It was an extremely bitter cold night out on the plains of southwest Kansas. The incessant wind out of the north had brought the temperature down to minus 10 degrees. I had shut the movie off that we had finished watching as a family and sent our teenage kids off to their bedrooms since it was now after ten o’clock on a school night.
Bear retreated to his recliner to read a little bit before he too retired for the evening. But before he sat down, I see him pausing and staring intently out of the south window of the farm house.
“What are you looking at, babe?” I ask while standing at the kitchen sink rinsing the supper dishes off first before I loaded them into the dishwasher.
“Lights. Headlights. But they aren’t moving. It’s like someone is parked down by the intersection.”
“Well, maybe they’re looking at a map or something. See if they are still there in a few minutes.” I brush it off as I continue my task.
Bear sits down, clicks on his reading lamp, and opens up the latest sale catalog of Cabela’s, which we should own stock in by now.
I finish up the dishes wiping my hands off on the hand towel hanging on the oven door handle and shut the kitchen light off. Bear is again gazing out the window.
“I’m going to go see if they need help or something. They haven’t moved yet.” He tells me as he lays the magazine aside and kicks the chair leg extension down so he can get out of the chair. I hear him putting his boots on that he keeps on the back porch.
“Alrighty then. I’m going to go take my war paint (makeup) off and get ready for bed while you are gone.” I give him a loving peck on the cheek as I brush by him heading towards our master bathroom.
When Barry pulls up beside the disabled van, he notices that the driver hesitantly rolls the window down only a few cautious inches. Bear could see that there were other people inside the vehicle and that the driver was dressed in only a short-sleeve T-shirt. No jacket in the dead of winter?
“Do you need some help?” Bear asked stepping out of his truck while he tied up the hood of his hoodie sweatshirt he wore under his Carhart jacket when it was really cold outside.
“Uh, . . . no. I think we can get it going again. It just started missing out really bad and making a funny noise.” The driver replied as he reached for the ignition switch to try cranking the motor again.
A loud and menacing BANG! sound exploded from under the hood.
“Oh, man. That didn’t sound good!” Bear remarks as he grabs his flashlight from under his seat and crouches down on the pavement. He shines the light under the van observing a pool of motor oil growing larger by the second.
“You are not going anywhere, friend! You’ve got major problems with your engine!” Bear stands up and walks closer to the driver’s window. “Why don’t you come up to our house and warm up for a while? I can tell that you have not been able to run your heater for a long time as it is feels just as cold inside your van as it is outside!”
“NO! NO! We . . .uh, . . don’t want to leave the van here. Which way is town? Can you tow us there so we can find a mechanic to look at it?” The driver nervously spoke looking around at his passengers.
“Well, not at this time of night!” Bear shakes his head in a negative manner.
“Look, we have to get to Kansas City tonight, man!”
“You are not going to make it to KC tonight in this van! I can guarantee you that!” Bear again shakes his head in disbelief.
“Um, can I use your phone to call a buddy of mine back in Ulysses? Maybe he can come get us or something?” The driver asks in a softer tone, realizing that they are up a creek without a paddle. “Where is your farm?”
Bear points up the road to where our house lights can be seen.
After they got into the driveway, the frozen strangers, two men and one woman, crawl out of the ice-box van and reluctantly follow Bear into the house.
I immediately notice too that they are all in short, summer lightweight T-shirts. They are probably in their late twenties or early thirties. With plenty of tattoos and body piercings. Their lips are blue and they are seriously shaking with the cold.
I invite them to please sit down on the couch while I grabbed some blankets out of the hall closet so they could wrap up in them. Bear quickly builds a fire in the fireplace while the driver uses the kitchen phone to make his long-distance call to his friend.
I rummage around the pantry and find packets of hot cocoa and miniature marshmallows. And they were in luck. I had some homemade chocolate chip cookies leftover from yesterday’s baking!
We make small talk without really asking too many personal questions, when suddenly B.J. enters the living room carrying a small lap blanket in his hands. He settles into the chair directly across from the couch where are stranded guests are sitting and enjoying the warmth of the room and the refreshments. He is strangely quiet and very attentive to them.
“Well, I thought you were in bed Bee Jee” (my nickname for him).
“Oh, I was but I couldn’t sleep” he said while shrugging his shoulders and rotating his head to loosen up the muscles in his neck. And then he fixes his gaze back on the strangers.
A good forty-five minutes went by as we entertained and thawed out our visitors. They were very polite and courteous in their conversation with us. Soon headlights appeared in our driveway and they stood up to leave. All of them thanked us for our kindness and hospitality as they were walking out the back door, when the woman stopped and added “God bless you!”
After they were gone, we all stood there watching them tow the van out of the driveway and into the darkness.
“Man, that was strange, huh, son?” Do you think they were drug runners? What are they doing out in the middle of the night, driving to Kansas City in the winter without coats? And why wouldn’t they leave the van here and get it later?” I ask turning my attention now to B.J. who is slowly and carefully getting up from his position in the chair.
“Well, I don’t know, but I was prepared to protect us if they tried anything funny . . .”
He unwraps his lap blanket to reveal a loaded .357 pistol that he had hidden there!
I guess we’re not going to call 9-1-1.