Human Phoenix
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2012 by Refusenik

Friday afternoon, August 10th, 2007

Scott walked into the kitchen at Mr. Piotrowski's bursting with news. Mr. Piotrowski was at the stove standing over a big pot holding a large wooden spoon. Jobe was hovering nearby in case anything interesting fell to the floor.

He started to speak, but Mr. Piotrowski pointed the spoon at him.

"Before you say anything, Honour called. She says to tell you, and I quote, 'not a word'. She was very insistent."

"That woman knows me too well," Scott grumbled.

Mr. Piotrowski chuckled, "She's good that way isn't she?"

"What are you making?"

"I'm soaking some beans. Tomorrow, this will be ham hocks and beans."

Scott looked at the pot and back at Mr. Piotrowski.

"Don't frown. Have you ever had ham hocks and beans?"

"No."

"You'll see. Now, without telling me anything you shouldn't, was it good news or bad?"

"Good, I think."

"Then that's all I need to know. Let me cover this pot and we'll head down to Meritt's. They called and another crate came in."

Meritt's had a small shipping counter next to the tiny rural post office. Over the last week several crates of gear had arrived from the University of Chicago. They were the biggest thing to pass through Meritt's in years. Now they filled one bay of the storage building awaiting the arrival of Donna and her team. Scott and Mr. Piotrowski made a quick trip to get the last of the expected deliveries. After a very short debate they decided to eat in the diner.

Back at the house Mr. Piotrowski had a checklist for the impending visit. All the crates had arrived. Fortunately, most of them weren't very heavy.

"Hotel rooms?" Mr. Piotrowski asked.

"Three rooms at the La Quinta in town," Scott confirmed.

"Rental car?"

"They can stop by and get it any time."

"What are we forgetting?" Mr. Piotrowski wondered.

"If we knew, we wouldn't be forgetting it."

"Okay wise guy, how about the path out to the site?"

"Want to go for a ride?" Scott asked. "You haven't been since I showed it to you the first time."

Mr. Piotrowski agreed. They walked out to the UTV and Jobe insisted on going along for the ride. Scott started the Rhino and they headed off. He'd been working on the route for the past couple of weeks. It was rough, but serviceable.

"You put out a lot of stakes," Mr. Piotrowski observed. He was bracing himself with both hands.

"Don't want them getting lost. You okay over there?"

"My teeth haven't fallen out yet."

They made the trip without too much trouble. Jobe jumped down and investigated the area giving it his stamp of approval. Mr. Piotrowski looked around and scratched his chin.

"Have you thought about trying to prepare a camp site? Maybe set out a sun shade?" he asked.

"I did, but I figure Donna is going to have her own plan."

"Actually, that's good thinking," Mr. Piotrowski said. "Flexibility when dealing with the female of the species is a must."

Jobe barked.

"It could be a universal rule," Mr. Piotrowski said as he scratched the dog's head.

They headed back to the house. Mr. Piotrowski had an idea about how Scott could improve the route. It took him about twenty minutes to rig it up, but before long he had a couple of old tires dragging behind the UTV. Stopping every now and then, he took his shovel and worked on the high spots and filled in the low ones. The sun was headed down when he returned to the house. He was tired and sweaty. Rather than track dirt through the house he stripped and dumped his work clothes by the washer.

Mr. Piotrowski didn't say a word as Scott went through the kitchen. Jobe however, snuck up behind him and goosed him with a cold nose.

"Hey!"

He escaped to the shower as Mr. Piotrowski chuckled at Jobe's stealthy move.

After a quick shower, and a change of clothes, Scott grabbed his backpack and prepared to head back to Broken Creek.

"Tired?" Mr. Piotrowski asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Think that plow blade attachment might have made things a little easier?"

Scott stood there.

"There's nothing wrong with honest work to save a little money, but working smarter is even better. How much time did you spend on that dirt path?"

"A bunch."

"Something to think about then."

"Yes, sir," Scott replied.


By the time the sun came up Sunday morning, Scott was twenty minutes south of the Midland airport. He was going to chauffeur three people, so Mr. Piotrowski had stayed home. Scott had a lot of time to think about recent developments. If Mr. Demps from the Justice Depart was to be believed, there was no longer any threat against his life. What he couldn't get out of his head was Craig Carson Sr. Would a man who went to such great lengths to get rid of him really let him live in peace?

At the airport he lowered his window to grab a ticket from the machine at the entrance to the covered parking garage. Driving through the parking structure with its low ceilings in a large truck was an adventure all of its own. He parked and grabbed the little sign he'd made.

He waited outside the baggage claim area with his 'Miss Church' sign. There was small rush of business travelers before he spotted Donna. She had cut her hair short since the last time he'd seen her. She smiled broadly and rushed over to say hello.

"Cowboy, you've grown!" Donna hugged him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

"I like the hair," Scott said.

"Thanks," she replied as she primped. "It's easier to take care of when I'm out in the field."

"No hug for me?" a familiar voice called out.

"Lauren?" Scott replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Gee, don't sound so thrilled," she pouted.

He gave her a hug as she pecked him on the cheek, "I'm surprised is all. It's great to see you."

"I'm Victor," a voice said. "No hug required."

"Oh, I'm terrible," Donna said. "Scott this is Victor Gale, my assistant. Victor, this is Scott MacIntyre our local guide, and my friend."

Scott shook hands with Victor. Victor was a painfully thin Asian man in his early 20s struggling with a cart loaded with bags. Between the two of them, they managed to get it moving toward the parking garage. He unlocked the doors on the truck and started throwing bags into the truck bed.

"Is this thing big enough, cowboy?" Donna asked when she got a good look at the Dodge.

"I don't know, we may have to stop and rent a trailer to haul all of your luggage."

Donna hit him playfully.

"I can get a booster step for you if you want," he teased back.

He got them all loaded into the truck and started the air conditioner. He drove carefully out of the parking garage and paid the two dollars required. Donna told him to keep the receipt for expenses.

Lauren reached over the back of the driver's seat and played with his hair.

"You're hair is almost bleached white, and you're so dark. What have you been doing?"

Scott looked in the rearview mirror, "Hey, buckle up back there."

"Oh pooh," Lauren said as she buckled her seat belt.

"I've been working outside to answer to your question," he said. "How's your summer been?"

"Busy," Lauren replied. "Thought I'd take a little vacation with my girlfriend here, instead of going to the beach she tells me I'm going to be digging in the desert."

"And the best part is that I get to be her boss," Donna added.

Lauren shook her fist at her roommate.

"Victor, do they give you as hard a time as they do me?" Scott asked.

"I'll exercise my rights against self incrimination until after Ms. Church writes my evaluation," Victor replied.

Donna laughed loudly at that.

It didn't take long to get back onto the interstate. Scott relaxed and hit the cruise control. His three passengers were busy looking out the windows taking in the sights.

"I didn't realize it was so desolate," Victor said after a lengthy period of silence.

"The terrain gets more scenic the closer you get to the Big Bend area," Scott explained.

"How far is that?"

"It's under a hundred miles to Fort Stockton, and then another hundred and twenty to the park itself. You're in the Permian Basin now, which is why it's so flat. You'll see the land change as we go further south."

"I thought it was a short trip into town?" Donna asked.

He looked over at her, "Only if you fly into Fort Stockton, but there's no regular commercial service."

Lauren shrugged, "We flew on a private jet when I came down with the museum."

The trip back passed much faster. Donna and Victor talked about the big dig where they had spent the majority of their summer working. They had been excavating a cliff face rich with fossils. Lauren wasn't completely out of her depth. She spent a summer working on an archaeological dig in Mexico when she was an undergraduate. The girls talked about the similarities between the two disciplines when it came to methodology.

They reached Fort Stockton and Scott tried to play tour guide. He pointed out the training center housing the Midland extension campus, and the high school.

"There were several hotels to choose from because of the interstate. This place looked to be the cleanest of the ones I visited."

"It has a pool at least," Donna said.

"I didn't bring a suit, did you?" Lauren asked.

"We can buy new ones. Scott you could help us with that, right?"

"Umm ... sure?"

Victor went to the front desk and proceeded to check the group in. The lady working at the desk pointed something out to him and handed him some key cards.

"You two are next to each other, I'm down the hall," Victor announced.

With the guys carrying most of the burden they made it to the rooms in one trip. Scott told his three guests that he'd wait in the lobby while they got settled. The small lobby had several courtesy papers which made for interesting reading if you liked learning about yesterday's news.

Surprisingly, Donna was the first one down. She wanted to get the rental car taken care of.

"The rental place is close by. If you want to call the other two and tell them to wait, we can be back in no time," Scott told her.

Donna used the phone in the lobby to call the others after Scott reminded her of the room numbers. As promised, it was a quick trip. Fortunately the rental people were on top of things and the large sedan was ready to be picked up. Back at the hotel Donna parked near their rooms and ran up to corral her charges. Scott parked the truck and rolled down his window.

He had three copies of a map he'd made showing a simplified route to and from Mr. Piotrowski's, as well as the location of several places where the visitors could eat, or purchase various necessities.

"Scott, I think we're all going to ride with you if it's okay?" Lauren said as she walked up to the truck.

"Sure, it will make it easier to point things out to you."

Lauren claimed the front passenger seat and made him roll the window up, "I can't believe how hot it is."

"Welcome to Texas in August."

Donna and Victor climbed into the back seats. Scott passed out his maps and narrated the highpoints of Fort Stockton as they drove through town. He waved to a city patrolman when his cruiser turned in front of them at an intersection.

"Do you know everybody in this town?" Donna wanted to know.

"No, but I probably recognize a fair number of folks."

"How far to this Meritt's Corner place?" Victor asked.

"Not far, only about thirty miles."

"I'm not sure I want to know your definition of far," Victor mumbled.

They reached Meritt's, and Scott sent the three out-of-towners to the diner while he hit the diesel pump. He took the opportunity to wash the windshield and headlight covers. He parked in front of the diner, but signaled to Lauren through the window that he'd be a minute longer.

A waitress spotted him as soon as he walked into the diner, "Sweetie, your friends already ordered. You want your usual?"

"Please," he said as he sat down.

He flipped through his mail. There was something from Midland College, and a statement from his insurance company.

"You have a usual?" Donna asked.

Scott looked up from reading his mail, "I only live a few miles from here. Meritt's has a bit of everything as you can see."

It wasn't long before the waitress brought their food. It wasn't sophisticated fare, but it was good. As the plates started to clear they ordered milkshakes at Scott's urging. The milkshakes were a hit, and Scott checked to see if anybody had a problem with dogs. Fortunately they didn't. He told them that Jobe was sure to take an interest in their activities. If he got in the way all they had to do was tell him to go back to the house.

It was a short drive to the house, where Mr. Piotrowski was very pleased to see Scott hold up an extra milkshake as he exited from the truck, "Hello folks, welcome to Pecos County."

"Thank you, sir. Donna Church, we met in Chicago," she said by way of introduction. "You know Lauren of course, and this is my assistant Victor Gale."

"Miss Makepeace, it's a pleasure to see you again. Mr. Gale, a pleasure as well. I think you'll find everything in order. Your crates are in the building. Would you like to sit a spell?"

"With our compressed schedule I'd like to get our gear unpacked and inventoried. I hope to start first thing in the morning," Donna explained.

"Alright then, I'll leave you to it."

Scott opened the doors on the storage building and plugged in a box fan. Donna compared crate numbers against her list and was satisfied to see that the shipment was complete. He found a couple of pry bars and Victor helped him tear the crates down. It didn't take long for the floor to be covered with gear. One crate contained tenting for shade and coolers for water. There were several bags of gear for each worker. Boxes of extra brushes, various trowels, stakes and line, and the list went on.

One of the heavier crates contained an odd looking piece of equipment. It had big tires and resembled a disassembled lawn mower.

"Careful with that one," Donna said. "That's my ground penetrating radar. Think you can put it back together for me?"

Scott took the proffered assembly sheet and looked it over, "Doesn't look too complicated."

The unit was durable and went together quickly, since all he had to do was put the frame together and put the wheels on. He strapped the battery back in, but left the handle in the stored position. If they strapped it down tightly, it should ride okay on the back of the Rhino. He was tightening the wheels on the GPR's frame when Victor spoke up.

"Uh, is this your dog?"

Scott looked over and saw Jobe observing the chaos, "Yeah, that's Jobe. Hang on, I'll introduce you."

He got up and walked over to Jobe. The dog was excited and took in everything as he panted.

"Victor, say hello to Jobe. Jobe this is Victor. He'll be working here for the next week or so."

Jobe held up a paw. Victor reached down delicately and gave the paw a little shake.

"That's a big dog."

The girls demanded to be introduced next so they repeated the process. Jobe received many compliments on his appearance. He ate up the attention. It looked like Lauren and Donna were going to have a constant companion out at the dig site.

Donna reminded everybody to hydrate, and went back to her check list. She was pleased at the progress they had made, and was thrilled that nothing was missing from the inventory.

"I think we've done about as much as we can do here. Scott, can we take a trip out to the site?" Donna asked.

"Sure. I need to give you some instruction on the UTV anyway."

Scott walked them around the vehicle. Lauren remarked how it was just a fancier version of her father's golf cart, so she was designated the alternate driver when Scott wasn't around.

"These rear seats can be unbolted from the deck when you need to haul cargo. Also, you can secure gear to the roof rack, but keep the weight down. You don't want to over balance this thing."

Donna grabbed a bag with some survey gear, and Scott had Victor help him tie down the bag containing a sun shade and its support poles. Lauren managed to fit Jobe's back end on her lap, but the big dog stretched over the other seat and put his front paws and head in Victor's lap. Victor smiled nervously, but Jobe yawned and seemed to laugh at him.

Scott drove and Donna complimented him on the clearly marked trail. They reached the site and Jobe jumped down and ran right to the position above the tracks. Donna and Victor looked around with a professional eye. Victor took a clipboard and started a rough sketch of the area.

"Scott, where are the tracks?"

"You see where Jobe is sitting? Right under him. I put two stakes on either bank of the washout area. The tracks run on a line between them."

Donna spotted the stakes and walked to the high point and looked down the line past where Jobe was seated. "Scott, you did a real good job covering them up." She glanced at her watch, "What I'd like to do is stake out a rough perimeter and select a site for our base camp."

Scott pointed next to the rock formation where the water had cut around, "I thought there would make a good area to setup in."

Donna put her hands on her hips and looked around, "The thing about a camp site is that you don't want to setup someplace where you might have to end up digging."

"I hadn't thought about that."

"No reason you should. That said, I think your spot is the best candidate."

Donna and Lauren started counting orange plastic stakes while Victor helped Scott assemble the sun shade. Scott used the head of his hatchet to pound tie down stakes for the support poles.

"Scott, will our gear be safe out here if we leave it overnight?" Victor asked.

"From humans, you're fine. There's nobody for miles and this is all private property. Long as you don't leave any food here, I think you'll be fine from critters. In the mornings be a little careful moving gear. We do have rattlers out here."

Lauren muttered an obscenity. Victor and Donna were experienced in the field and knew the dangers of snakes.

"How many trips do you think it will take to move all of our gear?" Donna asked.

"We can make it in a couple of trips if we use the truck. You can drive here from the road, but you'd have to know the route. I've done it once."

"You can't go the same way we do on the Rhino?" Lauren asked.

"It's too narrow."

They headed back to the house. Scott had Lauren drive so she could get used to the vehicle.

Ninety minutes later Donna was pleased with the group's progress. They had moved all the gear to the dig site and set up another open sided tent. With the gear under cover, Scott drove the truck back to the house and took Jobe with him. The others took the Rhino. They'd have to make the trip on their own when he wasn't there, so it was good practice.

Monday morning

Jobe barked when the rental car pulled into the long driveway and parked by the storage building. Scott went out to greet the arrivals.

"You're one of those disgusting morning people aren't you?" Lauren accused.

Scott laughed. "There's coffee inside if you want. Did you all have breakfast?"

"We hit the McDonalds by the hotel," Victor said.

"You should have gone to the diner in town, or stopped at Meritt's. Can't beat breakfast at either one, and it's cheap."

That news received a grunt or two of acknowledgement.

They spent the morning laying out lines and taking measurements. Finally, they started digging. Scott was disappointed at having to work with hand tools. He'd used a shovel to cover up the tracks, but Donna insisted that they, 'do it right.' He thought he was a patient person, but working the dig site taught him a new appreciation for the word. Every scoop of dirt removed was dumped into a bucket and then filtered through a screen. Donna and Victor examined each bit of rock that was left.

Lunch was sandwiches made on site. Scott had delivered fresh water and ice to the dig site before the group was even awake. Mr. Piotrowski's chest freezer was packed full of bags of ice they'd purchased from Meritt's.

Scott told Donna that he'd have to leave for his class soon. Donna pulled him aside and told him take Lauren back to town with him. She wasn't acclimated to the heat, and Donna wanted her to take it easy.

Lauren didn't argue when Scott asked Victor to take them back to the house. Victor was nervous driving the UTV, but he eventually got the hang of it. Scott gave Victor some more cold drinks to take back to Donna and sent him on his way.

He should have kept a better eye on Lauren. She did look like she was having trouble with the heat. He made her sit down at the kitchen table and drink a full bottle of the sports drink that was kept in the refrigerator. She was still a little flushed, so he her took over by the sink and held her wrists under the tap while he ran cold water over them.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"This will help bring your body temperature down."

"If you insist."

"I insist," Scott replied.

He sat her down at the kitchen table with a glass of water, and parted an orange. He made her eat a slice. He found Mr. Piotrowski and told him that he needed the truck to take Lauren to town.

"Overdid it a bit," he explained.

"Not a problem. I've got nothing on for the rest of the day anyway. How's it going out there?" Mr. Piotrowski asked.

"Donna is one hundred percent professional. Even with the time constraints, she's taking it step by step. I'm really impressed."

Lauren had perked up when he returned to the kitchen. She gave him a weak smile, "Do I get to ride on the back of your motorcycle?"

"Not today. We have this modern invention called air conditioning, and you're going to stay in it as much as possible until tomorrow."

Scott got her to the truck and headed for town. The comfortable seating combined with the rhythmic noises of the long road soon put Lauren to sleep. He let her nap until they reached the farm supply store.

Lauren woke up slowly, "Where are we, and how long was I out?"

"Farm supply store across town from your hotel, we need to do some shopping. You slept for about a half hour."

Lauren rubbed her eyes and stretched.

"You've got a little drool."

"What?" Lauren sat up and pulled the sun visor down. She turned her face from side to side checking her face in the mirror.

Scott's grin gave the game away and she threw her empty water bottle at him.

"Come on," he said. "I'm always hearing how shopping is a cure-all. Let's put that to the test and see what kind of damage we can do inside."

"What do they sell here?" she asked as she hopped down from the truck.

"Everything, don't let the name fool you."

"So what is it you need to get here?"

"I'm going to buy you a case of something with electrolytes in it, a big floppy hat, and whatever else I can think of to keep that pasty white Chicago skin of yours from developing heat stroke."

Lauren sputtered over the pasty description, but followed him into the store and quickly forgot about it as she engaged in some retail therapy. Scott grabbed a couple of cases of a sports drink in assorted flavors. Lauren browsed until she found some straw cowboy hats. She tried several on declaring them, "adorable."

Scott found the big floppy hat he was looking for and held it out to her.

"I'll look like an old lady in that," she complained.

"You'll be an old lady who doesn't get sun stroke."

"You don't think I look cute in this cowboy hat?" she pouted.

He was trying to decide the safest way to answer that when he was interrupted.

"Hello, Scott."

He turned, "Hello, Mrs. Gregory."

Lauren came up beside him and snaked one arm in with his.

Mrs. Gregory stared at him expectantly, "Aren't you going to introduce me?"

"Oh right, this is my friend."

"Lauren," Lauren prompted.

"Right, my friend Lauren, from Chicago."

"First time to Fort Stockton?" Mrs. Gregory inquired.

"Second time actually. It's a charming place to visit, and I always enjoy getting to spend time with Scott," she said as she squeezed his arm.

"I see," Mrs. Gregory replied.

"Lovely to meet you," Lauren said.

"And you," Mrs. Gregory said before she walked away.

Lauren waited until she had disappeared from sight before asking, "Who was that woman?"

"Mother of a friend of mine. Not a big supporter."

"I want to hear all about it, but first we need to shop some more. What do you think about a fan?"

"Blowing hot air on you isn't a good idea," Scott told her.

"You need a misting fan," another voice said.

He turned to see one of the store employees hovering nearby. The man showed him two different models of misting fans. They fed water through the fan and were both portable.

"How long could I run one of these off a Rhino?" he asked.

The employee looked thoughtful, "You know, I have just the thing."

The thing turned out to be an auxiliary battery kit and isolation switch that another customer had ordered, but later returned. Scott was intrigued so they started haggling over price. He got out of the farm supply store a few hundred dollars poorer. He wondered how long it would take for this expensing deal to reimburse him.

Lauren made him wear the cowboy hat she had picked out for him.

Scott checked his watch as they left the parking lot, "I'm going to stop by the office and pick up my text book before I head to class."

"I could go with you."

"You do not want to spend almost three hours watching me, watching a class being taught in another city."

They reached the law office and Scott parked up front for a change. Lauren looked around, "I've been here before."

"It's where we first met."

"You have an office here? I thought you meant office at the college or something."

"They let me have a small study area in the back."

Scott took Lauren down the hall and waved to Joseph. He grabbed his text book and checked a few of his notes. Lauren browsed through the closet, pulling a shirt out to look at it. He excused himself to say hello to Joseph.

"Honour's already left for California, so you'll have to put up with me if you need anything. Who is that?" Joseph asked.

"That's my friend, Lauren, from Chicago," he explained. "I'm good. Wanted to say hello is all."

"My wife doesn't let me have any friends who look like that."

"I think you did okay," Scott replied.

"I did, didn't I?" Joseph said with a grin.

"Is Honour going to be okay in California?"

"Don't worry about her. She's as tough as they come. Besides, she's staying with some friends from law school. She'll be fine."

Scott took Lauren back to the hotel before going to class. It was a short session for a change and the instructor informed everybody, including the distance students, that Tuesday was an optional review day for Wednesday's exam.

He made it back to Mr. Piotrowski's before five, but Donna and Victor had already left for the day. Scott washed the Rhino removing all the accumulated dust. He let it dry as he laid out his new purchases and read over the documentation. The auxiliary battery kit looked easy to install. He was going to have to drill a few holes in the frame rails to fit the new battery tray. He started by disconnecting the battery, and went to find a drill and the right drill bit.

Mr. Piotrowski finally came to see what he was up to. He looked around at the scattered equipment and partially disassembled UTV, "Is something broken?"

Scott was tightening a drill bit and looked up, "Broken? No nothing like that." He sat the drill down and showed Mr. Piotrowski the installation instructions. Then he showed him the portable misting fan and explained what he purchased it for.

"It's a good plan," Mr. Piotrowski said as he rubbed his head. "How much did you spend?"

Scott showed him the receipt and told how he'd gotten the store to knock the price down.

"It almost brings a tear to my eye. You've done well. I may have to start letting you do the dickering from now on. Now, what can I do to help?"

"Hold the flashlight?" Scott asked.

The misting fan was a huge hit the next day as temperatures were hovering around 104F. Lauren wore the big floppy hat and kept herself hydrated. Nobody minded a few extra breaks in front of the fan.

Scott's final, Wednesday afternoon, was anticlimactic. He'd handed the test to the proctor and said good riddance to the last telepresence class he hoped he'd ever take.

By early Thursday afternoon they had the tracks cleared. Donna and Victor were ecstatic, carefully brushing dust and silt out of each track with fine brushes. The group spent over two hours carefully measuring each track and charting out every nuance. The rock shelf was a mass of nylon grid lines running the length of the tracks with colorful bits of tape carefully organized by each impression. There were paper black and white scale markers scattered about. Donna had an expensive digital camera on a rig that she placed over each track so they could be documented photographically. Victor was busy with a laptop building a virtual model of the dig site.

Donna had been standing and looking out over the tracks before she asked, "Scott, how much plaster of paris do you think you can find in a reasonable amount of time?"

"How much do you need, and what kind of time are we talking about?"

Donna did some quick calculations in her field notebook. "I need ten pounds per foot of casting. Can you get me at least three hundred pounds?"

"Three hundred pounds?"

"I want a cast of every track we have exposed. We'll ship them to Chicago and I'm going to reassemble them in situ back at the university. I'd like to get started tomorrow."

She was serious, he realized. Scott took out his phone and called Mr. Piotrowski. They talked for a few minutes before he hung up.

"Mr. Piotrowski is going to make some calls. We'll probably need to make a run to Odessa or Midland, if it can be found locally."

Donna was a bit frustrated by that, but she accepted the news with grace. She explained that it would take the good portion of a day to set the casts. They'd have to wait at least two hours for each cast to dry before attempting to free them, and then there was the packaging and shipping to deal with. It was a full scale production.

"That could take us into early next week, depending on when we can get your supplies. What else is there to do?" Scott asked.

"Plenty. We need to scan the surrounding area. Do a couple of test holes. There's more than enough to keep us busy before our flight out."

"Why do you need to do that?"

"Scott, you don't think those tracks just stop do you? We could spend years studying this area. My department will need to form some sort of partnership with a local university to spread the work load. Maybe we'll even get the National Science Foundation involved, who knows."

"It's that big of a deal?"

"Are you kidding me?" Donna asked. "Victor will probably write his dissertation on these tracks. He won't be the only one. The data uncovered here will feed into multiple fields; geology, paleontology, climatology, you name it. What did you think would happen?"

Scott looked around and tried to see what Donna saw, "I guess I thought you would do your thing and leave. Then we'd put up a fence or something and school kids, maybe tourists, would come and look at it."

Donna patted him on the back, "Someday, they might just do that."

After cleaning up and securing the gear, they headed back to the house. Mr. Piotrowski had made some fresh cornbread which was eagerly devoured by the crew. He also had news. A supply store in Odessa could get the plaster of paris in the quantity Donna wanted, but it wouldn't be available for pickup until late Saturday morning.

Donna sat down and drew up a list of materials needed for building the forms and for shipping the casts back to Chicago. Mr. Piotrowski said it could all be obtained in town.

"Building the crates to ship back to Chicago is going to take some skilled labor. I think you should consider letting us bring in a few folks to help out," he added.

Donna looked concerned, "They'd be people you trust? I don't have to tell you what will happen of word gets out about this."

"What do you think, Scott?" Mr. Piotrowski asked. "Bill Mason and a hand select crew?"

Scott nodded, "I could stop in town and talk to him if you want. We could keep it in the family and knock those crates out. Donna, can you write up a description of how you want the crates built?"

"I can do better than that. I'll print off some diagrams. The university has shipped crates of fragile materials from all over the world using the same method. Somebody probably got their doctorate writing a paper on optimum shipping crate design back in the 1930s."

Lauren spoke up, "So what do we do in the meantime?"

"I think the only thing to do is to take Friday off and relax," Donna announced. "Let's kick back and spend the day at the pool. What do you think?"

There weren't any arguments. Lauren wanted to leave immediately to go shopping for swimming attire. Scott suggested they go to the larger city pool in the morning instead of the tiny pool at the hotel and that was quickly agreed upon. The girls tried to talk him into coming shopping with them in town. He begged off and said he'd meet them at the hotel around ten the next day.

After they left he called Joseph to check on Honour. Joseph surprised him. He said that he was flying out Saturday to go see his wife. They planned to fly back together Wednesday afternoon.

"Is everything okay?" Scott asked.

"These things take some time even when the wheels are greased," Joseph reassured him. "I'm going to meet her in San Francisco, and we'll enjoy a day or two for ourselves. Once everything is signed, we'll be on our way back."


The girls had purchased matching bikinis and cover-ups and were raring to go Friday morning. It was trouble from the start. Lauren wanted to ride on the back of his bike over to the pool. Scott wouldn't allow it telling her that he didn't have a spare helmet and the flimsy cover-up wasn't any kind of protection. She huffed, and puffed, and as distracting as that was, he held firm.

At the pool the two young women strolled in and were the undisputed centers of attention. They commandeered two sunbathing chairs. They made a production of removing their cover-ups, and stretched and posed themselves as only young women can do.

Lauren held up her suntan lotion and motioned toward Scott. He managed to get his voice to work and suggested that the two girls could probably handle that task themselves. Donna and Lauren both pouted, but Scott wouldn't budge.

"Are you sure they don't drive you crazy?" he asked Victor.

Victor's eyes crossed for a moment, "Ah, no."

"Why not?"

"You honestly don't know?" Victor asked.

"Know what?"

"Scott, I'm gay," Victor told him. "You really didn't know?"

"Nobody told me," Scott insisted.

"Do I make you uncomfortable?"

"You're not hitting on me are you?"

Victor laughed, "No. What happens now? Do you call the posse and they come in their pickup trucks and take me out somewhere to beat me up?"

"What?" Scott asked looking to see if Victor was serious. "We're pretty much a live and let live bunch out here. Besides, it takes time to form a posse."

"I don't see many gay people around," Victor commented.

"We don't make them wear signs or anything, so I'm not sure how you can tell?"

"Trust me I know."

"What can I say?" Scott said. "I guess most people looking for a different kind of life don't stick around in Fort Stockton."

"See, not so friendly to my kind."

"It's not just people like you, it's everybody," Scott said. "This is a small town, most young people leave."

"And where do gay kids go in Texas?" Victor wanted to know.

Scott thought about it, "I don't know. Austin, Houston, any of the big cities I'd guess."

He wasn't sure if that was the answer Victor wanted, but it seemed to satisfy him for the moment. Scott jumped into the pool and swam a couple of laps. He stopped near Victor and looked toward the girls. They had rolled onto their stomachs and untied their bikini tops.

"Maybe you should go put suntan lotion on them before they burn?" Scott suggested.

Victor smiled, "They don't want me for that task. I think I am going grab some sun and check out the local meat. How about you?"

Scott glanced at the girls once more, "I think I'll stay in the pool a little longer."

He put the distractions aside and swam laps. He hadn't worked out much beyond his morning calisthenics routine since the dig had started. It felt good to use his muscles as he put in lap after lap. He only stopped when Lauren jumped into the pool in front of him.

"How many laps are you going to do?" she asked.

"I guess I'm done for now."

"You're really not going to come and play with us?" Lauren teased as Donna did a cannon ball right next to them.

Scott wiped the water from his face, "I think you two play in a different league."

Lauren pointed toward the diving board, "Want to see who has the best dive?"

He turned back and both Donna and Lauren were flashing him. He felt his ears burst into flames, and treading water became a little more difficult. "Go right ahead. I'll stay here and judge."

The girls laughed and climbed from the pool and ran to the diving board. The girls did a couple of dives before Scott had things sufficiently arranged where he could safely leave the water.

The girls were standing at the edge of the deck arguing, playfully, over who had the best dive. Scott scooped Donna up in his arms, and she smiled triumphantly, right before he tossed her out into the deep end. Lauren screamed as he repeated the move with her.

"You realize they can get out don't you?" Victor said from his lounge chair.

"Yeah, but I can throw them right back in again."

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