We pulled over and stopped in front of Cornelius’ little red brick house that sat next to the metal gate to Trato Diablo Farms. The rain had cleared and Mount McLoughlin, that volcanic behemoth, stood in the distance.
“What do you mean he’s The Devil?” I asked.
Cornelius put his index finger in the air. “Shh. Wait till we get inside. There’s cameras,” he said. “Look.” He pointed his finger out the window. I followed his line of sight.
Sure enough, hanging underneath the awning of the farmhouse next to the security lights, was a small white camera pointed directly at us. You can see it in the photo above.
Cornelius got out of the Porsche-Uh and I followed him into the house.
The front door opened into one main room. I shut the door behind me. All shades were drawn. It took my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness. Cornelius had one bare light bulb on a lamp turned on, sitting on the fireplace mantle. To the left was the kitchen, to the right was a living room / dining room combination. The walls were sheathed in woodgrain paneling, which complimented the thick brown shag carpet making the Cave Look complete. Cornelius placed a sectional couch in the living room and draped a few blue blankets over it. Behind the couch sat an old wood dining table and a few chairs. Facing the sectional was an enormous Sony flatscreen TV. An episode of COPS was showing but the sound was muted. Other than a Navajo mask and a poster of Bob Marley, there were no decorations, nothing hanging on the walls.
“You can put your stuff in my room,” Cornelius said. “It’s the one on the left. You can stay there while you’re here.”
When I reached the hallway, I noticed the other bedroom to the right was barricaded with a bunch of toddler gates stacked from floor to ceiling, like a cage.
“What do you got in there, man?”
“Don’t go in there! Don’t even fuck with it,” he said.
“OK, but what’s in there?”
“The Devil Cat. It doesn’t like people. And he only comes out at night.”
“Why is the light on?
“That’s the way he likes it.”
I tossed my bag on Cornelius’ unmade bed. Dirty clothes were on the floor. Fast food trash and empty pill bottles littered the top of the dresser next to the bed. An Emerson flatscreen TV hung crooked on the wall.
That was it, the entire place was dark and spartan. Except for the smell.
Cornelius’ bedroom was a few steps away from the laundry room where he kept his two electric litter boxes for his posse of cats. I found them broken and full of so much cat shit that the cats had stopped actually shitting in it and were instead shitting all around it.
I shouldn’t have expected any different. The guy never married or had kids and we’re both in our mid-forties. I figured I could endure the dirty underwear on the bathroom floor and the stink of soil and ball sweat for a few days. I did notice Cornelius had vacuumed that brown shag carpet in the living room recently, so that was a good sign.
When I returned to the living room, Cornelius was sitting at the dining table amongst an array of pipes, bongs, lighters, weed containers and other marijuana products.
“Take a seat,” he said. “Ever done a dab?”
“Uh, you mean thing that Drake did?”
Cornelius laughed and shook his head. He clicked on some sort of hand torch that shot out a hot blue flame and started heating up the bowl of what I thought was a bong. In about three minutes the bowl was glowing red. Cornelius clicked off the hand torch, dipped a nutcracking tool into a porcelain container and spooned out a glob of chunky-looking honey stuff, then put that into the bowl and all at once he started stirring and hitting that bong hard. He blew out the smoke, coughed a bit, then did the same ritual for me.
Now, I have smoked weed before, that should be clear. I have a high opinion of it, ahem. I am certainly no rookie.
That dab sent me to another dimension. After a coughing fit that sent Cornelius to bring the garbage can in case I began to hurl, I caught my breath and sat back in the chair. I had been stoned before, but never that stoned that fast.
After Cornelius was done laughing at me he said, “I’m gonna go check on things at the farm. I’m gonna let you just hang out and be high. Enjoy it.”
I dragged myself to the couch and let it swallow me. Cornelius tossed the cable remote at me then went out the door. I must have sat on that couch for hours because the next thing I knew Cornelius came back in the house asking if I was hungry for dinner.
Hell yeah I was.
We went to some swanky place in Ashland. Excuse me for not remembering the name of the place but I did take pictures of the food:
On top of the charcuterie board and bottles of wine, and my meal, Cornelius ordered three entire entrees for himself. And then he picked at them like a praying mantis while I handled mine like a gorilla. I never knew him to be so extravagant.
“What’s up with all the food?” I asked.
“I’m rich, Nate,” he said. “I just want to try some of this and some of that, know what I’m saying?”
It was that simple.
Plus it was my birthday, he said. And there were no doggie bags going home with us either. But for some reason he ordered one dessert for the two of us to split, with our own spoons of course. Whatever. Mr. I’m Rich was picking up the tab.
Over dinner we didn’t talk much about the farm or business or anything like that. We caught up as old friends do. How’s the family, how’s the wife and kids, are you dating someone, whatever happened to Torigian and Hinchey in Fresno, etc.
“I’ve been so busy since I got here, I haven’t had much free time,” Cornelius said. “And since I live on the farm, it seems like I’m always working, know what I’m saying?”
I did know. I operated my own small business out of a home office for nearly a decade and was all too familiar with the grind it took to stay afloat.
“But the vacations are good,” he said. He pulled out his phone and starting fooling with it. “Check this out. We went to Thailand at the end of the year. We had a killer harvest. Here’s Dick pouring bottles of champagne on these chicks.”
Cornelius turned his phone towards me and sure enough, there was a video of Dick the CEO standing by a pool, double-fisted and dumping huge bottles of champagne all over a group of dancing Asian girls in black bikinis. Cornelius replayed the video in slow motion. Dick was wearing Aviator sunglasses, roaring his head back guffawing in laughter.
“That champagne cost us three-thousand dollars,” Cornelius said.
“And you just dumped it on some girls?”
“Well, I thought it cost us three-hundred. I just read the price wrong.”
“What difference does that make?”
“Dude, that’s not even the worst of it. One day I drank way too much mushroom tea and I was walking around the city tripping balls with Dick and Cody.”
“Cody the old Farm Manager?” I said.
“Oh yeah, he was with us. Instead of paying him a large bonus at the end of the year, Dick offered to take him to Thailand with us, all expenses paid. In fact, it’s this trip that I think broke the camel’s back. Cody finally had enough of Dick and shit got crazy.”
“Well, I think the first thing was that for the flight out there, Dick didn’t get Cody a first-class ticket with us. Cody had to sit back in coach.”
“It’s a long flight to Thailand, dude. But I mean, it was kind of a jab. Like, Dick was making a point to show Cody was lower than us. He’s not one of the corporate officers, know what I’m saying?”
“OK, but that doesn’t seem—”
“It just got weirder from there. One night Cody and Dick hit up some strip clubs and Cody told me Dick kept trying to get him to take some Cialis.”
“At the strip club? Isn’t that all the Cialis you need? I don’t get it.”
“Neither did Cody. But he said Dick kept pushing it on him. ‘C’mon, man, take some, take some. We’ll party.’ Cody finally told him to fuck off.”
“OK, so this is your Farm Manager and CEO. Does Dick do any other drugs?”
“I don’t know. I think he said he did some ecstasy back in college. He doesn’t smoke weed though, hates it. He doesn’t even smoke the CBD flower we grow.” He paused. “I did do coke with him once in a bathroom stall but it was random and we only did it one time.”
The waitress delivered the bill. Cornelius gave her his credit card.
I pursed my lips together, nodded. “I need to know more about this Dick character,” I said.
“He’s Patrick Bateman,” Cornelius said. “From American Psycho, no joke. I’ll tell you more about him later. But first, this mushroom tea story. Like I said, I had drank way too much of it and was tripping balls walking around with Cody and Dick.”
“They were tripping, too?”
“No. Just me. It was in the middle of the day and it was hot and I was sweating balls. We went to a bar and started drinking and the next thing I know I was absolutely hammered. I somehow started wandering the streets alone and got lost in the alleys. But I came across this little guy who was giving Buddhist tattoos, so I went in and just got a bunch of tats. Check ‘em out.”
He pulled up his sleeve. On his left forearm appeared to be several tattooed verses in Sanskrit bordered by unalomes, the Buddhist symbol representing the path to enlightenment.
“He used an ancient traditional method where he had to jab all this into me with like a sharpened bamboo reed dipped in ink. It took forever but I was so fucked up I just kept getting more. I was there until like four in the morning. I got my entire back done and a tiger over my heart. It represents power and is supposed to protect me from my enemies.”
The waitress returned with Cornelius’ credit card.
“Happy birthday, Nate,” he said. “Let’s get back to the farm. We got a busy day tomorrow. I’ll show you around and stuff. But then I got the whole weekend off.”
My head was swirling. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but I figured I’d take things as the come and try not to stress. Besides, I just got there. And I could trust Cornelius. Right?