Silver and Golden Christmas Falls (Part 5)

Two weeks passed and Christmas was two weeks away. Wayne, Jared and Chief eased into an efficient and comfortable routine. They ate breakfast together, Jared took an hour off for lunch, and they met at the fire or in the Shasta for dinner and yet another fart stew. Jared never asked Wayne what comprised the ingredients for the various stews but they all tasted deliciously different and they all produced exquisitely different smells of farts.

Business remained steady and every third day, Wayne drove to the farm for more trees and grub. Jared ran the lot in his absence and made sure he meticulously accounted for each sale and handed the cash over to Wayne immediately upon his return.

In the evenings, if rain wasn’t ripping sideways, they sat around the fire and listened to sports broadcasts on the radio and picked up games from all over the West Coast. Wayne loved football but Jared was partial to hockey.

Once they talked about women. Jared asked if Wayne had anyone. Wayne said an old high school girlfriend visited the lot every other Christmas or so, depending if she was married or divorced, but that was about it. Wayne asked Jared if he met any women on the road. Jared said he did and they left it at that.

They talked about cannabis and the unreal proliferation of pot shops around the county. Wayne said he couldn’t believe grass was finally legal. Jared asked what grass was. Wayne defined the term. Jared said he used cannabis every now and then, but the feeling from pills suited him better. Wayne never got into Mary Jane back in the illicit hippie days and said he wasn’t about to start now and listen to a kid with zits sound like a doctor trying to sell him some absurdly-named strain, which was what had happened when Wayne out of curiosity visited the House of Dank in Reedsport.

Another time, they got on the subject of Trump. Wayne despised him for his reference to American soldiers killed in combat as “suckers and losers.” He didn’t know how any veteran could support such a piece of shit who also had dodged the draft. Jared didn’t have much opinion either way. He didn’t see how it affected him. Wayne said, “Decency matters to you, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” was all Jared said.

They never talked about their military service after the initial discussion.

One clear night, a full moon lit up the Steve Prefontaine mural and it arrested Jared’s attention. He asked Wayne about the Coos Bay native and Wayne educated him about the legend and his untimely death at age of 24, the result of driving his sports car drunk into a rock in 1975. Wayne told Jared the Coos Art Museum, just around the corner, had a little Prefontaine museum upstairs. He should check it out at lunch. Jared told Wayne he’d never visited a museum in his life. Wayne told Jared he should also visit the nearby plaque that commemorated the site of the only documented lynching of a Black person in Oregon. It occurred in 1902. His name was Alonzo Tucker and he was accused of raping a white woman. Three hundred Coos Bay residents watched in broad daylight. Jared asked why people would watch a man being killed like that. Wayne said nothing has really changed with Americans and in fact, Americans seemed a lot angrier than they were decades ago.

Wayne asked Jared if he’d texted his mother he was working on a Christmas tree lot in Coos Bay. He said he had not.

They talked about glory days in high school and Chief’s stoic ways. They sampled each other’s preferred alcohol one night and didn’t know how the other man stomached it.

Once Jared swallowed one too many pills and fell asleep in the chair. Wayne rousted him and put him to bed.

A coyote appeared one night. Chief was asleep and didn’t wake up. Wayne and Jared remained still and silent. Seconds later, the coyote disappeared into the maze.

Sometimes Wayne heard Jared’s phone ding in his pocket but Jared never interrupted their dinner, radio or conversations to gaze at the phone.

A couple times, various denizens of Coos Bay’s homeless population asked to use the portable toilet and share the fire for a few minutes. If there was stew left over, Wayne fed them. He told them if they wanted a free Christmas tree to come around Christmas Eve or the next morning. One of the men laughed and said, “I live in the woods! I got Christmas trees all around me.”

One night, nothing competitive was on the radio and Wayne asked Jared if he was a reader. He said not really. In fact, he wasn’t sure if he’d read a book since high school and he’d never finished it. Something about an old guy trying to reel in a big fish.

Wayne told Jared to stick around; he was getting him a book. A minute later he returned with a tattered paperback of Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard.

“It’s a Western,” said Wayne. “It moves fast and the good guys always win. This one is great.”

He tossed the novel to Jared who wasn’t expecting it and he fumbled it into the coals at the fire’s edge. Jared bolted from his chair and snatched the book from the fire. Part of the cover was burned and smoking.

Wayne laughed and said, “I told you it was good!”

“Thanks,” said Jared.

“Give it a try.”

Half an hour later inside the shed, Jared hung his flashlight from a nail and angled the beam to his sleeping bag where he rested. He read the novel’s first page, then the second, then the third. There was a Black man accused of murder holed up in a shack surrounded by white vigilantes. Valdez was a lawman who wanted to sort out the facts and counseled patience before a man got judged and lynched. It didn’t work out…and…Jared was riveted.