Sentinel Mountain

 

Chapter Six

Trailers, Trucks and a Dumb-Like-a-Fox Friend

 

"Since the Fourth of July was on Monday and the end of a long weekend rather than in the middle, the crowd was much larger than the previous year. The four of us doing trick riding were also better and had more tricks than the previous year. The horses were as determined as we were to put on a good show and we did. After the parade, the Mayor treated the four of us, Gertrude and Mavis to lunch.

 

"The second four weeks, again, passed quickly, and Alex and I left Boulder with more credits than we dreamed possible. We had all we needed for a diploma except for an English, math, two social studies, an arts and two applied technology credits. As soon as we were back in Wellsburg, we -- separately of course -- went to see the counselor to change our schedule from what we signed up for last spring. I'd have senior English, precal and trig, photography, physics (listed as applied physics, so it counted as a technology course, but was just regular physics), US history, Spanish and information technology. Alex had the same courses except he took drawing for his art, but we only had math, English and physics together.

 

"The only thing different from the year before was his mother and my grandmother were putting more pressure on us about our 'spiritual development' and we tried to meet in the grove at least three times a week. Before the weather got too bad, our time in the grove was make-out time. We still had not gone beyond rubbing each other off (which, I discovered while doing some research in the university library, was called frottage) until one afternoon when it was extremely warm for early October, Alex was atop me and slid down too far and his cock slipped between my thighs. He soon deposited a load with much groaning. 'Damn that was hot,' he said and kissed me deeply.

 

"Soon it was simply too cold to take off any clothes and, had Alex not suggested we hide a couple blankets in the grove, we'd have been reduced to kissing, which wasn't bad.

 

"Anyway, it was just after Thanksgiving when the situation at the Bledsoes blew up and took Alex out of my life for all practical purposes. We had turned sixteen in November.

 

"Mr. Bledsoe had received another promotion which involved a move to Salt Lake City. Mrs. Bledsoe was delighted since it would take her to the heart of her religion. Alex, of course, was devastated and his dad assured him he would make other friends and he and I could call each other often, even exchange visits. Grandma was having none of that, neither was Mrs. Bledsoe. Alex and I were reduced to finding a public phone and calling each other at set times. Of course, the other was not always able to get to the phone at the agreed-upon time, so we were lucky to talk once a week.

 

"In March, Mr. Bledsoe had a chance for yet another advancement, but it would involve a move to New York. Mrs. Bledsoe absolutely balked and refused to leave Salt Lake City. Mr. Bledsoe moved to New York and when he asked Alex to join him there, Mrs. Bledsoe took Alex and went into hiding. He simply disappeared. I heard nothing from him and went into deep depression. I did, however, find the energy to keep up my grades since it was the only way I could ever escape Wellsburg and find Alex.

 

"I kept up my grades, but school was hell. I was a sophomore taking senior English and junior math, a real odd duck. Additionally, someone had really been bad-mouthing Alex because of his questioning the church authorities and, when he left, that got transferred to the other odd duck. Only one guy, a not-very-bright senior, ever spoke to me. He was about to fail English and asked if I'd help him. I did and pulled him through. His name was Winston Churchhill Mason. Dumb as dirt, but a real human being with a big heart.

 

"I finally remembered Gertrude was Alex's grandmother and called her from a public phone in March. She could tell me little except Mrs. Bledsoe was still in hiding with Alex and the Bledsoes were divorced. 'She'll be in real trouble if she's ever located, if Alex doesn't show up in Boulder this summer. That's about all Harv -- Mr. Bledsoe -- got written in the decree.' That gave me hope.

 

"That was all that kept me going because shortly after I talked with Gertrude, I came home from school and when I went to the barn to do my chores, found granddad in the barn, dead. He had been dead for some time -- grandma said she had not seen him since lunch -- because his body was cold. He had, the doctor said, a heart attack or stroke 'and it doesn't matter which since it's obviously death from natural causes.'

 

"After the funeral, grandma made more and more demands on me and I pretty much obeyed. I was, for all practical purposes, a walking dead man. I expected the bishop and stake president to help get things in order, but neither seemed to offer any real help. Grandma was more or less ignorant of granddad's affairs, so it fell to me to take care of that, at sixteen.

 

"I got everything set up so the bills would be paid automatically and the ranch was already leased, so the money from that went directly into grandma's account. In going through granddad's papers, I discovered the paperwork involving my own situation. I knew about the trust fund and all, but I also discovered that I was to receive money to purchase a vehicle 'adequate to my demonstrated needs' when I had a driver's license. I also found the fund for my 'maintenance' was considerably more than had been spent on that. I didn't care, but it did leave a bitter taste in my mouth that I had often had to ask for money when I should have been given an allowance.

 

"In spite of the poor service I could expect from an internet provider at our place, I took money from the account and bought an excellent laptop and had a line run to my room. Grandma objected, but I told her I had to have it for schoolwork and convinced her that was true.

 

"I was delighted to discover I could apply for the summer program online and not have to do battle with grandma over that. Also, I found an address for Vic House and started corresponding with Gertrude. She reminded me that we had been given addresses, including email addresses, of our fellow students in the summer program and I found it and immediately contacted Jean Jean and Michelle. They, Gertrude and Mr. Bledsoe were my lifeline to sanity.

 

"When I told grandma about the money for a vehicle, she hit the roof. 'You have no need for a vehicle,' she practically screamed. When I pointed out that since she sold the old truck, the only way we could get to town was by calling in a neighbor, she said that was what neighbors were supposed to do.

 

"One day in early March, I was helping Winston with his English and he asked what I drove. 'Nothing,' I replied. 'I don't have my license because I have no way to get into town. I could have a vehicle if I could get my license, but my grandma won't let me ask someone to take me to get it.' I soon learned that Winston might be book dumb, but he knew vehicles.

 

"'You've helped me all semester,' he said, 'now I get to help you. I'll get my mom to write us a pass so we can leave school Wednesday and get your license. Then Saturday, we'll go to Salt Lake City and buy you a vehicle. You can drive?' he asked, I guess suddenly realizing I might not know how. Of course I could. In rural Utah you started driving as soon as you could reach the pedals and I had been driving as long as I had been living with my grandparents.

 

"'Yeah, I can drive. Don't know that I am ready to tackle an interstate though.'

 

"'Hell, I've been driving to Salt Lake since I was thirteen. I know back roads the troopers have forgotten. I'll get you there down I-15, have a salesmen drive your vehicle outside Salt Lake and we'll hit the back roads. May take all day but, what the heck, what else you gonna do on a Saturday?'

 

"I thought, 'grandma will have a long list, but I'll just skip out and let her pitch a bitch when I get back, the deed done.'

 

"Wednesday morning, Winston handed me a note from 'Mrs. Williamson' excusing me from classes after lunch 'for urgent legal reasons in regard to my late husband's estate.' Winston might be more than a bit dull, but his mom was on the ball. I learned he had an extremely high fever when he was a baby which caused him to be retarded in some areas. Vehicles wasn't one of them and he had become a very successful mechanic working in Wellsburg's only garage. Anyway, we skipped out after lunch and went to the license bureau where we had to wake up the trooper who was dozing at his desk. Thirty minutes later, I walked out with my license in my hand.

 

"'Owe you, Winston,' I smiled at him.

 

"'Not like I owe you, Josh.'

 

"'How about we try out this new license, if you'll let me drive your truck, and head to Longview for a treat.'

 

"'Might look at some vehicles there too,' he said.

 

"The drive to Longview took about twice as long with my driving as I had only driven around the ranch and surroundings. Winston assured me I was doing well. As we drove he asked about what I'd be doing with a vehicle.

 

"'The usual stuff, I guess,' I said. 'I will be driving to Boulder to summer school and pulling a horse trailer. Oh, I'll need to buy one too. The one at our place has long since seen better days.'

 

"'Good place for a trailer in Longview. May take a couple, three weeks to get it. You taking that black Mustang to Boulder?'

 

"'Yeah.'

 

"'Ever hear from Alex?'

 

"'Not in months. His mom's hiding him from his dad.'

 

"'That's bullshit!'

 

"'Tell me about it!'

 

"'Wonder if he still has his black Mustang?'

 

"I wondered as well.

 

"When we arrived in Longview, Winston asked if we were going to McDonald's. I suggested something a bit nicer, then cringed when I thought about what his table manners might be like. Shows you how self-centered I was. His mom had made sure he knew how to handle himself in public and we had a great lunch. Man, could that boy pack away the food!

 

"When we finished lunch, he took me to see a Mr. Sellers who handled horse trailers. 'You got money for a nice one?' Winston asked.

 

"I knew I had several thousand, but had no idea what a good trailer cost. 'I don't know. How much will a good one cost?'

 

"'Ten to twenty thousand new.'

 

"'Wow! Much more than I thought.'

 

"'That's why I brought you here. Mr. Sellers is a friend and he buys used trailers and fixes them up, better than new. I worked for him last summer when I wasn't working in the garage in Wellsburg. He'll do you a good deal.'

 

"Mr. Sellers was delighted to see Winston and told me what a great fellow I had to be if Winston was my friend.

 

"'Shoot, he's the great fellow,' Winston said. 'Without him I'd never graduate. You see him and Alex Bledsoe last spring, riding those black Mustangs?'

 

"'That's why you look familiar,' he said. 'I sure did see you two, but what are you doing out of school?'

 

"Winston 'fessed up and Mr. Sellers said he thought it was for a good cause and asked what he could do for us. After Winston talked to him about what I needed and why and reminded him again how much I had helped him, Mr. Sellers laughed and said, 'I get the point, Winston. Actually, I got in a single-horse trailer last week, which is out back. Doesn't look like much right now as I haven't started work on it, but it will be a beaut when I'm finished. I'd hate to just refurbish it and not really do a first class job on it, but I guess I could.'

 

"'Talk money,' Winston said.

 

"'Six plain, eight if I give you the deluxe treatment, four-week delivery time.'

 

"'How about seven-five fancy. How're the tires?'

 

"'They'll have to be replaced. I barely got it here empty.

 

"'Seven fancy and we'll take care of the tires.'

 

"'Only for you, Winston, seven two-fifty.'

 

"'Eight-week delivery time and an even seven.'

 

"'Winston, you're driving me to the poor house.'

 

"'In your Cadillac El Dorado? I don't think so. Seven thousand, your best job and eight weeks to get it done. Sounds like a good deal to me.'

 

"'Only if you can help out,' Mr. Sellers said.

 

"'Cost you fifty cents an hour more than last summer. I know more now,' Winston said. 'I'm passing English.'

 

"'Son,' Mr. Sellers turned to me, 'never think this kid is dumb. He's just smart in ways different from us.'

 

"I was laughing myself silly and could only nod. When I could finally speak, I asked, 'When do you need your money?'

 

"'Half before I start, rest when delivered.'

 

"One thing I had learned was not to leave my checkbook around. Grandma may pretend she doesn't know anything about business, but she sure was nosy. The checkbook was always in my bag. I wrote a check for three thousand five hundred dollars and told Mr. Sellers I was post-dating it until the following Monday when I could transfer the money.

 

"We then drove back to Wellsburg and Winston directed me to the garage where he worked. If he had done a hard bargaining job with Mr. Sellers, he was even better when he arranged the purchase of tires for the trailer. I was surprised when what I actually paid was half what I had been quoted, but as Winston said as we were leaving, 'Hell, he didn't stand a chance. I knew to the penny how much he paid for those tires and knew he had had them on the shelf for six months and they weren't a size anyone was likely to need anytime soon. You gotta know what you're dealing with to get a deal.' A lesson I took to heart.

 

"Thursday at lunch, Winston took me to the bank and I transferred the money from the vehicle account into my checking account. There was more than I had remembered. Even after the purchase of the trailer, the account wasn't small and I still had money in the 'extras' account, which I also transferred. I treated Winston to lunch at McDonald's and while we got back to school before the end-of-lunch bell rang, we got called to the principal's office for leaving the campus.

 

"'Look, Dr. Watkins,' Winston said.

 

"I knew Mr. Watkins did not hold a doctorate, but I could see his head swell at the honorific. 'Dumb like a fox,' I thought.

 

"'Josh needed to get to the bank and he has no transportation and the bank's closed after school. His bishop or stake president should be helping him since his parents and grandad are all dead and his grandma doesn't drive. I was just doing what any good Mormon would do for another one.'

 

"Mr. Watkins was caught. He turned red in the face -- he was a bishop and I guess was embarrassed because a fellow bishop was falling down on the job -- and just said, 'Very well, run along to class.'

 

"Friday night, I went up as soon as I had supper, telling grandma I was tired. I had written my regulars about the purchase of the trailer and the planned trip the next day. They were all excited about the whole deal. I just wished I could share all this with Alex. I turned off the computer, undressed and crawled into bed. As I had not done in a while, I cried myself to sleep thinking of my beloved.

 

"I had set the alarm for an hour before grandma got up and as soon as it went off, I was up, took a quick shower, got dressed and slipped downstairs. I had written a note the night before telling grandma I would be gone all day without any details. I left it on the kitchen table, went to the barn and cared for Prince and then walked to the highway to wait for Winston. He arrived at exactly the time he said he would.

 

"He was driving a different truck than the one he drove to school. When I commented on it, he said he had driven this one when he first got it and got it tricked out the way he wanted and some son of a bitch keyed it, leaving a deep scratch all the way down the driver's side. 'Since then I drive that wreck to school.' 'That wreck' was nicer than ninety percent of the other vehicles in the parking lot. 'You drive so I can see how well you do,' he said as he slid over to the passenger's side and opened the driver's side door for me.

 

"After we had driven for fifteen or twenty minutes, he said, 'You still not heard from Alex?'

 

"It was all I could do to hold back the tears. 'No, I haven't. I sure miss him.'

 

"'I guess you do. I'm going to miss you after this year as well. You are a good friend.'

 

"'You'll still be around, won't you?'

 

"'Yeah, but not in school. You'll be all busy with school and keeping that ranch going. Maybe we can have lunch sometimes.'

 

"'Count on it,' I said and meant it.

 

"We were silent again for a while, then Winston said, 'Josh, you drive good,' then turned on the radio except he switched it to a CD player. I was surprised when the music started and it was classical.

 

"After a while he said, 'I was thinking about a SUV for you, but the more I think about it, I think you need a truck to pull that trailer. We can find one as fancy as a car so the girls won't mind you're driving a truck. I think I know just the place in Salt Lake.'

 

"That's how I ended up with a year-old Ford F-350 4x4 which looked as if it had never left the showroom. It was loaded, or so I thought. Once again, I stood by as Winston did his magic and got the price lower and lower and lower. When I thought we had hit the absolute bottom, Winston said, 'We live out in the sticks, you know, and a radio is damn near worthless out there. I mean you can get AM with politics or religion, but nothing I'd listen to. How about you throw in a decent sound system and we'll take the truck. Hell, we'll even install it ourselves.' I was surprised almost as much by the salesman's agreeing as I was Winston's damn and hell. The boy usually never said darn. When I asked him about it later, he said, 'You gotta know what you're dealing with. You have to convince these city people you are a real tough cowboy.'

 

"After the deal was done, Winston asked to use the salesman's phone, called a number and said, 'Mr. Sellers, the vehicle is red,' and then gave him the VIN of the truck. When he had hung up, I ask him what that was all about and he said, 'The VIN number will give him the paint so he can use it for the trailer. You are going to be one bright cowboy! He then said, 'You follow me and I'll get you out of Salt Lake. You drive good.' We drove in tandem back to Wellsburg. We took the Farmington exit off I-15, ate lunch and then took Highway 89 for a while, then started using the back roads. The scenery was beautiful and made me wonder if the speed of the Interstate was worth what you missed.

 

"I got back to my place just before four. I told Winston he didn't want to be around when I got there because my grandma would throw a bitch on me which would not be pretty. 'Seems to me like she'd be pleased with how well you done and take care of the ranch and all. I guess maybe I'm lucky having the mom I have.'

 

"'You don't know how lucky,' I said, 'and I'm lucky to have a friend like you.'

 

"Grandma did pitch a fit, a major one, when I drove in with the truck. I hadn't bothered to tell her about the trailer and didn't plan to. Sunday after church, I was told I had a meeting with the bishop and stake president Sunday afternoon at four. I could guess what that was about from the smug look on grandma's face.

 

"I essentially kept my mouth shut and let the two lecture me until they had run out of steam, dropped by a hamburger place and got a drink, burger and fries which I ate there. I then drove back to the ranch. When I arrived, I immediately went to the barn, saddled Prince and rode toward the mountains.

 

"On the one hand I was getting things in order to leave Wellsburg and on the other, I felt everything just pressing down on me. Above all, I missed Alex. I wondered where he was, what he was doing, what happened to him. Neither his father nor Gertrude had heard a word from him since his mother took off. Someone was living on their ranch, so I guess it was sold or leased, I didn't find out which for months. Mr. Bledsoe had hired a skip tracer to locate the two since Mrs. Bledsoe was obligated to see that Alex was in Boulder the next summer, but so far they had not been found.

 

"Grandma tried to prevent my going to Boulder for the summer, but I threatened to have the way my money had been handled investigated. Truth be told, there was nothing amiss even though it had been doled out in a pretty stingy manner, but she didn't know that. The day school was out, the truck was packed, the trailer -- which was indeed a beauty -- ready for Prince and as soon as I could get back to the ranch, I loaded Prince, told grandma I would see her in nine weeks as I didn't plan to come back for the week's break. I figured by then she would have realized I had been holding things together and ease off on me."

 

Mr. VanWinkle said, "Josh, you must be exhausted. You have been talking for hours. How'd you like a swim or workout? I think I can be pretty sure you are not unfamiliar with a gym from the shape you are in."

 

"Sounds good. Actually, I haven't been working out very often for the last couple months, but a good workout sounds good. You joining me?"

 

"May come as a surprise, but I am. I will warn you, this old body is not a pretty sight."