Tales of Germaine
Tales of Germaine
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Welcome to My Blog

Here old windmillon the borderland between the forest and the desert we have, perhaps, a unique perspective on the world around us. To the north lies the primeval home of the imagination, and to the south, the desolation of our hearts. Here in Eastern Oregon it is a narrow transition zone which allows humans to prosper, although you could not find many folk in Germaine who would call their existence prosperity. Still, in the scope of history, even for most people in the world today, it is not merely prosperity, it is abundance.

The Applegate Trail is more than just my personal weblog, it is the diary of my town, that little spot of green on Tamarack Creek where my ancestors stopped to rest, and never left. It is their history, and their struggles, and their tears that I inscribe with the hard edge of truth, for I believe in the adage that the truth shall set them free.

Germaine is a town like other towns, full of mysteries, dark secrets, and hopes fulfilled or abandoned. We are a small town, about as tiny as you can get, and still be a kind of microcosm of the world around you. We defy stereotypes. We are conservative and liberal, and other things closer to the edge of acceptability. We are farmers, and ranchers and city folk, come to find a more peaceful existence. We are religious and non-religious, and some of us hold our spirituality, like our innermost desires, in a protective place close to our hearts. For the most part, we like to keep to ourselves, we Germainers. We are Americans of the Great American West, after all.

Begin The Applegate Trail here: Dark Cloud Over the Ochocos

 

Back to the McCoys

I was still contemplating the implications of Albert and Susannah in Biloxi, when Shaherazade, in her typical cyclonic way, changed course.

“Did Harlan tell you where he got Uncle Charlie’s bones?”

“Not exactly,” I told her. I realized then that Harlan had managed not to tell me anything specific about any of the subjects we touched on in our visit. I drank a good deal of Cynthia’s iced tea and watched magpies play catch-me-if-you-can with one of the stray cats hanging around the McCoy place. Every farmer or rancher has to contend with strays like this half-starved calico.

City people seem to think that dropping off their unwanted felines along some stretch of country road is a reasonable thing to do. Like most of the folks around here, the McCoys put out meal scraps, and a bit of milk and let the half-feral cats fend mostly for themselves. Some take up residence in the barns and hold down the mouse population. Most get sick from one thing or another and die or are killed by muskrats and mink in the creeks, or are hit by cars on the highway. They fight with each other and get deadly infections. The females get pregnant over and over again, spewing out kittens every few months for the term of their short lives. 

Cynthia and Harlan have a housecat that was once one of these kittens, the mother having met an untimely death before the kittens were weaned and still small enough to bond with a human willing to feed and nurture them. I was friends with enough farm kids to know that is where most of their housecats cats originated.

Harlan tipped his glass of ice tea at the ragged cat and the two magpies. “Magpies get bored sometimes. Nothing they like better than to play cat-and-mouse except in this case they’re the cats and the cat is the mouse.” Harlan’s sudden laugh sent the magpies flying and the cat running off.

Cynthia came out of the house with a dusty box big enough to hold a ream of paper, which it turned out is what it did contain. It was tied with a bit of old cotton string. She set it down on the table in front of me. “This is what Harlan’s mom and dad wrote about the McCoy family so their kids would know about where they came from,” She said. “I think he’s lucky to have parents like that.”

I didn’t know what to say to her. I know there is some mystery about her father, that she doesn’t know who he is and her mother is dead from drug overdose. I’ve heard that Cynthia has been trying to find out information on her mother. She knows she was born over in Burns, but doesn’t know much else, at least not that she has shared with anyone. Cynthia is kind of shy and I have to admit I haven’t really been interested in getting to know her. She’s Madame Zorro, and I think astrology is a load of bull.

“Go ahead, Susie, open it up,” Harlan urged.

 I took the string off and opened the box. It was full of neatly typed onionskin paper. Errors carefully corrected with white-out.

“Mom typed that out on a manual. An old Underwood. She set it up on a TV tray in the living room whenever she had something she need to type up. Letters to friends mostly. Her and Dad wrote this while I was in Nam. I think she thought that fixing the line of my ancestors down on paper would be a kind of spell that would bring me back safe. Sounds kind of crazy when I say it out loud.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I started looking through the pages, reading a paragraph here and there. 

“You can take that with you,” Harlan said. “You don’t have to read it right now. You have any questions, I’ll try to answer them. Truth is, I don’t know anymore than what is right there in that box. I’ve got some pictures, some photos that go way back I can email copies to you to put up on the history page if you want.”

“That would be great.” I was trying to figure out how to approach the other reason I came to visit the McCoy ranch. The bones of Charles Sevigney LaFontaine. Since I couldn’t think of a clever way to bring it up, I just blurted it out. “Where did those bones come from, Harlan?”

“Up in the woods on Van Bibber land.”

“Van Bibber land,” I echoed stupidly. “That covers a lot of territory. They own a pretty big chunk of the county. How did you come across them. I guess what I mean is, were they just laying out there on the ground or what?”

Harlan didn’t answer me for awhile. He set his glass of tea down and asked Cynthia if she wouldn’t mind bringing him a beer and asked me if I wanted one. I declined. 

“I didn’t find them myself. They were brought to me. I can’t tell you who did find them. That’s a secret I’m sworn to keep. Man who found them says he found the femur first just laying out on the ground exposed.”

“Did an animal dig it up? I understand the bones were buried at one time.”

“That land up there was clearcut. Van Bibbers are not what you’d call environmentalist. They didn’t even replant. It’s pretty steep country and there’s a lot of erosion. Looked to my friend like a gulley washer eroded out a shallow grave and unearthed the bones. He told me the next rain might have carried enough new mud to cover them up again or scatter them.”

“The person who found them, are you sure he didn’t have anything to do with how the bones got there in the first place?” 

Harlan laughed, “Not unless you believe in reincarnation. Man wasn’t even born yet.” He was sucking away at the beer and I was hoping that if he kept drinking he’d forget about his promise to his friend. Maybe Harlan was afraid of revealing too much, but not enough to stop with the beer. Cynthia had brought out a whole sixpack for him and he cracked open a new one as soon as he finished the first. He changed the subject instead. “I tell you what the Germaine Truth ought to be reporting on. What’s going on down there on the Wilbur County line.”

“You mean that place with all the cyclone fencing and concertina wire. It looks like some secret military installation. I saw it when I went down to Summer Lake awhile back. It gave me the creeps.”

“That’s the place. It should give you the creeps. You’re a pretty perceptive young lady, Susie-que. I’d bet one of my greenhouses that is exactly what that place is, a military installation. A paramilitary training camp. And it’s no coincidence that it abuts Malsanto property. Only good thing about it is that it is in Harney County and not Wilbur. Small comfort, it’s too damn close.”

“Training camp? What for? Why do you think that?” I was thinking that Harlan was being paranoid a kind of habitual condition stemming from the days when he was smuggling drugs and paranoia was a life skill. 

“I’ve seen’em before. In Columbia. Haven’t you seen those Hummers around? I tell you another thing. That drug bust up in the Ochocos–you can’t tell me there isn’t a connection between all that coke and that camp. It’s a tradition with our government to fund these things with illegal drugs. They love the irony. And the fast money.”

I was thinking about the men I had seen on that lonely logging road and how much they frightened me. I found myself falling under the spell of Harlan McCoy’s strange logic.

Coincidences Do Happen

Guest Post by Shaherazade Budreau

 

Just as I finished typing up my last entry to Susie’s blog, she showed up on her bicycle looking like she had just completed some kind of marathon. Her face was all red. I don’t mean just a little pink. I mean red. The way only white skin can get. When she took off her helmet, her hair was all flat to the top of her skull and wet with sweat. She was sweating all over. I set the laptop Susie lent me down on the picnic table in her backyard and went for the garden hose. “Hang on, Susie,” I said. “I’ll get you some water.”

 She was sitting on the grass under the elm tree when I gave her the hose. She took a couple of long drinks then closed her eyes and pointed the stream of water right at her face. She didn’t stop using that hose until she was completely soaked. “Thanks, Shaherazade. I really needed that. I must have been some kind of fool thinking I could ride all the way out to the McCoy place and back in this weather without getting heatstroke. Not to mention that I’m not in the shape I thought I was.”

 “I just wrote up an entry. Let me read it to you,” I said cause she was still dripping water and shouldn’t be anywhere near computer equipment. When I finished reading, she was pretty quiet. I thought she might have gone to sleep.

 “Of course it doesn’t mean anything,” Susie said at last. Then after another minute or so she said, “Necessarily.”

“What are you getting at, Susie?”

 “I don’t know if I should tell you this.”

“Yeah, you should.” I didn’t know what she was on about, but if it was a secret then I just had to know.

 Susie laughed and then got serious. “I just don’t want to cause anyone harm.”

 I waited her out. Sometimes the best way to get people to talk is not to say anything yourself. 

“Richie Arlington has a brother named Albert. Al and Susannah, that’s his wife, used to own the Restin’ Easy. He took it over from their parents. Richie and Al grew up in that motel.”

 “Oh my gosh, I remember in your blog you said they were in the witness protection program because of some murder or something that happened at the Restin’ Easy. People call it the unfortunate incident. You don’t think that Albert and Tom Wilburman are the same person do you? But they must be. They must be, Susie.”

 “That’s ridiculous,” Susie said. “I mean the coincidence factor alone makes it impossible.”

 “No, Susie, listen. We came here because of the Wilburmans.”

 “I thought you came here because of Uncle Charlie.”

 “Yeah that and the Wilburmans. Listen to me. Everyday in that church up in Jackson, Mama read the noticeboard on the wall and the internet about towns and cities offering to take people in. Lots of the ones on the bulletin board were from other parishes around the country. She told me she wasn’t going anywhere she’d never heard of before. She said we’d lost too much to just drop off into the unknown. When she saw that notice from Immaculate Heart in Germaine she said that’s it, we’re going there. Daddy wasn’t so sure cause he thought it was all about Uncle Charlie, but Mama said it wasn’t. She said Germaine was right there smack in the middle of the State of Oregon and isn’t that what the Wilburmans were always going off about, how beautiful it was and how good the people was and how much they missed it there?

“And they did, Susie. They did talk about it all the time. I wondered why they left and I asked them one time and they got a little quiet and then Mr. Wilburman said that there had been some trouble, but they couldn’t talk about it.”

A Spitting Image

Guest post by Shaherazade Budreau

 

This morning, I saw Faith sitting out on the porch in front of the Wilbur County Feed & Seed. She had a cane standing between her legs and was resting her hands on top of it. She was wearing a cap and sunglasses. 

“You mind if I sit down here with you, Ma’am,” I asked her.

 “Sit yourself right down, Shaherazade,” Ms Applegate said to me. “What brings you to this dusty old place on this fine summer day?”

 I plopped myself on the bench beside her, and I told her the Wilbur County Feed & Seed was my favorite place in Germaine. 

“Why is that?”

 “I like the way it smells and that it’s sort of dark and I like the wood floor even if it is splintery and I have to wear shoes.” It smells like leather and grain from all the saddles and bridles and other horse stuff that the man who works there told me is called tack. 

“Dale is always nice to me. He tells me what things are called and what they are used for and doesn’t give me a hard time because I’m just a city kid from the South with a funny accent.”

 Miss Applegate nodded her head. “I always liked the baby chicks and rabbits when I was a child.”

 “Wow! This store has been here a long time. Oh, I’m sorry, Ms Applegate. I didn’t mean…”

 She gave me a look that put a stop to my apology. Wasn’t a mean look, just sad. “Time passes,” She said. “Isn’t any of us can do anything about that.” She looked at her hands resting on the cane and I bet she was thinking about how wrinkly and spotted they are and how they must have looked when Great-Uncle Charlie was holding them. 

“Well, the store was pretty new when I was young. Many of these old cooperatives were built back in the Great Depression or earlier, when the farmers had to stick together to survive. Not that things are a whole lot different today. This building replaced a hay barn and stable that burned down.” She might have been about to tell me about that, but then a man walked out of the feedstore. “Got what you need there, Richie?”

 The man patted the bag of chicken feed on his shoulder and said, “Sure do. Anywhere else you want to go before we head back home?” 

The man named Richie smiled at me. “How’re you?”

 “I’m fine,” I said so dumbstruck by how much he looked like Tom Wilburman that I could barely speak.

 “Richie Arlington meet Shaherazade Budreau,” Faith said. 

“I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but do you know anyone in Biloxi? You got a cousin or brother or somebody there? Cause I know this man looks just like you.”

 Mr. Arlington raised an eyebrow and looked real close at me. “I might have known someone, but I don’t believe they live there anymore. Since the hurricane.”

 “Nobody lives there since the hurricane,” I said. Mr. Arlington didn’t tell me the name of his “friend” and I was too stupid to ask.

 They said goodbye to me and I watched them drive off in Mr. Arlington’s pickup. 

I can’t wait until Susie reads this to find out what she thinks about this coincidence. 

McCoy and Madam Zorro

I pedaled my bike out to the McCoy spread this morning. Big mistake. Morning was a pleasant sojourn, but the return ride in the hot afternoon sun turned out to be a killer. The lessons Susie learned from this experimental outing: take a bottle of water (duh); if you are out of shape, start with shorter trips; grease your bike now and then (another big duh); there is a downside to downhill when on a round-trip; and don’t take long bike rides in the desert in 95 degree weather. Okay, I survived, and I do intend to push on with the bicycle routine. It’s the right thing to do.

 The drive down to the McCoy house is a long, sloping grade, perhaps a mile or more. To the north are rows of modern greenhouses, and industrial buildings sit like ghosts on a southern ridge. The small, unassuming house comes into view as you drop down into a little tree-lined dale. The house is old, about 1900 or so, I would guess, and the yellow paint is peeling. It is just a little farmhouse with chickens in the yard, and an old Harley out by the toolshed. There are some goats and a goat-barn, about to fall over.

 You can sense the trappings of the sixties counter-culture in the McCoy homestead. My own parents are from that era, and as much as they try to deny it, the reek of patchouli lingers for a lifetime. Rumor has it that Harlan McCoy had his start in business back in the seventies, flying pot up from Mexico. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of these stories. A Vietnam vet who flew missions over Laos and Cambodia, and who came home bitter and disillusioned, like thousands of other young men, Harlan had the perfect training for a drug-runner. 

Cynthea McCoy, known as Madame Zorro at The Germaine Truth, is actually younger than I am by a few years. Raised in the city by a drug-addicted mother, she has had a very hard life. Harlan rescued her from a roach-infested Portland hovel in the early nineties, and Cynthea now seems very happy with the life she chose in the Oregon outback. 

These are all things I knew before I pedaled up to Harlan and Cynthea’s porch this morning.

 Harlan sat in a faded redwood lounge chair, smiling, with a drink in his hand. Looking as though he had nothing better to do in the world than to chat with old Howard Applegate’s little girl. Cynthea swayed gently back and forth on a porch swing, knitting.

 “Susie Applegate,” Harlan pronounced as I walked up the steps. “Don’t believe I’ve seen you since you were knee-high to a toadstool.”

 I smiled. “Nice to see you Harlan, Cynthea.”

Of course, I talk to Cynthea about once a month, and I saw Harlan not that long ago, when he dropped a pile of bones on the table as I interviewed Tony Sweet. But Harlan was so red with rage that day, he probably didn’t even notice me. I decided to ignore it.

 “How’s your Mama and Daddy doing?” Harlan queried.

 “Dad’s as ornery as ever,” I laughed. “And Mom’s still trying to over-feed me. They’ve taken off August again this year, doing the National Parks tour.”

 “It’s good that they’re taking some time off, after all these years. Your daddy has been sweating at that newspaper since he was just out of high school. Damned workhorse. A person’s got to live life.”

 “Yes,” I agreed. And I need some vacation from them, also, I thought, but didn’t say.

 We finished up our greetings, and Cynthea offered me some iced tea. I accepted, with two lumps of sugar.

“So, you want to know about the McCoy family, I understand,” said Harlan. “Isn’t there enough about us no-good outlaws in the back issues of your daddy’s paper?”

 “Well, Harlan, you know I am looking for the kinds of things that don’t get covered in The Germaine Truth. You know, the family stories. Your mama’s cooking. The little details.”

 “This isn’t some kind of fishing expedition, is it, Susie? You know, to get some dirt on old Harlan.”

 “I’m interested in your ancestors, Harlan,” I said. 

It wasn’t time yet to add, and the drug trade and the bones of Charly LaFontaine and whatever the hell is going on out in the desert.

My Dis-ease

I keep thinking about those uniformed men at the park back in May, and on my trip to Joseph, and stories I hear around town about military-type excersizes out in the desert. I was chatting with Donnie Wicker just the other day, down at the Germaine Cafe, when he mentioned seeing a convoy of Hummers, complete with mounted guns driving the backroads of Harney County. When I questioned him further, he told me that he had been out “messing around” with Zach Sweet, cruising the hundreds of miles of rough dirt and cinder roads that criss-cross the Eastern Oregon prairie lands. 

Of course, I immediately think about drugs when the name Zach Sweet comes up. The sheriff’s son has been in and out of jail since the age of sixteen, mostly for things one associates with drugs and drug addiction. I have to say, I was disappointed in Donnie. He has a lot going for him, and associating with a young punk like Sweet won’t help him achieve his potential. And I just can’t see Donnie as the older brother figure, trying to help out a troubled youth.

 “I gotta go,” he said to me suddenly, and awkwardly. “I just remembered something…

something I have to do.”

 Was it embarrassment at having revealed too much that caused Donnie to run from me like that? Was Donnie involved with Zach Sweet in some drug business?

 I thought about the piece Dad ran back in April about a drug bust up by Nine-Mile Creek. Sometimes I just can’t get my mind around the changes that are taking place in Wilbur County. Murder, drug-runners, anarchists, secret military maneuvers, and federal agents in our midst. What is going on here?

 And, of course, there is Al and Suzanne and the incident at the Restin’ Easy. It had something to do with drugs, or terrorists, or spies. Otherwise, why are the Arlingtons in a government protection program? I’m betting that that something is still going on, and it is at the center of my dis-ease.

 I’ve been putting it off, but tomorrow I will definitely go see Harlan McCoy. If anyone can shed some light on this, it’s Harlan.