Dance to the Whisperer
Steven H. Short
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Eli Johnson sits in his old worn out rocking chair on the front porch of his two-story farmhouse looking across the gravel road towards the construction site of the new airbase. The morning’s starting out sunny but cool, a heavy wet dew from heavy rains sits atop the new grass. Eli hears the soft coo of a morning dove sitting on the overhead electrical drop serving the house.
Eli, a staunch Christian, hard worker and committed family man, looks older than his fifty-nine years of age. His skin is tan and wrinkled from the hard beating it takes from its daily doses of sun. As he watches the large earth moving machines, he becomes agitated knowing his families land is being destroyed, a land his parents homesteaded for more than sixty years. Now the government is taking over a large portion of it for the war effort
Having served in the First World War with the Third Infantry Division , Eli is known by the towns people to be as patriotic as any one else, but the governments only giving him fifty cents on the dollar per acre for the 480 acres of prime farmland, an unfair price in Eli’s mind. But he knows there nothing he can do except sit and watch as large machines slowly strip the soil from its foundation, a soil that he had worked all his life. He feels bitter and violated.
As he slowly rocks back and forth, he sees a cloud of dust approaching, knowing it’s the coupe carrying the two construction company employees building the airstrip; “their right on time, just like they have been since arriving two weeks ago” he thinks to himself. He stands and goes into the house. He’d seen enough for one morning.
“Looks like they’re starting with out us,” says Rico, noticing the heavy equipment in the field.
“Yea, they’d better be, we’ve got too much to do to get ready. We’re not gaining much ground with these rains we’ve had the past two days.” An irritated Turner continues.
Rico senses his bosses’ anger, “I was looking at the weather report this morning, looks like we’re in for a couple good days with out rain. Should help us get the hill cut down and the earth moved so we can get the runway leveled out.” He says in hopes of cheering Nelson up.
“Good, how about electricity? Are we going to get any out here soon? I suspect we’ll be starting the hangers and other out buildings with in a week.” Turner says.
“I haven’t heard anything yet; I’ll get in touch with them today or tomorrow.” Answers Rico.
“Make it today, Rico. We have no time to spare. I want electricity as-soon-as-possible.” He responds.
Rico nods to affirm his bosses command and makes a mental note.
Turner slows the car as he approaches the new entrance to the airstrip, turns and parks the car next to the construction shack that’s located just off the road. This is Turners and Rico’s home during the construction of the air base. Nothing too fancy, but a place where they can sleep and work out of, the “Pit” Rico calls it.
Turner gets out of the car and notices a pickup truck sitting on the other side of the road with what appears to have some one sitting in the front seat, his head leaning up against the side window. They appear to be asleep or dead and this raises Turners concern. He walks over to the driver side of the truck and sees the cheek of a mans face smeared against the window glass, his eyes closed. Turner hits the window hard with his fist and yells “Hey, wake up!”
The young man inside the truck jerks upright, hitting his head on the roof of the truck. “Jesus Christ, what the hell are you doing? Trying to kill me?” He yells while exiting the vehicle.
“Theodore Hummel’s the name.” He says, sticking out his hand to introduce himself. “I drove all night from Sioux City to get here. I heard you might have some work for me, building this new airbase. I can do just about anything. You name it.”
Turner grasp the young mans hand and notices his firm strong grip.
“I’m Nelson Turner, the foreman here, this is Rico Perez my assistant,” he says still holding the grip and pointing to Rico with the other hand. Turner, having a good sense of character, likes this kid; he has energy and appears willing to work hard.
“Rico, take Theodore and show him tent city and then give him something to do, I’ll meet you back at the shack.” Turner releases his handshake, turns and walks back towards the shack.
“By-the-way Theodore, how old are you anyway?” ask Turner, stopping and turning around, looking at the young man.
“You can call me Teddy. I’m named after Teddy Roosevelt, the former President and Rough Rider. My daddy rode with Roosevelt in Cuba during the Spanish American war. I’m Seventeen, just graduated from high school. I’m still too young for the service, so thought I’d contribute to the war effort by coming down here and help build airbases until I’m old enough to join the Army Air Force.”
“Teddy, do you ever shut up?” Rico thinks to himself as the two walk toward tent city. Talkers annoy Rico.
“I’ve never been away from home before.” Continues Teddy, unaware of Rico’s irritation.
Rico takes Teddy across the yet unfinished runway and down a soft slope to a treed area where several large military type tents serve as temporary housing for the workers. He takes the young Theodore into the closest tent and shows him where to bunk.
“Everyone is out working right now, you can introduce your self when they all return.” Instructs Rico. “We start at six sharp in the morning, you aren’t up and ready to work, you’re gone, got it?”
“Yes sir, you’ll have no problems with me,” replies the Teddy.
The two men leave the tent and walk back towards the construction area where the construction shack is located. Next to the shack sits a small tool shed. Rico opens the door and points to some axes leaning against the wall. “You ever sharpen an axe before?” Rico asked.
“Oh yes sir, on my daddy’s farm. They were so sharp; I could split a cat hair.” Hummel boasted.
“Here, sharpen all of these, and let me know when you’re done, I have more work for you. By the way, we pay five dollars a day here.” Rico says as he turns and walks away from the over exuberant youth.
As Rico approaches the construction shack he notices Turner standing beside the shed with his back to him. As he gets closer he sees a narrow stream cascading down between the legs of his boss, Rico opens the door of the shack and walks in, ignoring the man urinating next to the shed.
Rico sits down at his desk and begins to shuffle through the paper work left over from the day before. Turner walks end, zipping up his pants and tucking his shirt in. He walks over to a table along the wall and looks down at the pile of construction blue prints lying on top of it.
Suddenly, a loud banging at the door startles the two, “Mr. Turner, Mr. Turner, come quickly. We have a crazy farmer standing in front of one of movers with a pistol threatening to shoot someone until they give him his land back!”
Rico and Turner quickly exit the building and follow the worker a few hundred feet before they see Eli Johnson standing in front of Max Murphy’s earth moving machine, pointing a pistol upward, waving it back and forth, and shouting obscenities at the baffled and scared driver who’s still sitting behind the controls.
“Boss, you gotta calm this old kute down, he’s gotta a loaded gun there and I’m afraid he’s goanna kill me!” the excited Max yells as the three men approach.
Quickly, Turner tries to evaluate the situation in his mind. He hopes to get this old man calmed down and back home before he hurts someone.
“Stand back or I’ll shoot all of you damn land grabbers!!” Eli Johnson yells, stopping Turner and the others in their tracks.
“Whoa, hey there old-timer, calm down, let’s talk about this before some one gets hurt here,” says Turner in a soft, easy voice extending his hand out to the old man, but Johnson raises the pistol and aims it right at Turners head.
“Don’t temp me young man, this here’s a Remington 45 caliber pistol and it’ll blow your head all over this field.” Eli warns.
While Turner was trying to coax the old man into giving up his gun, Rico slowly begins to back up and move around behind the old man.
“What is it you want old man?” ask Turner.
“I want my land back, you thieves. You’ve stolen my land. My family settled this land more than sixty years ago. We’ve work hard, we’ve worked through the droughts, the tornados, the floods, the grasshoppers and now you want to get up and take it all away from me. And I’m not supposed to do anything about it. I’ll die first.”
In the mean time, Rico works his way around the man undetected. He side steps slowly, so as not to draw attention to himself. Turner sees what Rico is doing and turns his focus onto the old man. Hoping to distract him enough so he won’t see Rico.
“Hey, nobody is trying to steal your land. Put the weapon down and we’ll talk about this.” Turn continues.
“I’ve done talking” says Johnson, “I’ve talked to every government office from here to Washington D.C., and no one can find the time to help me. So I’m going to help myself. I’m going to stop you!”
Rico manages to get twenty-five feet behind Eli, he starts moving toward the old man whose attention is directed at Turner.
“Listen, I have some influence in Washington, maybe I can get someone out here this next week and we can talk about this,” says Turner, desperately reaching for something to say until Rico gets closer.
Rico steps slowly, one step at a time, trying not to make any noise. Ten feet, he continues to move, going unnoticed as Turner keeps the old man distracted. Five feet away, moving closer, three feet, Rico lifts his arms slowly preparing to grab the man in a bear hug in hopes of getting him to drop the gun.
Just as Rico is about to grab the old man, Eli lifts the pistol and puts it against his right temple. Suddenly there’s a loud shot heard echoing through the farm valley like a rippling wave in the water. Birds take flight as the deer in the wood areas exit the danger area. The old man slumps to the ground. A pool of blood begins forming under his head. Turner looks up and sees Rico’s face, chest and arm covered with blood and a chunk of the old mans carnage stuck to his neck.
The four men stand looking down at the bloody body for a few seconds before Turner interrupts the silence, “Some one go call the Sheriff!”
Rico stands still, not moving, his mouth hanging half open, “I almost had him, he didn’t need to do that.” He says.
“Someone go call the goddamn Sheriff, now!!” Turner yells out.
“I’ll do it,” says Teddy. No one had seen Teddy approach. The boy turns and runs back towards the shack.
“Damn old man, what’cha gotta go and do that for, I almost had you.” Rico yells down and the motionless body lying on the ground.
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