“I don’t mean everybody. There are a lot of pacifists up there in the hills. People who still stand by what they stood for twenty years ago – who would rather be robbed than shoot someone. But there are a lot of people squirreled away up there, and if even a small percent is armed, that’s a lot of firepower.
“That’s the little guys. The big growers went Nazi. At harvest time, those counties started looking like Army maneuvers. Everyone wearing camouflage gear and carrying rifles. Outside the town, they were carrying machine guns. Seventeen year old kids dropping out of school to sit out in the forest all dressed up to play soldier with a real Uzi in their hands.
I said, “It sounds like Viet Nam.”
Rusty snarled, “You weren’t there, man, so don’t tell me what Nam was like.”
I just shrugged and hoped I hadn’t set him off. Then he nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess. No discipline; kids with guns; most of them with no real sense of why they’re there. A little like Nam, but only like a pale shade of it. Way, way watered down.
“Bad enough to make me leave, though,” he added. “I grew up in that area and knew it when you could be free there. When the paranoia set in, I left. It got so I couldn’t walk into the woods to take a pee without worrying if someone was going to shoot me. ‘Course, the chances were nothing would ever have happened. Like living here. Man, people get killed in San Francisco every week, but nobody has taken a shot a me yet. Still, it spoiled things. I used to hunt and fish all over that area when I was a kid and all I ever had to worry about was bigfoot. Now kids the age I was then are driving big cars, carrying AK-47s, and snorting coke bought with their earnings. I just didn’t like living there any more.”
Rusty slammed his chair back from the table and went to the refrigerator. He took out bacon and eggs, and started cooking. I didn’t say anything. He was worked up, and he had to do something with his hands before he could go on. I understood that, and you don’t push Rusty if you want his help.
There was a lot of slamming of frying pans and low voiced cussing. Eventually, he tossed a plate of eggs and bacon in front of me and sat down to eat his. It was edible. Just. I choked it down and waited.
Finally, Rusty said, “About your problem. The man you want would be a big grower, but things have changed in the last few years. About the time things got too weird, a bunch of drug control agencies started working together and put a lot of big growers out of business. They started using helicopters and concentrating on the biggest growers. Some of those guys would clear an acre of timber in a national forest, sell the logs, then plant a whole field of pot. That only worked until they started air surveillance. A lot of big guys went down.
“This was after I left. I only know the details by hearsay. If I wanted to be a big pot grower today, I would find some way to spread the risk around. I would have lots of little plots of land scattered all over the area . . .” more tomorrow