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Property of the Folsom Wolf
By Don Lasseter
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1995 Don Lasseter
All rights reserved.
June 1986, Barstow, California
"Let's steal your ex-boyfriend's car, and use that to go to Kentucky," Greg Marlow half-suggested, half-demanded of Cynthia Coffman.
"No, I'm not taking Sam's car," she replied. "It's in terrible shape. Probably wouldn't even make it that far. And besides, the license tag is expired."
"Well, we've got to have something to drive back there to get my inheritance."
Cyndi wasn't sure she entirely believed the story Greg had told her about an inheritance. It wouldn't be his first lie about money. He had really hooked her with his grandiose descriptions of the Appaloosa ranch that he and his ex-wife had "owned" over in Victorville, that had "made all kinds of money." And she had never seen a penny of all the big bucks he had made for "killing someone in prison."
"What about that new little red pickup truck your friend over in the trailer park has? You've got a key to it, don't you?" Greg asked, with a little smirk.
"Yes, I've got a key, but he trusted me with that. He told me I could use it in an emergency."
"Well, this is an emergency," insisted Greg. "We've gotta get to Kentucky. C'mon, let's see that key."
As Cyndi withdrew the key from her wallet, her reluctance diminished and the idea of taking the pickup became more agreeable. Maybe there was some truth to Greg's story of his father dying in Kentucky and leaving him a big bankroll or a farm. Even more appealing was the thought that en route to Kentucky, they could go through St. Louis and see her son, who was living with the parents of Cyndi's ex-husband. She hadn't even talked to the little boy on the telephone for weeks, and she missed him. Maybe she could even figure out a way to grab him from her ex-mother-in-law's custody and take him to Kentucky.
Cyndi was still bemused by the crazy events of the last two months. She had moved to Barstow to be with her boyfriend, Sam Keam, but that relationship had withered, and was dying even before the idiotic events that sent them both to jail. She and Sam had been arrested shortly after a brawl in front of a convenience store when he had been attacked by four men. She was released after a few nights in jail, but Sam had been held longer. His cellmate, Greg Marlow, had been freed before Sam, and had paid a call to the apartment where Cyndi awaited her boyfriend.
There was something about the masculine, tattooed visitor that released the juices of excitement in Cyndi. Wearing a tight T-shirt when he stood at her doorstep, his chest was granite solid and his biceps glistened in the desert heat. She couldn't believe how quickly she had agreed to spend time with Greg, then give her body to him. Maybe if the sex hadn't been so mind-boggling, she wouldn't have been entangled in a new relationship so soon. She even liked the nickname he had acquired in prison, "Folsom Wolf," which stemmed from the dramatic picture tattooed on his side of a crouched wolf, snarling, ready to attack. The tattoos of a flaming swastika on his chest, bearded vikings on both shoulders accompanied by a skull on the left shoulder, full-color portraits on his right forearm, and assorted other decorations, didn't bother her. They were truly works of art. Only one set of letters on his skin vexed Cyndi and caused her jealousy to flare — the name of his ex-wife inscribed on his penis.
Now, here he was, pressing her to steal a pickup truck from her friend. She wasn't exactly sure why, but she found Marlow extremely persuasive.
A little after midnight, still astonished that she had agreed to steal a car, Cyndi stealthily inserted the key into the ignition of the red Nissan pickup, started the engine, and eased silently out of the Lenwood trailer park, seven miles from Barstow. Outside the front gate, she followed Greg's borrowed car for thirty-five miles, through Barstow, across barren desert back to Newberry Springs.
The following morning, just after sunrise the couple emerged from a tiny trailer house. Greg opened the truck door, and found a set of tools behind the cab. He gave them to Paul Donner as payment for the food Greg and Cyndi had consumed in Donner's house.
In a storage room, Greg found some black paint. He asked Paul for permission to use it so that he and an ex-con pal could paint the truck. License plates stolen from an off-road vehicle on the other side of Newberry Springs, were screwed on the rear of the truck, and the original plates buried in desert sand. That evening, Cyndi and Greg loaded the Nissan with clothing, boots, and skis she owned, along with the ones they had stolen from Sam Keam.
Preparing to leave Newberry Springs and drive to Kentucky, Cyndi was concerned about the finances. She and Greg had a little less than sixty dollars in cash, and enough "speed" to last a few days. She figured they would make it somehow.
Dust roiled behind them as they bumped across the hot pavement toward I-15, rolled to a stop, and merged into the eastbound freeway traffic.
At a gas stop in Las Vegas, Greg noticed that red paint was visible next to the white trim around the big NISSAN letters on the tailgate. Instead of reentering I-15, he drove twenty-five miles to Lake Mead, where they rested awhile before he recruited Cyndi to use her lipstick liner brush, with a small can of black paint, to touch up the telltale red showing on the tailgate. Two years later, Cyndi would recite the details of that incident in a dramatically different context.
Returning to I-15, they sped across the bottom of Nevada, angled through the northwest tip of Arizona, and drove a little less than a hundred miles into Utah. They celebrated crossing each state line by parking and making love in the cramped pickup cab.
In a cheap motel that night, they counted the remaining money and agreed that it wasn't going to take them very far. Cyndi had skied the slopes of Brian Head previously and knew a few of the locals. She found an acquaintance, to whom she sold her skis and boots, along with Sam Keam's. That sale provided enough gas, food, and beer money to continue the trip.
Woodland Park, Colorado, was the next stop. Greg looked up Elmer Lutz, a contractor who built microwave telephone relay towers on mountaintops across the nation. Lutz and Greg had met at a tower site where Marlow had worked as a temporary laborer, and Greg was wondering if the contractor needed any help in Colorado. "Not right now," Lutz told him. "But I've got a job coming up in Georgia in a few weeks. Might be able to use you down there." After providing the couple overnight accommodations, Lutz scribbled an Atlanta telephone number and suggested that Greg give him a call.
Disappointed that Marlow wouldn't be able to make a few bucks with Lutz, the couple drove on to Colorado Springs where an old buddy of Greg's gave them shelter for a couple of nights. Cyndi would always remember the stop: "You know how Colorado is during the summer, all the wildflowers growing everywhere. Greg was walking around picking flowers for me. It was fun, just a lot of fun. Very sweet and nice."
Money was still a big problem, though, so Cyndi produced some jewelry and pawned it. They didn't get enough cash to pay for any more motels or food, so Cyndi and Greg drove the seven hundred miles to St. Louis, straight through. They arrived at the home of Cyndi's grandmother on July 2, at ten o'clock that night. The elderly woman was startled to see her granddaughter, since Cyndi's last visit had been Christmas, 1984, a year and a half earlier. But "Gram" welcomed her granddaughter along with her brawny friend, and served them some of her birthday cake left over from the previous day.
Cyndi was anxious to talk to her parents. As soon as she had wolfed down the cake, she started trying to telephone them, but several attempts were unsuccessful. Finally, a few minutes past midnight, Cyndi's mother, sounding dead tired, answered. The conversation lasted only a few minutes, during which Cyndi suggested a visit that same night. Her mother did not sound encouraging, and turned Cyndi over to her stepfather, Carl Anderson, who said, "It's really late, and your mother and I are exhausted. How about ... why don't you come over in the morning?"
When Cyndi replaced the phone in its cradle, she was crying angrily. Within a few minutes, she and Greg went to bed and he asked her about the phone conversation. He would later describe her reaction: "She was mad, kind of crying. She said that her mom didn't want her to come over there. Then she said that she didn't even want to go, and didn't want to talk about it any more."
In the morning, Cyndi's gloom was obvious. She had talked about visiting her son and possibly taking the boy with her to Kentucky. But they did not drive the short distance to the Coffman home where the child was living. Their explanations for that decision were widely divergent when they later talked about it. Cyndi blamed Marlow, saying that he refused to go pick up the child because they didn't have enough time. They had to get on to Kentucky.
Marlow explained, "Her and I talked about it in the bedroom. She said she didn't want to go over there. We decided to come back at another time when we didn't have a stolen car and ... get him another time. That was Cyndi's idea. So she borrowed ten dollars from her grandmother because we were out of money again and we took off to Kentucky."
Once a coal-mining town, squeezed between railroad tracks and Federal Highway 27, Pine Knot, Kentucky consisted of scabrous wooden buildings along a main drag resembling a boarded-up Old-West town. A couple of miles north, new homes with green lawns and half-acre ponds were sprouting, but the center of Pine Knot survived with only a few stores, a tiny brick post office, and a disproportionate number of greasy auto repair shops.
Street signs are as scarce as paved roads around Pine Knot, and numbers on the houses don't exist. It is easy to get lost in the country lanes that meander between brooding pines, dogwood, and shimmering poplars, especially at three in the morning. Greg had spent several years of his youth in this region and felt a certain familiarity with the topography, but was having difficulty finding his friend's house. He told Cyndi to keep driving around, until he finally gave up, and they stopped at a dilapidated gas station where there was a pay telephone.
Greg called a cousin who agreed to meet him at the gas station. The relative arrived within minutes and guided the lost pair to the mobile home of Greg's friend. Greg knocked on the bedroom window of the cracker-box structure. The sleepy occupants looked out the dirty glass, recognized Greg, and bellowed an invitation for him, Cyndi, and the cousin, to come on in.
When it was light enough to see, Cyndi found that she wasn't particularly impressed with her surroundings. "It's a hick town," she would recall. "Pine Knot is right next to Revelo and Stearns. They're little bitty towns. Old tires scattered everywhere. Most of the people I saw had real long hair, and all of them had motorcycles. They looked like bikers."
Like many of the citizens living in small shacks or mobile homes dotting the wooded hills and valleys, Donald Lyons preferred to be called by his nickname, "Lardo." The bearded man, who stretched his dirty hair into a pigtail, limped from an old injury, which didn't make it any easier to carry his 260 pounds on his six-foot frame. Over morning coffee and marijuana, Greg and Lardo reminisced about old times and caught each other up on recent events. Later, they drove around and visited other friends and relatives, from whom Greg learned some bad news.
He really had expected a modest inheritance. His grandmother, Lena Walls, with whom he and his half sister, Coral, had spent a great deal of time as children in California, had died. (His father was still alive.) But what little property she owned had already been swallowed up by relatives and neighbors. If any of it had been intended for Greg, it was not coming his way.
As with most events in the life of James Gregory Marlow, the inheritance was just another disappointment. "The hell with it," he shrugged. "There are other ways to get money." For now, he and Cyndi would just enjoy being with his wild friends.
Lardo and his woman held a Fourth of July party that Cyndi would not forget. Fifteen people gathered in the residence where beer, booze, pot, and methamphetamines were in ample supply. Marlow smoked prodigious amounts of weed and guzzled booze until he was fall-down drunk, but Cyndi denied that she was loaded. "No, I didn't get drunk. Greg did though, and got his ear pierced. A friend of Greg's (was there), that he had grown up with, named 'Duce.' That's the only name I know him by. He took a sharp little poker that Greg had on his key chain and stuck it through Greg's ear. And then he takes a diamond that he had in his own ear, and puts it in Greg's ear. Later that night we went to bed and Greg passed out. The door was locked, but Duce kicked it in and said he wanted his earring back. I was in the bed with no clothes on. And he came in and yanked the earring right out of Greg's ear."
When the hangovers had healed the following morning, Marlow straddled the back of Lardo's big motorcycle, and the two men roared off to a place called Roundtop Road. It was, according to Greg, "down in the bottom of a holler," a gathering place for good ole boys to sit around, get high on homegrown weed, and figure out how to score some more. A friend of Lardo was there, a guy they called "Killer."
After some general "bull-slinging," Shannon "Killer" Compton began talking about someone called "Wildman," whose real name was Greg Hill. Hill, Marlow later recounted, was going to testify in court against an acquaintance, and some of the local boys didn't want that to happen. Killer made it clear that Wildman Hill should be silenced and admitted that he had agreed to take care of the problem but had been procrastinating. He enlisted Greg Marlow's assistance. Several thousand dollars would be given to Lardo for the job, and Lardo would pay Marlow five thousand bucks.
Marlow indicated to Killer that he would have to think about it, and returned with Lardo to the mobile home.
That night, he told Cyndi, "I've got a snitch to kill," and asked her what she thought about it. Cyndi wasn't surprised because Greg had told her that he had been a hit man. She would one day be asked about her reaction, and she could only remember thinking, "What a fine mess I had gotten myself into."
Greg, when asked how Cyndi responded, said, "She thought it was a good idea to get some money so we could get a place and get jobs." He claimed that he tried to convince her that it would be better to wait for the job in Atlanta promised by Elmer Lutz. But Cyndi, he said, insisted that they should take the fast money, now.
They argued for a little while and Marlow said, "Heck with it then. Let's go out there and ... take a look at it."
Crowded into a van with Lardo and Killer the next morning, Marlow traveled twenty miles east, twisting and winding on I-92, through Hollyhill and Jellico Creek, across I-75 at Wayne County seat, Williamsburg. Through the historic town, the group crossed the Cumberland River, passed fourteen more miles of farms and decrepit mobile homes, and stopped near a whitewashed cabin surrounded by pasture in "Dead Man's Holler." Killer pointed to the cabin and announced that it was the home of Wildman Hill.
Back at Lardo's that evening, Killer handed Greg a little .22 caliber pistol.
At five A.M., Greg woke Cyndi, and they sleepily dressed before getting into the black Nissan. Fighting drowsiness, they duplicated the trip of the previous day, drove around in the early light near Wildman's house, slowed near a white wood-frame church two hundred yards from the house, and aimed the truck up a steep gravel road. It was all the little vehicle could do to ascend the thickly forested hill which formed a ridge between Dead Man's Holler and the next little valley.
At the top, they proceeded another hundred yards before parking near a scattering of tombstones, called Upper Mulberry Cemetery. Greg pulled a sleeping bag and some blankets from the truck, and placed them at a strategic point in the woods where they could sit and observe the house, down in the "holler."
Excerpted from Property of the Folsom Wolf by Don Lasseter. Copyright © 1995 Don Lasseter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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