Benjamin knew his mom didn’t want him seeing the neighbor anymore. Not after all the racket Mr. Moore made when he started his invention…it took Benjamin’s little brain a moment to recall the noisy, smelly contraptions name…engine. Yup, his mom made a big stink about the noise that came from Mr. Moore’s shed that mid-morning day.
“I don’t want you going over their anymore.” His mom said.
“I like Mr. Moore,” Benjamin whined.
“I don’t care. I thought for sure something bad happened to you with all that racket.”
“Mr. Moore made an engine.”
“A what? Never mind, stay away from that place.”
Benjamin didn’t understand his mommy’s concern. Mr. Moore was always nice to him, not like his mommy’s friends. Anyway, she was gone. One of her friends took her to some hideaway. This upset Benjamin. His mommy never played hide and seek with him. Too often he played by himself.
Benjamin wiped the sting from his eyes and continued along the dirt road that passed by both his house and Mr. Moore’s. Mom was playing hide and seek with a strange man; Benjamin would go see Mr. Moore.
Benjamin turned up Mr. Moore’s driveway and heard a rumble. He hesitated, listening. Canting his head trying to determine where the sound came from and what it came from. The sound was not like anything he heard, but after a few moments he was sure it came from the shed. Benjamin smiled, another one of Mr. Moore’s inventions.
Benjamin ran up the remainder of the driveway. He did not want to miss whatever it was. The broad shed doors were open, and Benjamin ran into the shed. Skidding to stop when he saw Mr. Moore standing next the engine. At first Mr. Moore did not see him, then the dust cloud Benjamin kicked up floated past his field of view.
Mr. Moore turned to Benjamin, acknowledged the boy, and shut down the engine.
“Benjamin, I don’t think your supposed to be here.”
Benjamin looked at Mr. Moore, mouth agape, “She told you.”
Mr. Moore’s expression softened, he looked towards the direction of Benjamins house, then back to Benjamin, “No, it was one of her friends.”
The word friends coming from Mr. Moore as though he were spitting out some sort of bad tasting food. Something Benjamin got too much of from his mom’s friends.
“I don’t like her friends Mr. Moore,” Benjamin said without hesitation.
Mr. Moore took longer to respond, “Nor do I Benjamin.” Mr. Moore looked around, then again in the direction of Benjamin’s house. “You can stay, but you keep quiet…okay.”
“You bet Mr. Moore.” Benjamin looked into Mr. Moore’s eyes for a moment longer. He had not been on this planet long, but in his short time, he learned to read a mans heart through their eyes. Liking the way Mr. Moore looked at him, he said, “pinky squared.”
Mr. Moore chuckled, stepping forward, callused and scarred pinky finger extended. Benjamin hooked the thick pinky with his own skinny callus free pinky and uttered the words, “Pinky squared.”
“Pinky squared Benjamin…pinky squared.”
With that formality taken care of, Benjamin turned to the engine, “You fixed the engine.”
“I installed a muffler, Benjamin. Makes the engine much quieter.”
“Sure did! I didn’t even recognize what it was when I was coming up the driveway.” He walked around the engine one time, then said, “Why didn’t you put a muffle on in the first place.”
“Muffler,” Mr. Moore chuckled, “it’s called a muffler. I never built and engine before. I wanted to make sure it worked before I spent time on the extra stuff.”
Benjamin put his hands on his hips and emitted what Mr. Moore considered a very impressive whistle, “Damn Mr. Moore, you pretty smart.”
Mr. Moore gave Benjamin a stern glare, “You supposed to swear Benjamin?”
“Mom doesn’t like when I say the really bad words, but she never makes a fuss about ‘damn.’” Then something occurred to Benjamin, “Does it bother you Mr. Moore.”
“Just avoid the really bad words Benjamin,” Mr. Moore said with a smile.
“Yes sir.” Benjamin walked around the engine one more time, then asked, “Is it done?”
Mr. Moore thought about it for a moment, looking about his workshop as he did so. It was about as good as it would get considering what he had to work with. He wished it were better, or at least did not use so much alcohol.
“It could use improvement…I think.”
“What are you going to do with it? You going to hook it up to your plow horse?”
It took a moment for Mr. Moore to realize what Benjamin was asking. Then he burst out laughing as he realized the gist of Benjamin’s question.
“No, we will leave Ol’ Mare just as he is. I am in the process of building a tractor,” Moore said pointing to parallel wooden rails perched on top of some large wheels in the back and smaller ones in the front. “That might replace the plow horse, but I am thinking of going a different direction for a tractor.”
“What is a tractor,” Benjamin asked as he approached the unfinished contraption.
“A mechanical horse I guess.”
“Machine powered instead of horse powered Benjamin. Kind of like the windmills we use to pump water and turn flour mills.”
“Oh, what direction is it going?”
This made Mr. Moore smile, “I don’t think the gas engine will work for the tractor. It would use too much alcohol to plow my fields. By my estimates, it would take a whole field of corn to plow the field.”
“That is a lot of corn.”
“It is, and constable Brice is getting on my case about making alcohol.”
“Is alcohol bad?”
“It can be if you drink it.”
Benjamin’s expression went from inquisitive little man to scared little boy, “I think my mommy is being bad.”
Mr. Moore stepped up and put a firm hand on Benjamin’s shoulder, “I think she will be all right.”
Benjamin nodded, his demeanor switching back to inquisitive, “What are you going to do? With the tractor I mean.”
“I don’t know Benjamin; I might build a steam engine for it. There are some old steel cylinders down at the scrap heap I could use for boilers. Then I could use coal or wood as fuel.”
“Why can’t you use those for the engine?”
“The engine works a different way. Coal and wood don’t work.”
Benjamin turned and walked towards the engine, “So, what are you going to do with the engine.”
“Can you keep a secret?”
Benjamin whirled around to face Mr. Moore, “Of course I can Mr. Moore. Cross my heart, hope to die?”
“No need for that Benjamin,” Mr. Moore said as he walked up to the engine resting his hand on its top. “I might build an airplane.”
“Yes, an airplane. Back in the old days they used to fly across the sky like birds. Some of them with hundreds of people on them.”
Benjamin s eyes became as big as saucers, “Hundreds of people! That is bigger than the biggest wagon.”
“Yup, but the airplane I want to build will only have room for one or two.”
“Why do you want to build an airplane.”
Mr. Moore looked Benjamin directly in the eyes before answering, “I would use it to find a better place to build my contraptions.”
“You would leave?”
Mr. Moore expected Benjamin’s question, “Only if I can make the airplane fly, and only if I can find someplace more suitable than this place.”
“What is more suitable?”
“Someplace with a stream or river. Where I can build a dam and use the river to generate electricity. More than the little bit I get from the windmill behind the shop.”
“I see your lights sometimes at night from my bedroom window. Mom says the lights are witchcraft.”
“No, they are electricity. But most nights the wind does not blow enough the keep the lights burning, much less the furnace for smelting.” Again, Mr. Moore put his hand on Benjamin’s shoulder, “Don’t worry about me leaving anytime soon. First, I need to finish the tractor, then I can build an airplane.”
Benjamin’s visibly relaxed and Mr. Moore’s words.
“Remember Benjamin, don’t tell anyone of our plans.”
Benjamin’s face lit up with Mr. Moore’s use of “our” and he said, “Pinky square.”