The electric yellow moped caught my attention because it was bright as an eye exam, despite the distance, and because it was tracing a gentle line through space, humming its way along a cock-eyed geodesic around the hill. My focus collapsed, and I lost myself into a cloud of blank-faced calculations. When I came back from wherever it is I went, I was convinced the small vehicle and it’s intriguing cargo were very likely inbound. This realization was quickly superseded by the fact that I was hanging out the side of a backhoe by the steering wheel, shouting in two languages at once to a platoon of unflappable ditch diggers. I had two other machines working the area fairly intensely, stacks of wooden pipe tucked here and there in the lee of small rock formations, and a little hut on the far hill where the moped had just cruised past– full of plans and surveyor’s instruments.
The bill of my ball cap was a salt flat of dried sweat.
The moped and its curious pilot disappeared behind one of the crazy geographic features we were hoping to circumvent, and I hopped down from the machine to inspect the most recent assertion of certain failure by one of the workers. Sure enough, at the bottom of the half-baked excavation, I saw it. A clay pipe the diameter of a redwood, thousands of years old, well-preserved by some freakish characteristic of the local shale, and filled no doubt with the explosive gas of fermented triceratops dung. Just like the last one. I put two fingers to my lips and let out one of those ungodly whistles that tells everyone in hearing distance– which was me and the two guys beside me– to stop moving until further instruction.
I couldn’t believe it.
A steady rainfall of molten swears began to come out of me, as if I was muttering spells. It’s a strategy I had used many times before in similar circumstances, in an effort to soften up the land and reduce obstacles in our path into mush, and with similarly negligible results.
The electric yellow moped arrived shortly thereafter and glided to a halt, ending the only residual motion in the entire canyon. The driver deployed the kickstand, rotated his satchel around, flipped his hard hat onto his balding head, took up a position about three feet to my right, and made a show of putting his clipboard in the business position. Then he began to study our linear hole in the ground, our machinery, the offending pipeline, and our means and methods. It was a clear attempt to try and discern just what in the hell was going on, but it seemed to be biased with the expectation of benign novelties. After a few minutes of placid observation, he smirked at the sky and scribbled down a few notes onto his notepad.
He was so far down my list of urgent mysteries, I couldn’t even afford him the benefit of a well-mannered guess as to who he might have been. Chuck arrived around the same time as our mystery contestant, and I pointed into the hole while looking away towards our thatched hut of drawings and field instruments. I’d already seen the damage and couldn’t bear another look.
Chuck whistled appreciatively.
Most of our best communication with each other involved whistling of one sort or another. Then we shared a wordless moment full of thoughts about the local economy, the relative scarcity of employment unrelated to the Prince’s obsession with full-scale reenactments of Mesopotamian river gardens, and the implications of yet another unforeseen obstacle of massive proportions.
“The Universe writes you a blank check,” Clipboard finally says, “deposits it at the center of your being, so that you can do anything you want, and this is how you cash it in…? You guys are pressed right against it around here… Wow.”
He was making a careful study of my facial expressions through eyes that were twinkling pageants of generosity. For a moment I wondered if he had any vacancies. I had a sudden feeling about moving in. Then I made a mental note to tighten security on the job site.
I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about linked chains of cause and effect too big to touch that had been pummeling us for years– the absurd shape of the earth out here, with its stubborn geological fortitude, the Prince and his steady diet of gaudy projects, the plowable pile of invoices for equipment and fuel, and the gargantuan task of motivating farmers from the next principality to trade in their hoes for jackhammers and uninterrupted sunshine.
“Look,” I said, “we’ve got to get water to the seventh mesa resort by the third full moon after the Prince’s birthday, or heads are gonna’ roll. This rock is a phenomenon packed tight as a traffic jam of black holes lined up for the Apocalypse, and it’ll be a month of Sunday’s before we can get any hydraulic fluid delivered out here.”
Clipboard nodded, content with an undisclosed conclusion. He slipped me his business card, winked, and spun back around to hop on the moped.
“Well,” he said, before gliding away stage left. “…we all have our reasons…”
I look back now on those days from time to time, and reflect on how insane it was to keep that card. The sheer madness of it. The card that didn’t fit anywhere in my life. The card that felt like a ticket to somewhere else entirely. The card that said:
Expert Witness of Transitory Phenomena