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Chapter 14: Randy's Plan

     


ThinkLink: Has a friend ever told you about something bad that he/she was mixed up in?

       The trip into town's quieter than usual, and I know why. Instead of trading insults up and down the aisle of the old school bus like they usually do, Randy and his guys are talking real low in the back seat. I stare out the window, trying not to think about what a mess of rotten eggs they're hatching. The storm's passed over -- no clouds in the sky and sunshine so bright it hurts my eyes. Like home, blue sky and sunshine.


       "Listen up, you guys," Dan tells us as he pulls the bus in at the back of the supermarket parking lot in the little beach town. "You remember the drill. You've got one hour here along Main Street. We'll go into the store so you can buy chips or pop and then we'll walk down to the Arcade and you can play some video games. I'm right here with you, so watch your step. We head back at four o'clock sharp. Got it?"


       I squirm around, impatient to get off, jingling the quarters in my pocket. But the kids in the back charge down the aisle and elbow their way out the door first. When I finally make it down the steps, Randy's pushed his way into the phone booth in front of the store. I see him shut the door and put his hand over his mouth while he talks. Real cop-show stuff. He didn't need to go to the trouble. All I can hear is traffic noise and kids behind me arguing about their place in line for the phone. Dan stands off to the side, taking it all in, watching to see the guys don't get too rough. Finally, Randy comes out, a sly smile on his face. His guys crowd around him, anxious to find out if their plot's thickening .


       Finally, I get my turn at the phone. It rings and rings. I can't figure it out. I give it up to the next kid and walk along behind Dan to the Arcade , planning to try again at the pay phone there. Sure, Red and Pete have probably gone to town, but Mom ought to be there. She knows I call on Saturdays. I kick the sidewalk hard enough to hurt my foot. Dan looks around and then goes on. Likely Mom took the kids somewhere with Norman. I know I'm feeling sorry for myself, but what the hell. Who deserves it more?


       For a whole hour, one guy after another uses the phone at the Arcade . When I get another turn it's almost time to go. No matter. No one answers.


       I ignore Neil when he calls me, so he pulls on the arm of my jean jacket. "Walk with me, easy, like we was out sightseeing." While we walk back down the street to the bus, me not sure what a sightseer's supposed to look like. Neil looks over his shoulder. "Got to talk to you. This is what Randy plans to do..."


       I stop him. "All you have to do, Neil, is stay away from them on Monday. Keep me out of it."


       "He'll get me into it somehow. I know too much to leave behind."


       "Yeah. Know too much. This isn't a James Bond movie ."


       "I do too know too much." He sulks as we line up by ourselves at the bus. Everyone else is still down the street.


       "So what're they going to do?"


       "It's all set for Monday. This guy he knows is borrowing a car. He'll pick them up on the road right at lunch time. That's when you'll all be going down your side of the hill to get your lunches. They'll be out of sight long enough to get down and catch their ride before Dan misses 'em. Pretty slick, huh?"


       "It could work for the first few miles, but what're they gonna do then? They haven't got much money and no food. They're even planning to leave before lunch. Dumb."


       Neil kind of bristles , like he's obliged to stand up for the them, more or less being part of the plan. "They say they're gonna make it."


       "Wait a minute. You're not thinking of going with them are you? Supposing you did get away? They'd catch you sooner or later. Then back to Fire Oak. Or suppose Dan and Corrie figure out what you're all up to and stop it. The very least, it could wreck your home visits. You want to get outta here for good, don't you?"


       Neil bobs his head up and down. "No way am I going to miss a home visit."


       Part of me wants no part in this. But the rest of me is really tempted and it's not all revenge. It's about time somebody stops Randy cold. Tony said to stand up to him. It's the only thing he understands.


       Neil is still pestering . "You've got to help."


       "You can count me in."


       "Really? You mean it?"


       "Remember that place where you slipped and almost fell down the hill on Friday? It's close to where we'll be working Monday. We'll figure out something to do there that'll stop them, at least for that one day."


       "What good'll that do?"


       "If they miss their ride, the guy with the car won't be back, at least until they can call him again. By then you'll be home, and maybe I'll be on my way back to the ranch ."


       

On Monday the sun's shining again, but the trail's still wet and muddy from the hard rains that blew in Saturday night and Sunday morning. I bring up the rear, breathing in the sweet smell of wet cedar chips we'd spread the week before. The crew's all loaded down with shovels and the rest of our gear, and we slip and slide our way up the fresh cut we made through the brush last week.


       Randy plays crew leader for all it's worth. He snarls at me, herds Neil around like a pet billy goat and leaves Dan to corral everybody else. I can see this will be a long morning. Before long, though, we're hacking and chopping away at the underbrush, making some progress for a change.


       Neil finally gets away from Randy, slides down the trail and stops next to me. "When I get out of here, I'm gonna bring my family and show them the trail I built. I bet thousands of people will hike it."


       I interrupt his kiddie story time. "It's almost the time Randy said they'd take a hike. Does he still think you're going with him?"


       "Yeah." He juts his chin out. "You think I'm gonna tip him off by telling him I'm not going? How about you? You still got a plan?"


       "There's twenty reasons why I shouldn't." I don't tell Neil the one reason I will. It's payback time for all the grief Randy's given me. And this is my one chance to get back at him without getting myself in trouble. They'll think I'm a hero, even. "OK. Let's do it."


       "Great. What're we gonna do?"


       "We'll fix it so he'll never know what happened to him." I take Neil over to a sharp bend in the path and we look down into a deep gully . I lean out over the edge. "Here's my idea. See that tree growing out of the side down there? It's big enough to hold you. I'll let you down there with this rope I brought up from the bus."


       "How's that going to stop Randy?"


       "He's crew boss, isn't he? Dan'll make sure he helps."


       "And what if he doesn't?"


ThinkLink: Have you ever put yourself in danger just to avoid something? Did your plan work? Tell about it.

       "Randy can't make you go with him if you're down in a gully . So you're safe either way. Here's how it works. I yell for everybody to come. You yell 'Help! Help!' When they get here, you tell them you fell down the hillside."


       "Me? How about you going down there? I could fall all the way."


       We both stare down the gully , fifty or sixty feet to the bottom. The maple tree leans out over the brush, about fifteen feet below us, growing almost sideways to the slope. "I'm too heavy for you to hold with a rope, but I can hold you."


       He glares at me out from under his eyebrows. "Sounds like I'd be better off going with Randy."


       "You serious? When you're on the run, you can never go home. They'd be watching for you there. That what you want?" Neil shakes his head, but he looks more than a little scared. I better get this over quick. "All you have to do is straddle that tree down there like it was a horse. And then hang on tight. You won't fall. Just don't look down."


       "Easy for you to say, Cowboy."


       "It'll work." I drag up the coil of rope. "See? I'm making a loop." I slip it over his arms and head and down around his chest. "You ready? We gotta do this now, before Randy takes off."


       Neil makes another face, but he nods. "Be careful. Last Friday, when I slipped, if I hadn't grabbed some bushes. I would've fallen all the way to the bottom. I don't want to take no chances this time."


       I tie the other end of the rope around the trunk of a tree on the lip of the trail. With me egging him on , Neil backs down the side of the hill, one inch at a time, holding tight to the rope, his work boots slithering through the mud. I let the rope out slow and easy, until he dangles out over the maple tree. I brace myself against a root at the edge of the path and play the rope out until his foot hits a branch he can sit on. He inches down , wraps his legs around the trunk, and grabs it with both arms.


       I call to him, not too loud, so the others won't hear, "Pull the rope off over your head." He opens his eyes and stares down into the gully .


       "I can't."


       "You have to. It's almost noon. We timed this just right. They can't come and see a rope around you. You'll blow the whole plan. Get it off over your head." He stares at the gully below and then he closes his eyes and hangs on tighter. "Don't look down," I hiss at him, and then I look up the trail. "They're gonna hear us if we're not careful." All we need is for someone to come back down here to find out what's going on. I try coaxing Neil now. "Come on. It'll all be over in a couple of minutes."


       "I can't move."


       "It's too late to back out now. I'm going yell for them to come. To pull you out. You want to get back up, don't you?"


       Neil nods, looking stiff as the tree trunk, but he squeezes one arm out from under the rope.


       "All right. Now the other one."


       He pushes his head up against the bark. "Give me a minute." What seems like forever, he goes back to working the rope off his other shoulder. Then he eases it up from around his chest. I pull the rope up and Neil grabs the tree with both arms again, tighter than ever.


       "Look up here. Don't look down." Doesn't matter. He's got his eyes shut. "I have to put the rope with the other gear and go for help. When someone comes, start yelling for help as loud as you can."


ThinkLink: Did you ever do something that caused other people to fear for your safety?

       Now that it's too late, I'm worried that this is a rotten idea. I ditch the rope and come running back up the trail, yelling, "Help! I need help! Come quick! Neil's fallen off the trail. Somebody come and get him up." I wait. Nobody answers. Where are they? I yell louder. "Dan. Randy, don't you guys hear me? Come on. Neil needs help." Finally, the thump of boots pound down the trail.


       "We're coming," Dan calls back. "Randy, make sure all your crew gets here quick. On the double!"


       Then I see Dan half-running, half-skiing through the mud-slick. He's got Randy by the elbow. They skid to a stop. Dan looks around. "Where is he?" He looks down the hillside. "How in the ... how did this happen? Never mind. Let's get him out of there." He leans out over the edge and looks at Neil in the tree and the skid marks down the bank. "You all right, Neil? Hang on. I'll get you right up."


       The rest of the crew skid down the trail and tumble to a stop behind Dan. "Shit," Randy says, looking at his watch. "Look at the time."


       Dan yells at him. "Randy, don't just stand there. I need your help."


       "There's a rope on that pile of gear over there," I tell them, trying to sound helpful.


       Randy looks at Dan and then he looks back up the trail. "Let's get this over with. Hand me that rope," Randy bellows at Cal. "Don't just stand there. Randy grabs for the coil that Cal pulls toward him. "You guys brace behind that tree so you can pull me and him up." Randy playing Superman! I can't believe it. He's the one gonna come out of this looking like a hero.


ThinkLink: Can you climb a rope? Is it the same climbing down as it is going up?

       "Wait a minute, Randy," Dan tells him. "That's a brave thing to offer, but this is a staff job. You had the right idea, though. Wrap the rope around that big fir and get your guys on the other end. Be ready to pull us up." Dan snaps the end of the rope to test its strength, makes a loop in it and lowers it to Neil. "Can you let go of the tree with one of your arms long enough to get this rope around you? Grab it and pull it over your chest and under your arms."


       Neil looks up at him and shakes his head. "I can't let go. I can't."


       "All right. Hang on then." Dan puts the loop over his head and arms and fits it down over his own chest. "Randy, are you guys ready? Keep the rope wrapped around that tree and ease it out a little at a time while I work my way down." He leans back against the rope and steps back over the edge of the bank, slipping in the mud, feeling around for toe holds in roots and rocks sticking out of the wet dirt.


       "Give me a little more rope. That's it. It'll be all right, Neil." He pulls himself in toward Neil and the tree. "I'm going to get behind you and wrap my arm around your chest. While they pull on the rope, you and I are going to walk ourselves right back up the bank to the trail."


       "It's too steep," Neil says, and he clings harder to the tree. "I can't do it."


       All the time Dan's getting a grip on Neil, he's talking real firm to him. "Look at me! Look at me! Don't look down. Now, turn your head up. Look up at the guys on the trail. Watch what they're doing. That's it. Lean back on me."


       "What if I fall?"


       "You're not going to. Trust me, and remember the things we learned about ropes and climbing. You'll be fine. You can do it."


       Dan has Neil in front of him, with his arms around his chest. Dan looks up. "We're all set, Randy. Start pulling ... slow ... just a little at a time.... don't jerk ... not too fast."


       All the time Dan walks him up, he keeps talking to Neil, telling him he can do it. "As long as we keep the rope taut, we'll be fine. I'll be right behind you, hanging on tight. That's right, lean back into my chest." They slip twice, and once they dangle on the end of the rope, and I can't breathe good until Dan swings them into the bank again. In my head, I keep telling them: Make it! Make it! Step by step, they work their way back up the slope. Then they tumble up over the edge and everybody yells.


       Me, I just sink to the ground and thank God, for them and for me. If Neil fell and got hurt, I was the one... . It was me that thought this crazy thing up.


       "Great job, you guys," Dan tells us. "You all deserve life-saving medals. Randy, you really came through as crew chief." Dan feels Neil's arms and legs, and all over his head, looking for bumps and bruises. "Neil, are you hurt anywhere? Can you walk? I can't find anything." He pokes some more. "Bend over a little. Now rotate your head. Stand up now. Looks like you're all right, but we'll have you checked over as soon as we get back to camp."


       Dan turns and looks the crew over. "You're some great bunch of guys. I was waiting to tell you at lunch, today, but I'll do it now. We've set the rafting trip for tomorrow. Corrie's leading our crew white water rafting on the McKenzie River . We'll go back to camp and spend this afternoon getting ready. Randy, you come with me, and we'll walk Neil back down the trail. Cal and John, all of you, gather up the gear and follow us down to the bus."


       Randy wrinkles his face up at Cal as he turns to go down with Dan and Neil. Then he turns back. "You heard him, you guys. Pick up the shovels and the other stuff here and get back to the bus."


       Randy, the hero. He makes me want to puke . I grab a couple of shovels and hurry down the trail. I thought maybe Randy'd make a dash for it soon as Dan and Neil got back on the trail, but he doesn't. He and his guys go down the trail, with Dan, meek as mice. When I get to the meadow, Dan is opening up the back of the bus for the equipment. I lean in close to Neil. "I'm sorry. I didn't think it would be that scary."


       "Who was scared?" Neil says. "I'm just a good actor." He grins as he climbs up the steps into the bus.



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 Updated on 9/30/03

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