All rights reserved © 2015
Author's Note: I've taken some poetic licence with the Window Rock High School information and events because I was unable to find an official email address for the officials at the school or the school district websites when I was writing that part of the story in 2015. Thus I've kept events there very bland, plus the details may not be accurate due to the problems with getting real information about the school and district.
Note: UK English is used in this story, except for dialogue by a US character where US English is used in the dialogue and some nouns.
Copyright © 2015 by Ernest Bywater
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved by the author, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified there is no association between the author and any trademark holder, nor are any expressed or implied. Nor does it express any endorsement by them, or of them. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, service mark, or registered trademark.
The background images are Batlow by Leigh Blackall (top) and Looking East over the Murrumbidgee River near Gumly Gumly by Bidgee (bottom). Both are copyrighted by their creators and their use is allowed by the Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike Licence and terms. The cropping, size adjustment, and text are by Ernest Bywater. All rights to the cover images are reserved by the copyright owners.
3 April 2021 version
Published by Ernest Bywater
E-book ISBN: 978-1-387-18646-4
The title styles in use are a chapter, a sub-chapter, and a section.
Warrant Officer Bryan Jones, his wife Mary 'Bright Arrow' Jones, and their nine year old son David 'Light Arrow' Jones are enjoying a holiday in Kuta, Indonesia, during October 2002. Bryan recently finished a long training course and he's now on leave prior to a deployment overseas, so David's parents have him skipping classes for a good family holiday. A late dinner plus a two hour walk through the nightclub district while 'people watching,' a favourite family fun activity, is a happy time for them until the moment they turn to go back to their hotel. They're just beside a lane when there's an explosion in one of the buildings a bit further up the street. Bryan spins around. He's shoving his wife and son into the lane when hell opens up around them and Bryan is violently shoved into David by a huge blast. A fireball washes over the street and all of the people in it. David is knocked unconscious when he hits the ground.
David wakes up in what looks like a scene of hell from Dante's Inferno, but it's the emergency ward of an Indonesian hospital. All of the staff are busy treating people with severe injuries so the few without any clear major injuries, like David, are sitting in seats to wait for their turn. Some of those waiting have bad injuries, but not as bad as those being treated. It's clear there aren't enough medical staff to properly treat the injured and they've put a system in place to treat the worst cases first.
After taking a moment to evaluate the situation David's training is activated by what he sees, so he pulls out his mobile phone. He checks it works, he has a connection, and he makes a call. The phone is answered and he says, “Gramps, Davy, I'm in Kuta, as you know. Explosion in the street. I'm bruised with some minor cuts and I was knocked out. I'm in a hospital ER with a lot of others, but I can't see Mum or Dad and I don't know where they are. You best start some enquiries.” He talks to his great-grandfather for a little longer before he hangs up.
Nine and a half years old David is trained and qualified in first aid as his parents felt he needed it. He looks about the room, on seeing some basic supplies and equipment on a cart near the middle of the room he goes over to get some bandages, band-aids, antiseptic creams, gauze, an electronic blood pressure monitor, and tape. After a moment to apply cream and cover his own cuts with band-aids he starts work checking the people in the chairs. He checks their BP (blood pressure) and treats their minor cuts. When he finds one person with a worrying BP he goes over to see a nurse. She's not happy with being annoyed by a boy while treating someone, but when he waves the BP monitor while pointing at a person waiting she stops to listen, then she checks the person the boy is pointing to. A moment later she's helping the man to the more critical area as she's worried about possible internal bleeding injuries. When she has time to check on the boy again she can't find him.
Once he's helped all he can with his low level of training David puts his borrowed supplies and equipment onto the cart and leaves the room to go to the hotel his family is staying in. He has some local money so it's no problem to get a taxi to the hotel. Once there he goes to his family's room and he has a wash before lying down to rest. He knows he may have a concussion and he should be monitored, but he also knows the hospital is so overloaded with patients they won't be able to do it, so he leaves wake up calls for every three hours at the front desk. Every few hours they call to wake him up, just like he requested.
The Next Day
In the morning the bombing is the only news topic, but no one has a list of those hurt in the attack. David knows it takes time to find things out because he's been well trained by his parents and great-grandfather. So he leaves the issue aside and he goes down to have as much breakfast as he can eat; which it isn't a lot, but it is enough to end his hunger.
While he's walking back through the lobby one of the desk staff asks him, “Sir, why do you want to be called every three hours?”
He turns to the young woman, “I was knocked unconscious last night and I'm concerned about having a concussion. The hospital is full, so I came back here to rest. However, I need to frequently check how I am to make sure I don't have any adverse effects from the hit.”
“Would you like me to have the house doctor check on you when he's able to do so?”
“Yes, please, but it's not urgent, unless I don't sound well when you call me.” The young woman smiles as she makes a note on her pad.
On his way back to the room David checks his text messages. There's one from Gramps stating he's chasing information but he hasn't found out anything yet. David knows the authorities won't tell a boy anything, so he leaves that line of enquiry to his great-grandfather.
Late in the afternoon the hotel's house doctor checks on David and he says David is OK. The doctor gives him some more bandages and creams for his cuts so he can put on new bandages after he has a shower.
Second Day After the Bombing
After he has breakfast David asks to speak to the manager, and he's taken in to see him a few minutes later. David sits down and says, “I don't know where to go or what to do, but I feel you should know about my situation. The other night my parents and I were out on the town when the street blew up. I was knocked out and I woke up in the hospital. I've not seen my parents since just before the explosion, and they were in front of me when it happened. My great-grandfather is trying to find out what happened to them but he's not getting any information. He'll come for me if he has to, but I don't want to leave until after I know about my family. Is there anyone you can contact to find out about them, please? I need to know where and how they are!”
The manager is saddened by the story so he picks up his phone to make a call. He has a brother in the local police force so he calls him to tell him of the situation, along with the names of the missing adults. No information is available because the authorities still aren't well enough organised to handle this sort of event at this time.
There's not much David can do, so he stays at the hotel. He reads a lot when not checking the news or any of the contacts he can make.
Four days after the bombing the news reaches David they've located his parents' bodies. His great-grandfather is arranging for them to be shipped home on the same Royal Australian Air Force plane as many of the other dead are being sent home, along with some survivors who're going home now, which includes David.
David doesn't return to school for the rest of the school year because of the many changes in his life and the issues they cause him and his great-grandfather. A lot of David's time is spent in counselling and grief management as well as fighting the family services people to keep him out of their system. The fight is long and hard, but David ends up in the care of his great-grandfather, Dave Phillips.
To meet the State laws the estates, insurance, and other funds due to David are all put into a trust company Dave Phillips creates for David. The company rules and by-laws require a public trustee to manage the fund until David is a legal adult, but David can tell the manager of his wishes. David knows his wishes will be carried out if the trust manager agrees with him about them or can be convinced to approve the request.
The man and boy move from Sydney to Bowen's Creek to give them both a change of environment from their past. A large section of land is bought on the edge of town where the two of them live in an old and run down house while they work together to build a new large house beside it. They also plant fruit trees and a big vegetable garden in the backyard. The house takes them two years to build and they move into it, then the old house is demolished.
Life goes on while the two of them make the best of life they can.
On a Monday in early April 2009 Dave Phillips and David Jones have an application being heard by Judge Mills in the City of Rivers as they're seeking to have young David declared a legal adult. The judge has the file before him. He's read their reasons for the application and the longer document from the family welfare people opposing the application since they think he's far too young to be on his own. The Judge looks at Dave while asking, “Mister Phillips, why do you feel you need young David to be made a legal adult at sixteen years of age?”
Dave Phillips stands and says, “Your Honour, David is a very intelligent and mature young man. I've been his legal guardian since his parents were murdered, several years ago. However, for most of the last three years it's been more a case of David looking after me than me looking after him. I've an advanced cancer and I don't expect to live much longer. I've already outlived the original date from the doctors by a few years. But the pain is getting to the point where the drugs no longer stop it. I need to see David is set up and OK. He's a smart and independent character, he has access to his own money, and he's extremely capable of looking after himself. If this application is granted he can continue with his life as he sees fit while continuing to live in the home he helped build in the town and he'll be with the friends he's known for the last several years. If not, when I die the welfare system will absorb him and try to break his spirit. At the most, they'll only have him for a bit under two years so he won't be going to any long term carer, while a short term carer will be more trouble than help for him.”
The judge listens to the welfare case then he asks for David's view.
David Jones stands and says, “Your Honour, my parents raised me to be independent and to look after myself. Gramps has enhanced that training. I've been doing the cooking and cleaning for us both for the last few years and proven I can live by myself. I'm prepared to, and can, pay for a housekeeper to live-in to help look after the house while providing me with advice. But I need to be in control of my environment and not be under the control of people who don't know or understand me. Also, I don't want to leave my home or home-town, but the welfare people don't have any foster homes in Bowen's Creek so I'd have to move to go live in a much smaller house if they're in control. I want to avoid that.”
Judge Mills makes some notes, checks some books, and looks at both Dave Phillips and David Jones. He says, “I understand the concerns and reasons you've both given. However, sixteen is too young for him to be given legal adult status. Seventeen, yes, but not just turned sixteen. The application is denied.”
The welfare lady smiles at the decision and she moves over to speak to Dave Phillips about arrangements for David to go into care now, but she's simply told, “Go away, you harpy. I'm not dead, yet!” She's angry when she turns and walks away from them.
David Jones packs up their papers then he helps his great-grandfather to walk out of the courthouse and over to their car parked in the street. Once in the car the boy says, “I think we'll go with Plan Bravo Echo!” He turns to look at his great-grandfather. He gets a nod yes in reply while Dave starts the car before he slowly moves the car into the traffic.
The rest of the day and the next one are spent packing a few things up and moving them into an environmentally controlled storage facility in Rivers. Their house is cleaned and made ready to be rented out with the bulk of the furniture in it. The car and other items are sold. Traveller's cheques and foreign currency are obtained from another city along with train and plane tickets, as well as finalising the arrangements for David to have access to money outside of his own trust account. All is ready for their next act in this complex play called Life.
Late Thursday the trust manager, Mr Williams, visits the house to sit down for a long talk with both of the residents. Just on sunset Dave is able to sneak around the side of the house to get into the passenger side of Mr Williams' SUV without being seen, and he squats on the floor of the front seat. A few minutes later David shows their visitor out of the house then he looks at the car parked opposite which has been there since Monday afternoon. They don't know who is watching the house, but they have a good idea on whose behalf they're doing the watching.
David closes the door then he goes through the house turning lights off and turning controls on while Mr Williams sits in his car to write some notes. David walks out of the back door, locks it behind himself, picks up his backpack waiting on the verandah, and goes around the side of the house. While crouching low he makes his way to the SUV and he taps on the rear passenger side window. Mr Williams sighs, finishes his notes, puts the books away, turns the interior light to the 'off' position, then he starts the car's ignition. When he turns the headlights on they light up the driveway and footpath in front of the car while throwing the area beside and behind the car into deep shadows.
David opens the rear passenger door, slips his backpack in, slides in while staying below the window level, and he shuts the door behind him. The whole trick of getting into the car unnoticed works well because it's parked in the driveway area beside the garage and is facing across the front of the house. Mr Williams takes care driving out and down the street. He turns and heads toward his home, but he diverts from the path when a few streets away. Once he's on the open road to the next town to the north he says, “Nothing in sight. I think we did it!” Both passengers rise up from where they're hiding on the floor of the car to take their seats and to put their seat belts on. “I'd love to see the look on their faces when they realise you're gone.”
Dave Phillips replies, “Well, we usually don't go out of the house on the weekends, so not seeing us about will be in character. The issue will be late next week. With the holidays there's no reason for us to leave the house, except to get food and to check mail. I've the mail being held so there's no mail. They shouldn't get concerned until late in the week.”
The three of them laugh at them getting away clean. A bit over an hour later Dave and David are on the train to Sydney. Later that night David Jones is on a flight out of Sydney on his way to Auckland, New Zealand, while Dave Phillips stands at the terminal window thinking, Good luck, Son, God's speed and stay safe. I hope you find someone over there.
Sitting on the plane David Jones knows he'll never again see the man who raised him for the last six and a bit years. They both know how far along the cancer is and Dave will be dead within a week or two. David says a prayer of thanks for his help and he starts his grieving process while he thinks, I'll be back, Gramps! One day, I'll come back to our home.
Dave watches the plane vanish into the night, turns, and makes his slow way out to the taxi ranks. He gets into a taxi and says, “I need to go to the hospital! Take me to the nearest public hospital, please.” A little later he's being examined in the Emergency Room. He's admitted. For the next few days he's given increasing dosages of painkillers to help manage his pain levels. All involved know it's a losing battle, but they fight on just the same as it's in their nature to fight - even when losing.
The flight to Auckland, New Zealand, isn't long and as soon as David arrives there he collects the little luggage he has, shows his Australian passport to go through New Zealand customs, and walks over to another airline's check-in desk to get his boarding pass for his flight to the USA. Now he shows his US passport as he gets his boarding pass.
Just after three in the morning on the following Wednesday an alarm goes off at the nurses' desk. She goes to the patient concerned to check his pulse, it's not there. She calls for the duty doctor then she commences to turn off and remove the various monitors that aren't needed now. The doctor arrives, makes the relevant checks, and writes the results down. All expect this, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. The doctor steps over to pick up the envelope on the chest of drawers beside the bed, its simple address is: 'To be opened upon my death, Dave Phillips.'
He reads the letter, opens the top drawer, takes out the cell phone, turns it on, opens a message, and activates the 'Send' command. It sends the prepared message to three phones, none of them being the phone of David Jones because it's been sold as they don't want to show a way to trace where he is. In Bowen's Creek and Rivers a doctor, a trust manager, and a funeral director receive the text message on their phones. They'll read them when they wake up in the morning and will act on them then.
Dave Phillips is back in Bowen's Creek the Saturday nine days after leaving the town and he's waiting to be buried in the cemetery. Only his few closest friends have been told of the funeral, but a few others are also in attendance. The local Returned Services League (RSL) are doing the honours for the funeral of Warrant Officer Dave Phillips, George Cross. The service is like all of the other funerals the RSL has organised until they get to the lowering of the coffin into the grave where an extra song is included. A good local singer performs the John Barry song 'Born Free.' When he finishes the song the 'Last Post' is played, followed by a moment of silence by all at the grave site.
Senior Constable Keane walks over to stand beside Mr Williams and asks, “I don't see young Davy, where is he? And what's the point of the song 'Born Free' in the service, it seems out of place?”
Williams looks at him for a moment, and he notes Keane isn't in his uniform. He asks, “Is it the cop or the friend who asks?”
“The friend, unless you tell me I need to tell my other self!”
“Born Free is a declaration of his life, a statement of intent, and an order to someone else. Think on the words of the song, especially the first two words of the first three stanzas plus the final chorus.” Keane thinks back over the words while trying to remember them. Williams helps him out by saying, “Born Free, Live Free, Stay Free, and finishes with 'life being worth living because you're born free.' He's making his point to us and to young David while giving the lad his final orders to stay free.”
“Damn! The boy's done a runner, hasn't he?”
“The reason Dave was in Sydney when he died was he went into the hospital after seeing David on his way to freedom. He's had a week to get lost. The longer before the welfare people wake up to that the colder the trail will be, and the better for the boy.”
“I see that! What's with the George Cross, it's for civilians?”
“Dave was a soldier in England in nineteen forty-three. He was on leave when he did something he never talks about. It warranted a medal but a military award wasn't appropriate, so they gave him the George Cross. It had to be dangerous, but I've no idea what it was.” Both turn to look at the headstone:
Warrant Officer David Phillips, GC
20 August 1920 - 15 April 2009
Born free - lived free - died free.
The funeral is covered in the local Sunday paper and it's seen by the local welfare office manager. On Monday she turns up at the Bowen's Creek house to collect David Jones, and she isn't happy to learn he left on a holiday over a week ago. No one knows where he is because only Dave Phillips had the information. It's also obvious the house has been cleared out and is now ready to be rented out, so she knows David isn't coming back here. She's angry at them avoiding her, so she returns to her office to initiate an investigation. Like a typical bureaucrat she's extremely angry when things don't go the way she wants them to go.
Over the next six weeks one of her staff manages to track the two to Sydney and she also finds the plane David took to New Zealand. Ten days later they find the plane he took to the USA. He's outside of their jurisdiction so the manager issues an International alert on a runaway child. Various computers have the name of David Light Arrow Jones entered in them as being wanted by the NSW government. The case rests there until it may come up again due to new information being put into the system and it being made available to the relevant authorities.
Dave knew if things went against them in court they'd have to move fast so all of the preparations for a few alternative plans were made in the months before the court case, including money transfers and tickets. David doesn't need a visa to go to New Zealand so that part is easy. He also has a USA passport due to his mother being a US Citizen, so David is a US citizen derived from his mother. David doesn't want to warn the authorities of his dual nationality. The information hasn't been hidden, but it's not been made obvious and isn't on most of the government files.
David exits Australia on his Australian passport and he uses it to go through the NZ Customs, thus it shows him arriving as an Australian citizen. He enters Los Angeles on his US passport. In LA he declares the large amount of travellers cheques and some cash he's carrying. His backpack has his sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear, and clothes. However, all of his important papers are in the side bag he has as a carry-on bag.
Leaving the airport he takes a taxi to the nearest university grounds. Although it's only mid April some of the students have finished classes for the year and they're starting to head home, while most of the students still have a few weeks to go. David buys a cheap used cell phone and he puts up a notice on the student message board with the number on it:
Need transport to the Arizona / New Mexico border on I 40. Will pay for fuel. See David in the lounge or phone xxx xxx xxxx.
David is sitting at a table eating a light meal when a young man walks up to him while holding David's notice and asks, “You the guy wanting to go to Arizona?” David nods yes, “Exactly where in Arizona?”
“I'm going to Window Rock but I'll settle for anywhere closer than here. I can contribute for fuel but I don't have a driver's license.”
The young man gives David an odd look, smiles at him, and waves at the door. David picks up his gear, puts his pack on his back, and follows. In the car park the young man says, “I'm going home to Window Rock. Why are you going there as there's not much to see or do there?”
“It's the seat of the Navajo Nation. My mother was a Navajo and I wish to see if they have any records about relatives I may have on that side of the family. My parents were murdered several years ago and the last of my Dad's relatives is now in hospital, dying, so I'm looking for some family on my mother's side. Being under eighteen I need a legal guardian to supervise me or I'll be put in an orphanage.”
The young man is moved by what he hears. Being one of the more traditional of the Navajo his family means a lot to him. He understands a young man wanting to look for his family. He holds his hand out, “Peter Brown Feather Murray, let's get going.”
David shakes his hand, “David Light Arrow Jones. When you get too tired to drive find a cheap place to stay and I'll pay for our stay since I can't drive.” He gets an agreeing nod in exchange, they get into the car, and they drive off. In leaving Los Angeles by car David is leaving nothing to trace him to his next destination should the authorities track him this far. No train or bus or plane tickets to look up. Peter drives until he's too tired then they spend the night in a cheap motel.
Peter doesn't speed nor does he dawdle, but they stop for meal breaks when they refuel and stop at motels late at night. They reach Window Rock in the mid-afternoon on a weekday. Peter drops David off outside the Quality Inn Navajo Nation Capital Hotel so he can stay there while he gets more long-term arrangements set up. David goes in, registers, gets a map of the area, and he goes to the post office to organise a post office box for his local mailing address. Next stop is the nearby museum to get information on where to see about family history information, and they give him a few leads to follow up on. By then it's too late to do much else so David goes back to the hotel to get settled and to study all of the information they gave him about the town. A little later he goes out for dinner at a nearby inexpensive restaurant.
The next morning he's up early to buy a bike to get around on. Then he's off to the Navajo authorities to see if his birth and his mother's death are on their records and to get a local identity document. He also applies for a learner driver's permit as he's old enough for to learn to drive a car here.
There are a number of locals involved in genealogy work plus most of the local records are very good, although many are only oral history recordings of family trees. However, knowledge of the local and tribal naming systems is needed to properly understand it, which is something David doesn't have. One older woman is very good at it and she's going through the records to help him. So he spends a lot of his time over at her hogan (a traditional house) doing a lot of minor work for her as a thank you for helping him. Mornings doing the odd jobs and afternoons doing his driver education training. Dave taught David how to drive a car but the different driving position and laws take a bit of learning, plus they count toward his required learner hours. He also does an advanced driving course and an evasive driving course. Since both of these are supervised driving courses their time also counts toward his supervised hours for his regular license while they give him better driving skills to make him a safer driver.
After a few days David is able to move into a short term rental that's a lot cheaper than the hotel, and much closer to where he's working. He has more than enough money with him for food and his small needs so he has no issues with the change. On that front he's well off. He can't touch his main trust account since that will show where he is, but he has access to funds in another trust account Dave had in the name of his other son-in-law who died five years ago. The manager for this trust is different to the main trust because Dave transferred it to the USA last year in the expectation of David visiting the USA to find his mother's family. David is now its beneficiary and he has a debit card on the trust's bank account. He doesn't know how much is in the trust so he's careful with his spending from it when the travellers cheques run out.
It takes the woman working on David's family tree, Bright Star, four weeks to find a living relative: a seventh cousin three times removed. On a genealogical tree comparison to his relationship to David the man, Jason Long Arrow Lewis, is a cousin of the same generation as Dave but he's really one generation later as well as being twenty years younger than Dave. By the time she has this information for him David has done all of the odd jobs for Bright Star and her friends as well as having cut large piles of firewood for all of them for next winter, so he's running out of tasks to do for her. He soon has an Arizona Driver's License since the mandatory hours are easy to do at fifteen hours a week for a few weeks.
Jason lives on the north-west edge of Window Rock and he has a spare room he's happy to rent out to his young distant cousin after they spend a few days getting to know each other. Jason also knows a lot about the Navajo traditions and traditional way of doing things, and he's very happy David wants to learn them. So Jason spends a lot of time teaching David the Navajo traditions, ways, and knowledge.
David's studies with Jason only take up half of each day so the rest of the day is spent helping the neighbours and other local people he's asked to help by doing odd jobs and handyman work around their houses. Jason also spends time, mostly on the weekends, teaching David how to shoot pistols and rifles. David's evenings are spent studying the US education subjects he needs to catch up on to go to school in the new scholastic year starting in August, which is soon upon them. Once school starts much of David's time is taken up with school and his school studies. However, his work helping people around the community, plus his studies with Long Arrow, fill in the rest of his free time on evenings, weekends, and holidays. Thus David is very busy for some months.
The welfare people in Australia trace David to New Zealand and when they can't locate him in New Zealand they issue an International alert for him. By then he's well settled into the Window Rock community as Light Arrow Jones, often called LA or Light for short. No one is sure how it came to be he's known by his Navajo name or the nickname, but sometimes that's the way life is. The alert with his picture is seen by one of the officers of the Navajo Nation Police, the one responsible for looking for runaways. He looks into the situation with Jason and he notes on their file David is living with his closest living family member so no further action is required. No message is sent back along the line to Australia because he doesn't think it needs to be sent since David is a US citizen living with a family member.
When David passes his drivers' license test he contacts the trustee of the US trust to ask how much he can afford to spend on a local car. The trustee tells him, “David, not only can you afford any normal car you can also afford to buy an average house if you want to. The trust is doing well, it also has enough to pay for your college education too. So go buy what you like. No super expensive cars like a Ferrari and you're OK!”
“Thanks! I'll look around because I don't want to waste money. But it's good to know there's plenty there for everyday needs.” He takes his time looking for a personal vehicle.
David checks out what's available locally but he doesn't like what's on offer in the area. He wants something that can go off-road but he doesn't want to buy a pickup truck. After exhausting the local area David looks at what's available on the Internet. He's looking at a used vehicle as a first option because where he is a new vehicle won't stay new for long. One vehicle catches his eye, it's also very cheap and it looks interesting. David calls the company selling the truck to ask about it and he's told, “I bought a hundred of the trucks in mixed configurations at a good price because the Australian Army was replacing them and selling these off. I had most of them converted to left-hand drive and they've sold well. But I still have one left to sell as it still has right-hand drive. I want to get rid of this last one. I made a good profit on the full deal so I'm letting this one go real cheap to clear the books for this project and close them out.”
They talk some more about the truck and the man agrees to ship the truck to David once he's paid for it. David phones the trustee to make the payment. The trustee suggests shipping the truck direct to a camper conversion company first. After some research he suggests a group in Albuquerque for the conversion. The payment for the truck is sent and the truck is shipped to the conversion company. The seller sends David, the trustee, and the conversion company emails with the full technical drawings and photos of the truck to help them plan the conversion of the truck to suit David's wishes.
David exchanges many emails and phone calls with the conversion group on what he wants built into the truck. At one point he says, “Look, I've given you a rough idea of what I want. Basically, for three adults to be comfortable while camping out in it. No built-in toilet or shower are needed but a secure spot for a chemical toilet to be stored in is needed. I want good seating for four adults, some extra bench seating, a stove, fridge, workbench, water tank, and a gun-safe for rifles and ammunition to be secured in. The rest I'll leave up to you to work out.” Eventually they all agree on a design by one of the conversion company staff, along with a payment schedule for the work.
During this period David studies the paperwork he has on the truck and he wonders what it had been used for. It started life as an extended wheelbase Land Rover 6 x 6 used by the Australian Army, but he can't find anything like it on the Internet. It looks like the same truck as used in the Perentie series vehicles, except they've a driver cab as a separate unit to the rear compartment while this one looks like a single unit. The whole body is the same material while the uniform desert camouflage paint job makes it clear this is the original format, despite the variations. The other trucks have a bench front seat but this truck has two seats with access into the back area and the roof is high enough for people to stand upright. It has a little higher ground clearance to those he can find on the Internet. Size and engine wise it matches the series at a touch over 20 feet long and 8 feet wide with a 3.9 litre 4 cylinder turbo diesel engine. There's a door in the middle of the back of the truck and the back area has a set of frames in it where the pictures show shelves and equipment had previously been mounted then later removed from the truck prior to being sold by the Australian Army.
Three weeks after the truck is shipped to the conversion group it's driven to Window Rock and David registers it there. After they attach the tags to the vehicle the representative from the conversion group walks David around the truck while he's pointing things out and talking about the changes they've made to it
Jack Leary, the group's representative, says, “It's a good thing you got this cheap. When we got it we checked over the mechanicals and all of the drive train parts needed major work. After a few words with your accountant we did as instructed and replaced it all instead of fixing it.” David stops to give him a hard stare before he simply nods in acceptance. “In an odd way that helped a lot with the work on it. It was cheaper and easier to just rip out the old gear to put in an electric drive system. You now have full six-wheel drive with independent suspension on all of the wheels. It also sits a bit higher off the ground, as per your request. We couldn't remove the bottom plating so we gave up on that to remove the interior floor to work on the frame. That's when we found out why the bottom plating was so hard to take off. It's anti-bomb protection that's very well secured to the sub-frame. After removing the drive-shaft and axle from above we plated over the holes they left. Essentially, we gutted the vehicle and finished sealing the bottom. The composite body seems to be a one piece unit that's well secured to the frame, what little there is of the frame. Once we set out exactly where we wanted the skylights and rear passenger windows to be we cut them all out, built an aluminium alloy frame for the whole of the interior that's a tight fit and we attached it to the existing framework. The five new windows fit in and attach to the new frame, so they're very well secured. The wiring harnesses and all of the pipes were fitted before we sprayed on the waterproofing and the insulation. Decorative panels were clipped into place between the frame supports to give a clean work surface.”
David says, “I see the windows are different to what I was told.”
“Yes. You asked for double glazed. These are double glazed with a very thin black Venetian blind built-in. That way you can control the light levels without having to put in any curtains. Both glass panels are bullet resistant and tinted. Both panes have an insulation film on them.”
“Good! Less heat transfer in or out, and controlled lighting. I asked for a skylight front and back but I see three. How come?”
“Our designer and engineer decided three across the body of the truck were better than two up the truck's mid-line. One over the kitchen and sink area, one over the bench seating area, and one over the front bed area. That gives three equally spread up the length of the truck. The side windows are also a little bigger than what you suggested.”
“OK! That all make sense. Let's go over the rest of it in detail.”
“The engine is a three and a half litre turbo diesel generator. You run it up to optimum power then leave it there. Each wheel has an electric motor on it you use to adjust the speed with a rheostat control. The foot throttle and brake work on all six motors at once, plus you can adjust individual wheel power with the levers on the control panel. I suggest you don't adjust the levers unless you're in a tricky situation. Just drive it like normal. All of the controls are electrical or electronic and feed through the computer. The driver control unit is on three bars, so you simply remove the other two dash components to slide the control unit across to the other side to convert it to right-hand drive. The middle and side storage panels just clip back into place after the switch. All of the instruments are on the driving panel with all of the other controls on the middle panel which you unplug for the switch over. The air-conditioning and heating system feeds the full vehicle via concealed pipes to multiple outlets. The sound system feeds music throughout the whole truck. We followed the desert camouflage pattern of the exterior into the truck because we used the panels we removed for the windows to create the wall and door between the front seating and the rear area of the truck.” While they walk around the truck he uses a long telescoping rod to point out things on the truck. “These four cameras at the back show what's directly behind you, what's in the lanes beside you, and one looks down with a wide-angle lens for when you reverse. The driver unit has a screen to show you what each camera sees and the default main screen is the reversing camera. They all record to a computer stored in a cupboard where each camera has its own hard-drive. One cupboard has a large screen you can view them on to check them.”
“Good! I take it there's a lot of storage on the hard-drives!”
“Up to one thousand hours of all the cameras before they overwrite. There are four cameras along the front that do much the same; the lane on each side, one straight ahead just in front, and one well in front. Two on each side; one looks down to show what's right beside you, and one looks out at a forward angle to get approaching traffic on the side streets. The four sides have two LED area lights each to light up the space around the truck when you want to.” He stops near the front door to tap on a conical hole in the side near the roof right at the front. “Two big truck air horns with one aimed out each side to scare the shit out of anyone cutting you off, plus a normal horn with a selection switch on the dash.” Both laugh at the horns. “The two front doors and the rear door are water tight with very high security locks on them. The access hatches for the gas bottle, the water tank, fuel tank, and dirty water tank have the same security locks. For safety reasons the gas bottle hatch has vent holes in it but the compartment is water tight. The vehicle can ford up to four feet of water with ease. You may get by in up to five feet of water if you turn off the engine and air-conditioning then run on batteries as you don't want the motor sucking in water while it's running.” Jack points at the steel steps fitted at each entrance to the truck, “Just on the inside of each door is a short grab-rail to help people to get into the truck.” Inside the truck Jack points out the four high quality bucket seats in the front, along the sides behind them are two bench seats with backs that drop down to be double beds. Bench work areas are beside the end of the bench seats, then the sink, water heater, fridge, water tank, gun-safe, cupboards, the survival and medical gear cupboard. Jack shows David how to pull out and close the sliding door between the two areas because it recesses into the wall. He says, “This isn't a full height door but it will stop bullets being fired into the back from the outside. Use a finger in this hole to drag the door out then slide it across with your hand near the top. There's some storage above the two rear passenger seats and the access to the three quarter width bed above the cabin area is via the space between the two rear passenger seats. The ladder stores in the wall opposite the door and it comes out the same way, it then slips into two slots in the rail of the bed.” He demonstrates opening the door plus how to slide out and use the ladder. Then he demonstrates how to open the two beds there before showing David where the small fold-out tables for use between the bench seats are stored away.
David points at the shaped padding above the backrests of the bench seats and he's told, “Contoured head rests for the bench seating.” He reaches into the space between the seat-back and the seat-base to lift up a seatbelt. “Two inertia reel belts for each position back here. You grab the main harness and pull it all the way down before you clip the two lower belts into place. Once on it's like a racing harness. Three on each bench seat. Thus you can carry ten people.” David has to look real close to see where the components of these belts are stored.
Jack continues, “You've four keys and tags. The tags don't work the doors. One button starts the engine warmer and when the light goes green you can use the other button to start the motor, all remotely so you can have a warm truck before you leave the house in winter.” David laughs at the convenience factor. “You can use only batteries for short trips if you want to. The batteries are stored under the bench seats and the fuel tanks are under the floor. All well protected and safe. Also, the Bluetooth hands free kit has an outside speaker.” He hands over the four key and tag sets with a delivery form, “Sign this then I can get started on my holiday. The wife will soon be here to pick me up on the way to see the Grand Canyon.” David grins, signs the form, hands back a copy, pockets three sets of keys, and gets into the truck. He's careful while driving it for the first time because it's a lot heavier and longer than the car belonging to Long Arrow he's been driving around town until now.
The finished product is a quality off-road vehicle licensed to carry ten people including the driver and comfortably sleeps five adults with the two bench seats converted to two double beds. Four more adults could sleep in the front seats if they want to. David figures he'll just use the high-set single bed when he's by himself out camping or travelling. What he does like is the fuel usage figures are the same as or better than the cars and pickup trucks of the other people he knows. So, despite being bigger and heavier his fancy truck isn't heavy on the operating costs and it will save him motel bills on trips. It's also perfect for driving to school and home again as well as off-road. The brush bars across the front and on both sides of the rear door wrap around the sides a little to give the corners some protection too.
David finished the first term of Year 10 before he left Australia but the US schools start in August not February. The different start dates and the time he missed has David unsure about what level to start at in the Window Rock High School so he arranges to be tested by the local school board. In some subjects he tests well enough to be a Junior, what they call Year 11 in the US, and in others he tests out as a Sophomore, the Year 10 equivalent. So he registers as a Sophomore, but in the advanced classes. He also registers for some extra credit and advanced placement classes. After he gets settled into the school he does a few advanced and college level on-line at your own pace classes from other sources as well.
The first few weeks at the new school are a bit busy while David gets familiar with how they do things in the Window Rock High School and many of the other students get to know him. He meets people and relationships grow, as is typical of high school life the world over. The help David gave people in Window Rock involved him with some of the students in their homes and now he meets others in his classes, thus he makes a lot of new friends. One of the hardest things for David to get used to is the school provided lunch. In Australia you can buy a lunch at school or you bring your own, but many of the US schools provide one from a very limited menu. He often brings his own because the school lunches are usually foods he doesn't like eating. Some of his school friends ask him to collect his school lunch so they can have something extra to eat. David does this for them because he knows they're often on limited food at home due to their family's poor economic situation.
Like any school student he finds some classes interesting while some are a lot less interesting, but he does well in all of his tests and exams.
At lunch David sits at a table with a mixed group of students: some are from his classes and some are neighbours while some are friends of those in the first two groups. There are also a few other students who come and sit with them on some days. Most of them are from his year.
For sports David joins the Cross Country Team and he does well due to his overall fitness and his training from Dave. However, the training in moving across open country he gets from Long Arrow helps him to be a lot better than he was. Important things like reading the country for a safer or faster path, good map reading, how to best move across the country, and how to prepare for moving across the open terrain. On the cross country runs David wears a larger pack than the others so he can carry all of the emergency gear he has from his training by Long Arrow. At first the teacher objects to the backpack as excess weight slowing him down, but the teacher eventually comes to accept it as being part of how David does things. At the meets the pack is often inspected by the officials, but they allow him to carry it after they confirm it contains only emergency aid equipment and other safety items in it.
David doesn't try to pick up a local accent but he soon starts to talk with the same accent as those around him. Thus he sounds like a local when he starts at school, which saves him from being teased about his old accent. He wonders how come until he realises he now has the same accent his mother spoke with, so it's very familiar to him.
Life settles into a routine for David, a routine he enjoys and does well in, most of the time. There are a few bumps on the road of life, as is normal, but nothing major and nothing that can't be dealt with after a little work and planning. Some of the most interesting bumps relate to his social life, both at school and at home.
One thing that catches David unaware is how important the school dances are to the students and the community in general. This is made very clear in the weeks approaching the 'Homecoming Dance.' David is used to the Australian school scene where most school dances are very low key and of an interest only for a short period before the dance. He doesn't like the way some people are gloating about who they're taking to the dance or how soon they're asked out. Also, many are upset at who is already asked out so they have to look for another to ask out. The big shock is how many of the students suddenly change the quality of what they wear and how they look each day, only to fall back to their usual standard once they have a dance date; it reminds David of how peacocks and lyrebirds behave during their mating seasons. It's clear there's more student social standing involved with it than he thought.
The dance is still three weeks away and David hasn't asked anyone to go to the dance as he doesn't intend to go. One of his better friends at the school says, “Light Arrow, you really need to go to the dance if you want to fit in here. Those who don't go aren't well liked. So get busy and ask someone to go.” After a long discussion he agrees to go to the dance. So he looks at the other students while mentally ticking off which girls have a date and which he wouldn't ask out for any reason because some are just too bitchy for him to consider ever going out with them at all.
Near the end of lunch his eyes are roving over the students when he stops to look at one girl who lives near him. However, she looks so sad. Her father is dead and the family is poor, but they get by. He and Long Arrow sometimes help them out by doing minor household repairs to save them money. Some days David gives her a lift home, although she usually takes the bus to meet her mother in town. She's one of those who likes to be called by her first name instead of her Navajo name.
Walking out of the cafeteria David moves up beside her and says, “I'll give you a lift home today, Mel!” She gives him a stunned look because he made it a statement of intent instead of asking her if she wants a lift in the way he usually does. Surprised by his approach she simply nods her agreement to ride home with him today.
After school is over for the day they meet beside David's car which is parked on the public road in front of the school and he opens the door for Mel. He's driving down the road when she asks, “David, why do you park on the road and not in the student parking lot?”
He gives her a wry grin before saying, “I'd be breaking the law if I put this truck in the student car park. I leave my emergency gear in the back. It includes my first aid kit which has some over-the-counter medicines as well as a scalpel. Also, my camping gear includes sharp knives. None of that stuff is allowed on the school grounds due to Federal and State laws. I won't go anywhere without proper survival gear and I won't break the law, so I park on the road where I can legally park with the gear in it.”
“Good reasons! I wonder how many others have first aid kits that are in violation! Why did you insist on giving me a ride home today?”
“I wanted to talk to you but not in a situation where you'll feel a lot of pressure from the others. This way we can talk in private!” She turns and half frowns at him. “Will you go to the Homecoming Dance with me?” She shakes her head no. “Why not?”
“I don't have a suitable dress and everyone knows that. If I turn up with one they'll know you bought it for me. That'll embarrass me more than if I don't go.”
They both sit in thought for a few minutes before David says, “We have three weeks. You'll make your own dress!”
Mel gives him a stunned look then says, “I don't know how to!”
“Then I'll teach you! I was taught how to make my own clothes so I'll teach you! We'll travel home together each day and I'll show you how by making a dress. You'll copy what I do to make your dress. But today we go to Gallup to get material for some dresses and patterns.” Mel is so stunned by his plan she simply nods yes before she gets out her phone to call her mother to tell her they're going to Gallup to get the gear she needs to make her own Homecoming Dance dress. Her mother is stunned by the reason for the trip so they talk about it for a few minutes.
An hour later the two teens are in a shop in Gallup while looking at what's available in sewing machines. The sales lady is amused it's David who's asking about the capabilities of the various machines. When he selects one they move over to the patterns to have two copies of each pattern pack they choose of four dresses, two trousers, two coats which both have long and short coat versions, a man's shirt, and a ladies' blouse. Next is a number of the various tools they'll need: tape measures, shears, chalk, pins, etc., plus a dressmaking book. Last is the material, which is the hardest and longest part of the shopping.
Mel likes some patterned materials but David tells her, “We'll wait until you're a lot more experienced to do material with patterns. They're murder to get the patterns aligned at the seams and they look terrible when they don't.” He gets out a number of single colour materials and lays each over Mel's shoulder while he looks at her from five feet away. They go through a lot of colours before he's happy with his choices.
It's just on closing time when David pays for five full bolts of cloth in the colours of light tan, dark tan, desert camouflage pattern, black, white, and six lengths of other colours in pale blue, mid-orange, mid-brown, silver grey, pale yellow, and lilac as well as the sewing machine, thread for all the colours of cloth they bought, extra needles, and the other tools they have. It takes the two of them, the shop owner, and her assistant several minutes to load all of their purchases into his truck.
Back at home they unload it all before they clear a suitable space in Long Arrow's home to set up the sewing machine so they can use it with ease. The main table is expanded to its full length so they've room to work on the material spread out on the table. Then they've dinner with both of the households eating together.
Mel thinks it funny David is teaching her to sew, but it gets stranger when her mother, Anna, asks to be taught as well and Long Arrow offers his assistance to help teach them both. They all laugh at the ladies being taught how to sew by the two men. After measuring Mel and sorting out the size markings they settle down to the work of measuring and marking material to get the best use of it by the careful laying out of the pattern pieces on the cloth in a way to minimise the waste of material.
David starts with one dress pattern on the white cloth and Mel has the other copy of that pattern on the pale blue cloth while Long Arrow and Anna use both copies of one of the trouser patterns on the two tans. They use four colours so they don't mix up the cut pieces of material.
The first night is setting up the cloth patterns to cut the cloth out of. They leave it all set up on the table to do more tomorrow and end early so the teens can do some studying tonight. Starting tomorrow they'll do their studying in the afternoon then the four of them will sew at night. That's how it goes for the next two weeks while the dresses take shape.
One other thing David does the next afternoon is to find some sites on how to do make-up then he orders a large home make-up kit. When it arrives on Thursday they start working on how Mel should use the kit to her best advantage. He also takes time to teach her what he knows about matching colours for clothes. Then he enlists the help of Bright Star to help with the colour matching and make-up lessons. Mel recognises David is giving her a 'Make Over' and they plan to keep most of it for the dance so they can surprise the other students.
The first two dresses and trousers are finished ten days after they start the work on them. The next night Mel and David start on a blouse each of light tan and black while Anna and Long Arrow use the other trousers pattern on the black and the white cloth. Due to the experience with the first items they go faster, especially Anna and Long Arrow who are doing the same type of clothing as before. David and Long Arrow are faster than the ladies so they make extra clothes in the other colours.