17. Just as good
Harrison Boyd was dead. It only took a few clicks on Google to learn all about it. He had died in a plane crash about a decade after his appearance in Narvik.
The good news was that he had a son, Martin Boyd, who had taken up the cause. He ran something called the Extraterrestrial Life Research Institute in New Mexico.
Sam wandered around the ELRI website. Under “what we do” she noticed that one of the services they provided was, “investigations into contact from extra terrestrial life forms.”
There was a form you could fill out and they promised a response within 24 hours. Sam dutifully checked all the boxes and provided as much detail about the goings on at the Olson place as she could remember. A veteran of many grant applications, she avoided outright lies but embraced vague, but grandiose language. And she made it a point to mention no less than three times that Harrison Boyd himself had once visited Narvik and opined that the events of October, 1982 indicated a legitimate contact from space travelers.
Less than 24 hours later she got an email from Martin Boyd.
We here at the ELRI have reviewed your submittal and we find it merits further investigation. May I contact you to discuss the matter in more detail?
Very Truly Yours,
Martin Boyd, PhD
Heck yes, Martin Boyd could contact her. She responded in the way people have when an actual phone conversation has been lightly suggested but the respondent is not quite sure that they’re ready to take the relationship (even a business relationship) to that level.
Thank you so much for your swift response to our submittal. As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is a matter of serious concern in our community and so learning more about what may have occurred as soon as possible is important to all of us. Would it be possible for you to visit Narvik this month?
She hesitated before writing the next line, but she had to know if this was going to be a dead end.
Also, what fees might the ELRI charge? I need to say upfront that Narvik has a limited budget.
Thank you for your earliest possible response.
Wisconsin Home Town Program
Of course, Narvik’s budget for alien investigations was limited by the number zero. Narvik wasn’t sure it could even keep its lights on.
In the two days it took for Martin Boyd to respond, Sam checked her email constantly. Alien Days grew closer. Now only 19 days away and still no final word on the Mercer Flying Saucer Chevy (Claire had Joe Ellsted working on it) and no final decision from the Narvik School Board regarding allowing alcohol at the Alien Dance (Claire was leaning on the school board president Emily Meister). Without the Chevy saucer the parade would be as lame as ever and without beer at the party, well, nobody would show up at all.
And her ace in the hole, a real investigation and a public presentation with Dr. Martin Boyd, was at best a dim hope.
Then her phone dinged and she saw the message was from Boyd.
Investigations of this complexity often take months of staff time.
Still, we’ve discussed it here among our investigative team and given the urgency of your situation and the previous work done in your community by my father, we believe that we can make time available this month and we could report our preliminary findings by the end of the year.
We are also sensitive to the budget constraints of small communities such as Narvik. With that in mind, we could do the work – with a substantial subsidy from our general fund – for $20,000.
Please let me know when we can make arrangements to move forward.
Sam was disappointed but not surprised. She needed the report by the end of the month, not the end of the year. And $20,000? She didn’t know where she’d scrape up even $200 for something like this.
She consulted with Mayor Claire Kornstedt.
“Narvik is broke, my dear.”
“I know, Claire. But could you find any money at all? Anything just to get us started.”
Claire thought for a moment. “I haven’t spent any of my mayor’s travel budget. It’s only $500 to go to a conference or two in Madison, but those are usually a waste of time anyway. I can do what I want with that, I think. I’ll have to ask Robbie.”
“Thank you, Claire. Now only $19,500 to go.” She smiled. “But I think I can talk Dr. Boyd down from that. Anyplace else to go to for money?”
“Funny thing about a town like Narvik,” said the mayor. “Everybody looks the same. Nobody seems to have much. But there’s always a few people who live modestly just because they don’t know how else to live. In the meantime, they’ve sold a farm or a business for a little bit of money, made some cautious investments here and there, keep saving what they do earn. And before they know it, they’re modestly rich. Very often, they don’t really understand it themselves. And when you’re comfortable where you are, you don’t think about trips to Paris or infinity pools on Caribbean islands or having great paintings in your kitchen. You just keep doing what you’re doing and nobody suspects you’re worth quite a lot. Not even you.”
“You talking about anybody specific, Claire?”
Claire smiled and hesitated before answering. “Nobody knows for sure, but there have been rumors for years. Outside of his steak dinner once a week – and that costs $15.95 – Ole Olson spends no money. He’s been getting small government payments to keep his land in grass and trees for decades and he sometimes leases his land to hunters from the cities and they pay quite a bit. It may not sound like a lot, but when you’re not spending any of it for decades, well, it adds up and you make a smart investment or two, well. Where has it all gone? Just saying.”
18. Price, negotiable
In her application with the Extraterrestrial Life Research Institute and in all her emails with Dr. Martin Boyd, Samantha Tucker had never mentioned the Narvik Alien Days Festival or any of its events. Of course, she knew that it would be easy enough for Boyd to do a little Internet research and find out about all that pretty fast, but she had no reason to want to bring it to his attention.
She didn’t want Dr. Martin Boyd to come to believe that he might become the featured fop in a goofy reality show, which she had to admit to herself, is pretty much how she had him cast. So, she was practically giddy in her surprise when she received the following email.
My team brought to my attention that Narvik’s website notes events late this month commemorating the sightings of 1982. My team reminds me that my father presented at a major public event at the first commemoration in 1983.
While my schedule is crazy this fall, it turns out that – thanks to a late cancellation — I could be available on that weekend to make a very preliminary sketch of my findings.
I also have some good news regarding funding. I contacted my board’s treasurer to let him know that I considered Narvik a research priority and I pleaded with him to allow a further reduction in our customary fees. He has approved a fee of only $15,000 for our work in Narvik!
As my travel in the coming weeks is filling up, please let me know at your earliest possible convenience how we may proceed.
Sam Tucker read two things into Martin’s emails. The first was that his price was highly negotiable — she didn’t think she had found the floor yet. The second was that he was even more desperate for the work then she was for what he would bring to Alien Days.
Still, time was running short. She had less than three weeks to pull this off and had raised all of $500 for what could be the killer attraction. She went to see Ole Olson.
She arrived unannounced as everyone had to at the Olson place, given the fact that cell phone signals would not penetrate the surrounding hills and that Ole had long foregone a landline. A man of few words and a parsimonious nature he had no doubt calculated the cost per word spoken and deemed the price unreasonable.
As she drove up to the old farmhouse she noticed a neat stack of wood in a gentle semi-circle surrounded by yellow police tape attached to makeshift poles. She chuckled to herself. The sheriff might be taking all this a little too far, but she liked the touch.
She knocked on the farmhouse door. Ole came out from around the back of the house and startled her.
“Oh! Ah. Mr. Olson?”
“Sorry to intrude on you. But I didn’t have any way of reaching you. I’m Samantha Tucker from the Home Town program. I work for the state and I’m helping with the Alien Days Festival. That all started because of you, you know. And so, I wondered if we could talk.”
“You bet,” said Ole. He took off his work gloves and opened the front door. She entered and Ole followed, which made her uneasy. For a second she wondered why she hadn’t asked Claire or Thelma or Joe Ellsted to come with her. She had to remind herself that she was here to ask a shy, reclusive man for a substantial sum of money and she figured that that would be hard enough on Ole without a crowd to witness everyone’s embarrassment. Besides, Ole had a long history of keeping to himself but there had never been a question of his gentleness. Ole had a well-established reputation for being odd, but odd was far from the worst thing a person could be in this world.
Ole put her at ease by going straight for the coffee pot, which apparently gurgled along all day. He poured two cups, placed them on the kitchen table and sat down. Sam took the hint and sat down across from him. There was no offer of cream or sugar. It was understood in this part of the world that coffee was to be three things: hot, black and strong.
“Mr. Olson, what you started 36 years ago is very important to Narvik.”
Ole sat looking down at the table. He was like most Midwesterners only more so, which is to say he took praise as an assault on his character.
“Oh, I just reported what father and I saw,” he said still looking at the table.
“Still, it started something. It gave people something to think about and it helped Narvik a lot. People loved Alien Days, the dressing up and the parade. I understand you were the first grand marshal.”
Just for a second Ole’s eyes widened a bit at the mention of his previous honor. “Yep,” he said.
“Well, I’ve talked with Mayor Kornstedt and she wants me to ask you if you’d consider being the grand marshal again for the 36th anniversary.”
The significance of the 36th anniversary of anything escaped both she and Ole, but including that detail seemed to make the offer somehow more special.
“Sure,” Ole replied.
“You mean you’ll do it?”
“That was easy! I thought we’d have to twist your arm.”
Like many people accustomed to nonstop communication in the digital age, Sam Tucker did not know how to fill an awkward silence across the table from a breathing human being.
They sat that way for awhile just sipping their coffee. And the silence just made Sam even more apprehensive about what she had really come to ask about.
To her surprise Ole broke the quiet.
“Sheriff’s not serious about the wood,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he came out here the other day and put up that tape and he took a couple pieces of the wood, but I don’t think his heart’s in it.”
“How can you tell?”
Ole shrugged. “Just seems like it.”
Sam couldn’t tell if Ole was just making conversation or if he understood why she was there and was opening the door for her to get to her point.
She decided to move through the door whether Ole had opened it for her on purpose or not.
“Mr. Olson, remember back in ’83? There was a man, Harrison Boyd, who came out to investigate what you and your father saw. He talked to you and your father and looked around and then he gave a report during Alien Days that first year.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember Mr. Boyd. Oh, yeah. Harrison Boyd. Good man.”
“Well, unfortunately Harrison passed away, but his son, Martin, is now working on these sorts of cases. His name is Dr. Martin Boyd.”
Sam had begun to question what exactly Martin Boyd was a doctor of, if anything, but it seemed to have impressed Ole.
“Yes, Dr. Martin Boyd. Well, I’ve been in touch with him and he’s agreed to come out here and investigate just like his father did. I mean if you’re willing. That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh, Dr. Martin Boyd. Sure. He can come out here if he wants.”
“Excellent. Thank you, Mr. Olson. He’ll want to come soon.”
“Sure. I’ll be here. Accept Saturday evening. I’m in town then down to the Flying Saucer.”
“Yes, I know. He won’t come then.”
Another long silence ensued. Once again it was Ole who broke it. “How’s he going to travel then?”
“He’ll have to fly here I suppose and stay in a hotel and all. That’ll cost something.”
Eggsss-zactly, thought Sam. Ole knows eggsss-zactly where I’m heading with this.
“Yes, well, Mayor Kornstedt has found $500 in her budget, but that won’t quite cover his fee, which is, ahh, $2,500,” Sam lied. She was casting around for a figure that a thrifty but secretly rich old man could swallow.
Ole hesitated, sipped his coffee and looked out the window. “Oh, sure, I got that much,” he said, sounding as if he had just admitted to a felony.
“Mr. Olson, are you offering to help pay Dr. Boyd’s expenses?”
“I guess I am.”
“Well, thank you. Thank you so much!”
“Yep. Just tell me what you need and when you need it. But I gotta get back to work now. Winter’s comin’. I gotta make some firewood.”
And that was it. Samantha Tucker had now secured the return of Ole Olson as grand marshal and she had raised a little more than 10% of Martin Boyd’s original fee. All she had to do now was break it to Robbie Porter than he would not be grand marshal this year and get the good Dr. Boyd to accept a fee that would barely cover his travel expenses. Things were looking up.
19. Make her day
Back at her office Sam took a deep breath before hitting ‘send.’ It was a note to Martin Boyd offering him the grand total of $2,500 for a visit to Narvik, an investigation of Ole Olson’s claim and a public presentation at the high school on the Saturday evening of Alien Days.
She could throw in two sweeteners. She got Darla Schmitt to put him up at her farm bed and breakfast. It was really a sweet place and Darla made a heck of a country breakfast with fresh eggs from her own hens and bacon from hogs she had raised and butchered themselves.
The other bonus was pure ego gratification, which to a man like she suspected Martin Boyd was, is priceless.
She had steeled herself to write,
Dr. Boyd, we would all be so grateful if you would make a presentation of your findings in a major public symposium to be held at 7PM on the evening of Friday, October 26th. The press would be invited and I think I can assure you that media would be present from all of the major outlets in the area. We have also received inquiries from at least one major national publication.
Actually she had no idea if anyone outside of the Narvik News would bother to send a reporter to a rural hamlet on a Saturday night. Her reference to The New York Times was a real stretch as her friend Harriet Sobelman had not been able to confirm that she could make the trip. But she had to bait the hook with whatever was at hand. She hit ‘send.’
And then she waited. She checked her email constantly. Three days passed with no response and now she was down to 14 days before the festival.
She buried her face in her lists, searching for signs of progress on anything. She had secured the return of Ole Olson as grand marshal. Check. But she had not yet had the difficult discussion with Robbie Porter to ask him to step down from the honor once held by his father. She put a circled “1” next to that. She couldn’t delay it any longer. She’d have to do that today.
She had secured the high school cafeteria for the return of the Saturday night Alien Dance. Check. She had secured the approval of Sheriff Harold Rhude for a temporary liquor license for that event. Check. But she had not heard from Claire Kornstedt about the approval of school board president Emily Meister. Without that there would be no liquor license and without beer there might as well be no Alien Dance. She wrote a circled “2” next to that item.
She had approached Larry Mercer of Mercer Auto Body about reviving his Flying Saucer built over the old Chevy Impala. Check. But Larry had pretty much shut her down. Still, Claire had volunteered to get Narvik Public Works Director Joe Ellsted to talk to Larry and maybe use some leverage with him since the Public Works Department did business with his shop. No word on that one either.
She was just writing a “3” next to the Flying Saucer Chevy when there was a rap on the open door of her drafty attic dormer office in the Ottawa County Courthouse. It was none other than Joe Ellsted.
“Joe! How are you? What brings you all the way up here?”
“Hey, Samantha. Had some business with the county so I thought I’d drop by and see if I’d catch you in.”
“I was just about to call you. Please. Sit.” She motioned to a 1950’s era standard issue gray government chair in the corner.
“No thanks, Sam. I’ve gotta run. But I just wanted you to know that I talked with Larry Mercer. Claire asked me to see what I could do about the flying saucer.”
Her arms were folded over her chest to help her keep warm and that disguised her fingers, which now crossed without her commanding them to.
“Long story – every story is long when Larry is part of it – but it turns out that we had a pick up truck that got side-swiped last week.”
“Well, that meant some work for Larry from Narvik. And then it’s been blue bird days on the river.”
“Blue bird days?”
“Sunny, not much wind, kind of warm for October.”
“Well nice for people and, unfortunately for Larry, nice for ducks too. They stay put. Don’t fly south. So there’s no point in going duck hunting in weather like this.”
“Oh. Sorry. Let me get to the point. So, the combination of more work from his biggest customer – Narvik, which means me and Claire – and bad weather for duck hunting means that Larry agreed to mess around with the Chevy. No promises. He hasn’t even got the engine out yet, but he’s working on it. We’ll see. Just wanted you to know that. Well, I gotta go.”
“Thanks, Joe! You just made my day.”
Joe Ellsted smiled his craggy Joe smile. “If that little bit of news made your day I’m not sure I want to be you.”
“Then you die,” said Sam.
Joe cocked his head.
“’Life sucks. Then you die.’ Old saying.”
Joe Ellsted considered it for just a second. Then he nodded, turned and retreated down the stairs to go about his day.