Tuesday, November 12, 2013
This is the longest chapter so far. Ten chapters just might finish it out.
Clarke found a phone book at a deserted gas station, “Lou, I can't remember the last time I actually used a phone book.”
“I know. This is just like it's 1984.”
“The year, yes. The book, no.”
“Didn't I tell you? I used to be in the Big Brother/Big Sister program.”
Granby was not a large town,(the sign read 1663), but it had a mechanic with auto parts. A few townsfolk helped them push for the last stretch. “I heard about you guys on the radio!” A boy said. He wasn't helping at all, but tagging along happily, “They said it was so sunny that your car went a hundred miles an hour and jumped canyons all the way across New Mexico!” Louis smiled, “We were trying to outrun the mutant killer tumbleweeds.”
Doc, of Doc's Auto, was lounging in his garage, throwing lug nuts into a can and drinking whiskey. “What are you doing?” Louis asked.
“Playing lug nuts. Point is to toss lug nuts in a can without knocking it over.”
“That sounds boring,” Louis replied.
Doc shrugged, “It don't take no batteries like Game Boy. It's catching on a little bit, people are buying lug nuts off me now. Been slow.:
“Say,” began Clarke, “We have a bent control arm that needs replacing. Could you help us out? We'd be happy to do some work for you, run some errands, that sort of thing.”
“Well,” Doc slugged the rest of the bottle down, and threw the bottle in to a rather impressive pile of broken glass, “I could think of a few things. It's getting' dark now, how 'bout you boys come back tomorrow morning around noon?” Doc fished another bottle of whiskey from some corner of the garage, “I got plans tonight.”
“You know anywhere we can spend the night? It gets chilly in these mountains,” Clarke asked.
“You can stay in the liquor store down the street. I moved all the hooch to my garage, so there's lots of room for you two in there.”
“Do you think he's going to fix it right? He looks like a drunk,” Louis stated as they stretched out in the dark liquor store. Doc had negelcted to take the snack items out of the store, and they helped themselves to peanuts and jerky.
“I hope so, because he's the only mechanic in town,” Clarke answered, “But it shouldn't take too long. I don't think he gets a lot of customers lately.” They bundled up and slept until dawn. They partly woke because of the light beaming in, and partly because they were cold. They ate, then headed back to Doc's to see what they could do. They knocked, but there was no answer. “He might still be asleep. We can try again in an hour,” Clarke suggested. Clarke hunched himself up and wrapped his arms around himself to stay warm. Louis thought the best way to stay warm was by doing cartwheels. A stray cat regarded him uneasily.
“Can cats do cartwheels?” Louis asked, dusting his hands off on his jeans.
“Of course not. Cats do catwheel,” Clarke replied coolly.
They waited, and waited, and played lug nuts with some kids, and finally, around noon. Doc opened his door. At the moment he was hodling a can of beer. “Well,” Doc said scratching his stubble, “I got some work for you boys alright.” Clarke was tasked with tilling the soil where the Dumpster and receiving bay had been. Doc wanted to plant corn to make his own bourbon. Louis was sent in the yard to gather lug nuts from wheels, as well as valve caps from the tires. “Lotta people ridin' bikes now, and they can use these caps too!” Doc explained. He liked working on bicycles. They were lightweight and simple, and he made it sound like working on their car was a huge inconvenience.
Clarke had hard work to do, but it kept him warm. Louis had a more leisurely approach, stopping every now and then to talk to the stray cat and make cartwheel motions. They worked for hours. In this same span of time, Doc had found a car with a control arm that would work and got it up on jacks. After that he sat in a chair and drank Jack Daniels. Clarke approached him, “Are you goint to work on the car, or not?”
“I'm feelin' a bit under the weather,” Doc said, tapping the bottle. “It's not safe to mix car jacks with Jack!” Doc laughed. Clarke did not.
On their way to the liquor store, a woman with two young children approached them. “I saw you sleeping in there. Why don't you stay at my house? If you chop some wood for me, I have a couple of couches by the fireplace.” The woman, Emma, was having a hard time raising two sons without a husband, running water, or toilet paper. They chatted with her, and found out that Doc's cousin Larry had owned the liquor store. Larry had been out of town for his honeymoon and given Doc the keys to the store, just a few days before the world lit up.
The next morning they helped Emma around the house. They had hours before Doc roused himself, and Clarke had a plan. “Okay Louis, you're the affable one. I'm thinking that you can be a drinking buddy for Doc today. Offer to get him drinks all the time, make a lot of toasts, whatever. After he passes out, we can fix the car ourselves. I don't trust Doc.” Louis didn't like be deceptive, but he did like having a good time, so he agreed to it.
As soon as the door was open, Louis strolled in smiling. “Hey Doc! I got lots of lug nuts for you yesterday, how about I get a few beers?” This sounded like a great idea to Doc, certainly better than working on their car.
“Sure thing! Beer makes the best breakfast!” Doc laughed. Louis laughed. Clarke quietly grabbed some tools and went out in the yard. The car on jacks was a junker without an engine, but the front suspension was in good shape. He removed the tires and rotors, and then went back to the garage for some different sockets. Doc was already drunk, and telling Louis about a guy in town trying to convert his bus to steam power. Doc was so engrossed his alcohol-fueled conversation to notice Clarke's activities.
It didn't take Clarke very long to finish removing the control arm. Just for good measure, he took the tie rods and ball joints too. The ones on their car could very likely have been bent or damaged as well, he wouldn't get a good look at it until Doc was passed out and he could work in the garage, where their cat sat. Clarke went back to the garage, where Louis and Doc were singing, “Piano Man.” He shouted to Louis that he'd be at Emma's house. Louis nodded and pushed another drink into Doc's hand.
Clarke helped Emma with a few things, ate some lunch, and took a nap. Louis roused him a few hours later. They only had a few hours before sunset, but they were so familiar with their car that they had he front suspension replaced and everything put back together before they had to turn on the work lights. They lowered it off the jacks, happy. Doc snored on a beat up chair.
While they had been working, a heavy snow had started. They decided to give it a try the next day when, hopefully, there would be better visibility. It would be another night at Emma's for them. Emma's husband had been away on business when the bombs fell. “Where was he?” asked Louis.
“Ames, Iowa,” was the response. “But I don't think he made it. He was diabetic,” Emma continued. Diabetes, or more accurately, people with diabetes, had nearly been wiped out. The facilities that manufacturd insulin, if they were still operating, had lost the global shipping and distribution systems that people relied on. “If you're ever up that way, can you show him how to get home? His name is David.” They all knew the goal was Topeka, but Clarke said they'd ask around if they changed their minds. Who knows? Topeka might just be a big hold in the ground.
Doc was waiting for them at noon. “I don't recall all the details, but it looks like I finished fixin' your car.” Doc was drinking, as usual. Just how much booze did he have left? “Tried to take it for a spin, but it won't start. I think your solar junk might be broke.” Clarke gave a half smile; it must have been the breathalyzer that kept the car off.
“Well,” Louis said, “It's because the steering whell is coded to our finger prints. It's an anti-theft feature.” Doc had never heard of such a thing, but when Louis sat down and it cranked right up, he was a believer. And so they left Granby. Though it had only been a few days, that had been their longest stop on the road to Topeka. They felt restless to move past the drunk mechanic, the hard working Emma, and the stray cat that, according to Louis, could be seen doing cartwheels in his side mirror.