I shutdown my laptop, shove it in my bag and start to walk towards the rear exit of the building. I will have to join the rush hour. Shouldn't be too bad. The longer drive time will help me calm my nerves.
Tom greets me at the hallway. He has just stepped out of the men's room and I half-expect him to announce that he has just passed a kidney stone. That’s just the kind of guy he is. Not today it turns out. Today he is spared of such an ordeal. We pick up where we left off in our lunch conversation. Tom and his wife of three months is being harassed in their own home. By a mouse.
He's a nice guy and he's fun to be around. I decide to spare a couple of minutes. I cannot raise any suspicion. I have to act normal and not appear to be in a hurry. I'm just gonna have to drive a little faster in the highway to make up for the lost time.
“Well,” he holds up his index finger, “ I think I got it all covered. I placed mouse traps in the right places and I have this bucket filled with water and I placed a piece of Styrofoam with some peanut butter on it. Mouse goes for the peanut butter and…”
He makes a clicking sound and a twisting motion with his hand, like a tiny boat tipping back and forth.
We carry on with the conversation but I can’t help but wonder if I have everything covered.
The sun hovers just above the valley as I pull out of the office parking lot. Pretty soon it will start to slice into the mountain like a coin disappearing into a piggy bank. Darkness yes, but not too soon.
The highway traffic flows in an easy pace. I try to relax by going over the details of what I am about to do. All the tools I need should be in the garage. It should be an easy 10 minute hike up the trail to the spot. It should be there. It should still be there. If it isn’t there… I can’t have any doubts. Going over it in my head just tenses me up.
I shake my head and abruptly change lanes to get to my exit. The loud blaring of the horn startles me. I look up at the rearview mirror and I see a guy in a big truck and he is spreading the love by holding up his hand and making a gesture that does not involve four fingers.
“So eat me alright?” I say dryly. That’s right. I’m tough, I assure myself meekly.
I make it to my house without further incident. As the garage door closes behind me I find my hands stuck to the steering wheel. The drone of the automatic garage door comes to a stop. The silence is complete except for the ticking of the engine as it begins to cool down. I should take heed what the engine knows. I need to cool it. I need to calm down.
There are other ways. I do not have to do this. Maybe I can do it tomorrow or some other day. Or maybe never. It feels good to decide to just stay home and watch reruns of Raymond, and Two and a Half Men. Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. If it feels good it’s the right thing, right?
I step out of the car and begin to collect the things that I need. I am not thinking. As long as I am doing something then I do not have to think. The motions clear my head. I grab the ropes and cut off only as much as I need. I decide against bringing a knife. It would raise suspicion if I ever have to explain to anybody. I will have to use some rocks, or my bare hands if it comes to that. I just need to tie her up and fashion a sling around her so I can hike back down easily with the added load.
I change into black sweatpants and a dark-colored jacket and step into my old dirty sneakers. With all my stuff tucked away in my pockets I am just another guy taking a walk in the trail.
The drive to the trailhead takes less than ten minutes. As I maneuver the Subaru Legacy Wagon into the parking lot, a white Cadillac Escalade pulls out. I try not to look at the vehicle and be as inconspicuous as possible. In the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the occupants. A couple who had just taken their dog for a walk. They do not give me a second look.
The Subaru should have enough space in the back. I fold down the rear seats and pull the front passenger seat forward. There. It’s all ready for it’s cargo. I lock up the car and begin to walk up the trail. There are no other cars in the lot so the trail should be empty. I do not entertain any other possibilities. I walk on in a brisk pace. Behind me in the horizon there is only a faint glow in the mountains.
A rustling in the bush to my left. I turn my head quickly towards the direction of the noise and I see a rabbit scurry away. The trail begins to climb and I walk a little faster. The turn should be in view in a few minutes.
I can still turn around and just go home, I begin to think again. It would just be a nice walk. Just to keep my body in shape. Yes, that’s what I should do. I should just turn around.
I shake off the silly thoughts out of my head. I’m already here. I’m not gonna turn around now. Just a few yards into the turn, that’s all there is and I should find it.
And yes indeed, there she was. On the side of the abandoned trail, ensconced in a small heap of an old stove and bent pipes. Ten feet of 10-inch diameter aluminum duct, in perfect shape. It will carry the hot air from the wood stove in the garage into the house.
It remained untouched since last weekend when I discovered it. I was exploring the trails on my mountain bike and chanced upon it. What an eyesore I had exclaimed. Yet I saw it for what it was. A usable piece of solid duct.
I allow myself a few seconds to behold the sight. Then I get down to work. I pull out the rope from my pocket and tie a loop on each side of the duct then hooked up a sling that I use for my computer bag to the loops. The length of rope is just right. I do not have to resort to cutting it by pounding it with rocks. I pull the sling over my shoulder and lift the load. Nicely balanced. Not heavy at all.
I begin to retrace my steps back towards the parking lot. I did it. Yes. I just have to make it back to the car, load it up and go. What else can go wrong now? Just a few minutes walk to the car, it is almost totally dark. There would not be anybody else there. Any passing car would just be that, a passing car.
As I round up the bend down the trail the parking lot comes into sight. I see the outline of the Subaru in the near darkness, a light sand color in a dark background. Only it seems to have a different shape. Wait, there is a car beside it. My heart begins to thump. Are those flashers on its roof. They’re not flashing but they looks like flashers. And they are, I begin to realize as I get closer. A police car. The officer probably drove by and saw the car and just had to check it out.
This does not look good. I continue to walk in what I hope to be an assured gait, as if there was nothing abnormal about me lugging a ten-foot piece of duct, in the trail. I can’t stop now. Where am I supposed to go?
I should have listened to the tiny little voice in my head. I should have just stayed home had a few laughs watching some sitcom. Instead I’m walking towards an interrogation. This is not stealing, I could argue. This is not public property. It’s somebody’s trash in a public trail. It’s not stealing, right? In fact, I am doing my part in cleaning up the trails.
I’m close enough that I can see a figure beside the car. The officer will be shining a flashlight into my face. I see the police car now. Only it’s not really a police car. On it’s roof is a bike, not flashers. Standing beside the car are two guys in riding gear. I say hello as soon as I am within earshot.
“What you got there?” one of them asks.
“Somebody dumped a wood stove and some pipes back there.” I reply in a surprisingly calm voice. The relief, or guilt, thankfully did not show.
“We thought you were carrying a cannon or something.” the other one chuckles.
I laugh a little staccato laugh. “You guys doing some riding at night?”
“Yeah, that was the plan,” I hear a reply. By now I’m just speaking to outlines of figures. “He forgot to charge his batteries.”
“Oh man,” I say. It occurs to me that these guys are really hardcore riders to be riding at night. I rode the single-track last weekend and it was not easy, in daylight. And then a thought. “Are you part of the group that built up the trails?”
“Yup,” came the reply.
“The trails are awesome. I can really see the work you guys put in there.” It feels good to be able to express my gratitude to them.
He gives me a printed copy of the map of the trails. A better one. With more detail than the one I pulled off the web. I tell him about how we ended up in Casey Highway the first time we tried out the trails.
After a few more exchange of pleasantries I shove the duct into the Subaru and drive away. Now I can stay home and watch my sitcoms.