.....Who just couldn't leave well enough alone. She said, "So it was a child molester you helped arrest tonight, right?"
"A close personal friend of yours, I'm sure. I doubt there's a level of depravity you won't indulge in."
"My God, Chelsea...." said Lucy.
Bekka simply said, "God forgive me," walked up to Chelsea, and full-bore decked her. The black eye would still be showing in two weeks.
"Stand up,: said Bekka.
"That felt really damn good, and I want to do it again. Stand up, bitch."
Lucy jumped between them, begging Bekka, "No, please! She'll be gone in a minute! Please, just.... don't."
Ellen stood with her back pressed against the side of the van, unsure how to react. Bekka had an enraged look on her face.... Which melted into despair, and then tears. She fell into Lucy's arms crying, sobbing "Why? Why does she do that?" Lucy and Bekka hugged each other tightly, the two clenched in desperate need, a need for comfort clear in Bekka's expression..
I walked over to Chelsea and lifted her off the ground, telling her, "Get behind the wheel of whichever van you're driving and stay there. Accuse me of being a molester? To hell with you. I've never hit a woman in my life, but you came damn close. Rot in heaven."
"Rot in heaven?" she asked.
"Because in hell, they forgive you. So rot in heaven."
"Dammit, my face hurts!" Chelsea puled.
"Yes, that happens when you goad a person into punching you. Did you expect anything else?"
"I'm calling the police!"
"Don't be silly. San Diego is too big a town for the cops to worry about a girl-fight consisting of a single punch. They''ll point out that in order for you to press charges, you'll need to return to San Diego on a few occasions for the arraignment and trial. Besides, for someone who sure likes to pick fights, you suck at following through with them. Logically, I should have punched you, which would have increased your chances of a successful case. I'm not an asshole though; you simply enraged Bekka into hitting you.. And imagine the fun you'd have if it had gone to trial."
"But nothing. You're getting in your van and you're staying there. You want to communicate with me or Bekka or Ellen you can do it through Lucy, she's a good bullshit filter. Now get in the van. And when the kids ask what happened, the answer is that you had an argument, no less, no more. Am I clear?"
"Yes!" she snapped.
"Good. Now chin up. You're going to Sea World tomorrow."
I walked back around the van where both Lucy and Ellen were hugging a still-distraught Bekka. I had the longest arms, even with the stitches, so I made it a group hug. From inside the van a whiny voice said, "I'm the one that got punched and everyone's hugging her?"
Lucy opened the door and in a cold voice said, "Quiet, or you'll wake the kids."
I stroked Bekka's hair and queried, "Feeling better, toots?"
She wiped her eyes and said, "Yeah.... It's one thing she's never had, and maybe never will."
"A man to hold her when she needs it. Will you stay with me tonight?"
"I'll be hard to cuddle because of my ribs, but we'll work something out." We embraced, then walked over to Lucy's van. It was sitting there idling, Lucy at the wheel with her arms crossed.
"Her majesty is inside, using the bathroom."
"Lucy, there's a good chance we'll never see you again, so can we get one last hug? A happy one this time?" I asked.
She got out of the van and hugged us each, giving a "God bless you both." We exchanged phone numbers --- one never knew --- and Bekka and I got in our respective cars and headed to Bekka's place.
We arrived in time for Bekka's parking spots to be blocked by a tow truck. We asked what was going on, me explaining that I was the guy who put the thumb on the property manager (a Mr. Wilton, for reference sake), and came to find out the Buick was being towed to the lab in San Diego, which was more equipped to handle this sort of thing. They were glad I'd come back, so I could answer the same questions for the third time. I answered while they hooked up the Buick to the tow truck. Then we were free to park. We went in, stripped down, and eased into bed, doing our best to snuggle together. Emotional exhaustion had taken its toll.
The phone rang at the rather ugly hour of eight in the morning. It was Lucy, and she was in a panic.
"You haven't seen Chelsea, have you?"
"She never came to our place, either one of us, so she wouldn't know where to go, " I told her. "What's up?"
"The van is gone. The traveler's checks are gone, The gas cards, both of them , are gone. I've got a twelve passenger van and fourteen kids, all of whom are planning on going to visit Sea World today. We've got the tickets, but no way to feed them or get them home or.... Anything," sobbed Lucy.
"So you think she pulled a powder? Took off for Kearney?"
"Where else would she go?"
"Tell you what, give me ten minutes to come up with a plan. Is that cool?"
"Please. Bless you, please. I'm just glad I've got a little bit of cash with me, but.... but.... not enough for gas to barely reach Arizona."
"How about the church? Will they wire you some money? I'd count this as an emergency so they can't really drop you guys at a Greyhound station and wish you luck.... Lemme work it over in my head and see what makes sense, okay? I'll think of something."
I hung up, grabbed my head, and yelled, "That unbelievable bitch!"
"What the hell happened?"
"Chelsea split. She took the van, their money, their gas cards --- both of 'em --- and abandoned them. And I don't think she's just run down to the 7-11."
"Off the top of my head.... We use your plastic to rent a minivan from Enterprise, 'cos they have unlimited mileage. That will get the kids home. The kids get to go to Sea World, if Lucy trusts us to babysit. I was thinking I'd take care of business after we get the rental: I'll pick up maps from AAA and map out the route. Do you mind using some of your cash?"
"I've still got about $4500, that should cover gasoline by a long stretch. The kids like and trust Ellen, so after we rent the van, Lucy and I hit AAA and work out the route home. I guess we do a night run to Nebraska, her taking lead. She'll take lead because she knows the area. It's loose, but it's there. Take off straight from Sea World and team up on drivers. I don't like the idea, but we have Lucy use a bit of the speed to keep her going. She can keep rolling for longer. Now then, who does the driving?"
"You and Lucy take the big van, me and Ellen take the rental.... Although we may be able to avoid having Lucy using the speed if you stick with the speed on your own. Just rail up every six hours or so, calling bathroom breaks. I'm not keen on feeding drugs to a sweet woman like Lucy, you know?"
"Good point. No sense in having a nice woman like that tweaking out at the wheel. Let's call Ellen, a lot of this is contingent on her willingness to do all this work. And.... Dammit!"
""Business! I've gotta take care of business."
"I have a thought."
"Maybe talking Boss or Chet or Gary into doing the driving. Can't hurt to ask, and they're all all road dogs. Your clients all know me, so you can take the wheel."
"Okay.... But you're making the call. Between the favor, and the hour, he'll take it a lot more gently from you than from me."
He sounded groggy, but perked right up when he realized who he was talking to. She explained the situation to him.... And was greeted by gales of laughter.
"Ya want me ta drive a bunch of church kids from here to Nebraska!? Damn girl, ya sure ask some funny favors. Tell ya what, I'll do it on a few conditions."
"Ya pay fer my gas, gimme a little money fer food, and I drive my own wheels. Ya said that bus holds twelve? I kin get three in the back and one in the front of my Chevelle. I'll bring my hand-held CBs so I kin talk to the other driver. And when we switch out drivers, Lennny's the only damn one gets behind the wheel of my Chevelle."
$500 should cover fuel, meals will be covered as a group, and I think Lenny just got a hard-on at the idea of driving the Chevelle."
|1970 Chevelle SS, 454 ci motor. An extremely|
fast car to drive. Boss' pride and joy.
"Call when yer ready. Always happy to help out fellow church people."
"Fellow church people?"
"Thought you knew, girl, I'm a Presbyterian. Later " (*click*)
"Well," I said, "I guess you'll be minding the store, Bekka."
"Find by me. That car is too fast for me, and I'm used to the Falcon. Let's call Ellen and let her know what's happened and what our plan is."
The news was greeted by a shriek, and sobbing. "She said she was gonna take one of the vans! I didn't believe her, I thought she was talking hooey! It's all my fault!" .... Followed by more crying. We finally got her calmed down and laid out the plan: Bekka would provide the extra wheels needed and adult required at Sea World. Ellen, Lucy, myself, and Boss would hit the road. We would fuel up, eat some dinner, I'd slip Ellen some speed, and we'd work six hour shifts behind the wheel, switching off drivers at those intervals. No, she couldn't drive the Chevelle.... Which didn't matter to her, as she didn't know what a Chevelle was. For all we knew, we'd beat Chelsea back to Kearney. With a bit of luck, anyways, as explaining why one van had no kids, another had eleven kids, we had a hot rod piloted by a biker out of central casting at the wheel of the hot rod, a punk rocker riding shotgun, and an excommunicated church member in the van would be a bit of a challenge. The high energy level of the punk and the biker would also beg explanation.
My first stop was the main AAA office in Kearney Mesa, where I hit the "Travel Planning" desk to find the fastest and simplest route from San Diego to Kearney, Nebraska, and two copies each of the maps showing how to do it. On paper, it was simple enough: Interstate 15 to Interstate 70 through Vegas, jump on Interstate 76 in Denver, then merge with Interstate 80, and you're there. Shortest, fastest and most trouble-free. Barring construction, accidents, closed lanes, detours, and land mines, It would be about 1,435 miles in mileage or twenty-one hours driving time.... With fourteen kids, probably close to twenty-seven hours total road time. The computer figured out the first set of numbers, I figured out the second number.
I had Ellen and Boss show up at my place around three, so we could go over the maps. We'd do the same with Lucy when she arrived. We'd be going through two urban areas --- Denver and Las Vegas (I promised Boss we'd stop in Vegas on the way back if he was so inclined) --- and waited for Lucy or Bekka to call to let us know they were on their way to my place. In the meantime I handed out Ecstasy and fired up the Nintendo, a novelty at the time, a genuinely serious piece of gaming equipment. To my amazement, Boss was chatting up Ellen, saying things like, "Yer the prettiest thing I seen in years" and "mebbe when we're done with all this, you'd allow me to take ya to dinner, if that's all right, I'd be honored if ya did".... And Ellen said yes. Wonders shall never cease. I spent my time setting up pre-crushed bags of speed, so that it could be poured and snorted --- two grams each was considered plenty for each driver, given the rocket fuel Boss supplied. I suggested bringing some of the MDMA, but it was decided we needed to remain business-minded, as it were: we had a job to do.
It had been explained to the kids that they were leaving straight from Sea World, so they had their bags packed before they left the motel. The van was loaded, with luggage occupying the rack on top and strapped down with bondage rope. Hopefully no one would recognize the odor of AstroGlide it certainly put off.
Bekka and Lucy arrived around five, so the kids and Lucy could have the last decent meal they'd eat until they returned to Southern California. Boss was introduced to Lucy, who reacted in the standard way --- nervousness and vague fear --- but his good manners and the genuine charm he could give off relaxed her. (They debated Bible versions, New International Version versus New King James, over meals.) Lucy called and left messages at both the church and the vestry to let the pastor know we were heading out. Then we saddled up and started driving.
We kept a tight schedule on driver changes. Even if we'd just stopped ten minutes earlier for a bathroom break, we'd hit the shoulder. Meal breaks were discounted time-wise. I don't know what took so much time for the girls: Boss and I got out, switched places, and were ready to go, while the girls seemed to make a project out of the process. Boss finally walked up during one of the later shift changes and said with a smile, "Ladies? The asphalt doesn't need ta cool down 'fore we can drive on it again."
The agreement was to keep chatter to a minimum on the CBs so as to not interrupt the sleep of the off-duty driver. You'd simply hear "Restroom next chance" or "Driver switch five minutes." "Ramp coming up, wait?" "Yes." Of course all the boys wanted to ride in the Chevelle, so we switched out boys (especially the older ones) at driver changes.
Finally after twenty-eight hours on the road, we arrived at the Foursquare Church of Kearney, Nebraska. We'd called an hour previously to set the phone tree in motion so that the kids could be retrieved. The heavy rumble was probably the tip-off that the vacationers had returned. The pastor certainly didn't know what to think. A punk rocker and a biker climbing out of a Chevelle hot rod, and an excommunicated member getting out from behind the wheel of the van, followed by a exhausted church official. Boss asked of me, "Hey Lenny, you mind being the one climbin' up there and untying them ropes? You can hand the luggage down to me."
"Yeah, no problem." I climbed the ladder and began untying.
The pastor made his appearance in a robe, a cup of coffee in his hand, and a million questions on his mind. We answered two immediately.
"Good evening pastor, my name's Walter Stetson, but everybody calls me 'Boss'. Part time driver of the Chevelle. Heh, as ya kin imagine, the older boys were battlin' to ride in that one."
"Hello Pastor, I'm Leonard Schneider, my friends call me Lenny. I'm a Unitarian, but please don't hold it against me, heh heh. Let me get these last few pieces down off the roof and we can talk."
"Been a he--- heck of a ride, pastor," said Boss, cracking his back. We pulled the last pieces of luggage out of the back of the van, and had it all lined up at the back of the van. We called for the kids to collect their stuff, so they could get home that much quicker.
The pastor sipped at his coffee and said, "So.... Who are you? Lucile said she had drivers to get the kids home, but I have no idea who you are."
"Well.... As I said, I'm Lenny. I met Lucy at a fun park in a town called La Mesa east of San Diego through her connection to Ellen, and we connected well, forming a friendly bond. When the kids were abandoned I worked out a plan to get them home. Bo---- Walter here had the time and the spare vehicle, and was willing to help out fellow church people., just so long as I paid for his gas."
"I'm Presbyterian, sir."
"Raised in the church?"
"No sir. I was saved in my mid-twenties and have been comfortable with the faith there since. I pray my thanks daily, It kept me away from a bad path, ya know?"
"Well, may as well say hello to the women, too." Parents were starting to show up, questioning the late arrival. I got the impression that we were dealing with a lot of farming families, people who got up with the sun, so being up and about wasn't their idea of fun at this hour. Boss and I got the feeling we should introduce ourselves, having just spent 28 hours in a car with their children. We weren't quite treated like we were rabid, but there was some suspicion. And the question of the evening was, "Where's Chelsea?" And we answered honestly: "We have no idea." The other question was, "And who are you gentlemen?" We explained we were from San Diego, and helping out fellow Christians that we'd developed a friendship with. I already knew Ellen, and and felt blessed to have made the acquaintance of Lucy. That was wonderful.... Where was Chelsea and the other van?
There were maybe three or four kids left when that question got answered.