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Drifter A, "The Cook"

Story ID:6058
Written by:Monte Leon Manka (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Hemet CA USA
Person:Drifter Chelsea Kansas Kid
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The Cook

While waiting at the bus stop in Carbon Alberta, Canada Cookie thought about the lost 18 years in the Calgary Prison. I thought of the days when I was robbing every bank in all the little towns I came through. I found that if I did not hurt anybody the Sheriff did not look as hard for me. The banks in the depression had hurt every one and the Sheriff’s thought that the banks were getting their due.

Tubbs would send me ahead of the rest of the thrashing crew to find a place to set up the campsite. While looking, I would rob the town bank.

They say that the Mountie always gets his man—I can attest to that. I copped a plea with the Canadian Magistrate and was told if I would confess, I would be given a lighter sentence. I would be placed in a minimum-security prison and I could cook for the prisoners. This sounded better to me than the Texas Chain gang so I opted for this way out.

When I was taken to the Calgary Prison I was shackled to twenty other prisoners and loaded in to the back of a lorry. We drove for hours through the forest on logging roads. Some of these roads would not hold the weight of the prisoners so we would walk single file for a hundred yards to safer ground. We would load the truck again and start out to the Prison.

We came to an open valley and there in the bottom were several tar paper shacks with barbed wire around them. This valley was beautiful. The wildflowers were blooming. The colors purple, red, yellow painted the valley floor. On each side were mountains, one side looked like the teeth in a crosscut saw and the other side looked like big chocolate drops.

We drove into the gate of the prison compound. There was no guard to open it for us. The driver opened the gate and drove in. Once inside we were unshackled and told to go the warden’s office.

Inside was a man in uniform and he introduced himself as "The Keeper." He told us we could escape if we wanted but the wolves and bears were hungry and we would be lucky to get a ½ mile from the gate. He told us that the barbed wire fencing was not to keep us in but to keep the wild animals out.

There were murderers, rapists, robbers and scammers. The murderers were billeted together, the rapists were put together and separate huts were provided for each category of criminal. The child molesters never seemed to make the trip to the prison from Alberta. I have been told they met with terrible consequences on the way to meet the Keeper.

The first night was terrible. While I was trying to go to sleep, I could hear the wolves howling. I looked out the window and could see dark shapes on the outside of the barbed wire. I guessed that these shapes were bears or wolverines.

The reefer that the meat was kept in was a hole in the ground. I went into the cave, a lot of the meat had spoiled, and I threw it out. Whoever had butchered these animals did not know how and every cut looked the same. The ribs looked like steaks, the roasts were all the same. I was told there was Caribou meat, Bear, Wild goat but I did not know which was which.

The pans in the cookhouse looked like they had been brought over on the Nina or Pinta. They were bent, some had holes in the bottom and the handles were torn off. I spent several hours just getting the pans in shape to hold water to boil the Bear meat and potatoes.

After a breakfast of Bear sausage and crackers we were called out in to the courtyard and told to load the ax’s, saws, hammers and wedges into the lorry. We rode off into the forest and when the lorry stopped, the Keeper told us to go to work. We were to take all the dead trees, cut them down, and cut them up for the cold winters ahead.

We had cut three truckloads of cordwood for the stoves that day. We did this for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, we had a pile of stove wood that was higher than a two-story building. It looked like a lot to me but before the 70 below zero winter was over we were scratching the bottom of the wood pile just to stay warm.

Boredom set in and I had to find something to do besides cook. I convinced the Keeper to let me have some paper and a pencil. I wanted to write down some recipes that I remembered. The Keeper gave the O.K. and I whiled my extra wintertime jotting down the old family recipes. My helper in the cookhouse’s name was Frenchy. Frenchy gave me some great recipes from his home in France.

A herd of Caribou roamed into the valley and the guards shot several. The prisoners were sent out to skin and butcher the animals. The skins were tanned and used for feet covering, leather jackets and gloves. We were lucky we had a man in prison that worked in a tannery. We always had warm clothes to wear because he handled all the leatherwork.

Frenchy and I were in on the butchering of the Caribou and told the others what to do. At least the steaks could be recognized.

After my sentence was served and time off for good behavior Frenchy and I were taken back to Alberta. Frenchy went to Quebec to his home and I was waiting on the bus for Texas.

I received a new suit of clothes, $340.00, and a bus ticket to Plano, Texas.

The bus pulled up and I got on with my case and settled down for the five-day trip.

I sat next to the window with an empty seat next to me. I dozed off and was dreaming about home and seeing my old Dad and Mom. When I awoke, I found a pretty girl sitting next to me. She smelled so good. I had smelled nothing but stinky men for 17 and a half years. She noticed that I was awake and introduced herself to me. Her name was Rose Garden.
We exchanged howdy’s and started talking about the weather and other things. She told me how she had been visiting relatives in Alberta and was now going home to Russell, Kansas.

I told her that I had been sending money home to take care of my parents that were in a rest home. It cost me a lot for both of them but I did not want them to be sent to the county poor house.

I had been sending money to my sister to take care of them and she was keeping my money until I got back to Texas. I told her I had to find many ways to get money to pay for the $2,000 dollar a month fee that the rest home was charging.

At each bus stop I would buy Rose a meal and soon my $340.00 was shrinking day by day. I had $200.00 left when we reached Russell, Kansas, where Rose was going to stop. Rose got off the bus and I kissed her goodbye and the bus and I started south to Texas. At the next stop, I reached for my $200.00 and it was gone. Rose had lifted my wallet when I kissed her goodbye. I was mighty hungry before I got to Texas and to my sister’s house.

I knocked and a stranger answered the door. I asked where my sister Hessie was and the stranger said she had moved out years ago. She had not left a forwarding address. I went to the rest home to see Mom and Dad and found that they had passed away five years ago in the county poor farm.

I looked for a job in a fast food restaurant and was hired. I got an advance on my pay and got a hotel room. After a shower, I opened my case and there were my recipes in a folder.

While at work I asked the manager if I could use some of my recipes for some of his daily blue plate specials and he said yes. Everyone raved about the Blue-Plate specials and the manager asked me why I did not have my recipes bound and published.

I did not know how to do this and the manager told me he would do it for me for 12% of the proceeds. I heard nothing more about the recipe book for a couple months. I received a check in the mail for $50,000.00 dollars. The publisher wanted to sell it in all the bookstores. I would receive a percentage of each book sale. This was the happiest day of my life. I paid the manager his 12% and moved out and started my own restaurant in Dallas.

One day after I had opened for the day who should walk in but my sister. I hid and followed her home and I could see where all the bank robbery money went. She had bought a huge home and had a chauffeur driven Bentley. I went to the door, a butler answered, and I asked for my sister. When she came to the door she almost fainted and I could see the fear in her eyes.

My built up hatred for her for the way she had treated our parents melted when I saw the fear in her eyes. She had to sit down. She thought I was going to the police and she and her live in boyfriend would have to go to work for a change.

I explained to her how I felt, I used language that I can not print. I had her in tears, walked out, and never looked back.

I had two grave markers made to be placed at my parent’s gravesite.

I had etched into each stone With Love, from your Bank robbing, wandering, convict Son who wanted the best for you in your final years. R.I.P.

The money Cookie received from the sales of his cookbooks was used to pay the banks back their money and he now had a clear conscience.

Monte L. Manka 12/29/99