Story: Set ‘em Up
By: Richard D. Hartwell
Thanks. Here’s to you.
Did he ever regret taking off? No, I don’t think so. He never really talked about it much, or at least not about the beginning, if, in fact, there was a beginning.
Most of what I know I picked up here and there. Some filtered through cheap cocktail napkins. Yeah, like these. Some I got from ex-wives when they were either in a great mood or really pissed off at him.
Hard to tell about the beginning. Probably equally hard to tell the truth, or what passes for the truth; too many conflicting tales for it all to be true, if you ask me. But then, you’re the first to ever ask me. So who knows? Maybe what I know, or think I know, is the truth. Or some truth.
Yeah, I will. Thanks.
They say only the winners get to write history. He was no winner. Not in his book. Not in anyone else’s either. I’m still here and he isn’t. I guess that makes me the winner, sort of.
So, I’ll tell you what I know and what I think and what others have shared of what they think they know. It’s up to you to figure out what you want to take away. Seems too big for such a small story for it all to be true.
Can I get a refill here?
Now, what was I? … Oh, yeah, did he ever regret taking off? No, I don’t think so. Seems he split on the spur of the moment. Got into one fight too many with his old man. Well, he wasn’t rightly his old man, just the most recent stepfather or something his mom had brought home.
Anyway, by most accounts it was a regular brawl. He was giving away about sixty pounds to the old man and the old guy was slow because of all that. It was out in public and all. I guess his mom was screaming from the doorway. Neighbors couldn’t tell who for or who at. Around there, nobody would get involved in another family’s squabble. He’d seen that himself too many times.
The old man just ripped the shirt off the kid’s back trying to throw him down. You got to remember; he was only about sixteen or so at the time. The kid finally had enough I guess. He kicked the old guy square in the nuts. Laid him out. The old lady just kept screaming and the kid lit out across the fields behind the subdivision.
He must have snuck back that night and thrown together a few things. But for all intents and purposes, that was the beginning of his journey north. Or at least it was the end of all the other beginnings that lead to his decision to leave for good.
How come he took off this time? Who knows! Finally fed up, my guess is. Probably been to the police station one too many times to want to go again. Probably figured he’d won this most recent battle, so it’d go against him if he got hauled in again.
Maybe it was hormones. He’d been sniffing around a bit and might have had some trouble from that end too. Doesn’t really matter. Fact is, he took off and never looked back. Don’t know if he ever made it back to Gilroy, leastways, not to stay.
They finally ran him to ground in King City. But you know that part already. Or at least the winner’s version of it printed up in the papers. Anyway, he may have passed through Gilroy, but he sure didn’t stop by to Hello anybody.
No, when he took off he jumped a freight that night or the next day and rode north. Between trains and hitchhiking, he made it to Portland and then doubled-back down to Coquille. That’s a bit east of Coos Bay. Mostly dairy and . . . Oh, yeah, you know about that. Sure. Been in the papers too.
Anyway, he doubled back to Coquille. Hunted up the local spit and dirt ranch partly owned by his friend’s brother. Yeah, Ben. No, Walt was the brother. Yeah, right, him. Seems the brother and some guy hit it off together when they were both going to college at San Jose State. Majoring in philosophy or some such useless shit.
Seems they both had this back to nature bug in their heads and decided to buy a small dairy ranch together in Oregon.
Yeah, thanks again. Was getting dry there.
That’s how it all came together in Oregon. Or fell apart after the shooting. The two of them, Walt and the other guy – think it was Roxie – and his woman. Anyway, the two of them quit college, hauled their butts to Coquille, and bought into a small forty-acre spread with a lick and a prayer and a promissory note.
Had to hustle every day just to make it to sundown. Milking cows, working at the mill, driving Cat and lowboys for outlaw mills on weekends. Barely holding on, what with twelve mouths to feed and the three-way problems.
Oh, didn’t know about that? Well, . . .
* * *
He would eventually stumble on the river. He had heard the increasing crescendo for about an hour. He guessed it had been about an hour, judging by the sun. His watch had stopped at 3:17, Wednesday. It was now Friday. He was almost certain, and it was again about 3:00 in the afternoon, or nearly so as not to matter.
He approached the bank of the river. The foliage grew tighter, more compact. Entangled growth slowed his progress while his mind ricocheted from recent past to future promise. His body knew his mind would have to choose soon, up or down river? He was concerned the view of the river would not hold a clear answer to his dilemma.
He had been lost the past two days, dumped ignominiously in the woods, blindfolded, hands tied loosely behind his back, and drunk. So drunk that when he had tried to sit up against what felt like a large boulder, he had keeled over on his other side and broken his watch. Apparently that had been at 3:17, after sleeping off most of that day and the rest of the night before. But the blindfold had come off and he eventually worked his hands loose. That was two days ago. He had been lost in these woods for two days. No, nearly three days, if he counted his late awakening on Wednesday. Things seemed to get even fuzzier now that he was sobering.
The river was finally spread in front of him He set aside his recounting of his ordeal. He hoped the river would somehow guide him, provide a sign, tell him the quickest way back to a road or a market or a bar; some form of displaced civilization. As all do, he looked first upstream and then down. There was no obviousness to a decision. Once again, the choice was up to him. He turned . . .