Night crawlers, p.4
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       Night Crawlers, p.4

          
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Red Mountain is nestled up against the rolling foothills and home to the Mojave yucca plant, prickly pear, creosote bush and sage bushes. When you first come upon the town along highway 395, you see just a few homes and buildings along the sides of the highway indicating there might be some semblance of a town somewhere out there. It’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of what most people call the “normal” city life. There’s only one paved street in the town and the rest of the streets are narrow dirt roads dotted sporadically with old houses and trailers homes along the sides of the road. There aren’t any of the familiar chain stores, fast food restaurant or neon lights that you would normally see from miles away, nor does the town look like any modern city that you may envision in your mind. It doesn’t have any grocery stores or gas stations. Not much has changed in the small town during the last hundred years.

  Red Mountain once boomed with saloons and high class brothels during its heyday and at one point in 1899, the population reached 3,500 residents. During the gold discovery days, over $6,000,000.00 of gold was taken out of the Yellow Aster Mine. When the gold mining was halted by the U.S. government in 1942, Red Mountain, and the two other nearby towns of Randsburg and Johannesburg (known by the locals as Jo-burg) became virtual ghost towns. All three mining towns are located close to each other in a triangle pattern and the area is known as “The Rand.” There are remnants of an old churches that are still standing, along with several old closed saloons and brothels from years gone by. The lure of the area no longer lies in the gold mining capabilities, but the sheer beauty of the old active western ghost towns. Some locals claim that the ghosts of the dead miners still haunt their favorite places.

  Further north a few miles, there’s a road on the left called Redrock Randsburg road. The road twists and turns up into the foothills to the picturesque active ghost town known as Randsburg. The small town’s a popular spot for photographers, honeymooners, antique car clubs and families. Over the years there have been a lot of commercials and movies that have been filmed in and around the town, including the most recent movie, “Cowboys and Aliens.” They have food and rooms available at the historic Randsburg Cottage Hotel/bed and breakfast. The reconstructed hotel had its beginnings at the turn of the century and has survived three fires, plus its share of unruly customers. Not too far down the street, they still operate the two old bars known as the “White House Saloon” and “The Joint.”

  There are approximately 170 residents that are still living in Red Mountain, 150 in Johannesburg, and 70 living in Randsburg. Housing a lot of the current local residences of the three towns are some of the old original mining cabins, trailers and mobile homes that have been dragged into the area in the more recent years.

  Through all their traveling from place to place, Sherman and Lynn never felt at home until they finally found this quaint little town of Red Mountain. Once they stumbled upon the town they instantly knew this was the place they wanted to call home. It was in the high desert and away from everything and everyone, just like their old home in Tennessee. It was just far enough away from people that it had a lot of appeal to them. By then the boys were 12, 13, and 15 years of age. It was perfect for them because it was so small, quiet and peaceful that they figured they wouldn’t have to put up with people always asking questions, eyeballing and gawking at Justin and Joshua.

  The Bureau of Land Management owned most of the mine claims around Red Mountain, which included some of the old abandoned houses. Sherman found out where BLM office was located and worked out a deal to purchase one of them located on the outskirts of town. The BLM was happy the old house wasn’t going to just sit there and fall apart or be destroyed by vandals. Lynn and Sherman didn’t have to pay anything down and only a few hundred dollars a month so it was something they could afford. The house they purchased was a beat-up rambling old three bedroom house on about a half-acre of land. The house was away from all the other houses in Red Mountain. They believed they could have the privacy they always wanted, which was more important to them than anything. All they really wanted and needed was a place to call home.

  The people in Red Mountain appeared to be somewhat oppressed and reminded Sherman and Lynn of the people from their hometown. Many of them were plain everyday poor folks just trying to get by the best way they could. Sherman and Lynn, especially liked the idea that everyone kept to themselves even though they still seemed to know a little bit about each other. They seemed to have an attitude of anti-government, which was also the same way Sherman and Lynn felt about politics.

  One of the best things Sherman liked about Red Mountain was that there were no law enforcement agencies located in any of the three little towns. The sheriff’s department in Trona was the closest and it was about thirty minutes away. They were the ones who were supposed to respond when people called for police help or protection. A few of the local people complained to Sherman that the sheriff’s department never seemed to be in a big hurry to take the drive down to Red Mountain to provide emergency assistance. They would only come out when they felt something major was going on. They seemed to follow the belief that they didn’t fool around with what they called nuisance calls and almost all the calls from Red Mountain and the sister cities seemed like nuisance calls. The locals told Sherman sometimes after calling 911 it often took several hours before the sheriff’s department showed up. Sherman didn’t say anything to anyone when they told him that, because he was actually very happy to hear that. He figured, the people of Red Mountain, Randsburg and Johannesburg would be perfect for him to steal from without much problem from the law.

  After they moved into the house and had been there a few weeks, Lynn and Sherman came up with a plan to get financial assistance from the welfare department. Lynn went to the county welfare department and applied for benefits. She claimed that her husband had abandoned her and her three boys and she needed help. It wasn’t long before she was receiving food stamps and enough money each month from the Welfare program that it paid for their mortgage and basic needs, but that was it.

  Sherman and Lynn still needed extra money to help pay for their never ending drug habit. They knew the extra money needed would require Sherman to resort to stealing. This wasn’t something Sherman was happy about doing, but he was good at it. He knew they couldn’t live there if they couldn’t get the money for the drugs they needed. By convincing himself it was just a necessary means of survival, he justified the entire process of breaking into houses and selling the goods he had stolen.

  After they moved into their home, Sherman started scrounging up old sheets of tin around the three little towns until he had enough to enclose the entire exterior of their property. He cut the tin sheets six foot high, attached them to a skeleton fence he had built and overlapped the tin where no one could see in. He even covered the entry gate with the tin sheets because he wanted to have total privacy. It looked more like a fortress than a house with a normal five foot fence around it.

  Over the next few months Sherman and the boys also built a room underground near the back corner of the house. They dug a hole in the ground nine foot deep, ten foot wide and fourteen feet long. Once the hole was dug Sherman and the boys enclosed the room with scrap lumber they had also scrounged up, in and around the towns. They covered the floor with wood and used four by fours for the roof and covered it with tin. Once the tin was in place, they put a foot of dirt over the top of the room and firmly packed it down. Inside the room they built a work bench with storage shelves on one side of the wall and Sherman ran a water line and electricity from the house into the room. He ran a stove pipe from above ground into the room for an air vent. In order to camouflage the pipe from outside, they covered it with a large upside-down terracotta colored clay flower pot. They had a three foot by three foot lift up door at one end that had a leather handle attached to it so you could open the door. Below the door they built a ladder leading to the bottom of the room. When the lift up door was closed, they covered it and the leather handle with dirt and you couldn’t even tell the room was there.

  While they were building the room Sherman told the boys, “This is where we’ll hide all the stuff we get before we go to Los Angeles and sell them. This is our secret hiding place and if we’re ever raided by the law, they won’t be able to find it.” Joshua had helped a lot as he handed them nails and got things for them when he wasn’t busy spreading the extra dirt from the hole all over the property. Sherman thanked the boys for all their help and went up to each of them, patted them on the back and put his arms around them as he said, “Good job boys. You did a really good and I’m proud of you.” When Sherman told the boys they did a good job, they all just looked at each other and beamed with pride. Sherman could see how happy they all felt for their part as they puffed out their chest.

  Ever since they first arrived in Red Mountain, Sherman had been promising the boys they could get a dog after they enclosed the property and finished the “secret hiding place.” When everything was completed, he lived up to his promise. He told the boys they could have two guard dogs instead of just one. A few days later they made a visit to the SPCA in Ridgecrest and picked up two young puppies. They were supposed to be half Rottweiler and half Pit Bull Terrier. They got one male the boys named Brutus and a female they named Sophie. They were really excited to have their own dogs for the first time in their lives. Because of all the moving around they had done, they had never had any animals, at least not any they could keep for very long periods of time.

  After they got the puppies home, they put them in the back yard and watched them for a few hours as they ran from place to place sniffing and looking at everything in the yard they could find. They were allowed to run freely within the boundaries of the property. In a few short months they became fierce protectors of the property. As they got older they wouldn’t let anyone get near the property without acting like they were going to attack them and eat them up. That was exactly what Sherman wanted. He didn’t want anyone nosing around their property.

  Once Sherman felt comfortable with Red Mountain and his surroundings, he started scoping out the Red Mountain, Rand area, to see what he could steal from his unsuspecting neighbors. He started taking drives through Red Mountain, Randsburg and Johannesburg during the day, just to see how the houses in the towns were laid out. He didn’t want any surprises when he started his personal mission of breaking in and stealing.

  The boys were getting at the age where Sherman felt he could soon start training them in the art of stealing. He began to slowly teach them everything he knew about thieving. He wanted to have it become second nature, just like it was for him. Sherman had gotten so good at stealing. It was almost like everything he did was automatic. He wanted to make sure that he taught Jed and Justin how to be just as skilled. Eventually they would develop an acute awareness of their surroundings when they were scoping out or breaking into a house. He wanted them to be able to hear the faintest of sounds and know whether everything was okay or if a certain sound meant danger.

  Initially, he would take Jed and Justin out only on the nights he was going to be casing out the target house. He taught them how to stay concealed, behind the yucca plants or sage bushes. He always left Joshua home with Lynn. He believed Joshua would just get them caught because of his age and condition. Joshua was still a little awkward and clumsy and Sherman believed he couldn’t trust him to stay hidden. Although Justin was mentally slow he followed orders very well and would do whatever Sherman asked of him.

  To prepare for the nights the boys accompanied him, Sherman would have them dress in all black clothing with black “long-johns” underneath their clothes. The high desert always gets cold at night and the last thing he wanted was someone ruining his night because they couldn’t handle the cold weather. Some nights the temperature would drop to the low 10 degree mark. He also had them wear a black ski mask they could pull down over their face and ears if they needed extra protection from the cold brisk mountain air. If you weren’t protected, the wind would make your face and ears feel like they were frozen. Their shoes were also black to match their clothes and they always made sure they covered their faces with black charcoal. The boys loved this little ritual, bonding, while getting prepared for their special nights with their dad.

  Sherman told the boys, “Always make sure you don’t go out at night when it is raining or snowing. It’s too easy for someone to follow your tracks back to the house. I want you to always be alert and a little anxious about your break-ins. It will keep you on your toes and cut down on the mistakes you make. You should always be a little fearful of the unseen and the unknown or you’ll end up getting caught. You have to be prepared to adjust to any changing condition.”

  Sherman’s favorite time to go out on the break-ins was in the early morning hours, especially when there was no moon out and it was windy. The night would have to be completely dark to hide their silhouettes and the wind would help disguise or muffle any noise they made while breaking into the houses. The dark attire and the dark moonless nights allowed them to creep around like a wild animal on the hunt, hidden in the darkness.

  They hid behind the yucca plants and other desert plants as they crept from place to place. They always stayed very low to the ground as they slipped close to the houses they were breaking into. They spread their legs far apart and bent over at the waist so they were only about two and half to three feet off the ground. Jed loved the idea that they looked a little creepy. Sometimes he and Justin made a game out of it and pretended they were creepy monsters or ninja warriors as they made their way around the houses.

  Sherman always went out alone when it first got dark and watched a house for a few hours before he decided it was safe enough to take the boys back with him for the break in. It was during those times he found the true meaning of word “stillness” and “cold dark nights.” When the wind was blowing it would nip into him sharply and for just a moment he would flash back to his home in Tennessee and think about his mom and brothers. For a fleeting moment he would feel all alone in the world. The nagging wind was miserable but it would always snap him back to reality and he would shiver, just remembering him and his father fighting with each other. Usually it took just a few moments before he made up his mind that the house was safe to break into. He would then go back home, get Jed and Justin to take them back with him as his lookouts.

  They went out on foot, being very careful not to be seen by neighbors or a passing car as they made their way to the target house. When they arrived, Sherman had the boys stand guard just outside. Sherman had gotten so good at stealing. It was almost like everything he did was automatic. He wanted to make sure that he taught Jed and Justin how to be just as skilled.

  They would wait until around two in the morning when the entire neighborhood was asleep. Sherman told them to make sure they never became complacent. Sherman told the boys, “Even though we choose to break into the houses when no one is home, it’s still very dangerous and we have to be very careful.”

  They soon started getting used to being out in the dark and their eyes became keen and alert as they adjusted to the darkness. To them, it felt like they were using night vision goggles, to get around. Sherman would break a window and then wait a few minutes to see if he got any response from within the house or from nearby neighbors. If he didn’t see or hear any movement or lights go on he would make his entry into the dark and creepy house. Once inside he would look around and steal everything he thought would have a value. He would get as much as he could carry out in his black pull-string bag. After he had what they came for, he always went out of the house the same way he went in. Every move he made was deliberate and calculated to make sure that no one saw or heard him. He was never one hundred percent sure that someone wasn’t still in house, just waiting to catch him, as he went inside. This is why he used every precautions he could. He didn’t want to get caught or killed by a homeowner that he assumed to be gone.

  When Sherman was out of the house, he and the boys took their time as they slowly crept back to their house. Once they were back home, they took the stolen items and hid them in their “secret hiding place.” Once they’d put away their loot they gathered in the kitchen to grab a snack and recount the job. Afterwards they’d hit the sack and sleep till the next afternoon.

  None of boys ever left the property during the day. The only one that went anywhere was Sherman and that was when he made his trip to Los Angeles to sell what they had stolen. The only other person that ever went anywhere during the day was Lynn and that was to get the necessary things they needed from town. Jed used to joke to Justin and Joshua that they were a little like vampires because they stayed out at night, and slept during the day. Their only link to the outside world was the television and it had become their only means of entertainment.

  At least once a month, on a Saturday morning, Sherman would load his pick-up with all the stolen items before sunrise and head to Los Angeles. Once there, he would sell everything to the guy he called his “fence.” He would give Sherman money for everything Sherman brought and sometimes they would haggle over the price because Sherman didn’t feel like he was getting a fair price for a certain item. They always came to an agreement because Sherman didn’t want to lose his connection with his “fence” and have to find someone else to take his place. He told Sherman that he would take what Sherman sold him and then sell it at local swap meets around town on Sunday mornings.

  Once Sherman had the money he made from the sale of the stolen goods, he would get in touch with his drug dealer contact. He would purchase enough drugs to last him and Lynn until his next trip to Los Angeles. As a precaution, Sherman had a little stash of money put away in case he didn’t have enough items to sell to his fence.

  The local people from the surrounding towns were starting to talk about the burglaries and they had a few different theories about who was stealing, but they never were able to catch anyone in the act. When Lynn would see some of the Red Mountain people at the super market in Ridgecrest she would try to edge up close to them so she could overhear what they were talking about with each other or to the clerk. She didn’t know it at the time, but some of the town people had their suspicions that they may have a connection to her family because the stealing activity didn’t start happening until her family arrived in Red Mountain. They never said anything to her about their suspensions because they didn’t have any kind of proof. No one had ever seen Sherman or the boys doing anything wrong. In fact, most people in Red Mountain, never saw the boys at all.

  * * *

  Chapter 5 - Sherman’s Last Trip

 
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