The Ravine Runners
It was no big deal for OD to gain control
of the rapidly backing lawnmower, but his agile mind was also cogitating
over the last image he'd seen of "Phyllis" Steen, removing feminine augmentation
as she headed toward the house... He could see the writing on the
lawn... So after he adjusted the clutch on the lawnmower, he headed
on down the road.
Life had tossed a few curves to OD Esse, but he usually managed to weasel his way to first base anyway. His current scheme having "gang agley," as the poet Burns liked to note (to frequently puzzled Englishmen), he mowed a few lawns while contemplating his next adventure. Although the words "devious," "cunning," and "insane" frequently occur in the same sentence when one talks about OD Esse, he wasn't really a bad man, just mischievous, as his Aunt Polly would often point out to his parole officer.
But he liked to think of himself as a man of his word. Most people who encountered him, including Phil Steen, would have laughed uproariously at this approbation, but technically, at least with Phil, he did keep his word. And the words plaguing him now as he mowed lawns were: "real adventure, beautiful lovesick babes, jewel robberies, secret societies, hobnobbing with the literati." Having mentioned these things on a whim to Phil Steen, they became his roadmap to the future.
The only secret society that OD knew of were the Masons, and, he thought, how secret were they? The ones that didn't ride in wheel chairs rode in little cars and motorcycles in parades... I mean, if you're in a secret organization should you be in parades? he thought.
That night, in a cheap motel room,
OD watched an early Peter Sellers movie, about running a small movie theater.
One of the movies that they showed in the theater was called, "The Mystery
of Hell Valley." A quick check on his spare laptop showed there was
no real movie by that name. Hmm, he thought, that means
the Mystery of Hell Valley has never been solved. You've got
to stay up pretty late in the evening to have a mind as convoluted as OD
Esse's. He also found that there was no Hell Valley, but it was a
small leap for him to figure the mystery actually involved Hell's Canyon,
which also was much closer geographically than any other likely possibilities...
As he thought of Hell's Canyon, he thought of Evil Knievel trying to jump the canyon on his rocket powered motorcycle back in the 1970's. Hell's Canyon, in its own way, was as much a product of hype as Evil Knievel. Although for some reason technically the deepest gorge in the U.S. most of the time it's fairly wide and boring, and much less scenic than the southwestern U.S. canyons of greater renown. That same wideness (up to a mile) made it way too challenging for Knievel to jump it, so he bailed shortly after lift off, a glorious fizzle.
The next day, OD bought a ticket, at the same bus terminal in Coeur D'Alene that had briefly seen Phil Steen a few days earlier, for Lewiston, Idaho. As he got on, he thought, this is not looking good in the macho image department--buses= not cool, or my bad, or whatever the current vernacular equivalent... Every seat seemed to be taken by older overweight average Americans and skinny teenage single mothers with their unhappy children. He couldn't believe his luck when the only seat available was by a beautiful raven haired woman. In spite her intense good lucks, she had a reserved sad air about her face. One love sick babe--CHECK! thought OD Esse.
"Do you realize what a burden it is,
being as beautiful as I am," she asked. OD wasn't sure about the safe reply.
It didn't matter--the question was rhetorical... "I've had to do
nothing but fend off sickos since Seattle," she said. "So if you
touch that little fold-down arm rest that separates our seats, I will first
scream bloody murder, then take you out with a few deft self defense skills,
and stuff your sorry face down into the weird chemical laboratory they
call a toilet on this crate..."
"Er, ah, nice to meet you, too," he said. He studied his ticket stub for the next ten minutes, without moving any extremities, or middles.
She finally broke the silence... "Not that I meant anything nasty to you, specifically. I just think it's important to establish the ground rules from the start... Right?"
"Er, ah. Right. Were you addressing me?"
"No, I was just muttering to myself like the Fundamentalist Druid Extremist in the row behind us... Who else would I be talking to?..."
OD looked around, somewhat hopefully. Finally he had to concede the point, that she was indeed talking to him. The Druid Extremist was clearly talking to himself.
"It's just that this is the first time I've ridden a bus. I usually fly. But we figured by the time I got to the Seattle airport two hours early, and transferred in Spokane, the bus was actually quicker... I'm going down to work at my uncle's jewelry store..."
OD made an invisible checkmark in his head, next to "jewel robbery."
By the time the bus was starting down
the long winding grade to Lewiston, OD was almost on a first name basis
with his seatmate.
"Gee, I don't even know your name," OD finally blurted.
"That's right, you don't," she said. "And I can't think of a good reason why you should know it..."
"Er, ah. So what sort of stuff will you do at your uncle's jewelry store?"
"I expect I'll help pack up the expensive stuff and put it in the safe every night, and probably learn to sell overpriced necklaces to guys who don't have a clue..."
"That's me, alright... Adventurers like me don't sweat the small stuff... If I come back from an expedition with a chest of pirate treasure, I leave the valuation to professionals... But, that reminds me, I was thinking of buying a necklace for my um, niece. So would you mind if I went with you to the jewelry store..."
"Yes, I mind, but I expect I can't avoid it. Just remember as we journey there, I know Tai Chi and Feng Shui..."
"If we run into any Chinese, I'll let you talk to them," OD said.
They walked into downtown Lewiston from the bus depot, crossing the Clearwater River on the way, and looked upstream to the mill.
OD said, " I was wondering what the awful smell was--there's nothing like a paper mill..."
She replied, "My uncle always said it was the smell of money."
"Money doesn't smell too good," he replied...
As they approached the downtown area, they noticed several police cars, and more as they approached the jewelry store... Uncle Fred was standing in front of the shop, talking to two police officers. As they approached, one of the officers grabbed OD and leaned him against the wall.
"Melissa!" the jeweler cried. "The store's just been robbed!"
Melissa (for such she was) said
to the police: "I think your instincts are good, pinching this guy on principle,
but unfortunately he's been with me on the bus from Coeur D'Alene the last
3 hours, so I don't think he was involved in any jewelry store heist."
Her uncle Fred explained to the police, "This is my niece, who came to help work in my shop... But who is your friend in the pith helmet?"
"He's just some kook I met on the bus," said Melissa. "So do you have any idea who it was that robbed you?"
"The police think they know, but they've been powerless to catch him. They don't know his name, but they call him The Ravine Runner. The theory is that he and some local disenchanted poets are living in the brush around Lewiston, coming out of the ravines only when they need to rob somewhere for supplies."
"Yes, mam," said the police officer. "He's not exactly dangerous--just eccentric. He doesn't even claim to have a weapon in his robberies."
Uncle Fred said, "He threatened me with a zucchini and ennui. I'd never heard such a threat before, so I gave in at once... He seemed so serious. And it was a large zucchini..."
"Fortunately my store is insured.
But it will be several weeks before I get enough inventory to reopen.
I'm not sure if there's much for you to do in the meantime..."
"It's not right to let some punk poet wreck your business, Uncle Fred. I think I'll find him and reclaim the jewels."
"Well, it's true that the insurance company would probably pay a reward for their return, but I worry that it could be dangerous for you..."
"Danger is my middle name," said OD...
"I suppose Obnoxious is your first name..." said Melissa.
"That's why they call me OD," he said.
" I thought it was because a little of you is way too much," said Melissa.
"I'm too much for a gang of literary thieves. That's why I'll come along, to protect you."
"Ha, do you remember a few minutes ago when we weren't on a first name basis? Let's return to that happy time..."
"Melissa, he does appear to be strong and capable..." said Uncle Fred.
"There's probably few things he's not capable of..." she replied.
"So I accept. I'll take good care of your niece, Fred. And we'll find the jewels."
"Okay, OD. You know I like
to get the ground rules straight. If we find the jewels, we split
the insurance money 75-25."
"You're much too generous."
"Okay, we'll make it 80-20. I might feel guilty if I gave you less than 20 per cent."
"Now wait a minute. I thought I was the one to get the 80 per cent."
For someone named Melissa, she had an imperious way about her, that reminded OD of certain elementary teachers that he remembered too well. For the moment, he capitulated.
They started by going to the local
bookstore. Melissa figured most bookstore owners are really stunted
authors, or at least they know the literate fringe who frequent book
shops as a sort of shrine. When they entered the bookstore, OD took
on a bit of swagger and walked towards the counter.
"Shall I lift him up by the lapels and compel him to talk?" he asked Melissa, almost rhetorically.
"Go find some Tarzan novels or something and leave him to me," said Melissa.
Observing her from a distance, OD noticed she actually had some feminine wiles, which she apparently chose not to use on OD, but was comfortably employing them interrogating the clerk. Then he noticed some TinTin comics and in reading them lost track of time.
Melissa tapped OD on the shoulder. "If I'd been a wayward poet, you'd be a goner."
"And if I were a carpenter, you'd be a lady," he replied, in the glib, off the cuff, questionably sane way OD had.
While they were arguing, they were
quietly being surrounded by the Ravine Runners.
"Ack!" cried Melissa. "They're armed with vegetables!"
"And sharp wits!" their leader cried, while brandishing his cabbage fiercely. "Care to join us for some stew?"
"Uh, sure," said Melissa, who noticed the others had carrots, egg plants, onions, and potatoes.
"I was just explaining, I have poetry on the braining," said OD.
"I'll be the one to do the braining around here," said the leader waggling his cabbage meaningfully... He wore a cape, and a beret, and had a slight mustache. "Why did you follow me from the bookstore?"
"We are Bohemian poets as yourselves, and hoped to be invited to your gypsy stew party, and bray at the full moon," said OD.
"Nice pith helmet," said Zoltan (whose given name was Frank, but decided that was too boring). "And you're expecting me to believe this raven haired beauty is a poet as well?" he asked.
"Not that I couldn't be, if I chose," she said. "But I'm far more important than just another poet. I am his muse. I fill his poetry with unrequited longing, anguish and remorse."
"Are you published?" Zoltan asked OD.
"Not since high school," OD admitted, truthfully.
"I would have expected as much. The market is glutted with unrequited longing right now. The glib poet grabs the glory."
"I started as a cowboy poet," said
Zoltan, as they cut up vegetables for the cast iron pot. "This stew
evolved from countless Dutch Oven cookoffs at small town celebrations.
But finally I realized I wasn't a real cowboy, so it was all a sham.
This group of misfits you see around you were all failed cowboy poets as
Whoopy ti yay," one of them said, disconsolately.
"What's more, the pay for poets is lousy," one of them added.
"What we really want to do, is get enough cash together to see the sights of Europe. The Sewers of Paris, the Catacombs of Rome."
"Wouldn't that be kind of depressing?" OD asked.
"Yes, but it would be a Continental sort of depressing," said Zoltan. "Probably poets are supported by the government over there, so we'd do all right..."
Suddenly Melissa stood up, and took
a menacing Tai Chi stance. "Enough of this idle chitchat," she cried.
"We've come to get back my uncle Fred's jewelry!"
"Er, yes!," cried OD, jumping up as well. "And we've got the jump on you, because all your vegetables are chopped up for the stew!"
"Except for this pumpkin!" cried Melissa, lifting it above her head. "Stay back--I know how to use it!"
"What? You're going to carve it?" said OD.
With cries of "Curses!" and "Welladay!" and "I never," the Ravine Runners looked more disconsolate than ever.
"Look, it's not so bad," said Melissa to the Ravine Runners. "You've just learned that being poets isn't all it's cracked up to be. You need to go back to school, get your teaching certificates, and you can be high school English teachers..."
"Anything but that!" cried Zoltan. "Take your Uncle's baubles, and leave us to our ravines! We'll find some other chicken to pluck."
The poets emptied their pockets of the jewelry, then ran off towards the river. Melissa ordered OD to gather the jewels, and ran after them.
"Don't do anything foolish!" she cried, as they ran to the edge of the water. But the Ravine Runners jumped into the river and swam out into the current, towards a grain barge headed downriver. She watched as they clambered up on the back of one of the barges. She headed back to make sure OD didn't do anything foolish, either.
They returned with the jewelry to Uncle
Fred's store. She made OD turn out all his pockets, but her
uncle was not too nitpicking as he was thrilled to see the great bulk of
his jewelry returned safely. They called the insurance agency, and
within a couple days she received a settlement which she reluctantly
shared with OD.
"It's not like you did anything to earn it," she said.
"Well, I backed you up in a menacing yet effective manner," he said.
"At least you got the adventure you were wanting," she said.
"Yes, I got most of it, although robbing a jewelry store might have been more interesting than just catching the robbers. But I missed out on the secret organization part that I was counting on," said OD.
"Secret organization?" asked Uncle Fred. "I belong to the Masons."
"I'll watch for you in the parades," said OD.
Meanwhile, on board a grain barge headed
down the Columbia, the poets philosophized.
"Life is lovely on a raft," said Zoltan.
"Perhaps we should get off at the little towns along the way and try being thespians," said one of his hench poets.
"Naw, we're guys," said one of the others.
Nearby, a rat with a cocktail umbrella observed them and sniffed, "That's the trouble with going tourist class--having to put up with the riff raff...
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
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