Conrad’s place was a compound. He rarely left it, save for his monthly missions to the store where he stocked up on everything he’d need until the next month rolled around; he would stock up for two or three months in winter because the roads got so bad it simply wasn’t worth it to take the chance. And being older, and alone, he didn’t take chances much anymore. The people in town often said that Conrad came home different from ‘Nam; he’d fenced off the entirety of his considerable property and it was said he had razor wire and cameras installed all around. Along the state road side, which is where the driveway came out, he’d planted elephant grass; it was impossible to see the house in there at all and if you wanted to visit you had to announce yourself in the call box. And Conrad didn’t frequently let folks in.
However, Bradley was an exception. A smallish hyper boy, Bradley and Conrad got along better than bread and applesauce (one of the combinations of food they both enjoyed, so long as the bread wasn’t a gookin–defined by Conrad as an the piece at the end of the loaf). Bradley often pedaled out to Conrad’s place and without needing to use the call box, the huge gate would swing open just enough for him to enter. Somewhere off to the side of the house (it was presumed) Conrad had installed a trampoline; on warm spring days, folks riding by might see Bradley’s head pop up, disappear, pop up, and disappear, much like a hoppergrass. There were times when the breezes were especially warm that it was said Conrad would take Bradley for sorties in his grasshopper, but no one had actually seen such; the rumor went that Conrad had smuggled the plane out during the war, bringing it home piece by piece during his infrequent furloughs. Before going home from his visits, Bradley liked to sit out on Conrad’s porch (this story was confirmed by Bradley’s parents, who had asked what he did when he was in there; they didn’t worry for Bradley’s safety and instead were pleased to have an insider to tell what it was really like). The two would sit on the swing and watch the wind blow through the grass; a man and his only friend, a boy and his only friend. Conrad would bring out tasty homemade beverages: Bradley always got a sarsaparilla and Conrad made a grasshopper for himself. It was always as green as the field that waved before them as they sat, enjoying one another’s company.