Problems: chapter 2

“So, my snowbound preacher friend, what awaits you in Fairplay?” asked Bob.

“A soul.  One to pray for that is,” John replied as he leaned forward in a way to almost will the car faster to their destination.  “An unfortunate young man, with more than a few broken bones. He had an accident on the job site you see, and he needs some holy comfort from the church. Oh, and I am no preacher. Just a soul with a need.”

As John told of the day laborer’s plight and his own mission to help the poor man along with recovery, you could feel the exuberance emanating from him.  He sat in the passenger seat, excited as a child on his way to Disneyland and going on about the church and its long-standing part in the spiritual community. Bob could not help but smile and let the touched man blabber on, but there were still a few questions he needed answered.

Upon a rare pause, Bob inserted, “About this church of yours.  Where exactly is it and where do you hail from?”

“Ah yes, the accent.  Throws off the lot of you Americans.  Not quite limey, not really Kiwi, eh?”  He looked at Bob with a tilt of his head and raised eyebrows, but he could see that Bob was in no mood for guessing games. “Yes, right, I’m from the other Down Under.  South Africa, mate!”

Bob nodded in genuine surprise.  Admitting to himself that as Americans we probably do overlook  South Africa. With all that Apartheid stuff and such. Maybe it all paralleled an earlier time in our own history a bit too closely? “And, the church?”

“Yes, the chapel of St. Martins.  Wonderful little place.”

“St. Martins, like the one in Kent, Scotland?”

John turned to Bob with a one raised eyebrow. “Just the same.”

“The oldest church in the English-speaking world?”  Bob was up on these things.  Although not a religious man, his heritage and family position required he was knowledgeable in the details around the church and other spiritual affairs.

“Precisely, mate!” John leaned forward even more to emphasize his approval. “I am impressed.”

“Funny,  I know this land quite well.  Might say it’s part of my blood. Never knew of or have seen a church in those parts.”

“Well, let’s just say this one here is somewhat of a franchise.  A smaller, less obvious version of the flagship store or chapel as it may be. You Americans like your franchises.  McDonald’s and all that.”  John seemed very satisfied with his explanation and sat back in his seat with his arms crossed.  Like an overconfident poker player after laying down his full house.  His mind seemed to be concentrating on something in the not-so distant, time or space or otherwise. Bob could almost feel the energy emanating from the man as he kept his eyes on the snow-covered road. Then there was a slightly squinting from John that Bob never saw.

Bob was just about to challenge the franchise metaphor when from his left a sizable buck lumbered from the roadside trees.  Thick like flies, the deer are in these parts, so this came as no real surprise to Bob.  He was fast yet smooth to the brakes and the shifters.  The car slowed quick enough to lock in the seat belts as they were filled up with their weight.  The buck stopped in the oncoming lane in a very uncertain fashion.

Here is the part that always gets sticky.  Is the buck going to spook across the road, or back to the trees, or just stand still?  These three options determine the next set of actions and all in a critical second.  Then the weight hit the front tires, and the back end started to come around to the right.  Throttle! Bob thought.  Lightening up on the brakes and bringing it down one more gear Bob eased into the gas just enough to start veering right.  Straightening out the back end and propelling them forward. Bob was betting on the buck standing still.  Not so much out of choice but the lack of distance between the beast and the car.   Bob stared at the buck.  The buck stared back at Bob.  Or was it, John?

“Staaayyyy,” Bob said calmly as if talking to a dog waiting for its treat.  They slid just passed the regal beast with six inches to spare.  Jumped back on the gas, worked his way up through the gears to cruising speed.  Bob’s shoulders released the tense moment back into the leather seats.

“Nice work, my man.” John had not moved a stitch from his cocky poker player positioning. Bob was somewhat impressed and somewhat not sure about the timing of these events.  Either way, the church had fallen from his questioning mind and a renewed concentration on the road took over.

The snow was thinning as they left the Front Range and got deeper into the Platte River Mountains.  Must have been an upslope storm, Bob thought.  There won’t be any snow by Kenosha Pass, and sure enough, this was true.  Moving along at a quick pace Bob kept it all to 10 miles over the speed limit.  Although the local police have a good working relationship with the Johnson Clan, the staties are always changing.  A new young recruit would enjoy nothing less than harassing an action-seeking Denverite heading to the hills for some fun.  No time to haggle my way out of a ticket today, thought Bob.

Then as sudden as ever, John was leaning forward again in anticipation. “Nothing like a bit of a dance with danger, eh my man? The buck and all.  Reminds me of how I found my calling. My special ordained gift. My power!”

I was just a young lad of about 12 or so, on our family farm down in South Africa. My father was warning me of the dangers once the animals would come.  ‘Come to take over’ he would say. They will come with a vengeance, like a lioness after the hyena, for the killing of a cub. The family and farm will be in terrible danger my father would say.  They will take our land, and they will make us pay.  This will be our penance for the social order we have created.   It was the correct order, my father would say.  The only one to keep us all in our proper stations.   The only way we can all get along.”

Bob was getting a bit uncomfortable with the undertones of bigotry in this story or diatribe or whatever it was. John was telling it so matter-of-fact that Bob possibly thought this god-fearing Christian was just another unabashed hypocrite.  Using the Lord’s good book as a shield to excuse his profound transgressions against select parts of society.  He had seen this done plenty in his own world with rune stones, sticks, and bones.  His own family looking to the gods to give them some divine mortal reason to be less than human.  Then John got downright fervent and took his story a direction Bob would never have seen coming.

Old man Calvin showed up one day to cut down some large, dying trees for my father.  The kind of trees with limbs, when set free from life, have a tendency to kill roofs, fences and so much more.  Well, Old man Calvin was just that, old.  He was an accomplished arborist but time had taken away his ability to shimmy up a tree.  So, this day I was to be his assistant.  I was eager and ready to please, as well as show off for the old man.  I took to climbing the first big old tree and cutting off the smaller limbs.  I threw all safety to the side, swinging about with a small chainsaw from the upper branches.  I pruned the first tree down to the main trunk and some sizable limbs.  What was left stood 25 or 30 feet tall.

The old man went to work on the base with his long blade chainsaw. Pounding in wedges as needed to keep the blade free from pinching.  I was mesmerized by the saw and skill of this 70-year-old powerhouse of a man.  By now a crowd of workers had gathered to watch the falling of the old monster.  Another inch of cutting and the remaining fibers would start to crack and splinter away.

The tree started to topple slowly.  I moved my eyes from the top of the tree to the surroundings and the landing zone.  This was when things slowed down.  At least for me, they did.  At this moment I realized everything was not right.  This tree was not falling where we thought it should and where it was going was not good.  Just to the right of the landing zone was a chicken coop yard.  In the yard was a young girl.  I say young, but she was just about my same age.  She was not watching the spectacle but doing her job and feeding the chickens.

Run to her, I heard in my head!   Don’t worry, I will protect you, Run! The voice said again.  So, I did!   I ran to her.  Without a sound, I ran.  The tree fell faster and faster.  The silence of its fall was full of violence. The speed of my feet was full of God!  My head was full of God.  I was a messenger of God! This I knew.

By now, John was downright regal as he sat up even straighter and his head cocked back.  Bob was quite entertained but not as an astonished believer.  His inner 12-year-old was snickering at the theatrics and pure Baptist voice of the pale round man.

I bounded over the fence and dove at the girl. I Tackled her to the ground as the tree released itself from its silence and crashed against the ground.  The ground wasn’t the only casualty of the old beast.  The girl and I were pinned beneath a crook of the primary limb.  She screamed and tried to move beneath me.  The tree answered back with a moan and a creak and a little more pressure as it settled on us.

I will not let you be harmed the voice filled my head.  With this voice, I gained my senses.  The voice was right, I was unhurt and so was the servant girl. True, the tree had us pinned, but we were all fine. They pried the tree off of us and that was that. So, danger, I quite like it.  Especially knowing who has my back.

John sat back folded his arms as if he just set down a royal flush.  “Ya see mate, I’m touched and that is my power.”

All of this was way too much for Bob.  The voices, the racial undertones, the theatrical sale of the story.  He wanted to ask somewhere around a million questions, but he didn’t know where to start. Was the voice real? Was God always with him or was it just periodically?  I mean, was it like all of a sudden God shows up and says, “Ok, I finally finished up with the Pope. Now John, what kind of trouble can we get you in today?”  Was God talking to him right now?  These are not far off from the same questions Bob always wanted to ask his father’s shamans.   Well, I guess there my shaman now, he thought, and a darkness crept over him.

“So, my savior, maybe I should know your name.  Just so I know what to call you and all,  ‘My Savior’, would be a bit odd, don’t ya think?” said John with another wide smile. “And, if ya don’t mind sharing, what is your special power?”

Bob shook off the growing cloud. “Well, that is very rude of me. 25 minutes down and one fantastically entertaining story from yourself and I have still not properly introduced myself.”

“Yes, well I tend to take over on the conversation front.”

“’Regulator’ is what my associates call me.”  this came out in an awkward formal tone that fit him like an adult tie on a five-year-old.  John’s face was expressionless.  Not easy for a man touched by God but for the first time since they had met John was speechless.

“Regulator,” John finally said flatly and turned to look out the side window.  It was not said questioningly but more in a manner to try it out.  He said it a few times to himself as he stared out the window.  He said it as if he was re-discovering a lost memory or experience.  Then seeming satisfied with it, he turned back. “Right, and what special power does a man with the name Regulator have?”

Bob was hoping the name thing would distract John from the whole special power thing but no such luck.  Bob was not very open about himself.  Occupational hazard as it was.  Bob was also not very good at hiding himself.   Another occupational hazard.  Typically people would ask what Bob does for work or activity.   A simple answer of “I’m in technology” usually satisfied the not so curious. For the curious, he would pull out “Programmer.”  The majority of people in the world have no idea what that means, so they leave it at that.  Yet, John was not typical.  That was for sure and for some reason, he was comfortable around this odd man.  Comfortable enough to let John in, just a bit.

“Well, I am in the family business, and we have a large, well-rounded portfolio.    Let’s face it- in any business, problems will arise.  Sometimes there is a need to protect our interest and the interest of our partners.  Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Now, these problems need to be solved.  Sometimes you might say they just need to go away.  That is where I come in.  I am the regulator of problems.”

“Ah yes, every successful business is run on critical thinking. Or so I am told,” said John.

“Yes, well you could call it that.  Let’s just say I’m very good at making problems disappear.” Bob was starting to fade into himself as he cryptically explained his special power.  A multitude of family memories washed through his head in a matter of seconds. Memories drenched with the generations who constructed the reality he lives in today.   “In fact, every problem I have set off to solving has never been an issue again.  Ever.”

This last word was spoken with a dead and truthful tone. It hung in the air in the car like something very satisfying, but in the end, very bad for you.

John was quiet.  John was contemplating the words.  John was staring straight ahead. What John was not, was surprised. After a few moments, he said flatly, “Your father must be very proud of you.  Being so good at your job in the family business and all.  Must give the whole family a good sense of security.”

This was not what Bob expected to hear.  In fact, he was not expecting John to say anything else the rest of the way to Fairplay.  John was not what he seemed, and this made Bob a bit nervous.  Too many wrong things had been happening lately.  Too many things not to plan and John was becoming an extension of that.  In Bob’s world, everything was calculated and ordained.  This was the only truth Bob knew.  Well, at least until lately.  You might say the master plan was not going as scheduled. John was not on Bob’s schedule, and Bob needed to get back on schedule.

“10 miles to Fairplay” said the sign. After nine silent minutes, the odd couple had arrived.  Easing to the side of the road at the main intersection of 285 and 9 Bob looked over at the full face of John the “touched.”  He saw an old soul with what seemed like more knowledge than time.  He thought he even saw a touch of fire in John’s eyes.  As in actual flames.  He still had a ton of questions for the man but time was not on their side today.

“Hope the worker heals well, but I have a feeling your presence will secure that.  Have a good day, Sir John.”

“Thanks for the lift and the stirring conversation, my man!”  John extended a portly hand and Bob met it with a firm grip and quick shake. “Until we meet again.”  This, Bob figured, was not in the cards.

As John un-wedged himself from the low riding car, he bent and turned back in to face Bob. “Mr. Regulator, would you by chance be willing to make a small donation to the Chapel of St. Martin’s?”

Bob looked at John and with a slight smile and earnest eyes “Now John, I figured the ride would be donation enough.  You don’t want to become a problem now do ya?”  Bob pointed a finger up and said, “I already have a cargo box full of problems.  I really don’t have the time right now for anymore.  Problems that is.”

John pursed his lips and nodded his head. “Right then! Have a wonderful day.”

Regulator Bob watched the door close, checked the mirrors and pulled on to 285.  Next stop, mother.


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