow shoveling by now; he was getting stronger from his work on Sven’s crew, and nobody worked very hard at the job, anyway. He didn’t see Shelly at the sessions on Saturday again; he figured she’d finished her community service and was glad to have it over with. It would have been nice to have had a little fun with her, but he’d been pretty sure as soon as he’d made his first approach to her that it wasn’t going to happen.

Thinking about Shelly stirred up some old desires that had mostly been buried over the last few months. It had been a long time since he’d had any more of a woman than his right hand, back last summer, and then it hadn’t been much to write home about. The girl had been pretty drunk and had mostly laid there like a slug while he pumped at her, more for the sake of doing it than actually accomplishing anything. He’d spent months in jail thinking about getting back together with Mary Lou. When she’d brushed him off like so much sawdust the day he got out of jail it hadn’t taken any of the desire away, just shoved it into the background a bit. He still thought about Mary Lou. It ground at him to think of her making out with Nancy Halifax instead of him, but it was clear that there was nothing he could do about it. She really needed her ass kicked for brushing him off like that, although he knew that now wasn’t the time to be doing it.

As the time went by it continued to be clear that he needed a woman, if only for a little while – he’d lost a lot in his life since last summer, including his friends and his car, but damn it, there were limits. Meeting Shelly and thinking about her only made it clear to him just what he was missing. As time went on the need in his mind got worse and worse, and the fact that he now had some money in his bank account told him that he could do something about it if he really wanted to. He hated the thought of having to pay for sex, but the need had gotten so strong in him that it was a case of either paying for it or exploding.

The problem was finding someone he could pay for it. He was vaguely aware that there was a part of Camden where women could be found who worked the streets and could be had fairly cheaply, but again there was the problem of not having a car. That pretty much killed that idea before it started. If there was any woman doing it for pay around Spearfish Lake, he wasn’t aware of who she might be. It seemed likely that there must have been someone around town, especially in the lousy economy, who might be willing to take someone on for the sake of some extra money, but he had no idea of how he could find her. He could think of two or three girls he’d known in high school who might be open to such an arrangement, but then he ran into the problem of where he could do it – again, lack of a car got into the question.

The question went around and around in his mind for weeks, and never seemed to get any closer to finding an answer, and it got increasingly more frustrating the more he thought about it. By the time he’d been out of jail going on a month, it was no longer a case of wanting a woman; he needed one, even if only for a short time. It was clear that his old tactic of getting a girl drunk on cheap beer and hopping her bones just wasn’t going to work since he didn’t have his old contacts any more. Besides, he didn’t have any beer and no way of getting any.

The subject of women – and specifically, of whores – didn’t come up around the noontime bonfires very often, but once in a while it did. From what he could pick up around the bonfires the rest of the crew didn’t have quite the drive on the issue that he did. Still one day when the chance arose he dropped into the discussion his thought that even if there was a woman around Spearfish Lake that put out for pay, he had no idea of how to find her.

Surprisingly, it was Dink who came up with a usable idea. “There’s always someone,” he said conversationally. “You just have to find someone who knows who she is. I try not to deal with women any more than I have to, but I’ve heard it said that if you want to find a whore in a small town, ask a cop. They usually know who’s putting out, and if the woman isn’t making any trouble they usually let it slide.”

“I don’t know that I’d trust the cops in this town as far as I could throw a fit,” Frenchy replied. “They seem to be a bunch of hard asses. They don’t have much use for me, and I don’t have much use for them.”

“Yeah, but still,” Dink pointed out. “What they have to do is keep a lid on things. It’s less trouble for them to point a guy to someone who puts out than it is to have to deal with a rape of a solid citizen.”

The bonfire discussion soon turned to other areas, but it left Frenchy with something to think about. Dink might have a point after all, and Frenchy was getting past the point where he had to have someone young and sexy and was willing to have someone who was willing and who had the proper equipment. Besides, right at the moment he didn’t have much in the way of better ideas.

The thought drifted around in Frenchy’s mind for a while over the next week or so without him doing anything about it, at least partly because he was reluctant to approach any of the town cops about it. To the extent that he thought about it at all, he realized he’d have to talk to one of the full-time cops, rather than the part-timers who were often from out of town, and probably didn’t know the territory as well as he did.

Frenchy still wasn’t spending a lot of money, not that he had it to spend, but he’d continued the practice of having a good breakfast at Rick’s Café on Saturday mornings before the community service sessions. Now that they weren’t processing deer any more he usually had a good, if late lunch there after they broke up. It was the one day of the week he knew he’d eat well, since he usually went out to Sven’s to work on equipment afterwards, and they often had a late meal out at the Spearfish Lake Café.

One Saturday along toward the end of April Frenchy was sitting in Rick’s enjoying a chicken-fried steak with all the trimmings, which included some good coffee, when a city cop came in. He recognized Sergeant Fred Piwowar, one of the full-timers who didn’t usually work on Saturday. He didn’t particularly like Piwowar. He’d been one of the cops who had arrested him last August – but as the sergeant sat down for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie Frenchy realized that he might not find a better time to see if Dink’s idea held any water. But still, he was reluctant; it seemed like a good way to get into trouble that he didn’t need. He got a refill of coffee and thought about it while the cop and the waitress gabbed back and forth for a bit.

Finally, he realized that the worst that could happen was that he’d be told to go straight to hell – something cops had said to him before, so he gathered up his check and his coffee cup and went over to plop down at the counter next to Piwowar. “Hi, Fred,” he said casually as the waitress took his check and his money. “I didn’t expect to see you working on Saturday.”

“Don’t usually,” Piwowar said, “but the schedule got goofed up when a part-timer couldn’t make it in, so I figured I could stand the overtime. You been keeping yourself out of trouble?”

“Pretty much,” Frenchy admitted. “It costs money to get into trouble and I haven’t been seeing very much of it.”

“You working these days?”

“Yeah, for Sven Stromsen, out in the woods. At least it brings in a few bucks.”

“If you’re only working out in the woods with that crowd you might be all right,” Piwowar observed. “But don’t get caught at Fern and Judy’s with them.”

“Never been in the place,” Frenchy protested. “I mean, at all, ever. I guess some of the guys do manage to get in trouble out there on the weekends once in a while.”

“I suppose Sven’s working your ass off. How are you getting along?”

“It was tough at first, but I’m getting used to it. It’s really not as bad as some people say it is.”

Frenchy knew it wasn’t a good idea to bring up what he really wanted to say at the counter, but he shot the bull for a while, just being friendly while the cop finished up his coffee and pie. The discussion wasn’t about much of anything – how much longer it would be before the weather would break, the state of the deer herd, and other such topics. Finally Piwowar told the waitress he had to be getting back to work, paid for his coffee and pie, then headed for the door, with Frenchy right behind him.

As soon as they got outside, Piwowar turned to him and said, “I take it you got something on your mind you didn’t want to talk about in there.”

“Yeah,” Frenchy said shyly. “I don’t know how to ask this, but I need to get laid, bad. None of the girls I used to know want to have anything to do with me, and I was kind of wondering if you knew anyone in this town that does it for money.”

Piwowar looked at him a little funny, and Frenchy expected that the next thing the cop was going to say was to tell him right exactly where to get off. He could see the cop thinking about it, though, and started to realize that he might get a different response.

“LeDroit,” Piwowar finally said, “I know you’ve got a reputation as a troublemaker, and you know I know it.”

“I’m trying to stay out of trouble, I really am,” Frenchy told him. “But sometimes it’s hard, and this ain’t making it any easier.”

The cop let out a long sigh. “Look, I know you like to play rough, use your fists. I guess it might be just as well that you don’t mess up some decent girl. You know a girl named Monica Laughton?”

“I know who you’re talking about. I know her a little. She was a few years ahead of me in school.”

“Look, I don’t want to say that she plays for pay, if you know what I mean, but I don’t really know for sure. I do know that she has an arrangement with a few friends. I mean, if she’s open to it, they do a few favors for her, like shovel her walks or something like that, and she’ll do a few favors for them. I know her friends are more her age rather than a lot older, so she might be willing to talk to you. You might be a little on the young side, but I don’t know. All I can do is to tell you to check it out and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, there are a couple other women, but they’re a lot older and you don’t want to have anything to do with them. I mean, you really don’t want to have anything to do with them, especially if you’re trying to stay out of trouble.”

“Like I said, I’m trying to stay out of trouble,” Frenchy replied, thinking back to the Monica Laughton he’d known a few years ago, and found that he didn’t have a clear picture of her in his mind. At worst, she would be better than nothing. “I don’t want to have to go back to eating all that lousy venison in the jail.”

“Yeah, I hear that really sucks,” Piwowar smiled. “But the jail is like everybody else these days, they don’t have a lot of money to work with so they have to cut corners where they can.”

“I hear that a lot,” Frenchy shook his head. “You got any idea where I could track this chick down?”

“She’s living in what used to be Jack Lufkin’s house, over on Railroad. 454 Railroad, I think. About all you can do is ask.”

“Thanks,” Frenchy said. “I’ll check it out.”

“LeDroit,” the cop said, his voice a lot harder now. “Look, Monica is basically a nice girl, but she’s been through a shit load of hard times and I don’t want to make things worse for her by sending you over there. I’m taking a risk on this, and if I hear that you’ve been hitting her or have been rough with her, I’ll kick your fucking ass from here to Camden and back.”

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To be continued . . .

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