[p.167]As he pulled the car up in front of the house he saw Catherine in the front yard, changing the water. She came over and kissed him.
“How were things at the office?”
“Ross has two people mad at him now,” he said.
“You and who else?”
“Miles. This whole mess about the reference card. Everyone but Miles worked on it over the weekend.”
“Why didn’t Miles?”
“Mindy was sick and asked him to take the kids.”
“Well,” she said, “did he tell Ross that?”
“No. He says he’s through kissing up to Ross. So everyone thinks Miles just loafed over the weekend. It just keeps getting worse and worse.”
“Can’t you talk to him?”
“Me? I told him to tell Ross why he couldn’t work the weekend, but I’m really not much of an expert at dealing with Ross.”
“Did you call your aunt Norma today?”
“Yeah. Uncle Neal’s about the same.”
They walked into the house together.
[p.168]“But I’ve also got some good news,” said Ryan. “I stopped at the doctor’s office today and picked up my test results.”
“Oh, let’s see them.”
He spread the sheets out on the table.
DESCRIPTION: Pericardial motion is normal and there is no fluid. Left ventricular size mode appears enlarged but this is not confirmed. All wall motions of the left ventricle are normal and symmetrical with good global contraction. Posterior wall is normal. Aortic valve is normal. Mitral valve is normal. Dimensions of the right heart are within normal limits.
INTERPRETATION: 1. Normal echo cardiogram; 2. No evidence of mitral valve prolapse.
Catherine was smiling. “You’re okay,” she said.
“I guess I’m going to live.”
She put her arm around him. “That makes me feel so good. I was worried about you.”
“It is a relief. No doubt about that.”
“So what are you going to do to celebrate?”
“I’m going to go out and run.”
He dressed down, did a few sit-ups and push-ups and was winded before he left the house. But he trudged down the street to Fort Union, where he tried to run.
A group of kids drove by and swore at him. When he had been their age he had been capable of fifteen, twenty miles at a stretch, back when his mother was alive and Neal was strong and Rose was in love with him.
Time passed quickly. Sixteen-year-olds didn’t believe that, but he believed it now, and he ached for the past, for the people he had loved, and for the possibilities of youth.
He stopped when he reached the library, his side aching [p.169]and sweat dripping off his forehead. He walked a few blocks and then started to jog again.
The next day Ryan stood inside his office and watched Miles and Shirleen through his open door. Miles was standing at her desk, and they were arguing about something. Ryan couldn’t understand what they were saying. Miles heaved an exaggerated sigh and walked away. Shirleen started to type something, then stopped and closed her eyes.
Their first meeting in the Marriott had no doubt been charged with excitement, newness, shyness, and danger. Maybe the first few times. But now the complications had set in.
Everyone in the office was rushing around working on the reference card, everyone except Miles.
Ryan took the boards he was working on to Henning’s office.
“Ross has called a quick meeting on the reference card,” said Henning.
Ross greeted everyone, handed out the agenda, and started to talk about the reference card when Miles stumbled in with a clipboard in his hand and part of his shirt tail sticking out. He crashed into his chair and dropped the clipboard on the table. He sat watching Shirleen, who was taking minutes. She didn’t look up and wasn’t about to. Miles was still staring at her.
“Okay,” said Ross, “we’ve got one more day to meet the deadline on the reference card. I think we can make it. We just need to coordinate a few things.”
He asked Jake about the revisions.
“Yes,” said Miles. “Please fill us in on the progress of those wonderful revisions.”
Everyone looked at Miles, who ignored them and stared at Jake. Jake hesitated, looking at Ross but getting no help.
Even when she wasn’t taking notes, Shirleen kept her eyes on the table.
[p.170]“We’ve just about worked our way through the alphabet,” said Jake. “Corrections on the last few letters have been ordered and should be back within the hour. We’ve been working pretty hard on them.”
Miles said, “Tell everybody how you worked most of the night, Friday, like real troopers.”
“I think everyone’s aware of that,” said Jake.
“They ought to be aware of it,” said Miles. “The way you’ve moaned and groaned about it.”
Jake was starting a comeback when Miles fired again. “What a tragedy it would have been if this year’s reference card had been different from last year’s.”
“I think it’s best if you and Jake and I discuss this privately,” Ross said to Miles.
“And did you tell everyone about the brownie points you got from Captain Queeg here?” said Miles, still talking to Jake.
“Let’s discuss it privately,” said Ross.
“Privately?” asked Miles. “When it’s me under the gun you want to discuss it over the P.A. system; when it’s him, you want to discuss it privately.”
Ross didn’t answer.
Ryan looked at Shirleen; she was fighting back tears.
“Yeah, well, I’ve had enough of your fair treatment and your objectivity,” Miles said to Ross.
“I’m sorry you were taken off the reference card,” Ross said. “I realize I could have handled the matter more appropriately.”
“Of course you could have,” said Miles.
“Let’s discuss it privately—”
“Save your breath,” said Miles. He stood up and walked out.
“I apologize for this,” said Ross. “There’s tremendous pressure associated with the reference card; several of us have made [p.171]mistakes. I’m sure we’ll be able to work everything out. Now, Jake, would you please continue?”
Ryan stood up. Shirleen was watching him. He tried to move quietly to the door, but he bumped into Henning and dropped his pencil. He had to wait while Henning moved his chair. Shirleen touched her face, as if she were worried about her make-up. Then a resignation came to her eyes, and she looked back to her notes. Ryan finally got out of the room.
Miles had cleared the pictures off his desk and wall; he was putting books in his briefcase.
“From the expression on your face,” he said to Ryan, “I take it you don’t approve.”
“I don’t want you to leave like this.”
“Well, I’ve got to.”
“This morning I heard Ross defending you, telling Jake not to be critical of you.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. It’s just part of his act.”
“I didn’t think he was acting,” said Ryan.
“It doesn’t make any difference. I’ll be out of here in ten minutes.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’ll help you pack your stuff.”
“Thanks,” said Miles.
“I guess I’ll have to fend for myself from now on.”
“That’s the one thing I regret—leaving you to fight Ross by yourself. Shirleen—well, it’s best for me to leave as far as she’s concerned. I’m just messing up her life.”
“Sorry you’re leaving like this.”
Miles stopped packing and took his tie off. He smiled.
“Well, let’s get out of here before I have to face Ross. Or Shirleen. Oh, but first I want to give you a souvenir.” He reached into one of his boxes and pulled out a license plate. It [p.172]was a wide, battered, rusty plate that read, “WYOMING 185 TX, 1955” with the outline of a cowboy on a bucking horse.
“Hey,” said Ryan, “where’d you get that?”
“We were driving through Wyoming a few years ago and I found it along the side of a dirt road.”
“I was in Wyoming in ’55.”
“I thought you were.”
“My dad and uncle were working on the dam.”
Ryan took the plate, ran his fingers over the outline of the horse. “Thanks, Miles.”
He left the plate on his chair and headed for the parking lot with Miles, both of them loaded down with sacks and boxes.
“I’ve been idling here for five and a half years,” said Miles.
“It wasn’t a complete waste. We had some good times.”
“That’s the truth. You know, I’ve lost touch with a lot of friends since Mindy and I broke up. You’re about the best friend I’ve got.”
“Let’s not lose track of each other,” said Ryan.
Miles set his things on the hood of the car and fumbled for his keys.
“I should feel great,” said Miles. “I’m free of Mindy and I’m free of Ross. But all I feel is tired.”
He opened the car door.
“Miles, we gotta keep in touch.”
“Yeah, I’ll let you know what’s happening.”
They shook hands. “You’re a good man,” said Miles.
Miles gave the thumbs-up sign as he drove out of the parking lot.
Shirleen was standing in Miles’s office when Ryan got back.
“Just like that?” she asked.
“Yes, he’s gone.”
“Ross is having me fill out a form for Personnel,” she said. [p.173]“We’re paying him for his unused vacation and giving him severance pay.”
“That’s good. He’ll need it,” said Ryan.
“Do you know what he did with his ID card?”
“He didn’t mention it. He probably forgot about it.”
“If you talk to him, would you please ask him about it?”
“I’d appreciate that, Ryan.”
She had tears in her eyes again.
He put his hand on her arm. “We’re going to miss him.”
She nodded her head.
He looked in Miles’s office. The vultures had already hit, taking the computer terminal and the credenza.
Ryan would be here tomorrow and the next day, but Miles never again. Miles would probably leave Salt Lake. They might not see each other for years. Ryan thought about what a chance meeting with Miles would be like in ten or fifteen years.
“Yes sir,” Miles would say, taking a drag on his cigarette, “it’s amazing to turn fifty and look back at the things you’ve lost.”
Amazing to turn sixty and look back at the things you’ve lost.
Amazing to turn seventy.
Just then Shirleen’s husband walked past him.
“You ready?” he asked Shirleen.
“Yes, just let me put the cover on my typewriter.”
Ryan watched them walk out together, Shirleen looking nervous and unsure of herself.
Catherine asked him to go to the store when he got home. He asked the kids if they wanted to come with him.
They were half-way to the store-and still in the subdivision—when he saw the fire, a group of shrubs along the curb quickly going up in flames.
[p.174]“Daddy, a fire!” yelled Tyler.
“I wonder what’s going on,” Ryan said. Then he saw a man at the side of the house trying desperately to untangle his garden hose.
Ryan stopped the car.
“We better help,” he said.
The kids got out of the car as he opened the trunk. Allison asked what he was doing.
“I’ve got a fire extinguisher back here.”
“Daddy’s going to put out the fire,” she said to Tyler.
“Goody,” shouted Tyler. “Put it out.”
The fire was spreading rapidly, crackling like a miniature forest fire.
“Stay here,” he told the kids, “right by the car.”
“Put it out,” yelled Tyler.
The man hadn’t made much progress with the hose. A woman ran out of the house and saw the extinguisher.
“Oh, good,” she said.
Ryan stepped up to the bushes and pulled the pin. Then he backed up a couple of steps. Give the extinguisher room to work, Neal used to say, don’t get too close.
He aimed and pulled the lever, wondering for an instant if he were about to embarrass himself with a dead extinguisher.
But the foam shot out strong and steady; the fire was out before he emptied the extinguisher.
“He put it out!” yelled Tyler. “Daddy put it out!”
“Oh, thank you so much,” said the lady.
“Yes, thanks,” said the man, dropping the hose.
“I thought we were going to lose the whole row of shrubs.”
Allison and Tyler were cheering and clapping. Ryan motioned for them to come over next to him.
“How did it start?” asked Ryan.
“I have no idea,” said the man.
Another man came across the street.
[p.175]“I saw something come down from the sky,” he said, “and then the bush went up in flames.”
“Goodness,” said the woman, “what do you think it was?”
“Well,” said her husband, “maybe it was from an airplane or something.”
“It was strange,” said the neighbor. “Kind of a ball of fire coming down from the sky.”
They heard a siren. “That must be the fire department,” said the woman.
“It’s a fire engine,” Allison told Tyler.
“Goody, a fire engine.”
It rounded the corner with lights flashing and siren screaming.
The man flagged it down.
“Looks like you got it taken care of,” said the driver.
“This bush was burning like mad,” said the woman. “We think it might have been a meteorite.”
“I was sitting in my living room looking out the picture window,” said the neighbor. “This—well, something on fire—came down from the sky. Right into the shrubs.”
Two firemen came over to look at the shrubs. One of them got down on his knees.
“There’s some kind of rock fragment here,” he said.
“Be careful,” said his partner. “That might be hot.”
He put on his gloves and picked it up. “Strange looking rock,” he said.
“A meteorite,” said the woman, “well, I can’t believe it.”
“Is there any kind of crater?” asked Ryan.
“No, doesn’t seem to be.”
“We’ll have to have it checked,” said the fireman.
The neighbor was reviewing the whole story with the firemen when Ryan started with the kids back to the car.
“Oh, thank you very much,” said the man.
“That’s okay,” said Ryan.
[p.176]“That extinguisher was a life-saver,” said the woman.
“Well,” said Catherine, after tucking the children into bed, “you were quite a hero tonight.”
“I was glad the kids were with me. They really got a kick out of that.”
“They sure did. I guess I can’t complain any more about keeping an extinguisher in the car.”
“That’s Uncle Neal. He’s told me a thousand times to always have one in the car.
“Uncle Neal gave you a lot of good advice.”
“He sure did.”
She draped her arm across his chest and held his arm.
“It’s almost ten-thirty,” she said. “Why don’t I make some popcorn and we can watch M*A*S*H in style.”
“Then we can go to bed.”
“That sounds good too.”
She unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and kissed him on the chest. “I just meant we’ll go to bed to sleep.”
“Well, maybe we could do something else,” said Ryan.
“I don’t know. Maybe we could invent something.”
She kissed him on the neck, chin, and ear and undid another button. “You’re about to lose your shirt,” she teased.
“That’s okay. It’s hot in here.”
“It could get hotter,” she said, kissing his stomach.
“Careful, I’m ticklish, you know.”
“You are? Let’s see.” She grabbed his sides; he laughed and fell back onto the couch.
“Ah, got you where I want you,” she said, straddling his leg and corning down on his chest. She kissed him as she finished with his shirt. “There, you don’t have
to worry about that hot shirt any more.”
[p.177]“I love you, Ryan.”
“I love you. Do you still want to watch M*A*S*H?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“Oh, Margaret, press your ears against my lips.”
“Oh, Frank,” she laughed.
“You know what I love most about you, Margaret?”
“Your lobes.” He bit her ear.
“Frank, let’s slip into something more comfortable.”
“The supply tent.”
“This is exciting,” Ryan said.
“Oh, Frank, it excites me when you say exciting.”
“Oh, Margaret,” he moaned.
They both laughed.