For lack of a better option, I ate breakfast at Lyon's again, then headed out. Through Grass Valley and Nevada City the 49 is four-lane freeway. Then it drops to winding two-lane blacktop, just the sort of turf the Falcon was built for. I pushed it through the gorge of the south fork of the Yuba River, leaning on it hard enough to get some tire noise but not actually break traction. On the north side of the gorge I came around a curve and found myself charging up the ass of a Subaru moving twenty. Holding second, I putted up behind this tick of a vehicle. He refused to accelerate. Finally, at the top, there was a passing lane. I looked over as I went by and got the same look that all morally self-righteous people have when they're saving us from ourselves.
A couple miles on and I see something: An old Ford Maverick with the hood up and somebody leaning into the engine bay, with the slumped posture of those who are fed up with their particular machinery. I downshift and roll into the turnout the Ford is in, trying to not scare up too much dirt. The driver looked at me in a hollow-eyed manner. He was about Angel's height, only he seemed to be constructed out of pretzel sticks. A long bony face needed a shave. The look he gave me was one of half curiosity, half suspicion.
I said, "I don't know how to fix 'em, but I'll give you a ride to where you want to go."
He considered this for a moment, and said, "Get me to Camptonville? Rebel Ridge?"
"I have no clue where that is, but I'm sure you can give me directions. Hop in."
The man closed the hood of the Maverick, retrieved a buckskin jacket from the inside, and locked the doors. He hopped in the Falcon, slumping in the seat so his knees nearly hit the dashboard. He stuck a bony hand out and said, "Hank."
"Lenny," I replied. We shook.
"So what's wrong with yours?" I asked, just to be friendly.
"Electric," was the initial response. Then he seemed to gain traction and said, "See, I'd expect this out of a modern car, with all the computer crap they have these days. Me, I own a car that is maybe two steps more complicated than a lawn mower, and it has to have electrical problems. Sounds like bullshit. So what's this I'm riding in?"
"This is a '64 Ford Falcon, rodded by a custom shop in Santee, California. The 289 motor has a Holley four-barrel on it, and they installed a supercharger. That's why it's got the hood scoop. Brakes and suspension were redone to make them more compliant with the demands put upon them. This thing is a road racer, not a dragster, which is reflected in the gearing."
"Huh." A pause. "You said you don't know where Camptonville is?"
"Never even heard of it," I replied.
"Where were you headed?" asked Hank.
"Absolutely nowhere. Right now I know I'm on Highway 49, and that if I stay on it I'll end up in a town called Loyalton. My plans may change if I see something interesting, I might get on a whole different highway and see where it goes. I am literally wandering aimlessly. No place to be except back in San Diego in a week, nothing to do except keep myself amused. I'm on vacation, I needed to clear my head, and never knowing where I am seemed like a good way to do it. I do have a map, in case of emergency."
Hank said, "Well, okay. If you were headed to Loyalton...."
"I am not headed to Loyalton. That's just the direction I happen to be going in. That could change. Whether or not I arrive in Loyalton is purely speculative."
"If you were headed that way, getting to my place won't be much off your path. Just a few miles each way. You get high?"
"Yep, sure do," I smiled.
"Yeah, I thought you might," said Hank. "We'll smoke some at my place."
Hank guided me through North San Juan and to Marysville Rd. After a few miles he warned me to back off, the driveway we were heading to was hard to spot. He pointed me up a gravel drive going through the trees. After a couple hundred yards we came out in an open area. Vehicles that at least looked like they ran sat in a row. A wash house with a second floor added on sat to one side, next to a fire pit. A large garage dominated the area. A few trailers, wheels gone, crouched back about sixty yards, home to someone. Hank said to leave the Falcon in front of the garage and follow him.
He led me past the wash house up a path to where a twenty year old motor home sat. An incredible amount of extension cord ran between the wash house and the motor home. Hank took a padlock off the door of the motor home and swung in, gesturing me inside, then onto a bench seat. He pulled a glass pipe out of a cabinet and handed it to me. I nodded my thanks, melted, started to take a hit.... And began hacking up a lung. Hank's shit smelled, tasted, and felt like a toxic chemical fire. Whatever it was in that pipe, it was bad for you.
Hank reached over and plucked the pipe from my fingers, and made to take a hit. I exclaimed, "Dude! Do not take a hit of that! There's something wrong with it! Jesus Christ, that crap is poison!" I reached in my pocket and pulled out my own glass pipe, then into my jacket for the dope. "Check it, we'll smoke some of mine. This shit is real, okay?" I got a load in the pipe (Hank's eyes bugging out at the sight of the ounce of dope I was holding) and passed it to him. He looked at the load, looked at me, and doubtfully began melting it in. He took a hit, exhaled, and did something I'd never seen him do: smile. "By god, that is some fine white boy dope there. I thank you," he said, passing the pipe.
I took my hit and said, "Nothing personal, but what the fuck is wrong with that crap you have? Somebody try making their own and blow it?"
"Well, we're in a poor place to comparison shop. Us hillbillies have to take what we can get."
"How much do you have left?"
"About a gram," Hank shrugged.
"Throw it away. Any of that crap you have, throw it away, I'll replace it with mine, straight over. Nobody should be doing that to themselves just to try and get high. And ask the source what the fuck their problem is."
Hank studied me briefly and said, "Don't think I'm being ungrateful, I'm glad you're doing this, but uh, do you always go around giving free dope to people you just met?"
I grinned and said, "I'm human enough to not want people to poison themselves, you know? Gimme that garbage."
He handed me a seal that was half full of scary red shit. I went to the door and dumped it on the ground, knocking what stuck to the bag out by tapping it. Then I used the corner of a bill to scoop stuff out of my bag and into his. It was a small seal, so I just filled it. I handed it back and said, "There you go. You got a propane torch? I'll burn off what's in your pipe."
He produced a torch from somewhere, thanking me again. I stood in the doorway of the motor home and cleaned out his pipe. Presently a diminutive middle-aged hippie with hair like David Crosby came down the path. He stopped and stared at me.
"Is that your Falcon in front of the garage?" he asked.
"It is," I replied. "I'm Lenny, I'll shake hands in a minute. Is the Falcon in the way?"
"Didn't recognize the car, so I was wondering who was here. I'm guessing Hank's around?"
Hank's voice called, "Cheetah! Step on in, I got something for you to taste."
We all assumed seats on the bench. Hank handed Cheetah my pipe, saying, "Lenny brought a little of this, it's amazing."
The pipe went around a few times, then Hank said, "Cheetah, need your help. The Maverick bit the dust by Milhous. Gimme a tow?"
"I need gas," said Cheetah.
"Shit. I got five bucks. Any chance that'll work?"
"The truck's nearly dry, enough to hit the pumps at North San Juan. Five won't cut it. Sorry."
I said, "Here, I can chip in a little for gas." I pulled out my wallet and extracted two twenties, handing them to Cheetah. He stared at them bug-eyed.
"All right if I use some of this to buy a pack of smokes?" he asked.
I told him, "If you don't mind smoking Marlboros, I'll just give you a pack. I've got a carton in my trunk."
"Um, Marlboros are fine, thank you."
We made tracks. I was just handing Cheetah his cigarettes when a red Subaru shot up the driveway and slid to a stop. Two girls in their mid-thirties got out. One was a punk, the other a flower child. The punk walked straight up to Cheetah and said, "Hey, is anyone here holding?"
Cheetah scowled and said, "And it's just goddamn lovely to see you too, Crystal. No, nobody here is holding. We were just headed out, Hank's car is stuck over at Milhous. Dunno what to tell you."
"FUCK!" Crystal screamed. "We've been all over Camptonville, North San Juan, and Dobbins. Nobody's got shit. We just want a fuckin' twenty each, is that so fuckin' hard? Fuck me...." I realized she was bordering on tears.
"How long will we be gone?" I asked Hank. Crystal looked at me as though I'd risen up from the ground. We gave each other those knowing, we're-from-the-same-tribe smiles. Hers was shaky.
"We'll be back in an hour," said Hank. "Just chain the Maverick to the back of that blue truck, I sit in the Maverick to control the brakes, piece of cake."
I said to Crystal, "Be back here in an hour, I can set you up. I got some to spread around."
"One hour?" she asked.
"I guess. We gotta stop and buy gas, then go get Hank's car. I don't know the area, so I can't say if that is a fair estimate or not."
Crystal wheedled, "Well shit, if you got it on you, why don't we just, y'know...."
I said, "Look. We've gotta take care of Hank's car. Three minutes later and you'd have missed us completely. Let us go take care of business and I'll see you in an hour, okay?"
"(*sigh*) Okay." It was obvious Crystal had a serious jones, she kept jabbing her eyebrows downward and compulsively cracking her gum. And knowing that I had dope on me, right then, but was telling her she had to wait an hour.... She had a serious case of psychological blue balls.
We went and got the Maverick, Cheetah in the truck, me and Hank in the Falcon. As we drove, Hank said to me, "Look, I know you were just trying to help a couple ladies in distress, but don't get involved with those two sisters. They're leeches and they're thieves. If you can, don't let them see that bag you have, they'll never leave you alone. And you can't even fuck 'em because they've both got Hep C."
"Thank you for the heads up," I said. "I just realized I don't even have anything to put their dope in. You got any extra seals the right size? To be blunt, I haven't carried an amount of drugs that small since I was eighteen."
The market at the gas station we stopped at sold seals, along with scales and glass pipes. I picked some up, along with a couple twelve packs of Miller Genuine Draft and a bag of jerky. As Hank and Cheetah attached chains to vehicles, I slouched down in the Falcon and filled two seals full of dope. The two girls would be getting closer to sixty-weights rather than quarters.
We rolled back towards Cheetah's and Hank's. Crystal and her sister were already waiting, pacing around by the fire pit. They both glommed onto the Falcon as soon as I pulled up.
"Here you go, ladies," I said, handing them each a full seal. "You're getting more than a quarter. I don't have a scale, and I didn't want to be under. Wanna beer?"
Both girls stared at their bags. Crystal said, "This is way over. It's not bunk, right?"
Listening in, Hank barked out a laugh. "Naw, it ain't bunk. Crystal, be careful doing yours, this stuff is rocket fuel. Just four hits really lit me up. However much you think you need, you need less, okay?"
I got the beer out of the trunk and everybody grabbed one. I noticed Crystal was now in a much better mood, more relaxed. This confirmed that she was a major joneser: she felt better just having the stuff. She asked Hank if she could get in his motor home, and he grudgingly agreed. She finished her beer and they went that direction. I waited a decent interval, then grabbed two fresh beers and headed towards the motor home, curious about my fellow tribe member's need for privacy to get high. I had my suspicions.
Crystal was standing over the sink. There was a spoon with water in it sitting on the drainer, along with a wadded up cigarette filter. She was using a fingernail to knock about a twenty-weight into the spoon, then using the blunt end of her spike to dissolve it. The filter went in, and she drew up into the spike. Setting it down, she took off her belt and wrapped it around her upper arm, clenching her fist to get the veins to pop up. And in went the spike. The belt came off. In went the dope.
Crystal's eyes got huge, and her lips peeled back from her now-clenched teeth. "Holy fuck!" she exclaimed. "God damn, I haven't felt dope like that in years, ages, eons. Is there more around? Where the fuck did you get it? I will seriously suck dick to get a steady line on that."
"Like me, it's from San Diego. You're really that damn impressed? Maybe I'm just used to it, I've had the same source for the same quality for years. Um, you may have noticed I haven't collected money from you or the other girl yet...."
"Oh shit!" Crystal said unconvincingly. She reached for a pocket.
"Put it away, I don't need it," I said. "I'll bet anything the gas gauge in your Subaru is sitting at an eighth of a tank. Now you and her can change that in a good way. You can also buy food and cigarettes. Happy birthday and shit."
Crystal took me in. She said, "So are you are always this nice to people you don't know?"
"Well.... Yeah. All my wants and needs are totally covered, so why shouldn't I be generous? I've got money in my wallet, dope, a running car that I like, a steady job, and a beautiful wife down in San Diego who loves me. Shit, my boss sent me $50,000 last week for no other reason than he's happy with my work. I'm comfortable, and if I can share a bit of comfort with those who could use some, I will. Am I making sense?"
"What the fuck do you do for a living?"
I smiled and said, "Ever heard of a porn film named 'Bewitched?' Yes? I run the studio that made it. I also wrote and produced 'Bewitched, along with 'Rocker Girls,' 'Dangerous Desires,' and 'Temporary Pleasures.' We just finished production on the sequel to 'Bewitched,' it's called 'Stroke of Luck.' Now I've got a week off in which I've been instructed to do nothing worthwhile. No work. So I packed some clean clothes and started driving with no goal whatsoever. I'll drive until something attracts my attention or I get tired of driving, at which point I drive until I find a motel. Speaking of, does Camptonville have any motels?"
This question prompted a burst of laughter. "Um, no. We've got a campground. Do you have any camping equipment?"
"No. After I left Boy Scouts, I swore I would never spend another night in a tent. Dare I even ask about restaurants?"
Crystal said, "There's two, right across the street from each other. One is a pizza place, the other is a bar and grill. Why?"
I said, "Because after a couple more beers, I could stand some dinner. I figured everyone else probably would too, so I was going to take you and that other girl and Cheetah and Hank out for dinner. A bar has appeal, I could stand a Johnnie Walker over ice."
"That other girl's name is Mojo. She's my drippy hippie of a sister. She followed the Dead for a while, and when she came back she had stopped talking. I mean, if you walk up to her and ask her a question, she will respond, and clearly. She just doesn't say anything unless prompted. Fuck the Grateful Dead, look what they did to my sister. They're all useless stoned leeching sacks of shit."
"I never cared about the Grateful Dead as a cultural phenomenon. I just hated them for their music."
Crystal cackled at that. "You're a purist," she said. "Shit, you're generous with your dope, you're buying me dinner, stay at our place tonight. We got room. Hell, free dope and a free meal, you're a pack of cigarettes away from me proposing marriage."
"Sorry, married already," I clarified. "I'll give you a pack of Marlboros anyway, if you want."
"I'll take 'em. You really do just share all your shit, huh?"
"I'm a primitive socialist. Basically, he who has, shares. I have, so I share. Why should other people go without when I got plenty? There will be five of us going to dinner, right? Between drinks and dinner, you bastards better help me run up a $400 tab. At this point I'm a spoiled brat, I honestly can't think of a single thing I want that I can't afford. If I can lend a hand, even for half a day, then at least I've helped a little. Let's go out, I want another beer."
We walked back over to the garage. The Falcon was the gathering spot.... In fact, there were two more people standing around and talking, a fairly rotund dude and a wisp of an older woman. Mojo was standing and contemplating the fire pit. I walked up to her and said, "Hey Mojo, do you like the food at the bar and grill in Camptonville?"
She smiled and said, "Yes." Her face betrayed a puppy-like hope that I would continue speaking.
"What are your favorite things to eat there?"
She considered this and said, "The tempura mushrooms are wonderful. They always have wonderful steaks. their prime rib is good too when it's on, but this is a Tuesday so I doubt they'll have it. Really, I'm happy with one of their steaks and loaded baked potato with salad. Why do you ask?"
"It sounds like the only good place to have dinner around here, and I wanted to take everyone out for dinner and drinks. Sound good to you?"
Mojo smiled wider and said, "Yes. Thank you." There was something about her eyes. It was like they had a Coriolis effect going on in each one.
Crystal and I proposed to everyone, in ones or twos, that we adjourn to the bar and grill for drinks, then dinner. Someone suggested we pass around a pipe first, to enable us to drink longer. I produced my pipe and loaded it sitting in the Falcon, where nobody could see my bag. The two new arrivals, introduced as Hal and Jen, congratulated me on my good luck in scoring such good shit. I smiled and let it ride.
After the beers were gone, we headed for the bar. I had a full house, carrying both girls plus Hal and Jen. No big deal, Crystal rode shotgun, the other three, being members of the Narrowbutt Clan, were comfortable in back. Hal was duly impressed with my ride, asking for my quarter mile time. I told him I didn't have a clue, since this was a road racer. I knew it would move at least 145, and I only cut off there because I was out of room. I drove mellow to the bar, as I was following Hank and Cheetah in the truck.
We piled into the bar. I flagged down the bartender and handed him three hundreds, telling him to serve us until that amount, then let me know it was time for another infusion of cash. He checked the bills with a counterfeit pen and smiled. We were good to go. "Double Jack Daniels okay?" Cheetah asked me. I told him, anything you want. Remember you gotta drive later, so use good judgement. The bartender served us everything we asked for.
Since it was Tuesday, the place was dead except for us. We all occupied stools at the bar. I plunked myself down between Mojo and Crystal. I said to Mojo, "You don't talk much, do you?"
She gave her vacant smile and said, "When you speak, you cannot listen. I prefer listening. I learn more."
I came back with, "But there are times you must speak unprompted. Surely you have opinions and feelings that should be aired. People need to share their thoughts."
Mojo said, "To do that is to express aggression. I love everyone, I can't act in an aggressive way towards my fellow beings. Expressing opinion is a human mistake. We are no longer humans, we are angels. We can no longer be foolish. Fools shall entertain, and angels shall build a new heaven for all of us, even the fools."
"Um, what brand cigarette do you smoke?"
"I prefer Camel filters, but will smoke whatever is at hand. Why?"
"Oh, just wondering. I thought you might be smoking a very different brand than what I'm familiar with."