Rubisco - A President's Peace “Actually Ronald, I'm pretty sure that the pink-footed goose migrates from Iceland to England, not Canada,” interjected Ernie Watkins. Amy looked at me and rolled her eyes. Walter was rubbing his temples like one of his migraines was coming on. This was a common scene lately. Pretty much ever since Ernie decided to join the Pinetown Middle School birdwatching club. Just a few weeks ago, our club was as awesome as it ever was, three best friends: me, Amy, and Walter. We got to hang out after school twice a week and occasionally get the school to sponsor “birdwatching” trips to the movie theater. All that was ruined the day Ernie joined, and there was nothing any of us could do to stop him. We had thought nobody in their right mind would ever want to join a boring birdwatching club, and we were right. Ernie was not in his right mind. Now we had to actually do some birdwatching, lest Ernie report on us. We initially had tried to go to the movies and goof off during our meetings to see if Ernie was game, but Ernie made it clear he was in the birdwatching club to actually watch birds. The jerk. As president of the club, Ernie looked to me as if I was some of bird expert. I honestly couldn't tell a bald eagle from a tarantula hawk. Not only that, but Ernie expected me to organize birdwatching outings. But all of that was nothing, no, nothing at all, compared to Ernie's constant correction of everything, and I mean everything, any of us said or did. “Come on guys, let's go watch some birds!” I said with a small dash of exasperation and a larger roll of my eyes. I turned up on the door handle and opened the classroom door. “Did you know that if you turn the handle down when opening a door, it requires less force and is therefore more efficient?” asked Ernie. “Go ahead and try it.” “Nah, I don't mind burning a few extra calories to open a door.” “You really should just try it and see.” “The birds are waiting, Ernie.” “Come on!” exclaimed Ernie. “You'll thank me later.” He grabbed my hand and forced it down. I honestly couldn't tell a difference in effort at all. “See!” exclaimed Ernie. “Isn't that much easier?” “I honestly can say it would have been easier if I did it that way in the first place.” “You're welcome!” exclaimed Ernie with a smile and with that he strode out the door. “Remember, I know a lot about a lot of things, I'm just trying to help out!” “I hope we're watching birds somewhere where no one can hear him scream,” whispered Walter to me as he walked out the door. “I hope Ernie migrates somewhere," added Amy as she walked past. I could tell already this was going to be an outing to remember. ***We rode our bikes to Haven Grove park, on the outskirts of town. On the other side of the park was pine forest for miles. A birdwatching paradise, for sure, too bad only one of us was even remotely interested in it. I had to go out and buy three sets of binoculars the day before (Ernie already had his own pair). “Quite an expense to fool Ernie,” commented Walter as he looked at the pair of binoculars I handed him. He was referring to our plan to ditch Ernie in the woods and go hang out somewhere without him. “Who knows? Maybe we'll see some birds that we will want to spend hours looking at,” I replied sarcastically. “Hey guys,” called out Ernie as he pedaled up to us. “I couldn't help but notice your bike chains need some oil. You know, without proper maintenance, your bike is going to break.” “You know Ernie, without shutting up, you are going to--,” Walter started. “Going to have to find the best spot to watch birds,” I interrupted. “Be nice,” I mouthed to Walter. Ernie's face brightened. “Really? I get to pick the first place? Hmm, let's go over to that outcropping of rock on that ridge. I think it overlooks a creek. Birds can't live without water.” He started to hike up the hill. “Outcropping of rock, hmm?” said Amy. “One little push . . .” “Come on guys, can't we at least tolerate him until we ditch him?” I said. “Aww, I think somebody has a soft spot for the dweeb,” commented Walter. “Maybe he reminds you of yourself when you were younger.” “Come on guys!” called out Ernie. “And remember, breathe in and out through your nostrils so you retain the air's moisture and not get dehydrated! Gotta keep those mucous membranes moist!” “Ok we'll push him, but only if I get to do the honors,” I said as we started up the hill. *** We sat on top of the ridge overlooking the creek for about a half hour. Ernie had his binoculars glued to his face the entire time, ooh'ing and ahh'ing over the three birds that were in the trees up above. Walter, Amy, and I were sitting around, enjoying the view. “You know, I'm kind of glad we went on this outing,” Amy said, “we rarely hang out outdoors, it's a nice change.” “I know what a nice change would be,” commented Walter while eying Ernie standing on the rocky outcrop. Just in the half hour of birdwatching, Ernie had already informed how to focus our binoculars, how to breathe as not to scare the birds, how not sending thank you cards was a major faux pas, how to sign up for krav maga lessons, how his dentist was the best in town, and how one should properly ride a dirt bike. “Have you ever rode a dirt bike?” I asked Ernie. I hoped we would be able to ditch him soon. “Shh! Someone is coming!” Amy whispered. Off in the distance we could hear men talking. “Of course, I never give advice on something I've never done,” replied Ernie. “Shh!” we all said in unison. We all sat in silence as three guys walked down the creek. Two of them had pistols and were leading the third, who was blindfolded, gagged, and had his hands tied behind his back. “All right, this is far enough,” said one of the men with a gun. He pushed the blindfolded man down to his knees. He turned his gun sideways and pressed the barrel up against the man's head. “He's holding the gun all wrong,” whispered Ernie. “Shh!” “Holding a gun sideways can upset its accuracy!” “SHH!” Walter grabbed Ernie and clamped his hand over his mouth. “What was that?” said the other man with a gun. “I think we're not alone Frank.” The men started looking around. We flattened out on the ground and slowly tried to slide down from the outcrop of rock. If we can silently slide down this hill, I thought, we might stand a chance. “Let's just get this over with,” said Frank, now out of sight. “So Mikey boy, not feeling so hot now are you? Thought you could skip town with my money. I hope you spent that money on a good last meal.” I heard the sound of a trigger being cocked. “STOP! Turn your gun vertical first!” I closed my eyes and prayed to God. I couldn't believe this was happening. Couldn't believe that Walter let his hand slip. Part of me wanted to run, run like hell, and never look back. Part of me, perhaps the president of the birdwatching club part, felt responsible for Ernie's safety. “Who the hell is out there?” yelled Frank. Ernie stood up and walked to the rock outcrop where we were before. “You really should turn your gun right side up before you shoot,” said Ernie, “it will improve your accuracy and therefore the likelihood your shot will be fatal.” “Get the hell out of here kid!” yelled Frank. “Or you're next!” “See!” exclaimed Ernie, “Even when you point the gun at me, you're holding it all wrong. Here, let me show you.” Ernie disappeared out of our sight as he started to climb down the rocks to the stream. I started to wiggle my way back up to the edge of the outcrop in order to see the horror that was unfolding. Walter grabbed my foot as I wiggled up. “Let's get out of here!” he hissed. I looked back, Amy was nodding her head vigorously, her eyes wide with fear. “You guys can go,” I whispered back, “but I'm the president of this stupid club, I need to see if we can get Ernie out of there.” “Dude, you were made president because you won at rock, paper, scissors. Don't feel obligated to stay because you have that title. The dweeb threw himself into this situation. Would anybody in their right mind expect us to rescue him?” “You and I both know there are plenty of people out there not in their right mind,” I replied. “I'm going to try to rescue him, with or without you.” “What the hell man,” he whispered. “Why do you put me in these situations, fine, only because I'm not leaving you,” replied Walter. Amy slowly crawled back up. “No, Amy, go back into town, get help,” I said. “Run as fast as you can, Walter and I will try to buy some time.” Amy looked at us with tears in her eyes, paused, then nodded. She wiggled back down the hill and started running back down the path. Walter and I wiggled up to the edge of the rock outcrop. Ernie had made his way down to Frank, Mikey, and the other man with a gun. “Oh my God,” whispered Walter. “Did we bring a casket?” Ernie was standing in front of Frank, and he had his hand on Frank's gun hand. “See, let me show you, turn your hand vertical, I promise, you'll feel the difference,” Ernie said to Frank. “I'll make you a deal kid,” said Frank. “How about I shoot you with my hand vertical, and then I'll shoot Mikey here like I was going to, and then I'll compare notes. How about that? Now get the hell out of here! I don't want to shoot you kid, but get your cootie-infested hand off of mine or I will!” Frank shook his hand away from Ernie's, his gun still pointing at him. “Paul!” yelled Frank to the other guy with a gun, “grab this kid so I can shoot Mikey here without any criticism. We'll figure out what to do with this kid after we take care of Mikey.” Paul grabbed Ernie by the arm and dragged him away from Frank. Frank turned to Mikey and lifted his gun again to his head, this time his gun was vertical. Frank glanced at Ernie. “Happy kid? Right side up.” He then focused on Mikey. “STOP! Are you going to pull the trigger fast? You need to pull it slow so you don't anticipate the shot and the recoil. You are going to screw up your accuracy if you don't. And if your shot isn't accurate, then it might not be fatal, and . . .” Frank strode over to Ernie and backhanded him. Ernie collapsed to the ground. Frank pointed his gun at Ernie, “I'll make you shut up kid.” “STOP!” I couldn't believe what I just did. I had no idea where it came from, but I opened up my mouth and that one word flew out. Such a small word. Part of me wished I could take it back. Part of me knew Ernie would have done the same for me, probably not for the same reasons, but he would have done the same nonetheless. “What the hell!” yelled Frank as he looked up and saw Walter and me. “Did somebody put Mikey's funeral invitations in the mail early or something? Who the hell are you kids? The boxcar children?” “No!” yelled back Walter. “We're a birdwatching club!” “Shut the hell up! Enough of this!” yelled Frank. He walked over and shot Mikey in the head. Mikey's body collapsed to the forest floor, his blood and brain tissue spread out over the pine needles. Maybe it was Ernie's stupidity earlier, his calmness and confidence going up to these men with guns, that I actually thought rescuing him was possible. Reality now hit me, and hit me quick. What the hell did we get into? “Paul, go grab those two! We can't have any witnesses!” Paul ran to the side of the ridge and started to climb. Neither of us had to say anything, we started running. We ran like hell. As I ran down the path, I could just imagine Ernie, laying on the forest floor. It would probably be only a matter of seconds before Frank . . . I heard a gunshot off in the distance. Tears streamed down my face. What was I going to tell Ernie's parents? I looked back. Paul had made it up the rocks and was now into a full sprint towards us. Then we heard another gunshot, then another, and another. Paul stopped running at us and looked back. “What the hell?” said Walter, both of us stopped. Apparently Paul must have thought the same, as he started to run back towards the creek. “Well, what now president?” said Walter. I hesitated, there was a chance Ernie was alive, unlikely, but why were four shots fired? In any case, if we did go back, there was definitely still Paul who had a very real gun. I made a decision, it was a stupid one, but it was the only way Ernie might possibly get out of this alive. I took off down the trail, sprinting back towards the creek. This is what being Ernie must feel like, I thought as I ran, willing to do anything, even stupidly putting your life on the line, to help out people. I prayed the timing of my plan would work. Paul was ahead of me on the trail,climbing on the rocks. He reached the top of the ridge right when I reached the bottom of the hill. He hadn't noticed me yet. He seemed focused on finding out what had happened with the gunshots. I started climbing up the rocks. “What the. . .,” said Paul softly as he leveled his pistol down to the creek, “that kid. I can't believe that retarded kid . . .” I still didn't know what had happened, but it sounded like Ernie was still alive, and that was all I needed to know. My adrenaline kicked in overtime, and I leaped up the rocks right behind Paul and barreled into his back with my body weight right as his gun went off. “Wha? Arghh!” yelled Paul as he lost balance and fell over the ridge. His body fell the thirty feet down to the rocky creek bed. A pool of blood started to surround his head. I sat down, trembling. I had just killed a man. I was so shaken I hardly noticed Frank's dead body, and Ernie making his way across the creek. A felt a hand on my shoulder. “I thought you were crazy, man, I almost left you,” said Walter. “But look at that, Ernie is alive, and it's over.” “Ernie, alive?” I mumbled. I still couldn't comprehend how he was still alive. “Hey Ronald!” yelled out Ernie from the creek, “next time you push a guy off a cliff, try using more of your shoulder, you'll hurt your back doing it your way!” “That kid is crazy,” said Walter. I nodded. *** The rest of that day was like a fuzzy dream. Amy arrived back with the police, who quickly identified Frank, Paul, and Mikey. Frank and Paul had multiple murder counts on their record, along with drug running, and they had both escaped from prison about a month ago. Mikey was an old associate of theirs who had been missing for two days. That was believable, what all of us had trouble believing was Ernie's story of how he tried to disarm Frank, which he had learned in his krav maga class. According to Ernie, he grabbed the gun as Frank pressed it against his head (bad form, according to Ernie), and he tried to twist it away. The gun went off during the struggle multiple times. The last bullet bounced off a rock and entered Frank's skull. “If he only held his gun right, I wouldn't have been able to do it,” commented Ernie, and there was nothing any of us could do but believe him. “Hey,” Ernie added, “let's have another outing next week! Studies show that clubs with weekly meetings have better rates of success!” “You know what Ernie?” I replied, “I think I'm done being president and being a birdwatcher. It wasn't as peaceful as it sounded in the brochure.” Amy and Walter nodded in agreement, and we all walked away from Ernie. “See you around?” called out Ernie. This time we just kept walking and didn't look back.