Authors note: Slight changes were made to Parts 18 to 24 in order to allow Sally to come to the beach with the boys. Only the last paragraph is completely new.
As soon as Ricky’s dad parks the Honda N360 he has a line of his own. Most of the people want to see the engine – it’s very small. They seem willing to overlook all the body rust. Ricky’s dad gives the same speech over and over about the car’s mileage and what needs to be done to keep it in top running condition. Occasionally when the size of the crowd increases he gives some history that dates back to his college days. I don’t know if he ever gets around to looking at the car show cars. Ricky and I purchase the over sized bag of kettle corn to share, Sally dog makes sure she gets at least her share and the three of us leave Ricky’s dad to his audience.
At first we just wander around looking at the cars and then we walk down the beach. Sally takes off at a dead run for parts unknown. Ricky starts dropping one popped corn every ten feet or so as we walk. A single seagull walks along behind us scooping up the corn. And then another seagull joins him and the two of them fight over each puff of popped corn. And then seven or eight seagulls walk and squawk behind us getting closer and closer until fifty or more seagulls are watching Ricky’s hand go into the bag, trying to catch the next piece almost before it leaves his hand. We start to jog. The seagulls walk, fly, run to keep us with us, all of them begging for another bit of corn. We run, almost catching up to Sally. The fifty seagulls take flight, some in front of us some behind, most swirling around our heads. We fear the droppings seagulls are famous for. Ricky does the only thing he can and dumps half our bag of kettle corn in a pile in the sand. Sally turns as if to snatch some popcorn and then she sees the herd of sea gulls and the three of us head up the beach toward the houses built next to the sand. The gulls stay behind and fight over the white pile of popped corn.
“Remind me not to feed the birds,” Ricky says, still breathing hard from the run up the beach in the soft sand.
“Don’t feed the birds!” Ricky thinks that’s funny, he has a pretty good sense of humor. The sidewalks of the small beach town are crowded with car show people and the main street is a slow moving, unbroken line of old, fixed up cars. We know this town pretty good; it’s the closest beach from our house. The best bakery is a secret. I’ll give you a clue; it’s not a cute little shop with wooden tables and a view of the water. With most of our corn used as a decoy we walk to the north end of the main street and between the gas pumps of an old gas station. Inside the unpopulated gas station’s shop and go market, past all the packaged snacks, past the machines dispensing soda, against the back wall is the best bakery in town. Sally waits outside the door without having to be told.
“Cheese Danish,” Ricky says to the person standing behind the glassed-in counter.
“Berry scone,” I say in answer to the counter person’s questioning glance.
Outside, after we both have sampled our snack I decide it is time to follow Ricky’s instruction once more, “Hey, Ricky.”
“What?” he knows what’s coming but he’s a nice guy and plays along.
“Don’t feed the birds.” We both think it’s funny. I can be a pretty funny guy when I put my mind to it.
When it gets hot the best place to be is under the pier. Very few people are under the pier because of the flies and because there is no sun. People come from all over the world so they can go home with a tan. Ricky and I have enough tan, the flies are another thing, before we can relax in the shade we have to drag piles of seaweed a few hundred feet away, flies really like seaweed. The five or six piles of seaweed under the pier become one large pile cooking in the sunshine and we dig out lounge chairs in the sand. We take a little extra time molding our lounge chairs and include armrests and elevated foot rests. Sally snaps at the few remaining flies.
“This is the life,” Ricky states after the hour of work getting our place of rest just right.
I can just barely see the ocean over my sandy toes, “it’s really quite large. Is it not?”
“Yes, huge really,” Ricky shares my attraction.
“Tide pools!” Ricky yells like he has never had the thought before and takes off running down the beach with Sally running after him. He just wants to poke at anemones, but I take off after him too. It’s a long run to where the tide pools are and we have to get our breath lying flat on the sand before we can bring havoc to the anemone community.
The car show continues. Every time we walk by Ricky’s dad’s car he’s in the middle of a story, usually the car is getting pushed or pulled or he’s getting a ride to the next town but, he always has a good group of listeners.
There is a place where a bridge in the beach town crosses the main road to our town. The road is four lanes wide. The bridge is only two lanes wide but it has nice wide sidewalks on each side. I like to walk to the center of the bridge on the sidewalk and watch the cars on the highway come and go. Ricky and I stand and watch. There are always plenty of cars.
“If the people going that way could do the things the people going the other way want to do the people going that way could stay where they were and the other people could stay where they were,” I think about this a lot. Ricky just looks at me and says nothing. “You know why I like to come up here?” I ask Ricky, I’ve decided he should know just in case I need help.
“Well, I read this story once about this kid,” I pause and make sure Ricky is listening. “A truck got stuck because it was too tall for a bridge. It got jammed real tight.”
“Did the driver die?” Ricky asks with his eyes real wide.
“I don’t know,” I had never thought about the poor truck driver before. “I don’t think so.”
“Trucks do about sixty miles an hour through here, “ Ricky looks at me to see if I understand. “The truck would come to a complete stop in about ten feet, sixty to zero in about ten feet!”
“I never thought of that before. The driver would shoot out the window and land about a mile up the road,” I really had never thought of that before and it kind of took the fun out of my whole idea.
Ricky waited for me to finish my story a few seconds and then asked, “so the truck got stuck?”
‘“It got stuck and no one could figure how to get it out from under the bridge. After all the engineers and adults gave up trying to figure it out this kid just walks up and says, “let some air out of the tires.” I wanted to be that kid when a truck gets stuck under this bridge but I’ve changed my mind now.”’ All I can think about is that poor truck driver flying though the air. I’m glad Ricky straightened me out but I’m pretty sure I’ll spend less time on the bridge.
Cars have been adding to the show all day and now there is an endless stream of cars circling the town looking for a place to park. We walk past shops on the shady side of the street, zig zaging back and forth to make our way through the crowd.
“Hey! What’s that fifty-seven doing?” Ricky moves into a jog and Sally and I try to keep up with him.
About twenty fifty-seven Chevys line the curb beside the walkway, “Which fifty-seven!” I holler into the crowd of people Ricky has disappeared into. I pick up my pace and start running until I run right into Ricky standing still on the sidewalk watching a Chevy back into an empty spot.
“That one.” He says as he points at the red and white car completing a perfect parallel park.
And then I understand, “Your dad left?” Ricky just looks at the no longer empty spot. I watch the steady stream of cars looking for a parking spot just for a second, “he just pulled out,” I discern. “He cannot be far away.” Before I get the words out Ricky is running along the curb. The cars on the road are just barely moving at a walking speed so as we run we pass car after car none of which are anything like Ricky’s dad’s Honda N360. We run all the way to the first corner and past at least fifteen cars without having to think about anything but finding the car. At the corner Ricky keeps running straight ahead so Sally and I make the only turn, which is to the left. I scan every space large enough for the small car while I run past another thirty cars. Sally is looking from side to side and barking the whole time; I don’t know if she knows why. I look to the left up the next cross street. The main road runs to the beach and makes a left turn, runs along the beach for a block and then makes another left turn so when I look to the right I see Ricky already making the left turn and running toward me. He slows his run as he gets close but keeps scanning from side to side.
“We couldn’t have missed him and he couldn’t have come this far,” Ricky states the conclusion I have already come to. Sally pushes her head into his hand trying to comfort him.
“There’s no way anyone drove past that prime parking place,” I say, supporting Ricky’s statement.
“And there’s no fast get-a-way,” Ricky says pointing to cars passing that we had passed while we ran. We walk together up the street to the next corner and then turn to the left and head back to where Ricky’s dad’s car was parked. Ricky sits on the ground next to where his father’s car was parked with his back against a lamp pole. He pulls up his knees and holds his head in his hands looking down at he gray curb. I pat him on the head like he’s a lonely, stray dog. Sally lets out a sad whimper. I walk around the car parked in the spot to the driver’s window.
“Hey, kid!” someone in the crowd of people walking by shouts. I look around for the shouter. A guy is making his way through the people. “What ya doing with my car!”
“Is this your Chevy,” I ask as innocent as I can. It could use a lot of work but I add, “Nice car,” because all fifty-seven Chevys are nice cars.
He softens a little as he reaches his car, “She needs a lot of work. What you need?”
“We’re looking for the car that was parked here before you,” I point toward Ricky who is still just staring at the ground.
“Didn’t see a car,” he pauses for a minute like he’s considering whether I’m worth it or not and then adds “saw the truck.”
“One on those closed in car haulers like the race car drivers use. He half blocked the road for about five minutes. Cars were creeping around the truck, almost caused a couple of accidents.”
“Did they load a tiny Honda car into it?”
“By the time I got here they were pushing in the ramps and pulling down the door. As soon as there was room I nosed into the parking spot.” The pride he was feeling at capturing such a prime spot showed on this face.
“What kind of truck?” Ricky asked, all of a sudden standing beside us completely interested. Sally standing beside him her ears forward waiting for his answer.
The fifty-seven Chevy guy jumps a little at Ricky’s intrusion but answers, “Only saw the back.” Seeing Ricky’s obvious disappointment he adds, “there was a picture of the back of a car on the roll down gate.” We both must look puzzled because he adds, “Made it look like the gate was open and you could see what was riding inside the truck.”
“Some kind of race car. It had a spoiler and a number,” the fifty-seven Chevy guy looks around like he’s afraid his group is leaving without him.
“Do you remember the number?” Ricky asks.
“Got to go kids,” and he takes off to join the people he’s with.
“What color was the race car?” Ricky hollers after him.
The fifty-seven Chevy guy turns and hollers over his shoulder, “light blue!”
We stand and watch as he disappears down the street. Ricky looks like he might cry, “We need to call the police,” Ricky says so quietly I almost can’t hear him.
“We need to call my dad,” I respond and start walking toward the nearest pay phone, which is up the street on the corner.
Ricky follows, “why your dad?”
“The police will treat us just like the owner of the fifty-seven did, like kids.”
“They’ll want to see your father and get a full description of my father,” Ricky says, just thinking out loud.
“I’m going to ask my dad to report the car as stolen and last seen being loaded onto a racecar hauler.” Ricky looks me right in the eye and starts to say something but I add, “The police won’t do anything about a grown man missing for half an hour but they’ll get all over a stolen car – a rare, almost one of a kind, stolen car.”
“Why do you think they want my dad’s car, it’s a rusted heap.”
“I don’t think they want the car. I think they want your father.”
“Why?” Ricky can’t understand the reason behind this any more than I can.
“That’s what we need to find out. While the police and highway patrol look for the car we need to find out what your dad’s been up too!” Ricky just nods. We reach the phone and I explain the plan to my father. He’s up to speed without needing a lot of encouragement.
“I’ve got a friend in the Highway Patrol, I’ll call him first, they’ll get a helicopter into the air. That car hauler shouldn’t be that hard to spot. As soon as I’ve done everything I can here I’ll head your way,” the phone clicks and Ricky and I stand watching passing cars both of us looking into each side window just in case Ricky’s dad is tied up with rope and gagged in the back seat. We both know he’s nowhere around here but we can’t help looking.
Just before the pier hits the sand there is a hidden ten feet of beach. The tar treated tree trunks only show their top four feet and lines of light run across the ceiling that is also the underside of the wooden pier. Ricky sits on the cold sand his back against a pylon with his legs stretched out in front of him. I sit facing him leaning against a pylon of my own. Sally is stretched out flat on the sand with her nose in the sunshine. My father is at least a half hour away, depending upon how long it takes him to get the search for the tiny Honda started.