From The Woods
That was the word, Albert decided. That was the word that described it all. And because he was good with words, Albert knew that he’d found the right one.
Though just ten miles up the valley from Albert’s home in Seakomish, the Skybillings Logging Company was a taste of the magic he'd longed for in all of his eighteen years—or at least all of those that he could remember. Repairing the tracks in a logging railway—which carried ancient firs from the high reaches of the Cascade Mountains to the lumber mills along Puget Sound—gave him blisters that bled and arms that hung like cord wood at the end of the day. But the cold air six thousand feet up in the mountains made him feel warm.
Since the day six weeks earlier when he had arrived at Skybillings Logging Company, Albert had worked for Nariff Olben and his crew laying the tracks—they called them “sections”—for the rough-hewn Skybillings railroad line that inched its way up the Cascade Mountains from Seakomish. The Skybillings track climbed the grade along Roosevelt Creek, with its boulders and hard-charging water; wound through the towering Douglas firs that crowded the steep inclines of the Cascade Range; then—miles later and many thousands of feet higher—finally broke into the sunlight along the sharp edge of a deep and wide ravine.
Skybillings Lumber Company wasn’t the only one to lay down a logging railroad high in the Cascades, of course. Skybillings was one of hundreds of railroad logging companies—the locals called them logging “shows”—that operated in the Cascades during the late 1930s.
All of them built and maintained their own lines. Some shared the same tracks in the lower part of the valleys around Seakomish. But then, as you rose higher, the tracks quickly splintered into the lines of individual companies, a spider web that disappeared into the dense forest and steep inclines. With no roads, the logging shows couldn’t get the timber out any other way, and sometimes even had to log right up to the snowfields. They ran powerful steam locomotives to haul out the old Douglas firs, some 500 or 600 years old—some nearing a thousand years even—and so wide at the base that six men with arms outstretched still couldn’t reach around them. The engines that pulled them were Shays and Baldwins and Heislers, all of them with their names emblazoned in silver or embossed white on their flat black noses. Tons of metal to haul tons of wood.
The Skybillings locomotive, a Shay, ten tons of black iron, spouted steam and cinders, and it screamed against the terrible weight of the firs it hauled. But—once loaded—the Shay finally, painfully, crept along the rock ledges, then descended slowly along the mountain shoulders, back down the Roosevelt Creek Valley, through Seakomish, carrying the massive firs to the mills in Everett or Seattle, mills that stripped them clean and sawed them and shaped them into lumber that was rebuilding New Jersey and New York and “the whole East Coast”—it was how they said it—as America began to recover from the ravages of the Great Depression.
Skybillings was part of that. Albert Weissler—proud of his eighteen years, born in Seakomish, of reasonable muscles and a quick mind—liked that he was now part of it, too.
In spring, 1937, of course, families still rode the rails because of the Depression, which everyone said was already in the history books as the worst ever. The jobs still couldn’t be found, at least for most people. Everett itself—the smaller, poorer, little brother lying north of Seattle—ached with the unemployed and the hopeless. The labor union tensions in the woods still festered and got bloody at times. But Skybillings—and the railroad logging shows of the Cascade Mountains—felt like they were, inch-by-inch, rebuilding America.
Nariff Olben let out a loud grunt, then sucked in another load of damp, mountain air. He let the rough handle of the sledgehammer ease back against his belt buckle and adjusted the black eye patch that had lost its grip—said he’d lost the eye in a fight on a fishing boat off Malta. Then, in a single motion, he once again wrenched the heavy sledge high above his six-foot frame, drove it hard into the head of the metal spike—with a gunshot crack—and let out another loud grunt, followed by the same raspy gasp for air.
All afternoon, now reaching past four o'clock and quickly approaching the windy ride down the mountain behind the old locomotive, Nariff recited, in alphabetic order, all the forms of currency that he claimed were in use around the world. In his travels as a seaman on a Dutch freighter and earlier as a railway clerk in Marrakesh, he had developed an “appreciation for currency,” as he put it, heightened by the ravishes of the Great Depression, which had stranded him and his freighter in Seattle during the early months of 1931.
"Peseta. Pound. Rupee. No, that’s outa’ order. Ruble—from Russia, sorry—then Rupee." He said he had to repeat them in alphabetical order because that was the only way he could remember them all. After six or seven, he would raise the sledgehammer again, slam it into the railroad spike, let out a wheeze, then go on: "Schilling. Sucre. Tugrik."
By late afternoon, Nariff Olben had almost run out of currencies, despite his worldly travels. The rest of his crew—Charles Walker, Whitey Storm, Barney Harten, Lightning Stevens, Conrad Bruel—had come to ignore him months earlier. But Albert provided a new audience.
"Let's see now"—whump wheeze—“I think there ain't many down here at the end of the alphabet. There’s, ah-course, the Yen and the Zloty, that's Poland, but I think that's it."
They had worked on this section of track since morning, first dumping gravel under the existing ties, then packing it tight. Then, to give the rails additional support, they inserted new ties—six-foot-long twelve-by-twelve’s, rough and heavy, sturdy foundations for the heavy spikes they drove in to hold the steel rails.
As Whitey Storm and Lightning Stevens slammed sledgehammers into the spikes, securing the final ties, Nariff restarted his commentary: "Zloty, now I never had a Zloty myself," he shouted, over the slamming hammers. "Zloty was special among the boys I was shipping out of Hanover with for the Mediterranean. They was saying that the Zloty would bring you good luck. Maybe I am livin' proof that that is true, 'cause I never got my hands on one, and I never got my hands on much goddamn good luck neither."
Whitey Storm snorted, and Lightning Stevens grinned. Charles Walker’s face showed boredom, but couldn’t repress the hint of a smile. Everyone else remained silent, as Nariff squatted along the edge of the track that wound in a semi-circle through the clearing. This broad, open expanse was called the "the landing." Though it lay thousands of feet up in the Cascade Range, this was the working base of the land that Skybillings logged. From here, the fir-covered slopes to the west rose steeply upward, another 6,000 feet or more, as did those to the south—these, finally quitting when the rough granite face of Three Sisters Ridge overpowered the massive firs. Three Sisters stretched to the east for perhaps a mile, and at its base, a ravine that itself was a half-mountain long, deep, and wide.
On the distant shore—the far edge of the ravine and butted tight against the granite of Three Sisters Ridge—lay the rest of the Skybillings land. The timber on the far side was rumored to be the best in the Cascades, but was virtually useless because it couldn’t be reached—shut off by the treacherous ravine and the granite face of Three Sisters. It was destined to remain such forever—according to most who knew the woods hereabouts—nothing more than a green-blue mat that floated inside the clouds of winter and shimmered far-off during summer’s dry heat.
Whitey Storm squatted next to Nariff, eyeing the ties. He slammed his hammer on an occasional spike for good measure.
"What do you think?” asked Whitey.
Nariff stepped onto the closest rail, bouncing his weight up and down. "Christ man, these little babies is perfect. They probably was plenty good even before we started on 'em, never mind dear old fart, Mr. Valentine." John Valentine was the foreman who ordered the work two days earlier. “It don’t matter which union a man belongs to—it don’t matter if you are an AFL man or a CIO man or you think the both of them should go to hell—everyone will agree that John Valentine is a fart.”
Nariff Olben was a man of perfection. Albert saw that from the very first day. Despite his apparent don't-give-a-damn attitude, Nariff insisted on precision in all of his work that few other section chiefs in the Northwest even came close to. He just muffled it in vinegar and bullshit.
"John Valentine must’ve got a feather up his arse about these rails," said Nariff, now surveying the entire expanse of track, hands on his hips. "Maybe a feather up his arse ‘cause he ain't ever touched enough of them Yens and Zlotys and Pounds and Liras in his miserable, God-fearin’ life."
“John Valentine is a prick,” offered Conrad Bruel—a scowl on his face that made him look older than his twenty-one years.
“A hearty aye to that, mate,” snorted Nariff, but with a bellowing laugh that disintegrated into coughing.
Buckers and fallers who had been working on the higher elevations of the Skybillings land came streaming down the hill, some walking, but most trotting alongside the Shay locomotive that was now rumbling slowly down the steep incline. Its two trailing flatcars looked like toys beneath the mass of the Douglas firs they carried, both logs dripping broken twigs and fir boughs and mud goo. The Shay screeched painfully against the dead-weight tons of steel and wood pushing from behind.
Ferguson, the engineer, hung his chubby head out the window to check the rails. The fireman stood on the locomotive's front platform studying them carefully.
"Sonabitch is looking good, Fergie," shouted the fireman in the direction of the cab. The engineer opened the throttle slightly, bringing up the speed of the Shay, which now towered ten feet above Albert and the rest of section crew. Albert’s feet tingled from the vibration of the Shay, his nostrils full of the hot aroma of steam and oil and raw wood.
Fergie now added a little more throttle, shouting toward Nariff. "You old shit-ass, Nariff Olben. I didn't think you had enough brains to make those things hold a toy wagon."
Nariff smiled and flipped him the finger. Fergie tipped his hat in response.
Now the Shay passed slowly over the section of rails that had gotten the new ties, which obligingly shifted, but as intended, gently eased back and then re-settled firmly in place.
The buckers and fallers who had been running alongside the Shay swept past, many now breaking into a sprint to the crummy—the old flatbed rail car, equipped with seats and a small gas engine, that took the crew back to the bunkhouse. As soon as the Shay finally passed through the clearing and was on its way to the Everett mills, the crummy would follow close behind, until it reversed course at the railroad fork at Anderson Creek, switching to the side-track that would take them to a slight dip in the mountains where the Skybillings bunkhouse stood.
Albert had heard men talk about Nariff Olben. That he was too old and too full of tall tales to be in charge of the section crew. But Albert wanted to shout as the train passed by without incident.
“What are you so fuckin’ happy about, kid?” asked Conrad Bruel with a sneer. Nariff, Charles Walker, Whitey, and the rest of the crew had already started back to the tool sheds, at the distant end of the clearing.
Albert shrugged. “Nothing. Just happy to see that our hard work paid off.”
“Your buddy Nariff Olben ain’t gonna keep his job long, you know.” Conrad shielded his voice slightly so only Albert could hear.
Conrad smiled, though the heavy ledge of eyebrows turned the smile into a threat. “John Valentine is gonna kick his ass if he keeps mouthing off. He’s asking for trouble. Word to the wise.”
“You mouthed off just as much about Valentine.”
Conrad sneered and laughed. “Nobody cares what I say, stupid. But that old man runs the section crew. And they’ll all think he’s just trying to start more union trouble.”
Albert could not fully grasp the anger in Conrad. It popped up at odd times. It seemed that everyone on the crew was mad at something or someone. Everyone hated Valentine—he was the foreman after all. Max St. Bride was always looking to fight. But Conrad’s anger seemed less even, and often sharper.
Nariff, Lightning, Whitey Storm, and Charles Walker had already loaded most of the shovels and sledgehammers into the tool sheds that stood back from the track. Men were now gathering around the two sheds, wiping off the mud and dirt of the day, getting ready for the ride down the mountain to the bunkhouse. Albert noticed shovels and sledgehammers they had left behind on the other side of the tracks, so set off to retrieve them.
But when he stepped onto the first rail, the earth turned liquid. He stumbled and tried to regain his footing, but the rocks and ties under his feet moved again—everything around him was shifting sideways. He pitched forward, landing hard on his belly across the rock they had just laid. When he got back to his feet, he could see both rails quivering and the spikes bending away from the rails.
He searched for Conrad, who was now running toward a mass of smoke and red flame, far away from him—far toward the end of the landing.
“Albert, grab the shovels.” The voice was Bud Cole, Skybillings’ owner, who swept past him at a dead sprint. Others followed—the fallers, the Swedes, Valentine’s crew, then the rest of the buckers and the riggingslingers. They grabbed shovels and sledgehammers as they ran. Several stopped to hoist-up heavy railroad ties that lay along the tracks. Albert pulled himself out of the mud, grabbed a shovel, and fell in.
The heavy black smoke burned his eyes and the thumming-thumming vibrations in the ground took away all other senses for a moment—but then the full scene opened clearly before him: perhaps fifty yards ahead stood the Shay, now leaning sharply forward and to the right—half off the tracks, the massive iron wheels roaring, spewing mud and rock as they churned full-power into the blackened earth. In an instant, the rails under the flatcars sprung outward into awkward bows, then ripped apart with a metallic shriek.
The chaos of metal and steam, the fire spitting from the Shay, the choking smell of burning oil and wood, brought Albert to a dead stop.
"St. Bride, St. Bride," screamed Bud Cole, “restart the winch. Get cables around the Shay. Now! Now!” Max St. Bride was already atop the steam winch at the top of the landing, throttling the machine furiously. Several men guided the thick metal cable as it uncoiled from the greasy winch, backpedaling toward the Shay. Within a minute, they had looped it around the smokestack; they bound another around the cab and the rear wheels.
The winch roared and the cables ground into the Shay, pulling hard against the dead weight, as men scrambled to get out of whiplash range. The cable noose drew tighter—St. Bride’s revving brought an angry roar from the engine powering the winch—and the muddy ooze finally gave way. The fuming, wounded locomotive slowly began rising—dripping mud and oil as it did, its wheels still mired, but upright nonetheless—all now tethered by string-tight steel cables to two towering firs and the roaring winch.
It hung there. Perfectly balanced. Enveloped by sound and smell, and smoke that stung the eyes, but no movement. Then a wave of men flowed toward it, to save it, to settle it safely back to earth. Several—Conrad Bruel and Charles Walker in the middle—wound more cables around the body of the locomotive, then winched them to another massive fir standing not far from the track. Others poured gravel into the muck—of mud, oil, and charred wood—that lay below the locomotive, then threw down wooden ties, all laid shoulder to shoulder, to build a wooden platform. Lightning Stevens and Nariff Olben stood in the middle, directing the placement, as the makeshift crisscross foundation began to form just underneath the iron wheels.
Bud Cole called out for everyone to stand back, then lowered his arm slowly as St. Bride loosened the winch. Again, the sound of screeching metal as the Shay settled onto the wooden base, which groaned under the growing load. Only a few ties slipped.
Bud signaled for St. Bride to let out more slack, which brought more groans from the wood—then a metallic pingked, pingked shot through the air as one of the cables snapped and bullwhipped within killing-reach of several men. The Shay jolted downward, but then stopped, as the others cables held tight. Men from both ends of the locomotive rushed in again to set more ties, others raced to add more cables.
Albert set out for the gravel pile, but before he reached it, the sickening staccato sound—pingked, pingked—again echoed through the clearing, followed by metal tearing against metal. He turned just as the Shay lurched forward, then pitched violently sideways, sending men lunging in all directions. For a moment, it seemed to teeter, as if uncertain to stay up or fall over, then finally it slumped hard onto its side. As it did, it up-ended the flatbed cars it had been pulling, unleashing the massive fir logs that now shot down the steep incline toward Albert.
Albert lunged for the ground, landing behind an upturned stump, just as one of the massive firs slammed against it—spraying bullets of bark and broken wood into his back and legs. The taste of the dank, bitter dirt filled his mouth and the hard roots and rocks moved beneath him as the log shot over him and sailed downward with a rumbling roar.
In an instant, all was silent. The ground was still. Albert could hear himself breathe. He lifted his head slowly and peered down the slope to find a broad expanse of smashed stumps and torn branches, and the flat outcropping of rock at the edge of the ravine ripped clean of bushes and scrub pine. The logs had swept down this slope, crushed everything in their path, and then shot outward into a free-fall to the bottom of the ravine.
He heard cries and moans. Men lay scattered between the stumps below him, a few not moving. Up the slope, several more lay on the ground, and just beyond—through the smoke and steam—he could make out ten or maybe twenty men, digging furiously with shovels at the edges of the fallen Shay, its smokestack still belching fire across fifty feet of ground, singeing stumps and loose twigs with cinder fire. The engine itself was on its side, engulfed in a foot of mud.
As he stood up, and stared intently at the front of the engine, blinking hard to focus his eyes, he saw Bud Cole pawing away dirt and muck from underneath the smokestack, shouting the name of Nariff Olben.
April is cold high up in the mountains of Washington State. Winter sometimes doesn't go until, in a bad year, as late as May or June. Blue-to-black rain clouds usually swallow the afternoon light, muffling it into a sullen grayness.
Albert's mother had laid out his father's last suit. Gray flannel pin stripe, with vest, frayed at the wrists and thin at the elbows. Beside it, a starched white shirt, red tie. All of them lined up on his bed when he came back from his bath.
"Mother, what are these doing here?" he shouted down the stairs toward the kitchen. Why wouldn't a sweater and a coat do? He picked up the suit, rubbing the worn wool between his finger and thumb. He knew it would itch, especially if it rained. Plus, he'd smell like wet dog.
No answer from the kitchen. Albert hadn't seen this suit since he last saw his father—on a Sunday, after they had gone to church, many years before. That morning, his father seemed to blaze in Christian zeal. It was his turn to teach the Sunday School lesson, so he wore his best suit. Though only eight years old, Albert couldn't have been prouder of, or more frightened by, his father.
Always a calm, quiet man—a man who laughed easily, a man who was always good for a ride on the shoulders—his father now rocked on his toes in front of the Sunday School, speaking in loud, rolling rhythms, his echoing voice thundering throughout the tiny church. Yet when he was done, the ladies who sat in front of Albert and his mother rushed forward to shake his father's hand.
"So you don't want to wear it." His mother had startled him. She was now leaning against the door, peering in. "Let me guess: Because you don't understand why you should wear his suit and besides you'd rather wear your worn-out sweater and jacket." Lydia smiled, her arms now folded.
Albert continued to study the suit. "I might have been thinking something like that," he finally offered.
As she walked into the bedroom, she pushed back a few strands of blond hair that fell from the bun at the back of her head. She fiddled with it, removed a hairpin, snagged the hair with a finger, then pushed it all back into the bun. "Well, that's a perfectly fine question. But you know, you also left out the part about, 'Why should I wear the suit of a dead man, especially to a funeral?'"
Albert slumped back on the bed, groaning.
"I hadn't thought of that. But thanks for mentioning it."
"You’re welcome. Now think of all the reasons why you should consider wearing it." She started with her bun again.
"Mother," said Albert, now with eyes closed. "This is a lecture, isn't it?"
"Lecture? I just made a simple statement."
Albert leaned onto one elbow, creasing the arm of the white shirt. Before he could speak, his mother walked back to the door. "I've got to get ready, but you decide," she said, now into the hallway and down the stairs. "Your decision,” she called back. “Whether you think a suit and tie are appropriate for the occasion or you think a sweater and jacket."
He rubbed the worn gray fabric at the elbows, just as he remembered it when his father slung the coat over the back of a chair before sitting down to dinner at the Bratton’s house that Sunday. They had been invited for dinner, along with the pastor and his family and the three elders and their families. He remembered thinking how dressed up everyone seemed. He was used to seeing loggers wearing striped shirts, black suspenders, thick black pants chopped off not far below the knee—to avoid getting caught in snags and winches—and logging boots that stunk of oil and dirt. Yet all of them—the pastor, the elders, his father—all looked like they had just stepped out of the pages of a Sears catalogue.
"And I'll look just as damn stupid as they did," he said aloud as he picked up the white shirt.
Chapter 3 The Seakomish People, who had inhabited the land for hundreds of years, taught that when someone died in the valley, the river cried. Depending upon the length of the person's life or the pain of the person's death, the river's cry was sometimes loud and low, sometimes a whisper. But it was always there.
Albert thought of this as he drove his mother and his sister down the lower Seakomish road toward the Stardale cemetery. Rain blurred the windshield, slapped urgently by the wipers. Wind gusts swept the water across the side windows.
His father's suit itched. The collar rode high on his neck, tightened by the hard knot his mother had tied for him. She hadn't said another word about the suit, or how he looked in it. His sister, Elizabeth, snapped gum in the back seat.
He pulled the Ford behind Bucky Rudman’s Studebaker. A group of old Chevy’s, Fords, and a few worn-out pick-ups—every one of them showing the hundreds of thousands of miles they had clocked—lined the narrow path around the Stardale cemetery. Set on a flat just above Stardale, next to the Valley highway, the cemetery looked over the Seakomish River, which hugged it in a broad arch. A line of Douglas firs stood along the edge of the cemetery against the highway.
Albert didn't actually remember his father's death. He'd since heard the story many times, but he had no recollection of Bud Cole coming to the door that afternoon, asking for Albert’s mother, and his mother sitting motionless in a hard-back chair to listen to the story of the limb that broke loose and crashed over her husband's back. Albert had heard over the years, from folks around town, and even once from a teacher, about his mother's unwillingness to cry, either at her husband’s funeral or at any time in public following the death.
"She is one strong woman, your mother," said Mrs. Walther, who ran the Seakomish general store. "Your mother never, ever spoke of the accident. She kept on teaching at the school, strong. Not weeping like I would've done. I never knew how she did that, especially left as she was with two small children."
As families got out of their cars, shaking hands, wrapping arms around shoulders and waists, all huddling underneath umbrellas or draped in green ponchos, the rain abruptly stopped. Overhead, the leaden clouds hurried toward the mountains—late, overdue. Darkness held off momentarily.
This was not a moment that Albert had longed for. His thoughts were still locked in that thin indent behind the stump that had saved his life. He stepped across the muddy tire tracks that ran around the outside of the cemetery, following his mother and sister to the graves, but he only saw the blackness of the mud in front of his face, the roaring fir skimming his head.
"Albert." It was a shout from Bucky Rudman, Skybillings’ lead topper. Albert hardly recognized him without his belt and harness and all the paraphernalia that dangled from him as he worked his way up the spar trees to lop off their tops. Bucky finally caught up with him—as his mother and sister continued toward the graves.
"Jesus, kid, I heard you almost got squashed by one of them firs that went flying with the birdies.” Bucky smiled broadly and slapped him on the back. “With all the chaos and all afterward, I never seen where you were. Little Boy and I were up to our asses in mud trying to save these three poor bastards.” He nodded toward the coffins.
It was no surprise to Albert that Bucky would not avoid such discussions, even at the funeral of those who died. Bucky was a cowboy. He chewed, screwed, cussed, and pissed. That was how he often introduced himself—followed by a cackling laugh. Albert suspected that Bucky felt the need to talk so much because his helper, a thin-faced man with pocked skin who everyone called Little Boy, rarely spoke.
Albert ignored Bucky's comment, but then Bucky leaned in closer.
"So could you see the old man get crunched?"
"For Christ’s sake, Bucky." Several people turned, but Albert tried to ignore them. Bucky nodded, with a smile.
"Beloved, we are gathered at this final resting place to say goodbye to our wonderful friends and brothers—Curt Schmidt, Charles Walker, and Nariff Olben." Reverend Botcher’s voice evaporated into the gusts of wind. "On Wednesday, we all know what tragedy struck in the woods above Seakomish. In an instant, the lives of these beloved men—brothers, fathers, husbands—were taken by our Creator."
Albert could hear muffled sobs. Though the rain had stopped, wind coughed occasionally from the west, fluttering the flowers on the caskets.
Albert didn't know most of the families huddled in chairs near the caskets. He recognized Curt Schmidt’s twin daughters from school. Both wrapped in thick brown coats. One dabbed at her eyes with a hankie; the other motionless, staring at the caskets. Albert noticed his mother sitting with Mrs. Schmidt and the girls in the first row of chairs. Behind them was Charles Walker’s family—three teenage boys, a grown daughter, and Walker’s wife, a narrow, bony woman, with graying hair.
He saw no one that he could identify as a relative of Nariff Olben. At the thought of Nariff, Albert felt again the burning sensation in his throat. He turned his mind quickly back to the itching suit.
Off to the right, in a loose knot, stood Bucky Rudman and several of the choker crew—Conrad Bruel, Myles Norgren, and Lightning Stevens, along with Delbert McKenna, the cook’s helper—all ram-rod straight. Petey Hulst, in an orange-colored poncho, held the same expression as when he was working the steam whistle on the mountain—somewhere far away. Bucky Rudman's assistant, Little Boy, stood next to Petey. He did not move, his eyes closed. Max St. Bride was next, a wad of chewing tobacco thick in his cheek. His head bent occasionally to spit. Just behind them all stood Whitey Storm, his arm about the blond-haired girl from Stardale whom he planned to marry in July.
"We know what suffering this loss has brought. We can feel the pain in every movement, in every thought, in every part of our beings." Botcher's face never flinched. Not a flicker of emotion now, though Curt Schmidt’s wife laid her head on Lydia's shoulders, muffling deep sobs. The rain began pelting again, a drumbeat on the roof of the metal canopy.
"But we must not remain tied to their passing, to how they passed, to our loss. We must remember these lives in the way that our Creator intended—in the vigor and energy of these lives, in the dedication and love they brought, in the victory of what they tried to accomplish," said Botcher, now a thin voice engulfed in the noisy rain.
Albert noticed that the flower spray on Nariff's casket slid off, but Petey Hulst got down on one knee, straightened it as he picked it up and placed it again, slightly askew, across the casket.
Botcher continued at a faster pace. Maybe the emotion was troubling him, thought Albert, though he couldn't see it on the face. Maybe the weather was too cold for him. Or maybe this was so familiar it bored him. Botcher mentioned a bit of history about each man––about Schmidt's early years with Skybillings, about Walker's sense of perfection with logging machinery, and about Nariff Olben's sense of humor. Then he read some Bible verses and led a hymn that Albert didn't recognize. All the adults seemed to, however, for they sung it from memory—a deep, dragging melody, with dips and lows that Albert found as discouraging as the dark clouds overhead.
When the hymn was done, Bud Cole stepped forward abruptly to stand beside Botcher. Bud was over six feet tall, with broad shoulders that framed a barrel chest. Because he usually held himself in a straight, upright posture, he seemed to tower over other men––as was the case now with Botcher. His dark complexion, deep-set eyes and prominent, slightly bent nose made him seem, to some at least, unfriendly, while most all agreed that Bud Cole always seemed to be a very serious man. Yet Albert had known Bud as far back as he could remember, and he also knew that Bud could laugh and play catch on Sunday afternoons. It was this Bud Cole who had offered Albert the job with Skybillings a few months earlier.
It had been at a church lunch, on a Sunday afternoon. "Want to go to work for us, Albert?" asked Bud, as he sat down with a plate of food.
"For Skybillings? I've never worked in the woods," answered Albert, unsure what his mother would think. Especially under the circumstances.
"Don't take much. Strong back. Small mind."
At first, Albert didn't get the joke, then laughed loudly, which caught his mother's attention. Balancing a coffee cup in a saucer, she walked over to where they were sitting near the end of the buffet table.
"Anything that causes a belly laugh like that deserves repeating," she said, sitting beside Albert, who glanced at Bud.
"I was just telling this young man of yours, Lydia, that he has a good mind and a strong back," said Bud, smiling. "Asked him if he wanted to go to work for Skybillings."
Lydia sipped carefully from the ceramic cup, focused entirely on not burning her lips. Albert wondered if she had heard. She looked toward the other end of the room, with several children playing and circles of parents, some still eating, others balancing desserts and coffee on their laps.
She directed her answer to Albert, though it wasn't an answer. "So you've been offered a job by the Skybillings Logging Company," she said, peering with her blue eyes, not blinking. This was a sign that Albert recognized. His mother would signal her anger with calm words and motionless eyes.
Bud Cole slid his chair back, scraping the legs across the cement floor. "Of course, you could work down here in Seakomish, at the office. I’ll probably be opening one this spring. We need a person with a good business mind to help look after books and things. No need to go into the woods, actually."
With that, Bud excused himself, saying he had to refill his coffee. Lydia said she didn't need more, when he asked to refill hers. But he didn’t come back after. Albert couldn’t decide which of them—his mother or Bud—had been more rude. Albert remembered, though, that this led to the first discussion he had ever had with his mother—later that night—about his father's death, about how his father had come to be partners in Skybillings with Bud Cole, and about how it started and how it ended.
She explained that starting the Skybillings Logging Company in the first place was his father's idea, not Bud Cole’s. That the logging market was shooting up, the Great War was over, the 1920s seemed to bring such prosperity, such good things really, and Fred Weissler, Albert’s dad, felt that he and his family and his best friend deserved a chance to get in on it.
So Skybillings was born. At first, a tiny operation. Just the two of them—Fred and Bud. Lydia made a strong third, however, because she had good business sense, a good knowledge of financing and numbers.
"And you don't want me going to work in the woods because you figure I will die just like he did," shot Albert, during a pause in her reminiscing.
Lydia did not answer. She looked out the windows of the paneled living room, past the books she held so dear.
"Mother, I’m about to graduate. And I have to have a job. Jobs are impossible to get now. You know it."
She did know it. The ravages of the Depression had shuttered Seakomish for a time. But by then, 1937 after all, things had improved a bit. That was how Bud Cole was able to restart Skybillings after he had to shut it down in ‘30. The U.S. economy had recovered a bit. The ports of Washington State were active again. But jobs were still scarce. Hunger lines still stretched around the block in Seattle.
Lydia walked to the window, still looking out into the dark woods behind the house. Lydia did not believe in curtains on the main floor of her house. She wanted the light in. And she wanted to see the darkness of night.
"I cannot decide for you, Albert," she said quietly.
He looked at her from across the room, wanting her to say yes or no. He could fight with no. He could gain support from yes. But from this, there was nothing. And, like so many of the things between him and his mother, it never came up again.
As he now stood in front of the coffins, Bud Cole cleared his throat, then adjusted his stance.
Reverend Botcher took a small step backward to offer more room. Rain ran down the gutters of the canopy, and umbrellas shielded the crowd, huddled tight.
"I want to say a word if you don't mind," Bud started. He cleared his throat again.
"Pastor Botcher here has offered us some comforting words, today, but I want to add—to each of these families—that I personally want you to know the deep pain, uhhh...," he cleared his throat again and wiped his hand across this mouth. "Nariff and Charlie and Curt were men that I loved as if they were my own brothers. And while I, we, would have done anything to save these men, we know that we cannot replace them. But, I want all of you to know, that Skybillings Logging Company will fill in, best we can, to help, you know, clear the way in the future."
Bud Cole shifted his stance and started again, now in a hurry. "What I mean is, Skybillings, today, is still a struggling company. And this here economy is a bad one. But Edith and Mrs. Walker, we will provide whatever support we can to help get you through. God bless you."
With that, Bud turned around and stepped out from under the canopy, into the rain, which soaked him quickly. Botcher resumed his position, led the congregation in one more hymn, then adjourned the gathering with a prayer.
As the crowd thinned in the heavy rain, Albert noticed Bud—his thick dark face solemn and hard, still standing in a green army slicker at the edge. Water dripped from his cowboy hat—why did he wear it? It was awful and ugly, thought Albert.
Without speaking to anyone, Bud brushed water from his face and walked slowly toward his car.
A black car rounded the corner onto Main, coasted for a moment, then lurched forward and roared up to Talbert’s Bar, screeching to a halt. All four doors swung wide and poured several dark figures onto the street. Bundled tight against the rain, they raced across the sidewalk, through the pool of flashing light from Talbert's neon sign, and into the doorway.
"Mother Mary of Jesus in Heaven," cursed Bucky Rudman, who was the first through. He slumped against the wall, his green slicker draining onto the wood floor. Petey Hulst, Lightning Stevens, and Delbert McKenna—glistening from the sheets of rain—all hurried in after him. The aroma of liquor followed the Skybillings men into the bar.
"Imagine a bunch of goddarn idiots driving on a night like this," said Bucky, as he plopped two stubby arms onto the bar. The others filled the stools on either side. Lightning, at the end of the row, wrung drops from the black curls that hung over his collar. Petey gently twirled water from the tips of his handlebar mustache. Delbert rapped both sets of knuckles on top of the bar, while Little Boy Whittaker settled onto a stool at the end, facing them all.
The bar felt close and moist, a hothouse of stale beer, caulk boots, raw tobacco, and the mustiness of close bodies. A cloud of smoke shrouded the back room, while overhead bulbs fanned thick light onto a pool table that separated the back room from the bar. Shouts and laughter, and occasional barks of conversation, drifted from a circle of men hunched over the pool table and from what seemed a hundred men or more toward the back. Several women poked in and out of the crowd, adding occasional high-pitched squeals.
Earl Talbert emerged from the smoke—towel over one shoulder, hair dripping wet, and three empty pitchers in one hand, several empty bottles in the other. His shaggy whiskers hung damp from a round face, topped by a thick layer of white hair. With a potbelly and a gait that tipped him forward, Earl swept past the new drinkers without looking up.
"Earl, Earl," shouted Delbert, still rapping his knuckles on the bar. "Beer for this group of lugs. We need some lu-bri-ca-tion.”
"You'll just damn wait," was all Talbert offered as he splashed the pitchers into a soapy tub and disappeared through a doorway.
"What the hell we gotta do to get some service in this here joint?" shouted Delbert, displaying a grin with no teeth on the bottom. His face folded into creases along the cheeks. At one time, the face might have actually been handsome—a sweep of olive skin set atop a broad, dimpled smile. But now, the dimples suffocated in whiskers, the smile splintered by a row of brown, crooked teeth and, on the bottom, pink gum. Delbert had been with Skybillings even back in the ‘20s. As the bull cook, his job was the odd jobs—from sweeping the bunkhouse floors to washing dishes, and sometimes, when things were very busy, even lending a hand in the logging. When Bud Cole re-opened Skybillings in ‘35, he said that one of his first hiring choices was Delbert. "I couldn't think of a man better qualified to do odd jobs than Delbert McKenna," said Bud.
Earl Talbert reappeared in the doorway, pulled several mugs from a cupboard and swung them underneath a silver spigot. After he sloshed the mugs in front of the Skybillings crew, he took them all in with a sweep of his eye.
"By the looks of it, none of you birds need any more to drink. You're more’n half-tanked as it is."
Lightning let out an abrupt belch, Petey smiled his dazzling, toothy grin, and Delbert sucked the beer in a gulp, belched and slammed the empty mug back onto the wood.
But the only one who responded to Earl was Bucky Rudman. "Earl, do you remember a woman by name of Rita Milligan, lived down in Stardale?"
"Rita Milligan, Rita Milligan…," Earl's voice growled as he tapped the bar. "You mean the one with the blond hair? Husband got killed working for Deek Brown? Didn’t she have big tits?"
Bucky cackled. "That's her."
"What about her?"
"That little honey was hot as they could be when I got to know her about six months after her old man kicked the bucket." Now Bucky whistled low. "We musta done everything to each other short of hooking up jumper cables."
"What the hell does this have to do with anything?"
"All I was trying to get across, Earl, was that the Widow Milligan and I must've tried every goddang position known to man and woman and in-satiable cattle..."
"And so"—Bucky now smiled sweetly—“before we was done, the only way for a man to finally get his head screwed on straight was to pour a little alcohol into the system to clean the pistons. Similar with a wake after a dang funeral—especially a wake for three poor bastards squarshed by a railroad engine. Only way to finally get your senses hooked back together is to oil 'em, but good, and do it with the finest beverage known to man."
Bucky paused as he leaned across the bar. "That's why we is the way we is, Earlie-Pearlie, and why we need just a taste or two more."
With that, Bucky trimmed down half the mug in front of him, then split into a barking, rolling laugh that began deep in his belly, rolled through his chest with rapid jerks and—as always—ended with Bucky pounding on the object closest to him. In this case, the sticky surface of the bar. Though Bucky Rudman was known as one of the best toppers in the woods, this was a rendition of his true trademark. He'd saw off the tip of a 200-foot fir, climb onto the top of the tree, and pound his chest like Tarzan.
Earl sighed and shook his head. "So how was the wake?"
Bucky smiled broadly. "Speaking for Bucky Rudman, I dealt with it the only way I know how. I sidled up to Charles Walker's wife, took one look at that proud set of jugs on her, and..."
"Christ, Charles ain’t even cold in his grave." Earl’s face was pure disgust.
"I was just looking, Earl. I did not touch out of respect for the dead."
Petey cut him off. "Cease with the sacrilege Bucky, or I'll put a curse on your pecker."
Bucky looked hurt for a moment—then emptied another mug, followed by a belch.
Earl surveyed the five men. "Any of you guys sober enough to tell me how the wake really was?"
Petey volunteered. “Maybe a hundred people. All kinds of food—and drink.” This brought laughter from all. “The mayor—What’s his name?—and the chief of police. Every preacher in town. Even a reporter from the Everett Chronicle.”
"The Chronicle?" asked Earl, filling more pitchers. "What for?"
Petey shrugged. "Three AFL union boys die when a Shay locomotive tips over in the woods. And what with all the talk in the valley about how the CIO union upstarts is gonna take on the AFL guys… you figure it out."
Earl seemed to have lost interest in the pitchers of beer. "I’ll be damned. I hadn’t thought of that. This is just the kind of accident that the CIO needed. Proves their point exactly—the good old AFL ain't the union it used to be, and it ain’t doing the job of protecting the worker. The AFL spends all its time rabble-rousing on behalf of the sawmill workers, and it tells the loggers to kiss its ass.” He paused, as if a new thought hit him. “I'm just glad I ain't Bud Cole. Three dead on your watch, and in the middle of all this."
Several of the men from the back appeared at the end of the bar, near Little Boy.
"Where's the beer, Earl?" demanded the one closest.
"Oh, sorry," said Earl quickly. He carried the three pitchers to the back room, but hurried back to the Skybillings crew at the bar. "I wanted to ask you boys a couple things," he said, pausing for a moment to catch his breath. He looked around quickly, then lowered his voice. "What the hell happened up there anyway?"
"Why don't you let the dead rest in peace?" asked Petey with a slight slur.
"You superstitious or something, Petey?" Earl snorted. "Whole town is talking. You know that. Three men killed just like that. Makes them kinda wonder. Clare Ristall and all his CIO boys must be dancing." Earl's eyes tilted up. "Was he at the wake?"
"No," said Bucky quickly. "Up in Everett giving some kind of union speech."
Earl wiped his hands on a towel, then leaned close to Petey. "Any truth to the rumor that Bud Cole was pushing too hard—like back in the ‘20s—when his partner got killed?" He stopped quickly, as if the question were too direct. "Of course, maybe it was just one of those things, you know? Accidents happen. But the state inspectors are going to be asking, don’t you think? I expect that the Skybillings money people are gonna be madder than hell."
"What do you mean—‘money people’?" asked Bucky. "Bud Cole owns Skybillings himself. He's his own man."
"Like hell he is," shot Earl. "Bud Cole and his Skybillings Lumber Company is leveraged to the hilt. To some big boys in downtown Seattle. I heard a rumor that they may pull out, and Bud'll have to close again."
Earl snorted, then he started in again. "Which makes that damn speech he gave at the funeral all the stranger. Why the hell did he say that? What’s he talking about? My own personal view is that Bud Cole is a little nutty."
But Petey interrupted, twirling his handlebar mustache furiously. "I sure as hell hate funerals. They ain't good for the living nor the dead."
Earl shook his head. "That ain't the question on the floor, Petey. What’s going on up there at Skybillings anyhow? Some people say that after Fred Weissler got killed way back when, Bud was never the same. Went a little wacky."
"Best funeral I ever attended was when I was fifteen years old," offered Petey. "I was on a freighter in the Pacific. Off Melbourne. Melbourne as in Melbourne, Australia. Sailor got his head bashed in a fight. The captain had him put into a pine box and dropped overboard. Whoossh!"
Earl shook his head, as he looked down the line of Skybillings men. "You shit-asses are drunker than I thought. There ain't a one of ya that can answer a question half sober."
“I answer questions half sober all the time,” offered Delbert.
"I always liked funerals," said Lightning Stevens abruptly, startling the whole group with a voice that rumbled through the noisy bar. "Gives a kind of book-end to a man's life. Like my uncle—just last month. His funeral was nothing but songs. No preaching. No sobbing. Just songs."
"Funerals aren't what I want to know about, Lightning, dang it,” snorted Earl. “What I want to find out about is all this talk I'm hearing about Skybillings and such. I bet Clare Ristall’s CIO boys slam Skybillings shut in no time. I wouldn’t be surprised that this kicks off the strike that Clare’s been threatening all along."
Suddenly, Lightning's voice filled the room. "Blessed are Thou, O Lord," he sang in a deep, resonant base. His black hair hung across his shoulders. He stood abruptly, gripping the stool as he sang:
The waters stood above the mountains.Glorious are Thy works, O Lord.The waters flowed through the mountains.Glorious are Thy works, O Lord.
The voice, though restrained, carried each note precisely. He held the final in a deep vibrato, but then began to pitch forward over the stool. Bucky caught him just in time, and pushed him back up until he stood comfortably next to the stool again. Lightning didn't seem to notice. The deep voice began again, but now he faced the window, washed with rivers of rain from the growing storm.
"What's that goddamn Injun singing?" Delbert asked Earl. "That ain't no Christian hymn, is it?"
"What other kinda hymns are there?"
Delbert frowned at the answer, then crawled from his stool, steadied himself with one hand, and turned toward the pool tables. His suspenders hung near his knees, his pants drifting lower with each movement. In a raspy voice, he began singing:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,The emblem of suffering and shame;And I love that old cross where the dearest and bestFor a world of lost sinners was slain.
For several stanzas, Delbert's and Lightning's voices collided, but occasionally they landed on similar notes, bringing harmony amid the chaos. As one of these moments faded, Earl slapped his mug on the bar.
"Everybody shut up, goddamn it.” But Lightning and Delbert started again, so he stomped his foot repeatedly. This settled Lightning onto his stool with a thud, while Delbert stopped abruptly, with a look of genuine anger at Earl. The laughter and shouting from the back room disappeared quickly as well.
"All this awful yammering has made this place feel more like a fuckin’ house of worship than a goddamn saloon," blasted Earl, to make sure all could hear. This brought laughter and several snorts. "If that's so, then Earl Talbert is the Reverend, Pastor, Elder, and High Priest."
A round of applause followed, along with some catcalls and boos. Earl hushed them as he raised his mug of beer into the air.
"Therefore, your humble servant offers this benediction for the three Skybillings men who died." Chairs scraped in the back of the room as the men rose to their feet.
"Here's to three good men, three good loggers, three fellow workers." Earl paused, as his gaze took in the entire room, a gray haze of men in blue-striped shirts, black suspenders, dirty boots, and pants cut high¬¬–a family portrait of Seakomish loggers.
"May the souls of those who died in the heat of battle rest in eternal peace. If a man has got to leave this life, he best do it fighting like hell," said Earl to a muffled chorus of “here-here’s” and “amen’s.” Earl slung his head back and drained the mug.
A chorus of belches followed.
By midnight, the smell in Talbert's grew pungent—stale sweat combined with spilled beer and clouds of smoke swirling into the rafters. The volume of the jukebox rose with every hour.
Earl delivered another round of beer to the Skybillings crew still huddled along the bar: Lightning hummed quietly along with the jukebox, Petey waxed his mustache with drops of beer, Bucky and Delbert leaned against each other as they drank. Sitting next to them, Little Boy nursed his beer—looking into the distance. A woman in a red dress stopped next to him, then leaned into him when he whispered in her ear.
"How about another coupla’ pitchers in back?" asked Billy Sammons, a thick man who appeared from the blue haze of the back room. As he thumped his weight onto the edge of the bar—both arms were blue with tattoos—he bumped into Bucky Rudman’s shoulder. Bucky turned and cursed, but otherwise ignored him.
"So this here is the Skybillings death squad,” laughed Sammons as Earl filled a pitcher for him. "Or maybe these are the ones who’re gonna croke next, Earl. What do you think?" Sammons laughed and put his arm around the woman in the red dress.
"I don't want trouble tonight, Sammons,” said Earl loudly—enough so that the back room would hear. “Leave all that union shit outside the door."
Sammons laughed heartily. "Don't have nothing to do with unions, Earl." He paused again, to make sure all of the Skybillings men were listening. He leaned against the woman.
Sammons' voice was taut, yet it lilted upward at the end, suggesting laughter. "See, Bud Cole's got no business being in them mountains that high-up in the first place. His AFL union boys ain't got the talent, and they sure as hell ain’t got the balls. That's for the big boys; not the snot-noses. Ashford & Southern built that line up Roosevelt Creek ten years ago and decided that land was nothing but a jungle. So they let it go back to weeds. Ain't no way a cut-rate little operation like Skybillings and Bud Cole is gonna be able to log it. Not in a hundred years."
Bucky's voice broke across Sammons'. "You're full of shit, Sammons. Skybillings has thousands of acres of stumpage up there next to heaven. Skybillings also has got the talent—and it’s also got the balls. Not like the pussies from Ashford & Southern who gave up.”
Sammons laughed. "Skybillings is a washed-up, no-talent outfit—that's the explanation."
Bucky pushed his stool back. "And I'm saying you got your CIO-union head shoved up your CIO-union ass," snapped Bucky. "Skybillings had the best operation in this valley in the ‘20s. Could've whipped every one of you boys at Ashford & Southern."
"But that was in the ‘20s, Bucky-boy." Sammons voice rose, now directed at the back room. "Today, Bud Cole is over-the-hill, trying to push a bunch of dead-end slackers and half-wits too hard—isn’t that right boys? You can put caulk boots on a bunch of women, but that doesn't mean they're going to have cocks."
Before Bucky could respond, Little Boy shot off his stool, catching Sammons full force. Though Little Boy was much smaller––even slight in comparison––the force and surprise drove Sammons into the heap of wet slickers with a whomp.
Sammons grabbed the bottom rung of an overturned stool, trying to regain his footing. But with the light, swift movements of a cat in full attack, Little Boy lunged onto Sammons' chest, grabbed a suspender with one hand, and pounded his face with fast blows.
The room echoed with the sound of crashing stools as the two men rolled across the floor. Two Swedes from the back room cursed loudly in their mother tongue, though it wasn't clear who they were cursing. Several others began a chant, “Sammons, Sammons, Sammons.” Delbert McKenna pounded his stool into the floor as he whooped for Little Boy. As the men rolled across the floor, Sammons recovered slightly and heaved Little Boy into the back-room crowd, which caught him in extended arms, and threw him back onto the open floor. Sammons aimed for a slam to his chest, but Little Boy’s boots found Sammons' knees, sending both men onto the floor once more.
Earl Talbert circled the fighters with a pool cue raised high, but a broad circle of men formed a ring that opened and closed as the fighters rolled. For several minutes, they struggled—Sammons landing some hard punches, but still not able to fully peel away the clinging, writhing form that had turned his face blazing red. Suddenly the ring of men opened, giving Earl Talbert a clear shot with the pool cue, which he brought down with a loud crack.
It caught Sammons across the shoulders and Little Boy across his left side, transforming the quick, sudden bursts into slow-motion, then lead. Little Boy slumped, but Sammons was out cold. The crowd shuffled slightly, as some took a look at the fallen fighters, others returned to their seats slowly. But no one spoke.
Bucky bent over Little Boy, carefully lifting him into a sitting position. "Guess Skybillings ain’t the shit-ass outfit Sammons thinks it is," said Bucky as he sloshed a mug of beer over Little Boy’s head.
The double-winged plane dropped low, then tilted sharply upward as it released its payload. The bombs hung for a moment motionless, then dropped straight toward the main trench—thick, black rain, followed by quick thumps that made the ground swim. Bud was already running toward the trench, shouting for the men to dive. But his legs were lead, planted heavy in a muddy earth. His eyes swept around him, looking for the men, but saw only red smoke roaring upward from the trench—and the awful heat, with blinding patches of yellow, that made him shield his eyes.
As his hand hit his face, he jolted upright in his bed, now a jumble of sheets—the brilliant sunlight streaming through a torn shade. France again. He took a breath, blinking hard at the brightness. The dreams had gone on for years after the War—but this was the first time in a long time.
He fell back onto the bed, letting his heart slow. Six men dead. Six. He could hear the rhythm of Mrs. Colloway's washing machine downstairs. His breathing matched the beating of the washer. Not six. Not six. His normal heartbeat returned. Three men. It was only three. Not a dream—the Shay and the fire. The three were dead this time.
The washing machine also told him: This was Sunday. Sunday was washday. Mrs. Colloway only washed on Sundays. He saw her lined face. Any clothes, Mr. Cole, that you want me to wash are to be in a bag at the door of your room—Bud had two rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom, but she always referred to them in the singular—by 7 a.m. sharp.
But he'd lost track of the day. So he lay there now, thinking. It was Sunday. Normally, he would sleep in. Get up late. Go fishing if the weather was good. But that was then. Now was now, and three men were dead. The Shay deep in mud. How to make sense of it all?
He grabbed the pillow from the floor, and stuffed it under his head. He breathed slowly now, trying to think and not think. Looking at his two rooms. They were enough. A man didn’t need much more. He hadn't stayed there for more than a month. He hated leaving his bunkhouse at the camp. Or maybe he just disliked town. Especially now. Men dead; a Shay on its belly; a company, well, who could say?
"Sonofabitch." Bud’s rage flamed instantly as he slammed his fist into the wall.
A crackly voice echoed from down the hall: “What in fuckin’ hell is wrong with you, mister?” followed by spitting sounds. Old Man Jenkins, who had the only other room on the second floor of the house, must've cut himself shaving. The bathroom they shared––a room with a toilet and another room with a bathtub––stood at the end of the hallway.
“Sorry,” Bud shouted back.
Bud liked Old Man Jenkins, who everybody called Old Man to his face. His name might have been Harold or Carl, but nobody that Bud knew ever could say for certain. Old Man had lived in the Colloway rooming house for thirty years at least, moving into Seakomish well before Bud had even heard of the place. He was something of a celebrity. He married younger women—sometimes women with real looks—who then moved into Mrs. Colloway's rooming house with him. But it wouldn't last more than a few months and they'd divorce him, usually ending in a brawl that drew the county sheriff.
As Bud listened to Old Man curse—maybe it was a razor cut, maybe it was just a curse to keep things on course—he smiled because it reminded him of his father. Wilmer Cole. Wilmer never, ever swore of course. He was a committed Christian—stern, to church every Sunday. But the old man would curse in his own way—especially after his wife died, and he was having to take care of himself. "Heaven thundering demon," the old man would say, spitting the words with the intensity to smite the devil himself.
Bud finally sat up. He lifted his legs onto the floor gently. Mrs. Colloway's washer rumbled to a stop. The room was silent. Even Old Man Jenkins couldn't be heard. Bud sat on the edge of the bed, rotating his shoulders, feeling the stiffness from battling the Shay. His fingers still ached from digging. A long gash, now stitched tight, crossed his right thigh where he'd fallen on a spike. Yellow antiseptic that the doctor had dabbed across the wound had spread into a large oval that crept toward his crotch.
For a few minutes, he just sat. Studying the small pine chest of drawers. The worn rug. The walls that needed to be repainted. He wondered how long it had been since they’d last seen a fresh coat.
The muscles in his feet, which he now stretched and rotated, ached from trying to gain a toe-hold in the mud. He noticed scratches on his ankles, several deep. He touched them lightly—where did they come from? As he did, pain shot through his back, which made him cry out.
“Shut-up, goddamn it!” shouted Old Man Jenkins again.
“Shut up yourself, and fuck you!” shouted Bud back, punctuating his point by slamming his hand against the wall again. This time, there was no response.
Bud opened the top bureau drawer, fished around for his toothbrush, and set off for the bathroom as soon as he heard Old Man Jenkins clear out. Moving quietly, so Mrs. Colloway wouldn't come up to greet him, he brushed, washed his face, then focused on breakfast. Nothing in the refrigerator. A jar of milk he'd left in there the last time he was in town—a green mush on the bottom. He lifted it gingerly and dropped it into the paper bag he used for trash, which he quickly folded. The bread he'd picked up the night before would have to do, so he opened the stove, lit the gas, then plopped four pieces onto the rack. He boiled some coffee, bitter and hot.
As he waited for the toast, he couldn’t keep the scenes out of his head—just as he couldn't during the night. Standing in the rain looking at those caskets. The damn crazy speech, and the awful wake, with everyone asking questions about the accident and saying sympathetic things that felt mostly like prying. Who could tell what anyone really meant, especially now? All the union nonsense made everybody suspicious from the get-go—whose side were you really on?
Then there was seeing the Shay go over again, then digging with his hands underneath it, discovering that the three of them were dead—very badly dead, at that—and trying to get the others down the mountain to the doctor.
But he willed them all away. This was a path he couldn't allow himself to take, at least not now. In the trenches, during the War, he willed himself to take command of the fear, to focus only on what he had to do—not on how horrible it all was. A cold night in mid-winter, after his platoon had been virtually wiped out, he lay among the dead in thick mud at the bottom of a trench. It came back to him now: barely conscious, his feet numb, his arms and legs throbbing from bullet holes that he figured would drain him of life soon, but his fingers stayed miraculously dry. He wrestled to pull his belt from his pants and cinch it around his arm to stanch the bleeding. But then he heard the German soldiers approaching, so he flipped the belt away, slipping himself in between the dead bodies of a man whose legs were gone and another whose head had twisted awkwardly backward. The Germans came into the trench. Two soldiers stumbled within several feet, poking bodies randomly with bayonets just to be sure they were dead. He made himself stop thinking, stop listening, stop living for a moment, as they drew nearer. When one kicked his leg, it didn’t move—the leg of just another dead soldier.
That was what he needed now. He knew this. But he also knew it felt different now. Somehow harder and more alone. So he chose to concentrate on what was in front of him; what he had to do. For now, it was just the walls and the rooms—his home whenever he wasn’t in the woods. A kitchen and a bedroom. A table, with four chairs. A counter, with sink, two cupboards above. A plastic picture of Jesus, on his knees in Gethsemane, with a yellow beam of light coming down from the sky, just to the left of the door—a housewarming gift from Mrs. Colloway when he moved in. The other room wasn't much more—a bed, so soft in the middle that Bud felt like his back nearly hit the floor; a four-drawer bureau; a writing desk with a small lamp.
Once Kathryn had left him, he decided to sell everything else and move here. It was all he needed. And he couldn't afford anything more. The Colloway’s had agreed to cut the rent because their two sons had worked for him in the ‘20s—both since killed in sawmill accidents in Everett. So he was grateful. But it was in these rooms that he'd scraped bottom too—in these rooms he'd screamed so loudly that the police came and wondered if someone was being murdered.
Bud finished the coffee and toast, but decided he needed more. How long since he had last eaten? Rather than pulling out the oven rack, he slipped the next bread slices in from the side, and relit the stove.
Not the worst place he’d lived in, by far, but living in the woods was better. His bunkhouse at the camp had no more room, but he felt like he actually lived there. It was where he walled away the rest of the men, where he slept solidly after back-breaking work; where he even allowed himself an occasional shot of brandy after a good day. Crazy, but a man could get a clear head when he was so tired he could barely think. Dangerous—yes, he knew that, given his history.
And then there were his books—that he'd scattered about the bunkhouse. Stacks of books, not in bookcases, but in piles. Without order, without any method of organization. Histories, biographies, political textbooks. His partner, Fred—how many years ago was that?—had said that it was obvious why.
“And that is?” asked Bud.
“You have this deep-down desire to prove that you are more intelligent than anybody else who has an eighth-grade education,” answered Fred.
“Sounds like a load of bullshit to me,” said Bud. “I’ve just got a curious mind.”
“Well, there may be a lot of things that are curious about you, Bud. And one of them may be your mind. But I can say for a fact that you have a very curious sense of pride and that you can’t stand to see anyone get too far ahead of you.” Fred said this without a smile, but Bud Cole knew that Fred Weissler spoke to him from the heart and without malice. Bud also knew that Fred was usually right.
Bud jumped when someone knocked loudly on the door. "Mr. Cole, it’s me, Mrs. Colloway." For a moment, he thought about not answering, sitting perfectly still until she went away, but then he realized that she would eventually smell the toast.
"I'm afraid I have to get decent, Mrs. Colloway,” which he thought would send her away.
"Fine," she answered. “I can wait.”
Bud grimaced. But he pulled on a pair of pants—gently, so as not to break the stitches—and hobbled to the door.
Mrs. Colloway had eyes that squinted, even when the sun wasn't shining. "Mr. Cole, it's so good to see you. I just wanted to be sure that you were alright and you had everything you needed."
Bud rocked onto his good leg, opening the door fully. He smiled, pointing at the stove. "Yes, fine, just making a little breakfast."
"That's just wonderful. You need the strength, having to go through something that awful."
Bud knew that Mrs. Colloway was a busybody, but he'd never known her to be this direct.
"Mr. Cole, I just want you to know that I will be happy to bring you some dinner or help in any other way that I can. I just want you to know that. Norbert and I think of you almost as our own son. And we're very protective of family." Her face was horizontal wrinkles, beginning below her curly white hair, and continuing all the way to the folds of skin that entered her blouse.
He smiled weakly, glancing again toward the stove, and explained that he appreciated the interest. "But I don't think I'll be needing anything. I'll be taking off for Seattle this afternoon on some business and then back up to the woods."
She smiled. But before he closed the door, she twisted slightly toward him. "I don't suppose you really have any idea at this point how that all happened. I mean, it's so terrible, isn’t it? And all of us worry about those rail lines up alongside those cliffs that way. You know? You just worry—don’t you?"
In the hours after the crash, after he had gotten his mind to accept the fact that the Shay was gone—apparently finished—and that three of his crew were dead, he began to wonder how long it would take before the accusations began or before the union boys started making noise. These were the kinds of questions that would start them.
"No ideas, Mrs. Colloway," he said, his voice now sharper. "No ideas, but I'll be sure to let you know when we find out."
She smiled sweetly and left. As soon as Bud closed the door, he ripped open the silverware drawer, grabbed a knife, and stuck it hard into the wood counter. The two pieces of toast were charred by now and blistering hot. Bud decided he would eat them anyway—he opened the refrigerator, scanning the shelves for jelly, but there was none. The same thing for the cupboard next to the refrigerator, and then the one above the sink. But at the back were the bottles—eight of them, some nearly empty, some still full; Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey.
This was not a battle worth restarting, he thought as he steadied himself against the sink. A battle that had taken him to the edge and then over. The fact is, he liked alcohol and liked a good part of what it did—how it snorted up his sinuses when he washed it down fast, how it fuzzed the anger and irritation, how it nudged him into sleep.
But he also remembered the feeling of walking alone, on a logging road somewhere near Stardale, totally lost and confused. John Valentine had come out looking for him, and found him near daybreak. And Bud still winced when he looked at the long scar in his arm from when he and Lightning Stevens brawled three of Deek Brown's men over who would get the last drops of a bottle of muscatel. By the time that all happened, of course, they had already begun calling it the Great Depression. He didn’t give a damn what they called it. It looked pretty much to him that all hope had been squeezed out of his own life. So the battle over a bottle of booze seemed pretty damn important.
As the shaking from Mrs. Colloway's washer reached his floor again, Bud slammed the cupboard doors shut, took the dry toast, and hobbled into his bedroom to get dressed.
Driving fast was freedom. And it always came in the drive from Seakomish, down the valley, into Seattle. For three hours, his mind could float. Just the sun. Or the rain. It didn’t matter to Bud. The Seakomish River running right next to the highway—where it ripped through the narrow channel of granite boulders—sprayed froth across the road, especially on windy days. All of that, along with the whine of the engine. Now he revved the old Chevy, shifting hard into fourth gear, until he reached sixty, much faster than it should go—he knew that—then eased off.
In those three-hour drives to pick up parts or plead with the bankers, his mind could sort things out. Something about the hum or the rhythm of the car against the road. The brain uncoupled. The worries slipped into the background for a moment.
He slowed for the curves just below Stardale—here the mountains dropped hard for five miles or so. He’d seen too many cars go over the edge here, from speeding or because their brakes went out. He concentrated in this stretch, but once on the straight-away, he’d open it up. Head-ons never scared him, though this stretch was famous for them.
At the end of it, where the Seakomish River curled back underneath the highway again, was the house that Bud was renting when he and Fred first started talking about creating their own company. He always slowed a bit, to see if it was still in good shape. Somebody had painted the house and hacked back some of the bushes along the driveway, but it looked snug and happy.
Just like all of them, at least at the time, thought Bud. Even Lydia—when she heard about it much later. Why the hell not start a company? Fred had said it first. They could be their own bosses. They would get by okay. The market in the East was picking up. The War was long over. The ‘20s had opened everything up—things were possible.
They worked for it, though. Bud smiled now, thinking back. From dawn to dark, literally. Both of them standing on wedges eight or ten feet off the ground that they had driven deep into the towering fir trunks. Up high on the trunk, above all the gooey pitch, that was the best place to start cutting. They hauled the massive two-man saw—a wooden handle at either end—back and forth, back and forth, sending geysers of bark chunks and moist wood-shards into the air and often into their faces. They skipped lunches, instead eating their sandwiches with one hand while they kept the saw moving with the other.
Money started coming in. Not a lot at first, but enough. They added a few men—Lightning Stevens, Bucky Rudman, Petey Hulst. Then they brought in several men from British Columbia—many of them Swedes, who took over all the tree felling. Bud and Fred now each headed separate crews: Bud ran the buckers, who cut the trees into manageable lengths; and Fred, the chokers, who hooked the tree sections to cables—connected to a central, towering spar tree—that then dragged them onto a jumbled pile, ready for hauling to the mills.
Bud shook his head as he drove past the turnoff for the sawmill they opened a year or so before the stock market crashed. Fred thought they were nuts to start a mill, but Bud decided that was the way to grow. "Smartest move Skybillings could make, Fred," he remembered saying when he came back to report that he'd gotten a loan to build the thing.
"Why the hell do we want a mill?" Fred always smiled when he argued. Never seemed to get mad—at least until he grabbed an axe or saw and came after you. "Because we'll never build the best damn logging show in these mountains if all we do is cut down trees," answered Bud.
Fred just shook his head. "You were raised wrong, Bud. That's all I got to say."
"Just what do you mean with that?" Bud's dander rose when Fred acted like he had him figured out.
Fred laughed. "Still trying to prove the old man wrong, aren't you?"
But Bud prevailed, and they opened the mill. If only—thought Bud, as a school bus stopped and he waited for a group of children to cross the highway. The driver waved to Bud as she pulled the bus onto a side road.
Fred was like a brother. They fought together in the war, fucked the same whores in Paris, traveled the rails back home, worked alongside each other blasting rock to build a rail line for Deek Brown's outfit. And Fred agreed with most every hair-brained business decision that Bud made—but soon after the mill was up and running, Fred announced he wanted to sell the whole operation, lumber company, sawmill, the whole thing.
"We're making damn good money, Bud. Now's the time to pull out."
"This is just a start, you dumb lug," argued Bud. "Can't you understand that we'll be the size of Deek Brown within a couple years?"
"This ain't gonna hold much longer," insisted Fred.
Fred kicked the side of the bunk. "All of this," he shouted. He waved his arms––taking in the bunkhouse, the woods, the world, for all Bud knew. "Look, we’re making money. I know that. But a lot of logging shows aren’t, and a hell of a lot of ‘em are gonna go under. Prices for lumber can’t hold much longer. It's nuts—nuts, Bud. Grab hold of yourself, will ya?"
But once again, Bud prevailed. As he roared over the Merritown bridge, he tried to calculate the number of times he wished he hadn't.
He shifted again to give the Chevy a little more speed, along the flat farming land outside Everett. Here, the Seakomish River turned broad and flat, ready to flood at even the hint of summer rain or spring run-off. Farmers worked these fields every spring, plowing in the topsoil from the floods, making it even richer. Sun lit the green fields and warmed the aroma of silage or cow manure as he roared past them.
He might've had a place down here by now, he decided, as he let his eyes drift across the fields. A nice one, on a knoll looking over it all, and he'd be retired––or at least out of the woods. But the Depression stopped such thoughts cold. No sooner had Fred been buried, and the market crashed, than Skybillings was over. While he hung on as long as he could, it wasn't long. Petey Hulst, Lightning Stevens, even Bucky Rudman stayed with him to the end. But finally, he couldn't pay even them.
Bud couldn't remember now, whether that was ‘30 or ‘31. Even though he had fallen into the bottle again, and had been given up by his friends as a lost cause, he swore over and over again that he would somehow struggle back––that he would somehow rebuild Skybillings.
A flatbed truck passed him suddenly, cutting in close as it dodged an oncoming truck, its horn blaring. He swerved sharply to avoid being sideswiped and gave the driver a finger. But all he got in return was fifteen men—sitting on the flatbed—giving him the finger back.
He had to laugh. Maybe it was just such faces, finally, that brought him back, he thought, as he settled into the long stretch of road approaching Everett. Instead of faces that gave you the finger and laughed at your bad driving, the faces of the men of Seakomish during the worst of the Depression showed resignation and failure. Very little anger––that was gone within the first year. It was self-doubt that set in––wondering whether they could even do the job again, much less whether they would actually be able to find one. He knew what was going through their minds because he thought the same things about himself.
"I was good," he heard himself say one morning as he made breakfast––two eggs and a shot of vodka. But something made him wonder why––if it was true in the past––why wasn't it still true, true right then, in the present? And while the bottle didn't leave him quickly, neither did the notion. Through the worst of the Depression, in fact, it was that notion that pulled him forward––that made him start asking around among the banks and lenders down the valley when the economy started coming back in 1934.
As he began to slow for a pick-up that was trying to pass him, he heard a pop and felt the wheel shake violently. The Chevy danced back and forth across the lane, whipping into the oncoming lane for a second, then wrenching back to the shoulder. Bud fought to hold the wheel, driving his foot onto the brake.
When he finally got it to the side, he surveyed the damage––a gaping hole in the front right tire. He didn't bother looking for a spare, since this one was the spare.
"Goddamn it," he muttered. What to do now? Cancel the meeting in Seattle? It was already 11:30; he'd never make Seattle by 1:30. In fact, he wasn't sure he'd be able to get the flat fixed and on the road before dark. As he contemplated the options, a pick-up slowed and pulled in behind him. The driver got out––a fat man, wearing a red plaid shirt and suspenders, with his sleeves rolled up.
"You look like a poor sonofabitch who needs a ride mighty bad, Mister," said the man as he eyed the tire.
"And you look like a messenger from God," Bud answered without a smile.
"Been referred to in the same context as the Almighty many times, I must admit—never quite so favorably, though. How 'bout I give you a lift into Everett?”
With that, Bud grabbed his car keys and the flat tire and jumped into the pick-up. The driver's name was Lloyd Kurl. He said he worked for the sawmill in Lowell, just the other side of the fields and the Seakomish River––he pointed off to the left, out his window––and was headed into Everett to pick up a load of saw belts.
Bud explained that he ran a logging company.
"I thought all you small fry loggers were riding the rails with everybody else," said Kurl as he approached the outskirts of town.
Bud laughed. "No, but there’s been plenty of days when I thought it'd come to that."
Kurl looked at him now as he drove. "Mind if I ask a personal question?"
Bud shook his head.
"How the hell does a small show get the dough to run at all in this day and age?" Kurl looked at him through heavy red lids and bristly, unshaven cheeks.
"A lick and a promise. Maybe a friendly banker––somebody who knew you in the old days. But things are looking a little better. Things are opening up back East a little. So more folks are buying and building."
Kurl shook his head. "Damn world's all out of control. You union?"
The abrupt shift in direction startled Bud, but he tried to hide it. "Sure. You?"
Kurl looked at him quickly as if he were considering the answer. They slowed briefly for a logging truck that carried a single fir log maybe twelve feet across. Kurl hesitated for a moment, then drove the pedal to the floor, bringing a roar from the pickup, as it swept past the truck and back into its own lane, with no room to spare.
Bud was still thinking about narrowly missing the front of the logging truck, when Kurl finally answered. "We're AFL. We're sawmill guys," said Kurl. "But those bastards from the CIO are creating pure hell for us. It's got nasty at times. They think they should represent us mill workers, but I say to hell with them. They’re nothing but a bunch of head-breaking thugs."
Kurl turned the pick-up into the gravel driveway of a small place called "Porter's," with two pumps and a door folded back to show a thick, muscled boy laying underneath a Buick. Bud negotiated the price for fixing the flat, and went back to thank Kurl for the lift.
"My pleasure," said Kurl, slipping the shift into first. "Good luck up there, by the way. Something tells me you're gonna need it." He spun rocks as he pulled out.
By the time the kid fixed the flat and Bud hitched a ride back to his car, it was already getting dark.
He had called Seattle to ask about changing the appointment until the next day, which Witstrop's secretary finally did—after pointing out that Mr. Witstrop hated last-minute cancellations. She set the meeting for 7:30 a.m. sharp. Though Bud tried to talk her into something later, she insisted that if Mr. Cole could not arrive at 7:30, she would be happy to inform Mr. Witstrop that Mr. Cole would not be visiting at all.
Bud decided to spend the night in Everett. So he set off for the waterfront, where he knew he could find a place that was cheap.
Since the end of the Great War, Everett had become a port city. Freighters from as far away as Japan and Australia shouldered next to each other like hulking iron sentries guarding the waterfront. They waited for loads of lumber, sawed furiously day and night by the mills that sat along the waterfront or next to the Seakomish River, which wound around the flat-top hill that was home to Everett proper.
In the early 1900s, but even in the 1920s—just after the War ended—Everett drew its share of moneyed folk. Timber owners, railroad executives, shipping magnates. Attracted by the timber—and the riches it promised. Many built Nantucket clapboard or grand colonial homes at the north end of town, sporting wide, trimmed lawns and broad sunrooms looking west, across the open water of Puget Sound, toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean just beyond. Even then, however, Everett also drew its share of drifters and hotheads—cowboy loggers, stevedores and longshoremen, merchant marines from the Far East and South America, lumbermen, country farmers, and every kind of political radical, union supporter, and left-wing sympathizer.
But that was just the beginning. Starting with the crash of 1929, and driven by the ravages of the Depression of the early ‘30s, Everett collected another wave—this time men out of work, families, even children who rode the rails. They settled in shanties, underneath railroad bridges, in cardboard hovels near the railroad tracks.
By 1937, with the economy of the U.S., as well as of the Northwest, finally beginning to pick up, the ships were waiting on the waterfront once again, the rail lines rocked with lumber moving south to California, or East to Minneapolis and Chicago. And the magnates and tycoons, together with the homeless families, the longshoremen, the loggers, the hotheads, the radicals, and the drifters––all mingled in an uneasy crossroads that smelled of cooking wood pulp and bitter diesel, capped by a cold fog that gave way only for a few hours in the afternoon.
Bud drove along the waterfront, looking for a place to stay that didn't seem too dangerous or run-down. He pulled past a group of men milling about an open fire in an oil drum. They stared at him, but didn’t speak. Across the street—next to several bars, a hotel, and what looked like a whorehouse, whose windows were plastered with union posters—he noticed a small rooming house.
After paying the half dollar for the night, and looking into the tiny cubicle—a mattress on the floor and a wash basin—he stepped into the night chill. He buttoned his jacket high, but it offered no protection; so he dashed quickly across the street, looking for a place to eat. A freighter from Japan lay directly ahead of him, moaning against its moorings.
A group of sailors in boxy blue caps stumbled toward him, speaking a language he didn’t recognize. Two had their arms around each other’s waists. They stopped briefly to chat with two women, young, yellow-haired, leaning up against a corrugated tin wall, the side of a storage shed at the end of one of the docks. The girls smiled through rose lips, nodded and swiveled, but were quickly forgotten as the group stumbled through a door and into a tavern.
Bud shivered from the cold, focusing intently on the doorways as he passed: Waldo’s, Bay Shipping, Everett/Seattle Dry Dock. Just beyond the Corredor (Buenos Aires), which yawned against the five-inch hemp that held it tight, he spotted a small reader board straddling the sidewalk. Ernie Dramus’ Pub. Two lights lit the doorway just down the pier.
He trotted toward it, ignoring the shouted invitations of the girls, and slipped into the doorway. The warm, moist air inside felt as unwelcome and unfamiliar as the night air had seemed earlier; a sticky odor of tobacco hung in the room, which vibrated from the loud music coming from the rear.
“Help ya?” shouted the bartender.
“Just a beer and something to eat. What you got?” Bud crawled onto a stool, and studied a piece of paper the bartender handed him. The corners were bent back, hiding the price of fish chowder and fried oysters.
“The fish chowder is what you want if you don’t want to die.”
Bud thought the voice was the bartender's, but when he looked up, he realized it came from the seat next to him—a fellow in maybe his late fifties, a mat of stringy brown hair swept back, who didn't look up, just spooned another mouthful from a thick gray bowl.
Bud shouted to the bartender, “Fish chowder," and expected the man to speak again, but he didn't. The floorboards, the silverware, even the bar itself shook with the beat of the music—men and women jammed together on the tiny dance floor in the middle, swaying, while a crowd of men lined the edges. Large color posters along the wall—once brilliant and beckoning, now softened to pastels and sepia—hawked car parts and the U.S. Army.
“Much obliged for the tip,” said Bud once the music had quieted and he’d taken his first bite.
“My pleasure." The voice was gravelly, the face angular, and sharp; creases across the forehead, which rode high above a sloped nose; one eyelid drooped low across the eye. His hair was long, curled behind his ears, and touching the frayed collar of a denim shirt.
"You sound like a regular," offered Bud, not knowing whether the man wanted to talk, but feeling like it himself.
"Regular since 1935." He pushed the empty bowl away, pulled a toothpick out of a shirt pocket, but said no more.
Bud didn't like conversation much himself. He found most people uninteresting, something that he attributed to having spent too long by himself. So he caught himself trying to side-step conversations, especially with strangers. He forced himself to Sunday church dinners to prove that he was not becoming a hermit.
But Bud found this fellow interesting. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the bitch who worked for Witstrop, but he felt like talking.
"So is 1935 when you moved to Everett or when you found this place?" he asked, looking directly at the man. He noticed a thick scab running across his far cheek. And the drooping part of his eyelid was a line of light red skin, the obvious home of recent stitches.
"Moved here. From Tulsa." He'd already drained his beer and was now rolling the glass slowly between his hands. "Before that, Nashville. Before that, Milwaukee. And before that, Evanston, near Chicago, in Illinois."
"A little of this, a little of that." The man turned to take Bud into his full gaze, as if measuring him, as if deciding whether to answer any more questions. He turned back to the glass, motioning the bartender for a refill. "Started originally in Chicago, a teacher."
The bartender returned, sloshed a full glass onto the bar, and clapped the empty against two others in his hand.
Bud shifted to face the man. "You mean like a high school teacher?"
"I mean like a college teacher. Taught engineering. University of Chicago."
Bud tried to decide if this was the story of another drunk or just a poor son of a bitch tossed across the country by the Depression.
Now the face looked directly at Bud. "Why the hell do you care?"
Bud shrugged, but didn't answer. Both settled into a long silence, drinking their beer. Finally, the man drained the glass and reached into his pocket to pay. He put several coins on the bar.
"Mind if I ask you a question?" he asked, as he pushed the stool back. Bud shook his head.
"What brings the owner of a logging operation to the Everett waterfront?"
Bud laughed loudly. "How the hell do you know I'm an owner of a logging show?"
"Written all over ya. First off, you just called it a show. No longshoreman or county fireman would use that word. Second, you got your fingers all broke up, but none sawed off. That means you got something to do with the woods, but you don't belong to a sawmill. And your clothes are too good to be a logger. That means you must be an owner."
Bud smiled broadly. "But if I got broken fingers, I could be a sailor or a union man or a cop."
"And I know every one of them that crosses these piers and you, sir, are not one." He paused. "Besides, you smell better."
Bud introduced himself and shook the man's hand. He was surprised to find a powerful grip, a steadiness in the eyes as he looked directly into the gray face.
"Harry Bachelder's the name."
"So you really an engineering professor?" asked Bud.
"Are you really a logging boss?"
Bud laughed out loud. "Where do you work now?"
"Haul garbage for the city of Everett, which is getting my pay from FDR. So I like to say that I work for the President of the United States."
Bud paid his tab, and followed Harry out of the bar. As they reached the street, Bud stopped Harry to ask if he could give him a lift home.
"No, I just live around the...Look out!" Harry drove both arms into Bud's chest, knocking him into a coil of rope that lay on the pier. Harry tumbled onto him, just as a beer bottle smashed where they had been standing, spraying a ten-foot circle of flame.
Bud coughed, and rolled over, trying to get his breath, to cry out for air, but Harry pinned him to the ground.
"Shut-up," whispered Harry. "Don't make any noise."
Another bottle exploded in the middle of the street. Followed by another. Flames fanned outward in flat, circular plumes, then leapt skyward at the edge—linking-up where the two circles touched. Behind the flames, a wall of shouting men appeared, figures slipping from between buildings and behind parked cars. Most carried sticks and bottles. Bud couldn't tell if they were coming toward them or headed the other direction.
"What the hell is that all about?" he asked Harry as soon as he got his breath back. Bud was now on his knees beside Harry, who crouched in the shadows.
"Meanest sons of bitches I ever met," whispered Harry, his breath sour and beery. "They'll tear your throat out if you look at 'em crosswise."
Bud could hear a chant, a rumbling low chant, beginning along the edges of the crowd that now must have numbered a hundred or more. "Go-to-hell, A-F-L. Go-to-hell, A-F-L." As the mob surged forward, the chant continued. They now stood directly in front of the building where Bud had rented a room.
"This is a little get-to-know-you meeting of the local unions," whispered Harry, wincing as they squatted behind the door of a tin shed. "These boys are CIO men. They're paying a little call on the AFL meeting there across the street." Harry nodded toward Bud's rooming house.
A rock smashed an upstairs window on the two-story building. Then the street light above shattered, showering Bud's car in a burst of glass.
"Jesus, my car's parked right in the middle of all this," said Bud quickly. "I've got to get it out of there!" But Bachelder grabbed the sleeve of his jacket just as Bud was ready to run.
"You ever been around union thugs?" asked Harry. "They'll beat the living shit out of you and then ask questions later. These boys care about the number of scalps they can get, not which side the scalps are on."
Bud found this talk a bit bloodthirsty, and pretty unlikely. But on the other hand, the crowd in the street seemed to be growing by the minute. Now 150, maybe 200 men milled around in front of the hotel. They looked to Bud like loggers—many wore caulk boots and high-cut pants. But others looked like sailors or farmers—some heavyset, a few small, almost boys, and those around the edges seemed barrel-chested and wearing black armbands.
As Bud knelt on the cold planks, hugging the back of the tin door, he laughed.
"What's so funny?" asked Harry.
"I'm supposed to convince a money man in Seattle tomorrow how goddamn reliable I am and how he can bet another $500,000 on me," said Bud swiftly. "But here I am, kneeling on a goddamn dock, I'm about to get my ass kicked by people I never met, and my car is parked in the middle of a fucking labor war I got nothing to do with. Would you give money to a guy like that?"
"Not if he was so stupid that he got himself killed," snorted Harry. "But if he was smart enough to save his butt under the circumstances, now that I might even consider an act of some intellect."
A roar erupted from the crowd. Bud noticed that a large bald-headed man leaned out a window on the top floor of the building and began shouting into a bullhorn. Though the wind whipped the words away from where he and Harry crouched on the dock, Bud could tell it was a string of curses directed at the CIO men down below. This brought more chants, rocks, and the sound of smashing glass. Bud wondered if that was his Chevy.
Harry suddenly pulled a cigarette lighter from his pocket and held it near the end of the shed door that blocked them from view. The tiny flame illuminated the doorway that went inside. He got onto both feet, in a low crouch, and shuffled through the doorway into the shed, coming back with several empty beer bottles and a short piece of hose.
"What are you doing," asked Bud, watching him slice the hose in lengths of about two feet each.
"You ever siphon gas when you were a kid?" asked Harry, handing one of the bottles and pieces of hose to Bud.
"As a kid? Christ, every logger knows how to siphon gas."
"Well now's the time to put your skills to work." Harry looked around the shed door to the street.
The crowd was still milling, but now another sound appeared—rumbling, more shouts, more breaking glass, coming from the other side of the shed. Bud guessed that perhaps fifty men suddenly emerged from the buildings further down the street––creating two large masses of men facing each other, separated by pavement covered by broken glass and flickering flames.
"I think the meeting of the AFL and the CIO is about to start," said Harry with a chuckle. “This new mob is all AFL boys.”
"What the hell is so funny about that?" Bud shuddered as the night chill seemed to invade his bones.
"See those headlights in the distance?"
Bud saw a line of headlights to the left, way down the street, perhaps a hundred yards away. They stretched from one side of the street to the other.
"My guess is that the AFL boys knew that this CIO demonstration was coming. So they got ready." Harry snorted loudly, seemingly getting real joy from the situation. "Those assholes from the CIO are about to get caught in the classic squeeze play––the AFL mob on one side, and a line of AFL cars coming at 'em from the other."
Bud looked to the left and saw the headlights begin moving slowly toward them. Sure enough, it was clear that the CIO mob––which had begun moving toward the AFL men on the right––were about to be run over from the back by the approaching cars. But they seemed so intent on attacking the AFL men that few seemed to notice. The CIO mob simply surged forward.
Harry motioned Bud to follow him down the pier to several small motorboats that were now riding on the high tide even with the pier.
"Here," said Harry, pointing to the first outboard. "Start siphoning." Harry was already on his knees in front of the next one. Bud unscrewed the gas cap and plunged the hose into the tank. As he began inhaling on the hose, he could hear bullhorns blasting, muffled occasionally by cursing and shouts.
The gas came splashing out of the engine, and filled the beer bottle to the top. Then he filled two others. Harry's bottles were already full.
"Stuff these inside, and make them goddamn tight, so as little spills as possible," said Harry, handing Bud several pieces of rag. Without waiting, Harry started running back toward the street.
"Jesus, Harry, we don't want any part of this," shouted Bud.
"You're dumber than I thought.” Harry paused while he surveyed the street.
"These little Molotov’s are going to save your meeting and your damn car. Our job is to mingle. Just work your way into the crowd from the shadows and start shouting. Start raising all kinds of hell, and hold these sons of bitches high as possible, so everyone can see them. Just keep moving toward your car. Get there as fast as you can, but don't let 'em suspect we're not part of them."
With that, Harry slipped into the CIO crowd from behind. For a moment, Bud thought about just staying put. But then he grimaced and leapt into the street. Like Harry, he was swept into the flowing crowd––into the sudden heat and confusion, into the hail of stones and curses that grew heavier as the two mobs approached one another. He checked quickly to make sure the line of headlights was still well behind them, but then remembered Harry's warning, and turned back into the crowd.
A tall man with broad shoulders, wearing logging boots, shouted into the bullhorn next to him. Several smaller men to his left lobbed rocks as hard as they could, while a knot of what he guessed were longshoremen tore apart a small shipping crate––each grabbing a broken piece of wood with bent nails near the tips.
Bud spotted Harry, chanting loudly and lifting the Molotov cocktails over his head like a high school cheerleader with pom-poms. As he did, men in plaid shirts and railroad caps, a few wearing cowboy boots, some holding tire irons and clubs, surged forward––smashing into the leading edge of the approaching AFL mob. In an instant, the two mobs of men collapsed into one––a melee of flying rocks, swinging clubs, hand-to-hand battle, and grunts and screams as bodies spilled across the pavement.
Through the chaos, Bud saw Harry drifting across the width of the mob, inching closer to the side of the street on which Bud's car was parked. While Bud tried to do the same, he felt a heavy thud across his back, which sent him to his knees. But his bottles somehow didn’t break. Rather than trying to get up, he rolled toward the parked cars, and crawled between them, finally emerging next to his Chevy.
"Start the fucking thing!" Harry's voice exploded from just behind the car, as two large men, with blood on their shirts, raced after him. Harry suddenly fell to his knees and lunged backward, tripping both of his pursuers who sprawled onto their faces.
Bud started the engine, threw it in reverse, and stopped just as Harry lit the rag and tossed the flaming bottle into the path of several other men now racing for the car.
As the car lurched forward, a giant "whoosh" and fireball erupted about twenty feet behind them, scattering men in all directions. By the time Bud had shifted the car into first and was speeding toward the wall of headlights bearing down on them, Harry had already lit the last Molotov and heaved it directly into the path of the headlights. With another "whoosh" the bottle exploded, sending headlights veering away on both sides.
As they did, Bud jammed the pedal to the floor and roared between them. When he looked in his rear view mirror, he could see drivers jumping out, stomping at the flames still scattered across their running boards.
In 1937, Seattle was two cities. One a rising metropolis—skyscrapers, broad avenues, a thriving waterfront, ornate theaters, department stores. The other, a shanty town of corrugated tin and cardboard, home to hundreds of desolate men and women, even families. Locals called it Hooverville.
George Bertram Witstrop stood at a broad, rounded window in Seattle's tallest building and looked down across the patchwork roofs of tin, cardboard, and wood planks that spread along the south end of the waterfront. Even in the morning blackness, he could see several men, and it appeared to be several children, carrying planks of lumber from a railway car on a sidetrack. Their hurried movements told him they were not likely the rightful owners.
"Mr. Witstrop? What's your decision?" The man asking the question sat at a mahogany table, two perfect piles of paper in front of him. One a tablet, the other a collection of dog-eared papers. On the bottom lay a leather notebook, neatly closed with a slender red ribbon peeking out at the spine.
Witstrop turned back, when he heard his name, a look of irritation on his face.
"What?" he asked sharply. Then, just as suddenly, he seemed to recover his concentration, but turned back to the window. In the distance, a small green ferry crossed Puget Sound, still dark in the early morning light. During the time that he had been standing at the window, the horizon swam from its blackness to a murky gray, the color of full dawn still low in the east. A tiny jagged edge in the distance outlined the Olympic Mountains, just west of Puget Sound.
Two brief taps at the door were followed by a slender woman who brought in two cups of coffee, placed one on the mahogany table, the other on the windowsill next to Witstrop. He didn't seem to notice.
The man started speaking again. "As I said, sir, the alternatives here are not very appealing." He moved the tablet carefully to the left as he leafed through the pile of colored papers to the first yellow page. "If my figures are anything close to accurate—and God knows whether the state has any clue about what is real and what is not—it is clear that Great Northern Railway and the Pacific Lumber Company, to say nothing of Ashford & Southern, already own something like eighty-five percent of the available Cascade timber north of the Oregon border."
Witstrop turned away from the window, lifting the saucer and cup gently. He sipped once, to determine temperature, then took a long gulp. He wiped his long mustache, which hung low across his lips, with a fanning motion of thumb and forefinger. Then sat slowly, in a chair at his desk.
The young man looked briefly at his own cup of coffee, but didn't touch it. "As I said also," he continued, "the current statistics say that—at the rate these companies are buying what's left and at the rate they are shipping—it will only be a matter of months, latest by the end of the year, that they will lock down virtually the entire Northwest lumber trade." He looked up, pausing for a response, but got none.
"To continue with the point I noted earlier about the options not being very appealing, here is the other factor we face: The company we are looking at is not…," he paused, searching for the word, and started over. "The company in question is not what we would call a sure bet. Our surveyors remind us that the land they've got is very high, it is hard to get to, and they will use up most of what we have financed so far just to get all their facilities and tracks and so on in place. To do any serious business, they will need a lot more."
He stopped, again appearing to give Witstrop time to speak. Still nothing.
"Plus," he drew the word out as if it had several syllables, "they recently had an accident that killed three men. And, from what we are able to tell, that will set them back two or three weeks in even getting timber moving again. That’s to say nothing about how the unions will react to it all." He reached for the coffee, but stopped with one small sip.
Witstrop finally swiveled in the chair, uncovering gold cufflinks set off by brilliant white cuffs, and met the man's eyes. "Young man, I have long accepted the fact that you do not bring me good news," said Witstrop. He ended the sentence with lips pressed together, in a tight flat line. "I ask you to bring me good news, but you always bring me bad news."
The young man blinked quickly and picked up his pen as if to make a note. But he immediately put it back down. Witstrop rubbed a dark, leathery hand across his chin and throat, keeping it for a moment on the thick flesh that rolled in a wave above and over the tight white collar.
"So give me the recommendation," said Witstrop suddenly, impatience rising in his voice.
The young man cleared his throat. And paused, as if waiting, or perhaps rethinking.
"Find another company, sir. These guys are too risky. Forget what we’ve already put into them and move on to somebody else." The answer came too quickly. The young man seemed to feel it, because he began speaking again in clarification, but he was cut off.
"Jesus man, everything is risky. You just said so yourself. Isn't it the hell just as risky, more risky, to let these other sons of bitches close us out entirely?"
"Yes, it is, but..."
"To eat our lunch? To have us for lunch?"
"Mr. Witstrop, the finances just don't look..."
"Never do. Never do. Haven't seen 'em once that I thought so. So don't give me that excuse."
Witstrop turned to the window again, bouncing out of the chair quicker than the young man thought a man of his age or size could do. The sun was just now rising, peeking over the Cascades, behind them, to the east and pouring bright light through the southern windows of the corner office. Puget Sound was now sparkling blue and green, and lines of gray clouds seemed headed in a direct line toward them.
Witstrop turned now, with a sudden smile. But then pulled it back as quickly.
"So, you are adverse to risks and you do not bring me news I want.” His voice was more of a snarl now. “Can you at least tell me when this fellow is supposed to arrive—what’s his name again?” He studied the grandfather clock near the wall of bookcases, then pulled out a pocket watch from his vest and began tinkering with it.
"His name is Bud Cole. Actually, he’s already here."
“Then get him in here, for Christ’s sake.”
The young man gathered the two stacks of papers, bundled them into the leather pouch, and hurried to the door. He paused briefly before opening it, as if he expected Witstrop to say something. But Witstrop only looked at him.
The secretary reappeared with another cup of coffee—the steam drifted toward her in curls as she walked toward Witstrop's desk. She put it down, without speaking.
Before she left, she ushered two men into the room. "Mr. Witstrop, let me again introduce Bud Cole and…," she now paused to ask the other name again,"... and Harry Bachelder from Skybillings Logging Company.”
As the young man stepped past them, she nodded to Bud and said quietly, “And this is Mr. Witstrop’s assistant, Theodore Petrisen."
The young man nodded slightly, but immediately slipped out of the room.
Witstrop looked at Bud Cole intently, not smiling or offering his hand. His eyes fell upon Harry, the scab across his cheek, and the long, dirty hair that hung over his collar. His face showed deep creases at the eyes and vertical furrows that ascended from above his nose. Though Bud Cole looked cleaner, his clothes were just as dirty. Both reeked of gasoline.
"Sit down gentlemen." Witstrop nodded to the conference table.
"Which one of you is Don Quixote and which one of you is Sancho Panza?" asked Witstrop, in a sudden exhale as he settled back in the chair. He stared at them, unflinching, no smile.
Bud responded quickly. "I would probably qualify as the don in the sense that I'm responsible for our being here," said Bud with a broad smile. "But from a purely spiritual level, I suspect both of us would have to plead guilty, sir." Bud continued to smile, but Witstrop ignored the comment.
"My assistant tells me that Skybillings is now seeking a $500,000 loan from Panama Northwest, on top of the money we already invested in you," said Witstrop quickly. "Do I have that right?"
Bud nodded. "That's right. We believe we have put together a good, high-quality logging company. As you know, we had a firm track record in the ‘20s. Ours was the biggest of the small companies before the stock market crash. And, with this additional investment from you, we can log-out the land that I believe your surveyors took a look at recently."
Bud had no clue what the surveyors recommended, but he guessed it wasn't favorable.
Witstrop thought about the answer for a moment, then stood up suddenly and began pacing. He walked across the expanse of tall windows facing Puget Sound, then those on the far wall facing south.
"Cole, I see nothing but goddamn risk in your operation. Nothing but goddamn risk. I've got a survey report that says you are planning to log land that might be called, even in the best of circumstances, impossible. My surveyors say we are talking about inclines in places of 45 percent and that you have to pull rail lines up grades that are, on average, well above 10 percent."
Bud had expected this. He had rehearsed the answers, along with the questions, for the last week. "We handled inclines of much greater than that during the '20s. That's nothing to put off a good bunch of loggers. We've already hired an experienced section crew with the first funding you gave us. We've already put down the track sections into some of the steepest areas, we’re already hauling logs out of there.”
Witstrop listened to this, then turned toward the brilliant snow peaks on the Olympics, now glistening against the rising sun. Bud sensed that he had only a few more moments to speak in his defense so he hurried on.
"We all recognize that stumpage in the Cascades is limited these days. The big boys have sewed everything up that's lower or easier or quicker. If we are going to operate in the Cascades in 1937 at all, it doesn't get better than this."
Bud sensed Witstrop about to pronounce a decision. So he pressed on. "And anybody who wants to get any kind of business foothold in the timber industry is going to have to make do with this kind of land. It's either this, or nothing. And if it’s nothing, those big boys will own those woods and the rails that run through them for the next hundred years."
Bud realized he'd been punctuating each sentence by tapping his index finger on the table. Witstrop turned abruptly as if startled by the tapping. He smiled slightly. A fatherly, friendly smile, displaying large crooked teeth. Bud realized when Witstrop smiled that he was actually a handsome man.
Harry sat quietly next to Bud, looking occasionally at whomever spoke, but often peering out the window. He had argued strenuously with Bud to not bring him into the meeting. He had nothing to do with Skybillings, also pointing out that he looked like a beaten-up bum and could do nothing but hurt the chances of Skybillings to get the financing it needed to survive. But Bud had sworn that any man with brains enough to get them out of the middle of a labor riot was the kind of man he wanted with him arguing for money.
Witstrop took both of them in—looking intently at Bud, then Harry. "Mr. Cole, even if you can get those logs out, even if you can, I see two other drawbacks," he said, then paused to add, "And by the way, why don't you let me worry about whether or not my company gets a business foothold, as you put it? That aspect of my company’s activities is none of your damn business."
Bud smiled but remained silent. Witstrop held him in the gaze of gray eyes in deep-set sockets for a moment before proceeding.
"As I said, even if you can get those logs out, I am told you have a locomotive laying on its side up there right now. I am told that you lost three men underneath it. I am doubtful that the state is going to ignore those deaths, and I doubt that the unions are going to overlook them. I’d be surprised if they even let you open on Monday."
He began pacing in front of the windows facing west. "But I will ignore all of that," said Witstrop, with a snort. "I will assume that this great Skybillings Company that you built up so carefully in the 1920s and which—I might add, was tits-up for five years, or should I say shit-faced down?—can yard-out all those logs. But I don't see how you are ever going to build a railroad trestle to span a ravine that, according to my surveyors, is something like a football field across. Wait, I’m sorry Cole, maybe they said two football fields."
Bud never believed that Witstrop or his surveyors would finally settle on this. He would’ve staked a case of beer and his first-born—not that he had one—that this deal would either go up or down before any talk of building a trestle to reach the timber across the ravine on the far ridge came up. So his defense was as weak as the reality was harsh—he knew very well that building such a trestle was virtually impossible. Besides, he knew nothing about trestles, at least those of the size that would be required to reach the far ridge. He could feel the heat in his stomach begin to rise into his chest.
Witstrop sensed victory. He stopped pacing and turned to the windows, hands behind his back. "Mr. Cole, have you ever built a trestle of that length before?"
"No I haven't, Mr. Witstrop," answered Bud, "but we may not have to. We might choose to blast the face underneath Three Sisters or we might find a way to go in from the valley floor."
"Let me ask you another question," continued Witstrop, ignoring the answer, still turned toward the windows. "Have you ever built a trestle before?"
Bud had dreaded this. If Witstrop didn't want to pay, then why not just say no? Why the lecture, the arrogance? This was his old man again—pouncing, not just winning, but pouncing.
"No, I have to say, I have not—of that size, at least." Bud said it with more energy than he felt. "But like I said, we may not even need a trestle.” Witstrop started laughing even before Bud finished—a rumbling laugh that seemed centered in his belly. He held Bud in a close, intense gaze now.
"Mr. Cole, if you don't mind me speaking bluntly?" He paused for effect. "That's bullshit." He flexed his jaw downward, as if stretching it or trying to rearrange the skin under the tight collar. His eyes lit with energy.
"You and I know it is bullshit. You and I both know that, don't we?" he asked. "That leaves only one question. The only way I have a chance to recover anything close to that $500,000—to say nothing of the money I’ve already invested in you, or should I say that I have pissed away on you—is if the Skybillings Logging Company builds that trestle. So just who is going to build your trestle, Mr. Cole?"
Witstrop held the back of the chair with thick hands—a victor about to enjoy the conquest. Bud stared at the table, drawing in a breath, readying an answer.
"I am," said Harry, in an almost inaudible voice.
Harry looked directly at Witstrop, who blinked quickly, slightly uncertain, as if trying to remember who Harry was. Witstrop suddenly quaked with laughter. His eyes opened wide, as if enjoying a good joke that the two of them had played on him.
"That's wonderful, Cole. That's just a fucking wonderful joke. Your hobo friend here is going to build your trestle." He paused for a second between each of the final words, as if to give himself enough air to fuel the waves of laughter. His crooked teeth flashed in the morning sun, his large body silhouetted against the brilliant blue and white of the water and sky.
As he began to recover from the laughter, he bent down across the table, raised his eyebrows, and leaned closer to Harry—as if he was now a co-conspirator in a joke that Bud and Harry had successfully played on him.
"Tell me, my good man, where did you learn to build these railroad trestles?"
Harry did not look at Witstrop. His eyes focused on a line of white clouds floating over the water, moving toward them.
"The University of Chicago."
Witstrop's face, now only a foot or so from Harry's, displayed an instant battle between laughter and confusion. The full, jowly cheeks seemed ready to begin roaring again, and almost filled with air. But the forehead creased, displaying furrows that fell into a sharp V just above the nose. The face seemed caught, as if slapped by a cold gust of wind that slipped through the tall windows behind him. Clearly uncertain of the ground, his next question was more tentative, but still protected by an incredulous, unbelieving smile.
"You want me to believe that you were an engineering student at the University of Chicago?"
"Then why claim you were?"
"I said I learned to build trestles there. I didn't say I was a student there. I was a professor there."
Witstrop still leaned across the table, unmoving.
"You ever been to Chicago, Witstrop? To the Loop?" Harry’s tone was clipped.
"I grew up in Chicago," snorted Witstrop. "I owned my first company in Chicago."
"Then you know where Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River," said Harry, not bothering to wait for an answer. "Then you know that is a lift bridge spanning an opening of ninety-two feet, with a leaf weight in the neighborhood of 4,000 tons. What is special about this bridge, I’m sure you know, is that the two bascule type bridge leaves are side-by-side, so traffic can continue on one even if the other is not available. You would further know that the materials in that bridge were made of special alloys from Brazil and Argentina to withstand the expansion of Chicago summers and the contraction of Chicago winters."
Witstrop stared at Harry, his white mustache moved up and down every few seconds.
"I conceived that bridge. I engineered that bridge. I calculated all the torque needed for that bridge. And I developed the alloy that is in that bridge, sir."
Witstrop sank into the chair he'd previously used as a lectern.
Harry continued. "And if you would like other examples of my work, you can go to Paris, Rio de Janiero, and Singapore. All of those municipalities have used aspects of that technique to build bridges that, in at least two cases, span––as I believe you put it—the length of a football field—or two football fields."
Harry stopped and turned to Bud, whose face now seemed to gather more color. All three men sat in silence. When the secretary opened the door to bring in another cup of coffee, Witstrop just looked at her, breathing to himself, "I'll be goddamned."
—this moment, then the next and next. How? The monks, how do they hold this drop of realization, of time—round, reluctant to fall away from itself, grasping tight until the next magical drop fills the lens, or the universe? In the middle of it, what does it feel like? Silent, unknown. Embracing this single breath of God of consciousness of eternity, peeking inside the prism of being and becoming or beckoning and beholding. But me, I think of Lennon and Lewinsky and wrist watches and water heaters and car parts and lawn darts and fantasy sex and T-Rex. Monkey mind may be my kind.