Round ’em Up! (Chapter 8 Excerpt)

31 Oct

I lead an elite team on a special mission…

“Colin’s cows have busted out,” Sue says. “Take some of the boys and help him.”.
“What about my…?”
“I’ll watch your class.”

So instead of Calendar Time, math tune-ups, and prepping for our afternoon field trip, I’ll be leading a round-up. It’s pretty obvious what the kids would prefer. Moments ago the boys’ hearts were at or below resting rate. Now, their chests are heaving and their wide-eyed faces beam with anticipation. Strategy time: we kneel under the awning, out of the rain, to discuss the mission. I feel like I should draw a schematic diagram with a fat piece of sidewalk chalk.

OK, men. You’re the best of the best. This is what you’ve been training for all of these years. James, you take point. Codyn, you flank the west side. And Jordan, you cover us from the ridge.

RPG–there’s no place like it.

“Alright, everyone just take it easy. You guys know more about this stuff than Mr. Chin. Just remember: the cows might be scared of you but they’re a whole lot bigger than you are. So be smart. Head down to Colin’s house and I’ll bring the van around to meet you.”

Colin is a warm, stocky man with a leathery complexion. His smile is an open invitation to laugh with him, that of a tour guide who likes showing the new teacher how things are done in RPG. I slow down every time I pass his house to admire the fine collection of rusted things in his yard: an old push mower, something that resembles a caveman’s missile, an exhaust contraption. All sit atop sun-bleached stumps in the yard, like refugees from some outsider-art sculpture exhibit.

Rusted Things

Colin's fine collection of rusted things.

As I start up Lonna, I think of my last conversation with Colin. I had stopped by his house to collect some sheep droppings for my garden when a chopper flew overhead. Glassy-eyed, he laughed hysterically, tracking the helicopter’s progress across the sky.

As in many rural towns, a good portion of RPG’s economy may revolve around growing and selling marijuana. During my early travels in New Zealand I met an ex-police officer who owned a convenience store. You can always tell when the locals had been busted or the crops were raided, he told me, because no one has enough money to buy stuff at his store. Government choppers routinely spray the plants with herbicides, sometimes without even bothering to figure out who is growing it.

“Them pilots are good,” Colin said with a chuckle, straining his neck to watch the chopper. “A mate of mine who was growing plants under the eve of his house, heard a chopper, looked out his kitchen window and saw a hose swinging around!”
His gestures revealed the height of the kitchen window, the location of the plants in relation to where his mate was standing and the path of the swinging hose. I gave him a smirk of complicity. “ A ‘mate’ of yours, eh?”

Today, I see that Colin is again chuckling to himself.
Colin waves his right arm in a big swooping circle and yells, but the sound of his quad drowns out his voice. That arm wave, however, is all the direction I need.

* * *

….and back to the cows, who are grazing on top of a grass bank a few minutes up the road. They look at us for a chew or two then drop their heads for their last chomps of freedom–thieves grabbing a final handful of cash or jewels as police sirens wail in the distance. A couple of the boys climb the bank ahead of the cows; a few others, in a flanking maneuver, sneak up behind them to get them moving.

“Hahhh! Hah! Get! Hahhhh!”

The escaped convicts trot along the top of the bank, but not too urgently: every so often, they stop to take another mouthful before giving in completely. They know they’re busted. The dozen or so cows could easily plow through the two boys blocking their way, but instead they slide down to the road. I’ve parked like a cop, blocking the road, in an effort to force them towards Colin’s house. The boys skid safely to the street and, suddenly all business, walk behind the cows like men entering an office building.

I pull up alongside Codyn, who’s winded but refuses a ride. He’s coming up on that early teen proving age,  looking for his place in the world, and he hasn’t been easy to deal with at school. For the time being I share his glee, aiming my video camera (the uniqueness of the situation demanded video documentation) at him for a status report. Like most kids his age, he’s not incredibly articulate, and the exchange is about as revealing as a post-game interview.

“Codyn, how do you feel about the successful operation?”
“It’s Alright!”
“Good job man!”

The cows must do this pretty often, because they know exactly where to go. As the last cow trots through the open gate, James slams it shut as if he’s closing up his laptop after a day’s work.

Operation Round Up

Book Video Trailer

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One Response to “Round ’em Up! (Chapter 8 Excerpt)”

  1. Fran soltys November 10, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    Ryan I was so sad when it ended. Great trailer. I can’t wait to see more.

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