Andy had arranged for a golf cart to be waiting for her outside the hotel and, with cheerful directions, he sent her down the road. This led to a wide open space dominated by a NASCAR-style race track, and beyond that a long metal building that could not be mistaken for anything but a mechanics dream garage. A few of the bays in the long building were open and as she approached, she could hear the sounds of clanging metal and a radio blaring TOFOG’s music. The smell of grease cut through the chilly air as she pulled the golf cart into an empty bay and shut off its engine. Sliding doors in the opposite wall revealed a concrete drive port upon which sat a very large vehicle the size of a very large fire engine, with an articulating crane affixed to a spot behind the cab. Glancing down the length of the interior, she could see each matching bay held a chronology of vehicles in various stages of repair: a late 60s era Mustang with a crumpled fender lying on the ground next to its front wheel, a 50s era sedan with its smooth rounded features almost disguising the fact that its interior had been entirely gutted. Further down where the bays where shut off from light, the outlines of two or three other vehicles of indeterminate maker and year hulked on raised ramps. Someone in a far off bay was talking loudly to someone else, but she couldn’t see them, more than likely still beneath the vehicle they were repairing.
The garage was familiar and foreign at the same time. Her grandfather had been a gas-station owner, and a mechanic, and so she’d had the occasional experience of getting to fiddle with theundercarriage of a car once or twice. But it was not a domain she would choose to spend her free time. She hovered near the sliding doors wondering if she should venture to find the hidden voices.
“G’day. Are you Chloe?”
Startled, she turned to find herself face to face with a very young version of The Creator, not much older than she, with sideburns and mechanics jumpsuit marked with badges of grease and a label that specified him as “O’Brien.”
“I am,” she replied. “You must be Colin, right?”
A clatter two cars away followed by the faint sound of unintelligible curses flung out in rapid succession echoed off the metal walls. Colin rolled his eyes, said “‘scuse me,” and stalked toward the culprit. She heard him say to the invisible curser “the sheila’s here, ya bloody wanker!” Then, returning to her, his face slightly flushed, he held out his hand and said, “sorry, luv. Bud’s having a bit of a blue with the engine. I am Colin. Glad you’re coming to oversee our fishing expedition. You can ride with me, if you want.”
She followed him to the monster tow truck and saw two more figures slouching against a couple of four-wheelers at one end.
“That’s Johnny and Dominic,” Colin informed her as they smiled and waved them over. “Has Bud been at that all night again?” he asked of them. “Why haven’t one of you told him to sod off to bed?”
“Would you go in there with the mood he’s in?” Dominic retorted.
“Yeah, that bloody Delorean is making him daft,” Johnny added in disgust.
“You…you have a Delorean?” Chloe stammered, and turned to dash back inside the garage, nearly running smack into the chest of a disgruntled, and grease covered, Bud White.
“Whoa, honey,” he cried. “Where you off to in such a hurry?”
Chloe was now over most of the shock of seeing one of her favorite actors in his various ‘incarnations’ in actual form, but it was still disconcerting to see them in the various stages of maturity. Young Crowe was distinctly different from Older Crowe and the personality that radiated off each one was as different as they would be if they were separate people. This probably explained why her jaw hung open for several seconds as she took in the buzz haircut and stockier build that made Bud who he was. Even in mechanic overalls, he exuded authoritative policeman.
“You’re not thinking of running out on them are you?” he asked with amusement.
“Delorean. They said you’re working on a Delorean. I want to see it,” she replied, breathless.
Colin intoned, “don’t take too long!”
“C’mon,” Bud said, with a genuine smile. “Quick look…”
Chloe practically skipped to the silver car. It looked as if Bud had disemboweled its innards and flung the pieces around the back of the car in frustration. For a moment, she thought that was a fairly odd place to lay out his work, but then she remembered one the Delorean’s more quirky attributes: the engine in the rear section of the chassis.
A second quirky fixture were the gull wing doors. The driver’s side was open and she could see how the inside was designed.
“No flux capacitor,” Bud said, as if to read her thoughts.
“I don’t care,” Chloe laughed as she stood admiring quintessential ‘80s exotic car. “I’ve only seen one other and that was in Houston. The driver was cruising around the parking lot like he owned the place, he was so proud of it.”
“It’s a piece of work,” Bud sighed, and threw down the rag he was carrying onto the ground. “Are you from Houston?”
“Well, yes, and no. I was raised in Houston, but I live in San Antonio, now,” Chloe replied. She sat down in the driver’s seat and sighed. “How does it drive?”
“It doesn’t,” Bud growled, but Chloe could see he was proud of it anyway. “Not since someone decided to change out the engine to power it up.”
“Meaning you?” Chloe asked. Bud grinned and nodded. “Where did you get it from?”
“Used car sale. It’s original, but I’m going to need more parts soon. Or different. I’ll have to go to this place called Humble. That’s near Houston, isnt it?”
“Yeah. The ‘h’ is silent, by the way,” Chloe informed him. “Houstonians have a tendency to drop the ‘h’.”
“I’ll remember that,” Bud said as he held out his hand to help her out of the seat.
“When it’s ready, can I drive it?” The question was out of her mouth before she had the chance to filter it. “Sorry. I’m a lifelong fan of ‘Back to the Future.’”
Bud laughed. “There’s a long line for it, but I’ll give you a chance,” he promised.
“Preacher Cort is here!” called Dominic from the sliding door.
“You’re late!” Bud challenged when they were back outside. Chloe almost forgot the stunning sleek beauty of the Delorean for the equally sleek black horse that stood next to the monster tow truck, impatiently flicking its tail and eyeballing them all with disdain. Astride the beast was Cort, still in modern wear, but looking as natural as a cowboy.
“Who says? I’ve been here half an hour,” Cort replied. “So, how d’ya like the silver bullet?” he asked of Chloe, grinning down at her.
“I like it fine. Not sure I want to ride horses anymore,” Chloe joked.
“With what I’ve been hearing about the low gear, Onyx here could over-power that thing,” Cort huffed, with a pat on the horse’s neck.
“We’ll see about that,” Bud retorted.
“Fair dinkum, you’re not a speed demon, are ya?” Johnny asked Chloe with a wink.
“I’ll just say that I cut my teeth on Houston roads, and driving in Houston is like training for NASCAR. And…I kind of like the idea of training in a Delorean,” she replied with a wink of her own.
“Look out, boys. She’s that girl,” Bud laughed.
“We like that girl,” Johnny said.
With a wave good-bye, Bud returned to the garage, Dominic excused himself to another part of the Point, and Colin swung open the passenger door of the tow truck. “Shall we?”
Chloe climbed into the cab and after closing the door, Colin stood talking with Cort for a few moments, working out the path they were going to take. Then with a final tip of the hat to her, Cort turned the horse and trotted ahead. Colin climbed into the cab himself and started up the tow-truck. It trundled around the garage and took a left turn onto a gravel road that headed into the undeveloped back woods of the Point.
Cort led the way once the road petered out and became grass. Colin explained to her that the wheels had been converted to an all-terrain track, which handled the bumps and inclines of the woods with little turbulence. He proved to be easy to talk to, encouraging her with questions about her home and work. The projected time Colin estimated it would take to reach their intended destination was about an hour, but Chloe found that the time passed quickly. She thought she’d be bored, but between Colin’s easy-going friendliness and watching Cort on Onyx (“he’s showing off,” Colin muttered in good-natured complaint when the horse decided, more than once, to rear or dance about in competition with the tow-truck), time passed swiftly. In spite of that, it was hard to take her eyes away from the two. Cort seemed to enjoy flexing the muscle of the horse and even though Colin had the same quiet self-assurance so much a part of Cort’s demeanor, there was a spirit in the latter’s face that Chloe could not help feel attractive. The emotions of the evening before were becoming harder to ignore.
She was in the middle of describing to Colin one archaeological excavation she had participated in when they saw Cort bring the horse to a halt, look back at them, and then charge ahead into a line of trees. Colin drifted to stop and powered down his window. Johnny pulled up beside them.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“Should we wait or…?” Johnny began, but Cort’s reappearance interrupted them. He drew up level to Chloe’s side of the truck.
“Chloe, think you’re ready to see what’s ahead?” he asked her directly, when she opened her own window.
“Yes,” she replied, disconcerted by the look on his face. He seemed perturbed. “Is something wrong?”
“Go ahead through those trees, there,” Cort directed Colin. “I think you’re all going to be surprised.”
He spurred forward and trotted through the trees once more.
Something about the emptiness of the sky above the trees as they drew close gave Chloe the first indication that Cort had reason to warn them. Then, a shout from Johnny, loud enough to be heard over the roar of the engines…then, wide open space.
Nowhere to be seen was the wooded ravine with its deep crevice and ridge upon which she’d been found. Gone were the craggy cliffs beyond the ravine, and the enclaves of canyons hinted at in the surrounding terrain. Instead, there were fields as far as the eye could see, a rolling expanse of rippling green and gold…and in the nearest patch sat her silver Nissan Frontier pickup truck, upright and parked.
They came to a stop several yards away from it. No one said a word.
Cort then made the horse canter around it, as if to show it was not an illusion, then dismounted. Chloe fumbled her way out of the cab and onto the ground, feeling a little ill.
“You okay?” He asked when she approached.
“I’m fine,” she said, although her legs felt like overstretched rubber bands. “Just…what the hell? What’s going on here?”
“I’m plumb flummoxed myself.”
“Not sure I can call this balls up,” Colin said as he joined them, laughing. “The way you described it, I was sure it would be bogged or something interesting. Now look at this!”
Johnny echoed his facetious disappointment. “Yeah, Cort, you havin’ a go at us?”
Cort gave them a look that subdued their grins.
“It’s still banged up,” Chloe replied, pointing out the large dents in the fender, missing windows and windshield, the buckled passenger door, lopsided tires, and the crushed hood of the cab. “It’s obvious it got rolled.”
“Let’s take a look,” said Cort.
It felt like months had passed since she saw the truck. Chloe felt her lower lip wibble as she thought of all the times she’d driven off to excavations, taken road trips, zoomed around San Antonio…the day she signed her name to the title. She remembered the moments of sitting in the driver’s seat, pushing away last minute doubts about coming to the Point. Her own stalwart steed. Together, they’d go anywhere.
Now it had the look of a forlorn dragonet, a crumpled casualty of battle.
She cautiously put her hand on the door handle and pulled. It came open easily. She wasn’t sure she’d have the same luck with the other doors. The contents of the glove compartment were strewn across the passenger floor. A third case that she’d stuffed full of an odd assortment of items had remained intact. Evidence of past usage – soda cans, fast food bags, books – mixed with the glass on the floor of the back.
“Some of it got spilled,” Johnny said, pointing to various spots in the grasses behind the truck. Chloe just nodded her acknowledgement, words clogged in her throat. This was like standing on the edge of the ravine all over again. The full weight of the wreck burned in her chest. She remembered sliding, flipping, falling…bang! and then no more. She’d have died. Did she die? The hobbit…Pippin…he’d been there…but he was far away…
“Chloe,” came Cort’s soft voice, “Colin’s going to hook it up now. Do you see anything you want to take back with you?”
She found herself staring up into his eyes. There was such a calm surrounding him, soothing and warm. If she didn’t look away, maybe it would all even out…
“I have things,” she agreed, finally. “To pick up.” She wasn’t ready to leave. She needed to absorb it.
The items she found weren’t very important, just a book and a few papers. She watched as they moved the tow into position and, with the prehensile tail of the monster, her poor little vehicle was hauled aloft and secured. When they paused once more to ask if she wanted to ride back, she shook her head. All the sociability was taken out of her: she’d walk back to the complex by herself if they’d let her – it felt more like a proper funeral that way: a glum mourner in the wake of devastation. She didn’t want to sit in the cab anymore.
Of course, that meant Cort was left behind as well. He stood by his mount and watched Johnny on the ATV follow Colin in the direction of the garage.
“I told them I’d bring you back,” Cort informed her. She only nodded. This didn’t seem to please him. His green eyes were sharp with concern. “You’re not thinkin’ you can get back on your own, are you?”
“I’m not sure what I’m thinking,” she replied. She was still searching for…what? Words that would make the knot in her chest go away? Some crystal ball that would spell it all out for her? She wandered the tall grasses, to stall, to think, to clear away the evidence. God forbid some farmer wander out into the field and find…what, underwear? Why was she lingering?
“I’m walking with you,” he replied and let the reins of the horse down. Onyx tossed his head and trotted away, lured by some bounteous portion of grass that was nowhere close by. “He’ll like being free of me for a bit.”
“He’s beautiful. High spirited and beautiful,” she replied in a disconnected tone.
“He’s not so high spirited for two riders, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Cort replied in an attempt to lighten the mood, then he frowned when he saw that Chloe was in no mood to laugh. “You’re worryin’ me, darlin’. Are you okay?”
She shook her head. There it was again: that piercing kindness. “No…it’s not that. It’s….” She trailed off, her sight caught by a strand of beads nearly obscured by a tuft of dandelions.
Not but a week after Tina and John returned to the Point from their visitation last winter, Chloe received a small package in the mail, labeled in Tina’s careful and elegant hand. Opening it revealed a strand of African trade beads that Chloe had admired in a little shop along the Riverwalk. A handwritten note inserted with it simply said, “I know you would like these. Thank you for hosting John and me.”
How did that get out of my suitcase? She wondered as she stepped towards it, ignored Cort’s plea to follow him to Onyx, bent to pick it up. It’d been packed in layers of clothing. There was no way they could have fallen out…
…she felt a wave of nausea as her fingers closed around it…
…somewhere behind her, Cort shouted…
It got slippery… and so
….she used her other hand to steady…pull…
what was wrong with it?!
The air around her began to cavitate.