The Son

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

Old ‘Kidney’ was a bush logging contractor. He operated in a very small way, working some of the steepest country in the central Urewera. He barely made ends meet, and could not have done so had he not taken all the “short cuts” he could dream up.

Small, gentlemanly, always smiling, but diabolically cunning, the ‘Kidney’ certainly could dream up plenty of short cuts, so he survived, just, financially. Most of his time each day was taken up hauling the huge native logs with his clapped out D7 bulldozer down the mountainside more than a mile to the roadside skid.

With only two hauling trips a day it was a waste of money to employ a bushman to fell the few trees, so the ‘Kidney’ did this job himself. But to work alone in the bush at such a dangerous calling against all the rules, in fact against the law!

Stumpy, who regularly inspected the ‘Kidney’s’ operation as part of his work, knew what was going on, but safety was not his business. That was the concern of the Labour Department’s bush inspector who also regularly visited all logging operations in the area.

It was only a matter of time before the bush inspector, an old bushman himself, and wise in the ways of logging contractors, caught up with the ’Kidney’. Being a very decent fellow and knowing the ’Kidney’ was operating very close to the red line financially, he did not prosecute the old fellow but gave him the usual lecture on the dangers of working alone and instructed him to bring in a mate before his next visit.

Stumpy had witnessed, this ultimatum and wondered how the crafty old ’Kidney’ would get out of it – for sure he would find a way! Well aware that the ’Kidney’ had not taken on an employee Stumpy made sure that he was at the bush skids on the day of the bush inspector’s next visit, a month after the ultimatum. He wasn’t going to miss the meeting between these two for anything.

The inspector and Stumpy arrived at the bush skid together. It was deserted. They could hear the clapped out old tractor working its way slowly down that muddy mountain track, hauling its load of logs towards them. It was raining. They sat in one vehicle, sheltering from the rain, and yarned as they waited for the tractor. Finally it arrived, grunting its way on to the muddy skid.

Dapper and gentlemanly, old ’Kidney’ shut the machine down (before it rattled itself into oblivion) and clambered into the mud to greet his visitors, with his usual politeness, smile and charm.

After the small talk and a brew was over, the bush inspector took the bull by the horns, and asked the ‘Kidney’ if he now had a mate to work with him in the bush.

The ‘Kidney’ never blinked an eye. He pointed over his shoulder along the muddy haul track snaking up the mountainside, looked the bush inspector in the eye, and stated, ‘I’ve got the son up there.’

The inspector was satisfied. No way was he going to clamber up that muddy track in the rain to check. He made his farewells and headed off out.

Stumpy was surprised. He figured be knew the ‘Kidney’ very well. He knew the ’Kidney’ had a couple of daughters, but he’d never before heard of a son, so he put it to the ‘Kidney’, ‘Hey, ‘Kidney’, did you say you had a son working with you?’

The ‘Kidney’ put on his most charming open smile when he replied. ‘Well, you see, when I’m down here I’m working with the rain, but up there (he pointed up the mountain) I’ve got the sun!’ And the crafty old devil got away with that until the job was over, a year later.