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Raven’s Run 134

That’s how I came to be sitting on the back bumper of the Pinto wagon with the gate up, in dubious shade. The day was hot, nearly one hundred, with an oceanic heaviness to the air that is unusual for California. Brassy blue sky, cougar colored grass, pale dusty live oaks throwing dark pools shade. I was fifty yards from the nearest tree. Under that tree was a forest green pickup. In the back of the pickup, Ed was waiting with a rifle. Further up the valley, Barton sat on a folding chair outside the panel truck with a rifle across his knees. I had talked Cabral into waiting inside, out of sight.

Davis arrived in a Lincoln Town Car. It pulled up in a swirl of dust and lurched to a stop. A lean young black man got out from behind the wheel. Despite the heat, he was wearing a 49ers windbreaker to cover his gun. He left the motor and air conditioning running and walked over to me. He circled the Pinto, looking in. I let him. Then he said, “Step away from the car.”

“Why?”

I knew why, but it was not the right time to let him think he could give orders.

“You want this meeting or not?”

Not needing to push the point, I walked away with him about twenty feet. 

He looked at me, and looked over my shoulder to where Ed had his rifle half raised. It was a touchy situation, and he was feeling it. He said, “I gotta search you.”

I nodded and he did a quick and efficient frisk. Then he said, “Wait here,” and went back to report that I wasn’t armed or wired.

In this slow, deliberate unfolding of negotiations, there was plenty of time for fear. Here was a man whose son I had killed. No matter how this meeting came out, I had business with him that would not be completed soon or easily.

The young man came back and said, “We are going to drive over by that tree. You walk over, okay?”

“No. You want to chose a spot where we won’t have a microphone planted. That’s all right. I expected that. But not out of rifle range.”

“You scared?”

“Don’t try to talk for yourself. You’re just an errand boy. Go ask your boss.”

“Look man . . .”

I spoke over him. “Don’t waste my time. Just trot on back over there and relay the message.”

He didn’t like it, but he took it, because he was an errand boy. A tough errand boy. He wasn’t scared of me. He might be scared of Davis.

I scrubbed my hands up over my face, pushing the sweat back behind my ears. My clothes were wet through and the sun was relentless. The driver got back in and drove up. The window on the back right went down with a low, electric whine and I got my first look at Cameron Davis. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 133

Chapter Thirty-five

We sent a list of Cameron Davis’ properties to his house, with no note and no signature. That would get his attention. Another letter would follow, demanding a meeting. I went back to Eureka to wait. Ed got busy making arrangements to pull this stunt off without getting us all killed. Daniel Cabral flew back from France. 

Four days later, I met Ed in Garberville and followed him out of town. He drove toward the Davis mansion, then turned off a mile short and lead me by a narrow dirt road to where a panel truck was parked on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Oaks and a few redwoods were scattered across the landscape.

There was a dish antenna on top of the panel truck. A middle aged man with a rifle was waiting for us, relaxed but ready. He nodded as we approached and said, “I’m Barton.”

“FBI?”

“I’m on vacation.”

“Don’t you guys ever work for a living?”

He just grinned and motioned toward the truck. Ed and I went inside. Senator Cabral was waiting; he shook hands and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure. Are you sure you should be here?”

“No. Politically, this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m not Richard Nixon. I don’t send people out to do things I wouldn’t do myself.”

I had to admire that. He had a lot more to lose than I did. But maybe he had even more to gain. “You should at least stay in the truck,” I said. “It doesn’t make any sense for you to talk to Davis face to face. We are here to use leverage on him, not give him a lever to use on you.”

“I will let you begin the meeting. If Davis sends a messenger, send him away. If Davis actually shows up, I want to see him.

“Ed,” Cabral added, “please step outside for a moment.”

Wilkes nodded and withdrew. The Senator studied me for a minute, then said, “Ian, why are you doing this?”

I shrugged. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. I just said, “For Raven.”

“Even though she ran off on you?”

I nodded.

“Do you love her that much?”

“God damn it, is this the right time for this conversation?”

“I am her father,” he said simply.

There wasn’t much I could say to that, except, “I love her.”

“Enough for this?”

“Enough to protect her.”

“And to live with her?”

“For as long as we could stand each other. I don’t know if that would be a week or a lifetime.”

“She needs you,” he said. “She may run from you, but she needs you. Those pasty boys she finds . . .” He made a gesture of disgust. “They are not enough for her. She needs more. She needs a genuine man; a serious man. A man of honor.” more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 132

“And then what?”

“He goes to jail. Susyn and Alan go to jail.”

“When? How soon do they go to jail? How certain are you of a conviction, and how long will it take to complete the trial? What about bail? What about hiring outside help from inside prison? Ed, what are we trying to do here? Make a bust, or make Raven safe?”

“Don’t get mad at me, Gunn. I didn’t cause this situation.”

“Then think, man. What is our objective here? Let’s keep that in clear focus.”

I stopped talking and drummed my fingers on the table. I had gotten loud. The problem was, I was getting mad. Not a quick, adrenaline anger that comes and goes, but the kind of mad that builds up over weeks and months until it gnaws away inside of you and makes you do violent things that are not normally in your nature. I wanted Skinny Alan right here in this room so I could take him apart with my bare hands. And I wanted this Cameron Davis that I had never met, who hid in the shadows and pulled the strings; who hired Chicano punks to wait for me at Jacks’ office and sent a henchman to burn me up in my sleep. And I wanted Susyn for lying to me and causing me to betray Raven. 

And deep down I was mad at Raven for leaving me.

I fought it off. It was not useful to me now. I put that anger away, deep down in the sub-basement of my soul, where so many other angers are already stored. A day will come. But not today. Today I had to find a way to let my enemies live, so that Raven could live. It would not be satisfying, but it was necessary.

But someday, someone was going to pay. Where or when, I didn’t know, but I would not forget.

“What I propose,” I said finally, “is to leave the old man in place. If we attack his position, Raven will still be in danger. She is a witness to two attempted murders. Cameron Davis might be able to avoid prosecution for that, but Susyn and Alan can’t. We’ve got to show the old man what we have, threaten to bust him wide open, and offer to leave him in place if he calls off his dogs.”

“I don’t think he got where he is by being scared of threats.”

“No,” I said, “not a threat. A negotiation. I’ll have to show him his alternatives and convince him that leaving us alone is the only thing that benefits him. The timing is right. Harvest is in three months. If he gets busted now, even if he escapes prosecution it will cost him millions. After harvest, we could not do him nearly so much harm.”

“How do we get to him?”

“The only way – face to face. And not we. Me.”

Ed shrugged. “It might work. Assuming he is rational.”

“Yes. There’s always that.”

“But we have to tell the senator.”

“No.”

“Yes. There is no other way, if you want my help. And you can’t pull this off by yourself.”

I just looked at him. “Then you’d better convince him,” I said evenly. “I’ve been lied to and betrayed, threatened with gun and knife, beat up, slashed, and firebombed. I’ll let that go, if I have to. But if I can’t protect Raven any other way, I’ll get a rifle and start hunting, and if I do that there are going to be dead Davises all over Humbolt county!” more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 131

“There is a regular complex of buildings right in the center of that three hundred acres.”

“His processing and storage facility.”

“What else?”

“You didn’t notify anybody official, I hope.”

“Don’t talk dirty. But I can in five minutes, if the senator gives the word.”

“Don’t do it. We need to talk first. And don’t contact Cabral.”

“Why not?” Ed was instantly suspicious.

“Because he has to think about moral consequences and political consequences as well as Raven’s welfare. There are things he wouldn’t do. You and I don’t have to be so careful.”

“There are things I won’t do, too,” Ed said.

“How soon can you get to Garberville?”

“Maybe four hours?”

“Meet me at my motel room at noon.”

*          *          *

I spent the morning wandering around the marina, enjoying the yachts and fishing boats, and drowsing in the sun. I tried not to think about Raven. Sometimes I succeed for ten minutes at a time. Then I headed back toward Garberville. It was a nice drive. Midweek traffic was fairly light and the road wound through heavily forested hills. I was in a pretty good mood. 

It didn’t last.

*          *          *

I pulled into the motel parking lot, braked, put the Pinto in reverse, and backed out again, all in one motion. Good reflexes made it look like I had only used the place for a U turn. 

The cops who were gathered in front what what had been my motel room only glanced up, and I mentally thanked Joe Dias for keeping such dull and unlikely cars in his stable.

The place had been firebombed.

The motel rooms had been strung out in a row, single story, along the parking lot. I had only had a brief look, but there wasn’t much left of the unit I had been staying in, and the units on either side had been badly damaged as well.

If I hadn’t taken a day off to recover from my pot hangover, I would be dead.

*          *          *

Because he was FBI, Ed Wilkes had a phone in his car, so a pay phone call to Cabral’s headquarters rerouted him. I waited at the first off ramp south of Garberville, parked in the meager shade of a live oak and listened to the endless rubber hissing of the freeway. Within ten minutes, a tan Buick took the exit and rolled in beside me. I motioned to Ed to follow and went back south down highway 101. It took twenty miles to satisfy me that we were not being followed. Then I took an exit and we went into a roadside restaurant for lunch and a council of war.

I brought Ed up to date on the details of my investigation. He raised an eyebrow at my breaking and entering. The FBI can’t do things like that. At least, they can’t admit it. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand your hesitation. We have what we need. Let’s call in the troops and put him away. Him and his whole family.”

“And then what?” I asked. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 130

I took a change of clothing and went out to the car. The world had stopped spinning, and a meal would go a long way toward quieting my headache, but what I needed most was to be in another town, seeing different scenery and thinking different thoughts. I drove north toward Eureka. 

Fifty miles made a lot of difference. Here the highway skirted the coast; the air was cool and foggy. High clouds obscured the sun and there was a smell of the sea in the air. I found a rustic motel near the center of town and checked in, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking off the excesses of the night before. 

Eureka was one of those towns that had gotten rich and then lost it. It was full of Victorian houses, built during the lumber boom, that had fallen on hard times and were now being restored. The atmosphere was laid back, with an odd mix of northwoods outdoorsman and post-hippie boutique. Underlying it all was the hardscrabble economic reality of boom and bust lumbering and commercial fishing. It gave the place an edge. I liked it.

I watched the sun set behind a fog bank, then went back to the motel. I left my new number with Cabral’s office manager so Ed could find me, and turned in early.

The phone rang at seven the next morning. Ed came on and said, “Touch me, Ian, I can walk on water.”

“Congratulations,” I replied, with some sarcasm.

“I mean, I’ve performed miracles.”

“Good for you. Tell me.”

“Like you said, Cameron Davis only owns one piece of property in Humbolt county. It’s the house he lives in. Its a mansion, really, secluded and well guarded and I would bet that no one who comes near it is allowed to have even a pot seed in his pants cuff. The man really keeps himself separated from his work.”

“That’s what Johnson said.”

“I checked the surrounding counties. Just like you suspected, nothing. Then I started our troops looking for pieces of land owned by corporations. I could give you a list, but take my word for it, Cameron Davis has kept half the lawyers in northern California busy. We found thirty-two corporations which owned land and were themselves fully owned subsidiaries of another eight corporations. Those eight were all owned by another three corporations. Those three were owned by a single corporation called Davicam, which was owned by . . .”

He was in a better mood than I was. When I didn’t feed him a straight line, he finished lamely, “By Cameron Davis.” 

“There’s more?”

“Yes. Altogether, Davis owns ninety-six pieces of land, not counting the seventeen you found that his kids and in-laws own. There may be more. I’d say we’ve got him. All of Davis’ land is in small parcels except one. He owns a three hundred acre section of open oak woodland near Willits. According to topographic maps, there is only a shack near the road, but I wondered. Why own a hundred small parcels and only one with a real perimeter? So I contacted a friend of mine in the CIA. He and Daniel and I helped BTF on a case ten years ago. He got me satellite photos of the place and guess what. There is a regular complex of buildings right in the center of that three hundred acres.”

Of course today any six year old kid with a smart phone can get satellite photos. Just Google it. In 1989 only the military had that capacity. more tomorrow

*****

Obviously that last paragraph wasn’t in the original written in the early nineties, but was added for this 2016 flashback version.

Raven’s Run 129

“They took one bend in a mountain road too fast and went three hundred feet down into a ravine. Burned.

“I was just back from college. I had just started teaching a month before. Susyn and I were dating. She was nineteen, and wild. Really wild. When she got word that Deke was dead, I thought she was going to lose her mind. It just tore her up. Old Man Davis wasn’t any help. Jim and Alan raged around with a big load of mean and no one to aim it at. Finally, she came to me and by the time I had finished comforting her, we were married.”

“When was this?”

“Nine years ago November.”

Johnson was almost pathetically eager to tell his story. I had sympathy for him, within limits. He wore his wounds too much like medals for my taste, but the pain was genuine.

“It didn’t last. She wanted more that I could offer. But she was all I ever wanted.”

“And now you’re her business partner.”

“No, not really. Old Man Davis owns all that property. He just uses my name, and pays me some rent.”

“According to the deed, you own it.”

Johnson shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that. Cameron likes me because I was good to his daughter, but if I tried to take away anything he considers his, he would have me killed.”

He said it with no particular inflection, like he might say, “The sun will rise tomorrow.”

It was getting too dark to see Johnson. He fumbled for the makings and put together another joint. He shoved the bundle across the coffee table toward me. It was a test. Was I his enemy, or just another guy like him? I reached for the makings, and said, “Tell me about Cameron Davis.”

Chapter Thirty-four

I don’t know how I got back to the motel. After a certain point, Johnson got hazy, his whole house slid south, and I found myself hallucinating my way back to where I grew up in Wisconsin. Vague images of Donal and Sharon stayed around until morning, and when I found rationality returning, I was on the floor of the shower in my motel room with the water running hard and warm on my face. I had spent the night with shades of my brother and sister, begging Donal to tell me why he ran away when I was young and needed him, and praying forgiveness from my sister for the hell I put her through the year Dad abandoned us. And for abandoning her in turn, when neither of us could stand the other any more.

I turned off the shower and toweled dry. My skin was red and wrinkled. My head was a hot air balloon. I looked out through the curtain and winced at the sunlight. The Pinto was parked neatly between the lines in the space outside. Thank God for reflexes.

It was past ten o’clock. I called Wilkes. He was out. I lay on the bed while I waited for him to return the call, because the room still had a tendency to move. The phone woke me up again three hours later. It was Ed. Through gritted teeth, with a pounding head, I told him what I had learned and what I wanted. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 128

Johnson staggered to his feet and crossed to the library, hesitated and looked over his shoulder. I said, “Go ahead.” I already knew where his stash was, but it had seemed too petty to mention. Everyone in Garberville had a stash.

He came back to the sofa, put bud and papers on the coffee table and built a cigarette. He sucked it in fast, controlling the smoke between puffs, holding his breath as long as he could. When it was gone, he said, “I really love this stuff. I wish I didn’t.”

“She’s killing you, isn’t she.”

He nodded. “She is worse for me than pot, and harder to get loose from.”

“I know.”

“Do you really?”

“Oddly enough, I do.”

I sat down across from Johnson and said, “Tell me about her.”

“Oh, God. I’ve known her all our lives. We grew up together. I fell in love with her when she was twelve and I was sixteen, and I have never gotten over her.”

“Here? Garberville?”

“Here. She had four brothers. Two of them were killed – three of them now. Only Crazy Alan is left. And Susyn, who is as crazy as all four of them put together, but cold. Thinking. Mean, sometimes. And sometimes the sweetest, kindest thing that ever lived. But you never knew, any time you saw her, what way she was going to be.

“Carter – her oldest brother – got killed in a territorial dispute. Someone raided one of his fields, so he raided back. Got the wrong field, hurt a woman who was taking care of it when she tried to stop him. This woman’s old man was just back from Viet Nam. A Marine, unreconstructed. A lot of the unreconstructeds end up in these hills. He caught Carter in a bar down in Leggett and put a knife in him. Susyn was fourteen at the time. Her Daddy, Cameron, the old bull of the woods, put out the word and the Marine who killed his oldest boy disappeared. The cops never found him, and his family never saw him again. Me either; but Susyn told me she went to the shed where Cameron had him taken and saw the body after they had finished with it. If must have been really ugly. Susyn wasn’t herself for months after that.”

Johnson rolled another joint before he went on.

“Susyn was close to all her brothers. Worshipped them, really. She took Carter’s death hard and when Deke got killed a few years later, it really put her over the edge.

“Deke was the second brother; the smart one. He was the one the old man was grooming to take over the family business. Sent him to college down in Sonoma. Made him into an accountant.

“Deke was up in the Sierras. Cameron had expanded his operations, and it was just after harvest. They had a cabin back in some valley somewhere, with a couple of tons of pot getting trimmed out by some itinerants Deke had hired. Deke was cutting corners, using some of that fancy bookkeeping he learned in college to cheat the trimmers. They beat him up, stuffed him into the trunk of his car, and took off for Sacramento. Nobody knows what they had in mind, but they took one bend in a mountain road too fast and went three hundred feet down into a ravine. Burned. Some rangers pulled the bodies out two days later and got a big surprise when they checked in the trunk. more tomorrow