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Chapter 13: Eagle Crest

     


ThinkLink: What kind of a worker are you? Do you work hard and feel good about getting the job done? Or do you do just enough to get by?

       The sky's gray and a cool breeze off the ocean comes in through the trees along the trail. No rain yet. Sweat and dirt gum up on my face and neck. The trail we're working on is in a state park just above a beach. The work's hard at Eagle Crest, but it's a heck of a lot easier than it was the first couple of weeks. At least, my muscles don't hurt as much at night.


       I don't care how many times Corrie or Jerry or Dan or any of the rest of the staff say Spring's coming soon, I don't believe the sun ever comes out here. Working outdoors was what I liked best about living at the ranch and it's the best thing about Eagle Crest. Way better than Taylor Cottage and the rest of Fire Oak. The big drag is listening to the other guys gripe . Like they never worked hard before. Probably haven't. The worst of them's Randy. Like a Nightmare come true, Randy shows up here the week after I come. After all his loud talk. After him saying he'd never go to one of their stupid group places. After all that, he's here, bitching and moaning.


       I'm thinking about what to do next along this stretch of the trail when I hear Dan call me. "Hanson, get your crew back down to the clearing. Time to break for lunch." I'm crew chief this week. Doesn't mean a whole lot. Just about every guy gets to be crew chief if he's here long enough.


       I holler back to him, "We're coming." I turn back up the trail and yell, "All right, you guys, bring your tools and come back to the bus. Five minutes 'til eats," I hurry them on. I want to get to my lunch and eat it sitting on a log looking out over the ocean. When the clouds blow away, I can see out to where the earth curves right out of sight. In some ways the waves are like the hills at home, with the last ones rolling right over into the sky.


       I count the guys ... five ... six. "Who's left up there? Get a move on." Slow thumps let me know a couple more are coming down. It's Neil and Randy coming around the bend in the trail. So far Randy just shoots me dirty looks, but I keep an eye on him. Without Tony around I know I'm on my own if he pulls anything.


       Down in the meadow, all the snarling and arguing starts up again.


       "I got three blisters on one hand."


       "Not as big as mine on my heel, sucker. It's big as a quarter."


       "What you whining for? Look at this bruise? It's turning purple."


       It's my fourth day as crew chief. I like making out schedules and planning jobs, but I hold my breath when it's my turn at latrine duty to clean out the outhouses at the parking lot next to the trailhead . Dan says crew chiefs got to clean outhouses to keep them humble .


       I thought we'd be done with this stretch of trail Dan laid out before now, but we're no where near finished. These city kids would make piss-poor ranch hands , I know that.


       When it's time to go back to work, I get the crew together ... almost. "Neil, Randy, where the hell are you guys?" Pretty soon, they drag up to the trailhead and we climb up to where we left off. Not much gets done, though. Randy keeps out of my sight and more guys keep disappearing up around the side of the hill.


       Finally, Dan calls it a day. Back by the bus, I sit down on my log and eat an apple I saved from lunch. Neil comes up and sits down next to me. He's a skinny little kid. My age, but you can't tell that by looking at him. Pimply face, greasy hair, puny looking, but he hangs in there, working as hard as anybody. I think he wants to get home as much as I do.


       "Whatcha looking at?" he asks me.


       "The waves out there."


       Neil grunts. "Waves, huh?" He leans in closer and talks low. "I got to talk to you, quick, while Randy's off somewhere. Next week, while he's crew chief, he's planning to go on the run."


       "You serious?" That'd be something, getting Randy out of my hair that easy.


       Neil picks at a zit on his chin. "He figures on Monday we'll be working on that piece of trail over near the state highway. He's been sending kids up to look for a way down to the road that's out of sight and easy to get to."


       "How'd you find out so much about it?"


       "Randy thinks I'm going with him." Neil darts a look around to see if Randy's going to pop up out of the sand. "He's taking three or four guys. From the highway he figures they can get a ride into town."


       "If you're splitting , why're you telling me?"


       "You kidding? I'm due to go home in a couple of weeks. I don't want to be on the run." He looks at me funny. "You gonna snitch ?"


ThinkLink: What is a snitch? Have you ever been asked to tell on someone? What did you do?

       "Nah, you know I wouldn't do that." I give him a poke in the ribs. "Besides, you'd miss the rafting trip." The big thing staff's going to do for us after four weeks of building trail is to take us white water rafting. I been looking forward to it, but Neil looks seasick every time anybody mentions it.


       "You won't catch me bouncing around in any boat. Besides, my PO says I might even go home on a pass next weekend, or the one after. I don't want nothing to get in the way of that." He smiles, just thinking about it. "Maybe I'll be gone before you guys go."


       "What about Randy's hike?"


       "Why? You gonna do something about it?"


       "Are you kidding? Me?" Like Red would put it, Randy's escaping would make me no never mind. I'd like it if he was a million miles away. But then I think how great it'd be to cork Randy's bottle . I eye Neil. "You going to turn him in?"


        "Not me. I just want out of it. " He gave me a funny look. "I thought maybe you'd ... you and Randy ... you have this beef going all the time."


       "I'm not going to snitch on him, if that's what you're getting at."


       "Course not. Didn't think you would. I figured you'd come up with something ... maybe. I didn't mean to make you mad."


       "Don't sweat it. We got three days. Maybe I'll think of something." I look out over the ocean again and Neil scoots away when he sees Randy coming out of the outhouse at the end of the meadow. That leaves me to come up with a plan to back up my brag.


       

Saturday morning Corrie works us hard doing clean-up in the main building. She's a sort of good-looking female, even if she is twenty-five or more even.


       Today is Randy's first day as crew chief, and is he ever loving the right to give orders. The closer it gets to lunch time, the more he revs up. "Hanson, get them buckets over here. Mopping this floor is the last thing on the list, and you gotta have it done by 11:30. Get them boot marks cleaned off." He goes around the room, leaving a trail of grumbling kids behind him. "Neil, you start putting away the brooms and stuff. The rest of you guys put them chairs and tables back." A couple of times, Dan looks like he's going to step in and tone down Randy's bossy orders, but then he steps back and watches.


       Neil takes the mop from me, and shakes the working end around my head. "If I wasn't going home soon, I'd mop him right on the end of Randy's pointy nose."


       "Hey, shake that thing at him, not me. You're getting me all wet."


ThinkLink: Have you ever experienced a bully like Randy? Have you ever been one?

       Neil plunks the mop back down into the bucket of dirty water. "Am I ever glad he's gonna take a hike Monday," he whispers in my ear. "Think of having to listen to him go on like this for a whole week." Then he leans even closer, "He's still counting me in. Can't you do something?"


       Randy pops up behind us. "You guys going to talk all day? Get to work. And Hanson, if I didn't have better stuff to do I'd..."


       "You and who else?"


       "I got my guys. You just watch out for us."


       "Sure, Randy," I say with a grin and he walks away like he doesn't see.


       I grab the mop and swish it around in the bucket. I turn back to Neil. "I've got an idea, but I'll have to know for sure where we'll be on the trail when he plans to make a break for it. Can you find out for me?"


       "Yeah. Three of them's going -- Randy, Cal and Terry -- only they think it's four, 'cause I ain't telling I'm backing out. Randy'd kill me. I'll see you later and fill you in." Half of him's scared to death of Randy and the other half loves playing private eye .



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 Updated on 9/30/03

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