Roseville... shit; I'm still only in Roseville... Every time I think I'm gonna wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first ride, it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing. I hardly said a word to my cat, until I said "yes" to a litter box change. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I'm here a week now... waiting for a train... getting softer; every minute I stay in this jungle, I get weaker, and every minute the Bull squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around, the bushes moved in a little tighter.
I was going to the best place in the world and I didn't even know it yet. Hours away and hundreds of miles up a river that snaked through the mountains like a main circuit cable — plugged straight into Dunsmuir. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Road Hog's memory — any more than being back in Roseville was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine.
It was close, real close. I couldn't see it yet, but I could feel it, as if the train were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle. Whatever was going to happen, it wasn't gonna be the way they called it back in Roseville.
Finally nailing a junker just after a relaxing "squat in the bush", we booked all night until I woke up the next morning stopped at a siding near Red Bluff, where I was awakened by the train crew at the open door of my boxcar:
Engineer: "My orders say I'm not supposed to know where I'm taking this train, so I don't. But one look at you, and I know it's gonna be hot."
Me: "I'm going 75 clicks above the Pit River bridge."
Engineer: "That's Shasta county, fool."
Me: "That's classified."
Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a train ride, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice ride, and when it was over, I never wanted another.
Never get out of the boxcar. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin' all the way. Road Hog got off the boxcar. He split from the whole fuckin' program.
The Bull didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.
Conductor: "Your mission is to proceed up the Sacramento River in a boxcar. Pick up Road Hog's path at Dunsmuir, follow it and learn what you can along the way. When you find the hobo, infiltrate his posse by whatever means available and terminate the hobo's command."
Me: "Terminate the Hobo?"
Conductor: "He's out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field helping other hoboes."
Engineer: "Terminate... with extreme prejudice."
Conductor: "You understand Fred that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist."
Engineer: "Smell that? You smell that?"
Conductor: "Diesel exhaust, son. Nothing in the world smells like that."
Engineer: "I love the smell of diesel exhaust in the morning. You know, one time we sat in the hole for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked back. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' tramp body. The smell, you know that diesel smell, the whole siding. Smelled like... victory."
As the crew walked back up to the head end, a tramp who had been riding a few cars back and who had watched our meeting approached my car:
Me: "My mission is to make it up into Dunsmuir. There's an old hobo up there who's gone insane. I'm supposed to kill him."
Other tramp: "What? Oh, that's typical! Shit! Fuckin' train ride! I'm on probation, and we gotta go up there so you can kill one of our own guys? That's fuckin' great! That's just fuckin' great. Shit. That's fuckin' crazy. I thought you were going in there to drink some wine, or some fucking beer or somethin'."
Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him.
Continuing on after our weird conversation, I bailed in the Dunsmuir yard and walked up to Road Hog's "command post" at the cemetary:
Road Hog: "Did they say why, Fred, why they want to terminate my command?"
Me: "I was sent on a classified mission, sir."
Road Hog: "It's no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?"
Me: "They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound."
Road Hog: "Are my methods unsound?"
Me: "I don't see any method at all, sir."
Road Hog: "I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you an assassin?"
Me: "I'm a tramp."
Road Hog: "You're neither. You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."
On the river, I thought that the minute I looked at him, I'd know what to do, but it didn't happen. I was in there with him for days, not under guard, I was free, but he knew I wasn't going anywhere. He knew more about what I was going to do than I did. If the dispatchers back in Roseville could see what I saw, would they still want me to kill him? More than ever probably. And what would his people back home want if they ever learned just how far from them he'd really gone? He broke from them, and then he broke from himself. I'd never seen a man so broken up and ripped apart.
Needing some fresh air, after being couped up in a small room with a gaggle of crusties, I made my way down to the tracks, where the Bull immediately screeched to a stop in front of me and began:
Bull: "Your rap sheet specifies intelligence, counter-intelligence, with a junior high school education."
Me: "I'm not presently disposed to discuss these operations, sir."
Bull: "Did you not work for the CIA in I-Corps?"
Me: "No, sir."
Bull: "Did you not assassinate a government tax collector in Quang Tri province, June 19th, 1968?"
Me: "Sir, I am unaware of any such activity or operation — nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist, sir."
Taking my line of shit like a fish to a worm, he sped off, and I made my way back up the embankment to finish my mission...