Blood and Dirt
Lloyd A Meeker
Family squabbles can be murder. Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation. Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point. Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…
Evan Landry wants to hire Russ to find out who wrecked his sister Sarah’s legal marijuana grow, located on the family ranch in Mesa County, Colorado. Landry want his step-sister Marianne to be the guilty party, and expects Russ to prove it. The Ellis/Landry family has marinated in toxic animosity for years. Evan is in Russ’ Denver office, in their first meeting. The first half of this scene is at Clare London’s site… http://clarelondon.com/2015/08/21/lloyd-meeker-visits/
I couldn’t deny family intrigue was fascinating to me. Over the years, I’d encountered a long parade of bizarre relationships, toxic secrets, competition for affection or mere attention, and vendettas. However, I’d also seen reconciliations and witnessed the most beautiful demonstrations of compassion and forgiveness and understanding. I smiled at my own discovery. Maybe I had just figured out why I’d become a specialist in family complexities.
I stuck out my hand. “Yes, I’ll take your assignment. I’ve never had anything to do with marijuana cultivation, so this should be especially educational.”
“Good.” Landry gave my hand a perfunctory shake that said my answer was no surprise to him—he’d expected my agreement before he walked in. At the same moment, he slid his other hand into a jacket pocket and handed me a check. Already made out to me. “A retainer,” he said with cool nonchalance. “You don’t need to create an invoice until you’re done, then we can see what’s left to cover.”
Nodding, I tucked the check into my desk drawer and pulled out my simple one-page engagement letter.
“Now,” Landry said as we finished up the formalities, “you get all the dirty laundry.”
I got ready to take notes.
It was a convoluted story, with all the elements of a classic family melodrama, a perfect breeding ground for bad blood. Stanford Ellis, the current owner of the Ellis Ranch, was in his sixties. He’d married young, and sired three children: Stanford Jr., Marianne, and William, who everybody called Billy even though he was now in his late twenties.
When Billy was four, Mrs. Ellis decided the rancher’s life was no longer for her and disappeared, leaving her husband with three small children to raise and a ranch to run.
Stanford, being an old-school rancher, knew that a rancher needed a wife, so he got himself another one—Carolyn Landry, who already had two children of her own by a previous marriage.
Although Carolyn had frequently asked Stanford to formally adopt her two children Evan and Sarah, he’d refused. Maybe it was some vestige of arrogance about the Ellis name and Ellis blood that prevented him from saying yes. Maybe it was something else, but while Stanford Sr. was perfectly decent to his second wife, the two children she had brought into the family remained Landrys.
According to Landry, Stanford Sr. might have been obstinate about that particular issue but was indecisive about everything else. After Carolyn’s death, his refusal to take a firm stand with his brood left the children to cope with each other without many boundaries except, strangely, at the dinner table. There, Stanford controlled everyone’s behavior with a dictator’s fist.
By middle school, an internecine rivalry had begun, with the Ellis children pitted not only against the Landrys, but against each other as well. Each child developed their own way of fighting or at least coping.
Sarah had become something of a Birkenstock hippie, spending more time with animals and plants than people. She did passably well at school and began working for the local rancher’s co-op after graduation.
When she could show that marijuana was a viable cash crop, she negotiated a very favorable lease with Stanford Sr. for space in an old barn the ranch no longer used, complete with water rights.
Evan had stayed under the radar of family conflict as much as possible until he came out in high school, then he defiantly took on all comers. He’d escaped as soon as he could, moving to Denver where being gay wasn’t such a big deal, got a grunt job in a restaurant and learned the business as he worked his way up to chef, managing partner, and, finally, owner.
Stanford Jr. had never really accomplished much of anything. He was smart but chronically unrealistic. He daydreamed, was undisciplined and grandiose, and drank far too much and too often. Marianne was the most social of the Ellis children and went off to study journalism after high school. She was now part of the TV news team at the Grand Junction station. She made sure she was part of all the social circles on the western slope that counted, few as those were.
Billy wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but was kind and reliable. He and Ellis Senior did all the physical work on the ranch. Billy had gone through high school as a member of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. He’d raised prize-winning animals to show at the county fair. He was born to be a rancher.
Stanford Sr. had made the competition and distrust among the siblings worse by making vague promises and threats about who would inherit parts of the ranch land when he died, and the story changed all the time.
Maybe he thought that was the only club he had to maintain control, but whatever the reason, the lion’s share of blame for sibling animosity rested at the patriarch’s door, as far as Evan Landry was concerned.
“Even though our family dynamic puts a nest of vipers to shame,” Landry said, winding up his story, “Ellis insists that when we are on ranch property, we all eat dinner together.” He gave me a joyless smile. “And you’ll get to join us in that unique pleasure on Monday night.”
That didn’t sound particularly attractive to me.
Landry stood and shrugged his sport jacket into place. “Arrive at the ranch as soon as you can. I’ll introduce you to Stanford Sr. before dinner. He’s promised everyone’s full cooperation, and he’s the only person who can make that promise. So you’ll be operating under his aegis as well as mine.”
He laughed bitterly. “My aegis is not half as far-reaching as Stanford’s, so stay alert. The only reason I’m still tolerated on the property is because I’ve got money and because Sarah’s marijuana operation is now a more reliable income stream than the ranching operation.”
He shook his head. “The Ellises have the land, and the Landrys have the money. You’d think that would offer an easy solution, but family blood and pride seem thicker than poverty and envy. Or their cure.”
“How do I get to you on Monday?”
“Oh, right.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out another piece of paper. “I sketched this map. It’s easy. It’s on the west side of the Gunnison. South of Grand Junction to Whitewater on 51, then west on 141 a few miles. You’ll see the sign for Ellis Ranch, north side of the road. Get there no later than four o’clock. Call me if you get lost.”
We shook hands again, me agreeing to his instructions. He let himself out, and I watched him cross the street toward a high-end Mercedes sedan. Its lights blinked, ready and obedient, as he approached. Evan Landry was used to being the boss.