Redwood Nine: Season 03 Ch. 12byRoyceConnors©
The funeral service was attended by many, some just to pay their respects. The coffins were lined up in a row, a freshly dug hole beside each one. Chairs were set out for family members only, as so many were needed. The Charming marching band played sombre tones to echo in the background, as limos and cars began pulling up and unloading passengers.
Tears were hard to contain and hold back from spilling down cheeks. The gleaming wood of each casket reflected the sunlight, making them seemingly glow. Flowers were in abundance beside each casket and a wreath of daisies placed on top them. The display was as elaborate and heartfelt as the loved ones could put together. Phoenix's father placed a couple of eagle feathers and his baby toy rattle.
JT and the guys were dressed in their new suits and looked every bit as groomed as the other mourners. Rev. Madock was starting on the first service for Poppy, when JT spotted Hank walking towards them. JT could see he was in a sad state of affairs, his face long and drawn out. He looked like he had already spent some time grieving and JT wondered why. Hank didn't really know the commune or its members and couldn't understand his grief.
Hank stopped short of the group of people and motioned for JT to come to him. JT excused himself and walked over to him. Hank walked him further away and had JT's curiosity peaked. Finally Hank turned to him and his eyes couldn't hold back the hurt he felt inside.
"What is it, Hank?"
"It's Walter, JT."
"Yeah, I was wondering why he wasn't here already. He's still coming, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid not, son."
"Why? Why isn't he coming?"
"Walter took his own life last night. Blew his head off with a shotgun. Saw him do it from across the road. I yelled for him to stop, but he just looked at me and pulled the trigger. Did it at Chase's grave."
"No. No way. You're not serious?"
"I'm afraid so, son. Wish it was all just nonsense, but it ain't. He's with those he loved, now. I guess the loss was too much for him."
"This can't be happening. This is so fucked up right now. What the hell is going on?"
"I wish I had an answer for you, JT, but I don't. I sat all last night trying to make sense of it myself."
JT was beside himself with the news. Piney saw him pacing frantically and knew something was wrong. He excused himself quietly, as Rev. Madock gave his final blessings to Poppy. Others watched Piney go to JT and became interested in what was happening. Piney stopped JT from pacing and had him tell the news. Piney was in shock at hearing it and looked at Hank, getting a nod in confirmation. Piney and JT began talking about it, while Hank silently drifted back into the shadows and got in his truck.
He had done what he had to do and it was time for him to tend to the living parts of Walter's life that remained. Lorraine was next and Lenny looked at the Reverend, knowing his words brought a finality to everything. He looked at Lorraine's mother and saw that she had forgiven him for taking her from her so young in life, but gave her a life where she was still loved. He reached for her hand and after looking in his eyes, she took it in hers and held it tightly.
JT and Piney rejoined the group and wanted to know what Hank had said. Neither said anything and said they'd tell them after the ceremony. Both knew enough pain and loss had to be dealt with already, without having to add that news to it all. No more questions were asked of them and the ceremony continued without any further interruptions.
By the time Marlene's service was done, no one had the strength to hold back tears, not even Gianni and Jimmy. They had bought flowers in abundance for her, their own show of appreciation for who she was to them. JT looked over and saw Gianni put his arm over his son's shoulders to comfort him, even though he himself was distraught with grief. Reverend Madock concluded the service and consoled those who needed his words of comfort.
A silver/grey hearse slowly pulled up and stopped by the grave sites, a black Lincoln Town car stopping right behind it. The attendants got out and opened the back door of the hearse and then walked towards the group.
"Excuse me, but which casket holds Christianna Barnett?"
People looked at them in questioned stares, wondering why they wanted to know, when the doors on the Lincoln opened and Golden's parents stood beside it. Everyone knew at that point what was going on. JT and Art, along with the club and several parents, blocked the attendants from going any further.
"I'm sorry, I don't have any idea which one she's in. They were all given their final benediction by the Reverend and now they're all going to be buried together, just as they wanted to be."
"We have orders from her parents to take her body and transport it to Los Angeles."
"Not going to happen. Unless you can identify her casket, we have no idea who's in what one."
The attendants looked at the row of caskets and knew they couldn't just open them up and look inside. They went back to explain and the Barnett's were livid and demanded they find their daughter and put her in the hearse. The attendants relayed the orders again and were given the same answer, stumping them from carrying them out. The Barnett's marched over and faced off against the group.
"Where is our daughter? You had no right to do this. We told you we had our own plans for her funeral."
Art took a step forward and introduced himself and his title. The parents looked at him and knew legalities now had to be adhered to.
"I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Barnett. I'm afraid there's really nothing you can do about what's been done. Christi's wishes have been adhered to and carried out. You may be her next of kin, but she has the final say in her own interment, not you."
"I don't give a God damn about her wishes. She's coming with us, or I'm calling the police."
Wayne heard the call for police and stepped through the crowd.
"That would be me. I'm the Deputy Chief of Charming Police, Wayne Unser."
"Officer, I want whoever is responsible for this arrested."
"Well, Ma'am, that might be a bit hard, considering she's in one of those coffins back there. Mr. Lowen has explained the legal side to you and I can only enforce the laws of this state and this town. According to those laws, nothing wrong has been committed, as far as I can see."
Mrs. Barnett looked at everyone with fury and spite in her eyes, knowing she was at odds to get what she wanted. Mr. Barnett was eager to go back to the car and leave and not cause any more of a scene, but his wife wasn't finished.
"I want my daughter's body in that hearse, or I'll make some calls and it won't be pretty for any of you."
"Is that a threat? Did you just threaten an officer of the law?"
"You can call it what you want. I just want her in that car now and that's final. Do I make myself clear?"
She stood defiantly before the large crowd of people and saw she was alone, not even her husband supporting her.
"Lady, if I was you, I'd get my ass back in the car and go home. This ain't the time to be stirring up a hornet's nest."
"What part of what I just said, isn't getting through that dumb, hick brain of yours?"
"Oh, it got through alright. I guess what I said and Mr. Lowen said, didn't make it through yours."
The redness of Katrina Barnett's face got deeper and deeper, a she felt the conflict of force take away any chance of dealing with this here.
"Now, before you go opening your mouth and saying something you shouldn't, it's best you just leave quietly and let everyone go about their business."
Katrina started walking towards Unser to square off with him, but her husband held her back and turned her towards the car and made sure she got in. The yelling and screaming from her finally stopped, when the doors were closed and the two vehicles departed.
Art turned to the group and shrugged his shoulders.
"That was uncalled for, but at least Christi's wishes and those of her friends have been met and that's what matters here. Let's just let it go and continue with what we were going to do. Lumpy has an entire section waiting for us, so we should head over and we can talk more there."
No one disagreed and everyone climbed into cars and headed down to Lumpy's restaurant, for a social gathering of mourners. The caravan of vehicles pulled in and Lumpy greeted everyone at the door personally with condolences. The hostess had everyone seated in the section reserved for them and waitresses were ready to take orders and pour water in glasses. Once that was done, the group rehashed the situation at the cemetery. Smiles came to faces, knowing they has succeeded in thwarting Golden's parents from ruining her final wishes. Art casually leaned over to JT and whispered his burning question.
"This is what she wanted, right? If it wasn't, all of us could be in a heap of crap for it."
"Oh yeah, Art. Ask Mary, or Marietta, they'll tell you."
"It's okay, just want to get my ducks in a row. I don't see that being the end of those two, especially that woman. I heard the stories, but seeing it for myself, that woman doesn't deserve to bury that poor girl."
"No one else thought so either, Art. Listen to what you're hearing and that says it all."
"Yeah, got a point there, JT. Sure knows how to take the wind out of the sails, that's for sure."
They left it alone and joined in on talks about the commune and what went on. No one wanted to broach the subject of free love and nudity, but questions were coming in a way that had to be answered, silence not a resolve to the issue.
Mary and Marietta looked at each other and knew it would be their place to say something. Mary started off and Marietta helped fill in spots, giving the parents and townsfolk an inside look at what a hippie commune was all about, as well as the concept of free love. Some of the more graphic details were left alone, that not being something they needed to know. By the end, people seemed to understand and some even accept it, while some were staunch advocates of the old ways of doing things. The food came out and that solved the problem of talking anymore about it. Lumpy stood by and waited to make sure everything was good and acceptable, then went to the front desk and sat.
There was little in the ceremony for the dead Disciples, as no one was left to claim them. A few rows of plain wooden coffins were lined up in the pauper's area and the groundskeepers were lowering them in as fast as they could and covered them back over. No last rites were given, no mourners paid their respects, as the final one was laid to rest and the crew left the scene. A small stone plaque would designate the final resting spot for each of them, the least the county could do to put their scourge to an end.
Once the club got back to the clubhouse, JT went over to the office and closed the door. He sat down and looked at the sheet with two words on it and sighed heavily. He picked up the pen and began writing to Clay. It was hard at first to find a way to tell him, but once he wrote the words, the ink flowed on paper in heartfelt words of sympathy. Once he finished the third page, he read it through and took it into the guys and read it to them. No one could think of a thing to change or add, JT covering all the bases and stating how the club felt for him. JT put it in an envelope and sealed it, putting stamps on to post it. It sat beside him for two more hours, before he had the nerve to get up and walk down to the mailbox and slid it through the slot. He stared at the box and knew he had just sent off the worst news he could imagine telling anyone. He walked back to the clubhouse, his head filled with thoughts of how Clay would take the news.
The letter was collected and sorted, making its way into a bag and began the journey to Vietnam. It would be over a week, before Clay came back from a mission and heard there was mail for him. He grabbed his letters and headed to his bunk to read them, opening Poppy's letter first. He read it through twice and looked at the Polaroid picture of Poppy completely naked, except for a wreath of daisies on her head. He kissed her picture and slipped it into his jacket, then folded the letter and put it in the envelope again. He picked up the one from JT and sliced open the end and pulled out the three sheets inside.
The members of his unit were sitting around talking and reading their own mail, when the calmness of the tent was broken by Clay's frantic screams. They looked at him and he was beside himself with grief and anger, a rage quickly turning him into a raving madman. He jumped off his bed and began screaming and yelling at the top of his lungs, making no sense to the other guys. They tried to console him, but that infuriated him more and he lashed out at them.
The ruckus brought attention to the tent and the sergeant came in and shouted an order to stop immediately. He was ignored by them, still occupied with dealing with Clay. He waded in and began breaking up the melee. Clay was out of control and the sergeant grabbed him, slapping him twice across the face. At first, Clay wanted to retaliate, then saw who it was through the red vision of anger in his eyes. He looked at the sergeant, who's concern for him began coming out.
"What's the deal, Morrow? What the fuck is going on?"
Clay didn't know how to express himself, or relate the news in the letter, finding the helpless feelings sweep over him. He sat on a bunk and the tears flowed fast and hard, his sobbing taking him past the anger and into a solid grieving moment. The sarge cleared the tent and sat on the bed beside Clay and put a hand on his back.
"Want to tell me what's going on? Is it news from back home?"
Clay nodded and pointed at the pages of the letter on his bed and the ground. The sergeant went over and picked them up and began reading the first page. He didn't even need to finish, to know what had disturbed his best fighter. He came back and sat down again, patting his back and realizing no words could relieve the crushing pain.
"You going to be okay now, Morrow? Let me go tell the Captain and see what he can do about this."
Clay just nodded in agreement and sat there sobbing in sorrow at his loss, while the sarge went to the Captain's tent and went in to talk about it. He was back fifteen minutes later and helped Clay walk over there. The Captain had them left alone and looked at the letter in his hands and knew the news would crush any man, no matter how strong his resolve was. He looked at Clay sitting before him, a man broken to the core with grief and knew it would jeopardize any mission he went on.
"Morrow, I know how bad this is hurting you, son, but you have to get yourself together. I can't send you home, even though I think it deserves the time. Look, I'm going to grant you some leave time, okay. Maybe go to Seoul and help get your mind off of it. I'm the closest thing to a father here and I'll do what I can to help get you over this. Maybe talk to the chaplain and see if he can give you some comfort."
Clay looked at his commanding officer and knew what the score was. Death was all around him and nothing of life existed, here, or at home. The club lost its appeal to him, not caring if he went back or not and joined them. All he wanted was for the pain in his heart to end and only one thing seemed to make that go away. Killing the enemy. He took the letter and held it in his hands, the feel of it almost uncomfortable to hold.
"Thanks, Captain, I'll go see the chaplain and see what he can do. A little time off might help me, who knows. I'm sorry for earlier, it won't happen again, sir."
"That's okay, Clay. I understand. Not an easy thing to have to read, especially being here and nothing you can do about it."
Clay lowered his head as he turned away.
"Yeah, nothing I can do about it. Thank you sir."
Clay slumped out stoop shouldered, heading back to his tent. The guys gave him space and didn't say anything to him, in hopes they didn't set him off again. Clay looked at the letter and put it in his footlocker, then took the picture of Poppy out and looked at her smiling face. Tears came again, but the rage didn't, as he dwelt on the moments that made his memories of her.
The club was sitting around, a state of lethargy holding on to them, as they listened to Blowing in the Wind on the radio. A noisy car pulled in and stopped by the door, then a knock came. No one knew who it could be, so they got up and went out the roll up door to find Free and his girlfriend, Sky standing there. Free was smiling happily as he approached and every member's face tried to find one.
"Hey, I see the bus over there, that my new one?"
JT saw a chance to hold off telling him the news and decided the bus would be a good diversion and maybe a segue to the murders.
"Oh, yeah, it's almost ready, just a couple of things to set and tune and it's a driver."
"Can I go and check it out?"
"Yeah, come on, I'll start it up and you can hear it, get a feel for it. Just need to fix a couple bulbs and adjust the carb, but that won't take long."
"I thought you said it would only take a few days, guess things got ahead of it, but that's cool man, it's better than I thought it would be. The size is great, lots more room."
"Oh for sure. We gutted it like you said and made the back into beds and an eating area. Should be able to sleep six, maybe eight people and have seats for everybody."
JT opened the folding doors through the driver side window and they went in. The club stood at the clubhouse and watched in silence, wondering if their president would be able to explain the deaths of their friends. Free was amazed at what the guys had done inside and checked it all out with excited delight. He sat behind the wheel and looked it over and looked to JT about starting it. JT went through everything and Free started it up and the radio was blaring. JT quickly turned it off.
"Sorry, Man. Guys had it cranked up while they were working on it."
"Hey that's cool, man, no sweat. Fucking awesome dude, you got us stereo too. Man, you guys are the best. This thing is way more than cool. So we're ready for a paint party now? Gotta tell Moon to get his creative juices flowing. I want this thing psychedelic man, like colours everywhere."
"Yeah, we did our best for you, Free. About the painting party, I don't know any other way to tell you this. The commune was attacked a few days ago and we lost almost everyone."
Free couldn't quite comprehend what JT had said, the concept foreign to him.
"What do you mean lost, like they split?"
No, Free, like they're dead. Some shithead bikers came and shot the place up."
"When? Who? How? What the fuck, JT, who's dead?"
"Easier to tell you who's still alive. Moon and Spirit are healing from their wounds. Star is out of his coma, but still in critical condition. Mary and Marietta were both somewhere else, but everyone else, dead."
"No, no, this can't be real, man. They're all dead? How come no one told me sooner?"
"Didn't know how to get a hold of you. We didn't have your number and anyone who did, was either dead, or shot."
Free sat at the steering wheel, his hands clenched tight around it, making his fingers and knuckles turn white. He looked at the club standing together, their faces speaking to him as much as JT's words.
"Your girls too?"
"Yeah, all but Mary and Marietta, like I said."
Free looked at JT and knew the news was killing him inside to have to repeat it again. He got out of the seat and hugged JT tight, JT doing the same back to him.
"I'm so sorry, man. I know how hard this is to hear."
Free began sobbing on JT's cut and let the biker comfort him. Sky was in tears herself and Free let go of JT and held her tightly to him, her tears darkening the buckskin of his fringed vest. JT left them alone in the bus and stepped down and went back over to the club members. They saw their president shaking off the sorrow and composing himself, knowing how hard it was to keep re-living the details over and over with each telling. They patted his back and said nothing, as words had no way of relieving the pain.