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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 19

June 3, 2011

With Memorial Day weekend the tourist season started to get busy. The campgrounds were open now, and a lot of people opened their summer cottages, which meant that the wood sales increased. Where in May Frenchy had to devote a day or, at most, a day and a half to bundling wood and delivering it to the dealers, now sometimes he was as much as three days a week at the project.

Making sure the dealers were fully stocked on Fridays was a big deal, because they could sell a lot of wood over the weekends. That sometimes made for a long day on Friday, but he would work late if he needed to in order to make sure that they were all supplied.

The first Friday after the Memorial Day weekend Frenchy was feeling pretty good. Not only had the wood sales gone pretty well, he’d managed to get two new dealers, people who had been getting their firewood from someplace else – Frenchy didn’t know who, and didn’t care, but had noted that their firewood was tied in twine bundles, rather than in plastic. While both of the dealers said they were satisfied with the way things were, Frenchy pointed out that the plastic bundles would keep their customer’s cars cleaner. That wasn’t enough to make the sale, so he suggested that he leave off some of his plastic-wrapped bundles over the Memorial Day weekend so the dealers could see which sold quicker. As it happened, in both places the plastic-wrapped bundles were gone on Friday, while some of the twine-wrapped bundles at the same price were still sitting there after the long weekend. As easily as that he had two new dealers, one of which involved a half a truckload to service.

That extra half a truckload made him run late; he pulled into Sven’s just as the crew was getting back from the woods, and he was able to get Sven and Red to help him with making up the load that he had to haul out to the dealer. All of that meant that it was going to be getting pretty late before he wrapped it up for the day, but really, he didn’t mind – it just meant that it was going to be that much later before he got home.

Sven offered to ride along to help him deliver the wood, which would make for a big time savings. Plus, he hadn’t had a lot of time to talk to Sven the last few days, and he always enjoyed it. As they got out on the road, Sven asked, “I see by da Record-Herald dat this weekend is da graduation. Ya sorry ya ain’t gonna be dere?”

“Not really,” Frenchy replied. “I mean, it would have been nice if things had worked out that way, but they didn’t. I’ve got some friends who are going to be there, but right now it sort of seems like kid stuff.”

“Probably be a good idea for ya ta get dat diploma sometime, in dis day an’ age,” Sven observed. “I don’t think you want to be cuttin’ firewood with da crew for da rest of your life.”

“Well, no,” Frenchy told him. “I’m thinking that I’m not going to mind doing it for a while, but I can see the time coming when I wouldn’t mind making some more money, and yeah, I’m going to need a diploma or something to get a better job. That’s why I’m planning on doing that GED course in the fall, but right now, with the community service, it would be a real pain in the butt.”

“Yah, dat’s true,” Sven told him. “You wanna go to work in da plant or somethin’?”

“Yeah, or something,” Frenchy agreed. “Although, I have to admit that I don’t know how much I want to have to stand and run a machine all damn day, day after day. I’m thinking that maybe sometime I can get on one of the Clark crews working in the woods. That seems like it’d be a lot more interesting than just pulling a damn lever or something.”

“Yah, dat’s true too,” Sven smiled. “I’ve had ta do it now and den, but it gets damn tiring damn quick. I like being out in da woods, an’ I was always ready to get on a woods crew da first chance I could. Sometimes it wasn’t for as much pay, but I liked the work a hell of a lot better.”

That set Frenchy to thinking a bit. It wasn’t easy to get on one of the Clark woods crews, but he knew from the little contact he’d had with them that the people on them made good money. Running things like a cutter-stripper wasn’t something that they had a rookie doing, but maybe with some experience with Sven he could work his way onto the crews, as a helper, or maybe even a driver if he were to get a Commercial Driver’s License. It wasn’t anything that seemed likely to happen soon, but he could see it happening – and it would be a reasonable woods job that avoided all the hassles and the boredom of working in the plant. “Maybe someday,” he told Sven. “What I have right now will do me for right now, maybe for a year or two, but I don’t think I want to have to do it forever.”

“Yaaah,” Sven nodded. “You got better things ta do with your life dan work in da woods wid a bunch of old bums. But it can give you a place to start from.”

It took a while to get the bundles of wood unloaded and stacked, so it was well after quitting time before Sven and Frenchy got back to town. Sven dropped Frenchy off so he wouldn’t have to deal with the walk home, and drove Frenchy’s truck back to the barn. It was going to be a long weekend, Frenchy thought; mowing lawns or whatever on community service tomorrow, and then probably getting a coat of paint or two on the walls of the room at Monica’s on Sunday. At least the way things were going there would only be a couple more months of the community service, and that would free his time up a lot. Maybe he could even start to have a life again.

Not surprisingly his father met him at the door, and in an even worse mood than normal. “Where the fuck have you been?” he snarled as Frenchy went inside.

“Had to make a late delivery,” Frenchy said. “A half a truckload to a new dealer.”

“You got my money, or have you drunk it up already?”

“I’ve got your money,” Frenchy said, reaching for his wallet. “I stopped off at the bank earlier to cash my check.” He pulled out two twenties and a ten and handed them to him.

“Don’t bullshit me,” his father snorted. “With all the goddamn overtime you’ve been working you’ve got to have more money than that, and I want it. You been fuckin’ holding out on me, and that shit has got to cease. You’re making enough money that you can be doing some helping out around here.”

“You got your fifty bucks,” Frenchy replied, trying to keep his temper. It was the same damn argument they had every week, only this time his father’s attitude seemed even worse than normal, if that was possible. “That’s what we agreed on and that’s what you’ve gotten every goddamn week.”

“Knock off the fuckin’ bullshit. You’ve got more fuckin’ money than you’ve been giving me, and I want it. We don’t fuckin’ live on air around here, we got bills to pay, and with the money you’re making you can goddamn well help out with them.”

“Hell, you’re making better money than I am out at the plant,” Frenchy retorted, trying very hard to keep his cool. “Where the hell does all that money go, except into the slots over at Three Cherries?”

“I don’t get shit in my paycheck,” his father yelled. “The fucking bank is garnisheeing my paycheck, and the fucking credit card company too. By the time the fucking taxes and shit get taken out there ain’t hardly a fuckin’ thing left over. I’m busting my ass out there every day and don’t get shit out of it. Shit, we’d be money ahead to just let the bank have the fucking house and go try to find a job somewhere else.”

That was news to Frenchy. “So instead of trying to get caught up a little you go over and play the fucking slots?” he snorted. “Shit, I’m not even a high school graduate and I’m not that fucking stupid. Those goddamn things are there to take your money, don’t you know that?”

“If we keep playing them sooner or later maybe we can hit a big jackpot that will get us out of hock,”

“Jesus, how stupid can you get? You want more money out of me so you can go piss it away in the slot machines. There ain’t no way you’re going to get it! I bust my ass on that job, and I’m not even getting to pull the fucking levers!”

“You’re goddamn going to give it to me or you’re out of this fucking house.”

“Fine with me,” Frenchy replied, just about ready to deck his old man but holding his temper like he never would have the year before. “That means you don’t get your fuckin’ fifty bucks out of me each week so you can piss that away too.”

“You got an awful smart mouth for a fucking jail rat,” his father snarled. “Now burp up the fucking money or you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

“There ain’t no way,” Frenchy said. “Go ahead, try me, and I’ll kick your ass from here to next week.”

“You wouldn’t dare. I’d have your ass back in jail so fast it wouldn’t be funny.”

“Then you wouldn’t get anything out of me anyway, would you? Fuck this, I got better places to go and better things to do.” He turned and headed for the door, thinking that he really ought to kick his dad’s ass – but his father was right in one thing, if he did he would be headed back to jail. He slammed the door behind him, ran down the steps and started walking up the street, his father yelling obscenities in his wake.

Frenchy was still pissed as he got out of earshot of the house. Hell, even he was smarter than that, he thought. It was bad enough to pay all your bills and piss away the money left over, but it was a hell of a lot worse to piss away the money before the bills were paid.

One thing was perfectly clear – there was no way he was going to be able to live at home again, not now and probably not ever. He’d been expecting this day to come since the day he’d gotten out of jail three months before, and now here it was. At least now it was June, and he had a job and his truck, so things weren’t anywhere as bad as they had been in March.

Now he wouldn’t be out the fifty bucks a week he was giving to his father, so that was money that could be spent on a place to stay until he got done with the probation and community service and could get the hell out of Spearfish Lake. Well, it was going to take longer than that, he thought; he still owed Sven money on his truck, and since Sven had been as good as he had been about it there was no way he felt he could leave him hanging.

He’d spent a little time thinking about this issue in the past, since it had been clear that something like this was going to happen sooner or later. It would have been nice to have a place by himself, and there were some cheap rentals out there, but even the cheapest seemed like they would strain his limited funds on his minimum-wage job. He really wasn’t making that much money, but he still had been putting money in the bank to build up some funds for his escape from town, so he had a little more to work with.

On the other hand, several of the guys on the crew weren’t making any more money than he was, and managed to have places by themselves; Mutt and Cash lived with their parents, and Buck was living with a girlfriend he wasn’t getting along with all that well. But, while he’d never been there, he knew that Red and Shank and Turk all had their own places, although from the lunchtime talk it didn’t sound like they were anything much. But still, they had enough money to be able to go out and have a few brews at a place like Fern and Judy’s after work, so things couldn’t have been that bad, could they? Frenchy wasn’t real clear about how they were getting by in the long term, but at least he knew they were getting by somehow.

There ought to be someplace he could live cheap, he thought as he reached the corner and turned to head toward Sven’s place and his pickup. At least he could spend the night in that, he thought. There ought to be someone who needed money who would be willing to take in a boarder; if the food they provided was decent, he could even spend more than the fifty a week he’d been giving to his father. He might still have something left over so he could continue to do some favors for Monica.

Of course, you damn fool, he thought, coming to a stop in his tracks and turning around. It made a lot of sense. The subject had never come up between them, but it would solve several problems all in one quick pass. It was getting later in the evening than he liked, but the sun stayed up for a long time this time of year as far north as they were. Probably she’d be getting the kids ready for bed, and maybe, with some luck, she wouldn’t have a favor to do for someone.

It was the same long haul over to Monica’s house that it always was, but this time he hurried. There was no telling if she would go along with his idea, but if she didn’t there were at least some other options, including asking Sven, who might know of something.

As luck would have it, Monica’s porch light wasn’t on, so he went up and knocked on the front door. “Frenchy!” she said when she answered it. “What are you doing here?”

“Long story,” he sighed. “I’ve just had the fight with my dad that I’ve been expecting would come up sooner or later. It turns out that the goddamn idiot has been pissing away money even worse than I thought, and I can’t hack that shit anymore.”

“Well, I guess it’s not a surprise,” she said. “I mean, I’ve heard you complain about it enough. So what brings you here?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “I’ve been giving him fifty bucks a week for room and board, all the grief I can get, and lousy food, what there is of it. Look, what I was thinking was that I have the room upstairs here pretty close to done, and I could pay you more for room and board than I’ve been paying him. I don’t know how much, we’d have to work it out, but it would give you some cash to work with, and me some decent food and a place to sleep.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” she smiled. “It would be a help to me since I could have you help me watch the kids. But we’d still have to work around the other guys that I do favors for.”

“No big deal,” he grinned, pretty sure that this was a done deal already. “I do that enough now, and it’ll be easier for me to take the kids somewhere if I’m already living here.”

She appeared to think about it for a moment. “Well, all right,” she said. “The thing of it is that you’d have to be boarding with me and living in the room, not sleeping with me, all right? The extra money, fifty a week or whatever will be welcome, but I still can’t get along without paying back some favors.”

“I understand that,” he said, a little surprised to not be as disappointed as he might have been. Having a halfway decent place to stay, the prospect of decent food, and being able to come in the door after work without being yelled at easily overcame the downsides. “I’ll try to help out where I can, and maybe I can still do a favor for you once in a while.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will,” she grinned. “Maybe more than before. But that still doesn’t mean you’re going to be sleeping with me.”

“I can live with that,” he said, a little relieved. In the couple months or so he’d been hanging out with Monica a lot, they’d only been to bed a handful of times, although every time had been well worth the effort and he’d learned a lot each time. What’s more, as far as he could tell she’d enjoyed it too.

“Frenchy, I need to remind you that there’s no furniture or anything in the room, except for those beat-up kitchen chairs and milk crates you’ve been using for sawhorses. I don’t really have anything much I can put in there, either.”

“We’ll cross that bridge tomorrow,” he said. “Maybe I can sleep on the couch or something tonight. I can head down to the thrift store in the morning and see what I can find for a bed and like that.”

“Sounds good,” she sighed. “Frenchy, don’t get me wrong. I’m not sorry to have you moving in here. In fact, it’s a relief. I’m starting to get more worried about Lonnie.”

“Did you hear from him?”

“No, but his dad did,” she replied. “According to him, Lonnie is down in Camden someplace, probably fried out of his mind. But that’s too damn close if he decides he wants to come up here and start something. Having you around at least part of the time ought to take some of the edge off my fear.”

“Hopefully it will,” he told her. “Anyway, I’ll see you in a little while. I’m going to hike out to Sven’s and get my truck. That way I’ll have it when I need it in the morning.”

It was still a long walk out to Sven’s, and the sun was getting lower now, so Frenchy hurried even more than before. The shadows were getting long by the time he got to the familiar place, where he saw his truck sitting in the yard. It turned out that Sven was sitting on the back porch, his fingers around a beer can when Frenchy walked up. “Hiya, Frenchy,” he called. “What brings ya out here tonight?”

“Long story,” Frenchy told him. “The short version is that I finally had it out with my old man, and I’m out of the house.”

“Ya got a place ta stay?” Sven frowned.

“Yeah, I’ve got a friend I’m going to be boarding with. She’s agreed to let me stay for a while.”

“Well, I been expectin’ ya ta have it out with your ol’ man sooner or later,” Sven shook his head. “Da same thing, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Frenchy said, and went on to explain how his folks had been throwing their money away at the casino even worse than he had thought. “I guess it doesn’t surprise me,” he summed up. “I always thought they were pretty stupid to be doing what I knew about, but even I didn’t think they were stupid enough to do it even more.”

“An’ your ol’ man is really pissed, yaaah?”

“Oh, Christ yes,” Frenchy said. “I’m just glad to have my ass out of there in one piece. I thought I was going to have to deck him before I got out of there. He really needs his ass kicked but that wasn’t the time to do it.”

“Did you get your stuff out of dere?”

“No, no chance,” Frenchy shook his head. “Like I said, I’m just glad to have my ass out of there.”

“Maybe it would be good for ya ta get it out before he trashes it or somethin,” Sven pointed out.

“Well, yeah,” Frenchy agreed. “I’m so pissed at him I guess I can’t think straight, but there’s no way I can go back and get it by myself, not with him there. Maybe you and I could head out to Fern and Judy’s and pick up some of the gang so I wouldn’t have to go in there by myself.”

“Might be an idea,” Sven said. “Probably Red and Shank are out dere, maybe Turk too. But dey probably so steamed by now dey might not be a lot a good. But I think maybe dis is one time we call da cops, yaaah?”

“Cops?” Frenchy snorted. “What good are they going to do?”

“Cops, dey ain’t always da enemy,” Sven smiled. “I don’t think your ol’ man would want ta make too much trouble with ya if dere is a cop standin’ right next to you.”

“They’d actually do that?” Frenchy said, surprised.’

“How about I call dem up and ask,” Sven grinned. “Da worst dey can do is say no, and if dey do we can still run out ta Fern and Judy’s ta get da guys.”

It turned out that Sergeant Piwowar was on duty that night – he often was on Friday evenings when trouble could be expected – and he had a young part-timer with him who Frenchy didn’t recognize when they met up a couple blocks away from Frenchy’s house. “Frenchy, how you been doing?” Piwowar asked.

“Mostly working and able to stay out of trouble so far,” Frenchy told him.

“I’ve been hearing good things about you,” the cop told him. “You’ve been working hard and avoiding trouble. I would have expected you to have pounded the shit out of someone and be back in jail by now.”

“I would have pounded the shit out of my old man a couple hours ago,” Frenchy told him flatly, “but I really wasn’t all that interested in going back to jail and having to eat that goddamn venison.”

“Three hots and a cot,” Piwowar grinned. “Of course that doesn’t say anything about how good the hots are. If you’re ready, let’s go get this done.”

Frenchy’s dad wasn’t in any better a mood when Frenchy, Sven and the two cops showed up at the door. “What the fuck do you want with me?” he said, mostly to Piwowar. “I ain’t done nothin’. This jail rat kid of mine ought to have his ass hauled back to the slammer, though.”

“Let’s keep this peaceful,” Piwowar said. “Your son wants to get his stuff out of the house, and we’re here to see that it’s done peacefully.”

“You little turd,” Frenchy’s father snarled at him. “What makes you think you deserve to get anything out of here? It’s all my fuckin’ stuff now since you left.”

“It’s my clothes and stuff,” Frenchy said. “You ain’t got any use for it.”

“You little shit, I need to teach you some manners,” his father said, stepping back to take a swing at him.

The swing only got partly started before Piwowar had him by the arm, and directly into a hammerlock. “Now, let’s just keep this peaceful,” he said. “If you want to take another swing at your son, I’m sure he’ll be glad to sign a complaint so you can find out just how bad the venison at the jail really is.”

“You little shit, I ain’t gonna let you get away with this,” Frenchy’s father yelled as Frenchy and Sven headed for the stairs. “You been fuckin’ holding that money out on me, and you ain’t gonna get away with it. I’m gonna see your ass back in jail before this is over with.”

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