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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 15

Late April, 2011

It was still below freezing when Red picked Frenchy up and headed out to Sven’s on Monday morning, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to stay that way for long. It didn’t take a weatherman to tell that the day was going to be as warm as Sunday, if not warmer. “Got a feeling we’re not going to be getting a whole lot of time in this week,” Red commented in his worse-than-usual Monday morning beer breath as he turned into the yard.

“Looks like it to me too,” Frenchy agreed. Despite it being cold the gravel road was pretty sloppy, and the yard was even worse. As they got out of the car they noticed that there were a number of large puddles covered with a thin skin of ice, but even with that the ground felt soft and squishy to walk on.

They found Sven standing outside near his pickup truck talking about nothing in particular with Dink. In a couple minutes Shank and Mutt pulled in, bringing the normal Monday morning doughnuts, along with foam cups of coffee. As they stood around working on them, Sven said, “I think maybe we go out an’ get done what we can while it’s cold yet, but as soon as it warms up a little I think maybe we better be headin’ back an’ bring everything with us, yaaah. We get a load for each of da trucks an’ den I think we better get out of da woods or we gonna be stuck back dere for a couple weeks.”

“Tell you what,” Shank said. “I don’t know that we want to risk even that. It’s going to be softer than snot out there after yesterday. Maybe we ought to just get the tractor and elevator and call it good enough.”

“You might be right,” Sven conceded. “Let’s take da trucks and go see. If it’s soft on da way in, maybe we just turn around an’ get out of dere. At least dat way we got da extra hands if someone gets stuck. Da sooner we do it, da better, yaaah.”

In a couple minutes they were loaded up and heading out to the woods. “So,” Sven asked Frenchy as soon as they were out of the yard, “did da deal with da dump truck work OK yesterday?”

“Just fine,” Frenchy said, still glowing a little in the warmth of the memory of his evening with Monica. “Just a favor for a friend. She needed a little extra wood to make it through the winter.”

“An’ ya got a favor in return, yaaah?” Sven grinned. “I thought it might be somethin’ like dat.”

“Well, yeah,” Frenchy conceded. “I’d just as soon we didn’t talk about it around the guys, though.”

“Dat’s why I waited ta ask ya,” Sven laughed. “I figure seventy bucks for da wood an’ stuff, but ya can catch me on it later.”

“Good enough,” Frenchy said, looking to change the subject. For some reason, he didn’t want to talk about Monica and what he’d done all that much – it was between him and her. That felt a little strange – there was a time not all that long ago when he would have been tempted to brag about what had happened the night before, but not now. Sven may have been a friend, but that didn’t mean Frenchy felt like boasting. “Hey, I was thinking about it after I borrowed the dump truck yesterday,” he said. “Would it be any help if I was to see about getting a Commercial Driver’s License? That way I could drive the dump truck or the chip truck if something happened to Red or Shank.”

“Dat would be a big help, yaaah,” Sven replied. “It’d allow us ta switch around more too. Except you don’t need no CDL to drive da trucks, dey not big enough, dat’s part of da reason I don’t got bigger trucks. All Red and Shank got is a chauffeur’s license, dat’s all dey need. Takes a lot of time an’ money to get dat CDL, but dat chauffeur’s license, all ya got to do is take a test ’bout like ya did for da regular license. Study da manual, pass da test and pay da fee, dat’s all you got to do. Dere ain’t no road test or nothin’. With da breakup comin’, we take some time off, so ya got a good time ta go get da license.”

“OK,” Frenchy replied. “I’ll find some time to do it the next few days.”

Even riding in Sven’s pickup the gravel roads seemed soft to Frenchy, and the dirt roads and two-ruts on the way out to the work area seemed even worse, especially in low spots. Frenchy knew why; it was a fact of life in the spring every year. The ground froze deep and hard in the winter, and then the snow melted on top. The melt water that couldn’t run off could only soak into the ground until it reached the still-frozen under-soil, turning everything to a soft mush. As soon as the ground thawed thoroughly things would normally dry out quickly in the largely sandy soil around the area, but it could take a couple weeks or more for that to happen. The water that couldn’t soak in sometimes formed huge puddles in low spots, sometimes small lakes, and for a while the backwoods roads would be nearly impassable. There was nothing much that could be done in the woods at that time of year.

They made it out to the area where they had been working on Friday without too much difficulty, although Sven had the pickup in four-wheel drive much of the way, with the bigger trucks following along behind. It was something of a relief to see the tractor and elevator sitting there.

“I don’t like dis shit one damn bit, yaaah, you betcha,” Sven said to the crew as soon as they all piled out of the trucks. “I think we better get da tractor started and get da hell out of here while we still can, yaaah.”

“Just fine as hell with me,” Shank agreed. “A couple places there I wasn’t real sure the dump truck was going to make it through. I was thinking maybe Red and I ought to head back now, just to be sure.”

“Let’s take a few minutes an’ see if we can get da tractor runnin’ easy,” Sven said. “Might be better ta go back together. But I think maybe we change da front end from skis to wheels now, rather dan out on da road a ways, eh?”

While Sven got to work on getting the tractor started, the crew turned to exchanging the skis for the front wheels that were in the back of the pickup. It was something they’d done enough that it didn’t take long. As always, the tractor required jumper cables and starter fluid to get running, but a few minutes later it was idling comfortably while the crew finished getting the front wheels on it.

Sven backed the tractor up to the elevator and hooked it up, then told Frenchy to drive it back. “Da one thing with this is dat you ain’t gonna get stuck in anything we can get da trucks through,” he told him. “But we stay together so dis can pull a truck out of a mud hole if we got to, yaaah?”

Even in the short time they’d been back at the work site, the roads had gotten considerably worse on the way out. By some miracle nobody got stuck, but Frenchy wondered about it more than once; he was bringing up the end of the line after the trucks had churned up the roads twice, and even with the big dual wheels on the tractor it seemed iffy at times.

Finally, after what seemed like half of forever they made it out to a road that was solid enough that they didn’t have to worry about it. Sven and the rest of the crew went on ahead in the trucks, while Frenchy had to find his way back on the slower tractor.

When he got back, most of the crew was gone except for Dink, who had his camper parked in Sven’s yard. “I told dem we might as well not try ta do anything ’round here today,” Sven reported after Frenchy had parked the tractor and elevator. “Maybe not dis week, have to see how it goes. Dis place usually dries out quick, maybe we get some work done around here next week, yaaah?”

“You’re saying I’ve got the rest of the week off?”

“Well, yah,” Sven shook his head. “Ya wanna come out here an’ hide out from your ol’ man, I can find somethin’ for ya to do. I got to put new plugs an’ shit on da tractor, work on da trucks some, stuff like dat. Maybe a good time ta go an’ talk to Al over at Clark’s ta see what he wants done dis summer, stuff like dat. You go see about dat chauffeur’s license like ya was talkin’ about dis mornin’, maybe get some extra community service time in. No point in wastin’ da time off, yaaah?”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be lacking for stuff to do,” Frenchy replied.

“Good enough. Ya got enough money in da bank ta keep your ol’ man happy?”

“There ain’t enough money in any bank to keep him happy,” Frenchy snorted. “But yeah, I can feed him his fifty bucks a week for a while, so long as it doesn’t go too long.”

“We probably be workin’ again in a couple weeks, yaaah,” Sven said. “I give you a call or somethin’, yaaah?”

Sven offered to drive Frenchy back to town, but Frenchy figured that Sven had been good enough to him as it was, and besides, it was turning into a nice day for a walk even with the roads being muddy. Besides, it gave him a chance to think. Sven had been right, he realized; there was a good chance he could knock fifty hours or more off his community service requirement in the next couple weeks, which would take a big chunk out of it. It would also give him a chance to get some other things done, like seeing what other favors he could do for Monica.

He went the long way back home, taking a swing by the Secretary of State’s office to pick up the test guide for the chauffeur’s license and confirm what Sven had said about the requirements. It was too late today to get on the weekday community service crew and it felt like it would be a little quick to go see Monica, so he decided to just go home and study the test guide without his parents around to bother him.

The test guide was slow going, but he took his time with it, studying harder than he’d ever done for any test in school. It was hard to say what was going to happen with the crew, but if he could even get a little time in the seat of the truck it was going to be less work than working on the ground. He’d had plans to be out of the house when his father got home, but time got away from him and he was startled to hear his father’s voice: “What the hell are you doing home at this hour? You finally decide you couldn’t work that hard?”

“No, got laid off,” Frenchy said. “Spring breakup. It’s just too soft to work in the woods. We went out and got the tractor and stuff from the work site and barely made it back out to the road. Sven said we ought to be back to work in a week or two.”

“So you get your chance to sit on your dead ass after all,” his father snorted. “You just better have that damn fifty bucks come Friday.”

“I should have it,” Frenchy said, and decided to lie a little. “Sven is going to have me out a couple days to help him work on the vehicles. That should cover the fifty bucks if I don’t have any other expenses.”

“Crap. You’re so full of shit it’s coming out your ears. You’ve been holding money back from me, you know it and I know it. All I can say is that you damn well better have that fifty bucks come Friday.”

“I will,” Frenchy replied. “I told you I would, and I will.”

“You damn well better,” his father said, storming off to do whatever it was he was doing. Whatever it was, it was somewhere else, and that was good.

This is really getting to be a crock of shit, Frenchy thought. It seemed like his father was wound up all the time and just had to pick at him over anything he could think of. Not for the first time Frenchy thought about just saying the hell with it and moving out, but as always, the question remained – where to go? It was warmer outside now than it had been a month before, but not that warm, and living out on the street someplace wasn’t going to be much better. He’d considered some possibilities, but when it came right down to it fifty bucks a week wasn’t a bad price to pay for a bed in a relatively warm house, so he figured he’d have to put up with it for a while longer. Maybe if push came to shove Sven could come up with something that might not be that much more expensive, but paying more than the fifty bucks a week was going to mean that it was going to be that much longer before he had wheels again.

When things came right down to it, Frenchy realized that he was just going to have to put up with his father for a while longer, like it or not. But the day was going to come when he had to do something, and if he could even put it off for another month or two there would be more things that he could do when the time came.

Supper, such as it was, was no bed of roses. While Frenchy ate as quickly as he could his father reminded him profanely at least a dozen times that he’d better damn well have the fifty bucks on Friday, and again accused him of holding out more money on him. Frenchy headed back up to his room as quickly as he could, and went back to studying the chauffeur’s license study guide, for lack of anything better to do.

At least his parents were already out of the house when Frenchy’s alarm clock went off the next morning. He’d already made up his mind to not even try to make some kind of breakfast out of canned vegetables, and left early to walk over to Rick’s. Trying to stretch his money, he ordered the special, which was smaller than he would have liked, but at least the coffee tasted good and he sat there drinking refills until it was time to head over to the courthouse for the community service work.

There were already half a dozen guys standing around when Porter showed up. “Wow, big crew today,” he said. “LeDroit, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Got laid off,” Frenchy reported simply. “Spring breakup, so I thought I’d get some time in.”

“I’ll tell all of you what, we don’t have that much lined up to do today,” Porter said. “There’s some boxes and stuff to move over at the Community Improvement Agency, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. I guess after that we’ll just have to take some snow shovels and see if we can drain a few of the ponds along the sidewalks, or something. It’s just going to be make-work, so there’s no reason to hurry.”

“No damn deer, right?” someone said.

“Not for a couple months at least, they need some time to fatten up.”

“Well, thank God for that!”

“I don’t suppose you’re interested in venison SOS for lunch again?”

“Not if I can help it,” the guy said, along with a chorus of similar responses from the rest of the crew.

“Tell you what,” Porter said. “Let’s just go a little late this morning and skip lunch. I’ll let you guys go early but you’ll get credit for a full day.”

Frenchy was used to not working very hard on the community service projects, but this was even lazier than that. The morning mostly consisted of a couple guys working at a time while the rest just stood around and shot the bull; twice Frenchy bummed a cigarette, the first he’d had since he’d bummed some from Shelly Battle. As he stood there smoking, he remembered that, and thought about her. She was probably in school now, he thought, with only a couple months to go before graduation and probably counting the days until it was over with. Right now, it seemed like kid stuff, and somehow it seemed beyond him.

But thinking about that made him think that at least she’d have a high school diploma, and he wouldn’t. He hadn’t thought much about the GED courses down at the Community Improvement Agency, but realized that a GED might make things a lot easier in the future, if he had any hope of ever getting a job out at Clark’s. May wasn’t all that far off, and maybe it was time to be looking into it.

Good to his word, Porter let them go a couple hours early. With more time to kill than he’d expected, Frenchy headed back over to Rick’s for their lunch special. While he was there he decided that he’d spent enough time studying the chauffeur’s license manual, and he might as well see about getting the license while he had the time.

It took a couple hours, at least partly because he had to break off in the last stages to go to the bank to get the fee for the license, then wait out the line again to pay the fee. But he still had some time to kill when he had the paper temporary certificate in his pocket. The Community Improvement Agency was just up the street, he knew from having been there in the morning, so he thought it would be a good chance to check into the GED classes.

“We could start you in May if you like,” the woman there said. “But if we do you’re going to be out of cycle. If you don’t mind, it would be better if you waited for the Saturday sessions in the fall term.”

It didn’t take much thought – he had the community service requirements to get out of the way, and it would be a schedule conflict. There was a good chance he would be gone by fall, anyway, especially if his father continued to be such a jerk. “Maybe we’d better put it off, then,” he told the woman, and explained why. She said there wouldn’t be any problem getting in for the fall term.

It was very foggy when he got up the next morning – all the melting snow had something to do with it. It was no problem making his way down the street, but he was glad he didn’t have to walk in the street since there was a danger of getting hit by kids driving to school. The fog had more or less cleared up in the early afternoon when Porter again told them to knock off early.

Once again, Frenchy was left with an afternoon to kill. Without any better ideas, he decided to walk over to Monica’s to see if her porch light was on. It turned out that it wasn’t, and she was glad to see him – “It’ll be nice to talk to an adult, instead of a two-year-old,” she said. “But what do you have in mind?”

“Well, I just wanted to see what I could be working on for you,” he said. “I mean, I’m not really talking about favors at this point, just getting some ideas.”

“Oh, there’s plenty to do,” she told him. “There are several rooms that need to get fixed up that haven’t even been touched. I wouldn’t mind if Cindy had her own room separate from Chad, but the empty room upstairs is really a mess.”

Since Chad happened to be taking his nap at the time, they were very quiet as she led him upstairs and to a room at the far end of a short hall. Even at first glance, Frenchy could see that she’d hit it right between the eyeballs: a mess. The totally empty room had been plastered a long time in the past, but big chunks of plaster were gone, with the lath showing behind it. At least the floor had been cleaned up of the loose stuff. “What the hell happened to this?” he said softly, in hopes of not waking Chad.

“I think this was Bobby’s room,” she replied, just as softly. “I guess the cops really went through it looking for a meth stash or something. I haven’t even started to think about how to go about fixing it yet.”

“I have to tell you Monica, I’m not much of a carpenter,” he shook his head. “But it strikes me that the best thing that could be done is to just rip down the rest of the plaster and the lath, and then maybe put up paneling, or something, maybe with some insulation behind it on the outer walls. I don’t know how I’d even begin to repair the plaster.”

“That’s sort of what I’ve been thinking,” she agreed. “But I can’t even begin to think about how I could afford paneling.”

“Maybe I could think of something, I don’t know,” he told her. “But that plaster has to come down before anything else could be done, anyway.”

“That sounds like it might be a favor,” she smiled. “But I want to keep the noise and the dust to a minimum, and that especially means we don’t want to disturb Chad during his naps. And I don’t know what we’d do with the stuff you ripped down.”

“Well, you could burn the lath in the stove,” he suggested. “The plaster, well, about the only thing I can think of is to put it in garbage bags and haul it out to the curb.”

“The trash pickup is only good for three bags at a time,” she pointed out. “And you couldn’t fill a garbage bag very full, or it’ll be too heavy.”

“So?” he shrugged. “We fill a lot of them. Maybe it takes a few weeks to get it hauled off.” He thought for a minute, then added, “There are a lot of empty houses around. I wonder what would happen if we were to put a couple bags out in front of one of them on pickup day? We might be able to spread it around.”

“Worth a try,” she smiled. “What do you say we go downstairs and talk for a while until Chad wakes up? Then maybe you could get started.”

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To be continued . . .

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