Ed Laird – The Merchants of Mayhem

She sashayed with intent up the gorge. A ghostly mist, ignored by the leafless maples, but welcomed by the pines, which drank deeply and let the excess drip from their beards onto the pavement below. A road, more akin to a writhing serpent, that stretched upward and past the Morrison cabin.

Jim Morrison, picking up a load of seasoned oak, stood on his front porch and sniffed the air expectantly. Fog, like a demented banshee, swirled around his head, coating his thick glasses, compressing his body and whispering possibilities.

“I need your help,” he said, opening the door and addressing a family of seven. Without question or comment, they rose in unison and followed him robotically through the three-room cabin outside and into a shed that dwarfed the cabin. They made short work of the task as sixteen hands, small and large, passed cans and sealed bags down to the far end.

The work done, Jim said, “More than likely going to be a busy night. Everyone go to bed now and get some sleep.” They obeyed with precision and within five minutes the cabin was dark. The fog moved confidentally on up the gorge and bedded down to await the prey.

Around midnight the murky cloud rose on its vaporous hind legs at the sound of a muffled motor, futilely searching for lower gears and dragging its heels while cursing its tread-bare feet, impotent wipers and blinded eyes. The Morrison family, awakened by the prey’s gathering momentum, sat upright in their beds, heard its moans for God’s mercy as it passed, and listened for the inevitable moment of silence, followed by sounds of catastrophe.

Jim was on the phone. “Bad, Sheriff, sounds real bad.”

The Morrison clan arrived first on a flatbed truck, its cab arrayed with six penetrating searchlights trained on the bottom of the two hundred foot drop-off which marked the final hairpin turn of the highway before straightening out and gliding into the valley. All was quiet escept for some death rattles from the motor. The fog obligingly parted so that the eight Morrisons got their first view: a tangled mass of metal rent asunder by sharp boulders, a gaping wound in its side that spread its life-giving contents over the rocks like a frozen, shiny, tin waterfall. Its name, like a gravestone etching, could still be read. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.

In about fifteen minutes the sheriff and two deputies arrived, followed by a hearse, a driver and one assistant. With the aid of the Morrison searchlights, the deputies lowered a canvas stretcher and repelled over the cliff. On the signal yell, Jim cranked a windlass on the back of his truck as the deputies respectfully, carefully guided their load over boulders and into the waiting arms of the hearse driver and helper. The procession passed with the family standing stiffly in line and crying. The hearse eased its way reverently down the mountain. The sheriff placed a comforting hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“Bad business,” the sheriff said.

“Some mother’s son,” Jim said. He wiped his eyes with his coat cuffs. His hand crossed his heart as fingers felt into his shirt pocket. He pulled out an accordion-folded, one-hundred-dollar bill and pressed it into the sheriff’s hand. The sheriff and deputies headed back down the gorge.

Jim looked at his business partners. The word would be out tomorrow all over the valley. Orders would start to come in. There was work to be done.

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