He was only walking down the street, not doing anything ostentatious, when a guy jumped him and started talking at him as he sat on his stomach.
"Gimme all your loose change!, he garbled."
"I don't have any loose change, man. Leave me alone."
"Then gimme your watch."
"I don't wear a watch. I don't have anything to give you. How 'bout a hamburger? Let's go for a little food. How's that?"
"OK. Sounds good. I'll letcha up. My name's Herbert, but people call me Bill."
"Why do they call you Bill if your name's Herbert? What about Herb or Bert?"
They walked down the street discussing names. At the local burgery they ordered two burgers and two shakes. Herbert/Bill/Herb/or Bert stood at the cashier looking at him and patiently waited for him to pull out his wallet.
"Thanks, man. I was really hungry."
After they finished eating they left and began to part, but something was making HBHB slow up a bit after they shook hands. He knew he was going to be asked about staying over at his place or something like that. It's not what he wanted to hear, but when it came, he just couldn't refuse. So they ended up at his apartment making plans about where HBHB would sleep.
"Ah, just dump me anywhere, man. I'm easy."
"Well, how about you sleep on the sofa? It's not so bad."
That seemed to settle things, and they said good night. He was wary about his new company, so he closed the bedroom door and slid a chair in front of it and went to bed.
He'd been sleeping late this last month because it was summer vacation from college, and sleeping was one of his favorite things. But this morning he woke up about 8:45 and made some noise getting dressed. Carefully removing the chair, he opened the door only to find the sofa, and indeed, the whole room empty. No note, no indication of breakfast, nothing. His one-time lodger had bugged out. Just as well, he was thinking as he poured milk on his cereal.
About 10:00 there was a knock on his door. He had sort of a sinking feeling that his new friend was back, and yes indeed, it was HBHB.
"Hi. I hadda go water my, uh, garden," He said with a grin.
"Where do you have a garden?"
"Oh, just around the corner and, uh, around the corner. You wanna see it?"
His enthusiasm seemed a little uncharacteristic.
"OK. Let's go."
They walked quite a few blocks until they were at the edge of town where warehouses and trucks were mostly found. Not much traffic. HBHB led him into one of the shabbier large metal shacks. It looked as if nobody had been there in a very long time. They went in and, toward the back, there was sort of an office with the door torn off and a large hole in the roof letting in the sunlight. Every last inch of the large room was taken up by big tubs of plants.
"So this is your 'garden,' he said. "I get it now."
"Yeah. I poked a hole in the roof so my plants could get sun. They love it, and nobody knows we're here, either. Wouldja like a few seeds to start your own garden, man?"
"No, I don't smoke the stuff, but you're going to be busted big time if anyone finds this place."
"Naaaah. It's always quiet around here. It's safe. Besides if anyone finds out, I'm almost never here, so it won't be me that gets busted. I just come here to water the plants and see that they're happy. They're still small so I have to wait for a good harvest, y'know. "
"You seem to know a lot about growing pot. You done it before?"
"Nope. But I read in a magazine how to do it, and it was easy, so I just started on my own. I'm gonna make a killing when they're bigger."
"I'd like to get back home, HBHB. This isn't a place I'd like to be spotted in."
"OK. Let's go"
HHBB carefully pulled a curtain over the doorway and slouched out of the building.
It was more than a week when he saw HBHB again. They bumped into each other at the video store.
"Hey, HBHB, how ya been?"
"Oh, fine. Been thinkin' about goin' down to Mexico once my "income" is in-coming, y'know."
"That's a good idea," he said, thinking it was a very good idea that HBHB could stay down there and not get into so much trouble here.
"Hey, man. You wanna come over for a meal tonight? I got some good wine."
It occurred to him that the inference was that he would bring the food. Indeed that was the arrangement. That evening he bought a huge pizza and met HBHB on the indicated corner.
"Hi, HBHB. Do you live near here?"
"Well, not exactly, man. Let's walk fast. I can smell that pizza."
They traveled about a half mile and turned into an alley. There were some large appliance boxes lined up along both sides, and guys were sitting around a five-gallon can with a fire in it. He thought he didn't want to ask, but he did anyway.
"Which box is yours?'
"Third one on the left, man. It's not cold tonight. Sorta comfy," HBHB said with a grin.
Their pizza and wine dinner was, well, interesting if not bizarre. HBHB was in a rather funny mood. A bit jumpy. Then, mellowed by the wine, he reached a point where the real issue for this 'meal' was brought up.
"Hey, man. I gotta get out of town for a few days. Word's out that a certain person is lookin' for me, and I don't wanna be found by him. I owe him dough. He loaned it to me for to start my garden. I didn't know it would take so long to get a profit. Plants grow pretty slow. D'you think you could water my garden for a little while? Man, it'd be a real favor for me. I can't let those little plants die. They're my only investment. They die and I'm outa everything. I got nothin' else to count on."
He thought a long time about this. What were the consequences if he should be seen in that neighborhood? How many times would he have to go there, and how long would it take? These technical problems running through his head were only to put off the real concern: Do I really want to do this? HBHB shifted uneasily without saying anything.
"Well, all right, but only for a short time. You have to be back by the end of next week, tops."
"Oh, yeah, man. I really gotta thank you. And my plants thank you too. There's an old hose in back and a can I use to water with. Just a little on each one. It doesn't take long, and, uh, it wouldn't be a good idea to go there after dark. Or even at dusk."
Now he knew what he was in for. Can after can from an old hose out back, trekked into the building to water fifty plants. Oh, God, why did I get into this anyhow?
For the next week he walked over to the beat up building and coaxed the water to come out of the hose instead of the many holes further down. Fifty plants seemed fifty-hundred by the end of the week. No word from HBHB, however. Every day he went over there, he would see cars just leaving. Sometimes they sat a ways away and then left, never paying any attention to him, but leaving him with a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach. Where in hell is HBHB? Three, and then four weeks went by. He was going over to water every third day now, and hurrying back home fast. Very nervous now.
It was about six weeks when he received word from HBHB. He was in jail, and a jail-pal had phoned him after he got out.
"Uh, I'm callin' for Bill. He says he's not likely to be back soon. But they're still lookin' for his garden. If they can't find it, maybe he'll be back sooner than that, ... or not."
"Oh, well thanks for calling."
RATS!!! What am I supposed to do now? Become the new owner of a bunch of marijuana plants, or just let them die and never go back. If HBHB gets out, he'll be really bummed at a room full of dead plants. Awww Jeez.
Just then his doorbell rang. It was a police detective asking to come in and talk to him.
"Sure, sir, come in. What's the problem?"
"We believe you are connected with Herbert Wulf? He's been detained in Houston, and there's an issue of some marijuana plants he's growing. We got a tip from a man who wants some money from him. Since this Mr. Wulf has been away, we saw you around the area where there are some warehouses and would like to ask you about that. Why were you down in that neighborhood?"
A slimy sweat broke out on his forehead, and his eyes were sort of out of sync. He could feel himself shaking and licking his lips. If he wasn't the poster boy for GUILTY, he couldn't think what else to do.
"I was watering a friend's garden, sir. Just for a little while."
The drive down to the warehouse district was silent. He knew he was going to be 'detained' just like HBHB. There wasn't anything else to do but show them the plants and tell the truth. He had no idea what HBHB had told the cops in Houston. All he had was the real story.
That night in jail wasn't the best night he'd ever had. His companions were surly and drunk. They stunk and they mumbled. The one call he got brought a friend with bail money, and that drive home was pretty silent too. When he arrived he called a lawyer that he had met at a party. He didn't even know what kind of lawyer he was, but it was a start. Turns out his lawyer was an uptown attorney with plenty of good ideas about what they'd do to him if he told the truth. It just wasn't a real believable tale. Watering plants for a friend? C'mon, man.
That was the beginning of a long and expensive relationship with said lawyer. It lasted through the indictment, two visits to the judge, various phone calls and office visits, and some really fantastic "true stories" he was going to tell the court. No, he was going to stick to the truth. It made the lawyer a trifle nervous. He wasn't the kind who lost in court. Bad for the reputation.
During one of his little visits to the judge, he saw HBHB. He looked terrible. Pale and thin and not looking back at him.
That year in the slammer didn't go fast. It dragged. Working in the laundry was clean, but that was about all it was. The food was awful, the company was worse than that. He never saw HBHB. Must've been sent somewhere else. Never, ever heard from him again either. That was OK. He was through doing favors for anyone.
He moved to California and finished his college years. The whole episode about HBHB and his 'garden' never left him. He wasn't quite sure what lesson he'd learned from it all. Was he too trusting or naive? Or perhaps he really went into it wanting something interesting to happen in his life. Well, there's interesting and there's interesting. It's best not to get confused.