Hunter's Lodge on the Osage
"Early and provident fear is the mother of safety." – (Burke)
"You already know I worked in a supper club," he began, "until last weekend when I suddenly quit! What you don't know, however, is why I did."
He couldn't have been more correct! I was just more than a little curious why he'd quit that job and ended up here at the Lodge. I was aware of his connection to the place from our earlier conversation, but at a loss otherwise.
Wedge had a good job, with fairly decent pay, working at a nice little supper club, a half hour or so by public transit from where he lived. During the school year he generally worked Friday and Saturday late afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons only. The owner wanted him to be well rested for school on Monday morning. During the summer months, Wedge would work afternoons and evenings from Tuesday through Saturday, and alternate Sundays. The combination of wages and tips produced a nice income for him, considering he was still in high school. Since it was possible for him to ride to work on public transportation, he didn't need a car. His mother worked for the Chicago Transit Authority and was able to obtain a pass for him, so transportation cost him nothing. He usually finished work around midnight, returning home between 12:30 am and 1:00 am. His mother let him sleep late and was gone to work herself by the time he got out of bed.
The summer before this one, was an excellent and profitable time for him. His hourly wages and share of tips (table waiters were required to share tips with the kitchen staff and bus boys) enabled him to purchase a small motorcycle and still set aside a nice amount in savings, accessed from his savings account at a local bank, through his debit card. The motorcycle was stored in a locked storage unit, since there was not a garage with their apartment, not far from their apartment complex. He enjoyed riding it when the weather was decent and on his days off. However, he didn't ride it work: "To easy for someone to steal it!" he confessed.
After high school graduation, he planned on using his savings, combined with his wages from his job, to attend a vocational/technical college and take course work in the culinary arts curriculum, planning on becoming a chef. The course work would include not only preparation of entrées, but desserts, sides, and bread and pastries.
"The head chef at the supper club taught me a great deal," he acknowledged, "but I wanted to know more; specifically the business operations of running a restaurant or supper club at a profit. I knew, from watching the owners run the place, there was more to it than just cooking."
This past weekend, after finishing his Saturday shift at the supper club, he left through the rear entrance, as most staff did. He was one of the last to leave and, while walking down the street toward the CTA stop, he heard some noises in an alley as he walked by. Ordinarily, he would have ignored it, not wanting to become involved in someone else's trouble, but for some reason, he stopped! There were two people, standing face to face, in some sort of heated discussion or argument. There was enough light from a nearby street light for him to see what was happening. One fellow was quite well dressed and as Wedge put it "looked and acted like a cop" and the other man was not quite so well-dressed but through his actions led Wedge to believe he just might be "tougher than sour goat shit" and not someone you'd want to mess around with.
"I should've just walked on, minding my own business, and gone home, but I didn't!"
While he watched quietly from the street, the well-dressed man grabbed the other by the shirt, demanding, "Where's the rest of the cash, you little shit?"
The other fellow mumbled something and the first man growled, "I told you what would happen if you ripped me off again, didn't I?" and released him.
"Go fuck yourself!" the scruffy chap shouted, moving quickly away. "Touch me again and the whole fucking city will know what you been doing!" he threatened menacingly and started walking away.
The well-dressed man reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a small pistol and with two quick shots, dropped the other fellow on the pavement.
"The guy lying on the pavement never even twitched; he just laid there. I knew he was as dead as dead could be! I must've gasped aloud or did something," Wedge acknowledged, "because the shooter turned and saw me standing there and shouted 'shit!" and started toward me at a fast clip."
"What the hell did you do?" I asked frantically.
"I ran like my ass was on fire and I was a mile away from a fire hydrant. I zipped into the first alley I came passed and ducked around some garbage cans, hiding myself behind a big dumpster. He ran right on by me, but he was close enough for me to see his face. I'd seen him in the club a couple of times and recognized him as a detective with the cops. He always ate well while he was there, but was a horseshit tipper!"
When he was certain it was safe, Wedge wiggled out of his hiding place and headed for the CTA stop. There was no one else around and when the train stopped, he boarded and headed home. "I hoped he hadn't gotten a good look at my face. If he didn't, I figured I'd be safe since there are so many murders in Chicago, one more wouldn't make the news."
Wedge was mistaken! The first of the week, while he was watching the morning news, the media reported a major drug dealer was found murdered in an alley near the club and police were seeking a possible witness. A composite drawing of the "witness" was shown on the television screen and it was an excellent likeness of him. People were asked to contact Detective Thomas Pittman if they had any information concerning the identity of the witness in order to help solve this crime. They also ran a short interview with Pittman where he vowed to do his best to bring the killer in and stop all of this violence in the streets.
"I knew my ass was grass then," confessed Wedge. "Pittman was close enough he was able to describe me quite accurately for a police sketch artist to draw me. If he found me, I'd be floating in the Chicago River or buried with Jimmy Hoffa some place nobody could find. The people at the supper club would recognize me and it wouldn't be long before Pittman would come knocking at the door."
Wedge sadly, but determinedly, began packing his clothing and other personal items into his duffle, knowing if he wanted to stay alive, he had to leave. He made certain he had his high school diploma and social security card as well as his driver's license and debit card. He wrapped a picture of his mother and him in newspaper and packed that between his shirts and pants in the duffle. If he was going to hide, it had to be somewhere far enough away and remote enough Pittman couldn't find him. Going to his Aunt's house or to his Uncle's was out of the question since Pittman would look there as well. Even thinking about going to his Grandmother De Lacy in Racine was dangerous. As much as he loved her, he just couldn't take a chance on her spilling the beans as to his whereabouts. No, the fewer family members he could involve, the better off it would be, not only for him but for them!
It finally hit him to go to the Lodge; he hadn't been here in a number of years so it'd be the last place anyone would go seeking him. Although his uncle and aunt had been there with his grandfather, it'd be one of the last places they'd think to look because of the wild nature of the area it was built in. Neither of them ever expressed any interest in going there that Wedge could remember, but he had!
He called his mother at work, quickly filling her in on what transpired in the alley and of seeing a sketch of himself on television, and despite her objections, told her he had to leave and not to worry. "I'll call you once I'm safe," he declared and added, "Don't trust the cops; Pittman's dirty and will try anything to find me. If he does, I won't live an hour. Don't call me, I'll call you!" With a final, "I love you," he rang off. He figured in a couple of months, definitely before winter set in, the whole thing would blow over and be forgotten.
His next call was to the supper club, informing the boss a "family emergency came up" and he was needed at home and quit. It was hard for him to leave a good job and his mother too. It'd just been the two of them over the years and he'd miss her terribly, as she would him. Somehow, he vowed, he'd keep in touch and figure out a way to beat Pittman at his own game. Was he frightened? Damned right he was; he was just seventeen year old high school graduate up against a guy who wore a badge and carried a gun; just as crooked as the ones he was supposed to protect the innocent from!
With everything packed, he turned out the lights, locked the apartment door, walked to the storage unit, mounted the motorcycle, and left! His first stop was at the branch bank where his savings (debit) account was located. He withdrew the entire amount and closed the account. Stuffing the money in his front pants pocket, he fired up the cycle again and started north. It took him some time and map checking before he was able to locate the town near where the Lodge was, but once there he was able to find his way here. He'd arrived shortly before I did and that's when I saw him in front of the Lodge.
Listening to Wedge tell his story frightened me as well! If he went back to Illinois right away, he wouldn't last long, that's for certain. My new found friend was in danger and, if discovered here, would put me at risk as well! I was suddenly willing to take that risk; if I could talk him into staying here, at least until Grandpa Hunter returned home from their cruise, we could enlist his help. After all, he's an attorney and would know what to do.
Wedge settled back in the chair, talked out and worn out, not only from the stress of the situation, but from the long trip to the Lodge. I thought a moment and offered, "Wedge, you can stay here with me as long as you want. When my Grandpa Hunter gets back home in August, we'll talk to him about it, okay? If anyone would know what to do, he would or someone in his law firm!"
"God," he said with relief, "that'd be great! I do have to call my mom and let her know I'm safe, but not where."
He pulled a cellphone from his pocket, flipped it open, and was set to punch in numbers, when I held up my hand, signaling for him to stop. "I don't think you'd get a signal way up here and besides, if that phone is part of your home phone line, Pittman could track you here."
"Nah," he answered, "it's a pre-paid phone and Momma has one also. We don't even have a landline at home. This is much cheaper and easier to purchase and change numbers, so I'm not going to sweat it, much!"
With a puzzled look on his face, he asked, "Why don't you think I'll get a signal here? There's a cell tower about ten miles south of here. I saw it when I turned on to the road leading to the Lodge entrance; see, three bars," he said showing me the cellphone screen, "plenty of strength for a call." He grinned and punched in some numbers.
Hell, I hadn't noticed the new tower at all, so intent was I on getting here!
Wedge's conversation with his mother was brief; not telling her where he was, only he was safe and with a friend. "Don't trust any of the cops," he cautioned her again, "and I'll call in a couple of weeks. Please don't call me since they might just check your cellphone."
"Better turn that off," I cautioned, overhearing his last comment to his mother, "just in cases they try to home in on a signal from your phone. I don't know if they'd do that just yet, but why take the chance?"
Before we were too tired, I thought it best to show him how the composting toilet worked and the way we used the shower.
"Using the toilet is quite simple; turn the crank to expose the holding tank under the toilet bowl; do your business, and turn the crank again to cover up the tank. Usually, when I have to piss, I just step outside. If need be, the old pit toilet is still out by the garage. The hot water heater isn't that big and the grey water, the soapy water and rinse water, flows into a gravel drain field where it seeps away. The water from the kitchen sink does the same. So, when you shower, you run the water to get wet, turn it off, soap up, and turn the water on to rinse. You use less water that way and that helps the drain field. There's no septic tank, so when the toilet is full, we empty the composted waste outside, in the woods. By the time it's full, the most of the liquid is evaporated and all of the shit is pretty well decomposed so it can be dumped with no problem."
"How do you keep it from stinking up the house?"
"There's a deodorant we put in after we empty it. It really works well and speeds up the decomposition of waste material."
We needed to make up the beds, so I opened the linen closets and drawers and took out the sheets and blankets we needed. Between the two of us we made up the beds, ready for the nights. After we finished, we stepped outside to take a leak. Wedge didn't turn away while he pissed and neither did I, hoping to get a glance at what he carried in his shorts. He unzipped, reached inside, and pulled forth a rather large, flaccid, uncut cock, causing me to wonder what it would look like when truly and fully engorged and erect. He looked over at me, caught me staring, and looked down at my meager offering. Neither of us said anything, but he was totally aware of what I was looking at! Feeling myself start to chub up, I quickly stuffed my cock back into my pants and zipped!
Inside the Lodge, I did something we rarely did while staying at the Lodge; I locked the door! It might not be a bad habit to get into, I thought, given the current situation. I wasn't that anxious to have some thug creep in during the dark of the night and butcher us in our beds. No, thanks!
We bid each other "goodnight" and retired to our respective rooms.
The darkness of the night enveloped the shallow valley between the ridges and Hunter's Lodge resting in the depths. When the moon rose, the Lodge and surrounding valley would be illuminated with its reflective glow, giving a feeling of peace, comfort, and security with its soothing ambiance. I'd left a bedroom window ajar, wanting to hear the rippling and splashing of the Osage River as it raced from one rapids, through deep pools, to the next on the way to the great lake to the north. Ordinarily, the sound of the river would lull me to sleep.
Not tonight, for my mind was racing, trying to process all of the information and decisions I'd have to make; or rather we, would have to make. We needed to formulate a plan for Wedge and me to be safe from the human predator stalking him, but to somehow seek a life for both of us here, in the Lodge. At this point, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to spend the winter here and I really wanted Wedge to spend it with me!
There was much he didn't know about survival in the wilds of the north woods and much I still had to learn. Hell, he didn't know how to shoot a gun and if I'm not mistaken, didn't care to learn! Well, he'd have to know, just in case, even if he never shot a critter or had to defend himself. In the morning, we'd begin our journey together by inventorying our food supplies, propane supplies, firewood available, gasoline and oil, and determine our needs.
I was certain, by the time Grandpa Hunter returned, we'd have a real good handle on how to live here and with his help, lift the specter of terror lurking over Wedge's shoulder, bringing resolution and an end to it all.
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