Having law-abiding parents, I was raised knowing the difference between right and wrong. But I had school mates who occasionally shared schemes with me that teetered on the edge of the latter. And more times than I care to recollect I was sorry I listened, and even sorrier when I became a part of their schemes. When it came to wayward ideas, Darold and Harley Twingley were ranked as professionals. It was as if their brains gushed over with ideas that almost always resulted in punishment. And for some devious reason I was their favorite target to share their ideas with.
Looking back on my youth, I believe the beginning of each regretful event began with them taking advantage of a speech problem I was cursed with at the time. It was the habit of blurting out the words, “Sounds good to me,” directly after they would finish explaining one of their capers. It was something I had little control over and used far too often, never quite grasping the far-reaching consequences until it was too late.
Though there were many dumb, insane, foolish, idiotic, stupid, asinine, witless, ill-advised, but otherwise perfect schemes presented to me, the one that comes to mind the most often is the day the two brothers and I fished the swimming hole in McCallister’s cow pasture the day before fishing season opened. Being a place we had spent half our young lives camping at, we knew how good the fishing was in the past. And the thought of how much better it could be before anyone else fished it was more than our little minds could comprehend. But there was a small hitch. Though surrounded by forest, the swimming hole sat in the middle of a pasture and within easy view of the road, making it impossible to fish unnoticed. But, as usual, Harley and Darold had a plan. And, as usual, they felt compelled to share it with me. After listening to their scheme I thought it was not only fool-proof, but actually teetered on the edge of brilliant. That in itself should have raised my suspicions, seeing how Harley’s I.Q. was only a couple of points higher than Darold’s single digit figure. The diabolical plan unfolded in their back yard.
“This is how it’ll work, guys,” Darold said, which was an ironic statement in itself in that none of his capers had ever worked before. Nonetheless I intently listened. “We’ll fish with drop lines, ya see. No poles, no reels, just drop lines. If a car stops up on the road we simply drop our lines in the water and pretend we’re looking for frogs or something.”
Before I could get control of my speech problem the words blurted out. “Sounds good to me.”
The following morning we peddled to McCallister’s cow pasture and put our bicycles in the ditch. In route I noticed that Darold had his fishing pole tied to the side of his bike. “I thought we weren’t going to use fishing poles,” I said, feeling the first touch of doubt that always preceded the crumbling of one of their fool-proof plans.
“We ain’t,” he impatiently replied, as if I should have been intelligent enough to figure it out myself. “We need the extra line that’s on the reel. You know how many snags are on the bottom we could break off on? No telling how much line we might need.”
“Then why bring the pole too?”
“Cause the screw holding the reel to the pole has been rusted shut for a couple of years now.”
I reluctantly nodded.
For the first half hour our eyes nervously darted between our hand lines and the passing vehicles. But after catching a few nice trout without incident we relaxed. In fact, Darold relaxed so much that he decided to bring out his fishing pole. “Just getting the kinks out before opening day.” he said matter-of-factly.
“What are you going to do if someone stops?” I asked, an obvious panic to my voice.
He shrugged. “Just throw the whole works in the water. Who wants a pole that’s rusted to the reel anyway.”
“He’s the one with the fishing pole,” Harley reminded me. “If he gets caught it’s his hide. We still have the drop lines. Just remember, if anyone stops just drop the line and pretend you’re looking for frogs. And while you’re at it pretend you don’t know my dumb brother.”
A fresh grin of enthusiasm spread across my face. “Sounds good to me.”
But somewhere between the reoccurrence of my speech problem and the sounds of braking tires up on the road my enthusiasm instantly vanished. But having the uncanny ability to quickly recover, I replaced the lost enthusiasm with terror. Now it must be understood how terror operates while residing in a young boy’s body. It first attacks the brain, pushing out all previously constructed fool-proof plans. The sudden vacancy triggers the eyes and mouth to suddenly slam wide open. It then shoots down the body to the lower extremities where it forces the legs into involuntary renditions of high-speed rototillars.
Though still at the launching pad, my tennis shoes began spraying large pieces of turf from their perimeter as they desperately clawed for traction. Just about the time I thought my legs could move no faster I saw the fish and game emblem on the door of the green car. It was then that their speed doubled. When traction was finally achieved, the lower body made a cowardly attempt at leaving the upper torso behind. When my forward velocity had reached the point that nothing on foot could catch me, Harley passed me via the middle of my back, over my head, and used my face as a starting block for even greater speeds. “Pretend we’re looking for frogs!” he screamed over his shoulder; a rather sickly substitute for the original plan.
Darold, on the other hand, had abandoned his plan altogether. Instead of throwing the pole in the water, he put it over his shoulder, leaving only a blur of his former self as he attempted a new land speed record in the opposite direction. With no thought of reeling in his line, the hook snagged at the shore’s edge. Darold should have heard the reel screaming out line behind him, but its sound was obviously slower than the speed he was traveling.
Once within the woods Harley and I hid behind a wind fallen tree. I looked at Harley and couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. The poor guy was petrified with fear. For that reason I attempted to hide my terror behind a self-assured veil of heaving breaths and promises to the Almighty I would never do anything this dumb again. It seemed to help. Harley was visibly effected, easily falling into the same reaction, with a few unique variations of his own.
“Okay, boys,” came the booming voice echoing through the trees, “either you come out or I’m going to confiscate your bicycles.”
“I’m going to tell him we’re coming out,” I said in a raspy voice. Which I did once I had pried Harley’s fingers off my adam’s apple.
“You crazy?” Harley hissed. “That’s old man Maldoon. He’ll give us the electric chair for sure!”
“Maybe not,” I replied, trying to convince myself as much as Harley. “Maybe he’ll even let us off. My mom knows Missus Maldoon. Fact is, I heard her tell mom he’s really a nice guy once you get to know him.”
“Then his wife’s got an awful short memory,” Harley shot back. ” I know for a fact that he’s arrested her on misdemeanor charges. Twice!”
He had a point, but it was too late. He had recognized my voice. “That you Ricky boy?” he hollered with a sinister lightness. “Come on out boy, and bring that jack rabbit that passed you like you were standing still.”
“We’re looking for frogs,” Harley yelled back.
“What?” I hissed at Harley in disbelief.
As I stepped out into the clearing I attempted to quicken the pace as Maldoon ordered, but it was tough, seeing how I was dragging Harley and the small tree he had a death grip on.
Maldoon’s grin widened, pushing his eyes up into narrow slits. He then jerked up on his trousers and gun belt. “Well, if it ain’t Ricky Nickolaus and Harley Twingley. I suppose that was your brother Darold that scadaddled the other way. If he ain’t too busy, would you mind asking him to come out and join the party.”
“Darold?” Harley hollered with a sickly quiver to his voice. “Come on out Darold.”
“We’ll give him a few minutes,” Maldoon said. “While we’re waiting I’ll let you in on a few facts. I’ve been an officer of the law for near thirty years…..”
Maldoon’s few facts quickly broadened into his life history, beginning at age six when he first punched a kid for attempting to play with his toys. By the time he was to his fifteenth birthday Harley asked if he could stop long enough to go to the bathroom, or continue on without him if he chose to do so. By the time he was to his thirty-fifth birthday cramps had set up a command post in my lower legs and began a major assault on my upper body. This may have possibly been caused by my feet attempting to grow roots.
“When I was forty-six….or was it forty-seven, I—”
“Mister Maldoon,” I reverently interrupted, “don’t you think Darold has had enough time to come out?” I should have felt ashamed of myself, reminding Maldoon about Darold, but at the moment I would have gladly told the CIA that my mother was a communist spy to end this torture.
It was then that Maldoon spotted the fishing line snagged at the shore line. He picked it up and began following it. We quietly walked behind. It was amazing what the fishing line revealed. It showed that Darold had waded through slimey swamps, crashed through blackberry bushes, and pushed through brush so thick a snake would have had to suck its belly in to get through. But it finally came to its end.
Maldoon grinned. In spite of our situation, Harley and I had to snicker. There, under a wind fallen tree, was Darold squatted down with his back to us. The fishing pole was still draped over his shoulder. Maldoon gave the line a gentle tug. When the pole dipped, Darold’s head snapped around. He was a sorry sight. His face was scratched up, and pieces of ferns and blackberry bushes hung from his hair and torn shirt.
“Well, hi,” he said with a forced grin that twitched at the corners. “Did you see that frog I was chasing from the creek? I ain’t never seen a frog that could hop that fast.”
Darold’s story worked about as well as our illegal fishing trip. Maldoon, surprisingly, let Harley and I off with a warning, seeing how we came out on our own. Darold, on the other hand, had to appear at city hall, accompanied by his parents. It would be few weeks before any of us were allowed out of the house, much less get the kinks out of our fishing poles. Darold and Harley did have a couple fool-proof plans to shorten the punishment. But, as usual, they never worked.