Twa Corbies and a Cadillac
No coverage, not even one bar, the battery was dead anyway. It was still daytime, but it was overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness. So there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter. A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest if you wanted to get technical about it. It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well. What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills. This had been happening more often lately. Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.
She howled her frustration to the unheeding sky. There was nobody to hear her. She kicked the white walled tyre as she walked round to the front and opened the hood. A cloud of steam hissed up at her from a hole in the pipe at the top of the radiator. She slammed the hood down and sat on the fender head in hands.
The chain saw sputtered down to silence and the stillness was only broken by the caw caw of crows. She could see them, two of them perched high in the bare branches, their heads turning from side to side in unison as if looking up and down the road. Their calls sounded like they were laughing at her, which way, which way, they seemed to say. Even the grill of the 1956 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz Convertible was a derisory grin.
Why had he bought this bloody thing anyway? They were broke, barely able to make ends meet. She was waitressing at the local bar, he a barely credible student had several iron’s in the fire as he called them. None of the irons ever got warm enough to pay many of the bills but kept a dribble of cash coming in to help her pay the rent.
Their grubby studio apartment in Seattle was on the wrong side of Lake Washington but they loved it the moment they saw it and moved in. In those early heady days, a couple of summers ago, he had work and she was happy. As time went by she found it harder to get work and they were arguing more and more about money. He lost his part time job in Walmart and on the same day he came home with this heap of junk!
He told her not to worry, it’s an absolute classic, and once he had brought it back to life it would be worth a fortune. This wreck would pay off their debts and let him finish college. Another one of his hairbrained get rich quick schemes, but at least this time he did the work and, on the surface at least, the car looked spectacular; shiny chrome, glossy black paint work, white walls and tail fins. He hadn’t done so well with the mechanics, hence her present predicament.
The two crows flapped down onto the tarmac in front of her and began to peck at some roadkill. They glared at her once or twice with black empty eyes as if to say this is ours and you can’t have it. She laughed at them remembering a daft poem he had recited for her when they visited Brandon Lee’s burial site in the Lake View Cemetery. The Twa Corbies, a rather gruesome Scottish poem about two crows deciding which part of a fallen knight they would eat first, which bit would be the juiciest.
She shivered a little as she remembered the reason for their graveyard visit, it was the twenty fifth anniversary of the death of Brandon Lee, shot while making a movie called The Crow. Afterwards many movie people said that the film was cursed from the start. Just as production had begun, a carpenter suffered severe burns when his crane hit live power lines. The so-called, Storm of the Century, swept through the South-eastern US on March thirteenth and caused a panicked shut down of the set. Long sharp icicles formed, dangling from the rain machines which were needed to sustain the film’s constant downpour. Everyone got ill afterwards.
She was not superstitious, these carrion birds, just coincidence she told herself. He was though, very superstitious. It was because of his crazy background he told her. He was born on the highlands of Scotland, his mother said she could trace her lineage back to the Queen of Scottish Witches, Isabel Gowdie. In the long dark winter nights, he would tell her blood curdling stories of devil worship and human sacrifice. His favourite tale told of the witches gathering in the deep dark woods before flying off on broomsticks to steal the food from the Laird’s table and take it to a great feast with the King of the Fairies.
The chainsaw roared back into life setting her teeth on edge. She thought about trying to find the lumberjack in the woods. But oh no! She had seen too many low budget horror movies. Damsel in distress lost in the woods, outcome inevitably death and dismemberment. She wasn’t in Texas but she remembered the chainsaw movies.
She scrabbled around in the car looking for the map, she needed to know where she was, which way to go? She could wait and hope for a passing motorist, but she hadn’t seen another car since she passed through a small town fifteen minutes ago and it was travelling in the opposite direction. She found it on the map, Redcrest, the next one along the highway was Weott, she was almost exactly half way between the two, three and a half miles each way.
Weott looked the bigger of the two, but it was on a worn crease in the map so it was hard to tell. The map also showed a small river nearby, Perrott Creek, just past the line of trees on the left of the highway, at least she would be walking away from the chainsaw. She had an empty bottle in the car. Right she thought refill the radiator and stagger on towards Weott. It was getting dark; the two crows were still there watching her from the corpse on the tarmac. C’mon she told herself get on with it. It was getting cold she needed to reach civilisation as soon as possible and to do that she needed water.
She lifted the hood again, at least the pipe had stopped hissing and the radiator had cooled. But it was a big radiator, it would take several trips with her half litre bottle to fill it. She shut the hood and looked down at her flimsy sandals. Not suitable for a walk on the forest so she dragged her Nike’s from the bottom of her big rucksack and pulled them on.
Getting to the creek was harder that it looked, sharp branches snagged her hair and her clothes as she pushed through the undergrowth. She was on her way back for the fourth time when she heard someone shouting. She stopped behind the wide bole of one of the big redwoods; her heart thumping in her ears.
She peered round the tree, looking towards the car. Chainsaw man was shouting at the crows, shooing them up into the trees. He was a huge man, at least six four, broad shouldered and slim hipped. The chainsaw hung from his shoulder on a loop of thick rope. He walked round the car looking first at the engine then he stooped and shading his eyes peered through the windows.
He straightened and looked round, and she saw his face for the first time. It took her breath away and pushed her heartbeat up another notch. He was her Joe’s double! Taller yes and broader, but he had the same thick raven-black hair, dark eyes, full lips and high cheekbones, both indicating their Native American heritage.
What could she do? She was stuck she could sit it out or face him up. The light was nearly gone and thunder rumbled in the distance. She could walk the three and a half miles to Weott but in the darkness, she could easily get lost. She tried to remember what the map said about the river, did it go through the town? She wasn’t sure.
She peeked around the tree again, he was still there. He lifted his cap and scratched his head, puzzled perhaps by her nonappearance. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted again. He looked less dangerous, it could be that the shock of seeing him let her imagination run riot. Decision made she walked round the tree and shouted.
He smiled at her, suddenly he seemed even less threatening. Close up he looked even more like her Joe, but older. She told him about the breakdown and her plans to nurse the car to Weott, he just smiled and nodded as if this was a good idea.
She poured the bottle of water in to the radiator, it was filled at last. She went to close the hood, hang on a minute he told her. He ducked his head under the hood and looked back at her with a huge grin. He pulled a massive hunting knife from his belt; Her heart leapt and she jumped back.
He told her not to worry he can fix this. He unscrewed the jubilee clip at the radiator end of the pipe with the knife. He cut an inch and a half from the end of the pipe just past the hole. With a bit of muscle and a lot of grunting he managed to get the pipe back on the radiator outlet and the jubilee clip tightened.
She turned the old engine over. At first it was reluctant to start, but after a couple of turns the engine coughed into life. She poked the throttle a couple of times and the motor responded. He dropped the hood and gave her a thumb up, no leaks.
She thought about driving off and leaving him, she had plenty of gas she could get away. But there he was standing in front of the El Dorado arms folded grinning at her. She lent over and opened the passenger door offering him a lift. But he just returned to the edge of the highway, she closed the door and he waved her on her way.
She looked back in the mirror and he was still there waving. The El Dorado sounded fine but she kept the revs and speed down, she didn’t want to stress the repair any more than was necessary. She took a last look back, he had disappeared and the two crows were back on the blacktop pecking at the roadkill.
She could see the lights of Weott ahead, they disappeared as she went into a dip in the road and reappeared closer now when she reached the top of the hill. She was still driving tentatively with one eye on the temperature gauge, it seemed to be stable.
Weott wasn’t much of a town, according to the faded welcome sign she saw when she turned off the highway it had three hundred and thirty three inhabitants. It used to be three hundred and thirty four but someone had crossed out the four and written a three underneath. Many of the street lights flickered and sparked and the rest were broken. She could see the lights of a gas station and a diner and a couple of blocks of clapboard houses most of them in need of a coat of paint. The whole place had an air of neglect and abandonment.
She was tired and hungry, she felt grubby, her eyes itched and her feet were sore from trudging back and forth with the water. The diner looked open and almost inviting. The three customers glanced at her when she walked in. The bored waitress behind the counter looked at least at least fifty with a long-suffering, world weary face under rat’s nest hair barely kept in check by a red spotted bandanna. She ordered a coffee and pie and went to the restroom to clean up.
The waitress gave a take it or leave it shrug as she put her order on the counter but did allow her to plug in her cell phone to charge. The pie was stale and the coffee bitter, but only cost her three of her last thirty dollars so she wasn’t about to complain.
The youngest of the three other customers told her there was little point in charging her phone, no signal around here ma’am was his refrain. The rest nodded agreement. When she told them about the good Samaritan on the road they all looked at each other knowingly. She was told there was no one like that around here.
An old man arrived at the entrance to the diner. He spat the remnants of a cigarette outside and limped in leaning heavily on knurled hickory walking stick. He heaved himself onto the stool next to her and glared at the other three. The old man turned to her and gave a gap-toothed smile and rubbed his stubbly chin with grimy hands. The other three made crazy gestures and sniggered behind the old man’s back.
He told her to ignore the three dickwads as he called them, his voice was surprisingly melodious, though his lack of teeth gave him a lisp. The old man wrapped his hands round a cup of coffee that he hadn’t needed to ask for and took a sip and complained at the lack of fresh cream. The waitress didn’t respond.
He turned to her again and patted her hand and asked if she had met Jim Crow on the road. For some reason she told him the story of her breakdown and the man who’d helped her out. The old man just nodded and told her that now and then folks would drop in to the diner, most of them just stopping off for food on the way south and he always asked them the same question. The answer was always the same, big man with a chainsaw hung over his shoulder who just smiled and waved, smiled and waved, like he was waiting for someone.
Jim Crow he told her, turned up about twenty years ago, crazy guy. Said he came from Scotland, but that his dad was a direct descendent of Chief Grizzly Bear. His dad had had a dream in which the Chief told him about a huge treasure the Crow Indians had hidden in a hollow tree hereabouts and he was going to find it. The Crow were plains Indians they told him, never been around here. But he was not persuaded, he bought a chainsaw from the hardware store, it was closed now, and strode off never to be seen again. Most folks reckoned he’d been eaten by one of the grizzlies.
Some though, said Jim Crow was a lucky charm. Travellers who had seen him en-route to Las Vegas, came back with tales of extraordinary luck at the casinos, big jackpots on the slots, their numbers coming up on roulette wheels and great runs of cards on the Blackjack tables. Lots of folk returned but nobody ever saw him more than once.
She just laughed to herself and smiled at the old man. Tales from the boondocks she thought, you’d need to have something to have fun with so far from civilisation. Thunder crashed outside and the rain hammered on the diner’s tin roof, lightning flashed and the lights went out. The only light remaining came from the screen of her barely charged phone.
The waitress lit a few candles with a Zippo and handed her the phone. The old man cackled, shook his head that’s it for twenty four hours he told no one in particular, clambered off the stool and waved farewell. She used the light from the phone to find her way through the dark and the rain to the El Dorado and hunkered down in the rear seat trying to sleep. She still had nearly two hundred miles to reach the Classic Car Show in Sebastopol and needed the rest.
The rain had gone off some time in the night and she awoke to an eerie silence and a milky dawn. She climbed out of the El Dorado and stretched the kinks out of her back and shoulders. She could barely see the diner through the fog but it hadn’t opened yet. Moisture dripped from the surrounding trees and she couldn’t see any lights anywhere; the power was still out.
She looked at her cell and wished she had remembered to switch it off during the night. The battery was nearly dead and there was still no signal. The muffled sound of a chainsaw starting up in the distance and the squawk of invisible crows made her shudder. She jumped into the car tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. Unusually, the old car started first time and she drove slowly through the fog back to the highway relieved to be away from the dreary town of Weott.
Route 101 snaked through dense forest of huge redwood trees bypassing small towns on the way south. She passed signs saying Avenue of the Giants but didn’t take a detour, she had had enough of detours. After about twenty five miles as the road climbed past Redway the fog thinned and she passed into dappled sunshine. Ten miles further on and her phone beeped the arrival of several texts. She whooped her delight and pulled over. She had just enough time to note down the address of the motel Joe had found before the battery died again. She checked the map, about a hundred and fifty miles to go, she would need gas. One thing Cadillacs were not famed for was frugality
She bought a coffee at the gas station in Laytonville and put thirty bucks of unleaded in the tank. Two crows eyed her suspiciously from the nearby trees before flying off heading south. She had her fingers crossed that her credit card had enough room to cover the fuel and the coffee. It did, but only just.
Another couple of hours and she would be there, just keep on the 101 to Santa Rosa then along the 12 to Sebastopol and Joe. She fiddled with the old-fashioned AM radio trying to find a station playing her kind of music, something she snap her fingers to. It wasn’t easy, somewhere around 101 on the dial, Springsteen was in his shiny and black Cadillac, tearing up the highway just like a big old dinosaur. She belted out the lyrics and knew things were going to be okay.
She found the Crow’s Nest Motel easily enough and pulled into the car park, he was pacing up and down in front of the entrance looking worried. She pulled into a space, sounded the horn and got out of the El Dorado. Joe’s face lit up when he saw her, he ran over and enveloped her in a fierce hug. He was in a great mood, he told her that managed to get some work for cash helping out some of the other exhibitors spruce up their vehicles for the show tomorrow, so their bills for the trip were covered. And there was more good news. He’d talked to the auctioneer reckoned that if the car was in as good condition as he said then he could as much as get fifty or sixty thousand in the auction, but that he had a lot of competition
They spent the rest of the day talking and working, cleaning and polishing the El Dorado making sure it was looking at its best for tomorrow. They were tired by the time the sun went down and lay in bed chatting, she was too excited to sleep immediately. She told him of her adventures in Weott, and the guy that helped her out. How he looked like an older version of Joe, and the tale the old man told. He said nothing so she assumed that he had fallen asleep. She watched him for a while by the glow of her recharging cell phone as lay still with eyes closed. He wasn’t asleep but remembering his older brother who had followed his father to the US in search of Indian treasure when he was only five years old.
When she woke, he was already showered and dressed. He seemed a little distant, frowning at her and tugging at his long black pony tail. She put it down to worry over the auction and went for a shower while he went out for coffee and waffles to bring back to the room. By the time he returned she was feeling clean for the first time in in a couple of days. Wrapped up in fluffy towels she sat with him to have breakfast. He didn’t say much and when he was finished went out to check on the car.
They got to the show ground early and found where they were to leave the Ed Dorado with the auctioneer. They watched nervously as others arrived, some looked better than there’s some not so good. Prospective buyers walked through the rows of cars chatting and laughing with each other. Two then three then four came back to look again at theirs, taking pictures with their phones. She took that as a good omen.
In a break from the sale the auctioneer sought them out. He was a small red-faced man and sweating profusely in the heat. He asked to see the car’s registration again. She asked him if there was anything wrong? He didn’t reply but indicated they should follow him. She gripped Joe’s hand tightly as they followed the little man to a huge white and gold trailer. The auctioneer shooed them inside and scuttled off
The trailer was dimly lit and smelled of expensive cigars and old leather. When her eyes adjusted she could just make out an old man with shoulder length grey hair sitting behind a desk and pulling on a long Cuban cigar. The tip glowed red and the light shone back from dark eyes.
He stood up and she was ready to bolt, but Joe held on to her hand. The man was tall, probably six four or more, but thin and stooped with age. He came around the desk and held out a hand for Joe to shake. They still couldn’t see his face clearly. He went back behind the desk and asked them to sit down and not to worry. Joe seemed comfortable but she wasn’t so sure.
The old man told them that the El Dorado used to be his and he wanted to buy it from them. He would give them a good price but didn’t want to get involved in a bidding war with the usual assholes. Not that he couldn’t afford it you understand, he owned half a dozen casino’s, it was just that he preferred to make a deal directly with them. And if they had the time they could follow the trailer and deliver it to his home in Las Vegas. She could feel Joe’s hands beginning to sweat and wanted to pull him out of there.
The old man leaned forward on the desk and into the light shining through a gap in the curtains. Joe gasped as the old man smiled at him and nodded his head. Joe leapt round the desk and hugged his father, both of them had tears in their crow black eyes.
They made their way through the crowd, and back to the El Dorado. And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them. They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them. Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it. The first crow squawked and then both flew away. They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado. Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.