The sun had set, and the hot desert air was cooling quickly. Under the cloudless sky, the stars came out one by one, and the darkness became pitch black. The stardust of the Milky Way shown faintly overhead. The old man moaned, and Brandon told him to be still, and just sip the water he had given him;
“You’re dehydrated, old man, and lucky to be alive. We’ll be in town in less than an hour” He had checked the map and there was a hospital about fifty miles up the road. The old pickup road well, and they were making good time, so he knew what he had told his new found friend was true.
Within the hour, the two of them were at the Emergency Room entrance, and fortunately it was a quiet night. Brandon got an ER nurse out to the truck with a gurney. He explained what had happened earlier out in the desert, and as he did, he told the nurse about the woman who flagged him down, the nurse asked where she was, and Brandon stepped back, with a wonder in his eyes.
“Yeah” he said, “Where is she?”
“She was there, and then she was gone”
“I got so busy getting this guy out of there, I just forgot about her”
“Well we can ask him when he’s feeling up to it” she said.
And with that off she went with orderlies pushing the gurney, and her asking the old man his name, and all the standard questions that a trained ER nurse will run through to triage a patient, in order to assess their state of mind. Regardless of the circumstances that brought them together, Brandon was not a relative, so he was asked to wait in the ER Waiting Room. He would also need to answer a few questions when the local police got there. Considering the man’s condition and how he had been found, the hospital had to file a report.
Brandon spied a coffee machine, and that was all it took for the waiting to be agreeable. He dropped a couple of coins into the machine, selected black, no sweetener, and the thing began to whir and gurgle, not unlike the pumps and expansion tanks he used for the big electromagnets back at the University.
Lost in thought, he could hear the thumping of the equipment again, feel the thrill of watching the temperature rise in the magnetic bottle, to the point where fusion could be maintained, and the disappointment of the collapse of the field magnets and the ruined experiment, time and time again. That disappointment, made even stronger, when the funding ran out, and the whole project got shelved. He was sure he had the answer, but needed time and more money to get the magnets right. But time ran out. Einstein was right he thought – Time was relative, everything was. He sat down with his cup, and looked at the poker hand on the cup – it was a straight.
“How about that” he thought.
By the time had had finished his coffee, a local cop strolled into the ER and the nurse at the desk pointed over to Brandon.
As he approached he said in a smokey voice “I’m Patrolman Bill Miller, you the guy that found old Jake”
“He’s lucky to be alive, ain’t the first time he’s been caught out there”
“Jake?” Brandon asked
“Yeah, his names Jake Watson, he’s been living out there alone in the desert ever since his wife died five years ago.”
“He’s always out there in the heat looking for Meteorites. He’s been making his living selling those rocks for long as I been on the force.”
“He’s a geologist?” Brandon said
“Yeah, got some kinda degree from back east, but we always called him the Rock Hound”
The paperwork was as simple patrolman Bill Miller was; license, registration, where you from, where you going. Brandon gave the contact info at the lab where he was heading.The cop asked him to sign the report and that was it. He thanked him for saving him the trip out to the desert with the Medical Examiner, told him to have a safe trip, got up and disappeared through the sliding doors.
As Brandon’s gaze turned back to the waiting room the nurse came through the wide double doors in the back, and told Brandon that Jake was conscious, talking and wanted to meet the man who saved his life, and would he please follow her back to the bed where he was.
The look in Jake’s eyes was entirely different now, there was life there, his eyes dark green like weathered bronze, his face as rutted as the high desert.
Jake slowly stretched out his hand to Brandon and said;
“Thank you for bringing me in, I thought I was a goner this time”
“Not a problem” Brandon said “But you should thank the woman who flagged me down”
“She’s the one who saved you, I would have flown right by and never seen a thing if it weren’t for her”
“That’s my Linda” He said “Always looking out for me, always trying to talk me into staying home”
“But I just tell her, there’s pieces of the planets and stars out in the desert, and I’m going” “So she just nods, brings her sun hat, and off we go”
None of this was adding up. Brandon had heard from Bill that Jake’s wife was dead, and here was this man telling him that Linda was the one who was with him, only he never saw the woman who flagged him down after he turned the bike and saw her disappear down that old dirt road.
Brandon was convinced Jake was still delirious from the sun, and wanting to get rolling again, he just went with it.
“Jake” he said “You’re in good hands here, and I have work waiting for me in Oakland, so I’m going to get on my way, you rest up”
“Well you look me up anytime you’re out this way”
“One question though” Brandon asked
“Were did you go to school” Bill Miller, the local cop who took the report, told me you had a degree in geology?”
“Princeton” Jake said “Princeton Tigers”
“Well I’ll be damned” Brandon remarked, shook Jake’s hard and calloused hand once more, turned headed down the corridor and out into the night.
Once the bike was back on the pavement Brandon donned his helmet, and went through the starting ritual; Turning on the gas tank valve, pushing the kick starter through once to set up a compression stroke, choke on, key on, and with one more sure kick, the bike came back to life. Clutch in, a kick down into first, and as he rolled out of the parking lot, working the bike up through the gears, the unreality of all that had just happened followed him down the road like an apparition.