I got my vasectomy on Halloween.
Yeah, I know, I’ve been hearing the jokes. No, nobody at Trace Nation sliced me up with a pumpkin carving knife.
Dr. Larry Menning, down at Deer Lodge, did the dastardly deed right in his office, old school style. Few M.D.’s were still doing that; most of them checked their patients into the hospital. But Larry maintained his own separate office, with a reasonably well equipped operating room and a nurse assistant who doubled as a bookkeeper.
“A lot of the early vasectomies failed over time,” he told me while he was cutting, “due to the way they were doing it. They just snipped out a section of the vas deferens, the sperm tubes, and the tubes grew back together. What we’re doing here, though, is taking one end and folding it up, through a layer of tissue, and pointing it back toward the testes. Then the other end is tucked the other way, down through a different layer of tissue, and folded to point up toward the prostate.”
He gave me a whole lot more information I wasn’t sure I needed, including the fact that a man produces, on average, 12 billion sperm per month. Something like 300 million of those little tadpoles fire off in a single ejaculation, having between 12 to 48 hours to live in the attempt to find an egg–assuming the girl has produced an egg in the first place. If there’s no egg, of course the little guys all die. If there is an egg, no more than 200 or so of the spermatozoa will last long enough to find it…and only one will do the lucky deed, fertilize, and reproduce.
Well, one of mine had scared us.
That is, not really, as it turned out, but Judi had thought she was pregnant. Turned out to be a false alarm, her IUD hadn’t failed, but it was the spookiest Halloween week either one of us had ever had.
I called Dr. Menning, and he scheduled my surgery for the next day.
See, none of our bunch wants any more kids. Judi’s the youngest, just turned 24, one year younger than my 25, but despite being an extreme hottie, she doesn’t care to bring any more babies into this tumbling-out-of-control world.
Nor do I, though we didn’t tell my Mom right away that I’d had myself cut. It was a relief for Judi to get that IUD out–the things aren’t that safe–but it might not be a relief to Louella Jackson to discover she was never going to be a grandmother.
Aside from Halloween scalpel jokes, though, there was plenty of other stuff going on during this lead-in to November of 2013. A good bit of it pertained to my own household, but we’ll get back to that later.
In the meantime, our entire high country ranching and welding operation was getting restructured in a big way. I say “our” ranching and welding operation because the whole bunch of us–the Trace ranch with its specialty bucking bulls and broncs, Rodeo Iron with its twin production lines for stock pen panels and rodeo based toys built to scale, and the Jack Hill household’s leather crafting input–had, as mentioned, gone to calling ourselves Trace Nation.
Not for public consumption, you understand. It was strictly an inside thing. Got the idea from several sources, Michael Savage’s radio show where he refers to his audience as the Savage Nation, plus the Blackfeet Nation, Cherokee Nation, etc.
No, not the Aryan Nations, thank you very much.
Beyond all that, my oversized uncle, B.J. Hennessey, had gone nuts. Not in a psychotic way, but he was now alternating weeks, spending one seven day stint at home, helping to manage Rodeo Iron, with the next cycle seeing him out on the road, always gone to Idaho.
He was producing sales orders for our steel toys and ranch equipment both, in numbers that made the Montana runs by me and Jack Hill look downright anemic.
But there was more to it. There had to be. For one thing, there was a bounce in the big man’s step these days–and believe me, when six feet eight of 300 pound black man bounces, the world notices.
“There’s only one possible answer,” I told Jack. “He’s found himself a woman over yonder. Nothing else puts a sparkle in that man’s eye like that. It’s a female, I tell ya! A female!”
Jack chuckled. “Well, Tree, he surely ain’t telling us about it till he’s ready, and in the meantime, looks like you’re in charge here at home.”
In charge of Rodeo Iron, the de facto top administrator of the welding enterprise, he meant. Jack and I would need to hit the road again come spring, but our on-the-road season had only required a single week of hammering the highway after we’d gotten back from hunting Hicks. We could make it through the winter now, relying on telephone and email–mostly email–to stay in touch with our customers for the next few months.
Manager. Huh. Twenty-five years of age, buried in paperwork.
That is, I would have been buried, except for Judi Minske trotting out a few talents she’d kept under wraps for a while. Turned out she had about half of a computer science degree, could rattle a keyboard at something like 220 words per minute with no mistakes, and navigate the Internet almost as well as one of Jack Hill’s notorious hacker contacts.
She wasn’t a hacker, but she was capable of keeping the paperwork straight–and thoroughly input into the computers–for both Jennifer Trace’s livestock operation and our welding operation. Not only that; she had time left over in the day.
When she’d joined Sissy Harms and me, we hadn’t just gained a beautiful lover and a former waitress. We’d gained a genius.
No wonder she’d been able to think fast enough to sling a tray of food at the ex who was shooting at her and then, with a bullet-wounded arm, take control of the situation by telling Jack and me to get the heck out of there after we gunned the guy down. This girl had grown up hard, but she was also packing, according to her Stanford Binet score, an IQ of 150 or better.
I was impressed.
Once in a while, she’d started staying overnight with Jennifer Trace at the main ranch house. Sissy and I figured she was sort of the good daughter Jennifer never had, the ranch widow’s own three brats being utterly insufferable stinkers and, as we understood it, cut entirely out of Jennifer’s will.
Or maybe the good granddaughter; there were enough years between them.
We’d added eight new welders, every one of them approved by me, the same not-so-genius who’d approved ol’ psycho Shawn Hicks himself. Fortunately, Judi’s Internet expertise made it possible to do background checks on these people that pulled up every place they’d ever lived, what they’d done and who they’d done it to, just about down to the point of identifying where they’d gone to the restroom at 10:00 a.m. last Sunday morning and what they’d flushed when they were done.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A bit. But only a bit. You can believe our inner circle kept Judi’s skill a secret from these regular employees; they didn’t need to know the cutest girl on the place was either their best friend or their worst enemy, depending on the realities of their past behavior.
Judi was also an avid reader. She didn’t have my eidetic memory, or at least she claimed she didn’t, but that girl devoured information.
“Do you realize,” she asked one morning at breakfast, “that the President already had his own private army on hand, even before Obamacare? At least according to Dan Brown’s book, Deception Point. He says an Executive Order, long time back, exempted Delta Force from any repercussions under the law whatsoever. Those guys can be sent out on missions to exterminate you, me, or the Pope, and at least as far as the Oval Office is concerned, yay for them, no consequences in court, ever?”
We didn’t know if that was really true–business kept us busy for a while, so Judi hadn’t gotten around to checking it out–but Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame had a rep for accuracy.
George Orwell, we all concluded, had been a freaking optimist.
The evening after my vasectomy happened to find Sissy and me home alone with the three cats. After supper, with the dishes done, we settled in, me in my recliner, she curled up on the couch, Ruby kitten on her lap, mugs of spearmint tea in our hands.
“So tell me,” I said between sips of tea, “about your past.”
Her eyebrows lifted a bit. “All of it?”
I smiled at that. “I know a lot of it, Warrior Woman. Mainly, tell me about the part that makes it a really good idea for law enforcement not to find a gun with your prints on it. We’ve never really gotten into that. Not the details.”
“Oh. That.” She looked pensive for a while, stroking Ruby with the fingers of one hand, sipping her own tea with the other. Not stalling for time, I thought, but marshaling her thoughts.
“Well..it all happened in Oklahoma, when I was sixteen. I’d been on my own for a while by then, had learned to fight and drink, had most of my growth, almost had a couple of babies but miscarried both, and generally lived the life of a mixed blood Indian, drifting wherever the winds took me.
“Ended up in Oklahoma, on the Osage Reservation we thought, though we found out later it wasn’t. I was shacking with a young buck we all called Totem, for the size of his male equipment. Never knew his real name. He was Osage, though, or part anyway, tall like a lot of them are. I never felt out of place size-wise among the Osage. They got some men as tall as your uncle, and a whole lot of ’em six feet or better. I felt like I’d come home, not a giant six foot freak woman, but somebody who fit in.
“For a while, that is. The good part didn’t last long.
“I wasn’t drinking heavy even then, but sometimes enough to cloud my better judgment, and Totem could convince me of just about everything. Not because of his prowess in bed, which really wasn’t all that, but because he had a way about him. Like you, sort of, Tree,” she twinkled at me, pausing to take a sip of tea before adding, “only without the bottom. You’ve got depth to you, and plenty of it. Totem had about as much depth as a sheet of water on glass.”
I thought about that. The growing up years for an Indian in this country–excuse me, y’all politically correct types, Native American, okay?–the growing up years for an Indian are different than they are for anyone else. Because of Sissy, I’d started reading a bit here and there, books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Black Elk Speaks, dozens of other volumes both newer and older.
Sissy had her own library of Indian related literature; I didn’t need to buy any.
“Anyway,” she continued, “Totem and several other young Osage people, or at least they claimed to be Osage, decided to go into the moonshine business. We will keep it a secret among us few, they declared, and turn the tables on the whites. No firewater sales to anyone on the rez; we’ll get the enemy to pay us for the poison. We’ll watch them get drunk and fall down. We’ll laugh all the way to the bank!”
“It seemed a great joke to all of us, Indians selling booze to whites instead of the other way around like it was in the bad old days.
“The only other girl in our group of illegal entrepeneurs, Milly Shakes, claimed to have a great recipe for moonshine she’d inherited from some distant ancestor, a white man who’d once supplied the female teenaged bandits, Little Britches and Cattle Annie, with the whiskey they’d sold the Osage before they were caught and sent to prison. She did, too. We had to steal most of the equipment to set up the still, but we had a great little hidden pocket of land back in a stand of scrub oak. There was a spring there we were able to dig out enough to get water, a farmer a few miles down the road had managed to make corn grow on his place, and we were in business.”
This, I could see as her tale unfolded, was a natural disaster in the making. But then again, I’d been stealing things left and right at that age, lashing out, the poster child for Stupidity.
Who was I to talk?
“For the first three months, our plan actually worked. Totem had a beatup old Plymouth coupe; we used that to deliver the goods. We kept our prices reasonable, ten bucks cash for a fifth of alcohol, bottled in whatever old whiskey bottles we could find and clean up. We were able to stabilize it for the market at 180 proof, give or take a smidge. Called it that, too. One-eighty.
“Of course, looking back, it’s hard to believe we really thought we could pull it off for long without getting caught. The word got out fast. For a while, that was okay, because the moccasin telegraph informed the Indians first, and most of them thought it was funny as Hell that we were marketing to whites only.
“But some didn’t think it was amusing at all. Three guys came out once, threatened us with exposure if we didn’t sell to them, so what were we young criminals supposed to do? Of course we caved in and sold them a bottle…and now we were no better than Little Britches and Cattle Annie, selling to those damfool drunken Injuns.”
Listening, I shook my head. This was a remarkable story.
“We found out later, we would have been busted a lot quicker than we were, but whenever the snitches got the word to the authorities, the authorities weren’t quite sure if we were on the Rez or off the Rez. Was this a matter for the Tribal Police or the County Sheriff?
“Turned out we were off the Rez, by about fifty feet…and the deputy assigned to take us down was one of our customers. A mean one. We didn’t know he was law enforcement when we sold to him, and I doubt he was the snitch. That was probably one of our fellow Indians who truly felt we were doing wrong.
“The deputy, fellow by the name of Sikes, was, I’m pretty sure, reselling the product. He was a sneaky bastard, and horny, too. When they came to bust us, there were six of them, threw down on us with riot guns, started handcuffing everybody.
“Now, if you’re Indian and you’ve had a life anything like mine or Totem’s was up to that point, you’ve seen the business end of handcuffs before. The last time I’d been cuffed, three cops in Seattle had taken turns raping me before hauling me off to jail for spitting on the sidewalk or something. They cuffed Milly Shakes first, mostly ’cause she started cussing them out. Then the men, and they were in the middle of that when I made my move.”
She stopped for a moment then, remembering, and I left her to it. Got up, took our mugs to the sink, and started a fresh pot of coffee. There wasn’t much on TV we cared to watch, but this was keeping my attention better than any movie or news program ever could have.
When I got back into my chair, Sissy was ready to go on.
“What I did was…well, long story short, I took Deputy Sikes hostage. I had myself all hunched over looking mighty meek and mild and terrified like a good little six foot squaw, but I was really coiled like a rattler, ready to strike. My adrenalin was sky high, higher than it was when we had that first fight against Morse Code at the ranch.
“Sikes come waddling at me, that big beer gut of his pushing out in front, handcuffs in hand. None of us moonshiners looked to be putting up any resistance except for Milly and her mouth, and one deputy had backhanded her, knocked her about half out, so she wasn’t saying much at that point, either. They figured they had us all cowed.
“I come out of my coil, threw about eight feet of folded knuckles, reached back and launched that strike right into Fat Boy’s jiggly throat. Didn’t wait for him to move much; his hands were still going up to his neck when I yanked the handcuffs away from him so hard it broke one of his fingers. Spun that good old boy around so’s he was between me and the rest of them, stuck a knee in his back, started yanking his arms back, and before anybody but me knew it, he was wearing his own handcuffs.
“Danged near didn’t work; he was so chubby it was a tight reach, getting his own hands locked behind him, but I’d done it, and equally to the point, I had him by the hair with one hand and had his service pistol in the other. It was a damn Glock, and I’d never shot one of those, but that didn’t seem to matter much one way or the other.
“Four of those deputies froze in position like good little lawdogs when the outlaw has the drop on ’em, but the fifth one had to go and be a hero. Skinny little dude, kind of reminded me of Barney Fife. He had his own pistol already in his hand, he’d been covering Totem and the one other Indian man who wasn’t cuffed yet, and he lifted that shooter of his. I seen in his eyes he was going to try.”
I had to interrupt. “What, shoot right through his boss to get you?”
“No, he had a shot. Sikes was a full head shorter than me; if he was a straight enough shooter, he could do the William Tell thing, shoot the apple off of Sikes’s head and drill me right between the eyes.”
“So I squeezed them Glock double triggers, and as luck would have it, I shot him between the eyes.”
“Then, while he was lying on the ground, a good bit of his brains blown out the back of his head, I said the line that haunts me to this day, a cliché if there ever was one. Anbyody else want to be a hero? I asked them that. I really did.
“Let me guess.” I grinned at her. “Right about then, the heroism factor had declined considerably?”
“Considerably.” She nodded. “It could have been a Mexican standoff, but I figured I had the initiative. Stuck the muzzle of the Glock in Sikes’s right ear, told ’em, hey, your boss just pissed his pants. You boys might wanta take that as a sign and drop your weapons. Another cliché, I know, but it worked.”
“Huh.” I shook my head. “Guess they’d never read The Onion Field.” Anyone who’d studied Joseph Wambaugh’s true story of a cop getting murdered because he was stupid enough to give up his gun would never….
“Guess not,” she agreed. “I left the five of them, handcuffed to each other, their backs to a couple of those scrub oaks, just sitting there in the grass, two of them circling one of the trees, the other three circling another.
“And I ran. Took Totem with me in his Plymouth, but I drove. He was scared sh*tless of me by then; he’d seen me capture one cop and blast another, easy as you please, like I was born to it.”
She was silent then. The coffee was ready; I got up to pour while she dug in the fridge for the peach pie we’d saved for late dessert. One thing about peach pie; it’s either out of this world good or pretty much inedible.
This was one of the good ones. Judi had baked it as a special commemorative for my vasectomy. She’d been studying cooking with Wayne Bruce on the weekends.
“So,” I said around a mouthful of pie, “let me guess again. The rest of your motley crew got arrested sooner or later.”
She nodded and swallowed before answering. “Pretty much. I had to be careful, trying to watch news stories. Figured the Feds would be on this one, and they were. BATFE got into it, because of us selling alcohol without paying taxes. The FBI, in part because there were still arguments over whether this had happened on Indian land or white land, and I think the Sheriff asked them in, too. I couldn’t guess how many computer experts they had trying to track anybody who showed too much curiosity about Osage country. But I was able, eventually, to dope out most of it.
“Totem was caught a week later and is still in prison, life without parole. The other men are also still down, got 20 years, but will get out someday. Milly Shakes never made it to trial. In fact, she never made it to jail. One or more of those deputies put a bullet through her head and claimed I’d executed her while she was handcuffed because I thought she was the traitor who’d turned us in.”
That startled me. “But didn’t you say you’d left law enforcement all handcuffed to trees? Didn’t you get the others loose before you left, or didn’t you dare take the time?”
“Oh, I cut my people loose, all right. Milly and the three men–not Totem, but the others–were hands free and scattering like quail the last time I saw them. They must have found her later and murdered her, though I’ve never known the exact details. Didn’t seem like the details mattered a whole lot.”
“No,” I said thoughtfully. “I don’t suppose.”
“Anyway, that wasn’t all. Those five deputies I left cuffed around those trees?”
“They all bit it, too. They were all shot to death. Investigators later dug a bunch of slugs out of the trees, decided Wicked Witch Wanda had executed them, too.”
“But you didn’t.” It was a statement, not a question. I knew my girl better than that.
“Not hardly. I was more like Thelma and Louise, but they had me painted way darker than Bonnie and Clyde. Law enforcement probably did Milly, but I never have figured out who really killed the deputies for sure, whether it was the cops themselves, murdering their own to set me up deeper–which seems kind of unlikely–or some really irritated Indians who saw their chance, or what. But I got all the credit.”
We were quiet for a while, sipping coffee, finishing our pie. Finally, I got my thoughts organized.
“Your name was Wanda back then?”
“It was the name I was using. I never gave a last name, just told everybody to call me Wanda.”
“That you’re hooked up with a supposed mass murderer?”
“Nah. You could off all the people you like; I’d love you regardless.” Corny, maybe, but true, and I saw her melt a little, hearing it. “Amazing that I missed the news on that. Mass cop killings make big news–but then again, that would have been the same year I started stealing stuff. I was still in school, still cracking grades, and hadn’t been caught yet. But I surely wasn’t watching any news, so…. Let me guess one more time. Third guess of the evening. Jack Hill was your salvation.”
“Damn right. He smelled the trouble riding me the moment we met. Got the story out of me quick as you please, which amazed me no end, that I’d opened my mouth and told him. I hadn’t told anybody, not a Soul, and here this old white fart had slipped it right out of me, just like that.
“I remember thinking, just for a second or two, wondering if I’d have to kill him, too–except I knew I couldn’t. That wasn’t my style, I liked him, and besides, something told me that man would be surprisingly hard to kill.
“And then, without any preamble whatsoever, he laid it out for me. Told me he had a bit socked away, enough to get me to a plastic surgeon he knew would not talk, and we needed to get that done right off. Told me I could live black–not color, but off grid, no paper trail in the system–with him for the rest of my life if need be.
I chuckled. “And you looked at him and thought, yeah, right, you’re going to outlive me?”
“Exactly. I laughed in his face when he said that.”
“But you’re not laughing now.”
“No,” she agreed fervently. “I’m not laughing now.”