The Skagit Valley sky was clear and blue,
This sunny day in July, 1982.
The Skagit Valley sky was clear and blue this sunny day in July, 1982. Buildings on pilings lined the water side of First Street in LaConner and the high tide ran underneath them and the rats dodged here and there past the mussels and barnacles on the pilings, living off scraps raining down from greasy restaurants.
The Swinomish Reservation lay across the channel, maybe 100 feet to the other shore. The “Res” had a more felicitous location, being a shallow sloping beach leading down to the water. In times of flood tide, they simply hiked the canoes further up the beach. The first people, being the Swinomish, coming upon this brackish arm of the Skagit River, and looking for a place to live, and having the choice of which side to inhabit, chose the sandy sloping shore and left the steep rock across the way as a place for dumping garbage. The Swinomish in ancient days told babies. “Behave yourself or we’ll ship you over to that rock where there’s no food and no one to play with.” The Swinomish had an ancient name for that rocky hill, but it was not a kind name, so they never spoke it.
That rock and the surrounding wetlands became LaConner. It was claimed by the pioneers, the steep hillside was drilled and leveled, the wetlands were diked and drained, and the channel was dredged for bigger vessels. The town was built by human hands.
In the late 1950’s, the town’s principle business was Dunlap Towing, moving logs in huge rafts to sawmills in Everett, but they took on small jobs, like the time they picked up a nice building in Bellingham, 50 miles away, The building was the headquarters of the Bellingham Yacht Club with a faux-lighthouse on the top of it.
The building was raised from its harbor-side foundation, inched on to a barge and towed down to LaConner, where it was erected to become the Lighthouse Inn, the prime dining spot in town, and the location of an underground CIA prison, where Lisa was being held captive, according to Keith Brown, who was only crazy because of his premises, not his conclusions, because if the Lighthouse was a secret CIA prison, then Keith was doing the right thing, to make his threats.
Old timers, Roger Cayou and Chico Narkowitz, sitting on the bench in front of the LaConner Tavern, they knew all these stories, “used to be a shoe repair shop here….had a small movie theater over there before they tore it down,“ pointing to the apple tree that grew in the vacant lot next to the post office, small branches growing over the sidewalk for people taking fruit.
“We’re too old,”Chico said, “talking about all this used to be. Kids get bored around here, want to leave town, kick it up in Seattle, too boring around here, nothing to do but dig clams in the moonlight out by Lone Tree Point.”
“Used to be you could catch a 100-pound king at Hope Island anytime in August,” Roger said. “It was Ernest Hemingway or Burt Lancaster, some guys like that, came out to rent boats when the kings were running. They’re gone now.”
“The movies stars or the king salmon?” Chico asked.
“Still plenty of clams,” Roger said.
“I got three trees in my front yard, Italian plums, come and pick a bucket, firm and sweet now, going to waste,” Chico said.
Roger leaned forward, “Chico, I gotta a serious question. Who is smarter, you or Sam Cram?”
“What I think is Keith Brown might blow up the whole town. I hope nobody gets hurt,” Chico said.
Nearby, Aurora Jellybean swirled her skirt and looked at the sky. Jimmy and Hitch left her twirling and walked past the old brick Puget Sound Mail building. It was about ten years since Pat O’Leary sold that newspaper to Dick Fallis and the building still stank of cigars.
Jimmy and Hitch walked past the Volunteer Fireman Museum, to the edge of the Rainier Bank parking lot, not 75 feet from where Police Chief Larry Yonally and pharmacist Fred Martin stood in the middle of First Street, where traffic was stopped (although in LaConner in 1982 there was hardly any traffic to stop). Keith Brown was sitting down on the flat roof of the Lighthouse Inn, tightly clutching the strap of his back pack with an explosive device inside.
“If we ask Larry, maybe we can help,” Jimmy said. “I was thinking we could climb up on the roof and talk with Keith, get him to calm down and give us the bomb.”
“Or we could go to the tavern and have Sylvia fix us a crab-burger, and just let nature take its course,” Hitch said.
“Great idea, Hitch, only there’s no money for a crab burger, so here we stand on the sidewalk,” Jimmy said and he got excited. He took two large steps forward and then twirled around. “This is cosmic. We’re going to the Frog Hospital to get some beer and fried chicken, and we can’t get there from here because Keith has a bomb. So we gotta fix the bomb or else we don’t get any beer.” He took two more steps away from Hitch, and twirled around and came back to him, “No, no, not for beer, not for nothing, we’ll just do it.”
“Okay, buddy, but there’s no way out, it’s death or taxes. It’s all for one and one for all, let’s shake.”
“But we need Aurora. Look, she twirls like the moon.”
The three came together in spirit, joining hands as one, for the taste of it, for the life of it. Hitch became more expansive, “This is like Gary Cooper. You could be him, all alone in High Noon, deserted by the townsfolk, and left to fight the outlaws on his own. I seen all these old movies, you know. Like the baseball movie with the Yankees or the love movie with Audrey Hepburn. You could be like Gary Cooper if you weren’t so skinny.”
“Audrey Hepburn was so lovely. I have a long neck, somewhat like hers,” Aurora agreed. “If you were a vegetable ….”
“… I would be an onion. If you chop me up, then I make you cry,” Hitch said.
“Perfect, and Jimmy would be a rutabaga, long simmering in a pot of soup, born from generations of lowland farmers, all the way back to Holland. He’s a polder man with wooden shoes, clack-clack,” Aurora laughed.
“Okay, now I’m going to talk to Larry and Fred Martin, you coming?” Jimmy asked.
Aurora hung back. Hitch started going ahead. Jimmy caught up. No stopping now. Up to Fred, in his open collar, short-sleeved dress shirt, pressed pants, shined shoes, soft hands, trim figure, past fifty years of age now, steady on his feet, Fred Martin was the man who brought LaConner into the modern age. It was nine years ago, 1973, they voted in the new sewer system, gaveled into existence by Fred’s strong right hand as mayor, passed by the town council, proper sewage treatment to make growth possible – more businesses, more homes and more stores, Fred gave it that Rotarian push, to build something that would last, and that success made him calm and tolerant.
He did not despise Jimmy or Hitch but just took them as they were, in front of him now, wanting to be useful, as if they always had been useful.
“Jimmy, what do you think?” Fred asked.
“We could go up there and talk with him, get him to come down.”
“That might be a good idea.”
“It might take a while. We’ll sit down and talk with him like it was just another day.”
“If it’s okay with Larry….Larry?”
“You put yourself at risk if you go up there. You know that. If things get bad, Keith will get hurt. You don’t want to be near him. Cop first, friend later – it has to be that way now,” Larry said.
Time was slowing down. The drama became a still life tableau. It was barely three p.m. Barbara Cram joined Amy Hahn on the bench in front of the library. Barb lit a smoke and Amy crossed her legs. “Toenail polish is too much trouble,” Amy said. “I’m done with it. No man. No woman. Life is short. Keith Brown is the gospel of Buddhist truth, so we can thank him for making all the clocks stop. No tick-tock today.”
“You never make any sense,” Barb said to Amy and squeezed her knee.
Brian Healey, a bitter and vengeful man, went back inside the Pier Seven building to make a phone call, long distance, up river, 70 miles up the Skagit River, up into the mountains where the river ran cold in a narrow valley, just big enough for a wide spot in the road, a gas station, the Log Cabin Inn restaurant, and a post office called Marblemount. “Calling Mountain Man, calling Mountain Man, “he said. “We got a situation. Are you armed and dangerous?”
Lane Dexter, on the Marblemount end of this phone call, replied, “You embarrass me with this militia talk. I hunt. I own several rifles. I’m a long way from town, so I keep extra supplies, but I am no survivalist – I support the continued existence of civilization. And Brian? You need to get a life. Now, how can I help?…Uh huh …. Okay … I’ll come down. Give me an hour.”
On the bench by the landing, halfway up the Benton Street stairs, across the street from the Lighthouse Inn, at eye level with mad anarchist Keith Brown, who was striking out against corporate America, the Pope, and all the women who had ever spurned him, sat Cindy Sibanda with her arms wrapped around the friendly body of Tom Robbins.
“Larry’s a good cop, he can handle it,” Tom was saying.
But Cindy said, “In America, people shoot each other. Does Keith hate us? He’s mad. In Zimbabwe we have the nyanga. He makes herbs and bone rattles to drive away the demons. This American demon is too hard. I don’t have the herbs now, except for the dried bark of the apple tree which I carry in my shoe – just a piece of dried bark, but these little things bring protection, so we are safe, he won’t kill us. But I don’t have the bone rattles. I never had that kind of training, except my Aunt Margie, she knows many kinds of enchantment. All I know is this kind of singing, which sounds like the scream of a woman in labor, but it will frighten Keith’s demon.”
“Yes, my gap-toothed beauty,” Tom smiled, pulling his Detroit Tigers baseball cap down low over his eyes, humming softly, snuggling with sweet Cindy while she nattered.
“If I begin to sing this way, your ears will burn. Please to cover them.”
“Hold a minute,” Tom said. “Let me tell you something. I want to live forever. I never want to die. Even if I died in my sleep with no pain or memory, I wouldn’t like it. I would like to get out of my body if it rots, but where could I go? That’s why I came to Zimbabwe, to find you, because the souls of African people are eternal, you don’t fear death. I don’t fear death either, but the idea of it really pisses me off. It’s such a waste. Don’t do the singing. Let the devil have his due. Now, look at Keith and tell me how the devil got into his body. Why did he become the messenger?”
With the question posed, Tom began to dream of a grilled-cheese sandwich and having hot sex with Cindy in his patio, behind the high ivied fence, her beautiful black lips on him, his hands reaching the velvet dawn.
Keith, as if by psychic connection to this erotic image, began to stir. He hadn’t been laid in years, “Anti-Christ, whore of Babylon,” he yelled out, stumbling wildly, swinging his backpack. Larry tensed and put his hand on his pistol. Fred Martin took a deep breath. Jimmy was dry-mouthed.
“Jimmy, you go in now. Go inside and climb up the ladder to the roof and talk to him,” Larry said.
Subscriptions. We need your help to continue this story. Please go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your $25 (or any amount) donation. Or write a check for $25 (or any amount) made out to Fred Owens and mail it to 35 West Main St., Suite B #391, Ventura CA 93001.
My blog is Fred Owens
send mail to:
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001