In 2009, the odds that a major flood would hit the Green River valley of western Washington, inundating the city centers of Kent and Auburn and parts of Renton, Tukwila, and Pacific, along with thousands of acres of farms, industrial parks, factories, shopping malls, schools, and homes, were one in three, roughly equivalent to the frequency that favorites win at Emerald Downs.
There is a line you can never step on twice, where the Duwamish runs Green, the Puyallup Stuck White, the Cedar falls; where barracuda go to die, but salmon leap to spawn forever in the dreams of the dammed.
Kent Auburn, private eye, Kang Lee, his man, Bonney Lake, the fiancée until Sumner came his way, the karaoke keystones Cumberland, Kummer, and Krain, and Renton, that Renton, whose Barbee Mill was one prime thrill of a woman, or so she seemed; Al Gona, The Gopher, Joe Vita, The Muscle, Glen Dale, Boy Wonder, Kenny Dale, The Blunder. And, Veazie? Yeah, Veazie.
“I’m no bigot, I’m a fist-fighter, but Kang Lee know Kung-Fu.”
Kent Auburn cracked pigeon to show he was one of them—not of those. Kent Auburn, nobody’s phony. Phoning was for secretaries.
“Lee, tell Al Gona to put a tail on Ravensdale.”
“We have a job, boss?”
“A hunch from a quip on the tip line: ‘Some nerve-easy raven’s tale can ask it. Boys, he saw your water shed cask aid to sea.’”
Meanwhile, Bonney Lake taps out at the Muckleshoot slots, goes home to stick pins in his prom photo face, home over the valley, damned by the dammed of the damned.
He liked to fool around, like he was dumb, to fool a square like Captain Cumberland. Karaoke Night at the City Hall: he popped for a shot while the keystones caterwauled.
“I’m telling you, Auburn, don’t even scratch your ass without clueing us in.”
“Well hell, if it isn’t the quart-low quartet. Clue you in, Cumberland? Screw you in a light bulb and get your own idea. Hit it, boys.”
He dropped a dime to make them sing, to fool a round like Cumberland, Kummer, and Krain.
“Rafting and tubing while running the rapids
Swimming and diving to liquidate assets
Donning a wetsuit and pumped water wings
These are a few of my favorite things.
Mexico City the time of the conquest
Kona or Fiji right after a tempest
Gondola taxis with wake ripplings
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the land shakes
And the dam breaks
And I’m feeling small
I think of a few of my favorite things
And I don’t feel bad at all.”
Sumner, the comely Sumner, she would stand by, over, however she knew to do some thing to him.
“Kent, take care.”
Take care? Care took the cake. So near to Bonney Lake she was: near as he was to Barbee Mill, whose number now number than pus if ick Pacific could float a boat in the white lipstick stuck oozed in his pocket.
“Kent, can’t you tell me?”
“I take the case, I can’t tell until I know for sure.”
Mrs. Franklin Bayne Covington and Mr. George Town Landsburg? Dear wringer, why not go? Fair wood, edge wood, up her mill, mack millin’ bare re: tail. Oh, really? Oh, see oh la la. Some it gets Kitt’s core nor come more palm her strum durham. But later . . . laid her black diamond under where? Underwear?
“Mr. Auburn, Kitt Covington.”
“Kent, Mrs. Covington.”
“Kitt, Kent. Can I count on you?”
Glen Dale, Boy Wonder, wandered fast as a plastic Christopher on a Tacoma Thomas Guide, missing Black Diamond but Ravensdale, where it used to be mist or Mister Franklin Bayne Covington would like to know what the missus misses when he gets home from the Turf Club.
“If Black Diamond then Ravensdale, they’re right in the middle of the Cedar or Green. Kent Auburn, nobody’s cartographer, couldn’t use a phone to read a map. He couldn’t do a thing or two without his crew to cruise the sloughs, Tukwila to Veazie to Enumclaw.”
Joe Vita hit the Emerald double daily by blanket bets he liked to call a doily. This silly ornamental filagree kept him from plunging head-first royally and satisfied his fill of frilly glee to put him on a tidy winning trail he fell prey to as he paid a grilling fee to win small stakes he lost back loyally. From Milton Fife to Captain Cumberland, for any who’d refill his wager keg, especially like Franklin Covington, he advertised his arms to break a leg. But mostly, he avoided all the towns so he could spend his life at Emerald Downs.
Kenny Dale, The Blunder, the dim twin, would mill around the creek park to peek at Barbee Mill advertising her units, her condom mini-hum ass sets creeps for creeps like him, who golf in the woods for a shot through the window. A hole-in-one but who can he tell? But Glen, The Wonder.
Veazie drove the gorge, Hanging Gardens to Flaming Geyser, flood plain to see the silver lining the Green levee with bean bags, bagging a forty in his lap, packing a wallet on his hip on a hillbilly trip to the silly dollar valley.
“Auburn? Veazie. Got a tip on the third. Have your boy call me, if you want to get lucky. For now, here’s the word: the mare’s affairs are the stallion’s cares.”
Kent Auburn, nobody’s pick-up. Pick-ups were for B-girls. He was the man on the machine, in his master’s voice.
“Message for Kent Auburn? Leave it!”
Kang Lee on a moonlight gig spun a high leg kick in a trick for kicks. Kent Kang Lee’s Kung-Fu Academy on the Kent-Kangley Road trailed a blaze to Maple Valley, whose Four Corners core foreigners sent their kids too trite to feign to fight to train to learn Kung-Fu. From Africa to Mexico, Arabia to Tokyo, Tasmania to Borneo: a foreign legion in the land of the hand of the fist.
She knew him well enough to know he would. Like all the rest, she had his number: leave it, heel, shake, come. Good, biscuit.
He struck, she sucked, they stared.
“The lake, look.”
The lake from a dive in Renton without Renton: Kent Auburn across from Barbee Mill, in a dive on the lake, on a dive in the lake.
“Take me, there.”
She puffed, he stood, he understood: a ride home.
He said, “Let’s swim.”
“It’s too wet, far . . . and I’m far too wet.”
The green plant jets leered in their primer prime, and Laugh Fitness buffed a shine but no sign of Renton as Renton glowered behind them, Kennydale to Barbee Mill. He had to ask what he came for.
Where they’d been, the Turtle Lounge neon scrounged black diamonds under where the lake went on and on and in.
Franklin Bayne Covington, tippling to tipple, tipped Joe Vita on the double: Vita, who’d only asked “What’s up?” to hear what Whisper was. Never wired or stoked, plugged or coked, but intended, as in to win. Whisper, his per the Soos Creek stable hopefuls, trained by Hobart O’Brien, trained by running up losses between jackpot wins.
“What’s up? Who’s up?”
“Orilla, the Boise Bug-Boy. Not a cinch, Mr. C., but a switch to the wisp per intended.”
“Whaddya know, if it isn’t Al Gona. You’re pretty far afield, pal.”
“Field and stream, like the magazine, Sergeant Krain. And by the way, likewise.”
“Franklin, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
“Don’t get cute!”
Ravensdale wandered down the Green with them unseen, casting toward Franklin, mistily banked in the roar of the gorge.
“Lose your creel, Al?
“I’m catch-and-release, strictly for sport.”
“Likely, sport. Catch and release, my ass. That your plan for Ravensdale?”
“Be seein’ you, Sarge.”
“Why the tail?”
“I could say, what tail? But I can’t say why. Why?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t know.”
“Don’t you know? The food chains don’t change. Down here we’re not even high as a tied fly.”
If Ravensdale in haven’s vale through out the trout throughout the route he took, the brook might conceal a herring in the creel. Going nowhere, Algona to Kangley, Glen Dale went digital on the Kent Auburn line.
“Consider the source.”
“Yeah, Veazie. The Kanaskat Kid, The Naco Knocker, The Selleck Slick beyond Retreat. You could unplug the water’s head and take home a Tacoma watershed. When the dam breaks, the land’s lakes run to Renton, while Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Covington are all islands high and dry.”
Bonney Lake was over it all: Auburn, Sumner, Pacific, Enumclaw. As for Barbee Mill, please! Not some man-made doll factory girl slapped together by the Seahawk camp, built to order like a stick-pussy cheerleader. For Kent Auburn! The slots can grip, but Barbee Mill was all wrapped up in herself. Herself! Bonney Lake knew. Consider the source spot, the weak link, the dim twin: Kenny to Glen Dale, Al Gona, Veazie to Bonney Lake. Veazie? Yeah, Veazie, looked up to her, brought her what she wanted to come across.
Johnny Renton? No. Benny Renton? No. Valley Renton, Monty Renton? Glen Dale to Kent, Tukwila to Covington, Barbee Mill on Lake Washington, May Creek up Newport Hills to Newcastle to the Green beyond Duwamish: that Renton hears you’re lookin’ for the Black Diamond lode, Kent Auburn.
Talking to the mirror in his mind, by Barbee Mill, sobbing in her cups, those cups, on her lips, those lips.
“Vita, I got one.”
That you, that Renton.
Hobart O’Brien? Blink and you miss him, Covington to Soos Creek to Emerald Downs. As Orilla, The Boise Bug-Boy, spurred a switch on Whisper, a well-intended detour by the valet parking lot via Jovita, fucking Joe Vita and the horse he rode in on.
But Auburn was on the map, had an office, a post office, a bank, a telephone he wouldn’t use to save his life. From Milton Fife, Joe Vita rode Jovita Road to Auburn. On the job again, oh really? Orilla! Well, intended or not, like throwing a switch to a spur Whisper.
Sumner, the comely Sumner, stranded between Bonney Lake and Auburn, Buckley and Pacific, the White River Amphitheater and the Muckleshooting Gallery. No place to go, to be or not, to call? Call Kent? Leave it, heel. Glen Dale, his boy, Kang Lee, his man, Renton, that Renton?
“Captain, it’s Kent.”
“He’s a big boy.”
“Yes, yes, yes, nothing but a big, bad boy, ohh.”
“‘K, O.K. We’ll check it out.”
Neither here nor there, Ravensdale wandered in waders, under Cumberland, over Maple Valley, engorged by the Green. He could have sworn Al Gona was always around. Algona, way downstream by the White, Stuck, here around him.
Ravensdale wondered on the Kangley Road to Selleck if the watershed alarms the signs claimed were there would think you were a bear if you waited for dark and waded all night.
“Your friend lost?”
Selleck, the dead-end troll on the taboo trail to Cedar Falls.
“When I speak, he won’t talk.”
“When I do, he won’t walk. Buckley! Git ‘im!”
No note, no sign. Kang Lee knew, he wouldn’t have phoned it in. Wouldn’t if he couldn’t if he could. Kent Auburn, throwback, on a tailspin bender likely story for Cumberland, Kummer, and Krain.
“Got me, guys. No note, no sign, no car, too. He could be anywhere.”
“Kent Auburn can’t be anywhere but where he is. He’s a big boy, but not that big.”
“And Renton, that Renton. What he want?”
“Look, Lee. We know. We play him like a radio.”
“Oh and Homeland snatched your gopher Gona. Seems he took a stroll on a trail with a pit bull on his tail where he didn’t belong.”
“You can spill and spare him hell, or let the Feds sweat it out of him at their Duwamish Waterway spa.”
“Speaking of which, we could lean on a Green Card play, Kang Lee.”
“I’m clean but the case is not what it was or is or seems to be.”
“Cut the kone crap, Kang.”
“Koan, Krain, like Cohan. Let the man sing, that Yankee doodle dandy.”
Joe Vita, the public muscle, who couldn’t find a private eye. Not at the office, the post office, bank, station . . . trains, Auburn. Kent: shot-gunning up in platted spat tracts, took off to pop up all over unincorporated King County and left no tracks. Joe Vita rode Jovita Road to Milton Fife, have him call Renton, that Renton, put his river gang boys, the Timberlanes, the Meridians, the Cedar Groves, the Summit Law Sons on the trail of one Kent Auburn, the everyman-a-king county.
Kenny Dale, the dim twin, snatch snitch, knew no blinds bounds but Barbee Mill was still, too still, hungover deed or dead? The dim twin called it in by calling in Glen, the one who knew who to do, to call. Renton? Not Renton. Bellevue? Newcastle? Who knew?
Veazie, that’s who. Who else? Al Gona spilled the beans where the Green’s the Duwamish Waterway for the Homeland waterboard follies, like who wouldn’t?
“A town missed in the mist of Ravensdale? Come on!”
“A dull tree adultery? A pair of black diamond underwear under where? You can do better than that or I’ll Qaeda your ass, Al Gona.”
Veazie knew. Too soon and it’s no fun for them.
“A caper. Chased by a dog into the woods, on a tail set by Kent Auburn for Kitt Covington? Come on!”
Veazie knew, yeah, Veazie knew where Auburn was, how Barbee Mill took the pills, what Kenny Dale told Glen Dale, when Hobart O’Brien but a bug-boy up how Franklin Bayne Covington put his money away, and just what Al Gona had to say to get Homeland-free.
“Renton, that Renton, full of ‘em now, up on the ridge, they drive cabs, they get around, Somalia to here and Kenya, oh say can you see, I was double-timing Kang Lee and Auburn put the tail on Ravensdale, but Renton sent me, that Renton said he had to see the trail signs were for real. I took the fall for the Falls!”
Veazie knew, yeah, who didn’t? Even the homies had to know, the Arab cabbies on the ridge of Renton, that Renton, knew the Cedar from the Green. Blow the dam and flow the valley, like Veazie knew they never would stop believing a likely story.
Kent Auburn came to wherever it was, it was wet, too far and far too wet to swim in a field and stream magazine ravine. Yet up a bluff somewhere river it was, to be here now, to coin a koan doodle dandy. Like a patriot act by the karaoke off-key stones, he sang to come to stay awake over the roar of the dark made by the light. Headlights!
Kent Auburn, nobody’s road kill. Slaughter was for Indians. He rolled away and waited for the car to come to go.
Franklin Bayne Covington, Milton Fife, Joe Vita, Renton that Renton, and Veazie yeah Veazie. The Turtle Lounge? The City Hall? The Yellow Beak? The Red Dog? The Cave Man? The Card Room? The Shooting Gallery? Neutral territory: Rosalita’s in Kent, with Kent Auburn out of the picture, on the lam, at large.
Al Gona, stuck by Pacific, with the Homeland bracelet homing him in like a good boy while Feds in fezzes took cabs like customers playing hide-and-seek. Allah akbar oxen free. Barbee Mill, pumped out clean by the Valley Med Team, high-fiving pros I-told-you-so’s who’d never spill what they had seen. Sumner, the comely Sumner, who called the cops who caught Kang Lee flip on a dandy-doodle Yankee gig for Cumberland, Kummer, and Krain, while Ravensdale and Selleck still drink the royal family fill, the King of Beers, while Buckley stares for bears he hears are there.
“It’s like this: there’s no way or won’t, do or don’t. And, when it does, if you do, then you’re who knows then, the how, what, when, gentlemen.”
Glen Dale, Boy Wonder, took a backseat tour up the road to the dam of the Green. Krain drove from Cumberland, with Cumberland, and Kummer came to babysit. Glen Dale knew the Cedar was secure from the white-lightning-swilling engineers, who pulled the plug on the Stuck and stuck Pacific with the spill. But near the Green was where Kent Auburn could have come to be seen, stumbling in the woods like a coon bear skunk on a King Beer drunk, flash forward to the flush of the flood, when the dam breaks.
“If and when,” said Cumberland.
“Kent Auburn, an if. The dam, a when,” Glen Dale drew the aftermath to a foregone equation.
Orilla, The Boise Bug-Boy, took a backstretch tour to Hobart O’Brien to beg for a leg up on Whisper. That Trude Wabash would be up for the win when he was on the hook for the ride that jacked the prize?
“You told me, and I did: catch and release.”
“You did, but too hard, so the stewards had to knock you off the card.”
“You owe me!”
“I paid you! So, take it to the window, and keep it to yourself.”
When the damn breaks broke the bug-boy, he didn’t get even, but mad. Too mad to get too far and far too wet, the bug-boy sang like a bullfrog, till the whisper croaked the tote, Enumclaw to Jovita.
“Mr. C., you gotta be kidding me! Even the exotics are flooded.”
Covington semaphored Hobart O’Brien: “She check the board to keep from tryin’?”
“She’s too straight and it’s too late.”
Not a shot, but a whisper of a pot.
If Milton Fife lived off generic brands, he was like any other guy from here, wherever here might be, but his commands were closer to Jovita and the near stretch of the Stuck than the Puyallup sands, and far from where the headwaters appear to run as white in name as through the lands they carved in lava gullies from Rainier.
Evacuation warnings decorate the valley like a joke exaggerates unlikelihood as if it is a fate determined in advance to celebrate a Revelations style of rendezvous of inundations wet yet barbecued.
Although an atheist by preference, Fife had a hankering for Biblical disasters on a scale of pestilence to plague a land in metaphysical conundrums to inspire reverence in fools who thrilled a guy so cynical as one who would exploit a deference, just like the Pope in ecumenical pronouncements of the certainty of doom, not to exclude the lunatics of gloom, those Fundamentalists who would assume The Rapture would release their souls to bloom when Armageddon gives the heaven-sent a tenement upon the firmament.
Kent Auburn came in, like he’d never been out.
“On a sign, meant to say, that’s all.”
Kent Auburn, nobody’s loved one. Sorry was for funerals. Punched, drunk, or out to lunch: take a number, number than a soft spot on the skull.
“You see Doc Hanson?”
“I don’t need a damn doctor. I need a drink.”
In an inn on Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake taps Veazie for a Flaming Geyser cocktail. Veazie? Yeah, Veazie knew all the gorgeous gorges, where the dog meets the pasture lands of the horse farms under water year after year, till the dam doctors played beaver with the Green, as if earthwork could cement without chemistry.
“Like Superman, made black diamonds out of coal.”
Glen Dale, Boy Wonder, had to wonder when Kenny called if what the dim twin saw through the mondo condo window of the old sawmill was pulp or timber: Barbee Mill, in her groove, surrounded by cases, too packed to solve.
Kent Auburn with Renton in Renton: what Renton? Tukwila Renton Junction: that Renton.
“On the level, to the valley, up the ridge. We know where we’re coming from, Kent Auburn.”
That Renton knew his way around the town squares, no-racing zones, erased tracks.
“Longacres gone to Boeing gone, but we’re here where the grandstand stood, the finish line. Remember, Kent?”
“Marshes to marshes, bets to bust:” The Kent Auburn line, on the track gone back to marshes, the rushes the dozers razed to raise; while Glen Dale, Kang Lee, the Timberlanes, the Meridians, stable where the stables stood, motors off, safeties on or off, depending.
“Milton Fife, Covington, Veazie, Cumberland: where are they? They’re nowhere we ever were, anywhere but everywhere we could ever be.”
Kent Auburn, nobody’s priest, priests were for choirboys, heard Renton vent in a compassion like confession on the turn for home.
Joe Vita rode to Sumner, beyond summer, from Algona with Al Gona and its sign meant to warn of lava doom.
“Kang Lee, you ready?”
Kang Lee bowed, too trite to feign, then posed a toast to change the face of his command.
“To the sound of one dam cracking.”
Barbee Mill, undercover blown, moved the federal way above Kent Auburn, and Sumner, the comely Sumner, Al Gona The Gopher, Joe Vita The Muscle, Renton that Renton . . . as for Bonney Lake, please! Barbee Mill was not one of them.
“You’re getting warmer, Captain. Crunch time!”
“Not Veazie. Give up?”
Barbee Mill, FBI, paid a courtesy call on Cumberland, Kummer, and Krain, and the keystones caterwauled.
“We could lean on a Green Card play: Kang Lee.”
“Play it, boys. You say it’s Kang Lee, I say it’s Kangley. You say illegal, I say a legal. Illegal, a legal; not Kang Lee but Kangley: let’s pull the whole thing off.”
Kangley, nobody’s man but his own, Joe Vita rode up Jovita Road to Milton Fife, with Sumner, the comely Sumner, on the phone in the rearview unseen.
“Message for Kent Auburn? Leave it!”
“Kent! Can’t you do it? Pick up! It’s Kang Lee. He’s not who he was or is or seems to be.”
While a man by the man-made lake taps the Kent Auburn line to a Fed Way relay, Milton Fife trains the scope on the field to stream to kingdom come.
“A likely story,” Franklin Bayne Covington, palms up for the payoff. “Pay up!”
“Yeah, Veazie. Pay up!”
“But Kang Lee!”
“No, Kangley. Pay up!”
Franklin Bayne Covington, Milton Fife, Joe Vita, Veazie yeah Veazie, Kangley, Renton that Renton, betting on the end of the world of the valley, from a ridge up in Milton on a dive in the lake plunge.
“You blew it, damn it! Where’s the payoff?”
Safeties on or off, depending, the Valley Fed Team, who’d shoot to kill, just stood to gleam in the mystery.
Kent Auburn, private eye, had an office, a post office, a bank, a telephone he couldn’t use to read a map. He couldn’t do a thing or two, with half his crew accused for no acquittal to cruise the sloughs to the Homeland waterway spa.
“I’m no bigot, I’m a two-fister. But Kang Lee had me fooled!”
“No background check? No references?”
Kent Auburn, nobody’s clerk. Clerks were for government work.
Special Agent Ravensdale had to wonder if the Army Corps of Engineers could find a file and blow it clear as if it were no more than a bum bomb scare.
“Relax, Auburn. Here’s a bedtime tale to pin on the donkey: Birch Kangley, no note, no sign, no friends; just a dead-end kid run out of Retreat on the Kent-Kangley Road, Going nowhere, but there he was, on a high-leg gig in a trick for kicks. Passing for a nerd foreigner? A Kung-Fu king? Why not flip out and pin it on them and those? Blow the dam and flow the valley? What the hell? Like the story?”
Kent Auburn was right to remain silent.
“Oh and Auburn, one piece of advice: don’t leave town.”
Washington cities, towns, and places along and above the Green, Stuck, White, and Cedar rivers.
Algona O’Brien Lawson
Auburn Orilla Maple Valley
Barbee Mill Osceola McMillan
Bayne Pacific Meribeth
Berrydale Ravensdale Morganville
Birch Renton Federal Way
Black Diamond Kitt’s Corner Howard Hanson Dam
Boise Selleck Longacres
Bonney Lake Summit Puyallup
Christopher Sumner Palmer
Covington Thomas Sawyer
Cumberland Tukwila Naco
Dieringer Upper MillSlaughter
Emerald Downs Wynaco
Fairwood Cedar Grove
Franklin Lake Wilderness
Georgetown Cedar Falls
Jovita Mill Creek Park
Kanaskat Four Corners
Kangley Soos Creek
Kent Muckleshoot Reservation
Lake Tapps Hanging Gardens
Landsburg Flaming Geyser