1995 Thomas Engelhart set his empty glass down on the bar and stubbed his Camel cigarette out in the overflowing plastic ashtray by his right hand.
"Well, do you think I'm crazy now, or do you have to hear some more?" asked Thomas.
"There's more?" replied Luke, who started to refill Thomas' glass with brandy again.
"Yeah, there's more," said Thomas with a sigh. "This shit of mine runs deep and wide I'm afraid."
"Okay," said Luke, handing Thomas his glass and swapping his ashtray for a clean one. "Just answer me one thing before you launch off into another episode of the 'X Files'."
"As long as you're buying the drinks, it's the least I could do."
"This Lt. Taylor, he didn't seem to think you were crazy. Did you ever talk to him again?"
"Yeah, he used to call me up about once a month just to ask how things were going," Thomas said, with a tone of sadness in his voice that Luke couldn't help but pick up on.
"And he's probably dead now because of it."
"How's that?" asked Luke.
"One day he called me, this was about a year later, and said that he had someone he wanted me to talk to, and if I would arrange it, talk to Edward too. Some kind of child psychology expert I guess, he really didn't go into much detail over the phone.
“I didn't want to seem like I had anything to hide, so I agreed to do it, but said that I was really busy now and couldn't get away from the farm. I guess I hoped he would just forget about it, but instead he offered to bring this guy out the next day.
“I talked to Edward that afternoon, and he got all upset and said that he didn't want to talk to anybody about Louisee anymore. I had never heard him call her that before, and being raised like I was not to talk bad of the dead, I got on his ass about it. He got real snippy with me, so I sent him to the chair for awhile."
"The chair?" asked Luke.
"Yeah, too bad it wasn't an electric one. Somehow I got a feeling that's what he deserves. The chair I'm referring to was the one I kept out on the back porch. The kids used it to sit in when they peeled potatoes and shucked corn. Whenever the kids got on my bad side, one of the things I would do was make them prepare all of the dinner fixings. Usually they all helped."
"I like it. Something you don't see too much of these days, that's for sure," said Luke.
"Maybe I should have been harder on him, maybe I should have been easier on him, I don't know. In any case, I'm afraid I've created a monster."
"Okay, Dr. Frankenstein, what happened next?"
"Edward pretty much stayed out of my way for the rest of the evening. Lt. Taylor was supposed to show up around ten the next morning, but he never made it," said Thomas, as he paused long enough to light another cigarette.
"Why do I get this funny feeling that he didn't die of natural causes?" asked Luke.
"You catch on fast, my friend," replied Thomas. "They found his car about a half a mile from my farm, wrapped around a telephone pole. Both him and that doctor fellow were killed instantly. Thrown through the windshield. People weren't much into seat belts back then, I guess."
"They ever figure out what the cause of the accident was?" asked Luke.
"Officially, broken front axle. The throttle linkage to the carburetor was stuck wide open too, but they weren't sure if that happened because of hitting the pole or if it happened after the impact. They estimated he was doing around seventy to eighty miles an hour when he crashed."
"Unofficially?" asked Luke.
"That little bastard, Edward, had something to do with it."
"After all that has happened to you over the years, I guess I would have the same gut feeling," replied Luke.
"I'm afraid it's more than a gut feeling Luke."
"You could see down to the road from our house, and Jonathan spotted the flashing lights, so we all jumped in the truck and drove down there. All of us except Edward, that is. He was nowhere to be found. When we got there, they had already pulled the bodies out and were in the process of putting them in body bags. Janice recognized Taylor, he was a bloody mess mind you, and began to get sick. I helped her over to the side of the road and she puked up her lunch. I wouldn't have even seen it if it wasn't for Janice."
"Seen what?" asked Luke.
"Laying in the ditch just up from where we were standing was a key ring. I walked up closer to it, and sure enough, it was Edward's. I didn't even have to pick it up. It was the one he had made in metal shop, not another one like it in the world. Three capitol E's in a row, ground out of a piece of sheet metal, with a hole drilled in the bottom for the key ring."
"So what does that prove?" asked Luke.
"Not much in itself, I guess," replied Thomas. "But there was a trail of footsteps in the bent grass leading from there back up into the corn field. They were fresh tracks Luke, and there was no reason for Edward to be down by the road. None, I'm telling you!"
Luke could see that Thomas was becoming upset and he didn't want to bring any more misery onto his friend than necessary. His original motive for the questioning was to get Thomas to open up and get things out into the open, but he found himself opening up wounds faster than he could help heal them.
"I believe you buddy, I believe you." said Luke, not knowing what else to say, but perhaps saying the only thing that would help Thomas at the moment.
"Thanks Luke, I didn't mean to bite your head off."
"So you think that Edward caused that accident, and Louise's too?"
"Bet my life on it, Luke. I'm sure now, more than ever. But there's more to the story."
"I don't doubt that, and I want to hear it too. I haven't felt this alive since the last time I got a blowjob," said Luke, trying to lighten things up a little.
It seemed to work.
"God, and I thought I was talking about ancient history," said Thomas.
"Fuck you, Mr. Engelhart," replied Luke; glad to see Thomas was responding.
"And may the fair haired fairies from Fairwood find your fart hole favorable too, Mr. Perry!" Thomas replied.
They both broke out into laughter, though neither of them felt much like it. Men have always had a way of doing that when the going gets tough, and reality stares them in the face. Women tend to grab the bull by the horns, look it in the face and call it a bull for what it is. If that means crying over the fact that the bull ways 2000 pounds and wants to stomp them into paste, they do it. No big deal.
Men tend to grab the bull by the horns, tell themselves it's a football, and send their buddy out on a long pass route that will win the Super Bowl if they catch the Hail Mary. It always has to be a big production. Failure or signs of weakness are totally unacceptable. Strictly taboo. They can laugh about it later in the local tavern, even if the football got dropped, but no signs of weakness are allowed. That was the law, and both Luke and Thomas lived by the law. There would be no getting in touch with the feminine side of their personality in this lifetime. At least not when anyone was around to see it.
Jonathan pressed on toward Long Beach, having to force himself to pay more attention to his driving several times. He had just caught a special-news brief on the radio announcing the apparent murder-suicide of Bob Perryman and Chris Connors. Jonathan suddenly felt weak and his stomach began to churn. His whole world was being turned upside down, but he had a feeling he might as well start getting used to it because things were never going to be the same again. He still didn't know what to do about Eddie; it was becoming clear that doing nothing was no longer an option. The only thing he knew for sure was that he had to see his dad.
He had thought about stopping and calling him; maybe even have him meet him halfway to save time. A quick glance at the digital clock on the dashboard reminded him that there was little of that commodity to spare. He decided against that idea, realizing that by the time he could talk his father into it, if he could talk him into it, he could have covered another ten miles. No, this would have to be done face to face.
There were so many unanswered questions about the past swirling through his mind and he found it hard to concentrate. He found himself feeling akin to the horses, which pulled the hay wagon around at the county fair when he was a kid. It was as if he had been wearing some kind of mental blinders on him for the last thirty years, not allowing him to see anything but what was straight ahead. Because he was one of the lead horses, he didn't even know who else was hitched up to the team, let alone what they were working so hard to accomplish. No distractions, focusing only on pulling the wagon and going whichever way the mystery driver pulled on the reins.
The blinders were gone now, blown off his head by a series of events and the winds of time. As he looked back, he now knew who the driver was, and had been all of these years. It came as no surprise to find Janice harnessed next to him, and behind was his father and Aunt Louise, followed by Sara Brooks and Lt. Taylor. Further back were Bob Perryman and Chris Connors, and all of the volunteers that had worked on his campaigns in the past. The vision reminded him of the twenty-mule team that was always shown at the beginning of that old black and white television series called Death Valley Days. He almost expected Dale Robertson to break into his daydream and segue into a commercial for Borax; instead he was inundated with a barrage of questions.
Questions that he should have asked, and demanded answers to, a long time ago; but he had taken the easy way out, choosing to ignore the things that had gone on around him, focusing only on escaping the nightmare the first chance he got. He realized now that he hadn't escaped shit. As a matter of fact he had employed the nightmare and made him the key player in his own life.
Jesus, he said to himself, and you want to help run an entire country? What's going to be your first important decision, he asked himself? Make Idi Amin the head of the FDA? Or better yet, Charlie Manson would make a great Chief Justice. Hey, I’ve got it; let's make one of the Weyerhaeuser Family Secretary of the Interior. That'll work. And we could get Newt Gingrich to run Medicare and Social Security, and bring Ronald Reagan out of retirement to head up a committee to balance the budget. Too bad that Adolf Hitler's dead, we sure could use him in the Race Relations Department.
Fuck! All of these years I've thought that the old man was crazy. I'm the one who should be wrapped up in a straight jacket and forced to watch Father Knows Best reruns for the rest of my life. He slammed his fist on the padded center of the steering wheel, and returned his attention to the road just in time to swerve back into his lane and miss an oncoming car.
"Goddammit!" he shouted out loud, as he fought to keep the Ford from going into the drainage ditch after over steering to get back into his own lane. Once under control, he guided the Taurus towards the side of the road and pulled to a stop. He was shaking like a jackhammer operator with Parkinson's disease, and was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
"Pull… yourself… together… Jonathan," he spoke to himself between deep breaths. He felt that he was going to be sick again and got out of the car, stumbling to the side of the road. There was about a foot of water in the drainage ditch, but he sloshed right through it and up the bank to a row of pine trees. He started to get the dry heaves, and spent a couple of minutes bent over with stomach spasms. When he could finally stand straight again, he felt so dizzy that he had to lean against a tree to remain standing.
"Well this is just great! Just fucking great!" he shouted.
Then he became quiet, thinking to himself that he didn't want another visit from the Triple E, not knowing what it would take to get his attention. He wished that he had eaten something today, because he was becoming very weak. No time for that now, he reminded himself, got to get this mule team back on the road. Maybe even stay in our own lane this time, he added with a lunatic's chuckle, beginning to believe that he really was going quite mad.
Janice Engelhart stared into the empty bottom of her Batman glass, realizing that there wasn't enough wine in all of California to help her escape reality and the inevitable showdown with the Triple E. It was all coming to a head, like one big puss-filled boil on the back of the neck of some teenager loading the fry machine at the local McDonalds. She had dreaded this day, knowing it would come, but hoping that she would have more time to prepare for it. But no-o-o-o-o. That fucker Eddie was on the march, she could feel it. People were dying. Innocent people who didn't have a clue about who and what they were dealing with… and he was getting stronger. At a faster rate than herself, she was afraid. The longer she waited, the larger the gap between them would grow, until there would no longer be a chance to stop him, if there was any chance at all.
She got up from the couch and walked down the hall to her bedroom. She opened the sliding door to her closet and began pulling out a change of clothes. Her first impulse was to pull out her martial arts gear. She laughed at the thought of herself pulling up to a BP station and ordering ten dollars on pump seven while dressed like Bruce Lee, with her black belt pulled tight at the waist. No, better just go with the sweats she decided, as she pulled out a light blue Nike outfit and threw it on the bed. She hastily picked out a spare set of clothes, a pair of tennis shoes and a coat, and piled them on the bed also.
She went to her dresser and pulled out a sports bra and a couple of pairs of panties, along with some socks, and headed for the bathroom while dropping the extras on top of the growing pile on her bed. She started the shower going, and stripped out of her clothes uncharacteristically leaving them where they fell. No time to be bucking for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval she thought to herself, as she climbed into the steaming hot shower enclosure.
She let the hot water pour over her head and body, instantly waking her up a notch or two, yet somehow she still felt cold inside. She didn't dare turn up the hot water anymore, her skin was turning red as it was, so she turned the faucets off and climbed out. After quickly combing her hair and brushing her teeth, she uncapped a bottle of Scope mouthwash and chugged down a mouthful, swishing once and then swallowing it. ‘Can't let all that alcohol, FD&C Blue #1 and Yellow #5 go to waste, can we?’ she thought to herself, remembering reading the label at one time in the past. ‘Although that saccharin aftertaste kinda sucks,’ she added. She finished drying off with a towel, and then began getting dressed.
Eddie had settled into a deep trance in the back seat of the Cessna when the voice first entered his head. It sounded far off in the distance at first, irritating him but also arousing his curiosity, and gradually increasing until he could ignore it no longer.
“I know you can hear me Eddie, so pick up the phone. I ain't got all fucking day!'
Though he hadn't heard her voice in over thirty years, he knew it was Janice. An older, deeper voiced Janice with an edge, he acknowledged, but his dear old sister just the same. He didn't need this right now, but found himself drawn into the conversation anyway. She obviously wasn't going to let up until he did, and it just might be entertaining. Besides, he needed to know just how far she had come along. Up until now, he thought that he was the only one with this marvelous gift of power.
“Well, well. Will wonders never cease? Janice, is that you?” he asked.
“You know damn well who it is, asshole.”
“My, my. You sound upset. Do I dare ask what's got your pubes in a bind, or should I just assume that you're having a bad hair day?” he replied sarcastically, wondering to himself just how long she had realized she too had the power.
“I'm not upset, Eddie. I'm disgusted. You've been up to your little tricks again, haven't you? Only they're not so little anymore, are they Eddie?”
Eddie was shaken up a bit at hearing that, and now he knew he would have to deal with her too. His plate was getting awfully full and he was afraid to ask what else might go wrong today.
“I can't imagine what you mean, Sis.” he said, switching to Poker mode and trying to get her to show her cards first.
“I think you can, Eddie. Does the word murder help to jar your memory any?” she said calmly.
That sent Eddie into emergency overload. She was a lot farther along that he would have ever imagined. And she was also obviously a liability that he couldn't afford.
“Are you on drugs, Janice? You not making very much sense.”
“Yeah, I'm on drugs all right. I think it was about a million cc's of true serum, Eddie. And I'm so fucked up right now, that I feel like I got to start telling the truth to everybody, starting with the Washington State D.A.'s office. The Olympia branch of course.”
The Olympia branch, of course, he mimicked to himself. Fucking bitch! That was the last thing that he needed right now. He knew that nothing could be pinned to him, or Jonathan for that matter, but an investigation alone could ruin their chances in the upcoming election. He couldn't afford to let that happen.
“So why haven't you, if you think you know so much?” he asked, still not sure exactly what she knew, but feeling she was on some kind of fishing expedition or she wouldn't have bothered to contact him at all.
“I still just might, Eddie, unless you and I can come to some kind of an agreement in the next minute or so.”
“What do you have in mind, Janice?”
“Let's start with where can I find Dad and Jonathan?” she said.
“How should I know? I haven't seen father since I left that shit-hole of a house we used to call home.”
“Eddie,” she said firmly, “if you lie to me one more time, this conversation is over with. Do you understand me?”
“Okay, okay. I'm on my way to see them right now,” he said, still not sure exactly what she knew, but afraid to call her bluff, if that was what is was, any more.
Janice heaved a sigh of relief. All she had known for sure, felt was really the correct term, was that both her father and her brother were in some kind of trouble. She had felt Eddie reaching out to both of them while she was sitting on the couch gathering up the courage to do what she knew had to be done. Eddie took the sigh to mean she was losing her patience with him, and he became frantic.
“Janice, I'm telling you the truth. I'm in a plane on the way to see them now.”
She could sense that she had rattled the little worm, and decided to press her luck for all it was worth. “No shit, Eddie. Tell me something that I don't already know.”
“The ol' man lives north of Long Beach, on the peninsula; Jonathan's on his way to meet him, too. You know where that's is?” asked Eddie.
“I could find it,” replied Janice, not wanting him to know she wasn't much more than an hour away herself. “So what's the big hurry to have a family reunion?”
Eddie was glad to hear her ask that question. He now realized that she didn't know as much as he thought she might. Still, she knew way too much to be left unaccounted for. For a person who prided himself in being careful enough to cover his ass with both hands, he seemed to suddenly have a lot of liabilities running around.
Eddie was like a cat in many ways, one of them being that he always landed on his feet. Another was the fact he didn't like a bunch of shit floating to the top of his litter box. He had to do something about Janice, and it obviously had to be soon. He decided to take a chance.
“Look Janice. Dad's sick. I didn't know anything about it; we're not exactly close. Jonathan found out somehow, and left without telling me. I'm heading down there to do what I can, and then bring Jonathan back to Olympia. He's getting to be quite an important person in politics, did you know that?”
“No,” she lied. She didn't believe Eddie's story about her dad, either. But she would go along with it for now, as long as it served her purpose.
“Yes, it's quite true. I predict that by this time next year he'll…” Janice cut him off.
“Shut up Eddie, I don't have time for your political ravings right now. Where exactly are you going to meet Jonathan and dad?”
“Jonathan doesn't know I'm coming yet. I plan to meet up with him at dad's,” Eddie thought back to her. He was really beginning to get sick of her attitude and was amazed how much more aggressive she had become. He would have to be careful not to underestimate her from now on.
“And where might that be?”
“He’s staying at a little RV park, just south of Klipsan Beach. He's living in a little old camp trailer.”
“Does this RV park have a name?”
“I don't know what it's called. I've never been there myself. But it's right behind a little dive called the Slippery Deck Tavern. I guess he spends a lot of his time there. He's been drinking pretty heavy these days.”
Yeah, I'll bet, thought Janice. Who hasn't?
“Come again?” said Eddie.
Damn. She had to be more careful.
“Never mind.” she thought back.
“Hey, sis, you planning a visit?” he asked, knowing damn well that was her plan.
“Something like that, Eddie, and I better find everybody in one piece when I get there too!”
“I gotta get Jonathan back to Olympia…” she cut him off again.
“Change your plans, Eddie. If Jonathan's not there when I get there, you're toast.”
“Okay. Don't get your panties in a bind. Where are you at right now?”
“That's not important!” she shot back.
“When can we expect you then?”
She looked at her watch. It was almost one thirty. She lied to him again. “It'll take me at least three hours,” then she added, “with getting a cab and everything.”
“We'll be there.”
“Make sure you are, Eddie.” And she was gone.
Luke Perry lit another cigarette, and sat back down on his stool behind the bar, as Thomas continued with his story.
"Needless to say, I kept an extra close eye on Edward after that. I think he knew it too, because we drifted even farther apart, not that we were ever what you would call close."
"Did you ever confront him about the key chain?" asked Luke.
"No, but when I stopped by there a few days later on the way back from town, it was gone. I knew he wouldn't tell me shit if I said anything to him about it, so I decided not to even let him know that I knew he had been there.
"A month later the tornado hit, and I lost the farm, or what was left of it anyways. Things really started going downhill after that. The tornado destroyed most of the house, and took the roof off the barn. What wasn't blown apart was beat to a pulp by the hail. The crops were a total loss, and I lost a few head of cattle and one of the milk cows. It even hit the pond. I was finding rotting catfish in the strangest places, right up to the day of the auction. My nearest neighbor, who bought my cows for half of what they were worth I might add, said he found a six-pounder lying in his driveway. I hope it smelled better than his wife's pussy, the cheap fucker."
Thomas paused for a moment, and Luke could tell it was hard for him to re-live the loss of his farm. He remembered how he had felt when he had to sell his boat. He hadn't got a much better deal either.
"Anyway," Thomas continued with some difficulty, "I didn't get much for what was left. To make a long story short, I barely got enough to pay off my bills and make a down payment on a little place in Columbus. I got a job as a mechanic, and made a little extra money on the side selling farm equipment on commission. In the end, I probably made more than I would have staying on the farm, but it just wasn't the same, you know."
Luke looked directly at Thomas, seeing the tears that he was barely able to hold back forming in the corners of his eyes. "Yeah, I know what you mean Buddy," he said. "I'm never gonna get rich runnin' this joint, but it's a lot more of a steady income than the fisherman are getting these days, with the salmon season being cut down to nothing and all.
"Still, I miss bein' out on my boat. Even on crappy days like this. But you're a better man than me, Thomas Engelhart. I don't think I could have taken seein' my boat getting blown to pieces."
"You'd have done the same, Luke. Guys like us don't have any other choice. You play out the hand that God deals you, and when the shit falls, you wipe off the big pieces and keep on going. My ol' man once told me something that I've never forgotten. He said, 'Son, you only got two choices in this world when that sun comes up; you can either get out of bed and face the world, or you can lay there and wait to die. It's that simple.' Some days I'm not so sure how simple it is, but I know he was right."
"Yeah," said Luke, "that just about sums it all up in a nutshell, I guess."
"Simple words, by a simple man, in simpler times," said Thomas matter-of-factly.
"Things do seem to have gotten more complicated," added Luke, not really knowing what to say at the moment.
"Yeah. Life in the big city, as they say," Thomas monotoned.
"Speaking of the big city, how did things go after you moved into town?" asked Luke, trying to keep Thomas going, knowing that there was more to tell.
"We managed, I guess. It was definitely different, having to interact with people everyday. The kids seemed to like it, they were around people their own age all of the time. I guess it must have gotten pretty lonely for them out on the farm sometimes. Personally, I hated it. There wasn't a secret to be had in that town. Everyone knew everyone else's business. After the tornado affair, I had somewhat of a reputation as being a few bricks short of a full load."
"How's that?" asked Luke, who had been waiting to hear that part of the story for more than two hours.
"Better pour us both a double, Luke," Thomas said as he pushed his empty glass towards his friend, and broke into his impression of Paul Harvey. "And now you're about to hear, the rest of the story."