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Chest of Hope Ch.12

Thursday morning a light fog hung over the trees, as a weather front had passed through in the night. The cool air felt good to Jim and Willie, as they walked up East Avenue to Main Street. At the corner other men were slowly gathering and waiting to walk the three miles to the farm. Some men even laughed about the hike, saying the routine was helping them get into shape again. Jim overheard one man telling another about the boss’ shape, and how he could use an axe. “You talking about a real man or Paul Bunyan?” One man asked. The reference made Jim stumble on a rock in the road, and Willie caught him asking if he was still asleep as Jim regained his balance. “Yeah, I guess I am sleepin at that.” Jim answered, and remained silent as he walked to the farm. Good Book? Paul Bunyan, was the only other book he had enjoyed. A story is only a story, to him who knows one is being told. The voice of Mister Odie, kept repeating in his ears. Jim thought to himself, as he paced off the distance. The workers started in with their work as they had the days before, except this morning the crew-chiefs had the hand held radio units. By seven, Luke and Scott, had the base set operational, and the antenna built at the barn. After a few radio checks, the crews went out to their areas to finish the jobs assigned. Jim had again told the men that everyone had to be off the field at three that afternoon. Then he said that he didn't know why, but that was the order passed by the boss. Luke and Scott, after checking the base at the Stones, went over to Jim's to set up the other base. After Scott talked to Matt Stone and had the crews check in, he left the monitor on and gave Charlotte instructions to follow, if she needed to answer the radio. Luke arrived back to the farm and as they got close, slowed and looked around for a blue pickup. The place where Luke had seen it yesterday, was vacant. So, he pulled in and searched the ground. Scott saw several empty bottles and cigarette butts scattered in the bushes. Luke spotted the same on his side also. “They must have been here all day, and they got a really bad habit of littering.” Scott said, half jesting. “I have a feeling they have been here for more then a day. Look at the labels on the bottles. Some are starting to fade. I'd say we've been watched for almost a week.” Luke surmised, causiously. "Well, if this is their perch, let's clip their wings.” Scott said, as he lifted a box of roofing nails, from the floor of the truck. “That's cold, cruel, and heartless! I knew I liked you for some reason Scott.” Luke said, as he laughed, and put the truck in reverse. The two men emptied the box of nails on the ground, then scattered some weeds to cover their tracks, before driving to the farm. “Everything okay with them radios?” Jim asked, as he approached the truck. “The radios are up and working fine. Still, I think something else will be down soon.” Scott said laughing, as the men exited the truck.

Jim waited until they stopped laughing, before he got the story of what they had done with the nails. “What if they were just sitting there yesterday, and that other stuff was left by teenagers coming out at night?” He asked the pair. “Do you want your niece to be parking out here at night?” Scott answered. “My niece is too young to do that.” Jim countered. “So, if it isn't yours, that makes it right?” Luke spoke and waited. “No, it ain't right but . . . ” “So, what we really did, was put a stop to that place being a lover’s lane.” Luke said. “Possibly stopped it from being a lookout spot for somebody doing something they can't do in the open.” Scott added. “Whatever happens, I doan wanna know about it. There's still work to be done. Let's get to it.” Jim replied.

Luke walked over to the foundation, where the men were braiding the barbed wire into strips and placing them across the flooring. He then walked over to Martin, who was cutting and stacking wood at a good pace. “How many more do you need before you start building?” Luke asked. “If we get forty more logs cut and twice that many stacked, we will still have to wait for the foundation to set up. I think we could start on the flooring first thing Monday morning.” Martin answered. “Well, I'll see if we can get you those logs a little faster.” Luke said, as he walked across the field and noticed the ditch digger sitting idle, half way from the farm to the woods. Jim heard the flatbed truck before it came into view, as it turned off into the yard. On the back it carried the collection of sectional water pipes. The driver got out of the truck bringing the invoice for Jim to sign. “Where do you want it?” He asked, as he scanned the yard and recalled his son’s ant-farm at home. “Take them down to the woods. We will start at that end, and work our way back.” Jim decided. “Good enough for me.” The driver said, and heading for the indicated spot. It took ten minutes for the workmen to off-load the truck, and then it was headed back to the road, stirring up a dust cloud. By the noon break, the digger finished cutting a two-foot wide by three-foot deep trench, across the field. They placed the sections of three-inch pipe along the trench, and were now sorting the other sections in the woods. Luke's crew had rolled sixty more logs over to Martin, as the woods were becoming clear of the debris left behind by the men, as they neatly stacked the bark and limbs. Even Ken Douglas was having a good day, as he finished the half way point on the headstones. John had the old stones crushed and ready to be placed into the forms of the foundation. Each bag of sand, was placed around the hole. The only thing left to do, was adding the water. Jim range the bell and called the crew chiefs on the radios. “I want everybody to get to the lake. Some men will drive their trucks over. After the break, we'll fill some buckets with lake water and start mixing up the cement.” Jim said, as he gave buckets to the men who were leaving from the yard. The men added a quick dip in the water to cooled off. When the break was over, the men filled the buckets and placed them into the truck bed. Jim thought it would be good, if one truck alternated with another, and kept some men at the lake to keep the water coming. The plan worked well, as John's crew began mixing and pouring the concrete over the braided barbed wire in the forms. By two-thirty, only three sections remained open, but John knew it would only be a short time before the job would be finished. Jim was observing his watch, as the second section was being poured. He went to the barn, raised the microphone, and called out, “All crews, come to the barn. Stop what you are doing. Don't cross the field. Use the road and get here fast. It's ten minutes to three. Hurry up!” Jim released the mike and went out to watch for whatever was going to happen. The lake crew rode in the truck, as the wood crew came into the yard. Jim was standing on the edge of the field, where the old chicken coop used to be, as Willie approached. “What's you waitin for Jim?” Willie whispered. “I doan know Willie. It's most near three and we're not to be on that field, but I doan sees nothin.” Jim answered, studying the field. Willie, plus the other men, was startled when a noise started to grow louder from the southwest. Jim was the first to see the objects coming over the trees. Willie's mouth dropped open when the six massive helicopters descended. They scattered bits of debris and clouds of dust effectively clearing the field. When the first two landed, troops started scrambling out and taking up positions around the field. One after another, the air craft came down and released their cargo. Afterwards, the remaining four birds took landing sites around the field. The workers lined the edge of the field, as the troops went about opening the crates, while one man stood apart and barked orders. The troops worked at a quick pace with little wasted effort. Rolls of cables were laid out, and ran to the edge of the barn, while others were stretched toward the woods. A group was assembling something which looked like metal legs, and placing them together by the far edge of the field. “That’s some kind of sensor platform, but it’s too big.” Scott muttered to Jim, as he walked over. The soldiers worked steadily. Some brought boxes to the farm, others went to the generator and detached the cables. “Hey, what about the power for the saws?” Martin yelled over to Jim. Jim shook his head and held up his hands. The troops finished the platform and entered the helicopter. With a roar, the rotors began to spin and the dust whirled into the air, creating tiny tornadoes. It hovered above the generator, as the ground crew attached the slings. With a hand signal, the massive craft plucked the generator off the ground, and flew to the west. The next helicopter was turning its rotors as the troops entered and took to the air, with the third following in short order, lifting the diesel fuel tank with it. The fourth sat by the edge of the field next to the lake, and one soldier was talking on a radio he held. “Do we go back to work now, or what?” Martin asked Jim, when only the drones of the idling engines, could be heard. “It's not over yet. Those army men are waiting for something to happen. We wait, too.” Jim answered. It didn't take long before the sound came again, but this time, it was different. A lower rumbling sound approached. Over the trees, the men saw an even grander helicopter than before. Its body was thin but the rotors were larger. An image of a giant Praying Mantis shot though Jim’s mind. Under the craft, hung a large crate, that was firmly strapped into position. The ground troops ran across the field and climbed on the platform. The radio operator guided the Sky Crane, over the men as the process of off-loading began anew. From where Jim stood, he could see the crate’s bottom was open, and pipes protruded downward. The troops maneuvered the pipes onto the platform. The straps were disconnected and the big bird turned as it flew to the west. In the next thirty minutes, the remaining troops connected cables and placed boxes under the structure. Finally, the sides were opened and dropped to the ground. What the workers viewed was a long silver tube. “Why does Mister Odie need radar?” Luke asked, Jim and Willie. No reply was offered as the group of soldiers left the platform. One soldier detached himself from the group and walked over to the crowd of men. “Which one of you is Price?” Jim raised his hand slowly and felt as if he was back in school. The soldier came up, and Luke whispered to Jim, “That's a Major.” Jim stood silent as the Major handed him a small silver box. “Now then. Green opens, blue tracks, red, you're on line. Push the black to shut down. Tell the Ambassador. It was a pleasure. I've got to go.” The Major gave a casual flip of his hand, turned and trotted toward the helicopter, as its motor roared to life. Jim watched, as the man jumped in, and the bird soared into the sky and headed west. “What is it Jim?” Willie asked, pointing to the silver box with the four colored buttons. “I doan has the faintest idea.” Jim replied, as he studied the strange box in his hands. “Press the green one and see what happens.” Luke sang out. Jim studied the faces around him and noticed his brother nodding in agreement. Jim's fingers were shaking, not knowing if he should or shouldn't press this thing. It's for Mista Odie, Jim thought. “If Mister Odie was here, he'd push it.” Luke said, gleefully. Jim finally decided to push a button. He pressed the black one. Nothing happened, he pressed the red button, again nothing happened. “It's the green one, on top!” Luke said, as he watched Jim's fingers. Jim muttered something under his breath close to, ‘I’s knows what green is fool, I’s jest workin mah way to it.’ He pressed the green button. The sound started softly, coming from under the platform. A whirling sound at first, then a small grinding noise could be heard. A few men pointed to the tube, but Jim already saw that the tube was opening. Netting came out from above and below the tube. The sound stopped. A minute later, a massive antenna dish was standing in the field over the platform. “I didn't think Mista Odie watched television.” Willie said, eyeing the strange contraption in the field. “Push the blue one.” Luke said to Jim. Jim's finger settled on the blue button, not knowing what to expect next. With a jerk, his finger depressed the button and more noises could be heard from the platform. The dish slowly turned, then tilted upward, it turned to the west and then stopped. For the next thirty seconds the men waited. “Red.” Luke said. Jim held the box up and pushed the button. Instantly, the netting on the dish pivoted into place and became a solid piece of metal. The table saw started turning and a few men jumped back in fright. “Well, I'll be a son of a gun!” Scott said, astonished. “It's a solar power station.” He finished, as he began to walk over to the platform. “How long does it last?” Willie asked nervously. “As long as the sun shines, about another three billion years.” Scott answered. “It doan does no work when the sun goes down, do it?” Questioned Jim. “No, but if I'm right, those things have battery back ups. They charge in the day, and that's what you use at night.” Scott went on, “I'd turn off that saw and let the batteries have a full charge.” One of the workers cut the switch and the blade whined to a stop. Scott started first over the field, followed by Jim, Willie, and then the whole work force. Jim and Scott kneeled down and studied the area under the platform, finding Scott's words true. A full bank of batteries, were on charge mode, and the gauges were starting to climb. “What happens if I press the black one?” Jim asked Scott, as they came out from under the structure. “The whole thing shuts down. I guess it's for night time or if a storm's coming up.” Scott said, and Jim though the reasoning was a sound one. Jim had to replace his own antenna last month after a thunder storm. However, that had only cost around thirty dollars, Jim raised his head for a second and thought, How much did this thing cost? He shook his head, knowing that he'd never could imagine that much money in his life, much less, ever see it. “Shows over folks! Let's get that foundation done 'fore the sun sets.” Jim called out. “Some hand units need to be charged. Do you want more logs or water to be gathered?” Martin asked, standing next to Jim. “No, not today. Have them radios picked up. I'll take them home and charge them there for tomorrow. Let's leave those batteries out there all the power they can get,” Jim said, and added, "since we are here now, let's pull together, and get this yard cleaned.”

The crew worked as well as the silver structure on the field. They were helping the pouring crew and taking the scraps of wood out to the burn area. Even Adam was busy mixing sand and water into paste, which covered his arms and parts of his face. Until the sun went behind the oaks, the men worked on the cement foundation and the yard around it. The last section was finished and the smoothing was ending, when the bell sounded, and Jim's voice was heard. “Quit-N-Time!” Willie started laughing and the Douglas brothers grinned widely. “Damn, and I ain't seen Miss Scarlet all day!” Luke bellowed, and the rest of the men hooted and howled to the end of a very productive day. The tools were put away and the barn doors locked by Jim. “Why'd you lock the doors?” Willie asked, puzzled by this unusual act. “I'll tell you, back at the house. We need to talk 'bout some other things, too.” Jim whispered to Willie. Jim had not heard Luke come up behind him. “Who's going to be on guard duty tonight?” Luke asked, startling Jim. "Doan be sneaking up on a soul like that!” Jim gasped, covering his quickly beating heart with his shaking hand. “Guard duty?” Willie asked blankly. “Nobody tonight. Besides, we doan have the radios charged for it.” Jim replied, as he faced Luke and his breathing became normal. “There's a lot of stuff here just to be left to that one master lock and chain.” Luke said, pointing to the barn. “I can't help that now. We ain't ready to do what's need to be done.” Jim answered, with frustration in his voice. Jim turned and started to step forward, when a growl stopped his foot in midair. Luke caught Jim as he fell back, his eyes never leaving the cat's as it sitting in his path. “Where'd he come from?” Jim asked, as Luke removed his steadying hand. “I haven't seen it for a couple of days? Then he's just here. Come to think of it, those goats ain't been around either.” Willie spoke. The cat lifted its right paw and casually licked it. Then it walked to the barn, releasing two loud meows. Jim, Willie, and Luke watched the two rams come from around the side of the barn. Astonishment was on each man's face, as the two rams lowered their heads and rubbed the sides of the calico cat. “I never saw the likes of that before in my whole life. I’s been 'round farm animals for a long time.” Jim gasped out loud. “Just which farms have you seen goats that big before, or a cat, that possessed?” Luke asked, with a skeptical tone. “No where but here, brother. There's a lot more goin on than I want to see. Let's get home. I'm hungry.” Willie said, and the three men loaded Luke's truck with the radios and chargers. Later, that evening, in the town of New Hope, televisions were left off. The stories of giant green helicopters, a huge power station, and most of all, a pile of sand, that once was a king’s castle, were passed around the living rooms and dinning tables. These families now had more hope in their lives. They were finally, going about the business of living, instead of the living of business.

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