6 The Old Switcheroo
"Look," he said, "I give you the
truck. It's filled with tires headed to Missoula. I take over
your life here. It's simple."
"But this is my life," I said, a bit petulantly. First the bitar player, now this...
"Yeah, and what have you done with your life so far?"
That did sting a bit. Almost anyone's life, closely examined, doesn't amount to much more than a mortgage and a nuptial or 3.
"Any day now, I hope to make a major contribution to Banjo Magazine with my article on the perfect banjo tuning..."
"That's just my point. I'm a rough and ready guy who makes interesting things happen. That's why I decided to take over."
"So what are you planning to do, assuming I go along with this outlandish idea?"
"I'll have real adventure, beautiful lovesick babes, jewel robberies, secret societies, hobnobbing with the literati."
"Sounds fun. Perhaps I could just join you..."
"The tires have to get to Missoula. After that, the laptop will tell you your next pickup..."
I have to admit that the truck was
quite an inducement, as well as the laptop computer... Before I knew
it, I was grinding through the gears (been a while since I drove a clutch)
and heading for Montana... Although the truck didn't like those narrow
Idaho passes, I did... I was feeling on top of the world. I stopped
at a rest area at the top of the pass, and spent a lot of time looking
for the beautiful calypso orchids, and I found a few interesting mushrooms,
as well. I felt like I could stay up there forever...
It was only after I'd offloaded the tires in Missoula, and was headed to Billings with some pallets of salad dressing, that I remembered I'd left my wife behind in this wild and surreal adventure... Well, not exactly behind, since she wasn't due back until tonight, but still... I'd probably been going east on I-90 and passed her going west without noticing...
Fortunately I'd brought my cell phone, so I gave her a ring... Unfortunately, her phone was not receiving. So I called home.
"Say, OD," I said, when he picked up, "There's a little problem here... I'm married."
"You're a bit confused," he said. "I'm Phil Steen, and you're O.D. Esse. Besides, I'm not interested in your marital troubles..."
"Well, the thing is, my (or is it "your") wife will be coming home this evening..."
"Thanks for warning me. I'll clean up a bit and stock up on champagne..." He hung up and wouldn't answer my repeated rings... Finally my cell phone ran out of juice, and I'd forgotten to bring the charger... This was all getting to be a bit much...
Not too far east of Missoula,
while brooding on what I should do about this guy not only taking my life,
but my wife, I went into a curve too quickly and hung the truck up on the
cement railings that separated the parts of the freeway. I was unhurt,
but the truck and the laptop were totaled. Rather than wait
for the highway patrol to come and give me a worse time than I was already
having, I walked away from the wreck down to the river that the freeway
was always crossing.
The flowing river waters seemed to ease my mind. I started to notice the birds, the flowers, the two women out in waders fly fishing. They slowly worked their way up to where I was. While I would have politely ignored them, they greeted me in a friendly manner, and we fell to chatting. By and by the topic of the truck wreck came up, and I admitted I'd been the cause and victim of the accident, but went on to explain my predicament vis a vis my wife and life...
They offered to take me to their parents' place, a sort of fly-fisher's paradise, and see what they could do to get me home...
When we arrived
at the large log house, there were lots of cars there already. Natasha,
the friendlier of the two daughters, said her father could probably set
me up with a way to return to Idaho. When we got inside, there was
a major party in progress, with food and drink filling tables, and guests
in every room... The parents, clearly a bit in their cups, suggested
that they could deal with it all tomorrow better, so before long I'd had
my share of food and drink, and passed out in a corner...
The next day was the Trout Festival. The guests lined the bank of the river, flicking their fly rods at the rising fish. I had only a mind for getting going, until some lout suggested I wasn't in the fishing derby because I only used worms... I grabbed a fly rod, and as he fled my rapid undulations, I snagged the hat off his head... It was a brilliant maneuver--in retrospect it would have been better if it hadn't been inadvertant, but still the point was made.
The day went by in a haze, and soon the evening returned with eating, drinking, and merry making. Finally Natasha's parents seemed ready to come to my aid. From my experience with alien abduction, I didn't bother to stand on incredulous truth, but simplified to the convenient lie. This fit right in with the fishing stories the others were telling. I told a few tales of one-eyed Big Foots, killer waterfalls on Pussywillow Creek and the like to get them softened up. Then I told how an identity thief was even now likely cosying up to my wife of many years.
By the time I had finished, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, although I believe some cried from cynical laughter in addition to those with tears of sympathy. Someone proposed that the next morning I ride the bus back home to Spokane. Why hadn't I thought of that? To answer my own question, I think it was because I hadn't ridden a bus in so long, that it wasn't even a glint in my vision.
The next morning Natasha took me to the bus depot, and I headed back home...
Meanwhile, back in Spokane, the faux
"Phil Steen" was trying his best to ingratiate himself to a reluctant Alice
She said, "I can't imagine why you think I should believe you're Phil. You don't look anything like him. Much more handsome, I admit... But I'm not like some piece of property to be won at a poker game... Anyway, if you're going to be my husband, I've got a chore list you can start on, before we go onto anything like sleeping arrangements..."
Later that afternoon, she received a report from the police that a truck, with her husband's wallet in it, was found on I-90 east of Missoula, with the driver apparently ejected into the river and drowned. Alice immediately went into seclusion...
At every bus
stop on the way home, Phil would stop and try to call home. All the
bus stops were the same--no longer having pay phones due to the cell phone
revolution. As he sat watching the trees and mountains roll by, he
began to spin more and more elaborate theories of what was going on back
home with that truck driver and his wife... When, at midnight, he
got to the deserted metal building which was the Coeur D'Alene bus terminal,
he decided he'd better stay the night at his friend Larry's, and feel out
the home situation carefully. Although a standard male, usually unable
to ask directions or borrow a cell phone to save his life, he rose
above his gender limitations and talked a young woman into letting him
make a short call to his friend Larry, who agreed to pick him up at once...
The next morning, over breakfast, they talked things over. Larry could see the potential for some problems on the home front. It didn't look good either way, he was quick to point out. So it was Larry's idea to disguise Phil, so he could see the lay of the land. Larry had briefly joined the Straight Cross-Dressers High Kicking Floozee Revue, which entertained at PTA functions and other charitable fundraisers in the area, so he was able to trick Phil out in a suitable feminine disguise.
As he approached the yard, he could see Alice out in the
yard with fake Phil.
He was saying, "Okay, I've fixed the plumbing leaks, cleaned the gutters, and trimmed the hedges. You know your old Phil is never coming back. Get over it, and let's get cozy..."
Alice said, "I suppose you're right. In today's world, there's no reason to spend valuable months in mourning... But for me to know that you can fill Phil's shoes, you've got to be able to mow the lawn with Phil's lawnmower. No one else has ever been able to make it go. If it will go for you, I'll take it as a sign that you're a suitable suitor..."
For a moment, Phil was aghast. There was his wife, offering herself to the one who would mow her lawn. Then he thought about it again, how he'd de facto traded her for a truck and a laptop, and decided he would control his temper if the fidelity subject came up. What's more, he didn't think the guy could make the Old Behemoth run anyway. Perhaps it was a clever ploy on his wife's part to put him off.
He decided to try out his disguise
on the tricky Teamster.
"Hello," he said in as good a falsetto as he could manage, "I'm Phil's sister Phyllis... I heard about the horrible accident..."
"Yeah, totaling a perfectly good White Freightliner. What a turkey, I mean, terrible thing..."
"Say, that's the mower only Phil could start... He called it the Big Behemoth..."
The fake Phil sat down on the mower. "It probably just needs the choke adjusted... Yep. There it goes, starts right up...."
"Yes," Phil said, "That was never the issue. But try to mow the lawn with it..."
The fake Phil put it into reverse and started backing out of the garage. And kept backing, and speeding up...
"Hey!" He yelled, "It won't stop!"
"Yeah," he cried, whipping off his wig. " I'm the only one could ever stop it! And the chances I stop it for you are zilch!" He watched the mower fade off into the distance...
That's two pieces of trash removed at once, Phil thought.
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
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