"Jabbering away all night," my friend Crystal had said methamphetamine does. This would be my first and essentially last experience with the powerful stimulant.
Fly and I were unintentional guests in the Kincaid kitchen, haphazard hostages stranded on Hatchet Mountain, and as my knees bounced under the table it felt like the vegetable field at our little farm where my soon to be ex and toddler child were stranded was a million miles away, on the other side of the rainbow. No red ruby shoes to click together. Keep it together, keep it together, keep it together, I chanted, recalling the character "Kit Ramsey" that Eddie Murphy played in the flick with Steve Martin, "Bowfinger." I clenched my teeth and kept my lips successfully together, fighting the urge to jabber while the massive-shouldered, red-faced Kincaid reveled vocally about experiences ranging from Navy boot camp to the obsolete cigarette rolling apparatus that he'd brought from North Carolina back in the 80s when the Kincaids had first migrated to the Emerald Triangle. Apparently out in the sheds lurked a small factory where machinery stripped dried marijuana from stalks, pulverized the stuff and spit out cigarettes. The big man's mouth was motoring about a hundred words a minute so it was difficult to follow the train of thought, but sure enough he produced a peach can where dozens of cannabis cigarettes had been sealed. They sported the Marlboro label. It turned out Kincaid had worked originally in the tobacco processing industry back east, and he was convinced that when marijuana went legal his converted contraption would be cutting edge. "Sealed in the peach cans for now, anyway," he added.
Making matters worse, the Missus of the house emerged from the bedroom wearing only satin lingerie, joining us at the Kincaid table. The transplanted southerners whipped out an actual green velvet folding poker table and chips, just like Reno. They were swingers, they told us as the big man dealt our hands.
Keep it together. Keep it together, I muttered silently but lost it anyway.
"What the hell's so funny?" asked Kincaid, his fist pounding the hardwood mesa, jarring the whiskey bottle almost to spilling and sending hearts and diamonds in all directions like shattering glass. "Ever been shot at?"
"Well not until your boys fired one at us," I said, elbowing Fly's shoulder almost accidentally. "What did you say, Fly? Those little fuckers must watch way too many John Wayne — I felt like a POW in freaking—" The next thing I knew the Kincaid kitchen table was upended like a falling domino with four legs. The only option available was to leap past Fly and bolt to the front door. I heard footsteps bashing the floor behind and didn't look back until my legs were scissoring through the darkness and down the graded dirt lane that passed for their driveway. I still didn't look back until I heard Kincaid's booming laughter, and the last glimpse of his hulking form was a heaving silhouette framed by the doorway. Meanwhile Fly shuffled past me so I resumed running. Kincaid had a laugh that sailed like a bass yodel on the wings of a pileated woodpecker from one canyon to the next, and it resounded in the moonlit night. It was hard to say how far we kept at it or where we were going. At least we were finally on a road. And we no longer had the plastic garbage bags stuffed with recently-harvested marijuana to worry about concealing.
"Kincaid was laughing because now he got the buds," said Fly, finally pausing beside a looming boulder and leaning against it, coughing. "Sharif's busted. That was the last of our crop. If you wouldn't have pissed the old dude off — why'd you have to start laughing?"
"Man, if you can't keep it together I'm just gonna bounce on your stupid ass. You almost got us killed."
"That guy was fixing to— he was just looking for an excuse."
"Look, brother," said Fly, placing a hand on my shoulder. "We're both high. Let's sort this out later."
"Fine by me."
So we hiked. It was a beautiful night. There's no place on earth as quiet as the Yolly Bolly mountains on a crisp, frosty autumn excursion, and we two unintentional traveling companions were loaded with somewhat artificial energy. The biting air forbid us to stop walking. Whenever we encountered a fork in the road I argued persuasively to choose the downhill plan, though this strategy seemed to be little more than a coin toss, and the few homestead lights visible when we emerged into clearings were little different from the millions of stars winking. Not that I was in a hurry to encounter another. "Keep it together. Keep it together," I actually voiced at this point, no longer paranoid about pissing off Kincaid, actually thanking Eddie Murphy for helping me through this shit. The graded dirt road was our only link to sanity and I clung to it like the lines of an old gospel favorite. As long as we were hoofing it down some kind of road we were going somewhere and technically knew what the hell we were doing. As it turned out that old Kincaid had basically helped us by coercing Fly and I to try a toot of crank, as there was nothing else to do but keep walking until dawn. The only other option was to stand around and argue and pick our noses and scratch our ears and chests and knock our knees together like marionettes on a string. When the eastern horizon finally started to brighten we discovered that our boots and choices had led us down miles of dead end where a German Shepherd greeted our approach with that gruff bark they've been bred for. It was no killer, though, and possibly a juvenile standing on its hind legs, planting two paws on my shoulders, apparently attempting to lick my nose.
With both hands I shoved the moist muzzle aside and got out of the way while the dog did the same thing to Fly. "Think this is the end of the line," I said. "There's sort of a house."
It was a building with windows, anyway. The whole south side was sliding glass doors done hippy-style as a solarium. Otherwise the roof was corrugated steel and the siding was plywood. A wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, and a light was burning somewhere, illuminating the solarium.