Blue Flower Red Thorns

By: Ted Clifton



The drive from Denver to Durango was six or seven hours, depending on breaks. But it seemed to take forever. Rick Flores was not one for being trapped in a car. His parents had taken him on a couple of long road trips to Disneyland and Yellowstone, and he’d been carsick most of the time. After that, he’d vowed never to torture his own kids, if he ever had any, with family vacations that only turned into unpleasant memories.

He’d been raised in Santa Fe by two of the nicest people who ever lived—even he would admit that. But it might have been better if they hadn’t been so nice. Rick loved his parents, and they did their best to give him everything they could to help him be a success and to be happy, but he was embarrassed by them all the same. They were Mexican immigrants, and most comfortable around people from a similar background. Rick wanted to be an American, just like any other American from any background, without all the family baggage. His conflicted feelings on the topic weren’t too noticeable as long as he was in Santa Fe. But going anywhere else highlighted them, which made him feel like a misfit. He’d feel ashamed of his parents, and then would hate himself for being such a lousy son.

“Look, Rick, if you don’t want the goddamned job, that’s okay with me. I recommended you because I thought you said you wanted something better than what you have now. So, I’m the bad guy, because I recommended you for a better job and gave them your number? Terrible, terrible me for causing you so much pain.” Joe Small was loud and used a lot of foul language, but he was Rick’s only friend.

“Joe, calm down, man. I appreciate that you recommended me. And yes, I want a more responsible job. But, Durango—I don’t know about that. It reminds me too much of Santa Fe, you know—small, touristy town. I came to Denver to get away from Santa Fe, and I like it here.”

“Well, then, fuckin’ stay. Just stop bitchin’ about your job if you’re not going to do something about it.”

The two men worked at Mountain Growers Inc., a marijuana-grow operation in Denver, with more than twenty thousand square feet full of plants. They were managers, supervising several dozen other employees who grew and harvested the crop twenty-four hours a day. Joe got the job because of his degree in horticulture from Metro State, where they’d met. He’d helped Rick get a job after he graduated with a degree in business management. The pay was good, even if it always felt odd to Rick to be paid in cash. But most things about the legal marijuana business were a little odd. Still, he could put up with a little odd, given the money people were making. Even so, the job was mindless work. Each day seemed to involve telling the same people how to do the same job they did the day before. It was like everyone who worked there woke up in a new world every day. He wanted more.

“I talked to that guy, Ken Simpson,” he told Joe. “He said they wanted to get going immediately, and if I wanted the job, it was mine, but I had to decide by tomorrow. Something about him made me nervous.” What he thought, without saying it out loud, was that this whole thing seemed too good to be true. Suddenly people nobody’d heard of wanted to hire him at top dollar to do a job he had very limited experience with. That didn’t make sense.

“Well, hell,” Joe grumbled, “I don’t know anything about him. He and some other asshole came around talking to everybody about opening a grow facility in Durango, saying they were hiring. The guards ran them off, but I got his card. I called him and told him about you, thought it would be great to get that kind of experience. Go down there and get the thing started, and I bet you can come back here and double the money you’re making now. Nobody in this industry has any experience, except shit they can’t talk about. What makes you nervous about the guy?”

“It’s stupid.” Rick frowned. “He reminded me of a TV hoodlum, maybe from the sixties or seventies. A Broderick Crawford kind of tough guy.”

Joe looked at Rick like he was nuts. “Who the fuck is Broderick Crawford?”

“Just an actor, played a lot of bad guys. He mumbles when he talks.”

“Oh, now I get it. You won’t work for a guy who mumbles, right?”

Rick gave up. He decided he was being stupid. He should take the job, and if it didn’t work out, he would just come back to Denver. He could always get a job, and at least he would have taken a risk, for once. He knew he was usually way too cautious.

In spite of his concerns, he called Simpson, aka “Mumbles,” and told him he would take the job. Simpson gave him directions to the building in Durango and told him the company would reserve a room for him at the Traveler’s Inn for a week from that day. That seemed awfully fast. He told Simpson that he had to give proper notice to his employer.

“You want the damn job or not?” the man mumbled.

It put him on edge again, but he’d made up his mind he wasn’t going to let his nerves get to him. He gave a week’s notice. His boss was pissed, but told him if it didn’t work out, he should come back. Rick was a good, reliable worker—and sober.

Rick had a lease on his apartment, which he didn’t want to give up in case things went south, so he paid a month in advance and told the landlord he was going to be gone for a while. There was a lot of demand for apartments in the area, so if he decided to stay in Durango, he was pretty sure he could sublet.

The first part of the drive had been a little bland, but for the last few hours he’d passed through some impressive mountains covered in vast forests. He had an urge to take one of the side roads and explore the beautiful scenery, but he stayed on task and on the highway. By the time he reached Pagosa Springs, he was getting tired of being cooped up in the car. The great thing about traveling off the interstates was that the highway usually passed right through the towns along the way. That was the case with Pagosa Springs. Spotting a parking spot in front of the Peak Deli made up his mind for him—time for lunch. The small town was surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, with woods stretching in every direction. For no particular reason, he felt safe here. Maybe he should just stay. Stupid thought, he chastised himself. He needed a job, and working at Peak Deli wouldn’t be a good career move. He enjoyed his pastrami sandwich stacked high with seasoned meat, and got back on the road.

The beautiful drive reminded him that he hadn’t seen much of Colorado since he’d moved to Denver four years before. He’d tried skiing one very forgettable afternoon, quickly gave up all hope of becoming a Super G champ, and hadn’t ventured out of Denver since. Living downtown, he felt very urban chic. He spent most of his free time enjoying the restaurants and bars in his neighborhood. He would mostly go out alone, and usually ended the evening the same way. He had a few dates, but his quiet, reserved manner wasn’t exactly that of a chick magnet. Once in a while he’d spend time with Joe, but the guy was a drinker and usually more trouble than he was worth. He knew if he was ever going to find a girl, he’d have to be a bit more assertive. But it didn’t come naturally.

Some of his most enjoyable days were spent visiting one of the many museums in Denver. It was his regular outing on Sundays, with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science being his particular favorite. He’d even signed up to be a volunteer, but hadn’t heard anything. He would spend hours visiting exhibits, all of which he’d already seen, often many times. He took comfort in the building, the exhibits, and the people. Everything combined to make it feel like a welcoming place. He’d even met a girl there once, and they’d enjoyed a great time together, laughing as they walked through almost the entire massive museum. She’d given him her number but he’d never called, afraid she would reject him. Carol Lawson. He still had her number.

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