Gone to the Bad

Darin Fowler, on the road. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Darin Fowler, on the road. (Monte Dutton sketch)

              This is Episode 6 of the short story that, once completed, will probably be called “Getting to Know Darin,” though I guess it won’t be final until I get it done. The first five parts, from the beginning, were “Feeling the Love,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Kids Are Evil,” “Recovery in Various Forms,” and “One to Talk.”

  1. GONE TO THE BAD

Ellen Sloan was asleep in Darin’s bed. Darin was more than asleep on the chesterfield in the den. He appeared comatose. Ben Fowler stared at him from the kitchen table and found himself watching the slow rise and fall of his son’s chest.

This wasn’t particularly amusing. Ben needed to get out on the water while it was still early and a man could think. He left the jon boat on the bank and took out his old powerboat, a 1997 Bayliner. He hadn’t been using her much lately, but she cranked right up, and he just puttered on out into the main body of water, barely shoving the accelerator past idle. Ben wasn’t of a mind to throw her around. He was of a mind to sit still, at anchor, in the middle of the lake, where he could squint at the rising son, read a little Elmore Leonard, and think things through. It was nearly eight in the morning. He hadn’t had a bite to eat, but he brought a thermos of coffee with him. He gave himself a little shade with the Bimini top, but it didn’t offer much because the sun was low. He propped up his feet and commenced to reading a good, pitiless crime novel.

Hell, he didn’t want to fish. He didn’t feel like eating. He couldn’t concentrate enough to read. He could brood with the best of them, though.

There wasn’t much happening on the lake. Ben reckoned the fishermen were all posted in their spots, and it was a tad early for the skiers. A warden dropped by after a while. Ben wasn’t looking for any companionship but didn’t mind it.

“Ben, what? Ain’t biting?”

“Ain’t even tried, Hubert. I’m just out here a-thinking.”

“How you been? Ain’t seen you much.”

“I been fairly busy,” Ben said. “I’m on vacation right now. I couldn’t narrow it down between Vegas, Cancun and Hawaii, so I just settled for right here.”

“How’s your boy?”

“Sound asleep on the couch right now. He’s been with me since Thursday.”

“He sure was a good football player,” Hubert Gervais said.

“That he was.”

“He playing ball in college.”

“Nah,” Ben said. “I reckon he’s off to the University in a couple months.”

“I heard tell he was clicking up his heels a little.”

Ben squinted. “Hubert, that’s a mighty polite way of saying you heard something ain’t right.”

“It ain’t none of my business, Ben. I just heard the boy was gone to the bad a little. Ain’t nothing unusual about it. They been known to get a little wild when they’s getting ready to be college boys.”

Ben didn’t reply, for a minute.

“All you’n do is your best, Hubert. Can’t live their lives for ‘em.”

“Yep,” Gervais said. He spit tobacco over the side. “I reckon I’ll be running along. Come see me sometime, y’hear?”

“Ah’ight, Hubert. Hope ever’thing’s quiet for you this weekend.”

“That’s why I got the early shift, Ben. Get out of here before shit starts hitting the fan.”

“That’s smart.” He watched Gervais slide away and head for the Fairlane Bridge.

When Darin awakened, he rousted Ellen from the bed and urgently told her they needed to get going. She was cranky and said she wasn’t going anywhere till she got some coffee in her. They sat down at the kitchen table where she had confronted Ben earlier.

“Babe, you said you couldn’t get off work, right?” he asked.

“Yeah. Remember, you said we were gonna make so much money, I didn’t need to work.”

“That might have been a little strong, but, listen, we can go down there today, spend the night, and be back by tomorrow evening.”

“That’s Myrtle Beach you’re talking about, right?”

“Yeah. I got a delivery to make. We can spend the night. We can’t stay in no high-dollar joint, but we’ll have a good time. I mean, the beach is the beach.

“By the way, where the hell is my old man?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Ellen said.

“Well, let’s get out of here before he gets back. I’ll get myself cleaned up when we get checked in a motel.”

Darin drove through the country and reached the interstate fifteen miles south of Dunnaree. He was fighting the wheel and pulled off at a Hardee’s, where he and Ellen drank coffee and ate loaded-omelet biscuits. They refilled their coffees, Darin punched in Myrtle Beach on his phone and turned the driving over to Ellen, who said she felt reasonably rested.

“I’m still beating myself up over doing something so stupid at the convenience store,” he said, lighting a joint. “I’m going to smoke weed anymore when I’m on business. I can’t afford to be stupid.”

The irony occurred to Ellen. She said she didn’t want any. She figured it was all she could do to drive. A little weed put Darin to sleep, and she managed to get the roach out of the ashtray and wrap a napkin around it. She stashed it in her purse.

Ben found a note, almost surely in Ellen’s handwriting, on the kitchen table, informing him that they were going to a concert and staying overnight with some of Darin’s friends in Columbia. At least Ben knew what her name was. That’s about all the note was worth. It did remind him that he needed to perform the sheepish task of talking to Maxeen. He didn’t even have her phone number. Fortunately, she had his. The phone hadn’t rung while he was out on the lake talking to the game warden. This may have been because Ben hadn’t turned it on.

If Ben could have possibly been more sheepish, the message would have made it worse. Maxeen said Jack was back from his business trip to Knoxville, and, so, they’d better avoid each other, but she sure had a great time, and she’d let him know when the coast was clear, and, by the way, that weed his boy and his girlfriend had was the best she’d ever smoked. She thought they made a sweet couple.

Aw, Jesus. Here’s another problem that’s just not gonna go away, and so much for the notion that Maxeen Breslow brought the weed. Wonder what else Darin and Ellen are into?

Darin hoped to discover that Sargent Rudd had an older brother considerably smarter than he was, not that it was any great feat. He awakened near Conway, almost there. Getting to the coast by the middle of the afternoon simplified things considerably because he wouldn’t have to make the transaction at night, amidst a raucous bar scene. Darin left a message with Johnson Rudd as Ellen drove across the Intracoastal Waterway, and they checked in a Days Inn on the way into town. Sixty bucks. Wasn’t bad.

They had just moved their small bags into the room when the cell rang.

“John Rudd. This Darin?”

“Yeah. I got your stuff.”

“You got someone with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. How well do you know Myrtle?”

“Pretty good,” Darin said. “I been coming down here all my life.”

“So you know how to get to Broadway at the Beach?”

“Sure.”

“Have you ever been to the minor-league ballpark?”

“It’s near there, right?”

“At the intersection where the sign points to the ballpark off to the right, get out of the car, put your travel bag on your shoulder, and start thumbing a ride. Text me when you get there, and I’ll drive by and pick you up. Put the product in the bag, and I’ll pay you in the car. Have your friend drive back to the motel, and I’ll give you a ride back.”

On the way, it occurred to Darin that someone else could stop to pick him up before Rudd got there. He mentioned it to Ellen.

“You look like hell,” she said. “Ain’t no danger of that. Except, maybe, a hawngry woman. I’m assuming this Johnson Rudd is a man.”

“Good point. Here’s hoping he’s not a gay man.”

“Yeah,” Ellen said cheerfully. “That could be dicey.”

Darin hit the “send” button for the message he had already typed. He had his wits about him now. He was feeling slick and efficient. He pulled his bag out of the back seat, figured it was good he had the pistol, just in case of gayness, watched Ellen drive away, sat the bag down, yawned, picked it back up, slung it on his shoulder, and stuck out his thumb. He’d seen it in the movies. He wondered what kind of vehicle Johnson Rudd would be driving. He imagine it black and thought maybe it would be a Lexus sedan. Maybe an SUV, if he had a family.

A black Lexus SUV pulled up. Darin climbed in.

Johnson Dorn looked a lot like his younger brother, ten years older and with a bit of a paunch.

“Um, Sargent says hey.” He didn’t know what else to say.

“Yeah, I’m sort of surprised it’s you and not him.” He pulled up his sunglasses, anchored them in his hair, and looked at Darin. “You’re the football star, aren’t you?”

“I did all right,” he replied, all fake humble.

“Going to college?”

“Not to play ball. I’ll be at the University in the fall.”

“Great. Why you dealing weed?”

“Need some spending money, man.”

“Don’t we all,” Rudd said, handing Darin an envelope. “Two grand. Count it.”

Darin stuffed the envelope in his pocket instead. The bag was between his legs. He reached over and unzipped it and pulled out the weed, which would have made a comfortable pillow.

“It’s vacuum-packed,” Darin said. “No smell.”

“Good?”

“Real good. Some of it made me stupid last night.”

“Can’t wait to try it,” Rudd said. “So, Darin, you and my brother are friends?”

“I wouldn’t say friends. We know each other. He’s been out of school a couple years. We were on the same team when I was a sophomore.”

“Keep your distance from him,” John Rudd said. “Sargent’s got a lot less sense than I do, and I ain’t got enough.

“That your motel?”

“Uh, huh.”

Darin finally got around to counting the money. Twenty hundreds. Nothing to it.

“Nice to meet you,” Rudd said as he let Darin out. He handed him another hundred, just for his trouble. “I expect we’ll be bumping into each other from time to time.”

Darin got himself shaved, showered, and otherwise spruced up. Ellen was already freshened. They split a joint, sprayed copious amounts of Febreze around the room and stashed their weed, just for safety’s sake, made sure they had gum, and bolted the room for some steak and baked potato at the Ryan’s Family Steakhouse. Then they wasted a little money at an amusement park, left before midnight and returned to the room for their figurative fireworks display.

Back at the lake, Ben Fowler was in the middle of what he called “mulling time.” It wasn’t intensive. He didn’t concentrate on it. He ruminated while watching television, reading Sports Illustrated and Field & Stream, and the Lake Sedgwick Briefs. Sometimes he just took his binoculars out on the porch and watched the lake from his rocking chair. He watched fishermen fish, skiers ski, and divers dive. He only thought about his son, though, and the terrible predicament surrounding him.

While Darin and Ellen were having submarine sandwiches and preparing to drive home, Ben was entertaining a visitor at the cabin. Luke Lucroy strolled over after church. The last time Ben had been to church, he remembered that Jack and Maxeen Breslow had been there, too. He bet Maxeen never missed preaching. That’s what he was thinking to himself when he saw Luke standing at the front door in a coat and tie. Luke came over from time to time. Coincidentally, he was Ben’s only close friend in law enforcement.

After exchanging greetings, Ben said he’d make Luke a cup of coffee, and they could go out on the porch and chat. The yard was shady, and it still wasn’t too hot. He put the two cups on a tray with some sugar, cream, and Sweet ‘n’ Low, and joined the deputy sheriff on the porch. They each stirred their cups and sipped a little before Luke got around to the point of his visit.

“Ben,” Lucroy said, “I ain’t got no business letting you know about this, but they’s other folks ain’t got no business plotting things the way they are, neither. Your boy ain’t around, is he?”

“Well, no, Luke, he’s been over with me the past few days, but he’s off in Columbia, according to a note he left. He was asleep when I left the house, and when I got back, he was gone. I don’t know whether what he wrote was the truth or not. He’s got his girlfriend with him. You know how that is.”

“He got any reason to be in Columbia?”

“Darin’s going to school there in the fall.”

“Well, here’s what I got to tell you,” Lucroy said. “Last night, Sargent Rudd, the son of the magistrate, got picked up fighting at the country joint next to the Fairlane Bridge. When they searched him, they found two or three packets of marijuana and five or six little bags of cocaine stashed in his cargo shorts. Not only did he have way more than enough on him to be booked with ‘intent to distribute,’ but he most certainly was distributing. I expect all the ones what had been distributed to got out of there right quick when they knew the cops was coming.”

“What’s all this got to do with Darin?”

“Well, Ben, you know, the Rudd kid’s got a little clout because his daddy’s the Dunnaree magistrate. My guess is he’s gonna get off either scot free or with next to nothing, but he’s gonna have to give them some names. I know for a fact he’s already named Darin as being involved with him selling drugs, and my guess is, he’s going to be involved in setting up Darin and the others to take the fall. I believe the other three he’s named is all black boys.”

“Aw, hell, Luke, that’s what I been doing all morning is trying to think things through,” Ben said. “Shit. Let’s just say I’ve had my suspicions.”

“Well, look,” Lucroy said, “they ain’t got nothing on your son, you hear? Does he know you’re onto him?”

“I’m not sure he cares all that much.”

“Have you said anything to him?”

“Not yet,” Ben said. “Ain’t had the chance. That’s why I been wasting so much time thinking.”

Lucroy finished his coffee and got up. “I guess it goes without saying, Ben, that I didn’t never come by here today.”

Ben nodded. “I appreciate it more than I can make up to you right now, Luke. They say my boy’s real smart. If that’s true, he’ll come out of this with a lesson. This might just put the fear of God in the boy. Damn, dope’s a powerful thing, though. Bottom line, if he ain’t smart, he’s stupid.”

              This is taking on a life of its own, morphing from short story toward novella. That’s the excitement of it, though. It’s winding down now, toward the rapid-fire conclusion that marks my two late-accelering novels, which, I hasten to add, can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

              My non-fiction, mostly sports, blogs are at www.montedutton.com, and you can find all sorts of information about my writing there.

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