After climbing from the roof of the bug in through the window with my work dress embarrassingly hiked up to my waist, and worst of all being grabbed in the ass by that geek who seemed to show up every time I did a shift, I sat sullenly against the door. I knew the guy had some kind of googly-eyed schoolboy crush. After the last experience with the jerk in the restored fifty-seven Chevy, I was having nothing to do with guys.
“I mean he’s cute enough, in a scarecrow sort of way,” I said to Sandy, my co-worker last week when it was slow. “I’m just not that interested in men.”
I didn’t believe her. All men were total dicks. Hadn’t my ex-husband been a jerk? Hadn’t Nathan, the boy I loved through high school, turned out to be a total weirdo? As far as I was concerned, they all were losers.
Since my two kids consumed every ounce of my energy and every minute of my waking hours, didn’t I have enough on my hands as it was? I wasn’t about to complicate matters.
But there I was, riding down the center of the railroad tracks next to Googly-eyes.
He turned to me. “There’s a towel in the back.”
Without saying a word, I grabbed the rolled up towel and unfurled it to dry my hair.
He gave me an odd grin. “We’re going to have to go back into the water again to get to your mother’s. Don’t worry, this thing floats like a duck.”
“Down this road,” I said, pointing out the windshield toward the bay that used to be mom’s neighborhood. I just hoped mom and the kids were okay. At that end of town the windows of parked cars were still visible. The tops of fences showed, and in some places even fire hydrants poked their mushroom redness out of the water.
The uncomfortable little car lurched over the steel rails and down one side of the hill at an angle I’d not been prepared for.
Once at the bottom and back into the drink, the unstoppable little Volkswagen slowly pushed its way through three feet of water. When it came to Walker Street, the car lost its footing and floated down the middle of the street, nudging against parked cars as it went.
Through the entire frightening mess, the little engine kept chugging along.
We made our fifth dizzying rotation in the water when I noticed, not only were we floating down the center of the street, but we were following –like little ducklings– a whole line of bobbing Volkswagens just like the one we were in.
I came out of my huddle next to the door. “Where did all the Bugs come from?”
“Well,” he said with a worried voice. “They’re mine.”
For the first time I looked at him, illuminated by the meager dash lights of his car.
“They’re all my cars.” He pointed to the left. “I live there and I guess everything’s floating away.”
“Where did you get so many Volkswagens?”
“I. . . well, I collect them.”
Except for the ass-grabbing incident back in the parking lot, he seemed a nice enough kind of guy, but he collected Volkswagens? All my warning buzzers screamed. My danger, nut-case lights flashed. Red emergency flares went off in my head. I’d have jumped out of the car that very moment if it had been a regular kind of day. It was not a regular day. We were floating down the center of Walker Street, one block from mother’s, for God sakes. We were bouncing off parked cars like a pinball machine. Each of those stupid little Volkswagens ahead of us was doing the same. For some reason, they all managed to stay in the center of the road, crossing through the darkened stoplights on second street and continuing down Walker toward the park.
I wanted to jump out, swim to my kids and make sure they were all right. Most of all I needed to get far away from Mr. Volkswagen-collecting, Googly-eyes.
We passed mom’s house one block to the south. I hoped my kids and mom found their way to the upper floor. There was a moment where, though I knew it would most certainly swamp his car, I snaked my hand down to the door handle and actually pulled it. I heard the click of the latch. I felt the door let go. I pushed with my shoulder but it wouldn’t budge.
“Hang in here,” he said. “We’ll get you home soon.”
He’d heard the click of the door too.
“I’m worried about my kids.”
“As soon as we find solid ground, I’ll see if we can get back around to my house and grab my fishing boat. This thing floats like a cork, but a boat would be so much better.”
“How long will it take, to get around to your house I mean?”
He shrugs. “Soon as we find solid ground.”
As it turned out, solid ground would be next to impossible.
The little Volkswagen bobbed along the middle of the street, now and again careening off a car, a tree, the top of a street signpost. It lazily rotated as it floated dangerously toward the park.
I looked at Bunny, then reached down and flipped the bilge switch again. When I heard the whir of the little motor at my feet, I smiled. We would be safe.
In Baja, I was forced to drive up the center of a creek bed for a half-hour and got soaked in the process. Last spring I installed the bilge. Bobbing in a long pan of seeming never-ending water, the pump was coming in handy.
I wanted to assure Bunny that all we had to do was wait it out and the Volkswagen would find its footing. What I couldn’t have known was the flood level had risen another foot and a half since we re-entered the water. The extra eighteen inches meant that we wouldn’t touch ground for a long time.
The car was sealed well enough to forever bob in the freezing water, but I knew which way the car was floating. Once we reached the Feather River, we would no longer be a bobbing cork in turbid water. We would be dashed and sloshed, banged and crashed, against every other floating object in a fast moving river toward only God knew where we might end up. Although we were headed straight for the river, at the speed we were traveling, it would take the better part of the night to reach it. There were many buildings, trees and bridges we could come to rest against. I was worried, but there was plenty of time to pick and chose a spot to land my epitome of German engineering.
CHAPTER #6 TRUNK CARD
I continued to pace in front of the wall of windows overlooking the one spot along miles of levee least likely to break. I glanced down at my side of the embankment. It was the side that was supposed to be ten feet deep under water and if not save my financial empire, it would have held the wolves at bay for another year.
At the end of each pace, I looked out the window, shook my head, took another twirl of my toothpick, turned and traversed the window path again.
I was scared. I hadn’t been that scared since I was a young man. I’d bet my last ten dollars on a sure to win horse in Berkeley and lost. There was no place for me to go then and there’s no place for me to go now. The only difference was, standing in the top floor of the tallest building in Marysville, the stakes were so much higher.
In Berkeley, all those years ago, getting another ten dollars took me all day to dig a five-foot trench across the back yard for that nice old woman.
Sure, the bank and I owned properties all over Yuba County. It was an economy where interest rates were high and properties weren’t selling. Banks were foreclosing on private investors left and right. Me, Mr. Shrewd investor, finger-on-the-pulse-of-the-economy, had not been able to make payments on most of my properties for the last three months. I was counting on that flood to save my butt.
My pacing continued for another hour. The masticated toothpicks piled on the floor along my path. My brain was looking for a solution, or was it another solution than the obvious.
“How could those water board bastards be so stupid,” I screamed aloud a hundred times during the hour.
Who can I call for help?
Lately, all of the high finance politically connected friends I thought were in my back pocket simply had their hands in my back pocket. Now that the chips were down those ever-needy friends were nowhere to be found.
I was more than desperate. I was on my way over the edge. Had I been homicidal, I would have long ago blamed my troubles on the world, procured a shotgun and finished off those so-called friends I’d been cultivating. Three times last week, I thought seriously about my ridiculously huge three-fifty-seven pistol hidden under a stack of manila envelopes in my desk drawer. Three times last week, when I thought things were bad, the only thing that kept me from taking the pistol out was the heavy rains and a certainty that the levee would fail. The only thing that kept me from that particular corner of my desk was I and the other board members had already decided where and when the levee would be set with dynamite and blown to save the town. The only thing that kept me from reaching into my desk, pulling out that pistol and putting the business end in my mouth, was the certainty that the levee was going to flood. When it did, I could take to the bank that it would flood on my side of the river. Other than a wall of rain pattering on the sidewalks below, no water was on my side of the river.
Dreamlike, I walked away from the window and sat at the desk. I put another toothpick in my mouth, bit down hard and opened the drawer. When my hand found the cold metal, I pulled it out as quickly as possible and put it on my spotless desk. By the time the gun was on the desk, my toothpick was shredded. I grabbed for another. It was the first time in a long time that the gun had been out for anything except a cleaning and oiling. I looked at its true potential.
With a single digit, I reached over and touched the barrel. As if playing spin the bottle, the gun spun around easily and stopped with the business end facing me.
“You’re it,” the gun said, or maybe, “you’re next.”
I was as close to picking it up as I could get. Once the gun was up, nothing short of winning the lottery would stop me. I sat mesmerized.
Maybe an hour passed. I looked alternately at the gun, then out the window at the flooding opposite bank of the levee.
Dreamlike, a dozen toothpicks later, I picked up the pistol for what I knew would be the last time.
“Yes, Ms. Liltkey, I do believe I have a joint.”
Dickerman stepped over to the bed, lifted the covers and slid his finger into an almost non-existent slit in the side of the mattress. “I don’t know how fresh they are. I put them here a long time ago.”
I bounced on the bed to feel its springiness. “This flood thing has me on edge. An attitude adjustment is more than called for, don’t you think?”
By his look, Bill didn’t have a clue what I meant. He pulled out a slender rolled paper and a wad of batting. He dusted off the cotton and held it up triumphantly. “Here’s one.”
“God, Mr. Dickerman, I’ve never seen one so skinny. Are you sure there’s anything in it.”
“Call me Bill,” he said with a smile.
“Gees, these look positively mummified.”
He handed it to me. “If they don’t work–”
“Any joint is a good joint. You got a match?”
He found a book of matches in the dresser, pulled one off and struck it. When it finished flaring, he carefully held it to the end of the pathetic little spiff. I pulled a long drag, turning half of the mostly paper joint to instant ash. I inhaled and held the smoke for as long as possible.
“It doesn’t look that difficult,” he said as I handed the doobie to him.
As I slowly released my smoke, Bill began a five-minute jag of coughing. By the time he’d calmed, the joint had turned to a roach. We both giggled and guffawed every time he started another jag of coughs.
I pointed at the leftover roach. “This is good. Was that the only one?”
Between giggles he said, “I think there’s one more in there somewhere.”
While he dug out another pound of cotton, I asked, “What kind is this?”
He laughed. “It’s a Marijuana kind, what else.”
“No silly, where did it come from?”
He looked at me quizzically.
“You know, is it Colombian, or Mexican, or some local stuff?” I pointed through the window toward the Sierras. “They grow some pretty good stuff up in those hills.”
“I don’t know exactly where it’s from. A friend brought a bag of it back from Vietnam when he returned from the war in sixty-nine.”
“You’ve had these since sixty-nine?”
He handed the second one over to me and struck a match. “I guess so.”
I took a long pull and handed it over. While holding my breath I said, “Don’t smoke much, do you?”
“Never smoked anything till now.”
“Hold it in as long as you can.”
I couldn’t believe it, after the second joint, the druggist William Dickerman took off his shoes, climbed up and bounced on the bed like it was a trampoline.
For the first time since I could remember, I felt like little Billy Dickerman again. I remembered how long it had been and all the suffering in those sixty odd years. The misery didn’t get me down though. At that moment nothing could get little Billy Dickerman down. Sure, it was a huge black hole in a major portion of my life, but I was having such a good time, I wouldn’t consider it. If I even approached the darkness of my pathetic existence, I was sure to go into a pit so deep I might never recover. I wanted to romp and play, to catch up on sixty years of missed frolicking.
A minor piece of me wanted to, but unfortunately I was no longer interested. Sex was the last thing on my mind. What I really wanted to do was wrestle.
I turned to her with a giggle on my lips. “Can you teach me to dance the Flamenco?”
“Teach me to dance.”
“Yes, right here.”
“We don’t have any music.”
I giggled. “I’ll hum a tune.”
When I finished a rough rendition of a musical score, I said, “Teach me to dance.”
Mr. Dickerman could have said or done anything else and I’d have easily pitied him, then looked on him with a superior attitude. But, he asked to dance the Flamenco, and with the better part of two Thai-stick joints under my belt, I was a goner.
“Sure,” I said in a stoned muddle, then pulled myself to my feet. I took the castanets from a hidden pocket in my wet red skirt, clicked them a few times to warm up, then motioned him to join me on the little square of carpet in front of the window.
I was amazed at how quickly he caught on and intrigued by his smooth transitions from one step to the next. Although it was the last thing on my mind, when we stopped a half-hour later and I lit the remains of the joint, I was tingly with excitement.
It wasn’t exactly the ferment of the dance, nor finding that old William could be a future Flamenco partner. It wasn’t even the delight of finding a new friend in a town where anyone who could possibly understand had turned their backs. I was, for the first time since I could remember, in the early throes of a sexual awakening.
The last few puffs from the Thai-stick clinched any possibility of counteracting my budding desire. My uninhibited mind soared. I let my body do the dance of the Flamenco, sex personified.
Bill, I thought, though still not fully conscious of where I was going. What a sweet name.
Oh yes, me, Cassandra Liltkey, Flamenco dancer extraordinaire, fighter of the powers that be, chicken and more pointedly, “fuck you” rooster farmer, woman who stands alone in her rag-tag little farm in a world who wants white picket fences, was a goner.
If I had more worldly experience I would have recognized the look in her eye. Had I not just smoked a few puffs from my first ever Marijuana cigarette, I might have seen the signs. Had my mind not been floating somewhere between Saturn and Jupiter, I might have spotted her look.
After both of us fell exhausted on the bed and took another drag from the little cigarette, it caught me off guard when she reached across the bed, pulled me to her and planted a wet, juicy and very sweaty kiss on my lips. Not once in all my years had even one woman ever been so bold as to simply plant a wet one. I didn’t know how to act. The marijuana cigarette only helped to confuse matters.
At first contact, I choked like a baseball batter with an unsuspecting pitch, a steady three hundred bowler throwing a gutter ball, an under par golf champion digging a divot and dropping the ball in the lake. My entire body went rigid. My brain locked. I would need to reboot.
The only thing responding in the critical first seconds was my maleness. It immediately, having not had the opportunity in more months than I could count, sprang unabashedly to full attention.
Cassandra pulled back and looked at me in surprise. “I’m, I’m sorry,” she said. “I. . . I didn’t really mean to do that.”
“It’s okay.” Although I was more nervous than I’d ever been, I was able to squeak out, “I rather liked it.”
Without saying another word, she laid her sweaty body against mine, touched her lips to mine and pressed firmly as she explored my tongue with hers.
The rain stepped up. The sound of distant thunder hid the noise inside my little passion room. The floodwaters had reached the highest mark in fifty years, eleven feet three and one half inches, but at that moment I didn’t care.