Authors: Jamie Sheffield
SmartPig Offices, 4:37pm, 6/5/2002
Being that it was between the usual hours for lunch and dinner, there wasn’t anyone else in the Chinese restaurant beside John and me, so we placed our order, paid, and went over to the table farthest away from the guy cooking to talk while we waited
. It has been my experience that the smells of Chinese food cooking are nearly always the same, regardless of the way that the final product tastes, which was/is/will be a mystery to me, but not one that I had/have a burning desire to solve.
“So, if it’s not you…” John let his statement hang in the air for a moment, possibly hoping to see me squirm or try to prove myself innocent to him.
“Then we wouldn’t be here, waiting for our food to come, and trying to figure out how to work together for maximum benefit … so it must not be me.” I finished for him.
“I can make a list of people who might think that they have a reason to break into the farmhouse.” John offered, as an opening volley.
“That’s probably a waste of time. I bet that Nick or you paid cash with a big bill or four once too often, or someone doing work on the farm saw a safe or cash box, (
or Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase
?) back in Nick’s office. The trouble is that the list wouldn’t have to be restricted to whoever he/you spoke to … it could include anyone that they spoke to as well.”
“So should I start asking people on the street if they shot the birds, or will you?” he asked me, as the
cook brought our plates over.
“I think that if we take motive off the table, and assume opportunity for the moment, then we can focus on the most interest
ing and selective determinant … means. There can’t be many people in this part of the world who can confidently take a shot at a moving chicken-sized bird from 400 yards. If we can find/identify this subset of people, we should be able to eliminate the wheat from the chaff with motive and opportunity in short order.”
“Sounds good Tyler, but how do we get a list of people
who can make that sort of shot. I know a guy in the State Police, and WE know some people in the armed forces.” (
I could feel the emphasis on the ‘WE’, and assumed that he meant ‘Nick’
“You could also spend some time at the fish and game club, trying to see who can shoot, although I don’t think they have a range longer than 200 yards (
and why would they, as wooded as it is up here in the Adirondacks?
), but I think I’ve got an easier way to find out what we need to know that should pay off by noon tomorrow.” I said, as I started feeding the hot and fatty goodness into my mouth. John had a superb perplexed face, which I took a mental snapshot of for later practice.
“How are you gonna do it?”
“It’s so much more impressive if you don’t know … you can imagine all sorts of computer hacking, back-alley meetings, and high-level government contacts. I’ll call you tomorrow, once I know, and you can buy me lunch … again … while I share what I know and suggest a possible solution.”
“Suggest?” John asked. “You’re not just going to tell me what I’m going to do?” Even I could tell that he was using sarcasm (
although it’s possible that he had noted my difficulty in picking up on social cues, and leaned on the sarcasm extra-hard
“Nope, they’re your birds, and your money/loot/alien corpses
… whatever. I’m working for you in this matter, and I’ll be content to suggest a possible course of action that avoids bloodshed, as well as a legal hassle for Sophia or you or the farm.”
I finished my food, and half of his, and said goodbye to Helgafell’s Gatekeeper until the next day.
The woods near Middle Saranac Lake, 6:43pm, 6/5/2002
I had hurried upstairs from my late lunch with John, grabbed a minimalist pack and stuffed it with what I’d need for an overnight (
it was only supposed to get down into the 40s, so I wasn’t worried
): camping hammock, sleeping bag, my current reading-book, snacks/drinks, bathing suit/towel, fleece for my head and feet and hands, a tiny first-aid kit, and some rope. There’s a nice beach roughly forty percent of the way from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, along Route 3, opposite the trailhead for Ampersand Mountain, and that was my goal for the night.
In my new home, the Adirondacks, you can camp anywhere on State Forest Preserve, as long as you are back 150 feet from water/trails
. I had been having fun since Spring’s arrival exploring/mapping my new environment … building a list of places to camp, and categorizing them by view/hike/bugs/beasts/swim. I was enjoying the feeling of my new world expanding day by day.
I parked my Honda Element alongside six other vehicles, but instead of crossing the road and climbing Ampersand to the South, I went back into the woods and headed
north to the beach. Three minutes later, I stripped and changed into my suit for a swim before the sun disappeared behind the trees along the shore at the western end of Middle Saranac Lake. I set up camp in bare feet (
perhaps only 100 feet back from the water, but it was a nice spot
), enjoying the pricking and pinching of pine-needles and pinecones and sticks and stones while I found the perfect trees to hang my hammock from for the night; it’s a Hennessy, which has built-in bug-netting, to protect me from the black flies and mosquitoes overnight.
With my hammock hung, and sleeping bag stuffed up into the chamber, I grabbed my book, slammed a granola bar and a bottle of Gatorade, and walked out into the water (
up to my waist
) to read in the remaining sunlight, out of reach of most of the bugs. I was currently enjoying “Sleeping Dogs” by Thomas Perry. As I read, I could feel my brain shaping some ideas and responses to my current situation, and new acquaintance John, based on Perry’s interesting storyline. I eventually found myself squinting in the near-dark, and swatting at a cloud of blackflies that had braved the crossing from shore to drink my blood … time to go and hide in my hammock.
I secured a length of rope to my back pack, threw the free end over a tree branch about 20 feet overhead (
with the help of a perfectly chosen stick
), hoisted the pack (
with my food and toothpaste and other smelly stuff in it
) up and out of reach of bears and raccoons, and tied it off. I climbed into the hammock through the entry-flap in the underside with my book and headlamp, a sports bottle of Gatorade and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, meaning to read and snack a bit, but falling asleep almost instantly instead … listening to the water and wind and feeling the gentle rocking motion of the hammock under/around me.
Middle Saranac Lake, 10:23pm, 6/5/2002
I woke up four hours later, in the pitch black you only find 100 feet inside thick forest. I could hear and smell the water off to my left, and it helped me get oriented/placed in the map in my head. I felt around for my headlamp and sat up, sliding my legs back out (
through what I couldn’t help thinking of as my hammock’s birth canal
) to stand on the needles in my lightweight sleeping bag. I shed the sleeping bag leaving it puddled at my feet, stepped out gingerly onto the cold and slightly damp ground, and started to pick my way down to the shore … hearing a beaver slap its tail on the water in warning as my feet felt the dirt and needles give way to sand and shells.
I turned off the headlamp about three feet from the water and stripped, leaving my clothes in the sand, and
walked out into the water … warmer than the air, but not warm. I remembered the feeling of being in the middle of the lake and not knowing where to swim to retrieve my clothes and headlamp from my first night swim. I looked back over my shoulder before I got too far into the lake, and confirmed that I could, in fact, see the gentle glowing of my watch face (
it always glowed, and/but I always checked).
I dove under, gasping at the full-body cold upon breaking surface again, and flipped over onto my back to swim out further into the nighttime lake.
minute later, I could feel that the bottom had fallen away from my feet, and I used the bright stars overhead to grab onto my sense of place in the universe again … Polaris (
) was easy to find, and I knew that my clothes were in the opposite direction. I floated face up on the lake for a half hour, feeling the lake both move around me, and move me around. When I started shivering, after 34 minutes in the water, I found Polaris, oriented myself away from it, and did my imitation of an Olympic Freestyle back into shore to warm up.
While swimming into shore, getting dressed, by headlamp, creeping back up to my campsite, and climbing back up into the hammock, I thought about my current state of quasi-homelessness, and decided that although I liked it most nights, it might be nice to have Maurice’s blessing to spend the occasional
night in the SmartPig offices. I had 73% of an idea about how to bring this about while also doing what I had told John that I would do … I knew from books that I had read, and discussions that I had had with Mickey, one of my childhood parent/teachers, that my solution wasn’t socially or morally acceptable, but it would meet my needs, and not unduly injure or inconvenience anyone else.
I settled back down into my sleeping back, seduced into another four hours of sleep by the wind rocking my hammock, the smell of the water and moss, and the sound of the wind through the tops of the white pines 100 feet over my head.
SmartPig Offices 11:46am, 6/6/2002
I had woken in the failing darkness that signals the coming of morning, and slid down and out
of my hammock and sleeping ba
for a round of input/output management (
the body’s needs are troubling and tiresome, but I had tried to stop output by eliminating input once, when nine, and was rushed to the hospital three days later by my parents. I promised never to try it again
). I read by headlamp until the first mosquito found me, as night warmed into day, and then headed back up the trail to my Element, and eventually to the SmartPig Offices … by way of Dunkin Donuts.
Eight donuts, four
Cokes, and 273 pages later (
159 in “Sleeping Dogs”, and 114 of the newest of John Sandford’s Prey books
), I could hear the tromp of work shoes, and slip/slide/shuffle of cardboard boxes coming up the stairs. I let the UPS guy, Pete, in before he could knock. “Hey Tyler, I’ve got a couple of things for you today … nothing to sign.”
“Hi Pete, can I get you a
Coke?” Pete had something for me on most days, and had gotten into the habit of occasionally stopping for a few minutes to check out some new piece of camping gear (
he was an avid camper, and seemed to enjoy living vicariously through me gear-wise … he loved hearing reviews of gear he had delivered that I’d just used
“Cold one two nights ago, huh? Were you out in that Tyler? Didja try the new stove yet?”
“It was … I was … I did. The stove (
a nice, if heavy Optimus
) worked well enough, but was a bit too noisy for my taste … like a little helicopter under my pot. I just read an article about a DIY alcohol stove that might be just the thing for warm-weather camping.” At this point I ran out of things to say to Pete, and had no idea of how to bridge the gap to my next desired topic of conversation … this is one of the tough things about not having the standard installation of social/emotional software that most humans get. Pete thought for a few seconds, presumably about the potential of alcohol stoves, and then seemed to start getting ready to move on … up and out of my comfy couch, and towards the next delivery on his route.
“PETE!” I almost shouted, more from forcing it out through my social reluctance than any depth of feeling, but Pete looked a bit worried nonetheless. “I’ve got a question that I’m pretty certain that you can help me with
… it’s important.”
“Sure Tyler, but if it’s about that spot down near Old Forge, I forgot the map again, so no joy on that front…” he trailed off by the end of that thought, seeing the shake of my head (
I’m good at basic positive/negative gestures, having learned them early in life … it’s the complex social communication that is beyond me
“I definitely want more info about that pond up north of Old Forge sometime, but I’ve got a question about UPS.” This was delicate territory for both of us now; I knew that people didn’t always want to talk about some aspects of their jobs, especially with people (
) entirely lacking in cool/calm/stealth.
Pete looked warily at me, and nodded as he spoke, “Yup
… what’s on your mind Tyler? What can I tell you about Big Brown?”
“A month ago, when I got that huge shipment of beeswax from Texas (
I had wanted SmartPig to branch out and start making lip balm and candles, and found a guy to ship me 80 pounds of wax from his hives
) … I felt bad about making you carry those heavy boxes up here, and you said something about it not being as bad as the ORM-D shipments. I looked it up after you left, and lots of ORM-D shipments are ammo, and UPS is the only shipper in most cases. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Pete said nothing else, perhaps sensing where I was headed (
which was a good thing, as I could feel that I might have trouble getting there
"What I’m going to ask you to do for me is almost certainly against UPS policies, but
it is also completely moral, and entirely the right thing to do.” He looked at me nervously, but nodded, and took a sip of the Coke I’d given him. I’d laid the foundation for his cooperation, and thought that I had a final touch that would close the deal … I wasn’t sure, as I’ve said before, I’m not any kind of judge of character among humans.
“Who do you deliver the most ammunition to, not counting the Blue Line (
Saranac Lake’s sporting goods store … only steps from my front door
)? I want a list of the top five or ten, and I’ll tell you why before you decide if you want to help me … ok?” Pete hadn’t run from room, so I continued. “Someone has shot a couple of dogs, family pets, at extreme range … 300 to 500 yards. Shooting like that needs daily, or near daily practice, and that translates to ammo shipments, which you deliver.”
I could see that I nearly had him, “Shit Tyler, I could get fired for even talking about stuff like that
… but … pets?” I’d helped Pete grab boxes out of the back of the truck for SmartPig before, and seen pictures of his family members, including pictures (
with studio backdrops
) of his three dogs. If I was the kind of person who felt guilty about manipulating people, this would be a good moment for it … but I’m not.
dogs, playing next to their houses, in one case with kids nearby.” Another falsehood, but I could see from the flush creeping up his neck, and the wetness of his eyes, that he was picturing the tiny blond girl in one of the pictures on the dashboard losing her dog, or being shot at/adjacent/near to … and he was mine.
“Should we go to the cops?” Popped out of his mouth, and
these were six words I had not planned on. I tried to think about books that I had read, and how people talk/act/react in these situations … I didn’t have more than a second to formulate my reply, so I hoped it would suffice.
“No, definitely not.
There won’t be enough evidence for an arrest or a warrant, and it will just make him careful. I know one of the dads (
I hit the word “dads” with more emphasis than I ordinarily would, to hammer the point home
), and he wants to go and have a talk with the shooter … a talk. Nobody is looking to channel Marsellus Wallace, after the basement with Zed (
I noted that it was the second time in as many days that I’d reached for a “Pulp Fiction” reference, and wondered briefly if I should be bothered that my life seemed to be developing some parallels … I decided not
), just a talk to let him know that we know, and that it has to stop, now.”
Pete mulled all of that over for a few seconds
… we’d talked movies and books a few times, when he’d see them on the table in SmartPig, and I refused to rise to any other conversational gambits (
this was back before he had shared word of his love for camping
); then he rolled his eyes up and to the left, perhaps trying to recall/redraw a map of ORM-D deliveries.
“Robert Everson, Brent Mar
tin, Mark LaFleur, Tony Allen. Those four. Nobody else is even close. Those guys get monthly or better shipments of serious quantities of ammo from multiple vendors … they must shoot a thousand rounds a month, or better, each.”
… want a Coke for the road?” I had other plans for the remaining donuts, or I would have offered him a cruller. He looked at me as though he had more to say, but didn’t know where to start, so I did it for him (
leading off my #7 smile, ‘knowing and sly’, which was still awkward and untested
), “I trust that you won’t talk about this with anyone.” He nodded. “… and I’ll let you know what I can, when I can … if I can.” I hoped that this was sufficiently cryptic, and dismissive, to bring this encounter to a close, so that he would leave, and I could eat my donuts and figure out the last few moves.