episode one / chapter four…
“Eli, where did dispatch say again?”
“Jeez Walt, your memory has gone to pot. You’re drinking too much of that moonshine.”
“It’s not shine, it is clear whiskey.”
“Oh, right, sorry. That makes a heckuva difference. Didn’t mean to offend.”
“No, you never do.”
The black and white squad car bounced its way over rocks and through potholes along a desolate gravel road. It rolled slowly up to a stop sign that stood alone at an intersection. The signpost bent forward towards the traffic, as if to implore each oncoming vehicle to heed its one directive.
“Take a left here, then go straight for a bit. It’s about a quarter mile up this road.”
“10-4. Are we headed up to, um, oh, whats-his-name’s place? What is it again?”
Eli glanced to his partner and suppressed a smirk.
“Right, Joe’s place. Yup, Joe lives up here.”
“Uh huh, glad you can recall so well. Must be why the clear whiskey is better than moonshine. Sure couldn’t be the flavor. They both taste like gasoline.”
“Eh, the whiskey is more diesel-y.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“And wait, you know the difference in taste between normal petrol and diesel?”
Walt looked to his partner, who seemed genuinely confused.
“What…why would I…”
The car rumbled past a large boulder and, out the side window behind Eli’s wide, perplexed face, a pair of men came into view.
“Hang on buddy, we’re here. Who’s that talking to Joe?”
Eli dropped the conversation, spun in place and stared out in the same direction.
“I’m not sure. Looks like some captain from out at the base.”
“I’ll pull up next to them.”
Walt flipped on his signal, out of habit, and pulled into a long steep driveway. Eli focused intently out the window.
“Who called in the damn Air Force for this?”
The man stood next to Joe and watched the cops open the doors of their police cruiser. They emerged, each wearing a fur-lined black jacket, matching gloves, and a wide brown hat. The early summer temperatures of the northern Alaskan outpost warmed to the low forties, which allowed residents to leave their heavy parkas at home.
Both men ambled over slowly, carrying expressions of moderate to severe disdain.
Eli responded to this greeting with a quick nod, and then turned to the person they came to see.
“Joe, we didn’t expect to see you talking to anyone else up here. Did you make any other calls after you spoke with the station?”
“Officer, sorry to interrupt, but our radar picked up a signal of a craft coming down. We wanted to get here first to insure everyone was safe, and that no military secrets were out here to be found.”
After the unprompted declaration ended, both lawmen returned their attention to Joe, who blanched a little.
“Um, what he said.”
Eli spun back to the military man.
“So, Captain, I…”
“Right, sorry, Major. I get all that shiny flair confused sometimes.”
The soldier gritted his teeth. Walt stepped up.
“So, Major, you’re saying it was one of yours that went down here.”
“Yes, an unmanned object we had sent up a few hours earlier. The tech burned out on it. Crashed just back there, behind Joe’s place. Didn’t hurt anyone.”
“So nobody was flying it?”
Eli’s interjection stilled the conversation. The Major looked at him coolly, and responded.
“Nope, not a soul. You didn’t see a person out there, did you Joe?”
“A person? Uh, no.”
The Major almost smiled.
“See? We’re all good here gentlemen. You can head back to the station and just forget about this. We’ve taken care of it.”
“Oh, gee, thanks.”
Walt recognized the sarcasm of his long time partner, and could only offer a conciliatory grin back to the Major. That man’s stern visage didn’t change.
“I’m going to talk with Joe a little more if you two don’t mind. You men drive safe.”
Eli and Walt looked at the man briefly, and then turned to Joe, who scratched the back of his neck with his right hand and mumbled a confirmation.
“Yeah, it’s cool, thanks guys. Nothing really to worry about, I guess.”
The cops looked at each other, nodded in reticent agreement, and turned to trudge back to their car.
“Ok, well I guess we’ll take off then. Let us know if, uh, anything worth mentioning comes up Joe.”
“Sure, of course, will do.”
Walt took his place behind the wheel. Eli looked back intensely at the uniformed man, and then sat down inside the car. They pulled slowly out of the driveway, watching the rest of the scene play out in their mirrors.
The police car rolled away from the house as the two men remaining looked on. The sound of the engine quieted more and more, until nothing else could be heard, allowing the silence of the farmstead to take hold again. At this point, the Major’s glance returned from the street ahead to the man at his left.
“So, Joe, I need to get going now too. Are we all good here?”
“Sorry we had to take your phone. Couldn’t risk photos, you know.”
“The Air Force will get you a new one. I’ll make sure you receive it within 24 hours. Ok?”
“We appreciate you following the protocol. It is terribly important that the right thing is done.”
“You’re a good American Joe.”
“Remember to let me know personally if something comes up, or if someone comes by with questions. Otherwise, don’t talk to anyone about this. You understand?”
“Yeah, I said I did.”
The Major forced an uneven smile, and gave a firm whack to Joe’s left shoulder in an apparent attempt at cordiality.
With that uncomfortable moment passed, there wasn’t much for either man to add. The Major left his spot and stepped over to his government issued green Chevy pickup. He opened the door, settled into place, and closed himself in. The ignition fired, and he shifted into drive. Before letting his foot off the brake, though, he looked back at Joe and gave him a small salute.
Joe, a non-military man through and through, simply waved.