A Canni-Mystery from the mind of Mati Bishop
Looking the other way had always been Henry’s modus operandi. That’s the only reason he had survived this long working for Derick Talon. Today however, may have been too much.
His shaking hand fumbled across his nightstand in the dark. Past the empty whiskey bottle to find his glasses. He put them on and stumbled through the darkness to the door of his 5th wheel. The moon was just rising huge over the Madison Mountain range and Henry could see the shadows of the green houses surrounding the cultivation center. The shadows of the plants inside swayed in an artificial breeze.
His eyes cleared enough to barely make out the numbers on the digital clock over his stove. 3:27am it flashed at him. He knew the clock was an hour and twenty two minutes fast, but couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so he did the math in his aching head. He’d passed out and missed last call. Heck, he’d missed first call with the group of co-workers whose adventure started in his trailer after their shift in the grow houses.
Derick had raged through the worksite that afternoon. Screaming, kicking, threatening. All of which was not that uncommon, but today his attacks were especially personal. Everyone did their best to keep away from the outburst, but two of their favorite co-workers had lost their jobs in the tantrum. Tomorrow the rest of the team would have to take up the slack.
His eyes adjusted to the moonlight and he saw a light had been left on in greenhouse #2. There’s be hell to pay for that if he didn’t take care of it. Before he closed the door to put on his boots and grab a sweatshirt, he noticed something that made his heart stop. Derick’s car was in its parking space.
Last time Derick had come through at night and found that Henry had been drinking, he beat him up pretty bad. Henry was the night security guard for the grow operation and the only person onsite at night. He worked during the day and paid reduced rent for his 5th wheel in exchange for his security services. 99% of the time there was nothing to do. 1% of the time, Derick showed up in the middle of the night.
Henry had learned the hard way that Derick hated drunks. If he had to guess, Derick’s father likely battled with alcoholism and that combined with a temper anything at all like Derick’s would have made for a miserable childhood. Now Derick was taking out his anger on the whole world.
His aggression wasn’t limited to his employees. Last year he followed a drunk driver to his driveway and then pulled him out of the car and beat him bad enough to put him in the hospital. When the driver and the sheriff pressed assault charges, he sued the county for not enforcing drunk driving laws. Of course, he lost and served 10 days in jail for his attack on the driver, but that didn’t stop him from beating Henry when he found him drunk a few weeks later.
Henry had convinced himself the beating wasn’t a big deal. Derick had never mentioned it afterwards, and Henry was grateful that he was able to keep his job. It was hard to find good paying jobs in Ennis, Montana and even harder to find a place to live. Dealing with his pain silently had saved him that time. Now, he had a bad feeling he was going to have to do it again.
He considered just going back to bed and ignoring the intrusion to his slumber but having Derick knock on the trailer door terrified him. He hoped the beating would be less if he discovered the intruder instead of waiting for the intruder to discover him. He pulled his sweatshirt over his head, slipped on his crocs and quietly opened the door.
His eyes surveyed the compound as they adjusted again to the moonlight. He was looking for a moving shadow, or any other sign of where Derick might be. He detected none. Just the lone light that was on. It was more likely that Derick had turned it on than it was it had been left on. Henry had been passed out since well before dark.
Stress triggered his drinking. He could go months without a drink, but as soon as stress surfaced in his life he lost control. Derick’s outburst yesterday had triggered him big time. He didn’t remember much of anything after the first pull from the bottle that he and the team had afterwork.
They were all supposed to go to the Longbranch Saloon after work to celebrate Vickie’s birthday. She was their state compliance officer until Derick fired her. He had showed up shortly after lunch looking for a container of untrimmed product. When she couldn’t find it, she was fired. Conner, the lead grower’s assistant, had shown up and found the container, which led to him being fired too. Derick continued to tantrum for two and a half hours. Screaming, kicking stomping with nervous employees following along behind trying to clean up the mess.
These incidents gave Henry flashbacks to boot camp. The Marine Drill instructors would do the same thing in the squad bay when they wanted to get everyone on edge. It was all part of their plan to create stress and discomfort in the ranks. Henry doubted that Derick was trying to create stress, he guessed that his outbursts were part of his battle with mental illness, although no one dared mention that.
Henry hated boot camp, but he survived it. He did reasonably well there too. All the way through training he was a model Marine. He was chosen as squad leader and platoon guide by his unit. He graduated top of his class as an Arabic linguist and was selected for Radio Reconnaissance training.
His stint with special forces was short lived. Most of what he was trained to do was considered an act of war and therefore his unit spent the overwhelming majority of their time exercising and landscaping. The boredom left room for alcohol to play a prominent roll in his life and after three incidents where he received non-judicial punishment, he was caught trafficking narcotics on base and sent to the brig for three years before receiving an “other than honorable” discharge.
Nobody would have guessed the 53 year old Henry Arnold taking a tentative drunk step out of the camper door had once been part of an elite fighting unit. His long hair and beard gave him more the look of an old hippy, which was complemented by his work at the cannabis farm. The 30 years of short stints of employment followed by alcoholic flare ups since he had been discharged from the Corps had left him thin and weak compared to his former self. There would be no point in standing up to the monster of a man that Derick Thorn was.
Derick stood 6’ 3” tall and weighed well over 225lbs. The fact that he was a self-proclaimed liberal who bragged about having never shot a gun and refused to acknowledge that he was capable of committing a violent act because of his relationship with Jesus didn’t stop him from striking fear into his employees. All of his pious Christian tendencies went out the door when he lost his temper, which was the condition they were accustomed to seeing him in. The contradictory behavior made him wildly unpopular with his employees and in the small town he’d chosen to start his business in.
Henry stepped around the first greenhouse, the one away from the light that was on, to check and make sure nothing was out of place. The warm sweet smell of the blooming cannabis filled his nostrils. It had always been a happy smell for him and even now it calmed his nerves. Everything was ok in greenhouse one.
He’d forgotten his flashlight but was able to slip silently around the back of greenhouse two, where the light was on, to check on greenhouse three. The moon cast just enough light for him to determine that all was well with this part of the operation. He walked around the cultivation center where the indoor gardens grew and found all well there too. A cursory check of the doors on the concentrates lab and the kitchen found them undisturbed. Now he had no choice but to face the light in greenhouse two.
He crept silently to the front door. It was left ajar. For what seemed like an eternity he stood outside looking and listening for sounds of movement inside. There were none.
“Hello, Derick. You in here?” His voice was softer and weaker than he would like, but it was all he could force out through the fear of what he suspected was about to happen. Seconds turned into minutes. There was no response. No movement. His hand shook with fear as he pushed the door all the way open.
The inside of the greenhouse was in disarray. Plants were laying on their sides, tables were blocking what were usually pathways. Henry squinted into the darkness as he took a tentative step inside. He could barely see in the shadows of the moonlight and his hearing was confined to the soft sounds of the fans blowing. It was his nose that found the trouble first.
A rich metallic smell wafted into his nostrils and turned his head towards the work bench. Sprawled in front of the work bench was the corpse of Derick Thorn. Henry knew at first look that Derick was dead. The unnatural angles his limbs were splayed across the ground in dark pools of blood caused him to wretch.
He stumbled out of the door of greenhouse two and vomited next to the path. He stumbled back to his trailer and turned on the lights to search for his cell phone. Without thought, he called 911 to report what he’d found.