Man of Old

three

When he asked the clerk for keys to one of the jeeps, he made a prediction to himself. Sure enough, there came questions: “Where are you going? Why didn’t you request this earlier?”

“I just wanted to follow the river upstream, have a picnic, and maybe do a little fishing,” he explained. He found the expression on the clerk’s face to be one that seemed strange, not quite genuine concern, at least not for his sake.

“Yeah, well, it’s a real wilderness out there. There are snakes, spiders, scorpions and a lot of dangerous hazards. We can’t just wander off.” The clerk had assumed a rather haughty attitude, and he found that he didn’t much care for it.

“On the contrary, as an adult, I’m quite accustomed to making my own assessment of risk.”

“The Professor wouldn’t like this, he’s responsible for us you know.”

He found he was growing impatient, but he felt as though there was more than authoritarian bureaucracy at work here.

“The hell he is, we all signed waivers releasing him from liability. We also had to pass survival courses to prove we were ready for the dangerous environment.”

“Well, the equipment belongs to the Professor, and that includes the jeeps.”

“Right, and part of the fees we paid is for the use and maintenance of those vehicles.”

“I don’t know…” the clerk began, as though stalling for some new excuse to deny the request.

“I do know. I’ve got a free weekend and you’re cutting into it. I paid for these things and I’d like their use now, if you don’t mind doing your job like your supposed to.”

As the clerk, his features slowly reacting to the subtle charge of incompetence, opened his mouth, no doubt to hinder things further, Harold spelled it out for him.

“Keys now, thank you. If the Professor has a problem, he can find me with the GPS.”

“Fine,” said the clerk, finally relenting “Don’t be surprised if he does.”

“Yeah?” he shot back at the clerk “I’d like the chance to discuss some things with him.”

The key ring jingled with his footsteps beneath, crunching gravel, sending tiny clouds of dust to swirl around his ankles. He was still a bit angry, but he let it go. He wondered why the clerk, whose task was so simple, had tried to make things so difficult. If he hadn’t been firm the clerk would have talked him out of it or at least delayed it. Why?

He checked the oil and fuel, ensuring the spare gas can was full. He checked the tires and the spare and then the battery and radio. The emergency medical kit was last, but not least. He had no intention of stranding himself out there or getting into trouble. When he was certain he was as prepared as he could be, he tossed his duffle bag into the passenger seat and climbed inside. He looked at his map.

It would mean a few hours of driving, and it would take more than a day to check all the sites he had marked on the map. Even if the jeeps suddenly became “unavailable” to him, he could cover a lot of ground today if he could just plot the right course.

He was surprised when he glanced at the dispensary building and saw the clerk peering out at him. He had a telephone to his ear, no doubt trying to summon the authority to stop him. So instead of making a careful plan, one that he had to admit might have yielded nothing, he set out immediately, merely to avoid more arguments.

 

Joe Stanley

Story by Joe Stanley

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