back to the mccoys

by Susie Applegate

I was still contemplating the implications of Albert and Susannah in Biloxi, when Shaherazade, in her typical cyclonic way, changed course.
 
     “Did Harlan tell you where he got Uncle Charlie’s bones?”
 
     “Not exactly,” I told her. I realized then that Harlan had managed not to tell me anything specific about any of the subjects we touched on in our visit. I drank a good deal of Cynthia’s iced tea and watched magpies play catch-me-if-you-can with one of the stray cats hanging around the McCoy place. Every farmer or rancher has to contend with strays like this half-starved calico.
 
     City people seem to think that dropping off their unwanted felines along some stretch of country road is a reasonable thing to do. Like most of the folks around here, the McCoys put out meal scraps, and a bit of milk and let the half-feral cats fend mostly for themselves. Some take up residence in the barns and hold down the mouse population. Most get sick from one thing or another and die or are killed by muskrats and mink in the creeks, or are hit by cars on the highway. They fight with each other and get deadly infections. The females get pregnant over and over again, spewing out kittens every few months for the term of their short lives.
 
     Cynthia and Harlan have a housecat that was once one of these kittens, the mother having met an untimely death before the kittens were weaned and still small enough to bond with a human willing to feed and nurture them. I was friends with enough farm kids to know that is where most of their housecats cats originated.
    Harlan tipped his glass of ice tea at the ragged cat and the two magpies. “Magpies get bored sometimes. Nothing they like better than to play cat-and-mouse except in this case they’re the cats and the cat is the mouse.” Harlan’s sudden laugh sent the magpies flying and the cat running off.
 
     Cynthia came out of the house with a dusty box big enough to hold a ream of paper, which it turned out is what it did contain. It was tied with a bit of old cotton string. She set it down on the table in front of me. “This is what Harlan’s mom and dad wrote about the McCoy family so their kids would know about where they came from,” She said. “I think he’s lucky to have parents like that.”
 
     I didn’t know what to say to her. I know there is some mystery about her father, that she doesn’t know who he is and her mother is dead from drug overdose. I’ve heard that Cynthia has been trying to find out information on her mother. She knows she was born over in Burns, but doesn’t know much else, at least not that she has shared with anyone. Cynthia is kind of shy and I have to admit I haven’t really been interested in getting to know her. She’s Madame Zorro, and I think astrology is a load of bull.
 
     “Go ahead, Susie, open it up,” Harlan urged.
 
     I took the string off and opened the box. It was full of neatly typed onionskin paper. Errors carefully corrected with white-out.
 
     “Mom typed that out on a manual. An old Underwood. She set it up on a TV tray in the living room whenever she had something she need to type up. Letters to friends mostly. Her and Dad wrote this while I was in Nam. I think she thought that fixing the line of my ancestors down on paper would be a kind of spell that would bring me back safe. Sounds kind of crazy when I say it out loud.”
 
     I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I started looking through the pages, reading a paragraph here and there.
 
     “You can take that with you,” Harlan said. “You don’t have to read it right now. You have any questions, I’ll try to answer them. Truth is, I don’t know anymore than what is right there in that box. I’ve got some pictures, some photos that go way back I can email copies to you to put up on the history page if you want.”
 
     “That would be great.” I was trying to figure out how to approach the other reason I came to visit the McCoy ranch. The bones of Charles Sevigney LaFontaine. Since I couldn’t think of a clever way to bring it up, I just blurted it out. “Where did those bones come from, Harlan?”
 
     “Up in the woods on Van Bibber land.”
 
     “Van Bibber land,” I echoed stupidly. “That covers a lot of territory. They own a pretty big chunk of the county. How did you come across them. I guess what I mean is, were they just laying out there on the ground or what?”
 
     Harlan didn’t answer me for awhile. He set his glass of tea down and asked Cynthia if she wouldn’t mind bringing him a beer and asked me if I wanted one. I declined.
 
     “I didn’t find them myself. They were brought to me. I can’t tell you who did find them. That’s a secret I’m sworn to keep. Man who found them says he found the femur first just laying out on the ground exposed.”
 
     “Did an animal dig it up? I understand the bones were buried at one time.”
 
     “That land up there was clearcut. Van Bibbers are not what you’d call environmentalist. They didn’t even replant. It’s pretty steep country and there’s a lot of erosion. Looked to my friend like a gulley washer eroded out a shallow grave and unearthed the bones. He told me the next rain might have carried enough new mud to cover them up again or scatter them.”
 
     “The person who found them, are you sure he didn’t have anything to do with how the bones got there in the first place?”
 
     Harlan laughed, “Not unless you believe in reincarnation. Man wasn’t even born yet.” He was sucking away at the beer and I was hoping that if he kept drinking he’d forget about his promise to his friend. Maybe Harlan was afraid of revealing too much, but not enough to stop with the beer. Cynthia had brought out a whole sixpack for him and he cracked open a new one as soon as he finished the first. He changed the subject instead. “I tell you what the Germaine Truth ought to be reporting on. What’s going on down there on the Wilbur County line.”
 
     “You mean that place with all the cyclone fencing and concertina wire. It looks like some secret military installation. I saw it when I went down to Summer Lake awhile back. It gave me the creeps.”
 
    “That’s the place. It should give you the creeps. You’re a pretty perceptive young lady, Susie-que. I’d bet one of my greenhouses that is exactly what that place is, a military installation. A paramilitary training camp. And it’s no coincidence that it abuts Malsanto property. Only good thing about it is that it is in Harney County and not Wilbur. Small comfort, it’s too damn close.”
 
     “Training camp? What for? Why do you think that?” I was thinking that Harlan was being paranoid a kind of habitual condition stemming from the days when he was smuggling drugs and paranoia was a life skill.
 
     “I’ve seen’em before. In Columbia. Haven’t you seen those Hummers around? I tell you another thing. That drug bust up in the Ochocos–you can’t tell me there isn’t a connection between all that coke and that camp. It’s a tradition with our government to fund these things with illegal drugs. They love the irony. And the fast money.”
 
     I was thinking about the men I had seen on that lonely logging road and how much they frightened me. I found myself falling under the spell of Harlan McCoy’s strange logic.
 

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