Raven wished now he had gone to Bankhead National Forest like Kenny had suggested. But since he hadn’t, he now had to figure out how he was going to let Kenny know what he had seen and figure out how he was going to explain to him why he had not charged in with guns blazing. Raven was just thankful that he had seen the blue pickup through the corn stalks before they saw him. He knew Kenny would recognize the truck too and he also knew that Kenny had not connected the dots like he had. If he had, he would have already mentioned it. “It’s the truck from Saddlewood,” Raven had thought to himself when he saw the truck. He pressed on the rear brake pedal and turned the motorcycle away from the corn field and retreated back along the same path from which they came.
Kenny was pounding on Raven’s right shoulder blade so he knew he was going to have to stop and explain. He turned the key off, locked the brakes, kicked the kickstand down and practically did a midair one-eighty coming off the seat. Now facing Kenny, still sitting on the seat and bewildered, “Quick. Get up. Check the flowers. Man, I almost forgot. Here, let me see. If they’re wilted we gotta go get more before we go home.” If Raven had a trait that might severely hinder him someday it was that he could not lie. But he sure was good at coming up with alternatives to lying. This one was so good that it even surprised him. “They look good to me,” said Kenny. Seeing that he had completely distracted Kenny’s attention from the corn field, Raven replied, “Yep. Me too. Let’s get going.”
Raven had plenty of thinking and planning to do and it would go much faster if Kenny was not around to interrupt. Kenny was Raven’s cousin and best friend but at times he was a lot like Sierra Sam, the first crash test dummy. He could take a heck of a beating but he never really added much to the thinking and planning phase. The motorbike skirted the edge of Lick Creek and Raven made a mental note of the growing population of crawfish. He would need some nice sized crawfish to use for bait on his next visit to Sipsey Fork. He let Kenny off at his house and gave the Bultaco just enough throttle to keep it from going dead while he slowly circled the loop analyzing the corn field situation. He had to pass right by Saddlewood stables on his way home. The blue pickup was parked at the barn just beyond the riding ring. Two long-haired guys were taking something out of the truck. Raven glanced in their direction and thought, “rifles – or maybe shotguns; hard to tell from here. Boy will I be glad to get home.”
But playing head games with the moonshiners was getting boring. A lot of the old guys were gone and these new ones just stood around bogarting buds
“Hollywood loves Kennys. Comic books too. Hollywood has hundreds of movies with characters that are Kenny through and through. Li’l Abner was pretty much dead on too,” Raven was thinking to himself. Now he was ashamed of himself for comparing Kenny to Li’l Abner. “No, he’s just as strong and just as nice a guy as Li’l Abner but he’s a lot smarter; maybe.”
The fact that Raven was growing up in a rural farming area that was only twenty miles from a major southern city provided him with a unique perspective. Raven was working at his parent’s farm soon after he took his first step and a few years later had a semi-full-time job at a local horse stable, Sadlewood Stables, a ways down the dirt road across from the family farm. Raven enjoyed working at the stables mainly because they were the only stables he knew of that would give him the opportunity to work with Tennessee Walking Horses. Walking horses are a very expensive breed and were very popular with the southern elitist back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Will and Maggie ran Saddlewood Stables and had a son, James, who was a year older than Raven. Raven and James both toiled in the afternoons after school and in the summer cleaning stalls and feeding the horses. Saddlewood clients and workers were a mixed, diverse group of folks, too say the least. Remember this… if you see brand new Cadillac’s and old Chevy trucks with the front fender missing that is a mixture for trouble.
Back when Raven turned thirteen, his dad bought him a brand new Bultaco motorcycle. That meant that Raven’s dad had mobilized Raven and Kenny’s mischief making capabilities. There was an abundance of land near Raven’s farm–land either owned by family members or long time residents who lived on the loop. Raven’s family lived in area called Manley Loop. The Manley’s had came to North Jefferson County around 1856 and settled the area. They were farmers and coal miners. One of the long time families that lived on the back side of the loop from Raven owned about 220 acres that they leased out to other farmers. The land was hard to access from the loop but had a small road into the property about two miles from the loop. That access was an old logging road that was beside a couple houses that would make the houses in “Deliverance” look like the Taj Mahal. The only access to the property from the loop’s side was by a motorcycle or a three-wheeler ATV.
On this dark and threatening Alabama morning, Raven tore out on his dirt bike heading over to Kenny’s house on the back of the loop. Kenny hopped on the rear of the bike and said, “Let’s go to Bankhead.” Off they went. Raven ignored Kenny’s request and steered the Bultaco towards the corn fields. The trail was very steep and quite frankly very dangerous–pretty much exactly the way Raven liked it. Once they were down the hill there was one of the most beautiful corn and okra fields that a farmboy could behold. For y’all folks that have never seen corn and okra in their natural state before it’s laying on the shelves at the grocery store, the plants are very green and can grow in excess of seven feet tall.
Raven and Kenny had farmed okra and corn all their lives and knew a pretty good deal how far the rows should be spaced apart, usually, no more than three feet at the most. This corn patch was very different. First of all, the corn and okra rows were about six foot apart but had these real dark green plants that were about eight or nine foot tall planted in the middle of every row. Kenny and Raven had never seen any plants that looked like that. And to beat all, the buffoons that did the planting had not even hoed the grass from around the plants–just a tragedy from a farm boy’s perspective. Raven just had to investigate this puzzle.
They rode all around the property and even down the little pig trail road that came in by the Deliverance-looking houses. They did not see anyone in the fields but they did discover little out buildings made out of wood and tin, tractors and equipment, water tanks and just about any other items that respectable farmers would have to tend a field.
The Slokey County Sheriff lived a short ways from Raven and often stopped by to keep in touch with Raven’s dad. On occassion he had remarked how farmers were making more money on raising marijuana than traditional cash crops. Raven was pretty sure he had discovered a camoflauged marijuana crop but his question now was what should he do about it. He was at that age now where everything is about saving the world. Both of Raven’s grandfathers were moonshiners but Raven thought, “Heck, a little rot gut ain’t going to kill nobody, but drug dealers are nothing but parasites.” Raven decided to talk with the Sheriff. But then again, maybe not.
As they approached the top of the hill to leave the field, there stood two guys–one with an axe, the other with a lug wrench. Raven turned the Bultaco to avoid them and continued up the steep trail trying to make a clean getaway. As soon as they reached the top of the hill on the loop, two more long hairs with rifles blocked the road with their no-front-fender blue pickup truck. The dopers roughed Raven and Kenny up a little and threatened to kill them if they ever came back to the field. The dopers with rifles jumped in the back of the truck and the other two got in the cab. The pickup pulled away.
Most kids would have learned their lesson, but not hard headed Raven and Kenny. Raven knew if told his dad, he would have killed the dopers for what they had done. He decided he was going to handle the matter himself. He figured the dope farmers did not know who he was or where he lived. Not even the mailman would make the long drive from the loop to his house.
The dark sky opened up and within minutes lightning, thunder and monsoon-like rain set in. To Raven, it was a call to action. Raven told Kenny he had a plan for revenge. They travelled some back roads on the opposite side of the acreage and planned an escape route to use instead of the hill or the trail by the deliverance houses. They set out on their mission with two back packs, a twelve gauge shot gun and a chain saw. As they entered the field by way of the new route they began cutting trees down that fell across the pig trail road. No one ever came to investigate their activity because it was raining so hard with a good dose of lightning thrown in for good measure. In all they cut ten of biggest trees you ever saw and took the old rusty Massey Ferguson tractor from under the tin shed and totally plowed down the crop. Then they took the front of the tractor and pushed the tin and wood sheds down.
The picture was a bit snowy but Starsky & Hutch was on channel 31, WAAY in Huntsville. Raven had been watching Starsky & Hutch since it began in ’75 and he and Jeff, Jeff Morgan, had spent a lot of weekends fighting crime as “Zebra Three” a couple of years back. Raven watched the program more out of habit now and because his father had grown fond of watching it. Raven spent as much time as possible with his father when he was not on the L&N. If his father wanted to watch Starsky & Hutch, then that’s what Raven wanted to watch even though Raven had started doubting the feasibility of doing undercover cop work in a red Ford Torino. He was becoming more and more interested in Columbo; it seemed to be more about how to catch the bad guys by using logic and analysis instead of using brute force and fast cars.
“People tossing and turning in their beds has to be totally just make believe stuff for TV and movies. It’s kind of stupid if you ask me,” Raven thought as he lay in bed, staring at the stacks of magazines piled on the dresser across the room. “Man, I didn’t realize I had so many unfinished projects,” he thought when he noticed the little pieces of paper, pencils and paperclips sticking out of dozens of magazines. “All good projects and info. Gotta clean off the workbench, though. That homebuilt helicopter looks really good. There’s always a solution. All you need is to know what the problem is and see what you got to work with and what you don’t. Tomorrow I’ll go see Sheriff Mac. Twelve-fifteen!” Raven rolled over and was instantly asleep.