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Free – CHAPTER 4 – Enjoy!
When the jet touched down on the runway in Missoula, Justin reset his watch from Eastern to the Mountain time zone. They had gained two hours. Now 9:30, there was more than enough time to get to the funeral. The pilot taxied to the terminal, parked and shut down the engines. The co-pilot opened the fuselage door. Crisp mountain air flooded into the cabin. Justin smiled – he’d forgotten the smell of clean air.
He rented a car, bought sandwiches and pop to go, and then they drove toward Cora. A half hour later, William fell asleep. Justin turned on an empty blacktop under an intense blue sky and sped through country filled with sagebrush, bunch grass and Black Angus. He lowered his window and smelled the bitter-pleasant fragrance of sage, an almost forgotten scent. Later, the boy woke up and reached for his game.
“This would be a good time to talk about school and the bomb.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” William thumbed his game.
Justin counted the highway center stripes. After he’d counted two hundred, he said, “Put it down. We need to talk.”
Impaled on the barbed wire of fences lining both sides of the road, white plastic grocery sacks fluttered like handkerchiefs. Windblown tumbleweeds jammed against the fences. He slammed on the brakes. The car veered and then skidded to a halt.
“Okay.” William put the game in the back seat and Justin pulled back onto the road.
As they accelerated, tumbleweed bounced across the pavement, and shattered on the front grill, showering brittle pieces over the hood and against the windshield.
The boy whooped. “Hit another.”
Three minutes later he spotted a huge weed tumbling across a field far ahead. “See that one off to the right? Bet I can hit it.”
“Not. The fence will stop it first.”
“I hit it, you talk.”
The boy looked at him for a long moment. “Yokay.”
He slowed, timing his speed to intercept the tumbleweed.
William leaned forward. “It won’t get over the fence.”
The weed hung on the barbed wire and then a gust of wind lifted it up and over onto the road’s shoulder. Justin tightened his grip on the wheel and floored the gas pedal. The car spurted forward. There was no traffic on the long straight stretch. The weed tumbled across their lane. He swerved into the oncoming lane and onto the far shoulder and smashed into the tumbleweed. It shattered into hundreds of needles that reflected sunlight as they ricocheted off the windshield like hail. William flinched.
The right front tire hooked the pavement and the car’s left tires rose as it spun a three-sixty across the blacktop. He fought the steering wheel and skidded the car into the road, going sixty.
William’s arms were braced against the dash, face white. “That was sick!”
He kicked the speed up to seventy and a few silent miles later smashed another tumbleweed. He waited for the boy to live up to his end of the bargain.
”Who taught you to do that?” William asked.
“Who taught you to make a confetti bomb?”
“Can’t Google how to smash tumbleweeds.”
Justin shrugged. “So tell me how you made it?”
“Just followed the web page instructions.”
“I got some film canisters from a picture processing place and found a can of that stuff used to blow dust off of computers and then I scooped up a couple handfuls of those paper dots from the hole punch they use at school,” William said, becoming more animated. “Then all I had to do was turn the air duster can upside down and squirt some liquid into the canister. I filled it with confetti and then snapped on the canister lid tight. It takes anywhere from five seconds to a minute to explode. It’s really cool.”
“Any particular reason you felt like doing that?”
William’s words gushed out. “This kid with a locker next to me is a big bully. He’d been picking on me, so I took the stuff to my locker and made the confetti bomb and put it on top of his locker just before he opened it up. He shoved me out of the way, like always, and the bomb went off and he got paper holes all over his head and when everyone was laughing and watching him brush the paper out of his hair, I stuck the big bomb inside his locker.”
He cut a look at his son. “Big bomb?”
“You didn’t think they’d kick me out for a little confetti explosion, did you?”
He took his foot off the pedal and let the car slow. “So, how’d you learn how to make that big bomb?”
“I just used my imagination. I got this old tin box and I bought a stolen cell phone . . .”
“You bought a stolen cell phone?”
“Sure, you can buy stuff like that from people on the street.”
“Twenty. I downloaded a bomb ring-tone for the phone, set the answer for the maximum rings, put it inside the box. And then I taped two batteries with snap-on connectors on the top of the box, punched a hole and ran red wires from the batteries into the box. It was pretty simple.”
“Let me see if I have this figured out. It looked like a bomb and sounded like a bomb, but it was fake.”
“What, you think I wanted to kill someone? I just wanted to see him shit himself.”
“Watch your language. OK, so when everyone was looking at the bully, you hid the fake bomb inside his locker. And then what happened?”
“I didn’t think anyone saw me put it there and I was going to call to make the ring-tone go ‘bang’ the next time the asshole opened his locker.”
“Yeah. So I was in class when the fire bell rang and we were herded outside. Then the SWAT team and bomb guys arrived. When they were inside, I thought it would be fun to use my cell phone and call the phone in the locker.”
“Is that when you were caught?”
“Everybody was calling their parents, so no one noticed me.”
“How did they catch you?”
“They said the bomb guys were opening the locker when I called and the phone ring-tone went off – ’Bang’! I guess that really scared them, because they were really pissed off.”
“Watch your language. So how did they catch you?”
“Some girl saw me hide the bomb in the bully’s locker and she squealed. They didn’t see anything funny about it and they didn’t care if I was getting even.”
“Some adults have no sense of humor.”
“Yeah, but a lot of the kids think I’m a hero.”
“What do you think?”
“Maybe it went too far.”
“Got to agree. And now we’re stuck with each other.”
“You got that right,” the boy said.
He drove for several miles, thinking about the incident and how he should react. His old man wouldn’t have had to think about reacting. It would have been shed-time.
“Sometimes bullies need to be taken down a notch, but why didn’t you talk to me about the problem?” Justin asked.
“You wouldn’t have cared,” the boy said with a new tone to his voice.
“Of course I would have.”
“That’s not true,” Justin said, but he knew how the boy could feel that way. He’d been so busy.
“You didn’t come to my birthday party.”
That was true, but he was terrible about remembering dates and Ashley, in her typical passive-aggressive behavior, hadn’t told him about the party. She loved making him look bad.
“I meant to be there, but I put it my schedule for the next day,” he lied.
“You don’t care about me. Mom doesn’t care about me, either. She left you. Now she’s leaving me.” He began to cry.
He thought about pulling over and holding him, but the boy was too old — he’d never been hugged at William’s age. Better to reason with him.
“Your mother hasn’t abandoned you.”
He didn’t know what else to say. “It’s not the end of the world. It’ll be okay, son.”
“No . . . it . . . won’t. It won’t be the same, ever.”
Justin knew he was right. What’s more, there was something about his son’s sobbing gasps for breath that tore at him. Justin finally recognized the sound — it had the same feel as the wind howling through cracks in the window frame next to his bed on lonely winter nights after his mother had disappeared.
Copyright 2011, JB Winsor