Excerpt for 1967: Accidental Hippie in a 2+2 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Riversitting

An American Mystery

An American Love Story





ؙBook One

1967: Accidental Hippie

in a 2+2







by Edward Minges





© 2017 by Edward Minges All rights reserved.



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, lease purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

A small portion of this work is fiction. Any resemblance of the characters herein to actual persons, living or dead, is intentional and loving. Any resemblance of the situations and events described herein to actual events is both accurate and, wherever possible, fully documented.




***




Never trust a good story.

—DAVE SCOTT, to whom this work is grudgingly dedicated.

Table of Contents



Proem: Zina

The Twenty-Two-Footer Blows Up

Marcus

The Gazort

Gridley

The Sovereign State of Kyle

Across the Bridge

Terminus

At Peace

Groovy

Ady and Clara

Danielle

Gerald

Come, Come Ye Saints

Tonopah Breakdown

Mapping the Suckage

Durr

Clarissa and Mulberry Wing

Beanblossom

Tustin

Spider

Larry and David

Tis a Privilege to Leave the Ozarks

In the City of God

Cross-Town Traffic

1874

Proem: Zina

Her family had lived in the lighthouse for three years, and now they had to leave. They must, and there would be no appeal.

Soon after her father had taken the post of keeper at the new lighthouse at the entrance to Yaquina Bay, the government decided that it should have built a lighthouse five miles to the north, at Yaquina Head. That tall, slim tower was begun, done, commissioned, and manned a year and a half ago, so her family had known that their residency at Newport would be coming to an end for half the time they’d lived there.

The new lighthouse at Yaquina Head looked like a lighthouse, a slender, ninety-foot tall tower, and that was fine. Their home in Newport was a lighthouse as well, but it was first and foremost a lovely two-story house, set high on a hill at the entrance to the harbor. It happened to have a short tower set in the roof with a huge light in it, that shone far out to sea every night, that was all.

With Yaquina Bay behind it, the Newport lighthouse looked out over a wonderful beach stretching north and south, with the entire vast Pacific occupying almost a hundred eighty points on its compass. Their house was both a good and useful lighthouse and a home in which one would be proud to live in town.

What she understood of the matter was that, when they left, the government would board up their home and eventually tear it down. Zina thought that was so manifestly unfair. What purpose could that possibly serve? Why couldn’t her family just stay on and live as ordinary residents of Newport?

The government could take its absurd light out of their attic and drop it in the depths of the Pacific for all she cared, if they would only leave them the charming tower in the center of the roof and the marvelous staircase that rose into it.

Because, although she couldn’t say she’d grown up in that house, three years was almost a quarter of her life. She couldn’t imagine being happier anywhere else. It might be somewhat lonely in Newport, with no more than a few dozen people living in the tiny seaport, but you could walk to whatever was there.

The winters on the Oregon Coast might be cold, but cold because of the damp and the wind. It was nothing like the winters of the East, where you watched the thermometer sink, and sink, and sink, and snow would come in thick, immobilizing layers that might not leave for months. If you dared leave the house, you must layer yourself in woolens, don snowshoes, and dig your way out with shovels.

Here, one wore something to block the wind, and snowshoes and shovels were unheard of. On most winter days, you could just go about your business. Even in February she could stand on the hill and watch boats entering and leaving the Bay, without ice obstructing their passage.

In summer, bathing was most usually out of the question. The ocean remained frigid, by virtue of some current sent down from Alaska by Japan and Russia. That was such a shame, because the beach itself was long, and sloped gently into the sea.

On those rare occasions when the ocean went flat and still, and the sun had the chance to warm the nearshore region, she and their dog Fearnought could walk out a bit into it. They had found the ocean floor to be as gently sloped as the beach. The beach itself bore endless exploring, and Fearnought could frolic himself senseless, barking at waves, sticks, and the bulbs on kelp seaweed.

Zina did not want to leave, that was the simple fact of it. She must, of course, but, somehow, having known that she must for so great a part of her stay in her home on the cliff helped not at all.

Nor did it soften the blow to know that her father must remain behind to see to the decommissioning of the post over the next week. The plan was for him to meet up with her mother, her brother, and herself in Portland. That meant that they three must travel to the city alone.

It also stung that the two young women of her age in the town with whom she thought she’d struck up friendships stayed away from their departure.

Wednesday, September 25

Today, her father and a man from the docks were loading a wagon with their things, to meet the small steamboat that would take them north along the coast. Zina watched them at their task with nothing to say. Her mother tried to remain brisk and centered on the task at hand, but was growing quieter and sadder as the hour approached. Her brother concentrated on playing with a hoop, and kept as silent as the others.

Around two in the afternoon, their family got in the wagon and started down the hill. Zina realized that she’d left her only lace handkerchief crumpled on the sill of the window in the children’s room upstairs. She cried for them to halt, insisted that her father give her the key to the padlock on the front door, and ran back to fetch her little treasure.

Moments passed, and then an uncomfortable amount of time passed. Her father grew annoyed, then concerned, then angry. Then they all heard Zina’s piercing, hopeless scream.

Her father flew to the house, her mother holding Zina’s brother back. At the bottom of the metal staircase that corkscrewed up through the house and into the tower was a still-spreading pool of blood, in the middle of which was the key and the padlock. Zina was lost, and never found.

1962

The Twenty-Two-Footer Blows Up

Wednesday, April 18

The twenty-two-footer was an odd duck, a double-ended Bartender boat, built just up the Oregon coast from Yaquina Bay, in Delake. All wood, it mounted a big outboard motor in an open well set just aft of the center of the boat. It was a strange layout for which, it seemed, everybody had a different name. Whatever you called it, the little witch was not only rugged and seaworthy, but could get up on plane and push thirty miles an hour. Or, for the salty, twenty-five knots.

Other than the giddy and vivacious thirteen-foot, glass-fiber Boston Whaler, the twenty-two-footer was the only gas-powered boat at the station. Chief Distelfink liked it, didn’t love it. In his estimation, a blooded Coast Guard craft needed to be capable of being beached and backed off, was self-righting, and was powered by diesel, a friendly, amiable fuel that you could use to put out a fire.

Still, get it up on plane and the twenty-two ran like a raped ape, and you could play around in the surf with it, if you didn’t get too gay.

A few minutes before midnight, when April 18 was just ticking over into April 19, Chief Distelfink and a boatswain’s mate named Gridley were out of the boathouse and headed for the Yaquina Bay bar on a rare clear night. A near-full moon hung low in the sky.

They passed under the bridge and came abreast of the watchtower at the State Park, to their north. On the watchtower’s north side, the boarded-up old lighthouse sat quietly.

The twenty-two exploded and blew Chief Distelfink clear of the ensuing fire, landing him face down and unconscious in the water. A chunk of the outboard landed in the small of his back, damaging his spine. The boatswain’s mate’s foot snagged in the burning frame, and he took a gout of fire to his face, which ignited. After a moment or two of screaming, he tore loose and landed in the water.

They were close enough to the boathouse that the duty crew got both men out of the water within minutes. The piece of the engine that had landed on the chief left enough damage to be visible to his rescuers, so they knew to handle him as a back injury. The boatswain mate’s face was destroyed, but landing in the water almost instantly at least kept his eyes alive.

The station’s big, orange Dodge Town Wagon, with both casualties in the back, was tearing through town to the hospital not ten minutes after the explosion, passing the city’s ambulance going the other way. The twenty-two-footer was reduced to a blackened wreck above the water, its hull beneath the surface surprisingly untouched.

Chief’s wife, Burma, got a call from the station and drove over as fast as she dared. She saw the flames on the water and the rescue taking place below and started screaming, until the ambulance crew finally had to be sedate her. Their eleven-year-old son Marcus, without his mother functioning, eventually got passed on to one of the ladies from the church, who put him back to bed. She herself curled up on the couch, to keep guard till morning.

1966

Marcus

The plan had been for Henry and Burma Distelfink to retire in Newport when Henry got in twenty. On mustering out of the Guard, he would buy a boat and do some crabbing, or set up some enterprise serving fishermen or tourists, or maybe be a cop on one local force or another. With Henry retired and young Marcus gone off to college, his mom, thirty-four hours short of a degree in one of the helping professions, could work into something with one of the schools, the city, the county, or if all else failed, the library. She held the dream close to her heart of someday completing that degree.

For their retirement home, the Distelfinks had bought two adjacent residential lots in the big patch of sand behind the beach cliff. It was a quiet neighborhood of unpretentious wooden houses. Their neighbors were the mechanics at the Chevy dealership, the produce manager at the supermarket, the owners of the smaller gift shops, and the other permanent residents of Newport who didn’t work on the boats and didn’t make much money lived.

There had been two small houses on the lots, which the fog and salt had eaten alive and chewed on dead. Henry and Marcus and a couple of Henry’s buddies pulled down the remains of the two houses and put up an A-frame. It looked almost embarrassed to be sticking up there, as if it would have been more comfortable five miles inland, backed up against a hill and surrounded by pines. Marcus and his Dad painted it an unlikely blue, for no reason anyone could remember now.

Marcus got half of the peak for his room, at the end of the house that faced the invisible ocean. In the winter, when storms blew straight in from the sea, it was the best place in the world to sleep. His Dad had built the house plain, solid, and of heavy wood, like the thirty-six-footer lifeboat or the Coast Guard station itself.

The cold, thick, wet winds would come pounding in from the Pacific, beating on the flat triangular end wall like fat fists, high, low, and in the middle, trying hard to rattle Marcus’ personal six-pane window. Marcus would wrap up in his comforter and sink into his soft old mattress, laid on a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood, and listen to the roar and roll and thud and batter, himself warm, secure, and content. Never once could the wind find a flaw in that wall, a gap around the window.

Sometimes, when he was younger, he could get kind of scared at the power of the blunt, water-weighted storms, only just the other side of a couple of layers of plywood and paint. The older he got, the prouder he was that the wind could never find its way in. That guy on TV standing behind an invisible protective shield? He knew how that guy felt.

Since the explosion, Henry’s disability pay kept the lights on, but the diligent saving the Distelfinks had practiced since they’d married was over. The nearest exchange was at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, too many miles away for them to make the trip as a matter of routine. Marcus’ mother bought their food and their clothes on the local economy.

Meals became one serving each of whatever, with an open bag of Wonder Bread and a saucer with a stick of room-temperature Safeway margarine put out on the table to fill the holes. Marcus’ clothes were jeans and t-shirts and a mother-worrying minimum of winter wear. Burma did what was possible with what she had.

They had bought a new, white 1960 Falcon station wagon from the Newport Ford dealer at the end of summer that year. Henry’s friend Duke in the service department called him to say that the first truckload of ‘61’s had just pulled around back, which meant that any remaining ‘60’s needed to go quickly. He went right in, and found the wagon.

The Distelfinks got one option, two extra doors for $43 over base, but nothing else, not air, not power anything, not wheel covers, not a radio. Even on this stripper, Henry figured he picked up maybe an extra hundred, hundred and a half on the deal by buying at the end of the model year.

They’d intended that the Falcon run forever. In five years, four years after the twenty-five-footer exploded, rust started blushing under the white paint around the wheel cutouts. Henry could no longer do anything to stop it, and the Pacific once again exerted its eminent domain over the Coast and all that inhabited it. The wagon now sat under a carport, driven as few miles as possible. Even so, the rust was still working its way through the sills and the wheel arches.

Marcus wasn’t going to get to drive the Falcon, with not even enough in the thin household budget to add him to the car insurance. There were certainly no means for a car of his own. That pushed Corvallis, much less Portland, away to the other side of the world for him.

It was conceivable that he could save up enough money from part-time work to eventually buy a Honda Trail 90 or Hodaka Ace. That would be OK for running around Newport and maybe up and down 101 for a few miles. But that would be about it. He could see the limits of his world: it would end at Depoe Bay to the north, Waldport to the south, and Toledo to the east until he left home.

College for Marcus would depend on scholarships, or acceptance at a military academy. Marcus had no particular desire to be a Coast Guard officer. There were no officers at any lifeboat station on the Oregon Coast, none nearer than Portland, and the working units regarded them with suspicion and a sense of intrusion whenever one did show up. Army, no. Air Force, no. Navy, not unless the only alternative was packing fish for a living.

Scholarships to a regular college weren’t looking too good at the moment. Funding his education at OSU or UO with scholarships and student jobs seemed as likely as hitchhiking to the moon. Yet Marcus certainly wanted to leave Newport to go to college to make his future, become something.

He had to focus on that idea, that he needed to leave if he wanted to be somebody, and not that he wanted to go to college to get away from the house where his father floated on morphine. Henry had been out of it for most of the preceding six years. And one day it had come quietly to Marcus that hoping for better for his father was pointless.

There would be no remission, no recovery. There would be no bright morning when Henry Junior would open his eyes wide, sit up, smile at Burma and Marcus, throw off the covers, clap his hands, and announce that they would all pile in the wagon and go down to Moby Dick’s for lunch that day. Henry Junior would drift quietly further and further from shore, and he was never coming back.

Henry’s eyes now focused slowly, if at all; responses came only after a painful pause. Once started, he might finish a sentence or thought, or not. Enough sentences to make a written paragraph came seldom, then rarely, then never. As a child Marcus had never seen, and could barely have imagined, his father drunk, or so angry or tired as to slur his words. Gone now, and Marcus understood it would be that way forever.

Henry Junior had always moved without extravagance, had walked and stood with quick efficiency. Occasionally he’d involve himself in a softball game with friends, church people, Coasties. No power, but he hit junk all over the field, a few inches within the base paths, a few inches outside the reach of an infielder.

On the field, he was a born shortstop. He was quick, ferociously fast to jump on a grounder. Gone, all gone. Marcus had seen it take him three tries to grasp the handle of his toothbrush.

One of the Coasties told a story on himself of getting horribly drunk in high school on a fifth of straight vodka, chilled to near freezing, and drunk alone. Less than a quart of cold vodka versus a quart of cold beer, how different could they be, man? If anything, the amazingly cold vodka went down easier than beer.

He claimed he’d gotten so drunk that he woke up late the next day in a field, at the end of a trail of diarrhea, not knowing where or who he was. After that, he bragged, he never could get hard liquor or wine past the back of his throat. The thought of drinking anything stronger closed his throat like a bull’s ass in fly-time, that was it, over, done, fee-nee-toh. “That’s all-l-l she wrote,” he would say.

Watching his father drift away in a morphine fog had done the same thing to Marcus, on a broader canvas. It built to an unconsidered revulsion for anything that would change him the way that morphine had changed his father, even for a short time. He consciously hated where his father had gone, and how he’d gotten there, as he’d never hated anything in his life.

He couldn’t go back and undo anything. He couldn’t throw bricks through the window of the people responsible for the explosion. He couldn’t do anything to fix his Dad. But he could completely control doing anything to himself to alter his own consciousness.

Nothing that would throw him off his center would go down his throat, not alcohol, not caffeine, and sometimes he wasn’t that sure about sugar or red meat. He didn’t feel any moral tide, pulling him away from the precipice of sin. He just couldn’t get anything that he perceived as psychoactive past his mental glottis.

That left him in a strange land. He knew a couple of guys who said they didn’t smoke or drink because of their parents’ religion. Some kids’ parents were vegetarians, and the Jews who owned the jewelry store in town reputedly wouldn’t eat ham or bacon. But nobody he knew had ever cut out caffeine. And chocolate was only forbidden to someone whose mom was on a diet, or who was fighting zits. Marcus was out there on the edge, somewhere new.

Iced tea stuck in his throat. Coke stuck. He drank water, juice, and milk. He avoided Three Musketeers bars and M&M’s, which added to his mild rep around school as being OK, but kind of strange.

Marcus’ buddy Kyle was in a roughly comparable position. His Mom was inclined to drink too much, too often. Kyle’s take wasn’t as extreme as Marcus’, just that he kind of needed to go along with whatever happened at home. But he was also content to follow Marcus’ lead on not joining the other guys at school in their eternal hunt for illicit alcohol cadged from their parents’ refrigerators and liquor cabinets.

For now, Marcus and his buddy Kyle did whatever there was to do without a car in Newport, Oregon. Mostly, they went to school and wandered around town. Sometimes they rode bikes, but bikes were useless on the beach or going up and down the steep slopes to the harbor, so they walked a lot.

Crab, they could get, all they wanted.

OSHA had not yet cleaned up the fish-packing houses on Yaquina Bay. In this era, the fish-packers dumped their offal directly in the water. That turned the approaches to the Bay into a crawling mass of fat, claw-heavy Dungeness crabs, the glory of the Oregon coast.

Crab was cheap as hamburger—cheaper. The chowder at Whale Cove was legendary. The crab salad at Crab Heaven was a mound of crab meat the size of a motorcycle helmet, set on two big pieces of lettuce, with a wedge of tomato stuck in a blob of Miracle Whip on top. The crab salad and the chowder at Mo’s was legendary.

All summer, Marcus and his friend Kyle ate crab bought with pocket change, and walked down to the other end of town and got huge mugs of A&W root beer for fifteen cents.

Otherwise, they threw whatever was handy at the shitbirds, knowing that they would never hit one, and climbed around the cliffs. They walked out on the jetty, along the beach, and up and down Highway 101. And ate more crab, till a burger seemed a luxury.

Marcus had a small but certain presence on the waterfront. He was the son of the CO at the Coast Guard station, and that carried some weight among the crabbers and the salmon fishermen. There was no idyllic hailing of Marcus by them from the dock, no invitations to come pet a crabber’s dog, or have a Coke from an ice chest on a summery afternoon. But he walked along the docks recognized and respected as the CO’s son, a kid who had at least enough sense to not require watching out the corner of your eye when he showed up down by the boats. Raised right, by Christ.

Because in Newport, the fishermen, individually and personally, wanted to stay on the best of terms with the Coasties. The older, single enlisted men at the station, as well as those of the married men whose wives kept them on a short leash, could go down to the dock bars in their dress blues on winter nights and get drunk on free beers from the guys on the boats. Several of the crabbers would routinely drop off crates of burbling, snapping crabs at the station on Friday afternoons for evening mess. They were all too aware that the Coasties would, at one time or another, almost without exception, pull their sorry asses out of the Pacific.

It was hardly necessary to bribe Coasties to do that. Coasties lived to jump in a lifeboat. Whenever the watch growled over the intercom, “Now, all hands lay to the boats! All hands lay to the boats!” the younger men on duty elbowed each other out of the way as they flew down the three flights of stairs on the hill between the station and the dock.

Making sure the Coasties knew your name and face was like rubbing the belly of a house Buddha on your way out the door, an it-can’t-hurt gesture of obeisance to Fortune. Chief Distelfink was probably more recognized on the docks than the mayor. And Marcus was his son.

Local kids, Marcus and Kyle included, didn’t spend all that much time on the beach itself. Three years of four, the monstrous, slow churn of the North Pacific Gyre kept the chill of the California Current pressed against that coast. You put your endothermy in play if you got so much as knee-deep in the surfline. Locals knew, and tourists learned soon enough, to show up at the beach in long sleeves and stay the hell out of the water. Jackets, hard shoes and caps drew no notice except on the warmest days.

Another summer, distant relatives of Marcus’ father had come from somewhere inland to visit. They arrived in a Colony Park wagon full of stainless steel coolers packed with sandwiches and pop, and stainless-steel jugs of Hi-C. They wore Hawaiian shirts, the adults in disturbingly loose shorts, the children in upsettingly brief shorts, and sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses. They brought with them a brace of Labradors, who spun in the driveway, walleyed with pleasure at the smell of the ocean, the company of man, and the presence of oxygen.

They remained in Newport but part of one late morning. On entry, they struck a glancing blow at the Distelfinks’ tiny A-frame, to urinate and rearrange their clothing before rocketing to the beach. Children and dogs together flew to the water and grownups followed, slowed only by the weight of sloshing thermal jugs.

His Dad tried to open a dialogue with his cousin or whatever he was about the seaside up here being perhaps a bit different than what the visitors were used to. The man of the family wasn’t listening. Henry’s voice rose a bit, and Marcus saw him get vehement enough to make his “listen, goddamit,” gesture, where he brought up his hands to the points of his shoulders, forefingers pointing backward, and snapped his hands open, towards the other person.

It made no impression. The visitors were blooded and salty beachgoers, there for sun, surf, sand, and a well-organized wienie roast over a campfire of gathered driftwood, after they’d exhausted themselves swimming. The Distelfinks followed at a polite distance.

Within forty-five minutes, the visitors had repacked the big Mercury station wagon parked by the old lighthouse, and Dad Visitor was pointing its glittery, extruded-aluminum grill south along 101, with only the vaguest farewell to the Distelfinks. Henry Junior stood at the curb, dressed as he had greeted them, in a flannel lumberjack’s shirt, khaki pants, and hard shoes, with hands in pockets. He seemed curiously unsurprised.

Burma had planned with some care the arrangement of half-dozen sleeping bags on their postage-stamp living room floor, and had laid in a week’s worth of provisions. Now, deeply upset, she sorted, purse-lipped, the supernumerary new inventory into what would keep and what she had to use before it went bad.

A few days later, the Distelfinks got an extra-wide, panoramic postcard in the mail, in aggressively vibrant, hard-gloss color. It showed a beach in San Diego, a sweep of brilliant alabaster against a sweep of saturated Kodachrome cerulean. A comfortably-spaced dispersion of tiny, happy white people grinned at each other, in ugly Kennedy-era bathing suits.

The handwritten message conveyed neither thanks nor apologies. It consisted of just a few terse words to the effect that what the Distelfinks held in their hands was a picture, for those unfamiliar with the concept, of a “beach.”

The Oregon coast wasn’t that kind of beach, that was all.

In spring, the men’s store in town ran a sale on the newly-invented permanently-pressed slacks, with a shameless sign, “A New Wrinkle! There’s No Wrinkle!” on a big piece of posterboard in the shop window. They were three for twenty-five dollars, and Marcus and Kyle’s moms had taken the gamble. Kyle’s mother wanted three, thinking that after Kyle wore them for a few months, she could always take them back, as was her custom.

Marcus’ mother argued with the clerk as to just where the split on price should be if she bought just one. The clerk wanted nine dollars for a single pair, while his mother held out for $8.33, rounding down because the repeating decimal was less than five. Ultimately, the novelty of not having to iron the kids’ wash pants drove them to daring excess, and the permanent-press slacks went home with them, three pairs with one mother and one with the other.

The Gazort

The persistence of the legend of the Gazort at the station could reasonably be blamed on Dunfrund.

Dunfrund was a big, fat FN, with greased black hair and blackheads all over the wings of his nose. He asserted that he was from Louisiana, and also that he was three-quarters Klamath Indian; not impossible, but desperately unlikely. He spoke frequently of what “my people” did or “my people” would do in a given situation.

Dunfrund was dumber than a bag of hammers. He would come in at noon from working on the boats with unwashed hands so dirty and greasy as to leave black fingerprints on the Wonder Bread that the cook set out on a plate in the middle of the table.

Patton was a red-haired, weak-chinned, affably arrogant Texan in his mid-twenties. Like a perverse acupuncturist, he loved to place needles in every node of weakness he could find in the unfortunates who shared his world, stone-faced the while. He could be awfully funny.

Dunfrund was easily spooked, as well as stupid, and thus the perfect target for Patton. He came to exist almost entirely for Patton’s amusement.

Over time, Patton convinced Dunfrund that, as was well-known to all the old-timers on the Coast, a creature called the Gazort lived in the dense expanse of chest-high salal that surrounded the watch tower. Patton had no description of the Gazort to offer, since, so obvious, duh, anyone the Gazort had grabbed hadn’t survived to give an eyewitness account. How, then, the Gazort might ill-use a victim after grabbing him would remain unknown as well, until someone escaped to tell, or at least until such time as the Gazort left behind enough mangled flesh to be analyzed as evidence. Which hadn’t happened yet.

Intellectually, Dunfrund knew full well that there were no such things as scrub-dwelling, razor-taloned Gazorts. Deep within his heart, however, he could never be entirely sure that even joking about such a monstrosity might not call it into being.

Thus, late on any moon-hid night, which on the Oregon coast was most of them, a few minutes after midnight or four in the morning, all the other watch-standers leaving the tower headed down the invisible path back towards the station to face seven or eight minutes of walking in total darkness through the thick, dark foliage. They could guide on the silhouette of the tower above them and the feel of the asphalt under their issue work boots, and, once memorized, guide through the few curves in the path without mistake. No one was unmanly enough to use a flashlight like some civilian, even Dunfrund.

Dunfrund, however, would wallow in four minutes, maybe less, of sheer, heart-pounding terror, as he ran through the clutching scrub in the impenetrable dark, because that was the abode of the Gazort. Patton claimed he’d made a tape recording from the tower of Dunfrund running through the scrub one black, moonless morning. He said you could hear the sound of Dunfrund’s pounding footsteps, punctuated by despairing cries of, “Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!” as Dunfrund oscillated between blind crashes off into the scrub and rebounding back to the path.

Patton also said that he’d erased the tape by accident, which meant that the story was bullshit. Still, it was a good enough tale to be called forth often around the mess table.

Every watch-stander could testify that when Dunfrund was their relief, a couple of minutes before the hour you could hear Dunfrund hit the bottom of the ladder, forty feet below, at a dead run, shuddering the whole tower. Without a pause, he would pound frantically up two flights, stopping to catch his breath only when he got to the second platform. Or, if they were relieving him, they would hear him go down the four flights of metal stairs slowly and deliberately, as if to sure death, and then, when he must confront fate, accelerate to a maniacal clopping of boots down the path.

One other Coastie at the station, Powell, claimed Indian heritage. He was a red-headed BM2, even larger than Dunfrund, who was, in fact, from Oklahoma, and who asserted that he was one-quarter Cherokee. He drove a beautifully-kept 1962 Valiant that he claimed had a Hemi engine under the hood, which he would constantly compare and contrast to Dunfrund’s rusted-out, oil-smoke-blowing 1956 Olds. And Powell rode Dunfrund constantly about the failings of fish-eatin’ Indians versus real Indians, which included their inability to afford any car that a syphilitic gorilla would be seen in.

And Patton rode Dunfrund about the Gazort, and whether he preferred the taste of thirty-weight or diesel fuel on his Wonder Bread.

And BM1 Ellis, one day at lunch, had finally exploded at table and ordered Dunfrund to go wash his goddamned hands before he came to the table, and never pull that goddamned kid crap again. Now Ellis scowled at Dunfrund every time he showed up on the mess deck.

So it went for Dunfrund at the lifeboat station. Dunfrund wasn’t precisely a pariah, but even though he was a fairly big guy, and drank a lot ashore in the company of the other EM’s, he was uncomfortably near the bottom of the pecking order at the station, because he was a moron.

That could have meant that, since Marcus was the CO’s son, Dunfrund would make a special effort to be his best buddy, which would have been annoying enough to Marcus. But Dunfrund was stupid, and inclined to go the other direction. He would pick on Marcus and any of his friends from town who came up to the station or the park around the tower, because in his eyes they were puny and weak.

Marcus and Kyle knew to keep a lookout for Dunfrund at watch change, noonish and fourish, between the station and the tower. Although he would never dare to lay hands directly on either of them, he would do things like throw a deposit pop bottle at them, saying in a phonily casual voice, “Oh, damn, slipped.”

If he had two or three throwable items in his hands, he would throw each in the air in a high arc to land near the boys, saying with each launch, “Oh, damn, slipped. Oh, damn, slipped.” Dunfrund offered incontrovertible evidence to Marcus and Kyle that adult men could be total dicks, in just the same way as one of their classmates might be a total dick.

Still, the salal around the tower was also a great place for what they still called a “fort,” from long usage. That made it worth the risk of encountering Dunfrund on watch change.

There was a place on the path to the tower with a chunk of asphalt knocked out of the side. If you walked directly from that point towards the tower five long paces through the pine, you would come to a pounded-out place to sit, under the low canopy of branches. There was a hole in the circumference of the sandy circle where they kept a large Mason jar buried, covered over with sand, and that was their safe.

Wednesday, June 15

In the middle of an otherwise incredibly boring week, the weather guy on KNPT, the local radio station, promised Newport that the temperature would hit an unheard-of eighty degrees that day, with no wind. It looked promising. The temperature at the beach cracked seventy degrees by ten AM, and the ocean slid up to the beach flat and oily. A quarter-mile offshore, a corner of a concrete barge sunk during World War II stuck up above the water at low tide, beckoning invitingly. The two boys decided to check out just how permanent the press on their new slacks really was.

By one-thirty PM, Kyle’s mother was half in the bag, right on schedule. Burma Distelfink was trying to summon the energy to help Henry Junior make his twice-daily shift from the living room couch to the bed in the loft. Neither noticed her son slipping out after lunch in his new slacks instead of jeans.

Marcus and Kyle headed to the beach from their respective homes over the hill. Both wore t-shirts with flannel shirts thrown over their bony shoulders, and their wonder-of-the-age new slacks. Marcus’ were navy and Kyle’s loden green.

They were fascinated with the prospect of wearing dress pants in the ocean. Was it true that they would dry crisp and pleated, with no more than a rinse with a hose? Science required that he and Kyle experiment.

For what Kyle was calling their immersion excursion, they wore Chucks with no socks. They had been in the water off the North Jetty a few times in their lives and knew that, although it was surprisingly smooth, it sure as heck wasn’t barefoot country.

In daylight, the lair of the Gazort it wasn’t anything like scary, at least in the absence of Dunfrund. They dug up the Mason jar and emptied their pockets into it. They rolled their shirts into tight, seaman-like, seabag-worthy tubes, and tucked them into the roots of the scrub. Rising bare-chested out of the Gazort-sheltering pine, they walked, in their unsocked sneakers, across the rocks and down to the beach.

Predictably, on a day this bizarrely warm and sunny, every tourist from every motel in Newport was out at the beach. Nobody was downtown, absorbing the supposed fishing-village charm of the town, nor down by the waterfront absorbing the supposed fishing-village charm of the docks and boats. Marcus and Kyle wove their way through dogs, coolers, moms in gorpy bathing suits, dads in what looked like dress slacks with the legs cut off, and mutant-looking hordes of tourist kids, fat, white, and wearing lurid plastic sunglasses colored like jellybeans.

Some of the kids. Some of the girls were kind of cute, and Marcus liked watching a bunch of girls his age running around in real bathing suits, for a change. Today he smiled at one, then another, and got some inexplicably strange looks in return. Then he realized that he was wearing dress slacks, no shirt, and sneakers, and probably looked incredibly dumb.

They went in the water, splashed around, and found that it was impossible to swim with wet slacks on, so gave up after an hour or so. Dripping, they hiked up to the base of the tower. Tourists swarmed the hilltop, trying to peer into the lighthouse windows, taking pictures of each other with the tower in the background.

“Check it out, Marcus,” said Kyle, and Marcus looked down and saw that his slacks were, in fact, still showing sharp creases as they started to dry, albeit with big rings of salt up the legs. There was a water tap without a handle sticking up from the sand near the base of the tower. They hung around for a couple of minutes till there was a lull in the flow of tourists. Then Marcus went stealthily to the first landing of the stairway, and spun the combination on the long-shanked bike lock that secured the tap handle to the rail.

He snuck back down, put the handle on the tap, and opened it so that he and Kyle could rinse off. They contorted themselves to get into the flow of water, trying to get as much salt out of the slacks as possible, bending over double to get fresh water in their hair and over their backs.

Marcus heard the trap open in the floor of the watch chamber forty feet above them. Patton yelled down, “Stand clear of the tower, please! Stand. Clear. Of the tower. Please!” It had been a previous CO’s insight that tourists were more likely to comply with a shouted directive to clear the base of the tower if it were phrased in a more formal fashion than, “Get the fuck away!”

“Eat a root, Patton,” Marcus yelled up.

“Is that you, twerp?” In rough iambic pentameter, Patton yelled back, “Get the/ Hell away/ From my/ Damn tower/ You creepy / Little suckfish/ Rama lama ding dong.”

“Bite it, Patton!”

“Marcus? Stand out a way from the tower and let me drop the piss bucket on your skull. Marcus? Here’s the piss bucket, Marcus,” said Patton, and something started dribbling off the edge of the second platform. It was probably Patton’s cold coffee, but Marcus and Kyle were taking no chances and backed off.

“The Gazort’s gonna eat you, Patton,” yelled Marcus, as they retreated up the path. Patton stood at the back rail, giving them the finger with both hands, grinning. He pinwheeled a pencil through the air, watching it go up and arc down in their general direction.

Marcus and Kyle shagged past a couple of clumps of tourists, through the scrub that led back to the waterfront. They reloaded their pockets and grabbed their socks at the fort. By the time they walked under the bridge, past the Coast Guard station, and downward into the cool, shadowed sag of the waterfront, they were almost dried out, and had slipped their sneakers and t-shirts back on.

“Man!” crowed Marcus. “Man! Look, Kyle!” The two boys looked at their pants. Not only were they almost dry, but they had dried with crisp creases in each leg and no wrinkles anywhere. There was only a white rime of salt on one of Kyle’s legs by the hem, where he hadn’t rinsed well. Their hair was stiff, their red and blue t-shirts were wrinkled as morels, but, by God, their wash pants were ready for church.

Clearly, their new slacks had thumbed their slacky noses at the mighty Pacific. Marcus had seen some cute girlz among the tourists. But they hadn’t seen Dunfrund.

Kyle flipped off a station wagon full of Californians for no good reason. Kyle was kind of messed up, Marcus knew, but was usually harmless.

That had been a good day.

1967

Gridley

Tom Gridley was a great big guy at the station who had gone through Coastal Forces training at Government Island, the Coast Guard boot camp that floated in San Francisco Bay. Coastal Forces was a Reserve rating that the Guard had tried to work up in the Sixties, to turn out a small, elite group of deadly warriors to watch the coast during wartime. The Guard lost interest in it shortly thereafter, so Gridley went back in to the regular Guard, and got a billet at Yaquina Bay.

Gridley knew a lot about hand-to-hand combat and rigging explosives. Gridley also knew how to pick locks and kill a sentry. It was good stuff, but not all that useful at a lifeboat station on the Oregon coast.

He had been the BM1 whose face burned off in the boat explosion that had put Marcus’ Dad permanently on painkillers. What Gridley had left was something out of a medium-budget horror movie. What had once been his face was now a death-white puffball, the color and texture of a supermarket mushroom. There were two black holes for eyes, two black holes for a nose, and one lipless slit for a mouth.

Marcus always thought, and Gridley never said differently, that Gridley was luckier than his Dad. Gridley looked like rancid hell, but, otherwise, he was almost done with his injuries: no dullness, only fleeting pain hanging on. He took no drugs to maintain himself, the only physical residual of the disaster being an eternally runny nose. Other than his having no face, his situation was at least livable.

Gridley lived in a 25X25 clapboard redoubt south of town, in the middle of a failed development hidden in the pines. The interior of the midget house was, predictably, clean and ordered. A compact galley had a three-burner electric stove, a refrigerator, and white cupboards with round brass knobs. The head, with shower, was in a 4X4 compartment in one corner. Gridley’s rack was a simple twin bed, a bench of a sofa, a wardrobe, some shelves. Tight, squared-away, and seaman-like.

And flame-free. He kept neither matches nor a lighter in the house, and he used either kerosene or detergent and water for solvents. No gas, no propane, no butane, no gasoline besides what was in the tank on the Dodge, not even denatured alcohol. Gridley waited impatiently for the first practical diesel pickup to come out. He told Marcus and Kyle that he felt about fire much as he did about rattlesnakes—he didn’t hate or fear rattlesnakes, he just saw no reason to seek out the company of that sort of critter ever again.

He was the only resident in the attempted subdivision by grace of the developer’s senior accountant, who didn’t want Newport to lose anyone as solid and admirable as Gridley to the desert or the mountains somewhere. Because of his face, Gridley, naturally, lived mostly in seclusion. He went into town sometimes in the summer, but at odd hours to avoid scaring tourists.

In winter, without the tourist traffic, it was easier for him to pass unremarked, since the locals all knew him and his truck. Objectively viewed, his face wasn’t unbearably mangled, just unexpected and strange on first encounter. He had all his fingers and toes, and there were plenty of Nam vets walking around showing much worse.

On cold, wet Mondays and Tuesdays, when the waterfront was as deserted as it ever got during business hours, he could go into the fishermen’s bars and sit in a corner. If he were broke, he could drink beer and eat pretzels all night for free, courtesy of deeply respectful crabbers.

His eyes were still all Gridley. The overall effect was more like the real Gridley wearing a kind of lame-assed mask than some giant mutant white mushroom. In any case, it didn’t bother Marcus or Kyle, who thought of Gridley as a friend.

The Sovereign State of Kyle

When Marcus and Kyle would ascend the wall of rocks that composed the jetty, on a calm day, with the tide low, they could look out at the corner of the concrete barge poking above the surface, a few hundred yards north of the jetty’s tip. It was supposed to have sunk in World War Two. They’d always thought the coolest deal imaginable would be to swim or somehow get a boat out to the barely-visible brown pyramid, and just stand on it. It was gone from view two-thirds of the time due to tides and waves, which only added to the mystique.

Kyle went further, of course. He had obsessive fantasies about tumbling rocks off the jetty into the ocean, near the tip, and opening a channel between the jetty and the rocks. He convinced himself that once you tumbled rocks into the ocean and separated them from the tip of the jetty by seawater, they were virgin territory. Therefore, they would be open to claim by anyone brave enough to stand on them.

There was undoubtedly a law that said that this kind of new land belonged to the first claimant. He believed in that law because he couldn’t imagine a universe in which such a law didn’t exist. It wasn’t like an island, which was part of the country it was, uh, part of. That was old land that had been around when the country was founded.

That meant, of course, that any island or rock, however small, sticking up off the Oregon coast was part of Oregon, like Jump-Off Joe half a mile north along the beach. Duh.

But nobody owned the new land that he’d created; it wasn’t there when they made Oregon, it was new. Obviously, it wasn’t legitimately part of Oregon at all, and open to his claim. It had to belong to somebody, right?

OK, here was the great part. Since he already had created and laid claim to the one bit of new land, and since he’d never heard anybody in town claim that they’d taken possession of the concrete barge, why not him? He was already the legal owner of the rocks he was going to tumble into the Pacific, so the barge, which was even further from the jetty, just had to be fair game!

Kyle, incentivized by his conviction that a flag was his to plant on any such virgin territory, came as close as Marcus ever saw him to engaging in a focused and objective hunt for knowledge. Specifically, what would it take to get a big rock off a jetty, and into the water?

He experimented with a three-foot stick used as a lever, which broke on the first pull on the four-and-a-half-ton boulder. With Marcus’ help, he jammed a two-by-four, and then a six-by-six, between two rocks. The two-by-four broke after a lucky good, strong pull, and the six-by-six, well-wedged between two rocks that together were as heavy as an unloaded dump truck, just sat there and stared at him.

Kyle danced around for hours before settling on a new strategy. This involved tying a rope from the six-by-six to the front bumper of a car on the beach, and then carefully backing towards the highway. Kyle’s discovery of the cost of an approximately one-mile length of hawser defeated that plan early on.

Well, then. What was more powerful than a lever, and less expensive, probably, than a very long rope?

Explosives! By fortuitous coincidence, Kyle had just finished Farnham’s Freehold, so was now expert in the manufacture and deployment of nitrogen tri-iodide. He figured that they could just make up a batch, paint the rocks with it, stand back a way, and bang it with a Crosman pellet gun.

When Kyle tried to wipe him out of iodine, Benton Bertram, the longer-serving of the two pharmacists in Newport, called Kyle’s mom first thing. He told her that her son was in his store, trying to spend all his Christmas money on little brown bottles. Benton had no idea for what possible project Kyle could want the iodine, but he was ineffably certain that it was pea-brained beyond redemption.

Kyle got in such deep trouble over that one that Marcus never did discover the details of what Kyle’s mom did to him. He wasn’t around for over a week. When he finally resurfaced, he was extremely uncommunicative for several days.

Kyle’s behavior was usually harmless.

Sunday, June 25

Today it was colder than a brass toilet seat, more like what Marcus and Kyle were used to on a June day in Newport. They shagged over to the beach in wool shirts and jeans, just to mess around. All that was going on was a couple of tourists walking dogs and looking out to the sea, like a Russian sub was going to pop up and raise a periscope, or something. Kind of bore-ass.

It was too soon to go home, so they angled over into the path that went out to the north jetty. Today they clambered over the huge rocks for a while, trying to get to the end of the jetty, abreast of the barge. But both had turned sixteen, and climbing over rocks just wasn’t working for them any more as a way to spend the summer. They found a rock with a big, flat, horizontal surface on which they could both stand, and practiced some of the karate moves their friend Gridley had shown them.

They sat and looked around. Kyle started talking about even more ways to make his own island by jacking with the rocks in the jetty, and that idea didn’t entertain even him any more. Then they talked about getting some food.

Kyle’s mom’s drinking had taken her past reliably putting meals on the table on weekends. Burma Distelfink, living in perpetual exhaustion, had put out short stacks of baloney, white bread, and pickles for Sunday dinner, for Marcus and herself to pick at. That left Marcus and Kyle ready for Crab Heaven.

Marcus’ stomach was empty and lonely and needed a hug by the time they reached Crab Heaven. Crab Heaven was dark inside, and everything, floor, tables, chairs, ceiling, was bare brown wood. The only color was from the red-and-white tablecloths, and an illuminated Olympia Beer sign with a moving waterfall and a clock.

Bernice brought them a crab salad. On the side was a stack of white bread on a saucer, and a skinny bottle of cheap hot sauce with a dried red crust around the threads beneath the cap. For several minutes, there was no sound except Kyle breathing asthmatically through his mouth around the disappearing gobbets of crab.

In a while, they got up very slowly, stuffed completely full, near comatose. Marcus signed the ticket at the counter. He put two PayDay bars from the glass case by the register on his Dad’s account as well. He would occasionally treat himself to a PayDay bar, because they had neither sugar nor chocolate in them. All right, they had sugar in the middle, but they were mostly peanuts.

They sleepwalked up from the waterfront on Fall Street, veered off to the right at Canyon Way, which turned into Hurbert, and went over the hill to the middle of town and across Highway 101. The two parted company, Kyle going north on 101 and Marcus continuing over the hill, towards home.

Down the last slope, and then there was his house. It was the second one on the block from the corner and the only one straddling two lots. It poked up above the surrounding beach cottages, painted that regrettable bright blue.

From his window beneath the peak came a thick rope of black smoke, pouring straight up to the angle of the peak, boiling around at the eaves, and then rising straight up into the bright afternoon, till it caught the sea wind.

A second plume rose from the other end of the house, and more smoke came from the windows low on the side of the house, and it was still all so unnaturally quiet. It felt like someone was squeezing Marcus’ head between their hands, and his heart began pounding. He couldn’t deal with everything he saw in one piece.

His brain tried to cope with it in fractions—smoke up one side, yes, and smoke up the other, check, now smoke down low, got that, and still no human presence outside, perpetrator or victim....

He focused back on the ugly twisting plume coming from his window. “My stuff,” he half-whispered, half-thought, “All my stuff, my stuff.” His comics, his models, his records, so painfully acquired, one by one, all now blackening in smoke and evaporating in fire.

It came to him that, at five in the early evening, his father was probably in bed in a morphinated fog, and his mother was sitting alone in the living room with a thick paperback and a baloney sandwich. He ran to get within sight of the other side of the house, to see if their Falcon station wagon were still in the carport.

His vision was narrowing to a tunnel lined with black velvet, and all the air went out of his lungs, and then they filled again, and his sight cleared, but his legs were already pumping hard. Marcus hurtled down the gentle hill at the unfair, unfair, unfair intrusion on his life and whatever happiness and order his family had scraped together.

Still fifty, sixty feet from the house, he saw the first flames licking out of the windows. He heard clearly the sound of the fire for the first time, and somebody grabbed his t-shirt solidly from behind and pulled him up hard to a skidding stop like a cartoon character, with his legs windmilling in the air.

Marcus jerked around, twisting to get away from one big guy and then a second, both wearing sweatshirts with ripped-off sleeves and faggy sunglasses. One wrapped Marcus’ shirt around his fist, and the other grabbed for his arm and extended a crooked finger for a belt loop. Something went off in the house like a gunshot, a loud crack-pop! but the grip of neither man flinched.

Marcus flailed with one arm and got the other one free. He hit one guy with a backfist in the nose, even harder than he intended because the guy’s face was about six inches closer to him than he thought. Now his shirt was free, and the other guy was having a tough time keeping hold of Marcus’ writhing upper arm.

A weird sound like blowing on a giant comb with tissue paper came from the back of the house. This time the second guy’s grip did loosen. Marcus was off like a shot, not to get away but to get upstairs in the house to see if his Dad was lying helpless in the smoke, and, failing that, to at least run around the side to see if the car was there.

Marcus hit the front door like a wrestler. It was locked. He spun away from the two big jerks as they closed in on him, ducked inside the closer guy, and ran around the near side of the house. The Falcon was in the carport, but there was no way he could get in the side window of the house, billowing black smoke and flame. Now there was only one guy behind him, which meant that the other one was circling around the other way.


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