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RichEisbrouch

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  1. Chapter 2

    Fortunately, it slows down some, and the main character gets introduced. It's interesting how a person can nearly get killed in an accident and still not be the main character in his own story.
  2. Chapter 3

    3 Ben Carleson was negotiating on his office phone. It's what he did best, and he often told his young associates that everything they did as lawyers was a negotiation, so they'd better learn to be good at it. At that moment, Carleson was completing personal business. Five years earlier, he and his husband had bought the apartment in New York they'd been dreaming about for fifteen years - while raising their two wonderful kids in the absolutely perfect Long Island suburbs. The apartment was also perfect. Very close to the FDR, it allowed them quick - if anything in the city was ever quick - access to either the George Washington bridge or the Triboro - now the Robert F. Kennedy. After living all his life in the New York area, he was still getting used to that change. The apartment had been in move-in condition. Carleson and his husband literally could have brought their toothbrushes and a few changes of clothes and been set. In reality, they'd refreshed the paint and thrown down new carpeting in the master and second bedrooms. That room was also their den. It could sleep five with the double pull-out bed and the daybed in the corner, and one more of their kids' friends could squeeze on the other end of the couch. The apartment originally had three bedrooms. But the prior owner - a recidivist bachelor between sequential marriages - had converted two of the bedrooms into one beautiful master suite with a knock-out bathroom. It even had a sauna and Jacuzzi. Carleson and his husband had bought the co-op when prices on the national market were down and even New York real estate was softer. They'd definitely hit the jackpot and were extremely happy. Then came the fire. It wasn't in their apartment. It was one floor above them, but all the apartments in the line below it all got water damage, and they got the worst. After that came three years of litigation, with numerous lawyers, but at that moment, Carleson was negotiating with the last of his adversaries. There was a pair of lawyers on the other side. One represented the owner of the apartment where the fire had started, and the other repped the co-op. Carleson was a hair away from settling and was "dancing" with Ryan Van Dellen, the defense lawyer for the upstairs owner. Ryan was a nice guy, and the two lawyers comfortably respected each other - as opposed to the attorney for the co-op, who Carleson regularly referred to by a name that even made his husband frown. Carleson had been exchanging jabs with Ryan for the better part of three years, but they were in the last round, both knew it, and they also knew there'd be no trial because any good trial attorney knew when to close a deal before that. Basically, Carleson and his law-partner-husband, Edward, were trying to recapture their out-of-pocket expenses for the apartment renovation, and Carleson and Ryan were near enough in the negotiations to know that would get done. All through this waltz, Carleson's call waiting kept beeping, whispering in his ear that he had a call on hold. While he was always interested in new business, he wasn't about to risk interrupting this negotiation. Finally, one of Carleson's assistants opened his office door just enough to stick in her head. Carleson nodded, then waved her away. Two minutes later, she was back, and he waved her away again. Two minutes after that, she slipped completely into his office and slid a note onto his desk. Carleson fake frowned a "thanks" and glanced at what she'd written. Still, he kept focused on Ryan. The note simply said, "Your friend Jerry called 3 times. Says he has a new case for you. Very big. Guy he works with was seriously injured in a car wreck yesterday. Call him ASAP." Jerry worked on Wall Street. After reading the note, there was only one thing he needed to tell Ryan: "Sorry, Ryan. Gotta Go." He smiled at his waiting assistant, gave her an air high five, and immediately called Jerry. "What's going on?" he asked. "Took you long enough," Jerry joked. Jerry was a life-long friend, all the way back to junior high, almost forty years earlier. He'd worked in finance since college, getting a three-year jump on Carleson who'd detoured to law school. Now, they were financially matched. "Hard to believe," Carleson poked back. "But there are some calls even more important than yours." "So how is Edward?" Jerry kidded. "It wasn't Edward." Jerry sidestepped that and began to tell Carleson about Doug Hodges. "He's a great guy - our pro in IT. You know how many networks we have - how many computers - and how much we depend on them. Well, he keeps everything in line. Over the years, the two of us have kind of developed a friendship." "What happened?" Carleson gently cut through. He was fond of even telling his kids, "Just give me the deposition version." "He got smashed up in a car wreck last night. Lots of everything broken - all the way down his left side. Leg. Hip. Fingers. Jaw. Nose. Cheek. Handful of teeth knocked loose." "Whew. Brain damage?" "Not that I've heard. But his ex said at first that she didn't recognize him." "His ex?" "Yeah. That's who they called first. The divorce was a couple of years back, but they're still friendly." "Was she in the car?" "No. Of course not. She would've been smashed up, too." "Was he driving?" "I don't think so. It's not clear yet. He was with one of his bar friends. In that guy's car." "Were they both drunk?" "Pam - Doug's ex - barely talked about that - or the accident. She was too worried - Doug nearly died. One of their sons was with her when she called - and Doug's sister. They'd all just come back from the hospital. Though Doug's sister told me a little about the accident later. I'd left a message on Doug's cell phone but got no answer, so I left another at the house. His sister picked that up and relayed it to Pam. But, in between, she called." Jerry could talk. Carleson was used to that, and it was usually fine - actually, it was comforting. But not on business. "Where is he?" Carleson asked. "Doug?" "Yeah." "In the hospital. Like I said." "Which one?" "Oh. I think Franklin General. I think that was closest." "Where was the accident?" "Mill and Peninsula. At the shopping center where I worked in the bagel store in high school." He laughed. "Home base," Carleson said, laughing along. It was practically where they grew up. "That's why I called you," Jerry added. "You're the first person I thought of." "Thanks." "You'll pay me back." "But only in dinners. That Edward and I would've taken you and Candice out to anyway." "Better than your cooking." "Anything else?" Carleson pushed on. Jerry seemed to think. "That's about it. I heard about the accident. Called. Pam called. She told me what she knew and almost without thinking mentioned Doug might need a lawyer." "That was her idea? What did he think?" "He wasn't thinking at all - unfortunately. He came in unconscious, and I'm not sure when he came out of that. But he's pretty doped up now." "Not good." "No." They were silent a moment, as if reflecting on that. Then Carleson said, "I'm on this. Thanks." "Good. And don't mess up," Jerry jabbed. "I told Pam you were one of the most prominent personal injury lawyers in New York." "You couldn't just've said 'the best?'" Jerry laughed. "She said she trusted me completely - might even've said 'implicitly.' And she promised to call you this afternoon. After she talked with their sons. I gave her your cell and office numbers." "I'll stand by." "Great. Talk to you soon. Happier stuff, I hope. Love to Edward." "And Candice." "Yeah." After he hung up, Carleson looked at the notes he'd been taking. There wasn't much, and he did a quick Internet search to see if the accident had been reported in the news or the papers. Still nothing, and there was no point in trying to dig deeper till he was sure that was needed. Besides, he had plenty to do in his office. And that's where he stayed for the rest of the afternoon, waiting for Pam Hodges to call - if that was still the name she used. Still, he couldn't get his mind off this "whale" of a case. In Las Vegas or Atlantic City, a "whale" was the biggest type of player - one who could win or lose over a million dollars during a few days' stay. Among personal injury lawyers, a "whale" was the perfect case: Liability. Injuries. Insurance coverage. Two of the three were already lined up. Doug Hodges was a passenger in the car. Liability. Meaning the accident was someone else's fault, and Hodges would be able to collect. Next, injuries or damages. From what Jerry had said, Hodges sustained very serious - maybe even life-threatening - injuries. That equated to a large recovery. The only remaining question was the amount of the insurance coverage. That would complete the trio. Actually there was one more question. Would the phone ring? At 5: 45, as Carleson was walking out of his office, his cell phone rang. He looked down, saw an unfamiliar number, and answered. "Hello? Mr. Carleson?" a woman's voice asked. "Yes. This is Ben Carleson." "My name is Pamela Hodges. I'm Doug Hodges ex-wife. Jerry Novotny from his office gave me your numbers this afternoon. I hope it's all right to call your cell." "Of course, it is. How's Doug doing?" "He's very banged up, I'm afraid. Broken bones throughout his body. He'll be in the hospital for a while and then in rehab." "How can I help?" "Well, Jerry said you're a very good lawyer. And I think maybe Doug needs one." "From what Jerry told me, I'm afraid you might be right." "Could you talk with him?" "I'd like that," Carleson said. But he was concerned. "Is he really ready? Is he even able to talk? From what Jerry said, Doug's been unconscious." "He came out of that this afternoon. We were all so relieved. That's why I didn't call you any sooner." "Well, if he's ready, I can meet him whenever you are. Or if one of your sons or his sister is there." "Jerry told you a lot." "He's thorough." Maybe Pamela Hodges was thinking about that. She seemed to be thinking about something because she'd been quiet. "Well, Doug's sleeping right now..." she'd continued. "Then is tomorrow too soon? Obviously, I'll come to the hospital. Will you be there?" "Yes... along with one of our sons. The other's in the Navy." "I hope he's safe." "Yes. I talked with him this morning. He was a little stunned. These things don't happen to your dad." "They aren't supposed to happen to anyone." Pamela Hodges agreed, and soon after, Carleson took the hospital name and room details she gave him. Then she said, "We'll see you at 10:00 tomorrow." "I look forward to that." Pocketing his phone, Carleson locked his now-empty office. The call had been short, but he was still the last one at work. He walked slowly to his car and as slowly drove home. He wasn't being cautious because of what had happened to Doug Hodges and wasn't superstitious about accidents - he couldn't be in his profession. But he had a lot to think about. "I've got an interesting case," he said to his husband, over dinner. "Potential case." Edward smiled at that. Nothing was sure in their world till it was done, preferably successfully. He didn't work in personal injury law, but sometimes his field - real estate law - changed as much - and as quickly. They were in one of their usual restaurants, this one Japanese. They had a dozen local 'favorites' they rotated through, and those were just the ones near their house in Hewlett. In the city, they were always trying new places they'd read or heard about. Since their daughter had started college at Syracuse, they'd cooked less and stayed in the city more, but not that night. Still, their house was often empty because their son was finishing his junior year at Michigan. "How 'potential?'" Edward soon asked, and Carleson considered. "I don't know," he admitted. Then he smiled. "Fairly potential, I think. I put it at a 7. I'm meeting the client - and his family - in the morning. And you know I always have a retainer agreement close by." Edward laughed. "You have a retainer everywhere - even in the bathroom. 'Just in case,'" he gently mimicked. "I've seen you pull one out on the ski slopes." "Where better?" Carleson joked. "And how else do we pay for skiing? Those lift tickets are a bear." They both laughed at that. "Just remember," Edward warned. "There's a fine line between being confident and being presumptuous." "Ha!" Carleson replied. "I drew that line."
  3. Chapter 2

    2 Randall Uzoma was heading south on Mill Road, taking his girlfriend, Vivian, to one of his favorite Italian restaurants - Marinara's in the Peninsula Shopping Center. His family had gone to the restaurant since he was a kid, but this was only the first time he'd taken Vivian. It was that special. Randall was almost to his turn and in the left lane, when he heard a whining sound behind him and glanced in his rear view mirror. A small car - maybe a sports car - was swerving along the street. Vivian must have also heard the sound or noticed Randall staring in his mirror, because she half-turned to see what was happening. As she did, they both felt an incredible force of air as the sports car whizzed past on their left in what should have been the oncoming traffic lane. Randall glanced at his speedometer to make sure he wasn't speeding and confirmed he'd slowed to 25 to get ready for his turn. So the sports car had to be doing well past that. As he and Vivian watched, the small car swerved off Mill Road and raced into Marinara's parking lot, where it collided with a light pole. Issac Yoguez was still painting the concrete lamp pole bases in the parking lot when it started to get dark. He had a half-dozen to go but figured he'd finish this one, knock off for the night, and clean up. The only reason he was painting was it was a really slow night at the restaurant. On busier nights, he was a busboy, and Marinara's had plenty of busy nights. On really busy nights, or when somebody suddenly called in sick, he'd even been a waiter. But the owners didn't completely trust his English, and he didn't know why. He could understand more than he spoke - or more than he could speak clearly. He'd think he was doing fine, then could tell by the looks on his customers' faces that they didn't really understand the specials he was explaining. Still, he never got an order wrong. As he was tapping the paint can lid in place, after having drained off the excess paint with his brush, he heard a squeal. Kids were always racing down Mill or Peninsula - especially Peninsula - and he'd even heard women scream obscenely at drivers next to them that they were going too fast. "You have kids in your car," he'd wanted to tell these women. "You want them to talk like that?" The sad thing was they probably already did. But this was a different squeal, and it was close. He looked toward Peninsula but saw nothing. He looked toward Mill. Holy Christ! A small red sports car was coming straight at him. He instinctively grabbed his paint can and ran. When he'd gone maybe fifteen feet, he heard a loud bang. Still running, he looked back and saw the car in mid-air, with two guys being thrown out at the same time. By then, he'd run about fifty feet and felt safe enough to stop. The car was still in mid-air but was turning completely around. Somehow, it landed right side up, on all four tires. One of the guys landed half under the liquor store van, which was parked next to where the sports car finally stopped. He couldn't see that guy's head or chest, but his legs were sticking out from under the van. The other guy landed on the passenger side of the car, bleeding from his head, ears, and mouth. Issac couldn't tell who was the driver. But Holy, Holy, Holy Christ! Jyoti Patel was ringing up a sale when she heard an enormous crash. She was standing just inside her liquor store, facing the windows as her husband, Ahmed, came in the front doors. They were propped open, as were the matching pair, five feet away. It was a beautiful night in early May, and the small foyer didn't have to keep warm air in or hot air out. "What was that!" she quickly asked. Ahmed hadn't yet turned, so he could see the look on his wife's face. It told him something was seriously wrong. He dropped the push broom he'd been using to sweep their sidewalk and ran back outside. The store had customers, so Jyoti stayed where she was. The first thing Ahmed saw was that the light pole, usually some thirty feet in front of their store, was down. Its head stretched toward him but was still maybe twenty feet away, and its concrete base was rolling around the lot. He ran past his van, which was tall enough to block his view, and just behind it was a sports car. A guy lay beside it, face up, though the passenger door was closed. Ahmed went around the car, which had crashed into the back of his van, to better see the damage. A second guy lay on the ground, again face up but half-hidden under his van. His legs stretched past the open driver's door and his feet were on the car floor just under the steering wheel. Ahmed wanted to help but knew he didn't know how. He certainly knew not to touch the guys and was about to call the police when he heard sirens. Kyle Espinoza had stopped to pick up his friend Griff. It was their day off, but they were taking an arson course with the fire department, and it only met Tuesday and Thursday nights. When Kyle walked in, Griff's scanner was broadcasting a 34 - their code for first aid squad, major injury. Besides being police officers, he and Griff were volunteer aid workers - had been since high school. "It's on our way," Griff said. "Let's see if we're needed." They piled into Kyle's car and were at the accident in under three minutes, the first members of their squad to arrive. But there was an officer - Adam Chen - and a crowd of maybe a hundred people who'd come out of the restaurant, supermarket, and the other small stores. A sports car had T-boned into the rear end of a liquor store van parked right in front of the store. A guy lay on the ground, so that's where they headed, but someone - two or three people actually, one he thought he recognized - shouted there was another guy under the van. So Kyle changed direction without ever looking at the first guy. Griff, who was in front of him, went on to the first man. The cramped area of the parking lot was crowded, and Kyle had to squeeze around the back end of the sports car. It was good there had been an empty parking space between the liquor store van and the SUV parked beside it or the sports car might have hit them both. As it was, the sports car was almost directly behind the van, its nose faced away from the SUV and angled slightly towards the van. It was also good that people had shouted there was someone under the van because, just standing there, Kyle never could have seen him. It wasn't that dark yet - the sun was almost an hour from going down - and the parking lot lights would soon be bright. Still, Kyle had to get on his knees to spot the guy under the van. His feet were protruding, and he was pretty well under the end of the chassis. Kyle had to reach halfway in, almost to his waist - he practically had to crawl - to even touch the guy's chest. The man wasn't breathing. Kyle felt near his nose, and there was no sign of breath. He had no idea how Griff's guy was doing, but Kyle yelled that he had a respiratory arrest, and he started to drag the guy out. As he grabbed the guy's waist - maybe his pants or belt, Kyle wasn't sure - and he pulled, the other officer, Adam Chen, came out of nowhere to help. Fortunately, the driver's side door of the sports car was bent back so wasn't in the way. In the crash, it must have opened completely and was trapped between the liquor store van and the front of the sports car. That gave Kyle and Adam a little room, maybe a couple of feet. Kyle held the guy's head, to stabilize his neck and prevent any further spinal injuries, and he and Adam tugged the guy clear of the gasoline and other liquids coming from the car. The man still wasn't breathing, so Kyle started rescue breathing and CPR. At some point, he had Adam get some of the clothes off the guy's chest, in case his heart stopped, and soon after, Kyle realized Griff Navarro had replaced Adam. It could have been a minute. It could have been less. At that point, Kyle was focused on saving the guy's life. Around then, one of the other first aiders had noticed a badge or pointed out a police pendant, and someone behind Kyle said, "Yeah, this is one of yours." By then, Griff was in the process of intubating the guy, putting in a tube so the rescue breathing would go better, and Kyle had a moment to look. "I think this is Brad Coghlan," he told Griff, but Griff had no clue Kyle ever said that because he was so fixed on his job. Besides being a first aider, he was also a paramedic. There were other paramedics by then, and ambulances, so Kyle backed away, seeing he didn't have the advanced life support equipment or training. Still, he was helping - holding an IV bag and letting it run through - when someone mentioned that a nurse had come out of the restaurant and was already giving CPR to the first guy when Griff arrived. That's why Griff had been free to help Kyle. The whole thing took less than ten minutes - from the moment Kyle and Griff pulled in to the lot to the moment they watched the ambulances take the two guys away. While they were standing there, watching, Kyle again said, to both Griff and Adam, "That looked like Brad Coghlan." But only afterwards did they find out Kyle was right. Cowboy had been on a great date, but when he drove past the spot on Mill Road where he'd almost been killed a couple of hours before, he got pissed off all over again. He'd tried not to vent over dinner. He'd just met the woman and liked her enough to be on his best manners - which wasn't always the easiest for him. So he'd kept things simple: told her about his work and, especially, about his bike. That's how they'd met. She also liked choppers. The intersection on Mill was quiet now. Of course, it had seemed quiet when he was nearly clobbered. Everything else disappeared, and the sports car just zoomed at him. In the two seconds he thought he had left, he knew he didn't have a chance to flatten across the passenger seat and brace himself - if that would even help in his own small car. The rest of the street was quiet, too, and he poked his way down it. He's was staying at his friend Psych's in Cedarhurst, instead of driving back to Staten Island. He hadn't had much to drink but couldn't have predicted that. Or that there wouldn't be an immediate follow-up to dinner. Still, after they'd met, he hadn't wanted to wait till the weekend to see the woman again, so he'd asked out for Tuesday. As he neared Peninsula, he saw lights off to his left - red flashing lights, cop lights, easily recognized. He had friends who were cops, but not in this area. Still, he wondered if the little red sports cars that nearly killed him had killed somebody else. So he pulled into the lot. Sure enough, the wreck of the sports car was being tugged onto a tow truck. But there was an officer nearby, directing traffic, and Cowboy went up to him. "That car nearly killed me a few hours ago." The officer glanced at him, maybe thinking he was another gawker. There was a small crowd. Cowboy respectfully took off the white cowboy hat he liked to wear, so the officer could get a clear look at his face. "I'm serious," Cowboy said. "At just after seven, maybe ten past - somewhere in there - I was stopped at a red light on Mill Road" - he pointed at the street behind him - "just south of Sunrise. You know, there's a strip of stores on your left and a park with a lake or something on the other side." "Roosevelt Avenue," the officer told him, now maybe taking Cowboy seriously. "I'll trust you on that." Cowboy said, grinning. His cop friends said to always make an officer your pal. "I'm not from around here," he went on, "and I only know the main streets." "What did you see?" the officer asked. His badge said Suarez. "It's not what I saw," Cowboy explained. "It's what nearly killed me." He thumbed toward the wreck of the sports car, now up on the tow truck. "That was coming, full speed - must've been doing 90 or more, no lying - down the wrong lane from Sunrise. Heading straight friggin' at me. If I'd been a weaker man, I might've panicked though there wasn't much I could do - there was nowhere to go. But right before he hit me - and I'm talking head on - he swerved. But he was that close." Cowboy held his thumb and forefinger maybe an eighth inch apart. "He nearly took off my front fender, and I'd swear he was going to crash into those stores. But he kept racing down Mill." "This was what time?" Suarez asked. "Like I said, a little past seven - ten or fifteen minutes." "And you're only telling me now?" Again, Cowboy grinned. Be nice, he warned himself. "Like I said, I was heading in the other direction - north. I had a date - a hot one, actually. I'm just coming back now." He grinned as wide as he could - as if he'd gotten lucky. The officer didn't know if it was true. "Will you make a statement?" Suarez asked, and Cowboy knew why. Some witnesses don't like to go on the record. "Sure, but do I have to do it now?" Cowboy didn't want to seem reluctant, but he really wanted to get to bed. Early work tomorrow. "Soon as you can," Suarez advised. "I'll be back in the area in a couple days. Friday. Maybe Thursday night. That soon enough?" Suarez nodded. He didn't think too much about the incident and was more concerned with keeping traffic flowing in the lot. The fallen light pole was still blocking lanes. Cowboy thanked him and was about to leave, when he stopped to study the car. "The guy live?" he asked., pointing toward the tow truck Suarez didn't even turn. "Yeah. He's in the hospital." "I hope he dies," Cowboy said quietly. "He deserves it."
  4. Chapter 1 of 18

    Oh, yeah: Harry learns a lot. Among them, patience. Lots of patience.
  5. In The Plan

    Ben Carleson, an established gay lawyer, deftly juggles a pair of complicated trials. His client: a very nice guy. His opponents: a pair of as-bright lawyers, one a bit more skilled and slicker than the other. The object: justice, as usual. I'll be posting Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the next 9 weeks.
  6. Chapter 1

    1 Doug Hodges got off his train, patiently worked his way down the long, crowded flight of stairs, passed the Railroad Inn, then jogged the half-mile home. He couldn't jog to the station in the morning because he'd get all sweaty, but there was no excuse not to run home. That was easy, since he rarely carried anything heavier than his phone and was able to do his job in casual clothes. He almost stuck his head into the bar for two minutes, just to see who was there. But he'd be back soon enough. Jenny was working till at least 8:00, so she'd meet him there later. It was nearly staying light long enough so Doug could switch his morning run back to evening and do something more interesting than the dozen laps around the high school track. But not yet. At home, he checked and sorted his mail - which was mostly junk - then skipped through his phone messages, looking to answer a friendly one from his ex-wife by leaving a message of his own. He'd already heard it at work but didn't want to answer from there. After grabbing a day-old chicken leg from the fridge, he switched to even more comfortable clothes and drove back to the bar. He could have jogged again but knew he'd be coming home late and didn't even like to walk the six blocks in the dark. The bar was busy, but it was Tuesday, not Friday, so it wasn't jammed. That meant the constant 60s music on the jukebox also wasn't cranked, though it might be in another hour. By then, more regulars would come in. At the bar, he smiled at Robyn, put down a 20, and took his first Dewer's, leaving her the change to cover his second. He'd let the ice melt to take off the sting before he sipped, and meanwhile, he looked around. The usual gang was there, and he first sat with Bruce Montelongo and his wife Jocelynn who were celebrating their anniversary. There was a small, homemade cake on the table, and they were offering people brownie-sized pieces. "How many?" Doug asked. "You can have one," Jocelynn said. "We have more friends meeting us later." "No, I mean, 'How many years?'" Doug corrected. "Which anniversary are you celebrating?" "Oh," Jocelynn said, giggling. "I think I put too much rum in this cake." "Or had too much champagne in your glass," her husband joked. "That, too." Jocelynn giggled again then turned back to Doug. "Twenty-nine years," she told him. "Twenty-nine. Wow. I almost made it that far - twenty-seven." "Maybe you have more imagination than we do," Bruce said. "Who ever knows?" Doug laughed, to send conversation in another direction. He didn't like to talk about his divorce. Still, he had a piece of cake, sipped a little of his diluting Dewer's, and when other people came along to celebrate, he slipped out of the booth and let them sit down. Two booths down, Brad Coghlan had Cole Grubaugh in a headlock. It was a friendly headlock, the two of them were laughing, and it was just like Brad to be rough housing. Though this time, he seemed to be going a bit far. "Ow. Ow. Hey!" Cole was saying, and he wasn't saying it quietly "Shit! That really hurts. You lose all control when you're drinking." "I'm not drinking," Brad replied. "You're not drinking now," Cole protested. "But you've been drinking. You and Greg've been putting it away for a couple of hours." "Have not," Brad insisted. "You're so full of it - I can smell it on your breath. It's so bad, you reek." That must have made Brad choke Cole even tighter. "Ow! Ow! Goddamn it! Let go!" At that point, Nolan Starizny, the bar owner, came over. "Hey, Brad. Break it up. Cool it, bud." He broke the headlock by whacking Brad's ass, and Brad tumbled into the booth. "Get me another one," Brad ordered. "Another what?" Nolan asked. "Another of whatever the hell I've been drinking," Brad said, grinning. He turned to Cole. "You gotta work out more. You usta be in better shape." "You just forget how strong you are," Cole said, still rubbing his neck. "Plus, you snuck up on me. One minute, you're talking to Greg, and the next you're all over me." "All over? You're not my type." "Since when are you so picky?" "Well, I owed you for somethin'," Brad said, happily. "I just can't remember for what." He went on grinning. "But I owed you." Cole just laughed. He almost went to grab Brad in a surprise headlock of his own but then seemed to think better of it. In any case, once Cole had recovered, Doug sat down. "You gettin' me that drink?" Brad yelled to Nolan, though the bar owner was standing right there. "I'm getting you a ride home," Nolan calmly replied, and that got Brad's attention. "Either Greg will take you, or I will." "I don't need no ride." "I'll take him," Cole volunteered. "Greg's not ready to drive, either." They all looked at Greg - who was playing pool, somewhat rowdily. "I'm not goin' anywhere," Brad repeated. "Too early." "I thought you were meeting Heather," Nolan said. "You said she was expecting you." "Oh, hell, she's always 'pecting me," Brad said, patting himself where he thought it was most important. "And I'm ready. But I don' wanna leave yet." "Well, you're not drinking anymore," Nolan insisted. "I'll make sure Robyn knows that." "You're just as bad as your damned son-in-law. Pain in the asses, both a you." "You're talking about your best friend," Nolan joked. "Talking about your business partner. And probably the only guy dumb enough hold your head while you're puking out your guts." To that, Brad clamped his hand over his mouth and blew out his cheeks - as if he planned to cover the table right there. But he wasn't, and everyone laughed. "No who's gonna drive him home?" Nolan asked again. "I'll get Greg..." he thumbed over his shoulder, "...or I'll go. But I really need to stay here right now." "I'll drive him," Cole said. "It'll take five minutes." "I'll go," Doug offered. "It's out of your way," he told Cole. "And Jenny won't show up for at least another hour. So I'm just hanging out." "Won't go anywhere without my car," Brad mumbled. "You're car'll be fine," Nolan assured him. "No, it won't. Not that one." "Oh, that's right," Nolan seemed to remember. Then he explained. "He's driving the sports car - the Mercedes. It's just out of the shop but still having problems. So he took it to the guys across from the deli." "The Mercedes?" Cole repeated. "Wow!" He whistled. "I didn't think it was running yet." "Yeah," Brad slurred, proudly. "It finally came out of the shop. But the timin''s still off, so I took it to the guys this afternoon." "I'll drive you home in it," Doug said. "I've been wanting to test it anyway. All I've ever heard was talk." Cole and Nolan laughed. For a year, Brad had been bragging about the '64 Mercedes he'd been restoring, but no one had seen it. It was like a phantom girlfriend. "No one's gonna drive nothin'," Brad told Doug. "It's my prized pozzession." They all laughed at 'pozzession,' which Brad tried to correct, but couldn't. Finally, he grinned with them. "See, you shouldn't be driving it at all," Doug poked. "But, come on - I won't kill the clutch. I know one or two things about sports cars." He got up, but Brad didn't move. "Come on. Up." Nolan told Brad. "You've got a private driver - your own chauffeur. And you don't even have to pay." Brad slowly got up. Trying to stand, even he admitted he was a little gone. "It hits ya when ya stand," he slurred. "Sittin', I feel jus' fine." "You're sure this is all right?" Nolan asked Doug. "How much've you had?" "Not a problem," Doug assured him, gesturing with his glass. "Just this one." He drained the dregs of his watery Scotch and set the tumbler on the bar. "Have another one ready when I get back," he called to Robyn. "I already gave you money." He pointed to the change of his twenty. Robyn picked the change up off the bar for safety. "Sure thing," she said. "It'll be right here." When Brad nearly fell over Jocelynn Montelongo, who was just sliding out of her booth, anyone who'd missed Brad's condition quickly became aware of it. "You gonna be all right, bud?" Bruce Montelongo asked. "Yeah, fine." "You need a lift home?" Greg Mackel asked, coming over. "All taken care of," Cole told him. "All taken care of," Brad echoed. "You got the keys?" Greg asked Brad. He not only co-owned the deli with Brad. They'd also gone halves on the car. "I got 'em,' Brad said, thumping his chest pocket. "I'll give 'em to 'im when we're in the car." "Just make sure you don't drive," Greg warned. "You get a ticket, you'll get kicked off the force." "Like that's ever gonna happen," Brad said, laughing. Soon after he and Greg got out of the army, they'd opened the deli. Then Brad got hired by the Nassau police. Greg ran the deli full-time, but Brad was still there forty hours a week. "We're not making enough money selling cole slaw," Greg reminded him. "We need your job." "Not gonna lose it." And with that, he was out the door. Doug immediately followed, giving Robyn a final wave. "Be right back," he reminded her. "I'll have your drink," she said, grinning. Everyone liked Doug as much as they liked his new girlfriend, Jenny. In fact, Robyn was secretly proud that the couple had met in the bar. After they left, Cole Grubaugh followed Brad and Doug to the door and stood in the entranceway. He waited till he could clearly see Doug standing by the driver's side of the low Mercedes and Brad on the passenger's side. Brad was again feeling his pockets, looking for his keys. He hit the sides of his jeans, then the pockets on his shirt. Then he started digging in his jeans again. After watching for another moment, Cole decided everything was fine, and he went back into the bar.
  7. Chapter 58

    Nah, Fluff lived to be 12 1/2, and if I do the math right -- 12.5 x 7 -- it comes out 87.5. Still not bad, considering the oldest man in my family hasn't made it past 80, so that's what I always figured would be my expiration date. And I sometimes think that Fluff learned more in her fewer years than I have in all of mine.
  8. Coda

    Coda And they lived happily ever after. Well, mostly. The dog, Fluffy---now St. Fluffy, who art in Heaven if you believe in that, or is waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge if you prefer that---lived with us for almost another ten-and-a-half years. She died comfortably on our dining room floor, after she let us know it was time. Our family vet said Fluff would do that. And after untypically sleeping nights for a couple of weeks in the backyard, under a cooling bush, she crawled in to her previously usual spot on the carpet besides Tom's side of the bed. It was time. That morning, Tom and I gave her the necessary pills to slow her down before the vet arrived. In between, I left Tom alone with the deep-sleeping Fluff because I knew he wouldn't cry as freely in front of me. She'd always been his dog. The family joke was that first, Tom had gotten Fluff, and then he got me. After Tom had the time he needed, the vet and her assistant arrived and gave Fluff a shot the vet said almost wasn't necessary---because she was so deeply asleep she probably wouldn't wake. Then Tom, the vet, and her assistant cried. Fluff's ashes are still in our bedroom, and they'll make it with us to the cemetery in Sligo some day. But there's no rush. It's taken two white Boxers to almost replace her. They've been with us for nearly eight years and haven't traveled as much but have almost traveled as far---if you rack up the repeated miles to our annual Christmas home. The truck's still parked out front and has long been promised to our gardener, but it's still the vehicle I feel most comfortable driving around town---I wouldn't trust it much further than that. I wanted to get it repainted five years ago, but Tom---typically---said "Why?" And Tom and I finally got married two years ago, on our eighteenth anniversary. That was the thing that wasn't directly said in the book---that over the course of the trip, the narrator fell in love with the driver. And with the dog, of course. Actually, I'd considered us married since soon after the trip, but Tom didn't see any need to make it formal---"since I didn't believe in god." He finally agreed to it on the advice of our accountant. That's Tom.
  9. Chapter 58

    Yep, I've also crisscrossed the United States, seeing 48 states, so when I was planning to take this trip, I wanted to do something new and decided to drive the perimeter of the US and occasionally detour into Canada. What first got Tom interested in coming along was my description of Lake Louise, which my great-aunt had seen in the 1920s, and I first saw in 1970. It was beautiful then, and I wanted to see it again. Of course, I initially saw it in August, and the joke in the book is that Tom and I saw it in late May, under very different conditions. Glad you enjoyed the book. It's been fun taking the trip again in memory, but, boy, I've got to go back and re-proofread and repunctuate.
  10. Chapter 58

    First, I'm really sorry to hear about your dog. But eighteen years is terrific. Fluff's mixed breed might have made her last another couple of years. But our present dogs, Boxers, usually don't live past ten, and they're already eight. And, yep, I knew that adding that coda was a risk, and I wrote it for this edition, but now I'll add it to the print and e-book versions. Though I suppose the risk with any pet is you know you'll probably outlive them. So you just have to focus on the time you have. Again, thanks to all for reading along.
  11. Chapter 58

    Friday, July 9, 1999 Goin' Earp City, gonna have some fun. Yep, there it was---right on the California border: the one-room, Earp post office, "Wyatt" added in script on its stucco side. Why? 'Cause. And we were almost home. "Gonna kiss the ground?" I asked Tom. Instead, the dog baptized it for us. But I did swing from the Welcome to California sign. Between Wickenburg and Earp, there was little to recommend: Salome. Quartzite. East Blythe. Between Earp and Yucca Valley, there was even less. Sand to the left of us. Sand to our right. Somewhere, there was Lillian Gish. The road could've been one-lane. No one passed us. For years. By Twenty-Nine Palms, we'd counted every frond. We were breaking the speed limit, doing eighty, easy, though I feared more for our air-conditioning than for our lives. It was blazing out there, and we could've been standing still. Nothing changed. Nothing. Well, almost. We crossed the Colorado Aqueduct a few times. The water than lets L.A. dance. Without it, we'd be Son of Earp. And there were train tracks following the road, and rocks along the tracks. I don't mean ordinary stones. I'm talking small painted boulders, each the size of a football. They seemed to be set in purposeful designs, unless the heat was making me see things. The best I figured, though there was no one at all to ask, it was a local high school custom: You make it through puberty in the desert, and you get to collect a pile of rocks, whitewash 'em, and spell out your name for posterity. Then you get the hell out of town. The horizontal roll call stretched on for an hour. Each name seemed to average ten feet, though we didn't stop to measure. The heat would have zapped us faster than a mouse on Mercury. I approximated as we drove, but you do the math: 80 miles an hour. 60 minutes' drive. 10 feet per name. Lotta people wanting out. And one poor dolt on a bicycle, pumping hallucinogenically toward us. Dressed in black spandex with a pitch-dark helmet. Tugging a cart with a ten gallon tank. Sucking water through a tube. Trying to prove he was a man? Why not just hump a cactus? We waved. What else could ya do? Dead ahead was Palm Springs and big money, looking just like a little L.A.---only hot. The best thing I know about Palm Springs is the cable cars. Go up the mountain, throw snowballs. Come down, fry eggs. We passed. I'd been up the mountain. I checked the map and guessed it was maybe another hour till Victorville, Dale, and Roy, though I don't know what I was expecting. The name alone had a certain Dashiell Hammet ring. Gangsters. Corruption. Red Harvest. But, like Canyon Country, the name offers a picture it can't deliver. Still, I could see how the once-unbroken skies could attract a singing cowboy. Open spaces. High desert. Now, it was smashed, all K-Marts and Wal-Marts and Shoe-Marts and every kind of Marts and their strip mall diminutives. This was our last night outside L.A. And this was Hell. "We can't stay here," I muttered to Tom. "We can't end the trip this way." "What about Roy 'n' Dale?" "Roy's dead, and I know what killed him." Still, it was hard to pass their museum. But, as with the Alamo, we waved. Fortunately, once we'd reached California, my detailed maps kicked in, and I could easily pick our way around traffic. "Where are we going?" Tom asked, for maybe the last time. I checked the road ahead. There was nothing left to see. "We may as well go home." "You're sure?" "Yeah." So we did, driving perhaps the most beautiful road possible, through the San Gabriel Mountains. If there'd been an open ski lodge---if it had been the right time of year---we might just have stayed overnight. In fact, we might have stayed one more night if we'd happened on any kind of lodge. Though we were so close to home, we could almost feel it. This wasn't supposed to be our last day, but abruptly it was. Meanwhile, after a week of burnt out scrub, we were unexpectedly surrounded by green. And after Point A to Point B directness, the road was a coiling spring. "Are you okay?" I asked Tom, meaning "You want me to drive?" Though having done it that far by himself, he was hardly likely to break. "I'm fine," he answered firmly. But we were losing light. And suddenly, there was a huge billboard at our side. "Welcome Back" it read, advertising a ski resort. Of course, we had to take pictures. First, Tom and the dog. Then, the mutt and I. Astoundingly, she even looked at the camera. Our first sight of L.A. was a twinkling at dusk. That swiftly resolved into strips of light, and, all too soon, we were back on a crowded freeway. Eight o'clock on a Friday night and everyone was going places. Both not fast enough, and too damn quickly. An hour later, we pulled into Tom's driveway. Everything was as he'd left it, the gift of a watchful neighbor. Except for a pile of mail, rivaling Christmas. I was sure I had one of my own. "We're back," I told the dog---who immediately lunged for the back yard. Maybe to report to The Big Dog, her boss: "Okay, I got the two jerks back alive. Now do I get my promotion?" Tom started to unload. "What are you doing?" I asked. "I'm ready to start again in the morning." 445 miles 13,704 miles, total
  12. Chapter 57

    Thursday, July 8, 1999 Our supposedly easy day's drive got chewed all to pieces. The plan was to hang out with Tom's mom till late afternoon, then drift the less than two hours to Scottsdale, to have dinner, then stay, with some of Tom's friends. But when we got there, Syd's mother was too sick for me even to be introduced, though Tom, who's known the family for years, did sit by her bedside. The dog trotted in and out as well, but I was confined to the living room. I studied the map. We were two days from home, and our next stop was Victorville, to pay respects to Roy and Dale. She was still alive and supposedly frequented the ranch gift shop, so I thought we might even get to say, "Howdy." But Victorville was too far to go that night, since it was almost dinnertime, and though it was suggested, we didn't really want to stay in a motel in suburban Scottsdale, "Syd's mom might be better in the morning," Tom offered. "We could all have breakfast." He didn't sound convinced though, so we soon pushed on. But not before the dog made an unscheduled romp of the neighborhood. "I thought she was with you," I said. "I thought she was with you." We dug out the horn, and then she was back, doing her Clever Puppy dance. Nothing more fun than starting heart attacks. Wickenburg seemed to be a pleasant hour north, along a larger road than I would have chosen, but, as consolation, it was designated Scenic. Seemed. Designated. Route 60 was actually an ugly, two-hour crawl through industrial parks, finally relieved---relieved?---by miles of cellblock retirement condos. Sun City? El Mirage? Not places I wanted to be. When we reached Wickenburg, it was dark, and, as we were eating dinner, I wished it had stayed that way. Our waiter was another one of those dueling banjo kids---squinty-eyed, pale, and fish-faced like pictures of dead Jesse James. I wasn't sure whether to order or give him all my money. The dining room was overly-friendly Andy Griffith, six different kinds of flowered wallpaper fighting it out. And maybe that was fitting, 'cause Merv Griffin had an expensive horse spa just down the road. We could've been eating race track losers. But the motel had a history: it was the first Best Western. Back in the thirties, this family of earnest-but-desperate Clampetts coaxed their flivver west till it croaked in Wickenburg---what a place to die. "Fate just chose it for us," Ma is cheerily quoted on the plasticized menu, and, once there, they abandoned their previous lives: he was something like an accountant; she was a grade-school teacher. Instead, they cooked in a greasy spoon. This was the Depression. You took what you could find. Eventually, they bought the diner they slaved in, then expanded their franchise to the motel across the street. Still, people weren't exactly flocking to Wickenburg. World War II helped---the Army built a glider school nearby and trained thousands of men. Then, construction of the Phoenix-To-California Highway---dull Route 60 to us---turned Wickenburg into The Dude Ranch Capital of the World. Billboards and brochures steadily exhort people to come "Out Wickenburg Way," but I'm not sure where the phrase began. Not with Henry Wickenburg, I suspect. He was merely prospecting gold in the 1860's when he staked out the Vulture Mine. That eventually produced 30 million bucks, but somehow spared the town being named Vultureburg. Still, getting back to our family: by 1946, the oldest of the kids went off to college, in California. Of course, everyone had to visit---one hopes in a more dependable car---and where else would they stay but a motel? Papa liked what he saw and ended up chatting with the owner. Neither bought the other out, this was too early for that kind of greed, though they did form the first independent motel chain: Best Western. (B is for the Beautyrest you sleep on. E is 'cause there's Everything to Eat...) Or something like that: names and facts have been changed to protect the absent-minded. And, over the years, the motel had been expanded with success. The restaurant, too, which was sold, then franchised, then---when that expansion was botched by overstepping new owners---bought back by the family---gotta protect the ancestral name. On its dining room walls are many pictures, one of the still-existent, now hyphenately-named clan. Ma is somewhat shrunken in her wheelchair and breathing though a tube, but there are lots of business-minded offspring. For breakfast, we were back in the restaurant, kind of by default. There were other places in town, The Refried Bean, for one, but they weren't air-conditioned. Not Air-Conditioned! And I'd started getting sticky even as I dried from my shower. As unfortunately, our waiter was the zombie-twin of the guy last night. "You're sure it's not the same one?" Tom whispered when the ghoul was away. I didn't want to look that carefully, direct eye-contact sometimes bringing out chain saws. But I was almost positive the other waiter had a skimpy moustache. Breakfast was just as greasy as it probably had been in the thirties, but it went down easy. Leaving, we paused in their gift store---you knew there had to be one. Tom bought a small bronze lizard---I don't know why. I happened on postcards of the Mona Lisa done in Southwest colors and decked out as a tanned Native American. Trying not to laugh rudely till I got free of the store, I bought every one. 240 miles
  13. Chapter 56

    Wednesday July 7, 1999 The same day we saw the San Xaviar del Bac Mission, just south of Tucson, I glanced at an article in Smithsonian magazine---Tom's mom's a retired librarian and has an eclectic collection. The story explained why England is littered with the wrecks of cathedrals: basically, Henry VIII destroyed them all after breaking with the Catholic church. For the same reason, San Xaviar could now be a mound of clay: The church was founded by Jesuits, who, due to shifting politics, were soon replaced by Franciscans, who were then also banished. And it was owned, successively, by the warring Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans. But the mission survived and is presently being restored, a huge and constant project. Because not only do the thick adobe walls have to endure Arizona's unrelenting summers---it was nearly one-hundred degrees that afternoon---but winters get just as nasty: Temperatures drop. Rain drips into the rafters, freezes, then rots the wood. Preservation also has to undo previous restorations, which, no matter how well-meant, damaged both the art and the architecture. In the early 1990's, this work was supervised for six years by the same group that saved the Sistine Chapel. More recently, to save money, it's been continued by local artisans trained by the earlier team. As in Italy, the aim has been to repair, not embellish, though an orientation video gently fudges that---it shows paint being added to bald spots and decorative detail being created anew. The walls were chipping and muted. Now, the colors are brighter than you'd expect, though hardly garish. Work could go faster if it were better funded. But since the mission is church property, it can't qualify for federal aid. Even if it did, because the region is so hot most of the year, artists can only climb the thirty-foot scaffolds three months each winter. From early on, Tucson has been a site for development, and the first church at del Bac would now be over three centuries old. It didn't last, partly because del bac means "where the water appears," and 300 years ago, before modern controls, when the Santa Cruz river emerged from underground it sometimes hit at full flood. The other part had to do with the Apaches, not always keen fans of church-goers. The present mission at San Xavier---which is supposedly pronounced hauv-e-air, though Tom says people in Tucson say a-veer---was started in 1783. It was finished fourteen years later and is a mix of styles: Some call it Moorish or Islamic. Others, Byzantine. A more accurate label might be Frontier Baroque, or, as the Church puts it, "Spanish mission as modified by local conditions." The outside is white and looks like stucco, but it's actually some kind of native cactus juice/lime mix. The resulting glare got the place nicknamed the White Dove of the Desert. Inside, it's relatively small---a couple dozen feet wide by maybe four times that in length---and seems to have been frescoed on acid. The altar's an overwrought gold leaf, and the polychromed furnishings have the high religious fervor only a penitent could love. That's largely explained by the fact they were imported from Europe during the end game of the Inquisition. Still, the Papago indians, who the church was built for, have always been proud of the place, and as protective of it as it was of them---the inner courtyard was also designed to double as a fort. From 1827, when the Spanish missionaries were expelled by the Mexicans, to 1866, when the Franciscans came back, the mission was abandoned, and during that time, legend has it that the Papagos hid church furnishings in their homes, or buried them for protection. There are other legends as well: Polka dots decorating some columns are reportedly the thumbprints of the original artists. Then there's The Mystery of the Unfinished Tower. An unexplained cat and mouse on the facade. Hidden Gold. The dots might just be easy decoration---much of the art's folk inspired and created with unsophisticated tools. The cat and mouse are probably whimsey, secret friar in-jokes like Masonic handshakes. The second of the paired towers was no doubt unfinished due to lack of money, but there's also the rumor that someone was killed during construction, and other workers couldn't be lured back to the top. Finally, the story of hidden gold is easily undercut by historic inventories: they quickly prove the old mission's contents wouldn't have funded a decent rummage sale. Today, the mission still isn't air-conditioned, and none of the handouts mention if it could be---again, the problem might simply be cash. The basement museum isn't air-conditioned, either, and contrary to what I'd supposed, the thick adobe walls did little to drop the temperature. Only the small gift shop is air-conditioned, maybe to encourage tourists to linger and buy. Or maybe it protects the tiny staff---considering the working conditions, they must be hard to replace. Still, there's something bigger that stops constant renovation: this is a church---a working Catholic church---in a heavily-poor, Hispanic and Native American community. People here are largely uneducated, their willingness to believe made evident by an effigy of St. Francis Xaviar: Photos and messages are pinned to his robe. Prayers beg, at least for attention, sometimes for miracles. There are also martyred saints in four-dozen niches, and not the bunch simply noted for their good works. Christ sets the tone, not hanging, as usual, serene and central, but impaled on a side wall, life-size, starving, near-naked, and bleeding. It's hard to get past that. I retreated to the museum, as spartan as Jesus and detailing resurrection not renovation. An endlessly-looping video chronicles one of the local apprentices, formerly an aimless alcoholic, who found God, salvation, focus, and even love through his work---he married another restorer. Sitting there, as throughout the church, I felt like an intruder, yet other people seem able to distance their emotions. The Mission's a photographic icon, published everywhere. Its fourteen acres are the second-most documented site in Arizona, just behind the far larger Grand Canyon. And the state depends on this popularity, using the building's sentimental appeal to raise the steadily-needed restoration funds. Across the plaza is another store, this one run by the Tohono O'odham Nation. We crossed the hot dirt hoping for local crafts, maybe the equivalent of Charleston's handmade sweetgrass baskets. Instead, there were knock-off souvenirs. I bought a Coke.
  14. Chapter 55

    OK, Boot Hill fixed. Thanks. And I even threw in a couple of extra sentences -- not that it makes the chapter much longer. Sorry. That day, there just wasn't a lot to see.
  15. Chapter 55

    Tuesday July 6, 1999 I know why Faulkner drank. And he wasn't even in New Mexico. Further west, indistinguishable southern Arizona didn't get much better. Along the border, it was dust, and heat, and midget cactus. The north half of the state boasted mountains, rivers, and the Grand Canyon. We got Tombstone. Tombstone without the good bodies---they'd all been moved somewhere else. Or sold, if you can believe that. Tourists, scraping between boulders in the graveyard on nearly-level Boot Hill, and searching for anyone dead and well-known, got Frank and Tom McLaury. Remember their hit series? Later found out this wasn't even the right Boot Hill---the famous one. That was in Dodge, Kansas. That Wyatt Earp got around. And speaking of cowboys, real or pretend, a few bright days later---who can remember exactly where when you're steadily squinting?---and marked by a small iron horse on a low stone pillar and some steamed plastic flowers in a boot was the site of Tom Mix's death---right along the roadside. "Tom who?" Tom asked. "Tom Mix." "Who's that?" "You're supposed to know all the other Toms." "Why?" "I know my famous Richards." "Most of them were dicks." "Yeah, well..." So I had to explain Tom Mix---as if I'd ever seen one of his movies. Or could remember seeing one of them. Or could pick him out of a fake rodeo in a fan magazine "He was a famous cowboy star," I instructed. "The 20's. 30's. He started in silents." The plaque on his memorial was too sunburned to read, but I later found out he'd driven off the curvy road, speeding into the mesquite a little drunk, while doing a promo tour for RKO Studio. This was some years after he'd retired, but he was only 60. "Why's his grave here?" Tom quizzed as I took pictures. "Not his grave. This is probably where he died." "That's depressing." So it was, and we'd driven on. As we drove on that day, eager to get to Tom's mom and home cooking, but not so rushed we'd actually break down and take the Interstate. On two-lane Route 80, after Deming but before Tombstone---on the so-called Scenic Route---was Bisbee, a former copper town. And if Molly Brown had lived there, it might have been a cameo in a sinking musical. Now it was a hole. But you didn't wanna miss the Hanging Gardens. Again, there were no bodies, noted or otherwise---this wasn't where people had been hanged. It was the terraced corpse of strip mines. On they went, looking just as bleak as you'd expect. Gashes, still unfertile after all these years. Though back in town was a neat hotel, built when copper money was a good thing and Victorian details flowed. Plus, there were some artily desolate streets. I kept expecting Mulder and Scully. While we walked, exercising the dog and nosing for places of quiet interest, Tom bought a painting---copper-toned, what else? It was odd enough to find a gallery---all right, it was mainly a frame shop---and even weirder to find a painting anyone might want. But it turned out there was a small artists' community. Maybe isolation kicks starts creativity, or maybe it's the lure of cheap housing. In any case, the painting was neat---unfocused local buildings---and Tom had it shipped home, rather than risk it being damaged in the truck. In the nearby mining museum, I bought a top: Tiny. Wooden. Under a buck. I wasn't in Tom's league. The rest of the gift shop stock was quasi-artifacts: Arrowheads. Beads. Chunks of copper ore used as paperweights (I've never understood paperweights). There was also a comic book which reduced Arizona history to an easily-minable form for kids. It reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg. Around the corner, the public library sported a sign: No Weapons or Ammunition Allowed. We were out of there fast. Within two hours, we'd reached Tucson. It was grey, and that was the good part. If the early evening light hadn't pleasantly diffused the asphalt, it might have looked just like what it was: the second largest city in Arizona. Still, all day, we'd had the sky. It was amazing, and I kept taking pictures. I didn't even ask Tom to pull over. I just kept shooting through the fairly clean windshield. Not a lot of bugs in the desert. Weeks earlier, almost at the start of our trip, when we were on Vancouver Island, Tom and I had talked with a Canadian artist who'd toured the Southwest right after college. "I was still a kid," he'd told us. "Riding a Harley. Sleeping under the stars. Not showering for days. It was great fun, and I can't remember most of it. But the thing I'll never forget is those skies." For one thing, there's so much of them. They just kept going. That's what they say about Montana, but that sky seemed relentlessly blue. Here, it was a kaleidoscope. Growing up in New York, I barely remember the sky: an occasional red sunset over the low-slung grade school across the street. A pink horizon at the beach. In the city, you don't think much about clouds. You're too busy watching your back. In southern Arizona, they're king. The ground's flat, and, in most places, more textured than topographical. The buildings look almost burnt, and the tiny people, like the animals, seem to huddle in the shade. Clouds offer the only movement. It had rained earlier. In fact, since morning, we seemed to be tailing storms, nearly flash floods judging from their drain-resistant puddles. The sky was dark, then white---billowing, then streaked. A vengeful God was alternately due, then delayed, and the clouds seemed to mirror his turmoil. I couldn't look away. "Okay, I'll give you Tucson," I finally told Tom, the first time I'd found something interesting about his hometown. "Was it like this growing up?" "Oh, yeah," he grinned. "The clouds were always great." And all I had was the Yankees. 289 miles
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