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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 12

Sunday, April 17, 2011

As horny as he was, Frenchy didn’t do anything with Piwowar’s information that afternoon. It was getting late, and even with the cop’s assertion that the Laughton chick didn’t take money directly it seemed like whatever happened it was going to cost him something – and the bank was closed for the weekend. But he thought about it a lot, and by Sunday he had made up his mind that he was going to check it out the first chance he got.

Sunday turned out to be a nice day – a really nice day, sunny with the temperatures in the sixties. What made it really nice was that his folks had taken off for the casino at Three Pines again, so the house was quiet and there weren’t going to be any of the usual confrontations. Frenchy slept in for a bit, then got up and decided to hit his money stash and have another good breakfast over at Rick’s.

He headed out of the house, but before he got to the stash decided it was too warm to wear his woods-tattered heavy jacket that had been his more or less constant companion outside for more than a month. He went back to the house, put on a light jacket he hadn’t worn in nearly a year, and headed for the stash again, wondering if it still wasn’t too much. Even though it was still cool, he saw some girls wearing shorts and tank tops to take in the lovely weather. Even though they were younger – possibly middle schoolers – they looked cute and got him even more horny than he already was. If nothing else, that made him realize that he was going to have to check out Monica Laughton soon, rather than putting it off.

He had a good breakfast at Rick’s, the Lumberjack Special, three eggs, sausage patties, home fries, and toast, and every bite of it tasted good. While he sat there, he wondered about what Piwowar had told him about Monica’s arrangement – returning favors for favors done for her. He hadn’t been real specific about it, of course, but Frenchy wondered what kind of favors she would need to have done. By the time he finished his third or fourth refill of coffee, he realized that there was nothing he could do but to ask.

It was a long walk over to Railroad Street – without a car it seemed like a long walk to get anywhere, but right at the moment a car was lower on his priority list than a woman. With the warmth and the sunlight the snow was melting rapidly, and he had to walk around a lot of puddles, sometimes extending well out into the street.

As he walked, the fact that he was heading for what had once been the Lufkin house kept crossing his mind. Frenchy hadn’t known Jack Lufkin at all, but had known his son Bobby, if not well. Bobby was several years older, but had always seemed to be the kind of bad-ass that Frenchy had sort of wanted to be. He’d wanted what he wanted and he usually got it, even and especially if he’d had to bust someone’s head to get it. That included women; Bobby wouldn’t have bothered with finding a whore – if he wanted to get laid he’d find a woman and do it to her whether she wanted it or not, and threaten her with worse if she told anybody about it. Frenchy never had tried it quite that way although he’d had much the same tactics for kicking ass and had pretty much gotten away with it, at least till Alan Jahnke came along.

Frenchy was well aware that Bobby had come to a bad end, which may have kept him from throwing his own weight around too much. While Frenchy had mostly dealt in beer around the school, it was well known that Bobby had dealt in drugs. He’d occasionally been busted for it but the charges had never seemed to stick. A few years before he and his father had started their own meth lab in the basement, and they kept not a little of their own product for themselves.

One night, flying high on meth or so the story went, the two had decided they wanted to get laid, and since no one else was available they started in on Bobby’s little sister Janice, after slapping her around quite a bit to get her attention. Bobby was wailing away on her when the door opened and Janice’s sort-of boyfriend, a kid named Cody Archer, saw what was going on. He yelled at them to stop, and both Bobby and Jack dived for a handy shotgun they’d used to help persuade Janice. They didn’t make it – the Archer kid was carrying a nine millimeter and shot both of them right between the eyes. The prosecutor ruled it was self-defense, probably at least because he was as glad as most everyone else to see the end of the pair.

Frenchy remembered Cody Archer well – he was a high school junior at the time, three years older, a quiet, serious kid whom a lot of the kids around the school put down because he didn’t do sports. Sort of like Alan Jahnke, but bigger, Frenchy remembered. He was pushed around a lot because he wasn’t cool. He hadn’t been pushed around after that – nobody dared fuck with him. The story around school was that Archer didn’t feel any more remorse about offing the two than he would have for stepping on a cockroach – it was about the same thing. Frenchy had had words with Archer a time or two after that, but had always backed down. Not only did Archer have a nine millimeter, he knew how to use it and obviously didn’t mind doing so when he had to.

All that made Frenchy feel a little bit strange as he walked up Railroad Street to what had once been the Lufkin house – knowing that the two had died right in the middle of the living room floor. He couldn’t help but wonder how Monica felt about it.

He stopped in front of the house, having second thoughts about what he was doing. How was he going to do this? How was he going to work the conversation around to what he wanted to say? Once again, he made up his mind that there was nothing to do but to go ahead and do it, hoping for the best. Taking a deep breath, he walked up the cracked and broken sidewalk, climbed the steps, and knocked on the door.

It took a while for someone to answer the door, and when someone opened it, it wasn’t who he expected – it was a little girl, maybe around six. “Hi,” she said shyly. “Mommy is in the bathroom, she’ll be out in a minute.”

“That’s all right, I can wait,” Frenchy said gently, still outside the closed storm door. “Tell her I’ll be out here when she’s ready.”

“’K,” the little girl said, and closed the door. There really was nothing he could do but wait, and maybe wonder a little. He stepped back a step or two, still wondering how he was going to go about this.

It turned out he didn’t have to wait for long. The door opened again, and this time it was Monica. It turned out he remembered her better than he thought he had – fairly short, with short dark brown hair, solid but by no means fat, and a nice smile on her face. She was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a sweater with a couple holes in it – dressed for warmth, not for good looks, he figured. “Hi,” she said in a soft feminine voice. “Can I help you?”

“Could be,” he replied. “I’d like to talk for a minute.”

“Sure,” she smiled. “Cindy said I had a friend at the door, and I think I remember you. Frenchy LeDroit, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I, uh, well, I wondered if there was anything I could do for you.”

“A favor or something?” she smiled. “I, uh, well, I sometimes have my friends do favors for me, and I’ve always thought a favor ought to be returned when I can. Is that sort of what you have in mind?”

“Well, yeah,” he replied, realizing that they were talking around the subject. But with the door open he realized she might not have wanted to get more specific with the kid around.

His guess was confirmed when she came out onto the porch, closing the door behind her. “I don’t want to ask how you found out about the arrangement I have with a few guys,” she said, her voice harder and more serious now. “I really don’t like having to do it, but I have to make ends meet somehow since I’ve got two kids to feed. I’m not really looking for any more so-called ‘friends’ but I might be willing to take on another one. I don’t want to take on one who’s going to run his mouth about the arrangement or cause me trouble. I’ve got enough trouble to hold me as it is.”

“I really don’t want to cause you any trouble,” he said shyly as he realized this was going to be more complicated than he had imagined. “And I won’t run my mouth. But if you don’t want to do it, I guess it’s all right with me. But maybe there’s some way I can help you out if you’re willing to give me a try.”

“I don’t know,” she sighed and looked him up and down. “Look, from what I’ve heard about you, you’re a lot of trouble.”

“I admit, I used to be,” he said, “but that was all high school shit, and I did some dumb-ass things. I don’t have anything to do with the school or those people now. Fooling around with those people got me into more trouble than I wanted. Now I’m trying to dig myself out. Like I said, maybe there’s something I can do to help. If you’d rather not try it, I guess that’s your choice.”

“Let me think about it a bit,” she shook her head. “Look, whatever happens, I try to keep it from the kids, and sometimes it takes some juggling around. They just think I have some boyfriends. Chad is too little to understand what’s going on, but Cindy might be old enough to think about it, and I don’t want her to say something at school. That’s partly why I don’t usually take money straight. I mean, there’s some times I have to, but it’s always from an established friend.”

“Sounds like it takes some juggling,” he said.

“It takes a lot of it,” she smiled. “But really, I don’t have much choice. I have to do it or the kids go hungry or something. I just can’t bear to let my kids get cold or go hungry. Now, what kind of things can you do for me?”

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I guess it depends on what you need. There’s probably a lot I could do for you.”

“Are you working?” she smiled.

“Sort of,” he admitted. “I’m out in the woods, cutting firewood for Sven Stromsen. It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it brings in a little money.”

“Tell you what,” she grinned. “I have gas heat, but it’s expensive, so I try to use the wood stove as much as I can to keep warm. As nice as it is today, it’s not going to last and the house is still cold since I can’t turn the thermostat up as much as I’d like to. I’m almost out of firewood and if someone would give it to me I wouldn’t be surprised if I could use a couple face cords to get me through till summer, especially if it was all nicely stacked by the back door. If you can manage that for me, then maybe I can use another friend.”

“I can’t absolutely promise I can do it today,” Frenchy replied, thinking that a face cord was fifty bucks delivered, so it was going to cost him a hundred bucks to get his foot in the door. Well, from some of the numbers he’d heard thrown around here and there, it wasn’t a bad price. “But I can probably do it, maybe tomorrow, maybe the first of the week. I’ll just have to see.”

“That would be just fine,” she smiled at him. It was a nice smile, about all the inspiration Frenchy needed. “Of course, sooner would be better.”

Frenchy recognized immediately that it was a test. If he could get her the wood soon, like maybe today, she’d be more willing than if it took him a few days. “I don’t have wheels,” he told her. “But I’ll see what I can do. I’ll try to be back in a while.”

“I’d really appreciate it,” she smiled. “Now, go see what you can do.”

Frenchy headed back down the steps and she went inside. It was going to be a long walk out to Sven’s – two, maybe two and a half miles – but really, it was his only way of getting her the firewood today, and that was assuming that he was at home, which he might not be on a Sunday. There hadn’t been any calls or anything that indicated that he might be there, but there was nothing else to do but to hoof it out there and see.

As warm as it was, it wasn’t a bad day for walking. He was able to move right along, except for a few places where he had to detour around puddles and really mushy-looking wet snow. As he walked, he thought about Monica a little. Although not exactly a doll by any stretch of the imagination, she seemed like a nice enough person, and not all that bad looking considering that she probably hadn’t been thinking about her appearance for a Sunday around home. Definitely worth going to the trouble over, he was thinking, although there was some question in his mind how much more trouble he was heading for.

On the other hand, just on the brief discussion he’d had with her, it seemed like she was a no-nonsense person who wasn’t going to take any bullshit. The cop yesterday had told him that she’d been through a lot of trouble, and Frenchy got the impression just from talking to her that the cop had hit it right between the eyeballs. She was doing what she had to do to take care of her kids in the face of obvious difficulties. After the last few months Frenchy had little doubt about what tough times were, so he had to respect her for that.

It took almost an hour to get out to Sven’s, and that included getting his boots wetter in some puddles than he wanted them. The last hundred yards or so he kept looking for any sign that Sven might be there, and that this trip hadn’t been wasted. Finally, he caught sight of the pickup, and that was a hopeful sign.

He found Sven in the barn, where he often was, this time working on the chip truck again – like most of Sven’s machinery except maybe for the chipper, things were kept going only by constant fixing and fiddling. “Frenchy, I didn’t think I’d see ya today,” the older man spoke up when Frenchy came in the side door. “I thought your folks were over to Three Pines again.”

“As far as I know, they are,” Frenchy said. “At least they’re not around here, which is good. Sven, I’ve got a question for you. How much would you charge me for a couple face cords?”

“Face cords, dey’re fifty bucks delivered and stacked, you know dat,” Sven said. “But if ya want to load dem an’ stack dem yourself, I can knock off ten or fifteen dollars each.”

“Good,” Frenchy said. “If I can use the dump truck for a while to make the delivery, I can take the money out of the cash I have stashed in your truck, or we can settle up later.”

“We can settle up later,” Sven replied. “Is dis some kind of special deal?”

“Well, yeah,” Frenchy said. “A favor to a friend sort of thing, and I don’t mind doing the work.”

“Da keys are in da dump truck,” Sven smiled, somehow knowing that Frenchy had a deal working. “Best get on it too. It’s getting’ a little soft out dere already, an’ I think spring breakup is here. We might get in a full day tomorrow, but maybe not too. I’m thinkin’ we head out dere tomorrow and see just how bad it is, and if it’s as bad as I think, maybe we bring da tractor an’ da elevator back so we can sit it out for a few days.”

“Bound to happen sooner or later,” Frenchy shrugged. “Maybe it’ll go quick.”

“Yah, but even if it does, we probably be a week or more dat we don’t work. Dere’s a few things to do around here but not all dat much. How long you gonna be with da truck?”

“Don’t know, whatever it takes me to get it loaded and make the delivery,” Frenchy said. “So I guess the sooner I get at it the sooner I’m done.”

“Yah, well, have fun,” Sven said. “Take some of da older wood off to da south side of da shed. You know enough to tell how much a couple face cords is. Maybe I come out an’ help ya for a few minutes just to get out in da nice day some.”

Frenchy hadn’t driven the dump truck much, just a little bit now and then around in the field when Shank was busy doing something else when it needed to be moved, but he knew how to do it. Fortunately, it started right up; he let it warm up for a minute, then drove it around to the open shed behind the barn and parked it under the elevator they used for loading wood. It had been left parked near a convenient stack of firewood, which was good since it would be a bear to move by himself. This elevator was electric, and all it took to get it going was throwing a switch. He knew he was going to get warm, so he took off his jacket, hung it on a convenient nail, and started hauling wood over to the elevator.

A face cord is a lot of wood, and there was nothing to do but carry it himself. At least he was used to it, although it seemed a little harder without any of the other guys around to help. He was about half done when Sven came out and pitched in for a few minutes, but soon he headed back into the barn and whatever he was doing on the chip truck.

Frenchy kept hauling wood until he was sure he had a couple face cords, maybe even a little more for good measure. It didn’t fill the dump box of the truck, but in the center the pile was high enough to peek over the edge. Good enough, he thought. Time to get going. Maybe Monica will be pleased, maybe even enough that he would pass whatever test it was that she’d thrown at him.

After shutting off the elevator he swung up into the cab of the truck and got it going. The ground seemed even softer as he headed back around the shed and the barn, but the going was better when he got out on the gravel road in front of Sven’s house. Maybe Sven was right, he thought; maybe spring breakup is really here. If it didn’t chill back down and stay cold tonight, it seemed likely that they weren’t going to be working for the next few days.

Driving the truck wasn’t all that difficult, although it could be tough to shift gears – it took patience and persuasion to get it to shift at all. Other than driving one or the other of the trucks around out in the woods, or driving the tractor like he’d done a few times, this was the first time that Frenchy had driven a vehicle since the previous summer, and it felt good. It wasn’t his car, but at least he wasn’t walking. There was a little concern about driving it at all; it was a commercial vehicle, after all, and he didn’t have the license to be driving it – only Red, Shank, and Sven had the right licenses. Maybe, he thought, if he had a little free time the next few days he might be able to look into getting one; it might help out if Red or Shank got thrown into jail or something, and driving the truck was easier than working on the ground. For now, though, about all he could do was hope that no cop spotted him driving the old truck.

Fortunately, none did; it was only a few minutes until he was backing the truck into the driveway next to Monica’s house. He had to get out to see where her wood pile was around back, and he could see that there wasn’t a lot left to the stack. Well, this would take care of that, he thought as he got back into the truck and backed it as close as he could. He gunned the engine and pulled the lever to raise the dump box; he could hear the clatter of the wood sliding out of it, and the crash of it hitting the ground as he looked in the rear view mirror.

In only a few seconds the dump box was empty; he lowered it, and pulled ahead a few feet so he’d have some room to work, then shut off the truck, got out, and got started on stacking it.

He no more than got started when the back door opened and Monica came out on the back steps, dressed like she had been before, and with a smile on her face. “I have to say, Frenchy,” she smiled, “that was quick work.”

“I aim to please, ma’am,” he grinned. “I’m going to be a while stacking it, though.”

“Take your time and don’t kill yourself,” she laughed. It was a nice laugh, he thought. “But give me a few sticks of smaller stuff so I can get a fire going in the stove. I’d just as soon have the kids a little warmer.”

Not only did he give her a few sticks of smaller stuff, he carried an armload of it into the house for her and set it down by the stove. While he was in there, he noticed Cindy and a smaller boy, probably Chad, watching Sesame Street or something on the TV. Trying not to be obvious, he looked around. There wasn’t much in the house, but it was neat, at least if you could overlook the obvious holes in the plaster and the general disrepair. There were probably some more favors there he could do for her, he thought without saying anything.

He headed back outside and continued stacking wood. After a while Monica came back out to talk with him while he worked; it was a nice afternoon, and while they didn’t say much of anything, it was nice to talk to her until she said she had to head back inside to keep an eye on the kids.

It took an hour or so to finish the job. Obviously Monica had seen he was getting close, for as he finished up she came back out onto the step. “Wow,” she said. “That’s more wood than I’d been expecting. That looks like a favor well done, Frenchy.”

“Well, I wanted to be sure you had enough,” he told her.

“It ought to last me until the weather warms up for real,” she said. “I won’t have to use as much gas, now. Frenchy, I need to thank you for doing this favor for me, but it would work a little better if you could hold off for a while, like till the kids are in bed. They’ll go down about eight.”

“That’ll be just fine,” he said. “I’ve got to get the truck back, and I’ll have to walk back to town. I can use some of the extra time to swing by the house, take a shower, and get on clean clothes.”

“Do that,” she smiled. “I’ll be waiting.”

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