By My Bootstraps

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2010 by Howard Faxon

Drama Story: When your wife and job quit on you on the same day it's time to change your direction in life. Sometimes it can succeed beyond your dreams.

Caution: This Drama Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Fiction   .

Bootstraps--as in pull yourself up by your--

Notes:

  • Ryder is a home moving and storage company.

  • Merry Maids is a home cleaning service with many levels of service available.

  • Harris Bank is a reputable old-school bank.

  • Two Guys and a Truck seems to be everywhere.

  • Camp-Inn of Necedah Wisconsin makes metal-skinned, lightweight "teardrop" camping trailers.

  • AmVets is a low budget Salvation Army (kinda. I know of no religious overtones)

  • B&N = Barnes and Noble-- a big U.S. bookstore chain, like Borders. (damn. Superstores took over bookstores too. Damn them for vanilla coffeehouse sameness.)

  • Back in the day, a pregnancy test consisted of injecting a female rabbit with a woman's blood serum. If she's pregnant the rabbit goes into anaphylactic shock and dies. So we have the phrase: "The rabbit died."


Simms is the name-- Pete Simms. Even though I've got 007 buried in my Social Security Number it doesn't mean I've got a license to kill. It just means that I've got a license to screw up. That's what got me here from Madison Wisconsin--the mother of all, well, life's been kind of rough. It's August. I'm sitting here on the broken rocky shoreline of Black's Beach in far Northern California watching the breakers roll in and get my ass wet.

I can still hear the ticking from my trike as the engine continues to cool down. Being reduced to a ride and a bit after a high-tech, high-pressure job is a scary place but I feel free--liberated. All I'm responsible for is food in my belly and gas in the tank. How'd I get here? I'd like to know that myself. It was like being blind-sided by a news truck. You remember news trucks? No? How about a Pakistani taxi driver? Umm, OK.

Last December I was anticipating Christmas, wondering how much of my savings I should spend on my Dearest Wife of nearly seven years on my way into work. Work? What's that? That's a place where you sit down in a

cubicle farm with buzzing florescent lights intimidating you from clock in to clock out.

You answer the phone and watch your email to the tune of "You're gonna catch hell if my database query doesn't work faster than possible" and

"If you don't pay attention to me RIGHT NOW you're fired". You know, quaint little tunes like that. Sigh. Not that I miss it, I just miss the paychecks. I sure don't miss the cell phone contractually affixed to my hip 24X7.

Here's how it all started...

As I swiped my card against the reader and pushed into the door I almost flattened my nose. The card didn't work. What the hell? I picked up the phone next to the door and dialed security--8911.

"Hi. This is Pete Simms at the West entrance. My card won't swipe."

I hear rustling papers. "Sorry, Mr. Simms. You've been let go as of midnight."

"What the fuck? What about my stuff? COBRA insurance? Vacation remuneration? What about all that shit?"

"Sorry, sir. I just do what they tell me to."

"Dude, you know that the Nazis tried that excuse, too. Look where it got THEM."

I hung up and turned around. I fired up my old Ford and headed for the courthouse. There had to be some sort of employee advocacy office there. It took me until early that afternoon being passed from office to office to find where I wanted to be. The little bald guy on the other side of the desk helped me file one local, three state and five federal grievances against the corporation from hell.

"How long do these things usually take?"

"The local matter of theft of goods will probably be resolved this week.

Since that company incorporated in-state any wages withheld should come in within a month or two--there's a state-level department that deals with that on a daily basis. The employment violations and vacation renumeration are federal and that can take years."

"Can we do something to light a fire under them so that they voluntarily comply? Can we lock down their HR department, or request a state income audit for suspected withholding fraud?"

He sat back and looked through me with a hint of a smile. "I like how you think. I know someone in the State's Attorney's office over at the capitol that works on corporate fraud. Let me give him a call."

I only heard half of the conversation but it sounded like I was one of many. I heard the words 'class action suit' and smiled myself. I had a feeling that this was going to put the manure spreader into overdrive.

My diminutive friend hung up the phone with a wider smile.

"It's days like this that make it all worthwhile. He's got the full twenty names now of people scalded by that company that he needs to initiate a class action suit. The first particular will be to request a corporate audit of payroll funds and deductions, then a freeze on all payroll working capital unless authorized by an auditor from the state comptroller's office." He wrote an address on the back of a card and handed it to me. "Keep these people informed as to your phone number and mailing address. It's the only way that you can stay a signatory and get anything out of this. Drop by their office soon to sign paperwork to include you in the suit." We stood and shook hands. "Good luck."

"Thanks. You've been a real help. It's nice to be able to use bureaucracy instead of it using me."

I headed over to the federal complex in Madison and caught the state's attorney before he left the office. He called in the guy on corporate fraud and confirmed what had been talked over. I signed papers and

headed home, back to Milwaukee during rush hour traffic.

It was 8:40 before I parked in my driveway. The house was dark. Crap. Jean's car was gone. We'd hit a rough patch lately. I thought we'd hammered most of it out and was hoping a nice Christmas gift would smooth things over the rest of the way.

I opened the kitchen door to a disaster. The drawers and cabinets were pulled open and the counters were a mess. I slowly walked through the room closing the doors, noticing that most of the china and pans were missing.

I continued on into the living room. Gone. The furniture was gone. The phone was ripped out of the wall. I stopped cold. Shit. Things were looking grim.

I continued on. The master bedroom was stripped. She left my clothes on the floor.

The guest bedroom was intact so I had a place to sleep.

I had a nasty thought. Joint account. Savings account. I ran out to the car to get my laptop. There was a small desk in the guest bedroom. I plugged in and dialed up the bank. Well, our joint account was stripped. I saw a log of 22 failed attempts to access the savings account.

The money was still there--all the bucks I'd slaved to put away for retirement. She'd stripped the 8,200 or so out of our joint account but the savings of 160,000 plus was golden.

I changed the password to something weapons-grade and signed out.

I'd go down and change banks tomorrow. For now, I'd order a pizza for dinner and clean up my clothes. There was a small chest of drawers full of crap in the guest bedroom--photo albums and memorabilia.

It went into the garbage can and I put my clothes away.

When the pizza came I didn't even have a table to eat it off of. Fuck it. I used my kitchen counter and a stool from my garage work bench. The pizza wasn't bad. The lack of nagging made it the best I'd had in quite a while.

Before turning in for the night I took a good look around me and weighed my choices. At 37 I'd put in fifteen long years in a high pressure environment. I'd gotten married six years ago hoping that someone to come home to would keep me from burning out. Instead the hours and pressure had soured her on me to the point that she wasn't helping the situation--she was actively harming it. In return I spoke to her infrequently. We'd tried to patch things up like adults. Now I was confronted with scorched earth, dammit. I'd think more about it in the morning. I went to bed.

After coffee I decided to cut my losses and move. Maybe I'd take a vacation first! I had the guts of a pet project in a rental garage that would take a few months to complete--a new ride.

I needed to put everything in storage that I wanted to keep and hire a cleaning crew to give the place a lick or two. Then, it was on to a listing service.

I wanted to document what she'd done in case it ever came to court. I logged back into the bank and saved the screens reporting the account histories to a few files. These I burned to a CD. That was going into a lock box at my new bank.

I wandered out to the garage to see if she'd raped any of my stuff in storage. Nope, it was all there. Several years ago I'd gotten into camping to detox and had bought some fairly nice gear. The little digital Coolpix camera I'd stashed in my pack needed batteries, but worked fine. I turned on the date logging feature and started documenting what was left. I burned those pictures to another CD.

A trip to a Canadian-based bank--Harris Bank--gained me a new savings and checking account. With the routing numbers in hand I took a trip to TCF and wire transferred everything to my Harris accounts, then closed the TCF accounts.

Returning to Harris I split the funds a bit, got an instant debit card, initial book of paper checks and received 5000 dollars in 100-dollar Traveler's Checks (They come in booklets of 10).

A trip to the local newspaper office netted an add running for a week disclaiming me of any debt connected with the person named Jean Simms previously of xxxxxxxxxxx lane, Milwaukee Wisconsin as of the current date. There.

I called Ryder Moving and Storage to contract for a move and long term storage beginning in a week.

I bought a new phone--pay as you go. No footprints.

My old friend Kevin Jensen had the keys to my project's storage bay. I called him up.

"Hey, Kev-- It's me--Pete."

"Pete! Hey, how ya doin'? You ever gonna let me build that trike?"

"You're hearing it from me first, bud. Do it. Just like we talked it out, but add a 4x4 hard top trailer. Can you have it ready by spring?"

"Oh, hell yeah. I can have it ready by the end of February."

"Dammit Kev, February is snow-mobile weather around here, not trike weather."

"Well, we can truck it South and you can go from there..."

"Damn. That sounds possible. Use the high end plans we came up with."

"Wow. Two beer kegs for gas tanks, solid rims, disc brakes, big, fat 42-inch rear tires..."

"Yup. Custom tuned and ported V-8, five speed tranny, fold-back semi-enclosed cab."

"This thing's gonna kick ass."

"I'll bring over a check to get started tomorrow."

"Cool!"

I stopped at the first realtor's office that I passed and started arrangements to list the house. I also asked if anything was available in furnished short-term rental apartments--usually called a businessman's special.

I signed a 3-month lease on a 2-bedroom first floor apartment and took possession of the keys. I paid extra to have the water, gas, electric and phone maintained under the owner's name to avoid the hassle--and the tracks. I was going to make light footprints for a while in case the bimbo wanted my savings too.

I drove over to the apartment and looked it over. It needed a good cleaning. I ordered a steam cleaning and a search-and-destroy hit by Merry Maids. I called "two guys and a truck" for an appointment. I got one in three days. Perfect.

I went "home", raided the fridge, showered and dropped.

Sort, sort, sort. Pick through, sort, box for AmVets. I was trying to reduce the 'stuff' factor to what would fit in the car plus some clothes to go with me. The rest I would pack.

Hmm. Rather than tent pack, there was an itty bitty tear-drop camper called a camp-in 560 that I saw reviewed in a magazine. You open the rear like a clamshell for the kitchen and storage. It had a queen-sized bed and a couch. It would keep my ass off the ground. Hell, it had enough room to get me laid!

I had to get the tongue weight info to Kev quick and cancel the box trailer. No problem. I had to see him that day to hand over a check anyway. I went to the library to print out some data on the 560, then off to Kev's cycle shop.

He'd already pulled the guts I had stored. I handed over a check for 30,000 and we looked over the frame requirements. The 560 had a tongue weight of about 180 pounds. Urr. Well, we would have to increase the trike's frame strength with U-channel. It wouldn't be a speed demon, but it would go anywhere but serious mountains under 120 MPH without breaking a sweat. No problem. Do it. I called a man in Necedah (Wisconsin) and asked for a tour to see what I wanted to buy. Hell, I didn't have to work so why not travel?

I spent the next day getting my stuff moved to the new apartment with "2 guys and a truck" (nice name, that.). There was no way to tell what would work/fit with the camper so I kept things as flexible as I could.

I took a nice, slow trip up 94 to Necedah in my old bomber and talked to the man.

"Hi. Nice place. Staying busy?"

"Ha. Youbet. You were after a 560?"

"Ya. I want to tow it with a trike powered by a V-8. I need to know tow weight, tongue weight and gross vehicle weight."

... dicker, dicker...

  • LP Gas Heater.

  • LP Gas 2-burner cast iron stove.

  • 30 pound propane tank--extra large.

  • Stainless steel kitchen work surface.

  • Large deep-cycle 12-V Battery, isolator, fast charger.

  • 12V/120V sockets inside and out.

  • Stereo/Movie player package and antenna.

  • Removable A/C on the skylight, replaceable with a fan.

  • The couch was made permanent with storage below instead of the usual bunk beds.

  • I had him make it 6 inches higher and 9 inches deeper to make it more comfortable to me and hold more.

  • He'd had requests for a drop-down desk in front of the couch before. Do it.

  • Don't put in any foam rubber mattress--I'd order a futon. I got the dimensions from him.

Pay the man, Pete.

We agreed on delivery to the back lot of Kev's bike shop in a month an a half. By mid-February I'd be going batshit crazy and would need something to do.

Sigh. Hurry up and wait. Now what to do? It was Christmas. Whoop de doo. I slept in, went to Cracker Barrel for dinner and screwed off.

I looked up who made custom mattresses over the web. I found a place that makes mattresses for sleepers that the over-the-road truckers needed. They took my measurements and credit card number, then promised delivery by February 15th, FOB at Kev's motorcycle shop.

Great! Now I gotta find bedding. Well, it's close enough to queen size as to make no never mind ... More shopping. What the hell, I'd take my big rectangular sleeping bag to use as a comforter so shopping didn't cost me too much. I'm glad that there was plenty of storage built in under the bed to store all this stuff.

The movers had cleared out the house so I moved my cot in and brought in painting gear. It took a couple of weeks but everything got a new coat that seemed to need it. Then I got a carpet cleaning service to come in and really work the place over. I changed a couple of faucet washers.

The basement looked a lot brighter with a fast spray-coat of off-white paint over everything but the furnace and water heater, including the ceiling. Then I epoxy painted the basement floor to cover my mistakes.

The realtor was very happy with the result. We listed it for a good price and I turned over the keys.

I haunted the computer stores for a good compact-form computer and a flat-screen monitor. I wanted something nice and flexible that would let me work on writing, cruise the web and do a little programming ... A little HP filled the bill nicely. I sprang for a fast mini-switch and a network storage appliance called a Buffalo Box to back everything up.

(Trust nobody--trust nothing). I called the trailer manufacturer and had them add a cut-out under the couch for the computer, and add a power outlet down there. Yup, the credit card came out again.

I hit a Barnes and Noble bookstore for a few things--a cookbook or two, a couple new CDs and a writing guide.

Double crap! I wouldn't have room for CDs. I burned copies of everything I had to MP3s and assiduously borrowed CDs from the library; a few a day, and returned them the next. It must have looked odd to them but there it was--deal with it. I didn't stream or download anything off the net because the lawyers were getting into a feeding frenzy these days and ISP records have been opened before. No tracks.

I really wanted Internet wherever I went. Hmm. I rented a 'mailboxes are us' box using my dad's first name and my mother's maiden name, paid up for a year in advance and arranged with Kev to forward anything to

me on a weekly basis (with ten bucks a week in it for him for the effort he was cool with it). I'd call or email him with a post office address occasionally and stick around long enough to pick up the mail.

I established a new Gmail address and gave Kev the particulars so he could get in contact with me within any 24 hour period. At least that was the plan.

Then I hit up Verizon for a USB-connected EVDO wireless modem. I used my spurious mailbox as a billing address and the spurious name as an owner.

I paid for a year in advance and walked out a happy camper.

They could tower track me, but wouldn't know who 'me' was.

I was fine with that. Even if I wasn't plugged into 110V somewhere I could use the dongle on my laptop on a 12-volt charger from anywhere--even a library or hotel parking lot.

Dammit! The EVDO software only worked with thrice-cursed windows. Fine, fuckers. I added a second 320 GB drive and split loaded Ubuntu Linux on one, with Windows XP Pro on the other. I hooked it up to my network connection and started doing service packs, fixes and upgrades.

It took a couple days to get it to where I was happy with it.

I bought a license for Sophos as a top-of-the line windows anti-virus.

The Linux got Snort and IPChains loaded as an active firewall

I was tired of fast food.

I consolidated a few quality nesting pots and a couple pans. I knew I'd need to meet the storage limitation later.

I bought lids for everything. I refused to back down on two things, though--I kept my cast iron fry pan and cast iron dutch oven.

I bought a small spice storage kit that I could pack in somewhere as well as a couple of high-temp silicone spoons, spatulas and a ladle, all with metal handles. A cooking fork, tongs, a whisk and such rounded it out.

I put a lot of thought into packing a kitchen into a milk crate or so. I changed over to a deep wash pan.

I made sure to get a good electric fry pan and a crock pot. I bought a collapsible camp oven that would fit on top of the burners. Plastic wash tubs nest, make great storage containers for canned goods ... and you can wash dishes in them too! All my cups, bowls, plates and glasses fit into another wash tub.

I spent several enjoyable days browsing the cookbook section of B&N. Bistro cooking, Julia Child, Mario Moldo and such were dead out. Too much work for the results--for me anyway.

The bachelor cookbooks relied too much on canned soups. Even I could taste the salt.

I didn't have room for many cookbooks. I found a 'cover and bake' cookbook, an old Betty Crocker cookbook and a McCormick's cookbook. Anything else I could look up online.

I talked to Kev about storage on the trike. There was room for a big cooler, a tool kit and a little barbecue grill just in front of the hitch in back, like an old-style rumble seat. Yeah! I had a grill! I reserved storage space for charcoal and lighter fluid.

I received a pleasant surprise in the mail. I got a check for my back pay-- over three grand! There was news on the class action suit front as well. Things were not stalled and a judge was involved. Nice.

January was slow. I spent time in the library looking at what route I might take. It would be early in the year-- maybe spring in the desert South-West. Follow that up with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns, maybe even down to the Texas coast. I'd never been there for the seafood or the brisket cook-offs. Then back up through Southern New Mexico, Arizona and then Nevada, following the Mexico border.

Once the weather warmed up I'd bypass California (Too much irrationality about vehicles and such. Sorry guys.) and slowly follow the coast up along Oregon to Washington State, then across Idaho into Montana to take in Glacier National Park. I'd camp in the deep piney forests near Apgar for a while. It would be rough, but I'd like to take Going to the Sun Highway after it opened in July or so. Once over Logan Pass maybe I'd take the high line back through Northern Montana, South through Wyoming and Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, the Virginias and who knows from there.

Each week I took out four thousand in 100-buck traveler's checks. That amount would not need to be reported as demanded by the banking laws.

The house sold! Once all was said and done, I made over 210,000 dollars for a three bedroom, two bath house with a full basement and attached two car garage in a good neighborhood in Milwaukee. Nice. I put half of it in an interest-bearing savings account in case the bitch found me. The rest went into two year bonds. I had Kev weld up a safe under the trike's seat for the bonds, traveler's checks and whatever cash I wanted to carry. I had my passport stuffed away in there too in case I wanted to head into Mexico or Canada. Kev got a wild streak and made the safe and entire footplate out of chromed 1/4 inch diamond steel decking. It looked fantastic and it would take a hell of a shop to break into it with the right padlock installed. Those arch-bolted locks that cost fifty bucks would make breaking into it a stone cold bitch.

My ride was taking shape. The frame was a tapered rectangle. Two inch U-beams ran from the back corners to the front wheel assembly with cross-members welded in every ten inches. The cab design was high in the back and low in the front like the California drag/show bikes. It had a leather king/queen seat with comfortable back rests. You could relax and lean back while cruising. The full windscreen would un-pin and store behind the seat. Two oval chromed tubes ran from the upper-back corners of the cab to forward points cradling the engine. This would allow for top mount points for the windshield and give it a decent roll cage.

The whole thing would be painted charcoal gray except for the bright brass radiator in front. We agreed on west-coast mirrors to see around the trailer, a single wiper and side pipes. A short shifter was positioned between the driver's knees. The gas, brake and clutch were controlled like a car's or a truck's. The plan was for the seat to pivot sideways for access to a grab box with the safe below it, a full-width trunk in the back and some storage behind the seats for the windscreen and a suitcase or two. This would hide the safe under a false floor.

We weren't planning on doors or air conditioning, but a forced air heater was in the works like for a snow mobile. For a window defroster I'd pick up a 12-volt plug-in heater/fan that I could pin to the underside of the roof. Kev provided a mount for it. Two speakers and a car stereo with DVD and a MP3 player jack took care of the tunes.

"What the hell do you want with a 12-volt plug in the trunk?"

"I want to put a little electric cooler in there for meat and ice. YOU wanna drink warm whiskey?"

"Christ, no. OK."

I found a fair-sized pelliter-device cooler (It cools or heats using electricity--Amperage hungry!) that would store a couple of cubic feet. I made sure to get an under-voltage switch to put in-line with it too. I didn't want to drain the trike's battery to nothing just to keep my drinks cold. That way I'd have a big ice chest and a little always-cold cooler to work with.

I wasn't sluffing off doing nothing--I worked out at a little gym and walked/jogged a few miles a day. Trikes do not have power steering.

The big day came--my trailer got delivered. I was like a kid in a candy store with a five dollar bill. Kevin laughed like hell as he watched me haul shit in and fill that thing up. When I was about done we measured the tongue weight and were delighted to find that it ran right about 185. This was going to work. I poked around here, poked around there and looked for things I'd missed-- Towels and a cutting board, Dish soap and bleach, Pillow cases and camp shoes/slippers.

The mattress came in and Kev helped me wrestle it off the truck and into the camper. I got the propane tank filled and overnighted in it to try it out. I stayed up until 11 reading a paperback then went to sleep. Nice.

Yes. I could live in this thing--Except I had to pee out the door at 2 AM--At twelve degrees F.

That allowed me to figure out that I'd need a portable toilet, bog paper and the little blue packets made to throw in holding tanks to keep the smell down. I could use trash bags to line the thing to keep from having to clean it daily.

Kevin brought up an interesting point.

"Hey, Bill-- What you gonna do if some homeboy pulls a knife on you and wants the keys?"

His eyes kind of crossed over the barrels of my derringer. I keep it in a sleeve harness.

"You mean something like this?" I said with a smile.

"Umm, yeah. Awfully big barrels there. Whatcha packin'?"

"It's a .45 caliber Defender with 2 1/2 inch barrels. I keep .410 shotgun shells in it."

"Nice. No good over five feet or so, though."

"You're right, but what ya gonna do?"

Six days later a grinning Kevin motioned me to the trike. He sat down in the saddle and pushed his hand into a panel just below the top of the console. He pulled out a Hi-Standard AMT .22 magnum automatic pistol and handed it to me with the biggest damned grin on his face.

"Holy shit. You built in a hold out. Holy shit."

"You remember those cigar box hold outs that mounted under an office desk drawer? Well, there you go."

"Well, shit! Bill me for the pistol. I gotta find a range and get some practice in!"

I LIKE .22 magnums. I had a laser mounted under the barrel.

The day finally came--the test drive. I took the horns and Kev climbed in behind me. We had temp tags on it from his shop. They were bike tags even though the thing would eventually be classed as an exotic.

We'd tested the engine before and gotten it tuned up. With full tanks and a co-pilot it handled like a dream. I shifted up and down easily, then we took off down the highway to Madison. Two hours later we rolled into town. I treated him to a good lunch and we motored back. It got about 31 MPG without the trailer.

I paid Kev off, hooked up the trailer and took it for a test drive. Yes. This was doable. The braking was a caution, but the transferred tongue weight pressed down on the rear wheels for good traction. I sure wouldn't want to stop fast in slippery or icy conditions, but steering, tracking and acceleration was fine.

I stopped down at the DMV to have the thing certified and paid for both sets of plates. With the cert in hand my next stop was a big name national insurance company. My age and driving record got me adecent rate and I paid up for a year. There. I was fucking legal (if you ignored the ordnance.).

Kev had wired the signal socket for the trailer. We tested the battery charging circuit and trailer lights.

I was good to go. I took my blue bomber back to the apartment for the last time and went to bed.

Come morning, I packed up everything I wanted, called the landlord and told them that I was leaving the

key on the kitchen counter, took out the trash, loaded the car and left.

At the shop I transferred what I wanted to keep, signed the title to the car over to Kev, shook his hand and hit the road. I headed South-Westerly until I hit 80, then West to Omaha Nebraska. Just west of town was a park I could stay at and next to it--a place I'd always wanted to visit--the SAC museum. That's the museum of the Strategic Air Command. I've never been so close to so many giant jets and turboprop aircraft before. I took pictures and got a sweat shirt. Next stop, Kearney Nebraska where

I could find one of Cabela's anchor stores. The place was HUGE. It was a hell of a lot harder shopping in there than through the Internet. The store organization kind of sucked unless you either worked there or were a local. It was fun, though. I picked up an oilskin slicker, a lined zip-up hoodie and a wool sweater.

I headed South and spent the night in a small town between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. I spent the night in a hotel and took advantage of the copious hot water and the shower. I reminded myself to go get a laundry bag and pack some soap.

After a steak and egg breakfast I hitched a bit West, then South to Abilene. I was headed for Carlsbad. I got a bit hungry around Sweetwater so I stopped off for gas and asked where I could find a good place to eat. He sent me to a steak house where I pigged out. This was really turning into a great trip.

I hit a strip mall for kicks and looked around. A big Target superstore had my laundry stuff. I got some spare toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. I picked up a box of wooden dominos, a deck of cards and

a couple of paperbacks. I threw in a wind-up alarm clock. I had another nice dinner--smoked pulled pork with sides of coleslaw and tangy beans. I would have to start doing sit-ups! I could get to like living around here. I spent the night in the Target parking lot with a few other campers.

I was awakened out of a sound sleep at about three ten. At least that's what the clock said. I got dressed and grabbed my derringer. When I stuck my head out the door I saw a skinny guy wailing away on a teenager he had down on the asphalt. I walked over, put the derringer to his ear and cocked it.

"I'm gonna clean your fucking ears for waking me up asshole."

I shoved the barrel right into his ear. He lunged away and scrambled into a run, disappearing into the night. I heard a diesel big rig start up and take off just down the block.

I looked down at the kid. He was in tough shape. The guy had been pounding his head against the asphalt. There was blood everywhere. I heard sirens so I holstered my holdout and pulled out a folding knife.

I raised my hands as the police cars stopped with their lights on me. I pointed down at the kid and took two steps back, keeping my arms up.

Four cops convened on us. I knew how THIS was going to start. Yep--

"What happened?"

Thank God an older couple came out of their trailer and started talking a mile a minute. They're the ones that had called it in.

"We heard screaming and cursing. Eve looked out and saw a fella just beating the hell out of that kid on the ground. This here fella came up to him with something in his hand, said something and shoved it in his ear. The other one took off like he'd been shot."

"Do you know this man?"

"Naww, never set eyes on him before. Just saw his bike pull up before sunset."

One cop looked over my ride and said dryly "Nice rig."

"Thanks. Ex wife, new trike."

"Done that, but got a truck."

One cop had obviously been on the radio as I heard more sirens and an ambulance pulled up. As they were putting the kid on a backboard his cap came off--or rather her cap came off. Red hair spilled down around her head. She may have been pretty under all that but you couldn't tell through the grime and blood.

I was going to stick around for a while to see how this turned out.

I spoke up. "I heard a semi peel out just after I chased that guy away."

Sweetwater had four highways going in and out of town but only one interstate. One cop rushed over to his car to call in what I'd said. Maybe we'd get lucky.

"What the hell did you poke him with to chase him off like that?"

I held up a buck folding hunter.

"Yep. That'll do it."

"Anyplace I can stay around here for a while? I want to see how she turns out."

"Well, she'll be at Rolling Plains hospital at the South end of town on 70. There's a place or two you're welcome to in Santa Fe park North of town on 70."

He wrote me a note for the local ranger and signed it.

"Thanks! She looked some screwed up."

"Yeah. Not too lively."

I said my goodbyes and went back to bed. Morning would come early enough.

Seventeen-year-old Nina May Prescott was a runaway. They found her ID on her and called her home. The number had been disconnected. The police department placed an enquiry with the police in Rolla Missouri, just outside Fort Leonard Wood. She was missing and presumed dead after her family had been killed in a burglary gone wrong, then the house set on fire to cover up the crime. Her body was missing.

There must have been more to this story, but the unconscious young lady wasn't talking. The hospital administration knew that she would be cared for as a charity case and a caseworker assigned to make sure she was cared for.

Four days later she woke up with a lacerated scalp, broken right wrist, broken right forearm and broken right collarbone. When she became lucid she described the semi driver and the rig he was driving pretty well.

Someone watching found him in a Fort Worth truck stop. He was stupid. Her backpack was still in his sleeper. She'd been at a friend's house the night of the murders. She was hitch-hiking to try to get to her aunt's place outside of Tuscon Arizona when she was picked up by Mr. Mother Trucker. Her caseworker got in touch with her Aunt and told her the story. There was a bit of squawking and arm waving, and rightfully so as she was almost beaten to death.

I didn't have anywhere to be, so I stuck around. After getting introduced I visited her every day while she healed enough to get mobile. We played cards and dominos and talked a lot. She was bored spitless. A smart kid, she knew she was in deep doodoo.

"Pete, how the hell am I going to get to Green Valley from here? I'm busted and busted up." I didn't say anything but I had an idea. You didn't need a right wing to ride a queen seat. I went down to the cop shop and laid it out to them.

"She needs a ride and I've got an empty seat and a mobile place to stay. Whaddaya say I spring the fifty for a background check, you run me, we get the OK from her aunt and set up check-in times with her and

I float her down the road on a nice comfortable ride?

Well, that kicked a nest of snakes. Nina was fine with it.

Nina's aunt was fine with it with the check-in proviso.

The cops were even fine with it.

Her caseworker about shit herself stupid. Nina called in her caseworker and laid into her.

"You want to drive me home?"

"Well, I can't. I have responsibilities..."

"Yeah, right. Got money for bus fare?"

"We work within federal guidelines, and..."

"Hold it right there. You're supposed to be working for me, not throwing roadblocks up. What problem do you have with Pete taking me home?"

"He's a BIKER! Have you seen that nasty looking thing in the parking lot? It's DANGEROUS!"

"It's certified road-worthy or it wouldn't have plates. He drove it here from Milwaukee Wisconsin, for God's sake. He doesn't have a beard, earring or tattoos. He doesn't smell. He wears clean clothes.

Wise up, lady. The cops said he's not got a record in any state. What more do you want? A halo?"

The caseworker finally caved.

They let her go after 18 days in bed. She was shaky but glad to be out. She was grinning like a fool as I helped her into the seat.

"This is comfortable!"

"Yep. It's a good design and the backrest really helps."

The camper was already hooked up so I started the engine. We hit Target for a few necessaries for her like sneakers, pants, socks, underwear, blouses, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a wind-breaker and a small suitcase--namely everything she'd need; and a couple pair of sweat pants for me to sleep in (modesty forbid!). Then we rolled off West.

We'd been traveling a while when I got a bright idea.

"Have you ever seen Carlsbad Caverns?"

"No. Why?"

"I haven't either. That's where I was originally headed. Want to make a side-trip? There's supposedly a state park with a nice lake just North of there to overnight. Call your aunt to see if she agrees to it."

That's how we ended up staying at Brantley Lake State Park on a beautiful night in Mid-March. Don't wander off into the scrub to take a pee--it's the Northern-most edge of the Chihuahua Desert. There'r things out there that have claws that catch and teeth that snatch--and that's the plants!

The campsites are very nice with a brick wall at each site to protect the picnic table from the wind and flying sand. Just don't sleep on the ground--you might wake up with a long scaly visitor cuddled up to you for warmth.

She couldn't sleep easily on the couch so I took it. I went to the men's room to change. I think she found it funny. We snacked on bagels and coffee for breakfast, then found the cave complex. We loaded her into a complimentary wheelchair as she was still quite frail and took the elevator down.

We took the Queen's Cavern tour.

After that I resolved to always have an LED flashlight in my pocket.

Jesus.

I bought a buttload of pictures and got her some too. Carlsbad Caverns is amazing, but nobody can take pictures like the ones they sell--the lighting must have been staged for the photography session. Glorious.

We had a late lunch in Carlsbad and headed down the road to Tuscon.

We overnighted in Los Cruces, about 25 miles from Mexico. I bought a cowboy hat. Sunset the next day saw us rolling up to her aunt's house. You should have seen the look on her aunt's face as I helped her niece off the seat.

I have to admit, I have a badass ride.

I grabbed her suitcase out of the camper and helped her up to the steps.

She turned and hugged me, kissing my cheek. I grinned and hugged her back--gently. Her ribs were still pretty bruised up.

"Oh my God! I had no idea..." Nina looked like a rainbow in browns from the bruising.

"It's OK now, Aunt June. I look horrible, I know, but Pete here (one arm hug) saved me and got me here. He's my best bud. He's been a perfect gentleman."

She turned to me, suddenly getting serious.

"Pete, stay in touch. I've got your email address so I'll be talking to you, too."

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