Chapter Four of the Weldon Springs Radiation Story

Chapter Four: Buck

What did Buck find in Busch Wildlife Area?

Draft number 1.


Calvin's car came to a shutter outside of Buck's trailer. How long is this car going to live?

"Come on in," came a raspy voice when I tried to knock on the door.

The place was a wreck of trash and filth.

"Damn buck, what is the odor?" I asked.

"What the hell, man?" said Buck. "You look like shit. What did they feed you in prison?"

"I look like shit?" I asked.

"Oh man, I've been ill lately," said Buck.

On the couch was not the person I remembered from before prison.

Buck popped a beer and wiggled a tooth.

"You know you don't get better when you get older. It's a big lie."

Buck smiled where his teeth used to be, sockets still oozing pink fluid.

"What the hell happened to you?" I asked. He had lost weight and teeth, and his red hair was coming out in patches.

His freckles had disappeared under pale, deathly white skin.

I was afraid to sit down.

"I don't know, you know?" said my old schoolmate. "Getting cancer, maybe, right? Maybe I got cancer. I've been sick for half a year; don't get much out of bed," said Buck.

"Been to a doctor?" Or the shower, I thought.

"Do I have money to see the doctor? Sometimes, I had the cash, but I smoked it all away.

 I'm glad you came, man, Ambrose's cave. Do you recall our hunt for Ambrose's cave?

Oh man, you know you know Ambrose died, right?"

"No, no one told me. Haven't heard shit while in prison. That's terrible news," I said.

"Figure-you know all the WWII vets are dying. Mother Nature. But it was kind of weird; I had to pay rent and hired on at an old folks home. Who is there? Ambrose. That is where his kids dumped him.

You know, he couldn't hear a damn thing, his hearing, right?"

"Yeah, his last couple of years weren't enjoyable. He couldn't communicate. I figured it was something left from the war," I said. "Sad he is gone."

"I think he was lonely," said Buck, "And I was the only familiar face in the home. He recognized me from when we were kids. We sort of became friends."

The thought hurt my head. Buck and Ambrose friends? They would be the last two people on the planet to become friends.

"I think he was lonely, so I started asking questions about Bucsh Wildlife, about him growing up there before the Japs hit Hawaii."

Buck had a coughing fit and wiggled a loose tooth.

"Mostly, I just made shit up, and he would struggle to understand me. In the end, I was writing questions down in a notebook, and he would answer me—the old days with the Antique shop on DD. 

Could have been all bullshit, made-up answers for my make-believe questions. 

But I did ask him about that story when Dardenne Creek ran red and dead all the way to the Mississippi River. Was that a true story? He didn't know because he was overseas when the ordnance plant killed the creek.

I even asked him about the cave we hunted for, and then, one day, he handed me a piece of notebook paper—a map of where the cave used to be. There was Kraut Run, Dardenne Creek, and the springs.

The cave was marked right where we had looked. The difference was that the map showed the old logging road, and the cave was supposed to be at the end of that road.

I recalled the logging road well enough, a back door into Busch for early out-of-season fishing.

"I took the map, parked by Lake 33, and guess what?"

"You didn't," I said.

"I did! Found it close to where we had been looking, but there must've been a cave-in, or someone hid the entrance. I had the map this time, and a groundhog had dug a den near the entrance. The damn rat kicked a bunch of white dust out of the hole. It stood out like snow in June. The cave was begging me to find it.

Remember Ambrose said there were pictographs? Yep, here, look at my phone."

Buck held his phone out to me, and I did not want to touch it.

"Look at these scratches. Could they be animals or deer?

I looked at the sticky, smudged screen and lied, "I think so."

How many years did we hunt for that cave? I struggled to remember our teen years, the cemeteries, and old girlfriends' first exploration of drugs.

"No fucking way," I said. "You found the cave!"

Buck smiled, the ugliest smile in perhaps human history

"Yep, it was the higher up on the hill than we had thought."

Buck began to laugh and coughed up blood. He took a sip of his beer, swished his mouth, and spat out blood on the floor.

Dude. Cancer?"

I shrugged, worried I would catch whatever was eating buck alive.

"There was a second room to the cave," said Buck. "I have been selling artifacts from the cave and pissed the money away so fast.

"Ronnie Myers has been buying everything I bring out of that hole."

My eyes may have bugged out.

"Ronnie? Ronnie Myers, the meth dealer in St. Louis?"

"The one and same guy. Myers is an asshole," said Buck, who washed his mouth out again with beer and wiped his face with a rag.

Another chunk of hair fell out.

"But dude, I saved the best for you—a gift because I knew how hard you searched for the cave and that peartree.

Plus, I felt bad. You taking the fall for that bitch, by telling the cops it was your meth. You took the fall, and she hitched up while you were in jail.

Jesus Christ Reeb! Three years in jail to save her ass.

So I saved the best for you. It's just a gift for a free man. I mean, your act was noble and stupid, and I just thought I'd give you a few items so you could buy a car right away from Calvin."

Buck pulled on a tooth, and it came out in his hand.

"Look at this?" 

He dropped the tooth into the beer can with a clinking sound.

"Yeah, man, so glad you came today. Take your stuff and  hide it

There have been some bad people coming around wanting more cave goodies. If I go to the hospital, it will get stolen, so take it,  hide it until you find a buyer. 

Look over on the dresser, in the cardboard box," said Buck.

I weaved around dirty clothes scattered on the floor to inspect the cardboard box. On top of the box, hiding the contents, was a hand-drawn map that must be Ambrose's map to the cave. 

On the dresser were arrowheads, Cahokia triangle arrow points with the distinctive squared corner notches.

Next to the arrowheads was a Grahm Cave-type spear point.

"All of these come out of the Busch Wildlife cave?" I asked. "That indicates occupation for nearly seven thousand years."

Buck spit on the floor. 

"Yeah, I never paid attention to that weird shit until you got me interested. Those triangle arrowheads cause a stir among the buyers, I heard. I've been letting Jodi's husband be the middleman and taking the stuff downtown St. Louis. He needs money for the sick twins."

Buck did not see me scowl at the mention of Jodi's husband.

I lifted the hand-drawn map and recognized Ambrose's handwriting.

Ambrose dead? The handwriting was somehow ghostly. I thought about Ambrose's flowing script and his daughter. At one time, Ambrose was going to be my father-in-law—the best-laid plans.

"What the hell?" I said and lifted a Native American Pot from the box. "A Death's Head pot?"

"I saved the best for you, man," said Buck, beaming with pleasure.

A Native American Warrior stared back at me. The slitted eyes and sewn-together mouth indicated the warrior was dead.

"The archaeologists think these were trophies to celebrate the killing of a powerful warrior or even the capture of the spirit. This pot is probably haunted," I said as a joke. "The most death head pots are found here in Missouri." Savoring the artwork and the tattoos, the ear piercings that would have adorned the warrior when alive.

"Damn, Buck, I can't take this from you. This one might be worth twenty thousand bucks."

"No, you deserve it, man, for what you did for Jodi," said Buck. "Look at the eye tattoo on that jar. It is the exact tattoo you, Rob, and your old man have."

I looked at Buck. There were things we did not talk about, and Buck knew it.

"This artifact might be worth me spending three years in prison," I said, "The Cahokia arrowheads were in the death pots?"

"Yeah, those triangle arrowheads were inside the death mask pots," said Buck, dropping the subject of the tattoo. We both knew the tattoo represented an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

"That means- that means this warrior was from Cahokia, and the points were captured war paraphernalia.

Our area along Dardenne Creek was the border between cultures, the border between the Cakohia priest-king city-states and the short-grass Prairie people like the Missouri and Osage. It had to be a war between evil and those seeking freedom on the prairie.

The priest-king warriors used the triangle arrowheads, and the short-grass prairie people used the serrated scallorn arrowheads."

"Yeah, remember you told me about your guess about the war zone when you took me arrowhead hunting in Busch? Guess what, dude, I found more arrowheads than you did!"

Buck laughed and coughed; it was not a pretty site.

"What is this?" I asked, pulling a rusty Missouri license plate stamped 1967 from the box.

"That was in the front part of the cave with the drums," said Buck, catching his breath.

"What with the arrowheads and the death pots?"

"Yep, there are rusty barrels or drums in the front part of the cave, a white powder leaking out of most of them. I figured somebody was trying to hide that shit. I don't know why or what it is. The stuff doesn't taste like anything but dirt.

I opened a bunch of them and snorted some of the shit."

"You haven't changed," I said. What did he find? Plaster, baking soda?

"I brought a jar back to the trailer to see if I could sell it and, actually, found a buyer. Believe that fucking people will buy anything because of the internet."

I couldn't wrap my head around the combination of Mississippian-era Native American pottery and metal drums.

"Barrels?" I asked. 

"Fifty-five-gallon drums—all rusty and leaking—that's what the groundhog kicked out of the cave. Figured out why we could never find the cave: Someone hid the entrance. It doesn't make sense. I don't get it. I still don't get it," said Buck.

"What the hell? Eight thousand years of occupation and then the drums and license plate? I think there's one person in the county who could trace that plate. My genius little brother should be able to find something, even someone who owned the license plate," I said. "Mike." 

Buck, who I once knew as Danny, groaned. "I'm glad you finally showed up. I have the feeling I'm going to the hospital and not coming out. I got mercy or something."

"Do you mean Mercer?" 

"Take the box and hide it. If you want to explore the cave yourself, take the map."

"Are there more artifacts in the cave?" I asked.

"Mostly, I got everything except those barrels of the stuff."

"Damn, Danny, I don't know what to say," I said.

"Remember the time you pushed me off the buggy, you bastard?" said Buck, laughing and coughing.

"I forgot about that," I said.

"How could you forget about it? The buggy ran over my legs."

"Well, maybe it didn't happen quite that way," I said. "And I'm going to call an ambulance.

"Dude, I'm not coming back out  and won't worry about paying for the ambulance ride because they're probably not gonna let me out of the hospital."

"Yeah, you are. You will be back in no time."

"Just look at me," said Buck. "Call me an ambulance and go."

I was overwhelmed.

"Danny, I'll hide these items to pay the doctor's bills after they fix you up."

I gathered the arrowheads, the map, the death pot, and the license plate, but Buck wasn't finished.

"Holy shit," said Buck. "Ambrose's last few days, when Ambrose was moving on to the next world, he was reliving the family getting kicked out of Bucsh Wildlife and talking about seeing the black car driving up and down the road—the stranger from Kansas City bringing the letter of taking the farm for Roosevelt.

On that  last day, his mom was relieving the soldier shooting their dog

Can you believe that shit? Can you believe that they shot the dog?"

Author's Note: While my story is fiction, the Eminent Domain of 17,000 acres, today named Busch Wildlife and Weldon Springs Wildlife Area is a sad fact.

"I suppose acceptance of oppression is one of the hallmarks of civilization. Accept the corruption of kings, city councils, judges and home owners associations. The alternative is often Chaos. And Chaos is rarely a good thing...." BWR



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