A Cable Counties Short – featuring Blue
My name is Sara Tableau. I’m many things, among them I’m an Agent for the Cable Department of Law Enforcement. The Cable Counties are a long belted stretch across the neck of Florida, thirteen counties in all, who have banded together for nearly a hundred years to preserve a way of life not common to the rest of the state. We are the part of Florida that creates the food, tills the land, and cuts the timber. We are the part that tourist almost never see. And we are a very proud people.
I drove my CDLE cruiser under the overhang of Ballerini’s store, the absolute center heart of the Cable Counties in the town of Lawless. The town is named after an icon from the past but might as well embody the attitude of the whole community. The little town sits on the convergence of four counties by design; and they don’t want to answer to any rules, regulations or law from any of the counties. Arezzo Ballerini was a wizened old grandfather, the owner of the store, and should have been the mayor, ney, czar of the whole community. Ballerini always had a little whiff of crime about him- the organized kind. Despite that perception and even though I was a by-the-book type of cop, I loved the old man.
I walked through the front door, a cowbell scraped against the frame and tinkled my arrival. It was mid-afternoon, summer in the sunshine state, the humidity and heat outside made it nice to be indoors even though the proprietor kept the store lukewarm. Ballerini was behind the counter serving plastic cups of beer from a single tap. Six store regulars sat on barstools telling lies and judging every person who entered.
The old man saw me, finished pulling the tap, and came from behind the counter wiping his hands on an apron I’m sure is older than me. Despite the fact I was in uniform, he grabbed my shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, then kissed me lightly on each cheek. “Blue, I feel you might be filling your tank from time to time at other gas stations. I don’t see nearly enough of you.”
I said, “And you, sir, know that I am loyal, but I have to cover hundreds of miles a day. Takes a lot of gas.” I handed him a brown paper bag.
His face brightened. “A gift. If only my daughters were so respectful.”
“Emma experimented with homemade Divinity candy, she wanted you to have something sweet.”
His face lost some of the gleam. “Yes, well, pass her my gratitude. Your partner is a very beautiful woman, but, cooking is not her specialty.”
I smiled. “That’s why we’re giving it out as gifts. I got tired of hiding her treats in the trash. Besides, Cloud included a bag of his special peanuts as well.”
His face blew up with sunshine. “I will suffer the Divinity to abide the divine. Thank you.”
“I won’t. Do you know Baron Kingston?”
“I know who he is.”
“He left a note.” Ballerini went back behind the counter and handed me a crisp envelope. With that he fluttered his hand and walked back to the storage area of the store.
I tipped Ballerini’s grandson, the one who pumped my gas and cleaned my windows, then sat in the cruiser for a moment reading the note.
Agent Sara Tableau, I have a tip for you concerning illegal drugs in Cable. I prefer to speak in person and I’m almost always at my farm. Please visit at your earliest convenience. Thank you,
Great. I thought this was going to be a day on the low side of drama. No such luck. I spun the wheel and headed out to Baron Kingston’s farm. I checked in with dispatch and relayed my location and intended destination.
Baron Kingston was from out of town. From out of state. He was a man who’d made money in the pharmaceutical industry, cashed out and sought refuge in our lovely Cable. His farm was a series of greenhouses on the border of Bradford County. He’d recently become one of the lucky recipients of a legal license to grow medical marijuana, only six in the state. CDLE is responsible for supervising the grow hubs. I’d had the duty of working with Kingston. He was very polite, almost trying to live up to some English lord bearing. He had the most organized paperwork and that made my job almost effortless. Still, I didn’t like him.
I drove the cruiser in between the greenhouses and found the cottage he’d built as an office. The cottage fronted a man-made pond. Kingston was sitting under a gazebo throwing pellets to kept fish.
I walked the short deck to the cottage. Kingston made point to not notice until I’d almost arrived. Then he rose with grace, but way too much drama as well. He approached and offered his hand. It was wet, small, clammy. Then he attempted to turn my hand as if he was going to bend and kiss it. I snatched it back and wiped my hand on the front of my uniform.
He said, “Welcome Agent Tableau, it’s so good to receive you at my property again.”
Ick. Everyone, and I do mean everyone calls me Blue. My mama called me Baby Blue, but since that time I have to look around when someone says Sara or Tableau. “Mr. Kingston, I got your note. What can I do for you?”
“I was just feeding the Koi. It’s almost tea time. Would you join me?”
Double Ick. “No, I’ll just listen to your lame ass, file a report, and do nothing. What I’d really like to do — is kick in your skinny chest, then watch you fall flailing back into that soupy little pond of warm water.”
I didn’t say that. But, it’s what I was thinking. Instead I said, “It is that time of day. Thank you for the invitation.”
He pushed a button on his phone. Tea was served with crust-free sandwiches efficiently spread with what seemed like curdled mayonnaise. Yum. There were also some tasteless cookies he referred to as biscuits. If I’d liked him at all… I’d of taken him back to the Lawless Diner and introduced him to a real biscuit. But, I didn’t like him, at an alarming rate.
After thirty minutes of faking interest, I asked, “Mr. Kingston, your note. You said you had a tip I might be interested in.”
“Please call me King.”
Ick to the third power. “Okay.”
“As you know, I hold one of only six legal licenses to grow medical marijuana. I take this responsibility very seriously.”
“Yes, well, a local deviant, a man who has no license, is attempting to gain one of his own. He has no hope, yet he doesn’t know such. In an attempt to be ready for a windfall should he be so lucky, he is growing illegal marijuana right here in Cable.”
“Shudder the thought.” Again, I didn’t say that. “What’s his name?”
“He operates some trashy salvage yard near the county landfill. But behind those piles of wrecked vehicles, he has his own farm. An illegal operation.”
I scribbled some doodles in my pad. I bent my eyebrows. Scribbled some more. Silence became loud. The Koi were popping at the surface of the pond, probably trying to survive. After a time I felt his eyes infect me. I asked, “You and Curtis, you have some history?”
He wiped crumbs from his pleated pants. “I first moved to Cable only ten years ago. I was unfamiliar with the land and the local landscape. Curtis Arthur saw me as an easy mark, if you forgive the term. He and I have had dealings in the past, but we have divorced ourselves of any relationship.”
I scribbled a child-like version of a hyena. “When was the divorce?”
He flung pellets into the pond. The Koi chirped. “That is of no matter. But if you must know, it was recent.”
He picked at something unseen at the knee of his pants.
“Curtis is uncomplicated. He is a blight on our community.”
I made a final mark on the pad and flipped it shut. “I appreciate your support of the community.”
He stood. And again offered the wet hand. I obliged.
He said, “What will become of him?”
I scooped a handful of pellets from the container and flung them into the pond. “I reckon he’ll become my next conversation.”
Do-Wah-Diddly-Fuck. Right about now I was supposed to meet the loves of my life on the back deck of our home for a romantic soak in what Cloud calls a country hot-tub (which is just a galvanized steel cattle trough). He always wonders how anyone can bear to heat the water when the air is so heavy with humidity. After which we would, the three of us- Emma, Cloud and myself- eat fat steaks perfectly cooked in his Big Green Egg. Then, what knows what desserts may lie on the horizon.
But no, duty called and I had to respond. I called home and asked for a delay of an hour or so. Preparations were under way, I could tell, but I got the go ahead.
I stopped at a ten-foot metal fence guarding the salvage yard. I punched the number for the yard on my phone, twelve rings, no answer. I let it ring and punched another button on my console which let out a cop whelp of noise. The phone rang. Finally, “Closed. Come back tomorrow.” The phone went dead.
I turned on the strobe lights, hit the siren again. My phone rang back. “Gawd dammit, who the hell…”
“Blue-who. Whatcha want?”
“Open the god-damn gate, right fucking now.”
“Oh. That Blue. Come ahead.”
I found him at a welding table. A large muscled man, shirtless, but covered in natural-grown hair both back and front. He shucked his welding lid and out drained two perfectly French-braided tails of hair, dyed hot pink. He had some saddle-bags of heft, love-handles, but aside from the pink hair, this wasn’t the kind of man you’d want to engage at a biker bar.
I counted six, mixed origin, junkyard dogs frothing saliva against my window. I’d been here before, but for the most part I really didn’t give a damn. I’ve always had a way with the wild part of humans or beast. I didn’t say a word, just pushed the door open against their hate and stood with alpha-eye contact. There was some growling, huffing, the figuring inside their K-9 brains. But, they knew. They knew.
One mongrel howled. I shut the door and strode towards the welding table.
“Goddamnit Blue, you keep doing that you’ll make sissies of ‘em all. I can’t have dogs skeerd of bitches like you.”
“Check your choice of words — garbage man.”
He gave me some eye-strain, then, “Okay, okay. You’re the he-bitch, I succumb.”
“Big word. Where’d you learn that?”
The big sweaty man grabbed at both pink pony-tails and tugged down. “Did he put you on me?”
I stretched my neck from side to side.
Curtis Arthur seemed like he might cry. I looked over at the dogs. I knelt and the boss-dog came over with wagging tail. The others followed.
And now Arthur was crying. Big, six-foot-plus tall man with pink braided hair – muscled shoulders shaking, gasping…
This shit was sad. I used my boot, towed some dirt.
Curtis Arthur just turned and leaned against the welding table. Bawling. Sad.
The dogs gathered ‘round him, laced about his feet trying to absorb the pain.
My adrenalin was seeping out, looking for release. If something violent didn’t happen quick like, I might start raining tears myself.
I touched my mic, thought about calling into dispatch. That was what I was supposed to do.
Instead, I walked around the welding table and relieved Curtis Arthur of the knife and gun on his belt. I set them on the table and patted them. Then…. then, I touched his shoulder…
He turned with such intensity, I’m afraid I grabbed the Glock at my hip before I could think. But he just engulfed me in his big sweaty hair-suit and hugged like he was putting his momma in the ground.
I released the Glock and with true will, hugged his sagging carcass. He wept. He stamped his feet. He howled. I patted his back. The dogs gathered closer.
We sat across from each other, the welding table between. He was sipping something homemade from a Mason Jar. He’d given me a bottle of water.
“King, he put you on me?”
“You growing weed in that barn beyond the crushed cars?”
“You know I do.”
I rubbed at my face. The country tub, the sweating steaks, Emma and Cloud… they were all waiting. Might be already done and gone with the lights turned out. Damn, I was hungry. And not just for food.
“What if I give King a call? Ask if he might consider coming over? Talking things out?”
“You’d do that?”
“What do you want?”
“Peace, harmony, a come-one-day favor to be named later.”
He wiped his face with a purple handkerchief. He tucked his shoulders back and acted like all the crying and moaning hadn’t happened at all. “You’re a hard woman. I mean that as a compliment. You call King. And I reckon I’ll be your bitch.”
I made the call. Baron Kingston came. We all sat around that welding table for a long time.
When I drove out the metal gate, behind me lay peace, harmony and a favor to be reckoned later. Big pink ponytails — with his hairy arm around the Baron of Cable.
I drove back to my own home, walked out onto the back deck. Time had ceased to move. Cloud saw me coming and turned on the lighted fountain. Emma engulfed me in her arms. Our two Jack Russell Terriers jumped around my feet. Cloud lit a fire in the Big Green Egg.
I shucked my uniform and climbed into the galvanized tub with company. Life was good, and I wasn’t nearly as high-minded as I had been when I’d woken with the sun.