A Start Up by Fred McGavran

Fred McGavran's character and his grimy friend start a new small-time criminal enterprise with unexpected results.

You don't see crime scene tape around a garden very often, but it can happen with a start up. On garbage nights we'd drive through Shawnee Village, the city's wealthiest suburb, looking for the things rich people throw out: armchairs, refrigerators, mattresses, plastic pools for the kids, all the stuff they buy because they can and dump when they run out of space. Many nights it seemed half the city's scavengers had the same idea, but you don't want my buddy Bill Bob pulling up beside you and sticking his face in your window. He hasn't brushed his teeth since last time he got out of the VA hospital, and he can lift a driver out of his seat with one hand. Besides, he carries a .38 police special under the dash in case somebody tries to give him trouble.

Having a monopoly on a recycling route may not sound like much of a business plan to you, but we made enough to keep us in beer for the week. It was also the source of our greatest inspiration. Some of these mansions have gardens in their front yards with tall standing shrubs and flowers growing right up to the street. One night I spotted a stand of marijuana amongst the prairie grass. I got out of the truck and harvested it, and we had enough to keep us happy for two weeks. We had a good laugh thinking how pissed off somebody was going to be that we got to it first.

That's when it hit me: we could be the ones planting the weed in those front gardens and coming back for the harvest without anyone ever knowing it was there. Sprinkler systems would water the plants through the worst droughts. Best of all, our crop would be scattered all over the suburb, so if the Shawnee Village Rangers found a few plants, we wouldn't lose our whole crop. Of course we always brush a little mud over the license plates and tail lights to discourage unwelcome attention. You have to have a good eye for details to succeed with a start up.

Like most beginning entrepreneurs, though, we were short of capital. So we made a deal with Willie C, our neighborhood gangster, to give us the seedlings in return for half the harvest. Seemed like a good enough deal at the time, but angel investors can be a curse as well as a blessing.

While Bill Bob distracted the residents and security systems pawing through the trash, I did the planting. His stomach is so big he can barely bend over without falling down, and the beer bottles in his cargo pants make him rattle. Our plan worked perfectly. As summer went along, we had nearly as many plants under cultivation as if we'd planted several acres in the country, plus a better collection of used furniture than the rental company down the street from our apartments.

By September we could see the buds were turning and the harvest was near. We were planning on a new life, like taking a trip to Florida and maybe even letting our wives talk us into moving to a new building. Bill Bob's wife Lois and my wife Darlene were getting tired of living on the edge, never knowing when somebody would interrupt their daytime TV with a search warrant or take one of us in for an unpaid fine. So we bought a case of garbage bags to cover the plants so nobody could smell them and set out for the harvest.

At first it went great. I'd mapped all the places we'd planted, so all I had to do was jump out of the truck with a flashlight, cut the stalks, put them in the bags and we were off. And we really made Willie C's day. He said we were just like family. We had so much cash that I went down to the courthouse one afternoon and paid off all our fines and tickets. We were living the American dream.

Don't ever get overconfident or forget about outside alarms. We'd pulled up outside this mansion with a beautiful garden around an oak tree in the middle of the yard. For weeks I'd been watching the spikes rise above the flowers. I was just bending down to cut the first stalk when an alarm went off louder than an air raid siren and search lights swept across the yard. I yanked the plant up by the roots, stuffed it into a bag upside down and ran for the truck. Just in time. Bill Bob saw a Shawnee Village Ranger patrol car coming down the street as we were turning the corner.

"Hey, what you got there?" Bill Bob asked.

I had the bag upside down between my feet with the roots in my lap.

"Oh, shit!" I cried.

"That ain't weed, Larry."

Cupped around the root like it had been trying to hold it in the earth was a bony hand.

"We gotta get rid of that," Bill Bob said.

He'd had enough bad experience with traffic stops to know what he was talking about.

"Give me a minute, Buddy."

I didn't want to lose the plant, so I cut off the root ball with the hand to put it in another bag. That's when I saw it.

"Maybe this is our lucky night after all," I said. "Just look at this."

The dash lights reflected off a huge diamond on the ring finger. It came away easy once I got the dirt off the bones.

"Lois has always wanted a ring," Bill Bob said.

So has Darlene I was about to say, but you don't want to put anything between friends.

"This one's got somebody's initials on it," I said, holding it close to the dash lights. "'R.I.P.' Wonder what that stands for."

Not that initials were much of a problem if you had the right tools, according to my jeweler friend Jimmy. He still owed me for a couple of habeas petitions I'd drawn up for him when we were in the state penitentiary.

"If you ever get hold of something good, bring it to me," he said.

A few years in the pen is not enough to cure a life-long craving for stolen property. Whether he'd give me a good price was another story.

When we got back to our apartment building, I dropped the bag with the hand and the root ball into the can out front. It was our garbage night.

"Let's not tell the girls about the ring until we see what we can get for it," I said.

Lois and Darlene were watching the 11 o'clock news in Bill Bob's apartment when we went in with a 12 pack and a couple bags of chips.

"Can you believe this?" Lois said, looking at the screen.

Yellow crime scene tape was wrapped around the garden we had just left.

"The cops went there to check out an alarm, and they found a skeleton in the garden," she continued.

"Missing one hand," Darlene said shivering.

We popped some beers and sat down. At least they weren't pissed at us.

"Who is it?" I wondered.

The picture showed a man in a white shirt and blue blazer being put into a Shawnee Ranger patrol car.

"That's Quentin Pierson IV," Lois said. "They think it's his wife Rhonda Ives Pierson. She disappeared several years ago. He said she got caught in a rip tide in Florida and was swept out to sea."

"Damn," said Bill Bob looking at me.

I shook my head. It didn't seem the right time to be talking about a trip to Florida.

Unfortunately for us, the story didn't stop there. After the Rangers found marijuana in the garden, they started checking other front gardens. Nearly all of them had some weed. So in addition to their prize flowers and shrubs, the finest homes had crime scene tape around their gardens, and the teenagers were taken in for questioning. Several admitted taking a few samples for home consumption, but nobody admitted planting it. Bird droppings, the TV anchors speculated. After a week the great marijuana infestation of Shawnee Village was a thing of the past.

Now Willie C is very proud of his personal appearance. It takes him several hours in the morning to put his dreads in order. For a guy so tall and thin, it's amazing he can stand up straight with all that hair. He came up to us as we were getting into the truck to look for a circular file to get those initials off the diamond ring.

"Hey, scumbags," he greeted us. "Where's my weed?"

I didn't know he was a fan of late night TV. Bib Ben and Little Mac, two of his enforcers, were with him.

"Not every start up makes it," I said. "We've lost our investment."

"You mean you lost your investment. You still owe me mine."

Right here you can see that Silicon Valley has not really caught on with the rest of the country. While he was talking, Big Ben and Little Mac moved to the sides and fingered their pockets.

"Fuck off," Bill Bob said, jamming the barrel of his .38 police special between Willie C's teeth. "Every business has its risks."

Bill Bob had seen lot worse in Vietnam, but this is no way to keep peace in the neighborhood. Willie C's fingers were fluttering like broken wings to wave his enforcers back. Sometimes I think he is too mellow to be a real gangster.

"How much you looking for?" I said to keep him talking.

"Ten thousand, asshole," he said around the muzzle. "And that goes to twenty tomorrow."

When we got back to Bill Bob's apartment with the file, Lois and Darlene were in hysterics.

"Look what I found in the mailbox!" Lois shrieked.

Sitting on the kitchen table gripping an advertising circular was the bony hand.

"Some people will do damn near anything to get your attention," I said, leaving Bill Bob to deal with the emotional aspects while I filed the initials off the ring. Psychologically it's not a good idea to let a woman see you handling a diamond unless you're about to give it to her.

My jeweler buddy sounded real glad to hear from me. Jimmy had gone into business with his brother in law and was looking for new merchandise. Only thing that put me of a little was that he asked us to come in the back. When we got to the strip center, I understood why. They had balloons and a girl in a bridal gown out front waving customers in.

"Oh, shit," the brother in law said when he saw us.

Bill Bob and I don't always make a good business appearance. The brother in law was wearing a white shirt open to the navel with a gold chain and rings on every finger. My buddy was looking at the diamond through his jeweler's glass and damn near salivating.

"It's almost ten carats," he said without looking up.

I knew it was more like twenty, but these guys always try to screw you. The brother in law started to sweat.

"I'll give you five thousand," he said like he knew how to deal.

"Thirty," I said.



"No way."

"Give it here, Jimmy," I said. "There's lots more serious buyers out there."

"Okay, fifteen."

"Plus two engagement rings, the kind you're selling to the kids out front."

After all, the girls deserved something out of this, too.


"Engraved," Bill Bob added.

We shook hands, and they gave us two quarter-carat rings with Lois' and Darlene's initials inside. We would have put our wedding dates on them, too, but neither of us could remember them. And then came the hitch. They only had ten thousand in cash in the safe.

"I'll have it for you Monday as soon as the bank opens," the brother in law promised.

Even the tech guys know not to close a deal without all the cash, but we were under extraordinary pressure. So we stuffed the bills into our cargo pants and went looking for Willie C. I really think he would have preferred to shoot us to being paid. That's another difference between our neighborhood and Silicon Valley.

The girls loved the rings. They went around stretching out their left hands so everybody could see them. Bill Bob and I were some kind of heroes to the women, but the other guys in the neighborhood were pissed.

Monday came, and instead of a girl in a wedding dress, Jimmy and his brother in law had a rent-a-cop outside the store. When we went around back for the rest of our cash, Jimmy just slid open a little window and said there'd been a problem at the bank. Come back tomorrow. When we came back, he told us that again. And again. After the store closed that night, we took the bony hand and stuffed it through the mail slot in the door. He had our $5000 the next morning. Some signals work better than tweets.

We're still thinking about taking the girls to Florida, but now that we have some capital of our own, we may use it to start a new enterprise. I enjoy being an entrepreneur. Like I said, access to capital is the secret of success.


  1. Underground/overground stories ..... very interesting.Thanks for the ride!

  2. Terrific story, with so much humor. Great read throughout. Thank you.

  3. Excellent, very funny. They don't have garden fences in Shwanee? Also who put the hand in Lois' letterbox? Willie C? And how did he get it?

  4. super and amusing tale, well done!
    Mike McC

  5. Great story! The concise descriptions of the characters from beer bottles in the cargo pants to a stomach so large that it is difficult to bend down presents a continual vivid picture of the events. I liked this story so well I was happy to find others available on line and through Amazon.

  6. As noted above, "clever." I like the twists and turns and the wry humor.

  7. Nice intro; it got my attention and kept me reading. The first thing I thought was that these two are stereotyped characters, and they do have some traits associated with a stereotype. But, these two stereotyped characters are worth reading about. Many writing books frown on stereotyped characters but I never could figure out why especially if the characters became interesting as the story flowed. Fred and Bill came alive to me.

    Some input such as rank odors and maybe how the night air became cooler in the first paragraph might have added to the sense of being there. Sensory input works and it plays to have just enough and not too much, because too much will drown a story. A little goes a long way.

    I thought the dialogue very believable for it sounded real. Very good job with dialogue.

    Brother in law should be brother-in-law according to grammar. But hyphens are one of my downfalls too. I miss many that should be in my writings. Thank God grammar can be loose in story telling. Strict academic grammar can drive one crazy!

    The story flows in an easy-to-read style and at no time was I wondering about events. As the story developed, Fred and Bill became characters that I once knew, it seemed. I like that! At times I felt I were on the block watching them like when you’re hanging around a gas station as a teenagers and watch two local characters do their thing.

    Growing weed in neighborhood gardens, a little here and a little there, is enterprising and I wonder if any local characters every tried that? Probably.

    The wives fit Fed and Bill. They’re lazy and sit around and watch TV all day, and smoke weed and maybe do other stuff. That tells many things about Fred and Bill. They support their wives and scavenge for things because they can’t work with others? Maybe. Bill we learn is a veteran with PSDT possibly, and he carries a .38 police special. This is a moot point, but .38 specials are old guns and a 9mm is more common. So many gun manufacturers make 9mms that they are ubiquitous.

    We learn that Lois and Darlene were getting tired of living on the edge, and the new enterprise of growing weed spread out over many gardens would solve that problem. It did. The cash started to flow.

    The ending I love. The bony hand found in the garden came into good use. Their fence, Willie C, didn’t want to pay them for the ring. So what do they do? We stuff the bony hand into the mail slot—and that works. Reminds me of the Godfather and the horse’s head!

    Very entertaining story, well written, clear and an attention keeper! What more could one ask for in a story. Good job.

    1. George, thank you very much for this perceptive and helpful review. I will consider your comments carefully in future stories. If you would like to read similar stories, please go to my website www.fredmcgavran.com.

  8. Good story, but not realistic in the sense that weed can be grown like a common garden plant. From what I've heard growing weed is really complicated, cross pollination, male and female plants, constant attention and special conditioning, and even then a third of the yield is no good, but not that many people know how to grow weed, obviously. Pretty good idea, though, liked the turn in the story with the hand, that was really good and interesting.