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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 27

Friday, August 19, 2011

Frenchy headed into work the next day with the intent of getting a few more firewood deliveries made, then going out to the woods to finish the day with the crew. There were a few dealers he hadn’t gotten to the day before, but there were more regular calls that had to be made on Friday.

As he drove out to Sven’s, he was thinking about Monica. She was nervous about applying for the job at the Super Market, but Frenchy was hoping that she could manage to at least make a good try. Monica was good about pulling herself together and doing what needed to be done when she had to, so he thought she might at least be able to make a good case. After talking it over, they’d decided that she would take the kids with her, to underline just how bad she needed the job. Besides, there wasn’t much else they could do with them at that point, anyway.

Most of the crew was standing around near the barn as Frenchy arrived, obviously waiting for the rest to arrive. Frenchy got out of the truck and went over to join them as they stood around, shooting the bull. The college kids on Shank’s crew were often a little late, never enough to really be yelled at but occasionally late enough to screw things up. Shank had worked them hard at chopping up pine slash and letting the results lay, but while Frenchy had rarely worked with them, he had the impression that they really weren’t all that good at honest hard work. They would be leaving soon, anyway – another week at the most and they’d be gone back to college, leaving the core crew to deal with things.

After a few minutes Sven came out of the house. “Frenchy,” he said, “have ya gotta make dem deliveries right away, or ya got a few minutes ta do somethin’ else?”

“You’re the boss,” Frenchy told him. “The delivery schedule is still screwed up but I got it pretty well caught up yesterday.”

“Dat’s good,” Sven said. “Ya an’ me, we gotta go over to da plant an’ talk to Dave Hotchkiss. We may got somethin’ new for ya. We do it now, before we go to da woods, yaaah? Shank, when everybody gets here, take da crew out where we was workin’ yesterday and get dem started. When I get dere, you can take your guys and go chop some more. I don’t know how long Frenchy and I, we gonna be.”

“Sure thing, Sven,” Shank replied. “I think I see those guys coming now.”

Frenchy got into Sven’s truck for the short ride over to Clark Plywood. “What’s this all about?” he asked as soon as they were on the road.

“Like I said, somethin’ new,” Sven said. “I don’t know it all myself, but we find out. How is dat new truck workin’ for ya?”

“Just fine,” Frenchy said, realizing that he wasn’t going to find out more just yet.

In only a few minutes they were walking into Hotchkiss’ office. Frenchy didn’t know him well, but remembered that he’d been the one who sent him to Sven in the first place. That had turned out a lot better for him than he had ever expected. There was another man in the office, a big, burly older guy.

“Morning, Sven, Frenchy,” Hotchkiss said. “Frenchy, Sven has been telling me that you’ve done a whale of a job for him, not just working hard but taking a lot of responsibility and dealing with it well.”

“I’ve just tried to do what I can,” Frenchy said. “And before we get any further, I want to thank you for sending me to Sven and putting in a good word for me. It’s made a huge difference for me.”

“You were the one who made the difference,” Hotchkiss said. “We just gave you the opportunity. Now, do you know Clint Bork, here?”

“Afraid not,” Frenchy said.

“I run Bork Logging, over out of Hoselton,” he said. “We mostly cut pulp for Jerusalem Paper, but the last year or so Al Halifax has been giving us more contracts over this way. Sven has been telling me that you’ve done a hell of a job for him.”

“Like I said, I just tried to do what I can,” Frenchy told him.

“Well, look,” Bork smiled. “I’m real short handed right now, I just had a guy quit, and another one got banged up pretty bad in a car wreck earlier in the week. I need a ground helper, and Sven tells me that you’re far and away the best prospect on his crew. It’s mostly odds and ends, driving a truck some and sometimes the skidder. If you can get a CDL in the future, we can probably have you driving a semi. In time you might work into running the loader, or even the cutter-stripper. Even if you’re just a ground helper it’s going to be a lot more than Sven has been paying you, and when you get to the point where you can handle the heavier stuff it would be more yet. Do you think you might be interested?”

“Sure, I’m interested,” Frenchy said, close to floored at the news. He really hadn’t expected this! “I just don’t want to leave Sven hanging, though, especially with the firewood business.”

“Dat’s OK,” Sven said. “Things, dey gonna get shuffled around some soon anyway, an’ we talk about da firewood deliveries later, yaaah? Frenchy, more better you take dis job. It’s a real job with a future, it make things easier with ya and Monica and da kids.”

“All right,” Frenchy said. “When do you want me to start?”

“How about Monday?” Bork said. “We’re working over the other side of Hoselton right now, but we ought to be back this way in a couple weeks. Come by the office at eight and we’ll fill out the paperwork and get you going.”

“How do I find your place?”

“If you can find Hoselton,” Bork laughed, “You won’t have much trouble finding Bork Logging. It’s right on the main drag and the biggest thing in town. I have a feeling you’re going to work out just fine. I remember seeing you last Friday night, and I was impressed when I heard the story about how you got everybody out of that house.”

“I was lucky,” Frenchy said. “But I don’t remember seeing you there.”

“I was there,” Bork grinned. “Among other things, I’m also the Hoselton Fire Chief. We got there just about the time Spearfish Lake and Albany River were getting the fire knocked down. Like I said, from what I heard you kept your cool and did the right thing, so that makes me think I’m making the right move.”

“Well, I’ll try to do my best for you,” Frenchy said. “I’m going to be working on my GED this fall, and I’ll have to look into what it’s going to take to get a CDL.”

“You’ll be able to pick up a lot of that as you go along,” Bork told him. “I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve learned over the years that when Sven says somebody is a good man, he’s a good man. I think you’ll be able to handle it.”

A few minutes later Frenchy and Sven walked out of the building, with Frenchy still in a daze. Of all the things that had happened in the past week, this was even more unexpected than most. “Sven,” he said as soon as they were in the pickup, “I really hate to leave you in the lurch like this, but I can’t turn a deal like that down.”

“I didn’t want ya ta turn it down,” Sven said. “I been figurin’ somethin’ like dis come along sooner or later an’ we got a little lucky dat it was sooner. Clint, he’s a good boss, I work for him some in da past, ya can learn a lot from him. I know it’s gonna mean a twenty- or thirty-mile drive ta work most days, maybe less when dey work over dis way, but ya got dat new truck; it shouldn’t be no problem.”

“Hey,” Frenchy said, a couple things coming together in his mind, “have you been planning this?”

“Well, sorta,” Sven grinned. “I didn’t know dis deal was comin’ but I figured somethin’ would come along sooner or later. See, me and Hotchkiss, we got an agreement. Every now and den he sends me someone dat he thinks might work out in da woods. Most times dey don’t since it’s a lotta hard work, ya know dat. But when someone, he cut da mustard, I can pass dem along ta someone dat can pay a decent wage, yaaah. You ain’t the first guy, an’ you probably won’t be da last. Now, Clint has had a couple a guys from me in da past and dey work out well for him. You work good for him an’ you help out da next guy dat comes along, maybe someone right outa jail an’ down on his luck. Fuck it up an’ it hurts a lotta guys in da future, not just ya, eh?”

“I don’t intend to fuck it up,” Frenchy said, realizing a little of the weight that hung on him. “I’ll do my best. After all, there’s Monica and the kids that are riding on it too.”

“Yaaah, dere is dat,” Sven grinned. “Now, I gotta question. You know a guy by da name of Eddie Awkerman?”

“I used to play football with him,” Frenchy said. “I haven’t seen him since at least last summer, though. I recall someone telling me he was going to have to spend the summer in jail.”

“Yaaah,” Sven grinned. “He just got out, an’ Hotchkiss, he want me to take him on. Do ya think he make a good worker?”

Frenchy thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “The last I knew he was all full of that high school shit, but maybe being in jail gave him a taste of the real world. I don’t know if he can learn that he has to work for what he gets.”

“Yaaah, ya needed ta learn dat too, but ya done good,” Sven smiled. “But you think he maybe worth a try? I can always fire him if he don’t work out.”

“Well, maybe,” Frenchy said. “Maybe I can look him up over the weekend and explain the facts of life to him a little.”

“Maybe it help,” Sven smiled. “But don’t ya go tellin’ him ’bout da deal with Hotchkiss, yaaah? We learn over da years dat it works better if da people dat he sends me don’t know ’bout dat.”

“I can keep my mouth shut,” Frenchy nodded. “But look, Sven, I still owe you quite a bit of money on my truck, and it’s going to leave you hanging on the firewood business.”

“Don’t have to, for now,” Sven said. “With Labor Day only a few days off, it ain’t gonna be as busy. Maybe ya can still do it on Saturdays some an’ work off some of dat money, maybe after work some too. It won’t die out till after deer season, an’ maybe den we can work out somethin’ else.”

“Sure, I can do that,” Frenchy told him. “The extra money won’t hurt, either.”

“Good, we make it work,” Sven said. “Gonna be hard ta lose ya, you done a good job for me. If dis goes to cobs or somethin’, I should have a place for ya, but you don’t wanna come back unless you got to.”

“Yeah,” Frenchy said. “I guess I can see that. But why me? Why not someone like Red or Shank?”

“Well, don’t you go tellin’ ’em I know it, but dey’re not da right kinda person someone like Clint needs an’ we all know it. Like, ya take Red, what da ya think Clint would think when Red shows up in da morning smellin’ like da half a six pack he already drunk? Or if he don’t show up at all, like Turk when he goes on a bender an’ gets thrown in jail? Shank, he a little special, he don’t want to work anywhere else, we tried a couple times an’ he just don’t like it. Mutt, ya can guess. I told ya a long time ago, da crew is mostly a bunch of old bums dat work pretty good, an’ if it ain’t broke we don’t fix it, yaaah?”

Frenchy spent a couple hours bundling firewood back out at Sven’s place, still marveling that such a thing could have happened. With the truck loaded, he headed into town to make several stops. He realized that he was going to go close to the house anyway, so decided to stop off and tell Monica the good news. Besides, he was wondering how things had gone at the Super Market.

It appeared that they had gone pretty well. As soon as he opened the door Monica was all over him with kisses and hugs. “Frenchy!” she squealed excitedly, “I got the job!”

“Great, that’s wonderful news!” he said.

“You were right, the burned-out-family card did the job,” she said. “I didn’t even have to mention that it was me. The manager recognized me from the picture in the paper, and it was a few minutes before we even got around to talking about the job. Forty hours a week, with health insurance! Goodbye Medicaid! With that it doesn’t matter quite as much that I’m starting at minimum wage, but he said I’ll get automatically bumped up after ninety days.”

“That’s even better,” he smiled. “But you know that line from the TV commercials – ‘But wait! There’s more?’”

“I don’t know how else there could be more,” she said, still so excited that Frenchy could barely make sense of what she was saying. “What is it?”

“Starting on Monday, I’m going to be working for Bork Logging over in Hoselton,” he told her, and explained a bit about what had happened in Mr. Hotchkiss’ office over in the plant. “It’s eleven bucks and change an hour, plus I’m still going to be working for Sven some, at least for a while. With that and your new job, we ought to be able to do a good job at keeping the wolf away from the door.”

“Frenchy, you’re kidding!” she smiled.

“Nope,” he said. “It’s still not a lot of money, but between our two paychecks you ought to be able to give up doing special favors if you want to.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” she said. “I really hated to do it, but there wasn’t a lot of choice. I tried to keep it low key, since I didn’t want to get known as the town whore.”

“You’re not a whore and you never were,” he told her. “You were just a mother who was down on her luck and doing what she had to do for her kids. You did it well, but now you don’t have to do it anymore.”

She let out a sigh. “I still owe a couple favors,” she said. “And just to be honest I suppose I’d better do them, but I’m just glad that I won’t have to do it anymore.”

“Sure, you made the commitment, and you ought to keep it just to be fair,” he told her. “But I think we can make it without it.”

“You mean you’re going to pay me more for room and board?” she frowned.

“No, not unless you want me to,” he told her. “But I’d rather not pay for room and board at all.”

“Frenchy?” she said, stepping back. “What do you mean?”

Frenchy found the words tumbling out of him. He hadn’t really thought about this before, and now here he was saying it. “Look, Monica,” he said, “I don’t know how to say this, but I’ve fallen in love.”

“With me?” she frowned again. “I thought we had an agreement that we weren’t going to let this get personal like that.”

“Well, we did,” he said. “But it’s Cindy and Chad that I’m falling in love with. Cindy especially. I think they’re great kids, but I think you’re going to need some help bringing them up. Let’s face it, Monica. They’ll really need a father, especially as they get older. I’m not saying you can’t do a great job as a parent, but I’d like to see them grow up right. God knows my parents made a lot of mistakes with me, and I can see a lot of them. I hope I can avoid them. Maybe I can help Cindy grow up and still be the sweet person she is now, and I hope I can help Chad grow up and not become a Billy Badass like I was, whose only goal in life is kicking someone’s ass. Maybe I’ll make mistakes, but I want to give it a fair try.”

“I know you’ve gotten close to the kids,” she smiled, “but I never figured that you’d want to get that close to them.”

“I do,” he said. “Now, as far as you and me. Since Cindy and Chad are your kids, you sort of go along with the deal. I’ve tried to keep from falling in love with you, I really have, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve noticed for the last few days that people have been calling the four of us a family, and I’ve been wondering if maybe they aren’t right. We are a family, and we’ve been acting like one for a while now, not just since the fire. Maybe we ought to just agree that everyone else is right and go on from there.”

“Oh, God, Frenchy,” she said, taking him in her arms again. “I’ve hoped so much that sooner or later someone would come along who would be a good father for the kids, and I never figured it would be you, especially since you had such a reputation for being a Billy Badass, like you say. Fred Piwowar told me that all it would take was one word from me and he’d have you back in jail, but you’ve been wonderful just about every step of the way. I’m glad Fred was wrong.”

“At the time he was probably right,” he told her. “I really was an asshole, especially last summer and before. I hope I can avoid becoming one again, and it’s something I’m going to have to work at. But it’s going to take your help, Monica. You and the kids have done more than anyone else to tame me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that things are better that way. I don’t want to lose what I have now, since I’ve come to understand just how much I have to lose.”

“Damn it, Frenchy,” she sighed. “I’ve tried to keep from falling in love with you, and it just hasn’t worked. Let’s face it, you’re younger than I am, and you do come with your old reputation. God knows I’ve had enough trouble in my life from badasses like Bobby and Lonnie, but they brought me a couple of good things too. Damn it, Frenchy, I love you. Maybe I’m crazy, but I do. You’re right. People have been calling us a family. Let’s be one.”

“Fine with me,” he said. “I think I’ve got what I want. It’s not what I wanted a year ago, but it’s better. I love you too, Monica. It came around the hard way but I think maybe it’s been worth it. “

“It sure was the hard way,” she smiled, pulling him close. “Especially the last week. But, you know, ever since the manager over at the Super Market told me I had the job, I’ve had to wonder if maybe Lonnie didn’t do us a favor after all.”

“Could be,” he said as he bent down to kiss her. “But that’s one favor I don’t want you to repay.”

“No problem with that,” she grinned, and then didn’t say any more since their lips were busy doing something else.

It was a while before Frenchy got out of there, but it was time well spent. Finally, he remembered that he had a truck load of firewood to deliver, so he reluctantly left her after she had promised that she’d spend some time moving his stuff into the big bedroom, and moving Cindy into his old one.

He spent more than an hour delivering that load of firewood, and on the way back out to Sven’s started to realize that he was getting hungry. For once he figured that he probably ought to avoid going back to the house, since he’d probably get wrapped up with Monica again, and he still had work to do. Since he had a few bucks in his pocket after cashing his last regular paycheck from Sven, he decided to swing by the Frostee Freeze for a quick burger and Pepsi.

It had been over a year since he had been in the Frostee Freeze, and he found that he hadn’t missed the teenage hangout much. Since it was after the lunch rush, the place was almost empty, and he had no problem getting a parking space under the awning, rather than having to park out in the lot and use the take out window. He called in his order on the speaker, and sat and waited for his food to be brought to him. It showed up fairly quickly; the carhop was a young high school girl, probably not sixteen yet. He thought he remembered seeing her around the school or something, but that seemed like a long time ago.

As he sat there in his truck eating his quick lunch, he noticed a familiar red Mustang convertible pull in beside him. He glanced over at it, and sure enough, it was Matt’s car! He hadn’t seen Matt to talk to him in over a year, and they’d only talked on the phone a couple times. It was Matt behind the wheel too – his long hair replaced by an Army buzz cut. “Hey, Matt,” he called. “How’d you like the Army?”

“They worked my ass off,” Matt replied. “I’m only home for a few days, then I’ve got to go down to Ft. Benning for more training.”

“Then probably to someplace hot and uncomfortable and dangerous like Afghanistan,” Frenchy smirked. “Maybe it’s all right if you want it, but I think I’ll stay right here, thanks.”

“So did you get done with probation and all that stuff?”

“Yeah, it’s over with,” Frenchy said. “Got a new job starting Monday; I think it’ll work out pretty good.”

“Look, Frenchy,” he said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get together back last spring, but you know what it’s like getting a job around here. It seemed like the best thing I could do, but I really had to stay on the straight and narrow.”

“Well, I did too,” he replied. “But it all worked out, and things are better now.”

“So did you get around to kicking some ass, like Erikson and Jahnke?”

“I didn’t bother,” Frenchy grinned. “That was all just kid stuff, and I’ve put it behind me. I’ve learned that it’s better if I leave it there. I’ve got more important things to do.”

The End

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