My buddy Carl and I slip by my old digs one evening during Labor Day weekend. I lived
here a long time, almost eight years, so the place still feels like mine. I forgot to move a few odds and ends on my last
trip out, but my landlord likes to chain and padlock the ranch gate and he doesn’t answer my phone calls. Tom Tucker
may be from a pioneer family whose name graces two towns and other stuff on maps around here, but anyone can unbolt the gate
and lift it off the hinges. I decide to grab my stuff and put the gate back together, no one the wiser.
We disassemble the gate hinges and drive onto the property.
“What the hell,” Carl says.
“Sheez,” I say, looking around. A quarter of
the one-acre property is covered in gravestones. Mostly in front of the sagging trailer, but a few jut up in the back yard,
too, scattered at random. They all tilt sadly like they’re marking eternal time. “I guess someone’s moving
“A whole fuckin’ graveyard,” Carl says.
I reach for the door handle.
Carl makes no move to get out of his truck. He settles back
in the driver’s seat and surveys the scenery.
I begin to fuss and fume about the situation. Just like that
damn Tucker to mail me a thirty-day notice rather than drop by. Before I’m even out of the stinkin’ trailer, he
begins to develop the property. Dust and commotion, backhoes and graders, grading and trenching for new plumbing and electrical.
Besides Tucker’s plan to remove the trailer and replace it with some goofy modular house, a big multistory building abandoned by some bankrupt developer
now sits nearby like a crusting scab. Pity, ‘cause the area’s always been scenic and rural. This abandoned hulk
pisses off folks in the neighborhood
because the economy stinks and the corporation didn’t hire any local construction workers like they promised. I went
to Town Hall last night to check out all the commotion. Windy Valley Town Council meetings are hot entertainment with irate
accusations lobbed back and forth . . .
Oh, well. I shrug, get out of the truck, unlock the back
door, and go inside. Carl follows. Not hard to notice the velvet-lined trays of sparkling jewelry spread all over the room – across the matted carpet,
mangy sofa and reclining chair, and the mangled coffee and lamp tables. The 1970s furniture, shag carpet and wood panelling
still look decrepit despite all my scrubbing. I notice my diamond ear studs (Costco, not Zales) sitting in a little ceramic
dish on the bar cum breakfast nook. I don’t know whose dish, isn’t mine. I remember leaving the studs on the saggy
bathroom counter when I packed the towels and shower stuff on my last trip out.
I pick the studs up and put ‘em in my pocket. Then
my attention zaps toward a black box on the chrome and glass kitchen table. It has disk drives like a computer tower, each
with a start button and a little red light.
“Hey, look at this,” I say.
Carl watches me with his hands in his pockets. “You’re
not going to touch it, are you?”
“Why? I’m not harming it.”
“You might start something you don’t wanna finish.”
“Wise man.” I press one of the buttons anyway.
The machine simultaneously plays a recording and ejects cards with printed info. Information about Tucker and his business
partner, a brother or a brother-in-law. Probably his wife’s brother, who I met one time when they picked up stuff from
the storage shed. Blond with a pig nose like Tucker’s wife, Tucker-in-law seems a lot smarter than Tucker.
“In 1970, informant X reports contact . . .”
Carl listens to the bland, computerized voice and twitches his mouth. The card in my hand reads like an FBI or law enforcement
report. Name, date of birth, current and previous addresses, occupations, aliases, and arrest record.
Now the recording goes into some short sound bytes, a documentary
report. It seems to indicate that Tucker and his brother-in-law are both criminals and informants.
“Did you hear that? Those two helped track Angela Davis
down in the ‘70s! Shit, there’s something about Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, too.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. Dude always talks like
a major bigot.” Carl’s always on the alert for political incorrectness.
“Why do they have this machine?”
Carl looks dourly at the door. “Let’s get out
of here, Victor.”
Ever the ex-Marine, he’s probably right. But my eye
wanders back to the jewelry. The word T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N scrolls up in the air in big red, arching letters that I swoosh
my hand through. These dissolve like smoke. I pick up a particularly sexy piece, what I call a movie star necklace. T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N
spells itself out in front of me again, the letters blinking on one at a time like some Indian casino marquee. I hold the
necklace up between the word and my face. The clear and amber-colored gems wink and sparkle even in the waning light.
shit looks real.” Stolen property, I bet. Tucker and Tucker-in-law seem to be working both sides of the law-enforcement
equation. “Hell, this’ll boost my bank account, then.” I shove the necklace down deep into my jeans pocket.
I think the temptation sign will come back but it doesn’t.
Carl’s face doesn’t change much. Knowing him,
he disapproves but he’s not into confrontation.
We stroll outside past the gravestones and get into his truck
all nonchalant, cool as drool. Out of the corner of my eye, the gravestones jerk in the other direction and lean again.
Carl pulls his baseball cap off his smashed-up ponytail and
doffs it as we roll through the gate. “What are you going to do with it?”
Patting my pocket to feel the sharp edges of the stones and
settings, I look at Carl and shrug. “I dunno. We’ll see.”