Debate class had gotten past the opening business, and we were breaking for individual work when Elaine Arnold slipped into the desk next to me. Elaine was a year younger than I. Good-looking, an A student and always a favorite with the teachers at Trona High, she was a straight-liner if ever there was one and a good debate buddy.
She spoke softly, leaning over the gap between us. “I’ve got to ask you a question.”
I pulled back a bit. “Oh?”
“I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve heard stories.” She glanced around. Everyone was busy. “Do you go out in the desert blowing things up for fun?” She shrugged. “I don’t believe it, just wondered. Do you?”
My shoulders relaxed. I had imagined much worse. “Of course.”
I don’t know how I had earned the “mild-mannered reporter” label. It always surprised me that everyone—except those who really knew me—saw me as the quiet guy who never did anything dangerous.
Elaine stared at me in earnest for a moment. I wasn’t sure how she was reacting.
She leaned in and said, “Will you take me with you sometime?”
“Sure,” I said with a grin. “How about this Saturday?”
Saturday was a safe day to go out dynamiting. The Sheriff from San Bernardino only came through town on Thursday. I got Ken Corbridge to come along. We picked up Elaine in the old dune buggy and drove out to our dynamite stash. Elaine’s eyes got really big, but she made no comment. The dune buggy had no sides, roll bars, or seat belts, and only one long bench seat. We put Elaine in the middle of the seat, with me driving on one side and Ken seated on her other side to keep her from falling out. Ken held the dynamite in his lap.
|SEARLES LAKE CC Bobak Ha'Er/Wikimedia Commons|
“We’re going to Gold Bottom Mine,” I explained to Elaine as we drove out of town. Before Airport Rd, I turned off onto a wide, flat dirt road that circled around the dry lake bed of Searles Lake. The mineral companies who mined the lake deposits kept the road in good condition so I could get up some speed—and impress Elaine. The road, clearly visible through the holes in the floor beneath our feet, whizzed by.
After the road curved south, I increased our speed. Suddenly, I saw the road leading to Gold Bottom Mine on the left. I spun the wheel and we skidded sideways, throwing clouds of dirt into the air and massacring some bushes before finally straightening out onto the narrow mine road.
Enveloped in dust, I felt Elaine tugging at my arm. “We lost Kenny,” she yelled in my ear. I glanced over. Sure enough, it was just Elaine and I on the seat. Kenny was gone.
I slammed on the breaks, slid to a stop, and backed up along the rutted track to return to the Searles Lake road. Through the swirling dust, we saw Kenny lying flat on his back in the middle of the road, holding the dynamite tightly to his chest. Jumping out, we ran to him. “Ken, are you okay?” I called. “Are you okay?”
I got to him first and stood looking down. “Ken? Ken! Are you all right?”
Ken wasn’t answering. Eyes closed tight, he lay perfectly flat and still.
When Elaine joined me, she leaned over and commented, “He’s still holding the dynamite.”
As soon as she said that, Ken came alive. Raising the dynamite above his chest, he set it over on the road away from him, and then pulled his hands back onto his chest again.
I stared down at him. “It’s too late for that, Ken. If it were going to blow, it would have happened already.
For the rest of the drive to Gold Bottom Mine, Ken insisted Elaine hold the dynamite since she was in the middle and less likely to fall out. Since Elaine was holding the dynamite, she insisted I drive slow.
We had a great time that day blowing up rocks and assorted, abandoned desert junk. Elaine was suitably impressed.