bradley

by Susie Applegate

“Cornbread and beer,” I said, “the all-American meal.” It wasn’t the most original thing I’ve ever said. I followed Brad into his kitchen. His house is familiar to me. When I was very young, nine or ten, my parents used to play pinochle with Tom and Lucy Bradford, Brad’s parents. They brought me along during those years between being old enough to behave and too young to stay at home alone. I don’t remember ever seeing Brad or his sister Christine. Their 8×10 glossy graduation photos always hung over the piano, facing each other, but they were grown by then and Brad was living in Montana. I don’t know anything about Christine. She was never a topic of conversation during the card games.
 
     Brad opened up a couple of beers. “Not much to see out that window.”
 
     I was looking out over the back forty across the garbage steeped pits. “To the contrary. I’ll bet there is plenty to see if you just know where to look,” I said. “If everyone had their own pile that they had to leave their garbage at everytime they came then you would know more than you ever wanted to about every family in Germaine.”
 
     “And it would be almost as interesting as it is now. Like counting needles on a pine tree.”
 
     “Are you telling me you never look?”
 
     “Sometimes things float up to the surface, but I don’t go rummaging around in other people’s garbage.” Brad turned his attention away from me and took the salmon out of the oven.
 
     I’m never going to be Helen Thomas. I just don’t have the killer instinct or I would have said that I’d heard different. I would just have to use a delicate approach to the subject of the Arlingtons.
 
     “So, Susie, what is this project you have going? Are you interviewing all of Germaine or just the weird eccentric types like the garbage man?”
 
     “I’m starting out with the older families; Bradfords, Charlebois, Hedricks, Van Bibbers and so on. But I’m not going to limit my interviews to those families. I’ve already done a profile on Donnie Wicker.”
 
     “So have half the women in Wilbur County,” Brad said.
 
     “Envy?”
 
     “Yeah, right. Want another beer? I’d suggest drinking it out on the porch, but there is a breeze out of the woods and that makes the stench a bit strong for pleasant evening conversation.”
 
     We sat with our after dinner beers in the living room and I asked him what he knew about what happened at the Restin’ Easy. He gave me a kind of sharp look. I’m sure he was wondering what that had to do with his pioneer family.
 
     “I know,” he said after at least a minute, “that you won’t find out what happend by reading your daddy’s newspaper.”
 
     I knew that, but it cut anyway. Pride is a bothersome thing. “He did what he thought was right.” I can’t believe I was defending my father.
 
     “Something happened. Someone got killed. Howard Applegate, I don’t care if he is your father, should have shook that tree until something fell out of it. It’s got something to do with that government facility down in Harney County.”
 
     “Why are you so sure someone was killed?”
 
     “Deputy Shawn told me there was a lot of blood. Sprayed all over the room up high like someone’s jugular had been sliced. Not something you recover from. Especially, when you consider that the nearest hospital is an hour’s drive. With the Germaine ambulance it’s probably more like an hour and a half. But whoever was hurt in that room didn’t go anywhere in an ambulance. Like the newspaper said, the Arlingtons saw someone load him into a humvee and off they went.”
 
     “A black humvee?” I asked feeling that chill again that I’d felt in the woods that day in September when I last drove out to Joseph and nature’s call put me on the logging road where I encountered four men and two hummers.
 
     “It was dark. Could have been black, or green or navy blue, or maroon. The Restin’ Easy does’t have the most well-lit parking lot.”
 
     “Maybe it has to do with Christmas Valley,” I said.
 
     “What do you mean?”
 
     I asked him if h’d been over to Lake County lately. Brad said he had no reason to go there. I told him about the installation in Christmas Valley that I saw on my way to Summer Lake one day late last summer when boredom had driven me out of Germaine and onto the open road for a change of scenery. I had driven all the way to the California border that day and just stood there looking across the brown hills and green patchwork fields broken by the darker green orchard trees. There was a heavy grey cloud in the distance and the sound of water tankers flying overhead. Fire season. I turned around and came back home passing by the installation again. All the way back, my mind kept fiddling with images of razor wire and absolutely no trespassing government property failure to obey will be prosecuted to the fullest extent–warnings as dire as the ones on video and DVD rentals.
 
     As much as I wanted to keep poking at what happened to the Arlingtons, I really did want to interview Brad about his family history. I reluctantly switched topics. It was after midnight before I left. My hand was sore from note-taking and my mind was crammed with Bradford family lore.

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