Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thirty Four

Will couldn't sleep. There was no particular reason. Boeing lay sprawled on the other side of the tent snoring, but he was used to that by now. Aguilero occasionally muttered something out of a dream, but Will had become accustomed to that, too. Coyote's absence was entirely normal. Did he ever rest?

Will sighed and shifted position. Maybe having the blankets a different way would help. But no, what he really needed was to have Diana near. He had grown so accustomed to the rhythm of her breathing at night that her absence left him unsettled. He should’ve insisted she be allowed to come with them. Even after weeks apart, he couldn't get used to being without her.

He sat up and pulled on his boots. He was starting to learn from Coyote's restless ways. If he couldn't sleep, what was the use of lying in bed hour after hour, doing nothing? He strapped on his hunting knife, but didn't bother with a gun or flashlight. The camp was well-guarded and the moonlight would be sufficient for a walk.

A cold wind hit him in the face as he stepped out of the tent, and he shrugged deeper into his jacket. In the near distance, he could see the outline of the bridge. They had made good progress this week. Just when he had begun to wonder if it would ever look like a proper bridge, now it appeared almost complete. He walked toward the construction site. Maybe Coyote would be there.

As he picked his way around the timbers, rocks and tools, Will was struck by the immensity of their undertaking. Although it was only a two-span pony bridge across a shallow river, they had to build with spring snowmelt in mind.

Tonight the burbling waters lapped at the reinforced pilings, and the freshly-cut timbers glowed faintly in a network of crossed reinforcing beams. Another day or two, and the wooden planking would be complete. They would add railings and a few other finishing touches, but the most difficult part was done.

Putting the bridge together had been hard work that Will only dimly understood, even as he directed the men under his command. He had followed the instructions he was given and the bridge seemed to build itself. It would have been nice to have understood it the way Coyote did, but Will was not discontent. He would never be a man of ideas, but he was learning that he had a talent for leading others.

He sat on a log, listening to the rushing water and wondering where Coyote was tonight. The young man had taken to bridge design like he had been born for it, poring over drawings and asking questions until the lead engineers were tempted to toss him in the river. But he had learned. He had inspected every inch of the new bridge as if it were a fascinating new toy. Even though he lacked the mathematical skill to do the calculations, he understood the most important concepts with an instinct that finally won the engineers over.

Will glanced at the stack of timbers that would make the guardrail. The design was Coyote's. It had nothing to do with the integrity of the span, but it was still an honor. Will would make sure his men carried out the plans with their best craftsmanship.

Up the hill, a campfire glowed outside the tent of some of the older men. A few dark shapes huddled around it and Will went to see what was going on. Maybe they had a little whiskey and would share. He made his way up the rocky path, enjoying as he always did, the smell of burning piñon on a cold night. "Hey," he said as he stepped into the circle and sat down.

Shash, Otis and Bandera nodded in greeting. Gordo paused only long enough to mutter, "Hey, Will," then returned to his topic. "I hate to do it to them, but we can only use them for a few more days. One week after that with a cleanup crew, and we'll have to let them all go, unless someone knows of other work around here."

"It's a shame to lay men off. They've got families to feed."

"It's more than they would've gotten if the first bridge hadn't collapsed."

"They knew it wasn't forever when they signed on."

"You don't think they'd engage in sabotage to extend this project out, do you?"

The men shook their heads and muttered.

"We'll have to keep a close eye on things."

"And keep after the crews. Don't let them slack off." Gordo looked at Will. "What do you think? Any sign your crew might be trying to drag this thing out?"

"None that I've seen."

Shash grinned. "That's because you make them want to work."

"I just don't let them do anything less than their best. They're a good crew. Very smart and dedicated."

"They're smart and dedicated because you expect it of them," Bandera pointed out. "The men under your friend Boeing are no different, but he expects them to be lazy and stupid, so they are."

"It's psychology," Otis added.

Will shrugged. "I don't know anything about that. But if we offer the men a bonus for finishing on time and promise them first pick of the jobs when we have something else, we shouldn't have any trouble being done on schedule."

Gordo raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure we've got any extra money."

"They'd probably like food more than money. Their kids can't eat silver."

The men fell to discussing this possibility, huddling closer to the fire as the night wore on and the cold deepened. Shash added more branches and Will picked one up. He broke off the gray ashen tip and was poking it back in the flames when one of the men looked up. "Here comes trouble."

Coyote burst into their circle, pale and urgent, and fixed Will with a look of utter exasperation. "Damn it, I've been looking all over for you! We've got to go!"

Will got to his feet. "Go where?"

"Back to base camp. Get some guns and meet me at the corral."


"Don't just stand there!"

There was something wild and desperate in his voice that convinced him. "I'm sorry," Will told the baffled men.

"The project will be done in a few more days," Gordo said.

"We don't have days!" Coyote snapped.

"I can't explain," Will said. "But we'll be back as soon as we can."

Coyote had already taken off down the trail, and Will ran after him. "What is it?"

He let out a string of curses. "And it's already too goddamn late!"

"Too late for what? And why are we going if it's too late?"

"Because there still may be something we can do about it. We'll need guns, knives, anything you've got. And—" he stopped on the trail where it branched off. One way led up to their tent, the other down to the corral. "Bring Aguilero. Make him come."

"What about Boeing?"

"It'd be good to have him along, but he doesn't—"

A horrible suspicion dawned. "Did something happen to our girls?"

"Just do what I told you, okay? I'll get the horses. Hurry!"

Previous Entry
Next Entry


Alice Audrey said...

I keep coming over to read, then getting dragged out of my chair and off to work. Sorry I'm so late.

Hey, why don't you start feeding this through The Serialists?

Alice Audrey said...

ps, too bad the voices didn't warn Coyote sooner.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Yes, it's a pretty neat gift he has, but unreliable. Regarding the Serialists, I didn't realize one could post old stuff.

Alice Audrey said...

Technically, you're not supposed to, but I'm thinking I'll relax that rule a bit, at least for a while.

Alice Audrey said...

But you made this generally available only recently. To us, it's new. Just don't dump the whole thing into the meme at one whack.