The Road to Santa Barbara


Holly Roberts

  Captain Crane glanced at his watch and made a face, giving his sleek red convertible a bit more gas, merging into traffic on the freeway heading into Los Angeles. Lord, I’ll never make it by 1800, he fumed. I’m going to get stuck in going-home traffic out of LA. I should have just told Jennifer I’d help her move this weekend. He thought about stopping and calling the Institute and telling them he’d be late, but he knew that by the time he found a phone, he could be through the worst of the gridlock. The cars ahead slowed imperceptively as they reached the city limits, and Lee caught himself rubbing his Annapolis ring with his left thumb. Smiling, he changed lanes and bought himself a few feet. The Santa Monica freeway to the PCH is the best bet, he decided. I can make up time on the road to the Institute. The thought of letting the sports car ‘go’ brought a boyish grin to his handsome face.

Weaving expertly around vehicles, he figured he was about ten miles from Santa Monica and the turn-off to the Pacific Coast Highway. As long as we keep moving, I’m okay. I shouldn’t be too awful late.

Unfortunately, ‘Sharkey’s Law’ decided to rear its ugly head. Three miles away from his exit to the PCH, Crane saw the brake lights on several cars ahead start to flash. Moments later, traffic slowed to forty miles per hour, then thirty, then twenty. With a frustrated groan, Lee downshifted and crept along behind a minivan, looking for an opening to change lanes. He eased over to the left, trying to see around the van, but all he could see was another van.

In the thirty minutes it took to go one mile, Lee munched on some of Jennifer’s sunflower seeds, imagining all sorts of things the Admiral and Exec would dream up to make him regret being the last man to board Seaview. Nelson had a well-deserved reputation for being a relentless and imaginative prankster, and Chip Morton, behind his cool facade, could be just downright evil. When traffic came to a stop, Crane growled and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He didn’t need this kind of stress.

Just when he thought he could make better time if he got out and walked, the cars ahead started to move, inching forward. After a half-mile, Lee caught a glimpse of red and blue flashing lights in front of him. Must have been an accident, he thought. Hope nobody was hurt. Now he could see police directing cars around something big lying across the road. As he got closer, he recognized the big shamrock on the side of the overturned truck as a local moving company, surrounded by smashed wooden boxes. Suddenly, his breath caught in his throat

Scattered all around the wreck were bodies.

Bodies under the truck, bodies tossed onto the shoulder, bodies lying half out of the crates, bodies everywhere. My God, there must be a hundred of them, Crane wanted to shout. Why isn’t anyone trying to help them? They can’t all be dead! Why are the police just standing there directing traffic? Outraged, he pulled up to the nearest officer, slammed his car in park, and stepped out.

"Sir," the policeman called. "Please get back in your car and move along."

"What happened here?" Crane used his best ‘I want answers now’ voice. "Why aren’t you helping those people?"

"What people?"

"Are you blind? Those people in the road!" Crane’s irritation shifted into fury when the police officer smiled, but his next words shocked him.

"Sir, they’re not real people."

"Excuse me?"

"They’re statues, sir," the officer explained. "Someone had them loaded on that truck and must have left it in gear. It rolled down that hill onto the road and flipped over."

Crane blew out a breath. "Anyone hurt?"

"No sir, no one was in the truck, and no one has claimed it…just made a big freaking mess at the worst time of day." He replied. "Man, I know a lot of people would like to get their hands on the Bozo that caused all this. How about getting back in your car, now?"

"Sure," Lee nodded. "I just wanted to see if I could help." He buckled up and put his car in gear, catching up with the van as they eased around the overturned truck. He tried not to rubberneck as he went past the mess, but something made him do a double-take.

Was it just his imagination, or did one of those statues look an awful lot like him, dressed in his khakis? The SUV behind him blasted him with its horn, jerking him back to reality, and Crane grinned and waved, wondering how this excuse was going to sound. And that’s why I was late, sir, he chuckled.

Once past the wreck, traffic picked up speed, and Crane made excellent time to his exit off the freeway. The Pacific Coast Highway was a straight shot to Santa Barbara and home, and he opened the car up, smiling at the hum of the finely-tuned engine. She’s not the Seaview, he decided. But she’ll do.

It was nearly 2200 when the lights of the Institute came into view over the dark hills. Lee shifted down to a more sedate pace to clear the gate, then raced to the motor pool and flew into his parking spot. He shut off the car, pocketing his keys, and grabbed his briefcase. It was a bit of a walk to the dock, but it was a nice, quiet night, and he whistled a tune as he neared his sleek gray Lady. Maybe he won’t be too upset, he thought. After all, I did find his precious cigarette lighter. He turned the boat upside-down looking for it, and he’d left it at my house. He snorted. Yeah, right---might as well just let him shoot me and get it over with. Lee jogged down the stone steps to the Seaview’s berth, and a contented smile came to his handsome face as he caught sight of her silver-dappled shape in the sparkling water.

Aloud he called to her, "Hi, Honey, I’m home!"