Martin Campbell turned off Claim-Jumper Trail onto Quartz Way, parked his blue Jeep, and bushwhacked down the low slope of national forest bordering Buddy Fisher’s property. Martin was no stranger to the property, but it had been a couple of months since his last visit and recent developments dictated he be more careful.
Martin paused at the row of ponderosa pines bordering Buddy’s meadow, swallowed against the butterflies in his stomach, and then stepped into the native shrubs and grasses Buddy had so diligently cultivated. Chokecherry, wild plum, and hawthorn stood in abundance. In drier sections, buffalo grass brushed the mountain breezes, while tufts of fluffy switchgrass and wheatgrass filled out wetter parts. As a kid, he had accompanied his Uncle Jake to buy weed from Buddy, even though Jake could buy it legally, since he had a medical marijuana card for chemotherapy nausea. Buddy’s weed was special, Jake used to say, as did most people active in the weed culture in Boulder County.
When he was about halfway across the meadow, Martin saw Buddy spreading leaves over screens attached to a drying rack on a sunny area of driveway between the house and the storage shed. His ponytail fell straight down his spine, reaching mid-back. Across the side of the shed you could still make out the “Fisher’s Soap” logo in 1930’s geometric typeface.
A wooden vestibule connected the house to a rectangular quarter-acre garden defined by bamboo stalks covered with vines and broadleaf shrubs. The tops of the stalks were sharpened into daggers, some of which had small searchlights attached. It didn’t take a genius to know what the bamboo concealed or the significance of Peppermint Creek flowing twenty yards away. Behind the garden, a treeless slope led up to Quartz Way, the result of clear-cutting decades earlier. Inside that bamboo enclosure Martin first learned about the importance of collecting dead leaves and raking up litter. Buddy said a messy garden filled plants with sadness, made their fruit less sweet.
Martin thought he should give Buddy a heads-up so as not to startle him. He searched for a rock to accidentally kick but the meadow was too thick with foliage. Buddy would know the only rocks skipping over his driveway would’ve been thrown. How would it look walking onto a man’s property throwing rocks? In the end, it didn’t matter because Buddy had already picked up on his visitor.
“What’s the matter, Marty?” Buddy said, still bent over the drying screens. “You got your driver’s license now. Did you forget where my driveway was?”
Martin anticipated Buddy turning around, staring at him the remainder of the journey. But Buddy continued laying leaves over screens, even ignoring Martin’s shadow when it crossed his line of vision.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fisher,” Martin said. “I didn’t want to draw attention. So I parked up on Quartz Way and cut through the forest.”
Buddy placed his hands over his lower back, straightened up slowly, and turned around.
“C’mon, Marty, you’re old enough to call me Buddy like everyone else. Now what do you mean draw attention? Attention from whom? Why’re you acting so nervous?”
“You know. The rangers. And those other guys who used to come around to try to check up on you. Mom said they used to write down all the license plate numbers of any cars parked in the driveway.”
Buddy stared at Martin a moment. “I didn’t know she talked about that stuff.”
“Those stories were about what my father had to put up with when I was a kid. You don’t have to worry about that crap anymore, Marty. Weed’s legal now—more or less.”
Martin almost laughed. He wanted to say, “As if you ever cared about what was legal,” but he felt foolish enough for having cut across the property for no reason. “I got some news for you—”
“You think you can get away to help with the harvest this year without your old man finding out?”
It puzzled him that Buddy should bother asking. Helping with the harvest had been an annual routine since Martin was a little kid. “Of course. Mom never cared as long as my grades were good. Anyway, I wanted you to know that the Kansas guys are coming tomorrow to meet with the commissioners.”
“What Kansas guys?”
“I thought Mom would’ve—”
“Just tell me.”
“Cody Crawford’s a good friend of mine. His mom works at the commissioner’s office. She tells him what’s going on over there and Cody leaks the info.”
“Leaks the info? What info? Who does he leak it to?”
“Development applications, open space acquisition proposals. Stuff the slow-growth people would want to get a jump on. Cody likes to stir things up. Anyway, he told me the Boulder County sheriff showed up at his mom’s office several weeks ago and was talking to Commissioner Brandt about a bunch of Kansas officials wanting to have a meeting.”
“What’s this got to do with me?”
“Well, at first Cody’s mom didn’t think much of it. Then, yesterday, Commissioner Brandt told her to put together a bunch of packets about marijuana laws and have them ready for a meeting tomorrow afternoon.”
Buddy folded his arms, stared into the asphalt. “I guess I should be flattered you think this has anything to do with me. I mean, lots of people predicted neighboring states wouldn’t sit still after Colorado flung open the gates of hell and released the cannabis hound.”
Martin suppressed another laugh. “Cody’s mom said it has to be about you. Why else would they come to Boulder County instead of Denver?”
“And that’s why you’re here.”
“Something’s up, don’t you think? Like maybe they’re planning a raid?”
Buddy gave Martin a long look. “Marty, you’re a super kid. And you’ll always have my property as a second home, a place to hang out with me and learn whatever I can teach you. But times have changed. Maybe you should start thinking more seriously about your own future, a future where I’m more in the background—”
“I want to do what you do, and you’re the best at it. If you get in trouble—”
“Trust me. I’m not someone whose footsteps you should aspire to follow. Just keep getting good grades and look forward to college. Enjoy being young. That’s all you gotta do right now.” He turned to continue working on the screens then glanced back to add, “That’s an order.”
Martin walked around Buddy to face him. “What’s so bad about your way of doing things? You get along fine, don’t you?”
“There is no my way of doing things anymore. Everything’s changed. Old outlaws like me need not apply.”
“That doesn’t make sense. If it’s legal, you’re in the clear, right? Just keep doing what you’ve always done.”
Buddy straightened up, wiped his hands on his thighs. “Cultivating cannabis requires licensing. Do you know what licensing means?”
Martin didn’t respond.
“Licensing means managers and supervisors and all kinds of cogs in the machine, all huddled in their cubicles, bitching about wholesale prices and retail excise taxes and state sales taxes and ‘safe’ THC levels.” Buddy started counting on his fingers. “They control the number of plants allowed, the number of simultaneously flowering buds allowed, and any other rule the bureaucracy gets paid to think of. All these worker bees can’t see the machine operating outside their carpeted partition walls. They’re just little gears trying to squeak loud enough to be heard and get promoted to a larger gear. And it all comes down to one belief—unchecked grow operations are a menace. Is that who you want to be? A menace?”
“Then why not follow their rules? At least you’re still doing what you want.”
Buddy took a deep breath. “Because they wouldn’t have me. Anyway, it doesn’t matter—”
“You’re not worried about this whole Kansas thing?”
“They’re not gonna raid me, Marty. It’s not like I’m cookin’ meth. And as far as I know, there’s still something called the Fourth Amendment.”
“But the dope-cops will know you’re growing more than six lousy plants.” Martin was well-versed in the laws of personal use. “Everyone from here to New Jersey knows how potent your weed is. And you can bet everyone’s heard the rumors about your secret stash. Fifty-five, sixty percent potency, people say.”
Buddy laughed, bent down to pick out several blades of grass piled neatly at his feet, and started chewing them. “The percentage gets higher every time I hear about it,” Buddy said. “Well, it is what it is. I appreciate you coming by, Marty. You want a ride back to Quartz Way so you don’t have to climb that hill?”
Martin declined Buddy’s offer, said he didn’t mind the exercise. The truth was he couldn’t stomach any more discouragement.
Buddy watched him make his way across the meadow. It hardly seemed possible this was the same boy who had so charmed Buddy with his insatiable curiosity during visits with his Uncle Jake. Buddy saw the exuberant little worker he remembered, crouched on a mound of dirt, tugging a fat stem with all his might. Martin’s mother had liked the idea of her son working alongside adults, flushing, cutting, and curing. After Jake died, the boy’s stepfather put an end to the “dope apprenticeship”—or so he thought.
Buddy cupped his hands around his mouth. “You’re welcome here anytime you want, Marty.”
Martin turned, waved, then disappeared into the wooded slope. Buddy continued staring. He knew everything had changed. He knew the very near future would be fraught with choices—none of them good. Buddy walked into the kitchen, picked up the phone. “Hey there, Cousin Alex, it’s Buddy. I got some news.”