The Spook

It was early summer, and George sent out one of his more intriguing group text messages to everyone living at the Farm: New resident Larry Cherkov will be moving in this week and sleeping on the couch in the dining room. Larry is a retired CIA agent working for the Boundary County Sheriff’s Department. Please make him feel welcome.

Everyone’s radar went off the map. George’s background checks usually consisted of a look in the eyes and a handshake, and, as a result, roughly nine-tenths of the Farm’s residents could more than likely be traced to having a more than colorful past and/or present. Half of George’s tenants had a felony somewhere on their record, and just about the only person who abided by George’s no drug policy was George himself.

One time, field agents from the county tax assessor’s office had come by to take pictures of the property and measure all the old barns, and the two workers ended up being pointed down the long driveway with a shotgun and told to not come back. Even more, we’re talking about North Idaho here: the region is a part of the Inland Northwest called The Redoubt – an area teeming with reclusive, paranoid preppers holed up in backwoods bunkers and disgruntled patriots poised for battle for the forthcoming revolution, whenever that might be. A few of them had even come and gone from the Farm in great haste after discovering the outright lack of privacy and preparedness.

But dear old George was oblivious to it all, and simply couldn’t say no. He never even gave a second thought about inviting someone from the other side to crash on his dining room couch, no questions asked.

What could possibly go wrong?

Copyright © 2020 J.J. West. Campfire Tales.
All Rights Reserved.

Campfire Tales: How George Became a Slumlord

The Farm’s regulars were gathered around the community campfire one night when someone blurted out “So George, how is it that you became Bonner County’s room rental mogul anyways? Just curious.”

“Welp . . .” George started, popping open a tall can of OkieDokee, and the story began. “I guess I got the idea to rent out rooms from my buddy Lance Lamborghini. He used to teach with me at the reform school.”

“Lamborghini?” Larry sputtered, choking on his beer. “What kind of car did he drive, a Ferrari?”

“Never mind Lamborghini,” Jim interrupted. “Lance? What was he, a gender diversity hire at the school? Was there a rainbow sticker on the back of his car?”

The quips were lost on George, who plainly answered “That’s right – Lance. And I think he drove one of those little sports cars at the time, a Miata maybe, but I don’t remember if there were any stickers.” The whole group chuckled as George continued. “Lance had gotten mixed up with this woman, one of those real crazy broads who tried to set fire to his house after they had a fight, and––”

“Wait wait wait,” Jim interrupted again. “You had a friend named Lance who drove a Miata, with a girlfriend? You sure about that? I mean, did you ever actually see her? I’m gonna go ahead and choose gay for $200, Alex.” A couple of the guys burst out laughing, and even quiet-as-a-mouse Eva let out a giggle with that one.

“Well now, I don’t think he’s gay, at least he never made a pass at me. I’ll have to ask next time I see him. He moved down to Wallace, but I still sign him up to be my treasurer every time I run for office, and he sometimes comes to visit when he goes to his Mandom support group in Athol.”

Copyright © 2020 J.J. West. Campfire Tales.
All Rights Reserved.

The First Deadly Sin

The Mooney Farm continued to change and grow by leaps and bounds, and lately, to everyone’s dismay, by pounds. George had opened the door to his newest problems, a single mother and her son, Claire and Oliver. Before she’d moved in he’d described her as being “a bit on the heavy side”, blowing his cheeks out and lifting his arms into a round shape. Such raw uncouthness was typical of George when he described people by their physical traits or peculiarities, but it was all taken in stride because George – who himself resembled an old weathered garden gnome when he waddled around in his red cap, puffy coat, and mudders – was just George, and that was okay.

Claire was around thirty, uneducated, unemployed, broke, and currently on public assistance: a fine choice for a novice slumlord on a wide learning curve. She had come to the Farm with the story that they had lost their home in a drug bust near Naples, where her boyfriend had been engaged in a lucrative indoor herbal gardening business of which she claimed to have had no knowledge of or involvement in whatsoever. She also weighed nearly three hundred pounds and had a constant case of the giggles. George liked her from the start, her tales of poor life choices tugging at his heartstrings. Mostly he just liked women with some meat on their bones.

Another one of George’s infamous community meals had been announced and everyone was invited. On her way up to her cabin, Eva stopped by the big house to find out when the supper was taking place and found both kitchens in absolute shambles. Claire had taken over the bigger kitchen on the new side, and it was one big hot mess, with every inch of counter space and table splashed with her food items and cooking gadgets. Had she been wearing an apron, it easily could have read “Gluttony is a dish best served to me.” Eva scrunched her nose in distaste when she saw Claire sitting at the table eating a cherry pie out of the tin, and backed away quietly.

Copyright © 2020 J.J. West. Campfire Tales.
All Rights Reserved.

Bathroom Wars

The community bathroom on the Newerish side of the house had been thoughtfully designed by George for his elderly parents, built by modern standards. Attractive lighting was installed, all the fixtures were new, and safety bars were mounted beside the commode and in the shower. The shower itself was spacious, with a walk-in floor and molded ledge that doubled as a seat for handicapped bathers. The room was modestly appointed with a towel rack, a soap dish, and a small trash can, and for a while it was the nicest room on the Farm.

After his folks passed and George turned their home into a backwoods boarding house, the bathroom lost its charm. What had been intended as a lavatory for standard use, like social calls or the occasional overnight guest, now served the hygiene needs of approximately eighteen people. All of George’s off-grid cabin dwellers used it, his CoolCampers and anyone slumming it in a tent or RV, couch surfers, random visitors and farm help, the nightly power drinkers congregated around the wood stove, and anyone else too lazy or large to make the trip upstairs to use their own toilet.

Conditions deteriorated most dramatically during times when the male to female ratio at the Farm was higher in testosterone. Where one might envision the proud team spirit of a troop of Boy Scouts all pitching in to keep their camp clean, they would be wrong, and the place started looking more like a disease-ridden filth pit in a Liberian flophouse. What had once been a soap dish now existed solely as a shaved whisker collector, and several rusty disposable razors lay nearby. Bandage wrappers and used dental floss littered the counter, and active-duty toothbrushes lay about, occasionally getting knocked onto the filthy floor where they might be picked up by a do-gooder and put back in place.

Copyright © 2020 J.J. West. Campfire Tales.
All Rights Reserved.

Campfire Tales: Misdirection

Part of the enjoyment of the almost nightly campfire is the telling of stories. Stories of one’s day, past relatable experiences, and just made-up BS. In Geoffrey’s case, his stories have been heard by everyone at least two dozen times, as his memory is slowly slipping away from him, and they more resemble classroom lectures in order for him to demonstrate his undeniable brilliance on a multitude of subjects to all who might be present.

In the case of Geoffrey’s oft-repeated stories, if it’s about one of his kids or another subject which might be overly sensitive to him, then he’ll be allowed to continue unchallenged while all in the group pretend to listen and nod as if they care and are hearing the story for the first time. If the story is about anything else, or if it appears that it might resemble a lecture, then quick and evasive maneuvers are taken to redirect the course of the discussion, and to prevent Geoffrey from getting in a further word.

The undisputed Master of Redirection when it comes to Geoffrey’s bombastic tirades is George, with Jim and Larry tied for a close second. Larry, a retired CIA field operative temporarily couch surfing on the dining room sofa, was always eager to join the group at the nightly campfire, as he had proven himself to be a great wit and an interesting storyteller. Much of his work with the CIA had been in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and in the Middle East and Southwest Asia thereafter. Everyone likes to hear spy stories, and Larry had plenty to tell. He also had a pretty refined bullshit detector, and rest assured it was registering red alerts almost every time Geoffrey would start to pontificate and elaborate on whatever subject he was trying to impress everyone with. Jim was also retired, an aspiring stand-up comedian, and, unknown the group, had recently published a tell-all memoir under an assumed name. He welcomed the free entertainment and potential fodder for his next book.

Copyright © 2020 J.J. West. Campfire Tales.
All Rights Reserved.