Undated June, 1992 entry
[Three pages are missing from Drew Wilde's journal at this point. My guess is that he or someone else tore them out of this first volume. The actual date of this entry is also missing. My transcription starts at the top of the first surviving page--T.S.]
"No shit," Tong grunted. "We gets tha iron an' tha mags, they gonna be a whole lot heavier, too. Y'know what I mean?"
"Tha iron. You know..Tha Ay Kays? Tha Ten? Tha gatts. Y'see what I'm sayin'?"
"You're talking about guns."
"Wildman, you ain't as dumb as you look, you know that?"
I was still pissed off about the late start and Tong's too-casual attitude about our ride home, but, instead of replying immediately, I bit my tongue. I wasn't at all happy with the notion of bringing guns along on our little Methven excursion (always assuming that that's where we would end up, of course).
Up until then, I guess I'd been pretty carefully avoiding the implications of Læ having asked Mantami to recruit three or four "warriors". Tong's offhand remark brought the issue into uncomfortable focus for me. Bringing guns along means there's a pretty good chance that they'll get used, somewhere along the way, and I doubt it will be for hunting. And, although I'm not being asked to carry one, (and I'll refuse to do so, if asked,) whoever Tong, Blandy and Pith wind up shooting at isn't real likely to respect my non-combatant status, even if they're aware of it.
There were patches of monkey flower and cow parsnips on both sides of that part of Skyline Trail, but their heady fragrance was little comfort. My mood was more in tune with the masses of poison oak and clumps of thistle that lined the path. For the first time, I was beginning to appreciate the potential downside to Mantami's offer, even as we trudged up the rise the Caldecott Tunnel runs beneath.
Aside from our increasingly-labored breathing and the slowly-ebbing sound of the traffic on Highway 24, below, we plodded along in silence until Bill called a break at the rest area in the oak woods near the top of the ascent.
Of course, he wasn't even close to being winded. Nor was Pith. Thanks to daily bicycling to and from campus, I was only a little out of breath. To one degree or another, the others were gasping like so many boated carp. Forty pounds of pack doesn't sound like a lot, but hauling the equivalent of a six-year-old child on your back along the Ridge Trail is no picnic. Mantami, especially, was doing some serious wheezing. I imagine he hadn't done any real hiking since his arrival in Berkeley two years back.
Blandy slipped his pack off and shucked out of his shirt, revealing the companion piece on his chest to the hideous tattoos that decorate his forearms. It's a pentagram with a reproduction of the famous nude poster of Natassia Kinski wrapped in a python superimposed on it. It struck me as beautiful and repellent at the same time.
Blandy caught me gaping at it.
"Right purty," agreed Pith.
I took a good-sized slug off my canteen and poured a little water over my sweaty head for good measure, prompting Bill to warn me to take it easy.
"We've got a long way to go, Drew."
"There's bound to be water at Sibley Preserve," I pointed out. "That's not too far from here, either."
"About two more miles, I think. That's not the point."
"We have to get used to conserving our supplies. Water, fuel, food. medicine, you name it. Here, we know there's water available just up the trail. We know there's Thai food available within a couple miles of here, for that matter. Where we're headed two weeks from now, we don't know any such thing."
"Vomisa Mountains are having muchly water. Floods are happening in Springtime."
"Do you know for certain we're going to the Vomisa Mountains?"
Mantami shook his head, sheepishly.
"I am not knowing, Mister Bill."
I screwed the cap back on my canteen.
Bill shaded his eyes and looked up through the foliage at the brightness that marked the Sun's position, then glanced down at his diver's wristwatch.
"Lunch time, I think."
That met with everyone's approval. We'd been putting out a lot of energy and, with the late start and all, it was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. I was hungry enough to eat a Clydesdale.
We sat and swapped stories as we ate our sandwiches and sipped--sparingly--from our canteens. Blandy reminisced about losing his "baggies" when he'd wiped out in the Banzai pipeline. That prompted Tong to recall how, while windsurfing off Ho'okipa Beach, he'd tried to impress a catamaran full of girl tourists by doing a forward loop.
"That cheese roll turned out to be catapult city, y'know what I mean? Man, I went over the falls big time."
"Dude, I remember that! You, like, totally went through the rinse cycle! That wave board got severely trashed, too." Blandy shook his head, grinning at the memory. "Most gnarly!"
The camaraderie was so thick you could cut it with a spoon. Naturally, I couldn't help but toss a fat turd into the Jello of male bonding by bringing up the issue that had been bothering me for the best part of an hour now.
"I want to talk about the guns."
Now, mind you, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is a pretty popular hiking path in an area where nature hikes are nearly a religion--and where gun ownership is widely viewed as somewhere south of child molesting on the scale of acceptable human behavior. So I got a furiously disapproving look from the clutch of gray-haired women in sun hats and Sierra Club tee shirts who happened to be passing through the shady grove where we were holding our manly little bull session.
I gave them a big smile and a thumbs-up and we all kept quiet until, still darting mistrustful glances over their shoulders at us, they passed out of sight.
"So, whus yo rap on tha strap, Wildman?"
"I don't like guns."
"Tee-ess, little man. You don' like the chrome? Keep yo' scaredy ass home."
"I don't like them, either, Drew," Bill put in. "And I don't plan on carrying one. But, this is their," he nodded at Pith, Tong and Blandy, who had, by accident or design, drawn together as a group, "area of expertise. Why don't we let them worry about it?"
"Yah, dude. Guns don't kill people. We kill people."
"That's not funny, Blandy. And, besides, it's not the guns I'm worried about..it's the damned bullets that concern me."
Everyone grinned at that.
"No, I mean it," I told them. I turned to Bill and Mantami. "What guarantee do I have that I'm going to be treated as a non-combatant, if..or when..these guys get into a firefight?"
"That's a good question. And, I suspect the answer is, 'No guarantee at all'. But, you actually bring up an interesting point."
"Well, the only possible destination about which we can make any assumptions is Mantami's home, Methven, correct?"
There were nods all around at that.
"To my knowledge, we've never established whether they even have firearms on Methven."
"True fact," Pith confirmed.
"Do they, Mantami? Have guns, I mean?"
"Vomisa are having guns, Mister Bill."
"Well, that settles.."
"But, Mister Bill," Mantami interrupted, "we are not having bullets!"
"Is a trueness. Vomisa guns are having..I am not knowing the word. Pointing things."
He looked around at our blank stares.
"Pointing things? With poisoning on ends? Things are sticking in animals, like.." he stuck himself in the chest with a pointed finger. Then he did it again.
"Arrows?" Bill guessed.
Mantami shook his head.
"Not arrows. Things are having feathers on end, but smaller than arrows."
Mantami smiled and nodded.
"Yes, Mister Drew. Darts. Vomisa guns are having darts. Also having muchly fast poison on darts."
"So, you have gunpowder, but you use darts instead of bullets?"
"No, Mister Bill. Vomisa are having gunpowder not. Instead are..I am not having right words. Vomisa guns are having.." he twisted a closed right hand against the palm of the left, as if winding a clock.
Mantami looked uncertain, as if the concept was close.
"Springs? Like a clock spring?"
Mantami nodded, gratefully.
"Yes, Mister Bill. 'Springs' is a trueness. Vomisa guns are having springs. And darts. Vomisa guns are having darts."
"Hmm. Well, that certainly puts a different complexion on the issue. Are there other kinds of guns on Methven, or are these spring-powered dart guns the only kind?"
"Vomisa are having other kinds not. But, Methven are having other guns. Muchly like..like phasers. You are knowing phasers?"
"Yo! You talkin' 'Star Trek' phasers?"
"Methven is having phasers. Like 'Star Trek'."
"That is so supremely radical!"
"So, why don't Vomisa have these 'phasers'?"
"Phasers are being muchly expensive, Mister Drew. Vomisa are needing phasers not, also."
Mantami shrugged, helplessly.
"I am not knowing, Mister Bill. One million of greenbanks? Muchly more than springing guns."
"So, these 'phasers' are not common?"
"Well, that's good. Perhaps we should re-think the firearms issue."
Blandy and Tong were all set to debate the matter right then and there. Bill solved that problem by frowning at his watch and announcing that lunch time was over and that we ought to continue the discussion later--and more privately.
. . .
Tong's friend, Anfernee, took his time about picking us up from the Skyline Gate parking lot. It was fully dark before he showed up in a battered old Cadillac with mis-matched doors, dented fenders and peeling hood wired to its rusty front bumper with lamp cord.
That gave us plenty of time to discuss the firearms question. Tong and Blandy were hell-bent on bringing what Tong called "tha iron". I was adamantly against the idea.
We went 'round and 'round until Bill suggested a compromise.
"Suppose, for example, we purchase Crosman air rifles. We could carry those, as well as Tong's 'iron', with the thought in mind that, once we rendezvous with her, our employer will make the final decision as to which is more appropriate."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better about the idea? Correct me, if I'm wrong, Bill, but won't I be just as dead from getting hit with a poison dart as I would from a bullet?"
"Very likely. In fairness, I should point out that Læ's instructions to Mantami clearly were to recruit mercenaries. It has been obvious to all of us from the very beginning that this assignment carries with it considerable personal risk. I certainly don't blame you for having second thoughts, Drew, but you have been, or should have been, well aware of that hazard at the outset."
"Yah, dude. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."
"All right, all right. I'll shut up. But, I don't have to like it. And, mind you, if I get killed, I'm never going to speak to any of you, again."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)