SCARWAF
by Jim Foreman


CHAPTER ELEVEN


      
It was difficult to determine whether Rocinante was being propelled along the highway at its top speed of forty-six miles per hour by the tiny engine or the cloud of blue smoke spewing from the tail pipe. We soon discovered that for each four gallons of gasoline consumed, one quart of oil would be converted into smoke. Lester commented that he once owned an old Johnson outboard motor which required the same mixture; but it had more power. Since the crankcase held two quarts of oil and the fuel tank held eight gallons, we calculated that we would run out of both oil and gas at the exact same instant.
       In order to stretch our money far as possible toward our goal in Virginia, we bought only re-refined oil which sold for ten cents a quart. The term, re-refined, meant that they had taken used motor oil which had been drained from various cars, ran it through a strainer to removed dead grasshoppers, larger chunks of whatever and most of the dirt, then put it back into cans. We concluded that if the car was going to burn a quart of oil every hundred miles, then it might as well burn the cheapest stuff that we could find.
       Between stopping for oil, airing up two of the tires and taking an occasional pee, it required a mere five hours to cover the 120 miles from Fort Leonard Wood to the outskirts of St. Louis. We rolled slowly through the town of Eureka, looking for a restaurant which fit both our fancy and limited finances. Finding nothing, we were headed out of town when the tiny rear window was filled with the red lights of a police cruiser. A pair of huge sirens perched on the front fenders, yowled at each other like angry, chrome tomcats. We pulled to the side of the road.
       The door of the cruiser, bearing a huge gold star which proclaimed "Eureka City Marshall", swung open and a hulking policeman heaved himself out. His paunch, which bulged over a Sam Browne Belt, was held in check by straining shirt buttons which appeared ready to shoot off into space at any moment. Hitching up his pants, he hooked his thumbs in his Sam Browne and swaggered to what, on most cars, would be the driver's window.
       With a good deal of huffing and puffing, he bent down and thrust his fat, red face through the open left front window whose glass was left in the street back at Fort Leonard Wood. "Hey, there ain't no steerin' wheel in this damn thing!"
       "This is an English Austin, officer. The steering wheel is over here on the right," replied Lester, who was driving at the time.
       "I saw this damn thing goin' through town and thought that there warn't no body driving it," said the officer. "English Austin, you say. I was down at the pool hall this morning and heard a good'un about one of them little cars, goes like this.

       "There once was a man from Boston,
       Who owned an English Austin.
       There was room for his ass, and gallon of gas,
       But his balls hung out and he lost 'em."

"Yuck, Yuck, Snort, Snort," brayed the fat cop, holding his belly which bounded up and down as he laughing at his own joke.
       "If this here is one of them English Austins," he continued, "Then what is that funny name back there on the back?"
       "Rocinante," I said. "That is the name of Don Quixote's horse."
       "Don Coyote, you say, never heard of him. He one of them Hollywood Cowboy stars, Huh? Git out and let me see your driver's license."
       We stepped out of the car and Lester handed the policeman his license. The officer squinted at the license for some time and said, "Texas, Huh? If you're from Texas, what you doin' drivin' one of these here dinky little furren-built cars? I thought all you rich Texans all drove big, red Caddeylack Convertibles with bull horns on the hood. Did yore oil well run dry? Yuck, Yuck, Snort Snort."
       "Well, we are in the Army and we bought the car to drive from Fort Leonard Wood to Fort Belvoir, Virginia," replied Lester.
       "Figure you're goin' to drive this thing all the way to Virginney, Huh," said the officer. "From the way that it is smokin' you ain't goin' to make it crost the Mississippi."
       "Well, we do have to add a bit of oil now and then," said Lester to the officer, who was still squinting at the driver's license.
       "Got a title or bill of sale of some kind to prove that you own this here thing and it ain't stolen?" asked the officer. "It ain't got no license plates that I never seen."
       It was at this point that we realized that it was still fitted with the British license plates. "We have this bill of sale from the former owner, and we planned to register it when we got to Virginia," replied Lester, pulling out the papers which the Sergeant had given to us when we paid for the car.
       The officer looked at the papers for a considerable length of time, moving his lips as he read. Then he finally said, "Looks like you boys are in a heap of trouble, git back in that thing and foller me around to see the judge."
       "What law have we broken, officer?" asked Lester.
       "Don't you git smart-mouth with me, boy," replied the fat cop. "I'm the law 'round here and if I say yew are in trouble, then yew better bet yore sweet ass that yew are in trouble. 'Nuther word out of yew and I'll have to handcuff yew for resisting arrest. And don't you get no ideas about trying to run from me, I got a police special engine in my car."
       We followed the police car, with its red lights flashing and sirens wailing, as it pulled around the corner and stopped in front of the local feed store. Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch was a human blimp with wads of hair growing out of his ears; must have weighed at least three hundred pounds. He was wearing bib overalls and rolling a baseball-size wad of Beechnut chewing tobacco around in his cheek. Brown rivers of juice streamed from the corners of his mouth and dribbled into the pockets on the bib of his overalls. Flies buzzed over a semicircle of tobacco juice in the dirt street, indicating his exact spitting range.
       "Hey, Uncle Leroy," yelled the officer as he hoisted his bulk out of the patrol car. "I done arrested these here Texas fellers and brung them around fur yew to fine."
       Great ghosts of Langtry, Texas and Judge Roy Bean, the hanging judge. If we got out of this mess without them taking us for every cent that we had, we would be lucky.
       Uncle Leroy, who we supposed was the local judge, picked up his walking stick, banged it on the porch and said, "Court's in session. How do you fellers plead?"
       About this time, an old pickup truck, with its fenders flapping like wings, rattled to a stop in front of the feed store. A tall, stringy farmer unbuckled a leather belt which held the door closed, climbed out and said to the judge, "Hey, Leroy, I need some chicken scratch and a couple sacks of laying mash for my hens."
       The judge replied, "Damn it, Cletus, can't you see that court is in session and I'm busy. Clarence, go get Cletus what he needs while I figger out how much to fine these Texas fellers that you brung in." Clarence dutifully followed Cletus into the store.
       "I asked you fellers, how do you plead."
       We stood there, looking at one another and I finally asked, "Plead to what? your honor."
       "You know damn well what you were doing to break the law, so why don't you just save a bunch of my valuable time and tell me what you were doing wrong and then plead guilty to it so I can fine you and get it over with," yelled the judge. "Want me to fine you for contempt of court too?"
       "Well, your honor," I replied. "Since we were simply driving through town and violating no laws, there is nothing for us to enter a plead to."
       "What are you, some kind of smart-ass lawyer feller, asking all these stupid questions?" asked the judge.
       "Not at all, your honor," I replied. "If you would tell what we are charged with, we would be able to enter a plea."
       You gotta been breaking some law, or else my nephew, Clarence, wouldn't have brung you in. Hey, Clarence," he yelled toward the back of the store, "Jist what was these Texas fellers doing, anyway?"
       "Well, Uncle Leroy," said Clarence as he emerged from the back of the store, dragging a sack of laying mash. Cletus was right behind him, carrying the other two sacks. "They wuz driving right through town without stopping, and they wuz acting real suspicious like they didn't know what they wuz lookin' fur. Two of them was ridin' in the back seat and the car ain't got no steerin' wheel."
       "What have we got here, now? A bunch of them damn preverts doing unholy things in the back seat, and how could they have been driving if the car ain't got no steering wheel?"
       "Your honor," I spoke up, "The car is an English Austin. It has only one seat in front because it used to be a London Taxi; and that one is on the right side because that is the way that they build them in England. There is a steering wheel on the right side where the driver sits. There is no other place for the other two of us to ride, except in the back seat, and I assure you that we were doing nothing wrong."
       "English Austin, you say. Clarence told me a good one this morning about one of them little cars. There was once a man from Boston..."
       "I done told them that one, Uncle Leroy," interrupted Clarence. "But I don't think that they understood it, anyway."
       "Why in hell would anyone want to buy a dinky little car like that, with only one front seat?" asked the judge. "I thought all you rich Texans drove big, red Caddeylack Convertibles with bull horns on the hood."
       "Well, your honor, we are in the Army which makes us far from being rich. We are being transferred to Fort Belvoir, Virginia to go to school. This is the only car that we could afford."
       "You planning to drive a car like that all the way to Virginney, huh? Looks like it won't even make it to the Mississippi River. What is that funny name on the back?" he asked.
       "They said it had something to do with one of them Hollywood Cowboys by the name of Don Coyote or something like that," replied Clarence.
 "Well, since you are soljers," the judge continued, "I'm going to do my bit for the war and let you off this time, but don't you never come back here in my town doing strange things and making trouble again."
       As we pulled back out on Highway 66 and headed toward St. Louis, we looked at each other and shouted in unison, "OBERT FILPOT!"

        We became lost several times while trying to get through St. Louis; winding up at the stock yards once and on the wrong side of the river twice. It was as dark as midnight under a skillet when we finally found our way across the Mississippi River and into rural Illinois.
       "Think we should stay the night in a motel?" asked Lester.
       "No sense wasting money on a motel room," I replied. We have our blankets and pup tents with us, so why not just find a deserted spot and bed down there for the night."
       A few miles further along, Lester spotted a road which turned through an open gate and into a grassy field. It was well grown over, indicating little use. "Looks like a park or something," he said.
       "Looks good to me," I said. "Just get as far back from the road as possible. That way we aren't likely to be seen and rousted out by some joker like that fat cop back in Eureka."
       Within about fifty yards, the road faded to nothing but grass, so we stopped for the night. Rather than bothering to pitch tents in the dark, we simply rolled up in them. Being as tired as we were, it didn't take long before we were sleeping soundly.

       The noise didn't jolt me awake, but just nudged me into that twilight area between sound sleep and a full state of consciousness, then I heard it again. It came as a soft, flapping noise, like laundry on a clothes line when disturbed by a light wind. I wiggled my left arm up to where I could see the glowing dial of my watch; ten minutes of five. Raising the shelter-half enough to allow me to peek out, I saw dozens of monolithic forms, standing in stark, black rows against a sky which had just begun to suggest the coming of dawn. Some of these forms were squat and stout; others were tall and slender. A few were topped with round globes or crosses. The most prominent of the dark shapes stood well above the rest, and was crowned with a cross. We were sleeping in a cemetery!
       That sound, that flapping sound, came again and I saw a ghostly white form rise and float near the top of the tallest of the markers. Then it slowly settled back out of sight. By this time, I was fully awake and whispering loudly to Arthur and Lester, who were still rolled in sleeping cocoons, "Wake up, you guys, there is something awfully damn strange going on here."
       "What time is it?" grunted Lester.
       "Mumffp," was all that Arthur Arthur Arthur had to add.
       "You'd better wake up," I said. "We are in the middle of a cemetery and I think that there is a ghost of some sort out there."
       "You're dreaming," said Lester. "There isn't any such thing as a ghost."
       "It may not be a ghost," I replied. "But there is something awfully damn strange going on over near that tallest tombstone."
       We were totally awake now, but barely breathing as we lay there, waiting for the next appearance of the apparition. First came the flapping noise and then the specter rose, hovered for a few seconds and sank from sight.
       "Holy shit," whispered Lester, "Let's get the hell out of here."
       Grabbing boots, blankets and clothing, we leaped into Rocinante and slammed the doors. Lester turned the key, the little engine caught and he jammed it into reverse gear. As we swung around, a large white goose appeared in the glare of the headlights. With wings beating against the night air, it rose from inside a fenced enclosure around a grave, only to flop back to the ground. The headlamps also showed why it was unable to fly away; its feet were hopelessly tangled in some vines.
       "Well, damn," said Lester. "All that excitement over a stupid old goose. Brave bunch of soldiers you are."
       "I noticed that you were the first one in the car," I replied.
       "Just because it scared the shit out of us is no reason to leave the poor thing trapped like that to starve. Let's get the vines off and let it go," said Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       The gray of dawn was turning a rosy pink as we drove one direction out of the cemetery while the goose waddled off in the other. "I'm hungry as hell after all that excitement," said Lester. "Let's find some place for breakfast." 

       Rocinante marked its trail across the level farmland of Indiana and Ohio with a trail of blue smoke, but as soon as it saw the mountains of West Virginia, it developed a sudden case of death rattles. Each mile seemed to bring it closer to its final demise. When we stopped in a small West Virginia town for fuel and its normal dose of used oil, it simply refused to start when we were ready to leave.
       We removed the spark plugs, and dug out the accumulated carbon with a nail. This had always breathed life back into the little engine before, but it still refused to reward us with a single cough, gasp or belch of blue smoke.
       A local hayseed, who had been sitting in the shade of a tree and watching our efforts, struggled to his feet and came over to where we were sweating with Rocinante. "Sounds like it ain't got 'nuff compression to start," he said. "I got some stuff over in my pickup that ought to get it running again. I call it my overhaul in a jug; use it on lots of old junkers to make them run long enough to get rid of them."
       He returned, carrying a brown jug which had a corncob for a stopper. "Pull out the spark plugs agin' and I'll pour in a good dose of this," he told us.
       A thick, brown liquid oozed like January molasses out of the jug. He cut off blobs about the size of walnuts with his finger and poked one into each spark plug hole. Then he forced a much larger wad down the oil filler pipe. "Put the plugs back in and try it," he told us.
       Rocinante roared to life with a power that it had never known. A thick cloud of stinking smoke poured from the tailpipe and the little engine seemed to jump with excitement. "That dose ought to last long enough to get you to where you are going," said our benefactor. "Then you'd better sell it real quick as it will be a gonner after the effects wear off."
       Rocinante purred up and down the green Appalachian Mountains with the greatest of ease. It had a power and speed which we had never known possible and no longer marked its path with a trail of smoke.
       "I don't know what that guy poured in, but it makes it run like a new car," I said as we rocketed along at a good forty-five miles per hour. "He said that we'd better sell it as soon as we can, but what do you think."
       "Sure runs a lot better than when we got it, might as well keep it for a while," replied Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       "Sure would be nice to have a car to drive around Washington DC," said Lester.

       We skirted along the south side of the Potomac River with the spires and columns of the various monuments to past presidents, towering to our left. As we turned onto the Jefferson Highway to take us the final few miles to our destination, a sprawling used car lot appeared ahead with a sign stating "CASH FOR USED CARS".
       "I think that we had better take that guy's advice and sell it for whatever we can get for it right here," I said, pulling into the driveway. "Don't mention anything about the left door having no glass."
       "I sure hate to part with it, now that it is running so good," said Lester, "But I suppose you are right."
       A fat man with a huge cigar stuck in his face and wearing an awful checkered suit which looked as if it had been made from the table cloth in an Italian restaurant approached. "Wanna do some car trading, fellows?" he asked.
       "Actually, we are considering selling it," I replied. "That is if we can get a fair price for it."
       "We always pay the highest prices for good, clean used cars," said the cigar as he slid under the wheel. He shoved the accelerator to the floor and the little engine screamed in protest. Then he jammed it in gear and took a turn around the lot, sliding to a stop. "Hunnerd-fifty bucks," he said.
       "We couldn't let it go for that. After all, you have cars which aren't nearly this good, priced for five or six times that much over there," I replied, pointing to the junkers in his third row. "We just drove this car all the way from Missouri and it runs like a fine watch. Besides, we have over three hundred in it."
       "Well, with the steering wheel on the wrong side, it is going to be a lot harder to sell," replied the cigar. "I might be able to go as much as two hunnerd, but that would really be cutting my profit to the bone."
       "Well, gosh, I don't know. This is the first place that we've stopped. Perhaps we ought to look around a bit. It is bound to be worth three hundred if it is worth a dime," I replied.
       "Two twenty-five," said the cigar, "And that's it," said the cigar. "Take it or leave it."
       "Well, I suppose that you know the car business better than we do, but it's going to be awfully hard to divide two hundred twenty-five by three. Make it two hundred forty, giving us eighty dollars each out of it, and you got yourself a deal." I replied. Arthur Arthur Arthur and Lester nodded in agreement.
       He thumbed through the papers for the car and pulled out a check book. "Your sign says cash for cars," I said. "We are new here and it will probably be hard for us to cash a check. How about cash so we can split up our money right here?"
       He rolled his cigar around three or four times while glaring at us, the he pulled out a fat wallet and peeled off the cash without making a dent in its contents. "You fellows sure strike a hard bargain," he said.
       "Where can we catch a bus to Fort Belvoir?" I asked.
       "It stops every hour right out there," said the cigar, pointing to a bench in front of his place. "One is due along any minute now."
       We unloaded our gear and walked out to wait for the bus. While standing there, the cigar was busy, painting a price of $500 on the windshield.
       "Look what that tight bastard is going to sell our car for," said Lester. "I'll bet that we could have gotten three hundred if we had held out a little longer."
       "Well, what's done is done," I replied. "After all, it got us here and we picked up forty bucks on it. What more could you ask for?"
       The cigar got into the car and pulled it into a vacant space in the third line. Then he revved the little engine to its maximum speed as a final test of its stamina. Just as the little engine reached a good scream, there was a loud clattering and a plume of smoke rolled from under the front end of the car. Oil and water sprayed onto the newly painted price. A loud bang issued from the vicinity of the engine and then everything was silent. The checkered suit just sat there, chewing the unlit cigar.
       "Sounds like that guy back in West Virginia knew what he was talking about," I said, as the bus to Fort Belvoir pulled to a stop.


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