This time the scream awoke me at 4:30. Even if the sound hadn't rousted me, Bekka's thrashing around would have. It was the fourth time in ten days she'd had the nightmare.
I did what I learned to do after the first night, which was to wrap my arms around her and call her name until she woke up. When she came to she had terror in her eyes, something you never like to see on the face of a loved one. She threw her arms around me and squeezed. I could feel the tears running down my chest, but she didn't make a sound. She refused to. It was a sign of weakness to her, even in front of her husband.
Bekka finally let go and rolled over to blow her nose. "How bad was I?" she asked.
"Pretty bad," I said. "I kept you from hurting yourself, like you did the first night."
She sat on the edge of the bed and said, "I'm gonna have a drink. You want one?"
I slid over next to her. "Just one drink?" I asked. "How big of a drink?"
"I plan on filling a tumbler full of ice, then filling it up with scotch. Whether you consider that a big drink or not is a matter of perspective. Enough to numb my brain and let me sleep in peace."
"I'll have a regular sized drink with you," I told her. "Never thought I'd see the day when you'd be draining all my Johnnie Walker."
I paused. "Tell me about the dream."
We walked into the kitchen. She said, "It's the same fucking one it's been. I'm being attacked again, only I can see Grant's face. And he doesn't just stab me once, he keeps going, and he's punching me, and I can feel it, every blow. I don't remember feeling a thing when he attacked me, but I feel it in these stupid dreams."
I reached in the freezer and grabbed the bag of ice, dropping it on the floor to break it up. True to her word, Bekka pulled out a tumbler for her and a regular glass for me. Then she reached up on top of the fridge for the Johnnie Walker. She stared at it like she'd forgotten what it was for. Then she shook her head and took the ice out of my hands, pouring cubes into each cup. She filled each one to the brim with scotch.
"See, seeing you drink like that scares the shit out of me," I said. "I've made the suggestion before and I'll make it again: I think you should see a shrink about these dreams. Baby, you're suffering from PTSD."
Bekka glared at me from over the rim of her tumbler. "You think I've gone psycho." She knocked back a good swallow of her scotch.
I waved my hand and said, "No I don't. I think you went through some serious trauma and it's coming back on you, really fucking with your head. Besides, I'm the psycho one in this house. I'm the one who goes to pieces if he doesn't take medication every day."
"So why should I see a shrink?" she asked.
"I just told you, you're suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD. You were nearly stabbed to death in your own living room. That'd have an effect on anyone."
Bekka knocked back more Johnnie Walker. "Yeah, I know I've had a few rough nights, but it'll go away on its own. No need to call in the experts."
"And if it doesn't?" I asked, sitting on the arm of the love seat.
"It will," she insisted.
I repeated my question.
She took another big swallow of Johnnie Walker. "Tell you what, on Saturday I'm going up for lunch with Angela and Chrissie. I'll ask their advice. Does that work?"
"Don't forget we promised Boss we'd ride up with him and visit the new labs on Sunday. You can't spend the night, we're leaving from his place early in the morning. And yeah, that works. I want to hear their advice, too."
"Cool. Hell, Chrissie has been through some trauma, what with being kidnapped and drugged and all. She'll have things to say." Bekka stretched and flopped backwards into the cushions. "I'm gonna channel-surf for a few. You go back to bed, I'll join you when I'm ready."
"Don't be too long. I get lonely." I wandered back into the bedroom.
On Saturday Bekka was the subject of scolding by two mafia wives, who demanded to know why the hell she hadn't started seeing a shrink yet.
"The sand is our biggest enemy," said Boss as we piled into his Chevelle early Sunday morning. "Especially around the pill press trailer, where we want to keep things as clean as possible."
Boss got us in motion, dropping the Chevelle down the 67 to Interstate 8 west towards I-15. We were covering some distance, going all the way out to Needles, on I-40 at the Arizona border. He had eight converted Airstream trailers sitting on concrete pads out there, all of them dedicated to the production of MDMA. As the Southern California mafia demanded more Ecstasy, he would have more trailers installed. If they were willing to put up the money, the mob may put up the money for a permanent building, devoted entirely to the production of Ecstasy. Time and demand would tell.
We made small talk about our respective jobs on the way up. If the money wasn't so easy, Boss would drop producing meth entirely and devote all his time to knocking out Ecstasy. He had too many people depending on him for his speed, though, so that was a moot idea. The thirty pounds or so he generated weekly kept San Diego in good supply and generated him cash, which was going into expanding his labs. Between the meth and the Ecstasy he had a good income after expenses.
Outside of Needles we angled off onto the Highway 95 exit and turned south into the desert. There was nothing around, we ran along a graded track into the desert with hills to our left and a wash to our right. Boss handled the road with confidence borne of taking the same route over and over again.
After a while he cut up through the wash and followed a track, barely visible, away from the "road". I noticed utility poles running along side. We came to where we were overlooking a low spot in the terrain, and were looking down on what appeared to be a military outpost. Boss brought his Chevelle to a stop.
"What do ya think?" he asked. "Room for plenty more pads, or even a warehouse, if yer friends think it's worth the investment. Notice the flags?"
He pointed towards two flagpoles jutting out near the gate. One had an American flag at the top, the other was one of the "Don't Tread On Me" flags, with the snake in the middle. He grinned.
"That's to keep Johnny Law from gettin' too curious. They'll figure we're just survivalist types and leave us alone. Hell, the real survivalists are busy digging bunkers. Wells, too, and they're off the grid. We got electricity comin' in from the poles. We ought to look into getting our own well, that way we could get rid of that damn water tank."
He drove down into the basin and parked next to a row of cars and trucks, lined up like a military formation. All of them were late model.
Boss said, "We like to keep things orderly around here. Looks good from the air, and just functions better from here. Lemme show you around."
We got out and walked towards the nearest trailer, a forty footer. After wiping his feet and having us do the same, Boss swung up and invited us in. He smiled and waved his hand into the recesses. "This here is our bunkhouse. Can sleep eight all at once. We had the bunks built in special, to give enough room for everyone. Full size water heater so people can shower comfortably, too."
We went back out and Boss began marching towards another trailer. "Today's Sunday, so they're mostly pressing product today. There's oils bubbling --- there always is --- so we'll stick our heads in there first."
We went into the next trailer to see a guy with a mask and goggles weighing out powder into a large beaker, which was sitting on a digital scale. The guy looked alarmed at the disturbance, but cooled off when he saw it was Boss standing there. Bekka and I met his approval by dint of our association with Boss.
Boss waited until he was finished with his measuring and he'd removed the mask, goggles, and surgical gloves he was wearing. Then he introduced us. "Mick, I'd like you to meet Bekka and Lenny, a couple close friends of mine. They sorta represent our investors."
Bekka and I shook hands with him. Boss continued, "Mick is the foreman for the weeks he's on. He's got experience with chemicals of this type, and he can tell a good product just by looking at it."
Mick said to Boss, "That first flask is ready for processing, and the second needs another fifteen hours. I was just getting the dry mix ready for when the first flask goes over to the other trailer. They ready for me?"
"I don't know," said Boss. "We just got here ourselves, and I wanted to show them around a little bit. Why don't we go on over, see if they're ready for a new set of oil?"
We went back out of the trailer and headed for a new one. At this one, Boss stopped and knocked on the door, calling his name. There was a pause before the door opened.
We were greeted by someone else wearing breathing apparatus, goggles, and gloves. He recognized Boss immediately, but froze up at the presence of Bekka and me. Boss assured him, "They're with me" and shooed him back into the trailer. Stepping inside, Bekka and I were handed goggles and masks, and told by Boss to put them on immediately.
Boss's voice was muffled but understandable. "Between the ether and the gas, you don't want to take no chances in here. This is where we run the oil into the final product."
The guy who'd opened the door said, "We're almost done with this batch, we can take another one without swapping out ether. We want a break first though."
"Not a problem," Boss said, "we got another batch of oil ready to go, but it can sit for a while. By the way, this is Lenny and Bekka, they're good people. Treat 'em as guests whenever you see them. Right now, I wanna show 'em what you're up to."
"No problem," came the muffled voice. "I'll show them how we filter right now." He ushered us forward.
He tipped a load of the oil we'd seen earlier into a tub of clear liquid, then grabbed a wand attached to a hose which was attached to a gas tank and turned a valve. He explained, "See, this is hydrogen chloride gas, and the liquid is ether. You run 'em with the oil and you get solid meth, right? All you gotta do is strain them through a filter and keep the solids. The ether gets dirty after a while and you need new stuff, but it's good for a few batches. Here, watch...."
He turned a valve on the wand and began waving it through the liquid, which began to turn cloudy. After several passes he stopped and put the wand aside. Then he picked up the tub and began slowly pouring it through a filter, the ether running back into a second tub. The filter began to load up with off-white crystals.
"There, pure dope," he said. "Now all you need to do is let it dry out and then it's ready to be pressed. By the way, I'm Terry. Hey Boss, is Mick coming over with more oil? Do I got time to grab something to eat?"
Boss said, "Not a problem, Terry. He's got a batch ready, but they'll hold while you get a sandwich."
"Cool beans," said Terry. "I'll run the rest of this oil and then then eat. So are these our investors?"
"Not exactly. They sorta represent our investors, but they're out here on a friendly visit. C'mon guys, the ether's gettin' to me. Let's leave him to his work." We took off our goggles and masks and stepped out of the trailer.
"Let's go to the second press trailer, I gotta check messages, and that's where my office is," said Boss, and we traipsed up to another Airstream.
After thoroughly wiping our boots, we swung inside to be greeted by a rather complex set of machinery and two women, biker mama types, operating it. Boss waved his hand at it and said, "What do ya think? This is one of the custom presses, with the smiley face imprints. We can do two hundred pills at a time, and these things are good, it's rare for us to get fractured pills. When we do, we just grind 'em back up and put 'em in the hopper. Jen? Cassie? This is Lenny and Bekka, a couple good friends. When you see 'em, show courtesy."
Cassie said, "Should we show this guy a good time?" Her and Jen hooted with laughter at this bit of wit.
Bekka stepped forward and said, "That's not a good idea, princess. Would you like me to show you why?"
"Relax sugar, I'm just funnin' ya. Here, eat a hit and relax. Or snort it if you want."
Boss stepped next to Bekka and said, "Don't worry about it, they're just jokin' around. Seriously, you guys wanna try some of the new batch? It'll make you love the world. Jen, why don't you chop up a couple lines for these two."
Jen scooped out some dope from a bucket and dumped it onto a mirror. Cassie put her arm around Bekka's shoulders and said, "I'm sorry, gumdrop, but I'm up here alone for a week at a time. Any good-looking man comes in the trailer that don't work here, well, he's gonna attract my attention."
"I'm sorry you're feeling lonely," said Bekka.
"Hoo boy! I wish we had a mailman, so I could seduce him! Oh well, I go home in two days, and I'll get some action out of my man then...."
Jen handed the mirror and a straw to Bekka, saying "Here you go girl, pure rocket fuel."
Bekka snorted up one of the lines. Still holding the mirror, her eyes got big and she busted out with a big smile. She handed off to me and said, "You gotta try this."
I did up my line and.... BANG. Instant Ecstasy rush. There was something to be said for snorting the stuff raw like that.
Boss came out of the back of the trailer and smiled when he saw us standing there with the mirror. He said to Jen and Cassie, "So this is the full grocery list? Nothin' else needed?"
Jen said, "Naw Boss, that should cover everything. Oh wait, Terry said he wanted Fruity Pebbles, is that down there?"
"Yeah, it's here. And I'll get whatever good beer I can find. So, you two wanna go visit the metropolis that is Needles?"
"Hell yeah!" Bekka and I chorused. I said to Boss, "After snorting that stuff I'm up for anything." He cackled at this.
As we drove back towards the highway, Bekka said to Boss, "You need to add another item to your budget."
"And what's that?" he asked.
"Hiring a gigolo for Cassie. That poor thing is ready to go off like a firecracker." Boss laughed and laughed at this idea.