Buddy, it's fried. Ain't nothing I can do 'bout it till Monday. The mechanic wiped his hands off on an old grease rag and shoved the thing back into his back hip pocket.
Lee Crane just stood, rooted to the spot staring at his baby girl. The shiny red 1967 Cobra had the hood up, her fine tuned engine exposed to the world. Moving stiffly, Lee leaned both arms against the front of the car, his golden eyes taking on a horror stricken look.
You can't fix her? he asked, his voice rough. The mechanic just shook his head.
Nope. Not till Monday. What you gots here is one of them there classic cars, and we ain't gots nobody 'round up in here who can work on them things. Now, we gots this one ol' boy, he's a goodin'. He knows all 'bout these old cars, but he's gone for the weekend, him and his girlfriend, they done had this weekend all planed out. I couldn't get ahold of him if'n I wanted to.
But . . .we . . .I . . .my car . . . Lee stammered. The tall, broad shouldered blond standing quietly off to the side now moved forward and laid a gentle hand on Lee's shoulder.
We'll think of something, Lee. Take it easy. Chip said, hoping he could make Lee understand. For the second time since the clutch went out on the Cobra, Chip flipped open his cellphone, but he couldn't get a signal. He looked up at the mechanic.
Could I borrow your phone? We need to call our boss, he's expecting us, Chip said. But the mechanic just shook his head.
'fraid not young fella. We had us a storm blow through here last night, knocked out the lines though most of the town. Service around here ain't the greatest on the best of days. Might another week before they get them lines fixed.
Another week! You've got to be joking?! the blond explained as his dark haired buddy looked on with a panicked expression on his face.
This is my car, Chip, she a classic. I can't just leave her here, Lee wailed. besides, we still have that meeting. We'll never make it now, Lee protested, torn between the well being of his prized possession and the need to get to the meeting to discuss the upcoming upgrades for Seaview's navigation system.
The mechanic, with a name tag that read 'Bob' stitched to front of his blue short sleeved shirt, gave the two unformed men a hard, long look. Military, obviously. Army boys, them khaki uniforms a dead give away. Must be on their way to some top secret meeting, Homeland Security and all that. Clearing his throat got the attention of both men, who turned their eyes in puzzlement at the country mechanic.
Seein' as how you fellas be with the gov'ment and all that, I might be able to help you out.
How so? asked the broad shouldered blond curiously.
I got's a car you can borrow. She ain't much to look at, but she runs pretty good. You can drive it to your meeting, and when you get done, you can drive her back. By then, we might have your little red car here fixed up.
The two men looked at the Bob, and blinked in concert as they digested this information. The shifted their gaze to the little red sports car, then back to Bob. Then they traded looks with each other.
What do you want to do, Lee? We can't call the Admiral. They'll miss us when we don't show up. You know what's going to happen then. the blond said, his sky blue eyes clouded with worry.
The Admiral will call out the National Guard. Doesn't look like we have a choice, Chip. The darker of the two said, the turned his attention back to Bob.
You don't mind? Lending us your car? he asked.
Bob broke out into a big grin, revealing teeth that could benefit from a visit to a dentist. Hell, no, be glad to help you fellas out. Come on, I'll get the keys and show her to ya.
Bob lead the way past the garage and toward a small, run down shack of a house. Both men casted unbelievable glances at each other as the neared the their obvious destination.
The house itself was a paint-peeling eyesore that had long since seen better day. Mismatched shutters hung haphazardly from the siding and the screens where gone from both front windows. As Lee watched, a large white rooster flapped up into the window and through it, into the house, clucking as he went. The front yard was a maze of stacks of old tires, hubcaps, a set of red doors off some random car, the hood from a second random car, and the enormous transmission of some powerful truck. Various car and truck parts lay scattered on the ground, mingled with the occasional tool. The center piece was a old red and white Ford pickup truck, with two flat back tires and the front axle resting on two concrete blocks.
I need a beer, how bout you fellas? Ya thirsty? Bob asked as the walked. Lee and Chip shook their heads, and politely declined the offer.
Opal! Get me a beer, babe! Bob yelled as they drew closer the the house. A female voice cut through the air, coming from the inside the falling down shack.
Get yer own beer, you big lazy oaf! You ain't bringing them in this house, I ain't cleaned yet, and I ain't run the vacuum today!
The front porch that ran around the front of the house didn't look stable enough to stand up to a stiff breeze, much less the two dogs, the six chickens and unbelievably, the small goat that lounged across the top and steps. Under the porch a huge white pig lay stretched out on her side while a dozen piglets napped at her side. Standing in the door way was the strangest sight Lee and Chip had ever seen.
Tall and bony, the woman wore a pair of black cat-eye framed glasses. Her hair was done up in a mismatched collection of pink, green, and blue hair curlers. Between her lips dangled a long cigarette with about an inch of gray ash hanging off the end. She carried a chipped coffee cup in one hand, and in the other she cradled a small, black kitten. She was dressed in a green and pink terry cloth robe and on her feet was a pair of fuzzy house shoes that looked like giant human feet, complete with toes.
Come on, baby, you know you don't like me tracking dirt in the house, Bob said, wiggling his eyebrows at his wife.
Opal rolled her eyes and turned, yanking open the frame of the screenless front door. A few seconds later she came back out, sans the coffee cup , the requested beer in one hand. She handed it off to her husband who cracked it open and took a long draw off of it.
Thanks, baby. These here fellas need ta borrow the Cadillac. Got a right important meeting they needs to be getten' to. You wanna get the keys fer me real quick?
The black kitten in Opal's arms squirmed and the woman set the feline down. Tail in the air, the kitten sashayed down the steps, sniffing around Chip and Lee's shoes. Slowly, the animal began winding a series of figure eights around Chip's ankles, getting black hair all over the bottom half of his khaki trousers.
Lee watched the expression of horror on his friends face, and was about to say something as four chickens shot across the yard, in hot pursuit of a fat grasshopper. The insect jumped and landed on Lee's left shoe, and the four hens descended on the commander. Lee danced backwards trying to avoid the fowl quartet, but he wasn't fast enough to avoid, well, you know what chickens do.
Not a word, Mr. Morton, Lee hissed as he dug a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to wipe the disgusting mess off the top of his shoe. The mess had landed not only on the top of his shoes, but was smeared into the shoe laces. Chip was having a hard time holding back his laughter as Lee worked.
By now Opal had left again and come back with a set of keys. She gave them a toss and Bob caught them in mid air. With out a word, he turned and motioned for the two officers to follow him. He missed the whole episode with the chickens and didn't notice the disgusted look on Lee's face as he lead the two men back around the house to the garage.
Here she is boys. Like I said, she aint much ta look at, but she runs good, and she's yers until I can get Jimmy ta fix yer little car up.
Chip and Lee stared at this gift. If Bob's wife Opal had been a sight, this car took the cake.
Good gravy, it's land yacht, Chip breathed, taking in the sight. It was as long as the pickup truck in the front yard. The car itself was a faded and peeling blue color, except for the driver's side door, which was yellow.
Chip circled the car, while Lee stared in disbelief. Each one of the four tires was a different make. The left back taillight was gone, the housing cracked, but the bulb was still in place. The red plastic housing had been recovered in red transparent tape. The lock on the trunk was gone, leaving just a hole on the trunk, threaded through with a length of yellow, nylon rope.
And this thing runs? Lee asked incredulously, trying to keep his expression neutral. Bob handed him the keys, grinning.
Yep, keep her tuned up myself. Listen, been nice meeting ya, I really gotta get back ta work. You get done with yer meetin' you just swing back by and we should have yer little car fixed, alright then? Bob continued to grin, and Lee just nodded weakly as Chip continued to appraise the car. Bob walked off, leaving the two men alone with their new ride.
You're driving, Chip said, arms crossed over his chest.
No way, Lee intoned.
Chip. I can't drive that thing.
You command over four hundred feet of submarine, you can drive this. Beside, that yellow door just screams 'you',
Let me amend that. I'm NOT driving this thing. You're the navigator, you drive.
Chip and Lee faced off for several long second before Chip blinked. You drive up, I'll drive back. We have to come back for your Cobra anyhow.
Alright, Crane acquiesced, but I'm holding you to that. Let's get going, we're late enough as it is.
Both men piled into the car and Lee stuck the key it. With a choke, a rumble and a bang, the Cadillac started up, shaking and vibrating as the cold engine began to warm up. He shifted the car into gear and pulled down the long gravel drive. Passing by the garage at the end of the drive, both men saw Bob, another beer can in his hand, waving at them as they passed. Chip waved back as Lee kept both hands clamped down on the steering wheel. The stopped long enough to gather their suitcases from the back of the Cobra. Chip pulled open the back door to stow their gear and saw the gaping hole in the floor of the back seat. He set the luggage in the seat and had to slam the door shut. Twice.
As they drove, Lee noticed Chip rummaging through the console between the front seat. Sun glasses, beer tabs, bottle caps, melted peppermint discs, leaking ball point pens, assorted washers and bolts. Chip fingered the handful of bolts and looked up at Lee.
You don't think these are vital do you? he asked.
Well, if something falls off, we know why. Lee replied. As he began to get the feel of the car, he started looking around at the interior.
Hanging from the rear view mirror were about a dozen strands of Mardi Gras beads, a tree shape air freshener and a pair of faded pink fuzzy dice. Where there should have been a radio was only a gapping hole with a few wire hanging out. Same thing went for the AC/heat panel. Meaning the car had no AC or heat control. Great. Then there was the matter of the smell. The inside of the car had a funky moldy, wet smell that seemed to permeate everything.
Hey Lee, you wanna roll your window down? Chip asked with a grin, holding up a window crank. He glanced to his window, noticed the bare stud sticking out of the door, and pushed the handle home. With a few cranks, he rolled his window down about half way, and handed the handle to Lee. Using one hand, Lee cranked his window down, then pulled the handle free and handed it back to Morton.
That's when Lee realized there was only one wipper blade, covering the driver's side. Chip, it's not suppose to rain, is it? Lee asked, casting an eye through the dusky windshield at the sky overhead.
Don't think so. Hey, check this out!
Lee turned and was faced with a huge spider, easily four inches across, dangling in front of his face.
With a yelp, Crane slammed on the brakes, swatting at the arachnid. It went flying, smashing against the windshield with a slap. The spider stuck to the windshield for a second, then peeled away from the glass, to drop harmlessly on the dash.
Relax, Lee. It's rubber, Chip gasped, between gasps of laughter, fingers clutching the dash for support.
Don't do that! One more stunt like that and you'll be driving both ways, understood? Lee growled, his golden eyes not amused at his best friends antics.
Chip continued to grin even as he retrieved the huge hideous rubber spider from the dash. He gave it toss back into the console and turned his attention to the glove compartment. Lee grumbled as he gunned the engine and sent the car back on it's way.
They had only gone about a mile or so when something brushed up against Lee's leg. Trying to keep his attention on the road, Lee barely spared a minute to look down, only to throw the car into park and scramble out of the car, tripping over his feet and landing in a heap on the ground. Chip followed suit grabbing on to Lee's arm, and hauling him up off the ground. The two stood off the side of the road, watching the car, heaving from the sudden exertion. The driver's side door was open and slowly, the long, slender form of a shiny black snake slithered out of the car, onto the road and away into the bushes. Both men continued to stand in the road, watching and waiting. Finally Lee made the first move.
Anything else in here we need to know about? he asked sourly, peeking under the seats but seeing nothing else. Chip eased back into his passengers side seat as Lee resettled himself.
There's a hole in the floor of the back seat. I'll bet it climbed up in here through that. Morton said, still trying to catch his breath. He wasn't afraid of snakes, he knew Lee wasn't either. He just didn't relish the idea of one in the same car, slithering around where he couldn't see it.
After this, remind me: No more road trips. We fly or we get somebody to send us a car. Lee growled, and once more got the car rolling.
The rest of the long, two hour trip was uneventful. Bob was right about the ancient car, it did run, maybe not great, but it go them to the little out of the way hotel Nelson had picked as the meeting place with the software company. Lee's desire to pull in and find an out of the way parking spot, unseen, was not to be. Waiting for them on the steps of the rustic hotel was Admiral Nelson himself.
Lee watched with dread as his boss made his way across the gravel parking lot, his rugged features taking on a most amused expression as he looked on at Lee and Chip and their borrow set of wheels.
I would ask if you boys would like to explain why you're running five hours late, but the explanation seems to have presented itself. Nelson said dryly as the two officer emerged from the car. They were both a sight for sore eyes.
After several hours in a hot car, both men were tired and sweaty, their uniforms limp with damp and sweat. Chip's trousers were covered with black cat hair and dust. Lee, also dusty and dirty, was sporting smudged shoes, with some kind of gunk ground into the black laces. The whole back of their uniform khaki trousers were a grimy, greenish black, picked up from the molded and mildewed seats. Some kind of strange oder seemed to follow them as the got out of the car. Nelson took two steps back, as the smell wafted toward him.
I don't suppose we can arrange for Sharkey or somebody to take this car back to it's owner and pick up my Cobra? I don't think I can stand another two hours in that thing, Lee pleaded, shedding the tie and unbuttoning the top three buttons of his shirt. Morton was getting their gear out of the back of the car, ignoring Nelson's smirk.
I think something might can be arranged. Lets you two settled and cleaned up, and you can explain everything, Nelson replied, a smile still tugging at his lips.
Yeah, Lee, don't leave out the spider and the snake, Chip snorted, tossing Lee his suitcase. Lee scowled.
And don't forget the cat, Lee interjected, following Nelson up to the
Harriman only shook his head. Who else but Lee and Chip could take a simple road trip and turn it into a disaster?