Episode 30 - Opportunity makes a thief

Ben and I left early. It was still dark when we hit the logging road to retrieve the old Jeep. After two weeks of hard labor lugging wood and supplies on foot, we decided it was time to have our vehicle back. By then the snow and mud were gone, so getting the car out of the small hole would be much easier this time around. Spring is a beautiful season in the Mulberry Ridge. Migrating birds like the "Scarlet Tanager" make their way back to the woodlands this time of the year. We spotted quite a few males at sunrise in their breeding plumage, brilliant scarlet, with black wings and tail. Their call notes are like a hurried, burry, repetitive warble, somewhat like of a robin. The woodland sounds during this season are just fantastic. Ben lead the way in at a vigorous pace. We stopped every once in a while, only to admire the valley view behind us. We talked for a bit as we walked. Ben complained about an itching sensation he had on his back. - It's probably from that "rubber lady" of mine - said Ben referring to his inflatable mattress. We laughed. I felt in pretty good shape. Going up hill on a mid-elevation trail can sometimes be a little hard. But we were doing great. We covered much of the 20 miles of road to the Jeep in less than 8 hours. It was noon when we made visual contact with our abandoned camp site. The place looked basically the same. Our tent still sitting straight. The back wheel of the Jeep lodged in the ground. - It doesn't look so bad right now, ah? - I told Ben while I took a look at the tire. I was about to get up and get the shovel out of the back seat when Ben and I heard a shuffling noise coming from inside the tent. Ben was about to say something but I interrupted him by making the "shhhh" sign. Through a series of hand signs we positioned ourselves around the tent. Ben was by the tent door and I had my riffle pointing straight inside. I gave him the "OK" sign and Ben pulled the canvas door wide open. Inside, looking quite confused, a young tall kid, about 18 years old looked at us. I told him to get out of the tent. I turned around to get my radio and the kid took off running up hill. Ben stood there motionless without knowing what to do. - Damned Ben! - I said irritated. And if that wasn't bad enough the kid had taken one of our backpacks we had left in the tent. I picked up my riffle and followed his track as fast as I could. - Freeze! Or I'll shoot! - I yelled in a nasty ill-tempered voice. The kid kept on running. I could've reached him easy any other day, but after walking 20 miles that morning, my legs just didn't want to cooperate. As a last warning I then fired a couple of rounds close to the ground near his feet. I really didn't want to shoot him. He finally stopped and lift his arms up. I brought him back to the camp site. - What's your name kid? - I asked him while Ben conducted a search on his pockets. - Steve Hayes! - he said with the crackling voice of a teenager. He told me he went out hiking a day ago, got lost and miraculously found our tent after walking in circles half of the night before. He was from the town of Arcadia and worked at the ice-cream parlor on San Gabriel Blvd. I checked his I.D. and everything checked. I gave him some water and he drank it like there was no tomorrow. I was a little suspicious so I decided to check inside our backpack he had tried to steal. I found a bunch of MREs. It made sense, the kid was lost and hungry. But looking a bit more closely, I found one of my hand grenades wrapped in a bandanna inside the pack. I scratched my head and looked at the kid. - What do you want that for? - Ben asked Steve. He didn't say a word. I got on the radio. Instead of having a scared lost kid in my hands, I now had a young thief. I reported the incident to the sarge. He thought it was enough of a scare to be shot at. -Let the boy go, Harris. Just make sure he gets a nice lecture. Over and out. - said the sarge. While Ben had his riffle pointed at the kid's back, I placed the boy in front of the Jeep, hands down on the hood. - We're going to have a little talk, Steve, if that's ok with you - I said in a polite manner. -Yes, sir. - he replied. I knew he was scared. So I made my point as short as possible. After I gained Steve's trust, I took the kid to find the trail back to Arcadia. I left Ben taking down the tent and refilling the old Willis tank with gas. According to my topo maps written during my last visit here, there was an unmarked trail to the west that would merge with the Arcadia Water Department’s Treatment Plant. I helped him cross the short fence, gave him my canteen and a bag of crackers. - If you follow this trail for another 5 miles you should be home in no time. Don't get off the trail, do you understand? - I told him in a fatherly way, which made me feel odd. He nodded and waved goodbye. It was getting late. I waited for a while till the kid disappeared in the horizon. I went back to the camp site and found Ben trying to move the Jeep by himself. I put my riffle down, got in front of the old Willis and started to help him push the car out of the hole. Within seconds the back wheel rolled out of the crevice. I checked the suspension, the other tires and made sure the camp site was clear of any items we could've left behind. We got on the Jeep and drove away. - Do you think the kid is going to be ok? - asked me Ben. I didn't know the answer. But I hope we've seen the last of Steve. I just hope he stays out of trouble.

by Corporal John Harris, April 06, 2006