CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-TWO
Tuesday afternoon — 3:45 p.m.
Sitting in the passenger seat of a Lipson Construction Truck, Rodney looked over at Jacob and then back to the road. Jacob had arrived at the job site just after one. He’d goofed around, played big man, and then asked Rodney if Rodney would be willing to take a drive with him. There was something Jacob wanted Rodney’s take on.
Rodney had jumped at the chance. With all of the weird stuff going on — and really when wasn’t it? — Rodney hadn’t had time to discuss his idea of starting a place to help the men released from their marijuana sentences. He was never going to get a better chance to talk to Jacob than now.
Rodney looked out the window.
They’d been driving for more than forty-five minutes. He hadn’t said a word. Every time he tried to speak, he felt a well of innate shame.
This was a wealthy young man.
He was just …
Then his logical mind kicked in. Because of his wrongful incarceration settlement, he actually had a lot more money than Jacob.
More than that, Rodney had everything he’d ever wanted in his life. Who did he think that he was to …?
Rodney stopped the thought.
“Who did he think he was …?” was the theme song of his own inner jail. He could spend days in a loop of this thought. He’d given up years of his life thinking that this was “wisdom.”
“Rodney Smith was a free man— in thought, mind, and deed.”
Pressing his head against the cool glass of the passenger window, he repeated his mantra in his head.
He felt like a child.
Why the hell couldn’t he talk to this young man? The worst he could do is say “No.” Then, like he’d practiced with Tanesha, he would ask Jacob if he could help connect him to people who could make this happen.
One way or another, Rodney Smith was going to make this a reality for himself and his community.
That’s what Tanesha told him to think. Yvonne had just given him her soft loving look.
“You’ll know what to do when it’s time,” Yvonne said, softly. “You always do.”
Rodney sighed. Yvonne was really the best thing in his life. To gather his courage, he spent a half hour or so thinking about Yvonne.
He glanced at Jacob.
No matter the logic, Rodney couldn’t get the words out.
“Wasn’t” he corrected his inner diatribe. He wasn’t getting his words out.
He nodded to his reflection in the window. He wanted to beat his hand against the passenger window, and he would have!
But then he’d actually have to tell Jacob what was going on with him.
As if Jacob could hear Rodney’s thoughts, Jacob looked over at Rodney. All Rodney could do was smile at the young man, and continue to grumble at himself inside.
Jacob pulled the truck off the highway. They drove along a frontage road for a mile or so.
For the first time this trip, Rodney wondered where they were going. He searched his memory for any project — past or present — that had been done in this area. He couldn’t think of anything.
Truth be told, Rodney reasoned with himself, Jacob probably wanted him to look at a job. After the mess with the state, Lipson Construction had grown financially strong. They were taking — and winning! — bids all over the state.
This was probably just another job.
Jacob turned off on a dirt road and drove to a gate. He gave Rodney the key. Rodney unlocked and opened the gate. He closed the gate after Jacob came through. Walking to lock the gate, Rodney looked around for the first time.
They were in the near mountains, not far from town. He glanced up the road. It seemed to go up a slight depression. A few hundred feet, the road disappeared.
The air was brisk and clean. It was beautiful in that dry Colorado way. Stands of trees clung to the mountains. There were scar marks of some large construction site that had been here at some point.
Rodney looked at the highway they’d gotten off of.
“Probably from building that highway.”
For the first time, Rodney actually wondered why Jacob had asked him here.
He locked the gate and jogged back to the truck. Getting in, he held out the key to Jacob.
“Why don’t you hold onto it?” Jacob asked. “You can help us get out of here.”
Rodney nodded. Jacob gave Rodney a grin.
“You’re waiting for me to ask you what we’re doing,” Rodney stated. He rolled his eyes at himself and laughed. “What they hell are we doing out here?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Jacob said.
In pure Jacob fashion, the young man didn’t say anything else. They drove up the slightly steep road a bit. At the top, the road headed down into a wide …
Rodney wasn’t sure what.
“What is this?” Rodney asked.
“That’s a good question my friend,” Jacob said, with a grin.
“Tanesha told you,” Rodney said.
“Tanesha, Jill, Sandy, Heather, Blane …” Jacob looked off in the distance. “I believe I heard from Fin and …”
“That’s a lot of people,” Rodney said.
Jacob gave him a broad smile.
“But that doesn’t answer the question,” Rodney said.
“Yvonne asked me if I would keep my eye out for property where you could build a place to help reintroduce some young men to the world,” Jacob said.
“She did, did she?” Rodney asked with a scowl and a sniff.
Feeling hypocritically betrayed, Rodney scowled. He glanced at Jacob, and Jacob laughed at him. Rodney couldn’t help but grin.
“I picked out five or six places from the listings,” Jacob said. “We spent a couple of weeks looking at places all over the state. This was her favorite.”
“Her favorite,” Rodney said.
Jacob didn’t say anything for a moment.
“And how the hell did she do that while she was supposed to be rehabbing that knee?” Rodney asked.
“This was before she hurt her knee,” Jacob said. “Before the Marlowe Mine.”
Rodney didn’t say anything for a long moment.
“You’ve been talking about this for a couple of years,” Jacob said mildly. “We’ve been looking for about three months.”
Jacob looked at Rodney.
“Want to take a look?” Jacob asked.
“It’s pretty far from town,” Rodney said.
“There’s a bus stop at the highway where we got off,” Jacob said. “The buses run up and down I-25. We can also run a shuttle into town, if we need to. One thing …”
Rodney turned to look at Jacob.
“There’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be done around here,” Jacob said. “We have to assume that these men won’t know how to do anything. So they will be trained in a skill while they help us get this place together. Just that will take up most of their work time for the next year or so. By the time this place is cleaned up and ready to go …”
“Wait,” Rodney said.
“You said ‘they,’” Rodney said.
“I did,” Jacob said.
“Who is ‘they’?” Rodney asked.
“Your charity took possession of five young men about a week ago,” Jacob said.
“What men?” Rodney asked.
“The top five from the list you keep in your wallet,” Jacob said.
“My … what?” Rodney’s hand went to his chest. “Did you say something about a charity?”
“You know — the one Tanesha and her mom set up?” Jacob asked with a grin.
“Tanesha and her mother …” Rodney sounded out each syllable. “You’re serious.”
“Come on,” Jacob said. “I’ll show you.”
Rodney’s eyes scanned Jacob’s face. Jacob pointed ahead.
“Yvonne’s waiting for you,” Jacob said.
“Yvie?” Rodney asked. “But I …”
He shook his head.
“I knew there was something screwy with that new job of hers,” Rodney said.
“She’s really excited about it,” Jacob said. “If you don’t like the site or decide that you don’t want to do it, I’m okay with that. We’ll head back to Denver and either pick a different location or …”
Rodney took a breath. He paused and then took another.
“Who owns this land?” Rodney asked.
“Uh,” Jacob said.
“Yvonne,” Rodney said. He squinted. “That big check? It wasn’t to secure her knee surgery, was it?”
“Down payment on the land,” Jacob said. “And really, the land is owned by your charity. Dad and I helped to secure the loan. You know, used our — what do you call it?”
“Whiteness?” Rodney asked.
“Privilege?” Jacob said.
“Like I said, ‘whiteness,’” Rodney said. His words were hard, but he was smiling. “What is that great smell?”
“Cedar fire,” Jacob said. “One of the men found a wild pig caught in the fence. It was too injured to survive so they are smoking it. They watched some videos on YouTube and are making bacon, too.”
“Caught in the fence?” Rodney asked.
“You can imagine it was a tense moment,” Jacob said.
“Who …?” Rodney asked.
“We have a small staff here,” Jacob said. “Most of them came with the place, but …”
Rodney looked at Jacob. Jacob’s dad, Sam Lipson, pulled up next to them. Sam waved at Rodney and drove on.
“Dad’s been here,” Jacob said.
“I’d wondered what he’d been up to,” Rodney said mildly. “He was so happy and positive, ready to start that business on the Navajo Reservation.”
“Why don’t we take a look?” Jacob asked. “You’ll feel better.”
Grinning, Jacob put the truck in gear. They went over the rise. The road became just two ruts in the mud for the tires. They drove past a falling down barn and a more modern shed. On one side was a kind of bunkhouse or maybe a hotel with what looked like ten single rooms.
The doors faced the outside. There were a variety of boxes and chairs for people to sit on the porch.
“This place is a dump,” Rodney said.
Jacob looked over at him. Rodney was grinning from ear to ear. They pulled up to a large hall or possibly an old church.
“What was this place?” Rodney asked.
“It’s been a lot of different things,” Jacob said. “Most recently, the owners were trying to make a dude ranch, but got in over their heads. The former owners have stayed on to help get this up and running.”
A hippy-looking middle-aged man and woman came out of the hall and waved at them.
“Why would they …” Rodney started to ask.
“They love the spot,” Jacob said. “They’ve invested every penny they had into this property simply because they loved it. They were happy to see it used in some ‘good’ way. Plus, they’re flat broke. The sale paid off the loan but they …”
Jacob nodded to Rodney.
“They need a new start as well,” Jacob said. “The wife’s mother is the cook. Their youngest child will be the cleaner. Everyone’s excited and on board.”
Rodney looked at the couple for a long moment.
“They are stoners,” Rodney said.
“Exactly,” Jacob said. “Incensed by the drug laws.”
“They going to smoke here?” Rodney asked.
His voice rose with anxiety. His head started to spin.
This! His dream! It was spinning out of …
Yvonne stepped out of the building. That woman only ever made him smile. He gave her the same stupid grin he’d given her since they were children. She waved for him to come inside.
“To answer your question,” Jacob said, “they’ve agreed to stay on to see how it goes. If they are uncomfortable or need to be high, they’ve agreed to leave. They love this place more than they love weed. Or so they said. And, like I said, they need a fresh start too.”
“Juries out,” Jacob said. “This was an old meeting hall. Quakers. It’s beautiful inside. Simple. Strong. Profound. There’s a kind of stillness …”
Jacob nodded his head.
“Honey’s already filed the paperwork for it to be on the historic record,” Jacob said.
“Honey’s good with paperwork,” Rodney nodded. “Wait, I’ve been signing a lot of papers for … She said that they were insurance papers for Yvonne’s knee.”
“I was buying this place,” Rodney said.
“Honey is good at paperwork,” Jacob said. “Ready?”
“It’s going too fast!” Rodney said.
“Life does,” Jacob said. “Don’t you have some saying about that?”
“Life goes by fast,” Rodney said, by rote. “You can either sit on the bank of the river or just jump in and see where it takes you. Either way, the journey will be over soon enough. That’s kind of my life mantra.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “That’s it. Good mantra.”
They sat in the truck for at least another full minute. Jacob looked up to see Yvonne shaking her head and scowling at them.
“The truth is that it’s a stupid idea. Really dumb,” Jacob said. “I mean look at this place! These men! Those hippies! Us! What do we know about doing this kind of work? Exactly nothing.”
Rodney’s head jerked to look at Jacob.
“I think it’s going to work!” Jacob said.
Sighing, Rodney started to get out of the truck.
“What if we fail spectacularly?” Rodney asked.
“We’ll bulldoze the entire place and build some houses or apartments,” Jacob said. “This gives us a chance to hold on to the land until we see how far the city is going to grow.”
“What if it succeeds?” Rodney asked, almost to himself, but really he’d love an answer.
“Then we’ll advertise the hell out of it,” Jacob said. “Put the plans online. Let other people around the country see it. These men might have marijuana offenses, but there are lots of people who get out of prison and have no idea what to do with their lives or how to live them. When all these pot offense people have moved on, we’ll still have stadiums full of citizens who could use a place to learn to live.”
Rodney didn’t say anything. Jacob nodded his head to Yvonne. She was just starting out across the uneven mud toward them.
“Don’t make her walk across this mud with that knee,” Jacob said. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Oh!” Rodney jumped out of the truck to meet Yvonne.
Jacob sat in the truck for a few minutes to let them talk. Yvonne wave to Jacob and they all went inside the hall.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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