Boomer


“These are very fine candles, young man. I’m glad to see that you took special care in making them. How much are you asking for the large ones?”

Thane looked up at the tall man in the fringed buckskin suit. “Two dollars for three, sir,” he answered.

“That certainly seems reasonable enough. I’ll take twelve.”

One day I’ll have an outfit like his, Thane thought after the man left. And I’ll wear soft, beaded moccasins and have a beautiful black-powder rifle.

There was something Thane wanted even more, but for that he needed fifty-two dollars. For a long time now he hadn’t thought of anything else.

“Boy, are you ever lucky to have him buy his candles from you,” Thane’s sister Stephanie said. She had come to bring Thane his lunch. “Do you know who that was, or are you daydreaming again? He’s this year’s bushway!”

“The bushway!” Thane exclaimed. Each year a man was chosen to be the bushway, or leader, of the Mountain Men Rendezvous, but Thane hadn’t realized that the man he’d sold the candles to was this year’s bushway.

“They say he’s really strict about having things exactly as they were a hundred fifty years ago,” Stephanie continued. “That’s why you don’t see any cars closeby, and inside the tepees people are cooking their meals over open fires. It really looks neat. How are things going for you? Do you have enough money yet?”

“If I keep selling at this rate,” Thane replied, “I soon will.”

“Well, good luck. I’ll see you later.”

Thane shifted his position on the blanket. He had been sitting there a long time, and his legs were beginning to hurt. From his location on Traders Row he could see on top of the many tepees the colorful banners fluttering in the afternoon breeze. The scene made him feel as if he were living in another time.

The people around him enjoyed reenacting the times of the early-day fur trappers. Besides the shooting contests with black-powder rifles, other contests included setting traps, throwing tomahawks, and starting fires without matches.

Thane always looked forward to the rendezvous, but this time even more than usual. Ever since the last one, when he had first seen the hunting knife with the caribou antler handle and the long shiny blade, it had been on his mind. At school he often drew pictures of the knife on his writing pad. He wanted it more than anything else in the world.

Three afternoons a week after school he had worked painting wooden hives for the Jones Beekeeping Company. In payment he received a little cash and all the beeswax his boss could spare. Then he had learned to make candles, and now with the money he had earned from selling his candles, he had almost enough to buy the knife. If he could earn just nine dollars more, the knife would be his.

Mr. James, one of the other traders, was holding the knife for him. Each time Thane made a sale, he took his money over to Mr. James. Perhaps by tomorrow afternoon he could pick it up. Right now he would take the bushway’s money there and see the knife again. It was getting dark, and soon everybody would put away their wares until the next day.

Thane was close to Mr. James’s tepee when a large boy came running through the trees and almost knocked him over.

He sure is in a hurry, Thane thought. He was just regaining his balance when two large hands grabbed his shoulders and roughly turned him around.

“No, no, he’s not the one we’re after!” Thane heard a familiar voice exclaim. “As a matter of fact, he’s the one I was saving the knife for.”

Thane twisted loose from the tight grip. The knife! My knife? What about my knife?

“Did anybody come through here just now?” Mr. James asked. “Some youngster took off with that knife I’ve been holding for you, and we want to make sure he remembers to bring it back.”

The men did not notice the sick look on Thane’s face as he numbly shook his head. He had seen somebody, but he wasn’t going to tell. The boy was a bully he knew at school, and he was a “boomer.” That’s what the kids called him, too—Boomer.

Thane knew little about boomers, only that they were people living in mobile homes at the edge of town. They had come because of the oil boom. Many of the men worked on the drilling rigs. One night Thane had overheard his parents say that they wished the townspeople and the newcomers could be better friends.

This situation with the knife sure wasn’t going to help anything. The rendezvous would be over in another two days. Thane needed some time to think it through, and for that he wanted to be alone. It was a good thing that his feet knew the way home, because his mind wandered in circles, searching for a solution.

Things looked a little better when he awakened the next morning. Maybe, just maybe, he had found the answer.

Boomer was not the kind of boy who would readily admit that he had done anything wrong. Thane hoped that he could talk to him alone at the general store. Sooner or later everybody in town went there.

Luckily, Thane didn’t have to wait long at the store before he saw Boomer walking down the road.

“Do you have a minute?” Thane asked, falling in beside the bigger boy. “It’s important.”

“Sure. What do you want?” Boomer acted tough, and his hands were buried deep in his pockets.

Thane took a long breath. “I know that it’s you they’re looking for. I saw you, but I’m not going to tell, if you promise to return what you took.”

“You must be joking. Why should I?” Boomer was belligerent and cocky, not denying anything. “Who else knows about this?”

“Nobody. This is just between us.”

Boomer hesitated. He had never really meant to take the knife; even now he wasn’t sure why he’d done it.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Thane suggested. “I’ll challenge you to a tomahawk throw. If I win, you return the knife.”

“And if you don’t?”

Thane smiled. “Then it’s up to you and your conscience.”

“How good are you, anyway?” Boomer asked.

“Good enough to think I can beat you,” Thane responded firmly. “I’ll go get my tomahawk and meet you at that big cut log in twenty minutes.”

Boomer was already practicing when Thane arrived. Without looking up, Boomer made a line in the dirt with the toe of his boot. “We’ll throw from here,” he said. “You go first. Two out of three wins.”

Thane positioned himself behind the mark and took careful aim. The boys alternated throwing their tomahawks. After two turns their score was exactly the same.

Much depended on the next throw. Thane wiped the perspiration from his hands, gripped his tomahawk, and threw it as hard as he could. The blade sped through the air and bit deeply into the heartwood of the log. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Not bad,” Boomer said dryly. Completely expressionless, Boomer stepped up for his final throw. The tomahawk flashed in the sunlight and landed far to the right of the log.

Thane was surprised. It’s almost as if he did it on purpose, he thought.

“Well, that decided it. You won fair and square,” admitted Boomer, “and I’ll keep my part of the deal. I’ll return the knife right now.”

“Can I come with you?” Thane offered.

“All right,” said Boomer quietly. His steps slowed considerably by the time they reached Mr. James’s tepee.

Boomer squared his shoulders. “Sir, I’m the boy who took the knife yesterday. It was the wrong thing to do, and I’m sorry. Here. I brought it back.” Boomer reached inside his boot and pulled out the knife. “Maybe I could make it up to you somehow,” he added.

“I’m sure you can, son. It takes a big person to admit his mistake. You’ve done that, so I’m not going to be too hard on you. If you want a knife like this, Thane can tell you how to get one. Right, Thane? As a matter of fact, for helping me recover the knife, Thane, I want you to have it now and to consider your account as being paid in full.”

“I don’t know what to say. How can I thank you?” Thane stumbled over the words.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Mr. James assured him. “Just sell me some more of your candles.”

“I’d be glad to,” Thane exclaimed. “I’ll go home and get some right now. Why don’t you come with me, Boomer? I think my mother is making ice cream.”

Boomer didn’t hesitate a minute. “Hey! That would be great, if you’re sure it’s OK. I haven’t tasted homemade ice cream for a long time.”

Thane was beginning to understand that, more than anything else, Boomer needed a friend.

The boys walked along slowly, each lost in his own thoughts.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Boomer.

“Maybe, just maybe, you’re not such a bad guy,” Thane answered.

“Well! I see you’ve got good taste, anyway,” Boomer said.

Both boys smiled and responded to an unspoken challenge to race home.

“Hello, Thane! Hi there, Wilbert,” Thane’s mother called from the doorway. She took the mail from its box and went back into the house.

Wilbert! Thane wasn’t sure that he could trust his ears. Had he heard right? A name like that explained a lot of things. But how does Mom know Boomer? Maybe she knows his mother. Thane decided to ask her about that later.

“Since I know your real name,” Thane said cautiously, “would you mind if I call you Will?”

For a split second Boomer hesitated, intently studying the expression on the other boy’s face.

“Sure,” he answered with a relieved grin. “But let’s keep my real name a secret, OK?”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Glen Edwards