Holbrook, 0 Miles
"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must once again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
~Cicero, 55 B.C.
A down day as the snow fell last night, and now it's raining and forty-two degrees. We're sitting this one out. So, for your reading pleasure, I've posted the New Mexico short story. Enjoy!
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carlsbad Caverns. The elevator goes down at nine miles per hour and descends seven hundred fee- stop that."
The ranger, Jim Campbell, referred to the boy with long black hair, approximately eight years old. He munched on a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, the chocolate smeared over his face and hands. As Jim spoke, the boy kicked the back of the elevator like a metronome, his parents and siblings apparently oblivious to his behavior.
"That's Adam," Rick Eiseman said, as if stating his name would make the ranger understand.
"Sir, he needs to stop."
"Whatcha gonna do, stop the elevator and throw me off?" the boy said as he continued his irritating actions. He dropped the candy wrapper on the floor.
"Sir, you need to get control of your son." The small crowd in the space tried to move away from the boy. Ranger Campbell knew he had 426 days until retirement, and it didn't seem like a long time until this morning. Apparently the parents weren't going to stop the boy, so he continued his monologue until the car came to a smooth stop and the doors parted. Little Adam shot out and cursed at him.
"Excuse me?" Campbell looked at his mother. Terri Eiseman shrugged and said, "He's a free spirit."
"Always has been," Rick added.
Campbell clamped his mouth shut before he would utter the words, "That 'free spirit' is going to end up in prison some day." 426 days. He figured he wouldn't count the hours until 100 days to go. At least he wouldn't have to deal with the little brat again until they returned from the caverns. Hopefully they would walk out. Somehow he doubted he would be so lucky. He glanced down and scowled at a smear of chocolate on his pants.
"Where'd he go?" Rick said to the family. Ashley, age thirteen said, "I hope he fell in a pit or something. He embarrasses me." She folded her arms across her chest.
"Ashley," Terri chided, "that's a terrible thing to say."
"Yeah is, he's just being Adam," Blake, the oldest boy, said. "I'll find him."
The family wandered out to the cavern area, where small shops sold snacks and souvenirs. No Adam. Blake offered to check the restroom and Ashley needed to use the Ladies' room. Mom and Dad gazed in wonder at the yawning expanse of rock, with soft lighting to accentuate the shapes. A ranger trotted past and said, "Son, you need to get down from there."
"I think we found Adam." Terri nodded toward the ranger. Sure enough, Adam stood beyond the fence atop a rock outcropping, pounding his chest. "Me king of the world."
"Son, get down here right now," the ranger stood at the fence, unwilling to cross it himself. "Where are your parents?"
"Right here," Rick said, "Adam, buddy, come on, we're going in the Big Room. It'll be a lot more fun than this."
Adam climbed behind the rocks and hid. Rick shrugged at the ranger like, "What can you do?"
"You need to get that boy out of there."
"Adam. Come on, pal. Let's go buddy. You want a t-shirt?"
"Sure." He climbed around the rocks and under the rail.
"Make sure he stays inside the fences from now on, sir."
They bought Adam a t-shirt. Ashley returned and stated that she'd rather die than be seen in a shirt like that and Blake took her cue. Adam peeled off his shirt, dropped it on the ground and snatched the new shirt out of Mom's hand. Terri picked up the shirt and stuffed it in the handles of her purse.
"Hey buddy, we're going into the Big Room. It's going to be cool. But we all need to stick together, okay?"
"Sure." He ran to the archway that led to the Big Room and disappeared. The four remaining family members walked into the room and gasped. The room extended up for hundreds of feet with cream colored rocks and columns extending both up from the floor and hanging down from the ceiling. It resembled an ancient church sanctuary, only ten times bigger.
Dad shook his head. "Marvelous. Which are stalactites and which are stalagmites?"
"They're both called speleothems," Terri said as she read a plaque. "And stalagmites grow from the floor."
"So the stalactites hang."
The two teenagers leaned against the rail, Blake looking bored while Ashley poked a text message. It wouldn't send, being under 700 feet of rock, so she played a game. A woman cried out. Blake headed toward the noise. "Probably Adam."
Rick and Terri looked at one another. "That kid," Rick shook his head.
"It's a stage. He'll outgrow it."
Ashley pressed the keys. "I wish he'd outgrow it in Louisiana or somewhere."
Blake returned with Adam as he gripped his forearm. "He was outside the fence again. The lady tired to talk to him but he yelled at her."
"Let go of me."
Rick squatted down and hugged Adam. "You okay buddy? I love you. Listen, we want to have a good time here and you need to stay with us, okay? We wouldn't want you to get lost, because you are so special."
Adam broke away and took off at a dead run. He blew past an elderly man who stumbled and grabbed the rail for support. The family followed, Dad and Mom side by side, while Blake and Ashley fell behind a bit as she peered at her screen.
Meanwhile Adam slipped under the rail as he saw a stalagmite jutting up from the ground. He grabbed it and struggled to break it free. It wouldn't budge. He smacked it and crawled to another, a thinner one. No luck. Back under the rail and he took off again, searching for the perfect specimen. After a hundred feet or so he saw a possibility and ducked under the rail again.
"Hey. What are you doing?" A woman reached for him so he moved deeper into the rocks. He turned behind one and found a possible prize. He wrapped his arms around it and pulled. Nothing. He turned his back to it and gave it a donkey kick. Snap! A piece broke off. He picked up his prize and shoved it in his back pocket. "Nice." He kept circling around to avoid the woman and got back on the asphalt path behind her. Taking off at a run, he smacked her bottom as he passed her. Rick and Terri just turned the corner and saw it. Rick laughed and Terri held her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. "Just walk past her like nothing happened," he said. They sauntered past and gave one another knowing looks, their little secret.
They marveled at the sights as the next section featured soda straws. "It looks like spaghetti," Terri remarked. At another viewpoint the sign announced it as the Bottomless Pit. Terri read the description out loud. She stated the depth of it. Rick smirked. "They lied then. It isn't bottomless."
As they rounded a corner a ranger wrestled with Adam, holding his arm as he kicked her.
"Adam. Hey buddy, what's going on?" Rick bent down and patted his shoulders.
"She's being mean to me."
"He was outside the boundaries and took some rocks. I saw it," she said. Her badge read Sarah.
"No you didn't." Adam tired to kick her again.
"Could you get control of your child sir?"
"If you wouldn't lie he wouldn't kick you." Rick held Adam's arm and gently removed him from her grip.
Terri weighed in. "You didn't see him did you?"
"I most certainly did."
Rick hugged Adam. "Hey buddy, I love you. Listen, I got your back, friend. Easy, okay?" He hugged him while he looked at her. "See? We got this."
"Sir, I need to detain him. He's stolen some artifacts."
"I don't see anything."
"Look at his pockets." She pointed to his bulging pockets, then grabbed the stalagmite from his back pocket. "What's this?"
"Hey, that's mine," Adam yelled. "Give it back to me." He reached for it and she held it out of his reach. With her other hand she grabbed her radio and keyed the mike. "This is Sarah. I need help at the grotto."
"Roger. Be right there," a man's voice squawked.
"Lady, you've illegally detained my son, accused him of stealing when you didn't see anything, and are ruining our vacation."
"You'll need to stay here, all of you, until we get this ironed out."
"We've got constitutional rights," Rick huffed. "I'm going to contact my attorney." He waved his cell phone as Ashley tried to tell him it wouldn't work in the caverns.
"Just sit tight." Sarah turned and rolled her eyes. She wanted to hold the kid to keep him under control, but the dad seemed to have him now. Besides, there was only one way to the exits. So if he took off, someone could snatch him at the concession stand. Although if he were to run loose, get outside the rails again and fall down a crevasse, these people would of course blame the Park Service.
Another ranger appeared, a big guy with creased pants and the ranger hat. Mitch Ringsdorf strode up to the group. "What's going on here?"
"This boy stole-"
"We have been detained illegally, my boy has been falsely accused, he's now traumatized and we're ready to take legal action."
Ringsdorf stood, hands on his hips. "We've had three separate complaints about that boy."
"Someone else's boy."
Terri chimed in. "He wouldn't do anything wrong. He's only eight."
Sarah held up the finger of rock. "He defaced the park and stole this."
"You framed him," Rick huffed. "You had the rock and made it look like he stole it." Adam kicked Ringsdorf.
"Ow! You little... okay people. We're all going together up to the office and take care of this. Thank you Sarah. If I need any more from you I'll radio you. Let's go."
Rick looked at Terri and they shrugged. No use fighting here. "We'll get our lawyer to fix this," Rick whispered to her. "Let's just go with it."
The group walked toward the concessions and exit. Adam announced he needed to use the bathroom. Ringsdorf followed Dad and boy into the restroom. Rick turned and held up a hand. "Give the boy some privacy."
"He can have privacy in the stall."
Rick turned and hugged Adam. Ringsdorf watched as Dad tried to extricate the rocks while pretending to console his son. "That's enough."
Rick stood and strode up to the man. "My son has been traumatized by you people and now I can't give him any comfort?"
Adam ran to a trash can and threw the rocks into it. Ringsdorf sighed, pulled the lid off and grasped the plastic bag and shouldered it. "Let's get going."
"I need to pee." Adam hopped from foot to foot and held himself.
"No. You had your chance. Let's go." The boy ran to Rignsdorf and swung his leg, but the man was wise to it and sidestepped, while grabbing his bicep. Adam cried, "He's hurting me," and Dad threatened him once again with legal action. The three of them zigzagged through the crowd to the concession area where the rest of the family waited. Ringsdorf guided the family to the elevator as the doors opened and a tour group exited wearing knee pads and miner's helmets. Jim Campbell waved at them and his smile turned to a frown as he saw the boy again. Ringsdorf nodded to him as they entered and the doors closed. The elevator climbed while no one spoke and Ashley played her game.
Around halfway up Adam said, "I peed my pants." As if on cue, everyone looked at the source, a dark spot on his jeans.
"Oh, jeez," Ashley muttered and resumed her game. "Next time I'm staying in the car."
"You have traumatized this boy," Rick warned. He knelt and put his arm around Adam's shoulders. "We got your back, buddy. Just hang in there." Tears trickled down the boy's cheeks and snot drooled from his nose. Terri got a Kleenex out of her purse and wiped up the mess.
The doors opened and Ringsdorf escorted the group to a back office. As they walked, his phone chirped. He checked it and smiled.
They arrived at a blank door and he opened it. Two park policemen stood in the outer room. "Is this the trouble?" One of them asked, indicating the boy who was ripping the silk flowers out of a vase and tossing them on the floor. Ringsdorf nodded and held the door open to the back office.
"Let's everyone sit down." He indicated the chairs and a couch. Ashley moved to the door and focused on her phone. The texts worked again. Adam stood, looking forlorn with his wet crotch. He decided to sit on the floor on his knees.
"This the boy?" the cop asked. Ringsdorf nodded and attempted to tell the story while both parents argued and quibbled about every detail. Suddenly Adam stood, ran across the room kicked the cop and cursed at him. The cop yowled and grabbed his leg while the other grabbed him.
"I should have warned you about that," the ranger said. The cop whipped out a pair of plastic handcuffs and bound the boy's hands behind him. Rick stood and yelled, "This is an outrage." Blake snapped a photo with his camera. "I can send it to the local newspaper," he offered.
"You do that, son."
Ringsdorf shrugged. "Just great." He turned to the cop. "Please don't taze him."
"A little pepper spray might do him good," the other cop muttered.
The cop opened his laptop and asked questions as he tapped at the keyboard, with Ringsdorf answering while Rick talked over him and contested every claim. Ringsdorf sighed after another interruption. "Three separate people came to me to complain about your son, going past the barriers, taking artifacts, and destroying park property."
"All lies. You're framing him. Our word against yours. I'll see you in court."
He shrugged. "Knock yourself out."
The cop finished typing, hit a button and the printer squirted out a receipt-looking piece of paper. He brought it over to Rick. "Mr. Eiseman, you are the parent of Adam Eiseman and therefore are responsible for his behavior. You have been charged with two counts of Destruction of Park Property, and one count of Theft of Park Property. As you can see on this citation, the fines total thirty-five thousand dollars-"
"What?" Rick shrieked. "Are you out of your mind?"
"You can either plead guilty and pay the fines or if you would like to plead innocent, contact the cour-"
"Oh, we'll contact the court, all right." He snatched the paper from his hand and stuffed it into his pocket. "We'll get our lawyer- he's a great one- and see you in court. Come on, family." He headed to the door and they filed behind him. "You have not heard the last of us." They trooped out the door and Ringsdorf stopped them. "You'll need to leave the park now."
Rick stopped. "Really? Of course, we're out of here." He spun on his heel and followed the family though the door. It eased shut behind them.
In the silence, Ringsdorf whistled a tune. The cop looked sideways at him. "You seem pretty cool about this."
"Oh, yes," he answered. "Take a look at this." He held out his phone and punched some keys. A video played of the kid kicking the stalagmite, then breaking it and stuffing it in his back pocket.
"Who got that?"
"A responsible citizen. She texted it to me after telling our ranger what happened."
"You didn't show it to them."
"Why was that?"
"I thought I'd wait until they spent around ten grand on their attorney, then drop the hammer on them."
"I like the way you think." The cop returned to his laptop to finish his report. "Man that kid was a brat."
"Sure was. But you know something? If the parents had acted responsibly and tried to get him under control, I'd have just had them removed. But with the garbage they gave us, they can deal with maximum fines and lawyers. "
They compared notes and Ringsdorf called Sarah to the office for confirmation of statements. Just as she entered, her radio squawked. "Injury at the cave entry."
"Jeez," he said, "Sarah, get the medical bag and check it out."
Sarah trotted to the cave entry, a yawning black hole with switchbacks to take tourists to the bottom. She traversed two switchbacks and spotted them. "Oh no," she muttered. The Eiseman family gathered around a form on the ground, and as Sarah approached she saw Adam on his back, his right arm at an impossible angle.
"Excuse me. Please. Give me a little room. Adam, are you okay?" As soon as the words left her mouth, she changed it up. "Your arm. Looks broken."
She checked his eyes and asked him questions, determined he didn't suffer any concussion. Still, he wore road rash on his forehead and arms. But the right arm looked nasty. She radioed Ringsdorf to get an ambulance.
Meanwhile Sarah checked his vital signs and talked to him in a soothing tone. She wiped his eyes and nose, and the sheen of sweat on his forehead. "It hurts so bad," he sobbed.
"We'll get you fixed up. Just lie still." She patted his chest. Chocolate clung stubbornly to his cheek and hand. Mom and Dad paced and wrung their hands. Blake stood, arms crossed and Ashley texted furiously. Soon the paramedics showed and carted him off on a stretcher. Mom rode in the ambulance and Dad turned to Sarah and held out his hand. She paused for a moment, then shook it.
"Thanks for the help."
"Sure. It's what we're trained to do."
He wiped his eyes. "And sorry about the dust up today. Some days are better than others."
"They sure are."
They left and Sarah returned to the office. She flopped into the couch as Ringsdorf brought her a cold water bottle.
"What a day." She put her feet on the coffee table and rolled the plastic bottle against her forehead.
"How were the parents?"
"Pretty good. Humbled. We may not see them in court after all."
Ringsdorf smirked. "No way. Too much money. I bet they plead guilty and beg for a break. They'll probably get away with a slap on the wrist."
"I suppose we should be happy they aren't suing us for his injury."
"Oh, they still could.
"It's interesting." He sat beside her and looked to the ceiling. "They broke so many laws today. Then got broken by another law."
"Oh? Which one?"
"The law of physics."