"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Key, Chapter Four

The Key
Chapter Four

A remote farmstead in southern Oklahoma

Charlie Diggs released the handle on the chain binder, relieving tension on the last chain that bound his Caterpillar D-8 tractor to the lowboy trailer. Removing the hooks from the trailer, he pulled the chain loose and dropped it alongside the trailer. He fired up the gas pony motor, engaged the diesel and watched the dark smoke as the diesel engine sputtered and popped and came to life.

Charlie climbed up on the track and swung himself onto the padded seat. He rested both feet near the brake pedals, shoved the throttle forward until he liked the rhythm of the engine, then pulled the gear shift bar into reverse. The tractor rattled into action, the huge steel tracks pulling the yellow dozer up and over the rear wheels of the trailer, then onto a sloped mound of hard-packed dirt.

Once at the bottom of the loading ramp, Charlie pulled the right steering clutch lever back and held it against his belly while pushing hard on the right brake pedal. He shoved the gear bar forward and felt the left track grousers bite and claw at the dirt as the tractor turned right. The tractor clankety-clanked across the ground until it was next to the excavator, where Charlie shut down the engine.

Well, Charlie said to himself. I got everything here. May as well get started.

He climbed into the cab of the excavator, walked it over to the weather-ravaged farmhouse, and lifted the bucket high in the air. Then he let it drop quickly onto the roof of the old house, watched with a grin on his whiskered face as the bucket smashed through the dry wood. In less than an hour the house was a pile of shattered sticks.

Charlie backed his ten-yard dump truck near the mess and began loading debris into the dump bed with the excavator.

“Wish they’d let me burn the damn thing,” he muttered. “Save me a hell of a lotta time. But, no. Them duck people don’t want no contamination, they sez. “Haul it off the site,” they sez. What the hell. I make more money this way. Reckon I’ll do it their way.”

By noon the temperature had soared into the high nineties and Charlie, working near the heat radiating from the heavy equipment, felt like he had sweated out his last ounce of moisture. He’d already drunk two of his three jugs of water.

Least I got most of it moved out, he thought. Just the far corner of the cellar left. The huge bucket slammed into the pile of debris, dragged it forward as the bucket curled inward. Crunching the wood against the cellar wall, the bucket filled with broken wood and chunks of concrete. Charlie handled the controls gently, and the bucket rose, moved over the top of the dump bed and released its load. Again and again, Charlie deftly emptied the old cellar. He was reaching for another load when a hint of gold caught his eye. He leaned forward over the controls and looked closer. He lowered the bucket to the ground beside the excavated cellar, and climbed down from the rig.

“What the hell?” said Charlie as he walked closer to inspect the unusual color. That looks like a….. Well, I’ll be…. It is. It’s a damn padlock. Charlie climbed down into the cellar and picked his way across the remaining debris.

“Dang tough ol’ thing, too, it is,” said Charlie. “Don’t reckon I ever seen anything like this.” Charlie wondered what was behind the door that looked to be made of oak planks. Old storm cellar, he mused. Maybe one of them bomb shelters.

“Dang! I’ll waste the rest of the afternoon goin’ home to get my bolt cutters, and even then I don’t reckon they can cut anything this thick. Maybe I can get at it with the bucket.”

He climbed back onto the excavator and maneuvered the huge tracked rig closer to the locked door. He tried several times to break the hasp and padlock, but couldn’t get the right angle. He did manage to knock a chunk of oak board off one corner, but when he saw the sheet steel sandwiched behind it, he quit trying. Charlie shut down the excavator engine and climbed down.

He pulled a red handkerchief from his rear pocket and wiped the sweat off his face and neck. He stood there thinking for a few minutes, then, looking around the site, he walked towards the dozer.

“Prob’ly jest to keep the kids outa the cellar. Ain’t no one lookin’, and oncet I cover this up, ain’t nobody ever gonna know.”

So Charlie did exactly that. Rather than lose a few hours going back to his shop for tools to break open the padlocked door, Charlie fired up the bulldozer and did what he’d been paid a lump sum to do. He covered over the old farmhouse site with dirt from a nearby hillock. Then he began shaping and smoothing the land into a shallow bowl about five acres in size.

Two days later Charlie loaded up the last of his heavy equipment and drove off the site.

“Hope them damn ducks, or whatever they’s building this swamp for, like it.” He yanked a King Edward cigar from his shirt pocket, bit off the end, and stuck the unlit stogie in his mouth. With a huge grin on his face, he began thinking about the 12 gauge shotgun he was planning on buying for duck hunting in the fall.

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