The wind wasn't the problem. As usual this time of year in Rio Rojo County, Dorothy and Toto were expected any time, fast, then back again even quicker.
Hooter was proud that his kite had lasted this long.
No, it was the lightening, or the lack of it. Though a late-winter electrical storm was predicted, so far it had been a no-show; not even a momentary blink in the distance.
“Bet it works,” thought Hooter, pulling his mummy bag a little snugger and squeezing against the big rock a little tighter. “Bet it works and no one gets fried, either.”
He was still nursing hurt feelings from one of the only disagreements he and Claire had ever had a couple of weeks earlier. He hadn't spoken to her since, though he had listened to her voice mails until his machine died.
As always in such situations, Hooter wasn't sure how he ended up on the wrong side of the wreck, or how it was that no one else seemed to share his view of what was obviously a black and white matter.
He knew how it started; he just wasn't sure how it had come to this…
First a Spark…
“You know what would have been bad news on Noah's Ark?” asked Nikki.
“What?” asked Bugsy.
Both girls keeled over laughing. Hooter did, too. He was watching Bugsy and her older cousin for the afternoon so that Claire could have a little time to herself.
Then, in unison both girls looked at Hooter and demanded, “Were there woodpeckers on the ark?”
“All I can tell you is the same as you read in Genesis,” said Hooter. “The Bible says, ‘…two of every kind of bird and two of every kind of animal…' So I reckon there were.”
“Then how come they didn't peck holes in the side?”
“Maybe gopher wood is harder to punch through.”
“What's gopher wood?”
“It's like cypress.”
On and on the questions went about pitch and cubits and what breed of cattle did Hooter suppose occupied stalls for 40 days of rain. Finally, Hooter figured he'd divert their attention back to the discussion at hand.
“Maybe instead of trying to come up with something brand new you should just recreate one of history's great science experiments,” said Hooter. He and Nikki had been trying to help Bugsy conjure a winning entry for the science fair. “People are suckers for nostalgia you know.”
“Like I was saying, folks have a soft spot for things they think they know something about,” continued Hooter. “So, if you do something you know works and they know works, it's just a matter of making them feel good about the presentation.”
“Like what?” wondered the girls.
“Hmmm…well like that guy who got to wondering why the apple fell on his head.”
“You mean Sir Isaac Newton,” said Nikki importantly.
“Yeah, that's the guy.”
“That doesn't sound like much of an experiment to me,” said Bugsy. “You drop something and it drops and it's because of gravity. What's the big deal?”
“Well, before anyone knew what caused it…” He had to agree that dropping an apple on anything wouldn't be much of a crowd-pleaser.
“Or how about that guy with the clock thingamajig?” wondered Hooter.
“You know, he rigged up the plumb line and swung it back and forth to show that the earth actually rotated.”
“Are you talking about Foucault's Pendulum?” chided Nikki, more like the teacher than the other way around. “We learned about that last year. Hooter's right, Bugsy, this guy named Leon Foucault used a giant pendulum to prove the earth's rotation.”
“Where's the clock come in?” asked Bugsy.
“The pendulum; haven't you ever seen a clock with a pendulum in it?”
“All I can see are the numbers on mine,” said Bugsy.
“Yeah, it must be one of those olden days things,” agreed Nikki.
“No, no, it's…never mind. We're heading the right direction, though, keep thinking.”
“I know,” squealed Nikki. “How about the pea experiment that DNA dude did a long time ago.”
Hooter wasn't a huge science buff, but in the name of understanding crossbreeding and line breeding he considered himself something of a self-taught expert on Gregor Mendel and his genetic principles.
“That would be a really good one to do,” said Hooter. “And you could use most anything that grows, stays put and doesn't bite you. When's that fair again?”
“It's due next week,” said Bugsy glumly.
“Mark that one down,” said Hooter. “Not enough time now, but it will be a dandy next year.”
Science Ain't For Sissies
After making some popcorn on Hooter's old camp stove, Nikki asked, “You surely had to do science fairs when you were a kid, Hooter. What were some of the ones you did?”
“Um, um…” The only experiments Hooter could remember were the ones that he'd gotten into trouble for.
Like the year he brewed a batch of homemade beer to demonstrate the finer point of enzyme reactions. Once the science teacher, Mr. Kildelew, finally figured out what was going on, he sent Hooter to see the principal, who immediately called Aunt Pinkie, who in turn tanned his hide but good. Since he never saw it again, Hooter always suspected Kildelew used the concoction for his own enjoyment.
Then there was his attempt to replicate Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite. Hooter figured he was one step and a single detonator cap away from success when Clarence Mothbaum, who replaced Kildelew, finally caught on to what he was attempting. The discovery led to one of Hooter's suspensions and several new rules passed by the school board.
“Hooter,” said Nikki again, “what experiments did you do?”
“Ummm, science wasn't a real big subject when I was in school,” he said quickly. Then, spying a battered canvas in the corner of the shop, he had an idea.
“You know who's birthday's this year?” he asked.
“Everyone who was ever born has a birthday this year,” said Nikki.
“Right, I see what you mean,” said Hooter. “What I'm getting at is do you know what famous scientist has a birthday this year? A scientist who is a founder of our country? Benjamin Franklin!”
“So?” replied the girls in unison again.
“So, do you remember one of his most famous experiments?”
“No idea,” said Nikki. Bugsy just shook her head.
“Electricity! He proved lightening produced electricity. He flew that kite in the thunderstorm, got shocked and there you have it. All you need is a kite, a key and a little cooperation from the weather,” said Hooter excitedly. He was already envisioning the blue ribbon for Bugsy.
“It can't be that tough to do,” continued Hooter. “It's pretty easy to make a kite. Lord knows we get the wind around here. It's got history. It's got drama, the whole nine yards.”
“I don't know, Hooter. That sound like it might be a little dangerous,” said Nikki.
“Yeah, you know how mama is about me being out in the rain,” agreed Bugsy.
“Uh-huh.” But Hooter's wheels were spinning too fast to stop. Forget solar power, maybe there was some way to use the basic principle for hot wire. Instead of the Franklin Stove, Hooter was envisioning McCormick's Original Franklin Fence—guaranteed to keep the stock in and the varmints out!
“Let me show you,” mumbled Hooter. “Bugsy if you'll get that tractor battery over there, and Nikki, there's some electric wire around here—”
“You girls will do no such thing,” said Claire firmly. She'd come back by earlier than expected. “Hooter, what in the world are you doing?”
He tried to explain. The girls tried to explain. No use. After pointing out to Hooter that some of Franklin's compatriots were lethally zapped before Poor Richard perfected the kite experiment, she chopped him down to size and stalked off with the girls in tow.
Ben Would Be Proud
So it was that Hooter had taken to camping out here every time the weatherman hinted there might be a little stray electricity in the air.
He was fairly proud of the contraption he'd rigged up, too. He'd run some bailing wire from the top of the kite to a light chain that served as the tail. From that dangled some electric fence wire, which he in turn fastened to the end of an electric post stuffed into an old semen tank—Hooter's very own capacitor, he figured.
The wind was so strong, and Claire's prophecy of disaster nagging enough that he'd tied the kite string off to his pickup.
Then it happened. Out of nowhere: KABOOOOOOOOOM! Then a louder report, if that was possible.
When doom comes, you either cover your head, try to outrun it, or stand up and fight. In this case, Hooter chose the former.
Emerging from the mummy bag, he scraped off the debris, including something that looked remarkably like the cracked globe from one his running lights. He sniffed the air—burning rubber—and heard a fire in progress.
Hooter belly-crawled to the edge of the rise and peered over. He had a pretty good notion of what he'd see. Sure enough, his brand new pickup, or what was left of it was in flames.
“Shouldn't have gassed up,” thought Hooter. Then it occurred to him he was going to have to explain this to the insurance man.
But, he also couldn't help but think, “Like I told her, it worked and nobody got fried, nobody alive anyway.”