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Driftless Summer (Excerpt)
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Driftless Summer (Excerpt) , Novel, 300pages x pages
A summer of ease and disease in Wisconsin's southwestern corner known as the Driftless area.
Driftless Summer



Prologue





Beth was upstairs in bed with her book and chocolates. She heard her husband swearing and what sounded like the couch being dragged across her nice oak floor, but made no effort to discover the problem. Crane had searched every room in the house, scattering piles of newspapers, looking in drawers and even under the pile of laundry before finally making it to the third level and their bedroom.

Beth smiled and cooed, “It’s about time you got home. Working on a case, were you?”

Crane loved to tease his wife. He lifted the covers and held one of her little feet making tickling motions with a finger that moved ever closer to the sole, “Come on, do you know where my gun is?”

Beth put her book face down on the bed. “It’s wherever you left it dear. I haven’t seen it.” Crane put her foot back on the mattress and started to pull the covers over it. Beth had been anticipating the small torture and wanted it, “You can tickle me a little, but be careful I don’t want to wet the bed—I liked it better when you used to lock up the gun as soon as you got home, at least then you knew where it was. I hope you didn’t make a mess downstairs.”

Crane thought he might have. He decided against the tickling and gave a nice foot massage instead. “I’m supposed to go to the range for practice.”

She proffered the other foot. “You always tell me how you’re the best shot in the department, why do they make you practice so much?”

Crane took a deep breath and sat on the bed, putting Beth’s hand in his. “Well, kitten, maybe that’s why I’m so good. If it comes down to it, wouldn’t you want me to be the better shot?”

Beth wanted to get back to her book, “Whatever floats your boat, I know you like to shoot your gun. Make sure you take that Ray person with you. I don’t know what he finds to do in your garage all day. Are you picking up something for dinner?”

“I could, how does Lasagna from Gino’s sound?”

Beth answered with her eyes on her husband’s midsection. “That’s fine, but you better skip the garlic bread. Your washboard stomach has all but disappeared.”

Crane lifted his shirt. “Look, if I stand under the light and bend over like this, you can still see my abs and a little bread never hurt anybody.” Crane was rightfully proud of his physique; it had changed little in the last forty years partly due to a consistent forty-five minutes a week at the gym, and the other part genetics. His father could still hang from a bar by his toes into his late seventies, though it did make him a little dizzy.

Beth grabbed his belt and pulled him close, she tried to smooth his mustache, but to no avail. “It might be time to try shaving this off again, or get some gel or something. You always have four or five really wild ones jutting out here and there—it can be a distraction.”

Crane tried smoothing the unruly ones that he could see when he put his lip up. “Maybe it is time to shave it, but you know I look like a chimp without it.”

“Oh, Crane, I’m sorry. Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut. I know what you’re saying about the chimp thing, but don’t shave it, it’s fine. They’re com-ing back in style anyway. It’s a good thing you didn’t know me when I was younger, I was a horrible control freak, I would try to control everybody if I didn’t make an effort not to. It’s probably because I grew up having to be a mother when I should have been allowed to just be a kid.”

Crane was in front of the mirror trying to get his abs to show. “I think you nailed it. The younger ones say you still try to boss them around.”

“I know they think that’s what I’m doing, but when I see them making bad choices, I tell them. If I had my way, there wouldn’t be so many of them, not that I don’t love them now that they’re here. I remember asking my mother why she was having another baby, and I didn’t say it in a nice way, it was like, ‘When are you going to stop having babies?’ That was when she was pregnant with the second set of twins. Fourteen children was a big family even back then, and people would stare at us when we went places together.”

Crane plopped onto the bed putting his head on Beth’s lap hoping to be stroked. “Your parents were following the Church’s rules on birth control. Maybe that’s why only one of your sibs is still a Catholic.”

“That’s one reason.”

Beth tried to get a look at the next page a hint that the conversation had ended Crane tasseled her hair and hopped out of bed and went out the door.

“Where are you going”, she asked.

Half way down the hall he answered, “I remembered where my gun was.” Beth raised her voice, “You used to take better care of your things.” She smiled, raised her knees to re-cover her feet and reached for her journal. She wrote, “I love Crane so much, but I can’t figure out how someone who is supposed to be depressed can be so egotistical. He never seems sad and always tells jokes. I’m not a hundred per cent sure it really is depression.” She threw the journal in the drawer and picked up her book. She began reading.

Crane located his gun and stowed it along with the other shooting equipment already in his workout bag, then left through the door to the attached garage. He had to squeeze between his truck and the “Goddamned Pole” to get the driver’s-side door open. He started the engine and backed up to the second garage to see what Ray was doing. Crane watched for a moment, and then asked, “You want to go shoot some targets?”

“No, I’m cutting out your pattern for you.”

“Thanks. Could you stay out here until I get back? Beth is trying to take a nap.”

Ray looked up at the second floor window, “Okay I will, but won’t the com-pressor bother her?”

“She’ll be fine, Beth can sleep through anything.”

Crane stopped the truck halfway down the driveway and looked back to watch Ray work. He had been getting to know and trust Ray, and over the last year Ray’s social skills had greatly improved along with his health. Early on, Crane never would have been left him on his own like this. But today he seemed to be on task, so Crane continued down the street.







******************









The shooting range was in the basement of Central Police headquarters in downtown Madison. Crane usually took University Avenue from his house on the West side, but today he went by way of Mineral Point Road to Regent Street just for a change. He had NPR on the radio and listened to Science Friday with Ira Flatow.

The truck passed Randall stadium, and with traffic backed up he could take a good look at the football-encrusted obelisk and thought they should have come to him if they wanted a sculpture. But why would they? He never did anything to get noticed. That would come with retirement, soon he hoped.

Crane liked the sculpture, although some people didn’t. There was a man at a Badgers game circulating fliers to raise money for its restoration. The joke was that it was supposed to look like parts of the obelisk had crumbled away to reveal a core made out of footballs. Crane figured it was the best of the public sculpture around town. He couldn’t think of a better one to put there.

For the most part, Crane was proud of the city he lived in, it was fairly liberal politically and there were only a few small neighborhoods with crime problems. What bothered him was not the occasional purple house or poor choice for a store-front remodel, it was one big mistake that never should have happened and there it was—the ugly glass dome on the roof of the Civic Center. He thought it wouldn’t have been out of place on the roof of a McDonalds, it reminded him of cheap cos-tume jewelry with its steep rising sides and large panes of glass, it was a huge diamond with only a few large facets. Crane guessed that the person that designed it was trying to be original, and all of the good dome designs were taken. Otherwise, for the most part, Crane was very happy with the way Madison looked. He continued to scan the buildings he passed, looking for design flaws and appreciating the direction the city planners were going. Architectural critic was just one on a long list of occupations that Crane believed he could have excelled at if he had chosen to be one.

Crane drove around the outer ring of the square, admiring the Capitol building when he could see it up one of the many spokes. Central MPD came over the hill and Crane made the hard right into the drive that disappeared under the building. The ramp was nearly empty and his tires squealed on the smooth concrete spiraling down to B4, he parked diagonally across two spots just for the luxury of it. Hard shoes echoed off of the cement walls as he walked. Thinking this would be a good place to shoot a dramatic scene in a movie, he paused to watch it unfold. After a minute, he turned his back on the shouting and flying bullets to swipe his key card and unlock the heavy metal door to the range.

Two large rats weren’t disturbed by the movie or by the heavy metal door’s chain and counterweight creaking and rattling in the sheet metal housing. They con-tinued to circle the trash can and lick their paws.

Just inside, Ted was manning the check-in desk. He looked up from his maga-zine. “Hiya, Crane. How you doing, how’s the wife? She’s such a doll, you have to be the luckiest guy I know I wish my wife were as nice and as much fun as Beth. I love hearing her laugh. You know Linda, my daughter? She was wondering what happened to Ms. Maddox, because she hasn’t been at school.”

Crane hated the chitchat. “Did you drink a lot of coffee? You’re right about Beth though, everyone seems to like her. We have a lot of laughs.”

“Coffee? No. What about Beth? Did she retire, or is she still at the elementary school? How many targets do you need?”

“Give me six sheets and twelve boxes of rounds. No, she got a job as a library media specialist in a different district. It’s a high school, she’s still getting used to it.”

Shots echoed from the range.

“Who else is here?” Crane asked.

Ted looked in the direction of the range. “That’s Brian Anderson. Sign here. Say hi to Beth for me.”

Crane walked down the narrow hallway to his favorite center station and found it occupied by a young man in uniform. Crane waited patiently as the officer took forever to finish his clip, and then said, “Nice shooting Brian. Maybe try giving it a little wider stance, you know, for stability.”

“Oh, hi Crane. I’ll move over a few spots, I know you like this one.”

“I’m not anal about it, I wasn’t going to ask you to move, but thanks,” said Crane, secretly relieved.

Brian was already gathering his equipment and soon overlapping shots could be heard, one slow and deliberate and the other emptying full clips in seconds.

After finishing his practice, Crane took the elevator up to the ground floor. Walking to Gino's was faster than trying to find another parking spot. He waited at the bar and had a quick beer while his order was cooked. He finished his garlic toast on the way back to the truck.

Back at home, the overhead door was closed in the garage/studio. Crane won-dered how far Ray had gotten before quitting for the day. Ray’s bedroom was down the stairs immediately in front of the attached garage entrance. Crane put a bag of take out on the top step, “Here you go Ray. Gino’s”

Beth and Crane ate on the couch in front of the TV. Beth considered herself an amateur sleuth and decided not to say anything about the bread. Beth remembered something and had to wait to swallow before speaking, “I gave Ray some tapes of The Beverly Hillbillies. They were in the attic, do you care”?

“Why would I care, I’ve wanted to throw that shit out for a long time”.

“Good, he was happy to get them. I had to relearn how to use the VHS player. Oh, and I threw out your Beta version of Rambo.”

“I wonder if he would like Seinfield? That’s what my mother calls him, Jerry Seinfield and his friend, Larry Davis.”









******************







The next day was hot and humid, another in a series of typical Wisconsin sum-mer days. Oddly, it’s the eight weeks of unbearable heat and humidity that make the long winters tolerable. Crane was in his backyard, getting everything ready for his brother-in-law so he wouldn’t have to spend any more time than necessary on the project. It was hard enough to get him to help in the first place, and no need to push the issue.

Ed peeked around the corner of the house and gave a timid half-wave when he saw Crane. “I tried the doorbell. I guess Beth is at work. I was hoping to see her, it’s been a while.”

“Hi, Ed, thanks for coming over. I just need an extra pair of hands to pour a concrete footing. I have everything ready to go and it should only take ten or twenty minutes. Here, put these gloves on.”

Ed looked at the dirty gloves and said, “Thanks, but I don’t think I need them.”

“You don’t want to whack off with crusty palms, right?” Crane needled him. “Concrete can do some real damage to your skin.”

“I can let you do it yourself if you’re going to be crude.”

Crane thought he might be losing his helper. “I’m sorry, I forgot about your sensitive nature.”

Ed frowned. “I’m not sensitive, I just keep that kind of thing private.”

Crane was through teasing him. “Well, all right, it won’t come up again. The first thing I need you to do is spray in some water a little at a time as I stir the mix. Remember, it’s better to have it too dry than too wet.”

Ed blurted out, “That’s not what he said,” Crane thought he should have laughed just to be nice, but the moment had passed.

Some of the mix got on Ed’s hands and when he felt the grit, said, “Okay, give me those gloves.”

Crane handed over the gloves. “I thought so. Let’s get started. All you have to do is spray about this much water into the mix, and then wait while I stir the ce-ment. Jesus not that much! It’ll be fine, just be more careful when it gets close. I don’t know why I’m so tense this week. I think I may have a tumor or male meno-pause.”

Ed offered, “My guess would be that it’s because you’re married to my sister. It doesn’t matter why you yelled at me, one more like that and I’m outta here. I need to stay calm.”

“I’m sorry I yelled. I appreciate you coming over to help. You can punch me if you want, verbal abuse hurts more than physical, I think. Go ahead, but only in the arm.”

Ed perked up. “You know I’ll do it if you’re serious.”

“Sure, go ahead. Then we’ll be even.”

Ed was excited now. “Okay, don’t flinch or I get to go again.”

Ed cocked his arm awkwardly and let one fly.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Crane yelled. “You never hit Gerhard that hard, I didn’t think you had it in you.” He was surprised at how much it did hurt, and went overboard in his display of pain to make Ed think he was just joking.

Ed was overjoyed, because he had wanted to punch Crane for a long time.

“I have to use the bathroom, do you want a beer?” Crane said, and went in the back door to the kitchen where he couldn’t be seen. He undid the top two buttons of his shirt and looked at his shoulder to see the bruise. So far it was just a fist-sized red mark. He rotated his shoulder to check for joint damage.

When he bounded out into the backyard once more, Ed said, “How’s your shoulder, are you okay?”

Crane laughed. “No real harm done. Good thing you Kaminski’s are such puss-ies. We better get these holes filled before the cement starts to set.” He worried about getting hurt at his age and wished he had thought of that a minute ago.

Ed said, “I’ll shovel it in if you hold the bucket.”

“Watch it so you don’t knock any dirt into the hole. I know you’re in a hurry, but I want it done right.”

“That right there is why I don’t come over much. You get uptight and act like I don’t know anything. My mentor says I should avoid bruising my Chakra.”

Crane’s diaphragm contracted sharply, blowing air out of his nostrils once—his way of laughing. “I can’t wait to tell Gerhard that. He wants to do an intervention on you.”

The cement was shoveled into the holes and leveled and the tools cleaned up.

Crane made some final adjustments. “Thanks, Ed, couldn’t have done it with-out you. Tomorrow I’ll frame it up. If you want to come back for that, it would be great.”

“Yeah, probably not, now that I know what you think a twenty-minute job is,” Ed said. “Don’t you have to work on Monday?”

“I meant after work, it’ll still be light until seven. I can do it myself, no need to feel guilty about it.”

“I don’t feel the least bit guilty. Why do you even need a deck? I like your pond natural the way it is.”

Crane motioned at the house. “Your sister wants to dip her toes in the water while she reads a book. Speaking of natural, we had a bank appraiser do a report for us when we wanted to refinance, and his description said we had a beautiful spring-fed pond.”

“Yeah, I like how the stream comes out of the woods,” He looked around and didn’t see an outlet. Where does it go out from the pond? Does it just soak into the ground?”

Crane had heard that question before. “No, I’ll let you think about that while I get us some beers.” (There was a pump in the pond under the deck and a black hose brought the water back to the spring, so it was the same water used again and again, but he didn’t think Ed would be able to guess that).

The two sat drinking beer, looking at the trees and listening to the trickles from the faux creek and from the pond ornament, a resin frog sitting on the edge spitting water.

Ed spent time looking at each of the sculptures on display in the yard and in the trees and finally said, “I like some of these sculptures. How long did you teach art?”

Crane used to like them, too.

“Only a few years. I didn’t mind it, but when I saw how much the cops were making and how early they could retire, I switched careers. I’m anxious to do art full-time now that I finally made it to where I can retire, I can’t pull the plug yet because I don’t want to give up my health insurance. It would kill me to see all of my savings go for that. I feel like I’m already retired. I can walk away at any time and that gives me a different attitude about things. At this point, I call myself a neu-tral observer, because the stress that I used to feel is gone. I’ve learned that most things aren’t as important as I thought they were, and I’ve been trying to coast the rest of the way.”

Ed said, “It seems like you take a lot of days off, that has to help. I can’t wait to get to that point in my career. They let me get as much overtime as I want and I’m socking away a lot of the money. I’ll be okay as long as the Repugnacants don’t touch my pension.”

Crane took a long pull on his beer, “Man, I love calling in sick. When I left teaching I had unused sick days and I swore I wouldn’t let that happen again. I know exactly how many days I can take without losing any benefits. This is the most at ease I’ve felt in a long time. Everything I did to get to this point was worth it.”

Ed switched the subject. “Gerhard said you always have to go to the range and practice. Doesn’t that get boring, just shooting at a paper target?”

“No, I love it. I hate the noise and wear earplugs because I worry about losing my hearing, but on the other hand, I like how loud those bullets are. It wouldn’t be fun if there wasn’t the noise.”

“I still think about the time you let me shoot your fifty-caliber handgun. Eve-ryone near us could feel the shock wave, and I could see it radiate across the landscape like a little atomic bomb. How often do you get that out?”

Crane said, “Shooting the fifty’s a good way to meet people, you get noticed and draw a crowd, but at three to five dollars a round, I don’t do it very often, and the force won’t pay for the ammo because it isn’t standard issue. Don’t you love the smell of gunpowder? It’s probably my favorite manmade smell.”

There was a pause in the conversation, and then Ed asked, “What other kind of smell do you like that isn’t manmade?”

“My favorite natural smell is yarrow. Sometimes when I’m in the yard, I walk around with two of the leaves shoved into my nostrils. I got Beth to do it once for a minute. She liked the smell, but didn’t want anyone to see her with vegetation stick-ing out of her nose.”

“What’s yarrow, some kind of mushroom?” Ed didn’t really seem to care about the answer, continuing, “Shooting boxfuls of bullets for free is another perk—even if they’re cheaper than the fifties it’s got to add up.”

Crane answered as he walked across the yard. “I never figured it out, but I can shoot a small group from most positions, and I’m qualified in all available catego-ries for handheld firearms. Sometimes I think the shooting range is the only thing that keeps me from hanging it up. Well, no, not really. Being a cop isn’t as bad as I make it sound, I pretty much like what I’m doing.” Picking some yarrow, Crane held it out. “Here smell this.”

Ed said, “You aren’t being very negative today. Usually I get the feeling you regret becoming a cop.”

“Nooo, I’ve never regretted going with law enforcement, if someone talks back to me, I can arrest them. Maybe if teachers were deputized, I would still be doing that, or even if they were just paid more. The only part that I hate about being a de-tective is testifying in court. That’s why I’m very careful to make good arrests and do good reports. I don’t want to come up short when the lawyer for the defense tries to tear me apart. I don’t enjoy the feeling of being accused of arresting the wrong person, and a good lawyer can make you have second thoughts about what hap-pened at a crime scene, especially after months have passed. They make you feel like you’re the criminal sticking to your story. You have to stick to one version of the events, and that version has to be the one you wrote up within a few hours of the incident.”

Ed held up his empty bottle. “I wouldn’t want to be in that position, they could get me to doubt myself in a second. But if you’re going to be one, Madison must be a great place to be a cop, without the big city crime. What kinds of things have you done over the years? Did you have to start by writing parking tickets?”

Crane handed a fresh bottle to Ed. “Parking enforcement is something else. One of my first assignments was bicycle patrol on campus. We wore shorts in the sum-mer, so it’s a good thing I had toned legs back then, and with all the riding, firm buttocks too. Then I tried to get in with the mounted patrol, but didn’t know the right people so they wouldn’t consider me.”

“Why did you want to sit on a horse all day and get bow-legged?”

“I took riding lessons as a teen and liked to visit my uncle’s farm, so working with horses appealed to me. The rejection was a disappointment that bothered me for quite a while. Then I said ‘fuck it’ to my dream, and worked towards making detective.”

Ed said, “I never even sat on a horse, one tried to bite me once. But there’s something else I want to ask you. You told me that almost everyone has done some-thing in their life that would get them arrested if they were caught doing it. What did you do?”

Crane’s eyes glazed over for a moment. “There are a few things, that’s why I’m pretty free with warnings when I have a choice. But it does make a difference what the offense is. If it’s pot or public drunkenness, I let it go if they aren’t being too obvious about it. Drunk drivers, violent criminals, and thieves are arrested, no ques-tion about it.”

“College students get more breaks when they do the same things the down-and-out get arrested for.

“It’s not fair, but they do. Madison’s a university town, so I’ve seen my share of college kids away from home for the first time. They aren’t criminals, but they do stupid things like hanging naked from light posts, or blasting their music too late at night, or drinking too much. I could usually get one of their friends to take respon-sibility for them and most of the time, and that would be the end of it. There were a few times when someone had to be arrested that made me wish I had stayed in teaching.” Crane put his cup down on the stump and started picking up sticks near the path, letting his last statement percolate.

Ed took the bait. “What happened?”

Crane was pleased his manipulation had worked. “Yeah, okay. Well, one time, about fifteen years ago, I put a belligerent drunk guy in the back of my cruiser. I was doing a background check on my laptop hoping to get a family member to take him, but it never got that far. The man was in the back seat with cuffs on, he had calmed down and the doors couldn’t be opened from the inside, so I wasn’t paying attention to him. The jerk shit his pants and painted the back seat with his excre-ment. That’s why the seats are made of hard plastic, for that kind of thing, and also because there isn’t anywhere to hide drugs.”

Ed got excited. “I know this one. You had to use your lights and siren to get him to lockup in a hurry so you could get into a new car. You got spanked for that one. Needless to say, that affected your future decisions as far as leeway goes.”

Crane wasn’t amused. “That’s right, smart ass, have I told it that often? I try not to repeat. When I get old I’ll wear a sign that says ‘Stop me if you heard this one before’. Just to keep from being one of those people.”

Ed tried to be clever. “You should start wearing it now.”

Crane said, “I have some new ones from last summer that I know you haven’t heard.”

“You might be wrong on that. I’ve heard some of it from Gerhard already, and Ray even talked to me.”

“Be careful with Ray, he’s still pretty fragile. What happened shows how easi-ly a person can lose touch with reality. We try to treat him like a dog that hasn’t bitten anyone for a while. Move slowly and don’t upset him and he should be fine.”

Ed said, “He seems a little odd, but if you didn’t know what he did, you would-n't think too much about it. I think he’s within the normal range now.”

“I don’t know if I will ever completely trust him. I wouldn’t let him babysit, that’s for sure.”

“You should write his story.”

“I might, and I’ve made some notes.

I tried writing a little in my twenties. Somehow my son Ernie had some of the notebooks I had thrown away, and he gave them back to me. He said some of it was funny, so I read them and they were mostly crap, so I threw them away again.”

“If your writing was crap then, what makes you think it would be any better now?”

“It’s probably shit now, too. When I write something, it’s for my own enter-tainment, but I still try to do a good job with it. I might write a story about my chickens. I have an idea for a children’s book with pictures so there wouldn't have to be too many words. I’ve taken a lot of photos and I like the close-ups of their eyes because they look like dinosaurs. I can imagine them clucking to each other about their problems, the same ones that kids worry about. There could be a whole series; “Whitey Has Two Moms,” “King Learns to Crow,” “The Hawk and the Flock”—that last one could be a collection of bad rhymes. Getting near retirement age has stirred up some old creative juices, and I have time at my desk after reports are done. The furious hunting and pecking must make people think I’m really busy. “I’m also satisfied to think of the city paying me to do my creative writing¬–did I show you ‘A Day On The Water’?”

“Yeah, you did and I showed it to Cathy. She thought it was a nice story about fishing.”

“You can see it that way if you want to, I guess. Do you think it’s about fish-ing?”

Ed smiled. “No, I get it. It makes me wonder about Cathy, though. She just reads romance novels and likes to watch reruns of I love Lucy.”

Crane said, “The story about Ray and Alphonse is good, and one that I’ll be telling for a long time. I learn more details about it all the time, which I love, be-cause until now most of my stories are from when I was much younger and I can’t remember their order in the timeline. The things that happened last summer are still fresh, and Gerhard and Ray have been helping me fill in the details. I’d like to know about anything he told you.”
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Fine art by Michael Kmiotek.
Kinetic sculptures suitable for gardens or other outdoor locations
(608) 234-2914, (608) 839-9557
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