5.06.2019

Going Down - Hill


Mr. Krieg, the Vice Principal of Poverty Valley High School was an unhappy man, or so he had explained to us on numerous occasions. At the moment, he was unhappy about a dairy cow on the roof of the science building. For that matter, the cow seemed rather unhappy with the situation herself, rushing back and forth plaintively mooing for rescue while Mr. Krieg rushed back and forth shouting instructions at the maintenance men who had just arrived with a scissor lift.
My friends Joe Park and Double Dee joined the crowd watching the spectacle. Joe was tall and muscular, we had adopted him when he had transferred in the year before.  Double Dee or simply “DD” had been a friend since kindergarten. Shorter and stockier than Joe everyone called him DD because his Indian father had bestowed upon him the magnificently unpronounceable name of an ancestor and had been reduced to using his initials after years of enduring our pathetic attempts to say his name correctly. 
Using the lift the two men had gained the roof and were attempting to herd the cow aboard, but she was having none of it, after a couple of laps around the rooftop it was the maintenance men who were herded back onto the lift.
“Maybe they should just take up a barbecue?” DD opined prompting raucous laughter from the crowd.  Unfortunately, this attracted Mr. Krieg’s attention “I know you have someplace to be.” he growled, taking a break from haranguing the workmen. 
“Yes, Sir.” We replied simultaneously not wishing to be further associated with the cow and its presence on the roof, we proceeded rapidly to our homeroom where Mr. Fletcher, our homeroom teacher seemed surprised to see us.
“I thought you’d be in the office by now,” He said, arching an eyebrow as we entered. “How the heck did you get that thing up there without marking up the grass?”
“Believe it or not Mr. Fletcher, we didn’t do it.” Joe protested. “We just got here ourselves.” Fletcher looked dubious but let the matter drop.
“Why doesn’t he believe us?” Joe asked, sounding somewhat hurt. “We have a little fun now and then, but I don’t remember lying about it.”
“I have no idea, maybe he’s still sore about all the dry ice in the teacher’s restroom.” I speculated.
In fairness, they did have reason to suspect us. Our little circle of friends had been amusing ourselves at the expense of the faculty and staff for most of our time in high school. We had not set out to trouble Krieg specifically, but as Vice Principal, most disciplinary issues fell to him. Also, Jenny, his daughter had taken a shine to DD so he could seldom escape, even after work.
The trouble had started on the first day of school when through some error on the part of the highway department the road passing in front of the school had been closed in two places, each approximately half a mile from the school. Someone had erected traffic barriers on the road to the school and students, staff and buses were delayed for some time. Suspicion had fallen upon our circle of friends because DD was discovered to have an orange traffic cone in the back of his truck. If you knew DD as I did, you would have realized he was just as likely to wear it as a hat as try and block traffic with it, but alas, we had all been detained and interrogated. Some weeks later Mr. Krieg found himself unable to leave his house because he needed to cross a bridge whose wooden deck planking was mysteriously missing. Also, this meant that his daughter could not return home from a date at the hour her father had specified.  I understand DD dropped her off at her aunt’s house around midnight, tired and disheveled from their many unsuccessful attempts to cross the damaged bridge. And worst of all just before Thanksgiving, Mr. Krieg had the misfortune to chaperone the first ski bus of the season.
After school, Friday Joe, I and DD had boarded the bus for the two-hour drive to the Bare Mountain Ski Area. Skiing was a major sport at our school, and the school ski club had an arrangement with the Bare Mountain resort, we would be sleeping in its loft. Mr. Krieg and the school's girls, Ms. Flail, along with a couple of parents that came along for free lift tickets would chaperone the two dozen students.
The first night passed without serious incident.  Joe, DD and I briefly explored our new environment which was a somewhat rustic two-story building. Guest services like a bar and restaurant as well as ticket sales and ski rentals were on the ground floor while we were billeted on the second floor, a multi-purpose room that had been divided into spaces for boys and girls. We accessed the building through a stairwell at the rear. I think we had some vague notion of slipping into the bar, perhaps to conduct research on adult behavior. It’s been too many years and too much adult behavior for me to recall. Frustratingly, the stairs led only to the loft and even worse the door locked automatically.  Lacking anything to prop the door open and having left our cold weather gear upstairs we gave up and went to bed.
The night passed without incident, Mr. Krieg and Coach Flail had made some rather vague and ominous threats about the terrible misfortune that would befall any student who attempted to invade the area designated for the opposite sex. Girls were one thing but skiing was entirely another, and we made no attempt on the female section that night.
The next day was bright and cold, perfect skiing weather.  Despite her father's disapproval, DD went off to ski with Jenny While Joe and myself spent the day on the Giant Slalom course in preparation for ski team tryouts that would take place in a couple of weeks.  My final run of the day was remarkable only that I had too much speed going into a narrow path known as a cat-track as it had been created by the resorts lone sno-cat.  It was filled with beginning skiers, and I blasted through at highway speed with the ever-loyal Joe right behind me yelling “sorry” as the beginners toppled like bowling pins in my wake.  While I had intended to get in a couple more runs before the hill closed, we detected the red-coated figures of the Ski Patrol headed in our direction and decided to call it a day.
After dinner that evening everyone was lounging around, talking, reading or listening to their headphones. Joe, Jenny Krieg, DD and I were idly gossiping when Joe pointed at the stairwell door.  Mr. Krieg and his fellow chaperone Coach Flail were holding hands. We were impressed as Coach Flail a tall, athletic blonde, was not only terrifying but a good deal younger than Mr. Krieg.
“Say, Jen, are they knocking boots?” asked Joe with his characteristic tactfulness.
“I don’t really know.” She replied, frowning. “I don’t think he’s been on a date since Mom died.”
“Wouldn’t that be something?” Joe opined. “Maybe if he gets lucky he’ll lighten up a bit.”
Jenny’s eye narrowed a bit. “Could you imagine having that as a stepmom? Beansprouts and Gatorade for dinner every night.”
Sadly our gossip session was brought to a close when Mr. Krieg announced that it was time to prepare for bed.  Jenny said goodnight and left for the girl’s side under the basilisk glare of her father.  We would be rising early the next morning, skiing for half a day and heading home after lunch.  Once everyone was bedded down, we noted that Mr. Krieg and his lady friend were nowhere in sight. Nodding to DD and myself Joe led the way along the back wall and down the stairs. The room was quite dark, but we hurried as there was a light in the stairwell and we knew if we lingered in the open door, we would be noticed.
     On reaching the first floor, we found the double glass doors already blocked open with a piece of firewood and a few feet away sat a two-quart box of white wine and a six pack of Olympia beer.  Apparently, someone had stashed them in the snow next to the door to chill for later consumption. We contemplated our course of action.  We postulated that instead of being there to chill they had been dropped by accident and we should probably take at least the beer into protective custody, we also marveled a bit at the box wine, this was a new innovation at the time, and the idea of wine in a box was positively strange. As we discussed the matter, I noticed that there was an intermittent trail of red stains in the disturbed snow that led off toward a nearby stand of trees. Before I could point this out we heard a sound that chilled us to the bone, the upstairs door had opened with a loud click.
     Jenny told us later that her father had been sitting with Coach Flail and they had observed someone opening the door to the stairwell. Mr. Krieg and Coach Flail had taken a moment to get their boots and coats on and set out in pursuit. We looked at each other in horror and having no other option but capture we slipped out the door and fled around the building. All three of us peeked around the corner and saw Mr. Krieg and Coach Flail standing disgustedly just outside the doors glaring at the looted cache of beverages.
“Damn it, somebody took the red.” Complained Coach Flail, “Idiots took the Vodka too.” Krieg grumbled, “Got the wine spread all over the snow too.” He said striding purposefully toward the trees, following the trail of red stains.
“Nothing lower than thieves,” the coach said, rubbing her arms in response to the cold, she bent and placing the six-pack on top of the wine she turned and reentered the building.
We winced as the door closed with a clack, the only way to get back in now would be to get the key from the bartender on the first floor, he would tell Mr. Krieg either at once or the next day, and we would be in for it. We started to argue about what to do next when a mighty bellow erupted from the trees. This outburst was followed by the wildest cussing I’ve ever heard, and Mr. Krieg burst from the trees with a sizable brown bear close behind.  He ran toward the door but slipped on the snow just before reaching it, He and the bear both slammed into the glass doors one after the other Tom and Jerry style, with a resounding SMACK that shook the entire building.  Mr. Krieg bounded to his feet and lit off around the opposite corner from our hiding place. The bear, apparently slowed by whatever alcohol it had consumed took a bit longer but set off in pursuit. We could tell when they passed the bar on the opposite side of the building as a great cry rose from the bar patrons when they came into view outside the bar’s picture windows. Not wanting to be caught from behind by either Mr. Krieg or the bear we fled back through the doors but apparently dislodged the firewood doorstop in our haste.
The slobbering beast circled the building three times with the bear about two feet behind him.  Each time they passed the bar its patrons would let out another almost cheering roar, each one greater than its predecessor. From the sound of the last cry, it sounded like Mr. Krieg and possibly the bear itself had finally entered the bar and we retreated upstairs.
Coach Flail was nowhere in sight as we crept back to our sleeping bags, perhaps storing her unauthorized libations. We shed our boots and lay down in feigned sleep. I heard the door open and close several times and a rush of quiet but excited conversation. I rolled over to see the unmistakable shape of Mr. Krieg framed in the glow of the emergency exit sign over the stairs.  He stood there for a long while in the dim light before slowly moving off, he never mentioned the incident, but for the rest of our time in High School, he never failed to inform us that he was watching.