"You could get mugged that way," he said when he came in(my door wasn't locked either), lugging a big satchel. "Some drunk thinks it's his girlfriend's apartment and he's come to beat her up, and thinks you must be her new boyfriend or something..."
"Not likely, in this neighbourhood," I said. Or this town, really, but Kieran wasn't used to it. We didn't leave our car doors unlocked or anything, but we didn't put burglar alarms in them, either. The only time I'd ever been locked out of my apartment was when Kieran was staying with me.
"...or worse, it could be Jehovah's Witnesses or vacuum cleaner salesmen or something." Kieran stopped when he saw what I was doing. "Feeding Rusty, eh?"
"Its name's not Rusty," I said patiently, not for the first time, not even just to Kieran. "That's like naming a cat Puss or Boots or Fluffy." I tossed another needle into the water and put the lid back on. The rust's name was Entropy, as Kieran well knew by this time, but he liked needling me.
"Think it'd like one of these?" he said, idly toying with one of Joyce's wire sculptures I had hanging on my wall. "It'd take months to digest, like some snake eating a goat...you'd have to get it a bigger tank, probably."
I didn't rise to the bait, knowing that he'd get to the point of his visit all the sooner that way.
Eventually he did. "Wanna go on a trip?" he said.
"Where to?" I said, noncommittally, as if that would help.
He toyed with one of my home-glazed clay knickknacks. "I got a call from Hotch today. He says they're on the last stretch of the highway."
"Ah," I said. I'd forgotten about Highway 40. "I suppose it's too much to ask that he called from the midway point?"
He shook his head. "Nope," he said. "They're at the Grande Cache end. Which is sorta the midway point, I guess."
"What time did you want to get there?"
That'd be probably about 7:30-8:00, down there. I looked at the clock. As usual, Kieran had left it until the last minute to even mention this to me. From experience I knew that if I wasted time arguing with him about it, we'd just get an even later start and he'd make me speed, which I was loath to do, car insurance being at a criminal rate as it was. I sighed. "We'd better get going, then. Should I pack some sandwiches?"
Kieran grinned as if, while it had never occurred to him that he might need food sometime, I was an absolute genius for having thought of it. "Yeah, that might be an idea," he said. Not that it was enough of an idea for him to actually help me put together a few sandwiches, unless criticizing my choices of filling could be counted as helping. Then we went down to my car, where he tossed his satchel into the back seat before we set off.
I had always found Kieran's tremendous fascination with highways somewhat odd, especially considering that he didn't own a car, didn't plan to, and didn't know the first thing about driving(except, perhaps, that turning the steering wheel Made It Go, as I'd thought at the age of about six). The people at the Department of Highways office obviously thought that he spent half his life on the road, judging by his daily calls for updates. He made a point of getting to know people on work crews, so that he probably got even more accurate data than the Department itself, and more up-to-date. When he'd lived with me, briefly, most of the guest bedroom had been taken up with his Alberta-B.C. map, copiously marked. (He'd never said, but I gathered that responsibility for Saskatchewan and the rest of the country, and the world, was in the hands of other capable people that he trusted to discharge their duties adequately. For all I knew, he was part of a worldwide network.)
This wasn't the first of these trips he'd solicited my services on; I was probably his most reliable driver, and almost certainly the only one he was still friends with after using their services for this length of time. But everyone always said I was easy-going.
I wasn't sure how far we'd be able to go on the highway myself, but Kieran assured me that Hotch had told him they'd be able to get all the way up to the site. Kieran wouldn't let me play music once we got onto the highway, either; I gathered that listening to the sound it made under our tires gave him an idea as to its current health. (I personally thought that it was more likely to be indicative of my poor wheel alignment and ancient muffler, but I suppose it all depends on what frequencies you're listening to.) It was just as well, I suppose, because our tastes in music were only barely compatible; he found most of mine boring, and I found most of his overly raucous and atonal. Luckily my mental stereo system could yield up a near- flawless rendition of "Autobahn", which I had always found admirably suitable.
So we drove along in our respective solitudes. It didn't take long to get to the point where "Grande Prairie" was revealed as a misnomer it was, into the depths of still-being-logged forest(probably the reason why the road was now getting paved). The deciduous trees were at various phases of losing their leaves, depending on their tolerance for cold, but very few were still green, leaving the conifers standing out in a contrast that would only get more marked as winter came. The sun rapidly sank in the West, which, since we were driving south, meant that at least it would be Kieran who got the sun in his eyes, which were closed anyway as he listened to the highway song.
Of course, as we got closer to Grande Cache, we also got closer to the Rocky foothills, so the horizon and the sun were moving towards each other. I cursed softly as I remembered this, because I'd forgotten to factor it into my sunset calculations; I'd have to speed after all. I tried to do so gently, but Kieran's eyes opened the moment I put on the slightest extra acceleration. He grinned, nodded, and went back into his contemplation.
The only other traffic we met were big trucks, logging trucks heading up to the Canfor plant back in Grande Prairie, right where we'd turned onto the highway. I was glad that at least it wasn't raining like it had been most of the past couple of weeks, so I wasn't getting my windshield drenched every time they went past.
I slow back down to the speed limit when we saw the first construction signs, judging that I'd probably made up enough time that we'd get there soon enough. Kieran's eyes opened again. "Shouldn't be far now," he said, not even having looked out the window. Even I had noticed the reduced sound of the tires on the new pavement.
We pulled over onto the shoulder of the hill just above the end of the pavement, and munched quietly on our sandwiches. I wished I had thought of getting something to wash them down with, but hopefully we'd be able to actually go into Grande Cache and get some pop before we went back. I wasn't sure yet if this would disturb whatever Kieran had planned, though.
He covered his eyes and peered west into the sun, which was almost touching the line of the foothills. "Now," he said, grabbing his satchel, and trotted down the hill. I followed a bit more slowly, closing the car doors but not locking them. I hadn't bothered to bring my camera this time, since I figured the lighting would be too poor, though I could've gotten some good silhouette shots.
Kieran was down on his knees frantically scraping gravel from the short stretch that still had it, and putting it into a plastic peanut butter jar. He stopped just as the sun dipped below the horizon, screwed the top back on, and put it into the satchel. Then he took out a big bottle of what looked like oil, went to the edge of the pavement, and started pouring it, a little at a time, in a continuous line. I followed him all the way to the pavement at the other end, where he dumped out the last of the oil(which wasn't much; he'd judged it to a nicety). Then another bag, which proved to contain the remains of what must be several dozen rubber(real rubber)erasers, which he sprinkled in a Hanselundgretelesque path back beside the oil. Then another trip, sprinkling iron filings from a milk carton. This one was still about a third of the way full when he reached the other end.
"There," he said. He grinned and handed me the rest of the filings. "Feed it to Rusty."
We walked back to the car, and I decided I didn't need to cross that last stretch of gravel after all. I could last until we got back to Grande Prairie. But Kieran surprised me by pulling out a bottle of water from his satchel, quite tepid by now, which we shared.
On the drive back, Kieran put a piece of tape on the peanut butter jar and, turning on the dome light, wrote "Highway 40" on it in black felt. (I remembered all those jars full of rocks from when he moved in; I'd thought he was a rockhound at first, except for the labels with highway names on them. Another mystery solved.) Then he sorted through the tapecase I had sitting in the car and eventually popped a Hoodoo Gurus tape into my tape deck.
"So you got any more commitments in the near future?" I asked.
He furrowed his brow. "Have to check, but I don't think anything until the Dunvegan Bridge, which should be a couple months."
Dunvegan I could handle. It was only an hour and a half out of town. "Give me a call then," I said.
He grinned, and we drove the west of the way back surrounded by Australian rock music.
[*] Attribution Dammit: Sean Stewart, "Resurrection Man"
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / email@example.com