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The Drifter Chapter Seven

When a drifter unleashes the wildness of a shy woman, she runs away with him.
When we walked into what was once Dot's Cafe, I was surprised the restaurant did not smell moldy and guessed it was because of the dryness of the desert. I stood in the entrance and looked up at the huge spider webs covering the circular fan, light fixtures, and the ceiling in the corners of the room. The restaurant was filthy with thick layers of dust and debris. Old newspapers were piled in a corner by the door. Dirty jars, coffee mugs and various dishes and bowls were stacked in dust on a shelf behind a long splintered wooden counter. A dozen dirty round wooden stools sat in front of the counter. On another shelf sat old pots and pans. A six burner dust covered black stove sat behind the counter with a large pot on it. On the opposite wall, across from the counter, were three wooden booths. I could see they were once brown but were now faded and covered with dust and spider webs. One large round table sat in the center of the room. A few smaller tables were along another wall. In front of the window were three more tables. Seeing all of the tables and chairs in place with spider webs under the legs, I imagined people sitting there many years ago and could almost hear the ghost of chatter in the silence. I glanced in the small bathroom and saw the remnants of dead mice in the toilet. One day Dot's restaurant was alive with activity and then it slowly died.

While Carla and Mosa walked around, I saw a large yellowed poster tacked to the wall with the words menu at the top. The letters were a faded red, but I was able to read what Dot served as well as the prices. Eggs with bacon, toast and coffee--fifteen cents, Dot's Hot Cakes with sausage and coffee—twenty-two cents, Hamburger on bun with the works—eighteen cents, coffee and tea—five cents. At the bottom: Friday night special—Roast Beef with mashed potatoes and succotash –Ninety-five cents. Apple Pie and ice cream—twenty-five cents.

I chuckled when I thought about the price of food today and wondered what happened that made everything more expensive. Standing next to the counter I looked around and felt I had stepped back in time, but I also saw what had to be done in the next week to turn Dot's Cafe into The Bistro.

“ I think this place needs spit and polish. We can make it beautiful,”Carla said, as she stood next to me and looked around.

“ I can see it,” Mosa said. “I will paint a mural and I have many paintings I can put on the wall. I know other artists too.”

“ It might need more than spit and polish,” I said. “I'll see if the building is structurally sound and do what I can, but I also want to repair and refinish the counter and the tables and chairs. I used to work for a boat builder in Maine, and think I can make those booths special.”

“ Anna told me she wants a stage for entertainment. She said people will drive great distances for good entertainment and good food.”

“ That's true,” I said and wondered if Mosa was right. Anna was magical . Maybe she would actually bring Avalon to life. I was mystified by Anna and amazed how Carla and I had drifted into this ghost town in Death Valley and here we were about to help Anna bring a dilapidated restaurant back to life in exchange for the trailer.

For a moment, I wondered if we should stay and hide here and become part of Anna's dream. There's something appealing about making dreams come true. The police had already checked it out and we'd be safe, but then I realized I wanted to make it to Bolinas with Carla. Though I didn't know what they were, I knew I had my own dreams. I wanted to see my old friends, Steve and Catherine and be in a town that had no road signs to it. Perhaps there, I would find what I was looking for. Having the trailer would give us a good shot at getting there without getting caught.

We got busy and worked from eight to six every day. Miguel worked with us. Mosa made sandwiches and within two days the walls were clean enough for her to start painting a mural. I was sanding the counter and started on the tables and decided I would do the refinishing when all of the furniture was ready. After doing that and saw that the counter, stools and booths looked brand new, I built the small stage in the corner. I had checked all of the lumber and supplies in the hotel next door and saw that in addition to wood, nails and screws, there were several gallons of paint and varnish.

Anna came to see what we were doing every day. She stood in the doorway and looked around. She smiled and nodded but didn't say a word. After five minutes she would wave goodbye and walk away, but I could tell she was happy.

On the day I was working on the stage, she came over and watched. I looked up at her and could see her mind was far away. Her eyes were closed and she had a smile on her lips as if she was remembering something. I wanted to ask what she was thinking about but didn't. Then she spoke.

“ I love a good stage. All of my life I have lived to be on the stage. The theater is my life. You are making me happy.”

When she left I thought about her life as a world famous ballerina who performed on stages in New York and Europe and now on a stage in a ghost town. I remembered her saying she would be rich and famous again as if she knew it was going to happen. While I worked, I wondered if she was delusional or profound.

Two more days and we will be on our way, I thought as I nailed down the last board on the stage. Mosa was on a ladder painting the mural on the wall. She was halfway finished and I could see what looked like the barren mountains surrounding Death Valley, but also saw she was painting a lush green garden with willow trees, colorful flowers and a huge waterfall pouring into a pond. She was creating an oasis in the desert and I knew she was painting Avalon. I was in awe of her talent. The half finished mural seemed to glow.

The next day, Miguel entered and was carrying a large wooden sign with The Bistro carved into the wood. The letters were painted a bright yellow and almost looked like gold. I couldn't believe my eyes.

“ That's magnificent,” I said.

“ Did you make that sign?” Carla asked.

“ Si.” Miguel smiled.

“ Good job, Miguel. It's perfect,” Mosa said from the ladder.

“ Can you hang the sign outside?” he asked me.

“ I'll need your help, but yes, I can hang it.”

It took over an hour to hang the sign above the door. When I climbed down from the ladder, I stood back on the sidewalk and looked up at the sign and then at the front of the building that Miguel had also painted with light blue paint and a yellow trim. I couldn't believe my eyes. Like the theater, the building sparkled in the late afternoon sun.

Carla had worked behind the counter and scrubbed the stove and the hood over it and made it shine. The dishes, pots and pans and silverware sparkled. I had made a shelf for wine glasses above the counter. Mosa had finished her mural of an oasis in the desert and had hung several of her paintings on the wall over the brown varnished booths.

Anna came in and looked around. She applauded and smiled. “The trailer is yours.”

The next morning, I hitched the trailer to my truck. After hugging Anna, Mosa and Miguel in front of our trailer, we started to drive away, but stopped for a minute in front of the theater and looked at it one last time. It seemed to glow in the morning sunlight. I looked at the poster of a much younger Anna on her toes, her arms extended and knew I would never forget her.

I drove slowly up the street past several old dusty cars, then stopped in front of the restaurant. I looked up at the sign and the brightly painted blue and yellow building.

“ It's such a cute place. It's amazing,” Carla said, staring at it.

It was dazzling and I remembered what it looked like a week earlier and how it had been transformed. I looked up at the sign over the entrance.

“ It's weird seeing a restaurant in this ghost town. There's no food. No chef. No one knows it exists. I wonder if anyone will ever eat there.”

“ Maybe they will come just like people are starting to come to her theater.” Carla shrugged her shoulder. “Who knows?”

After admiring The Bistro for a few minutes, I glanced at the boarded up hotel next door with Avalon written over the blacked out Hesterville and wondered if that was next. I glanced in the rear view mirror at the trailer and drove out of town and back to the highway that would take us to Santa Monica and the end of Route Sixty-six. We drove past the Mojave Reservation and I remembered meeting Charles and wondered what would become of his book. After two hours, I saw we were low on gas. I remembered passing a sign advertising The Mojave Truck Stop.

A half hour later we were there. We pulled up to one of a dozen pumps. I felt confident that the license on my truck would not be seen because of the trailer, but knew there were still photos of Carla and a sketch of me being circulated and shown on television. I decided to take a chance and go inside to get some coffee and a snack while Carla paid for the gas and hoped we wouldn't be recognized.

While we poured ourselves coffee, Carla's cell phone rang. Again, she didn't answer it, but listened to the message so that I could hear her mother sobbing. “Please call and let us know you're alive. Please. I'm hysterical.”

Carla closed her phone and slipped it into her shirt pocket. I could tell she was upset by how she closed her eyes and swallowed, as if holding back tears. She took a deep breath and started towards the door. “Let's go.”

At the counter, I saw the headline on the newspaper. “Kidnapper Still on the Loose.” A sketch of me was on the front page. I glanced at the young girl behind the counter and hoped she wouldn't look up and recognize me, then quickly went outside while Carla paid her.

Though I felt safer with the trailer, I knew we had to be careful until we got to Bolinas. When Carla got back into the truck, I took a sip of my coffee and turned to her. “I hope we make it.”

“ We will,” Carla said, but then she sighed deeply and I could see she was upset from hearing her mother's worried voice.

“ Damn, I hate making my mom worry. Maybe I should call her.”

“ It's your call, Cara.” I glanced at her, but wished she had called before all of this running had started.

“ I'm afraid she'll beg me to come home if I tell her I wasn't kidnapped.”

“ If you tell her you weren't kidnapped, the police would stop looking for me. You would be a run away and that's not a crime. Maybe we wouldn't be in all this trouble if you would just tell her the truth.” I know she heard the frustration in my voice.

Carla closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side. “I know. I know, but I'm afraid to hear her voice.”

I knew she was afraid of her mother's pressure on her life and was avoiding confronting her. I didn't know what to say to comfort her. I wanted to give her the courage to tell her mother the truth that she wasn't kidnapped and the truth of why she ran away, but knew the courage had to come from her and not from me.

“ I can't go home. I need to be with you and I need to be me.” She spoke with her eyes closed.

I watched her take a deep sigh and could see she was trying to hold back tears. Her eyes were closed. Her lips were quivering. Though I wished she would tell her mother that she wasn't kidnapped, that she had to get away, and knew she'd feel relief, I didn't say anything. I knew if she told her mother the truth, we wouldn't be on the run from the police. I wouldn't be a hunted kidnapper, an outlaw. I wondered if I should be more insistent, but wanted her to break through her fear and end this mess. A few times I started to say something but swallowed my words. It was painful to see her suffering and was frustrated by her reluctance. Say something. Do something I muttered to myself, then turned on the ignition. I sighed deeply in frustration, then gripped the steering wheel and drove out of the gas station, uncertain where I was going and what would happen to us after Bolinas.

******

Three hours later, after driving past huge groves of orange trees, we arrived in Santa Monica and saw the sign on the huge pier--Route Sixty-six ends here. I had made it. A warm sense of triumphant came over me for driving the entire historic route from Chicago. I wanted to walk on the boardwalk and enjoy the liveliness, but was afraid Carla and I would be recognized.

It's not easy to find a parking place with a trailer, but we found one near the beach where a few other trailers parked. We sat in the truck and looked out at the Pacific and watched the waves, smelled the salt air and listened to the sound of the surf. The beach was lined with palm trees and hundreds of sail boats and large yachts sparkled on the slate gray water.

It was a warm, sunny day and the beach was crowded. People walked by our trailer in bathing suits and light clothing. Everyone seemed tan. Some ate ice cream cones or carried beach umbrellas. Many were riding bicycles, skate boards or went by on roller skates. It seemed festive especially after a week on the Mojave desert.

I had to get out and stretch and took the chance I wouldn't be noticed. Carla and I walked over to a bench on the edge of the boardwalk and looked out at the ocean. Just as I took a deep breath of salt air, I glanced down at a trash can and saw a folded up newspaper. I picked it up and saw the headline—Five State Manhunt for Kidnapper Continues.

“Fuck!” I showed it to Carla.

“I'm sorry. This is horrible.”

“Carla, you have to call your mom and tell her you weren't kidnapped. This has to be over. I had no idea this would happen when I agreed to take you with me.”

“Are you sorry?”

“I don't know what I'm feeling. I'm not a kidnapper. I understand you're afraid to talk to your mother, but unless you do, we will be hiding and and running, I don't want to live like this.”

Carla walked away from me, but I could see by her tense shoulders and the way she moved she was upset. I glanced back at the newspaper then looked out at the ocean and crowded beach. I was angry, but wondered if I was angry at her, or at myself for being in this situation, for not insisting that Carla call her mom and clear things us. I cursed my own stupidity. I did this to myself. What's wrong with me?

While I was standing there, a police car drove by. I didn't want them to see me so I faced the ocean, but I also didn't want them to recognize Carla. Her picture was in all of the papers and on television and I knew the police had seen bulletins. I glanced over at her and knew she didn't see the police.

I heard the police car stop and a door slam. I didn't want to turn around so I lifted the newspaper to hide my face and pretended I was reading. Carla was standing about ten feet from me when I saw the police walk up to her. I didn't know what to do. I knew if I went back to the trailer and they realized they had found Carla, they would find me. If I walked away, I could hide in the crowd, duck into a bar or coffee shop. When the police started talking to her, she glanced at me then quickly started speaking. I had no idea what she was saying. Perhaps she was lying and saying she's not the person, but then I realized this is nuts. I'm not a kidnapper. If Carla wasn't going to face reality and call her mother, I was going to end this and tell the truth.

I walked over to Carla, took her hand and faced the two policemen. I lifted Carla's hand to them and felt her gripping mine. We looked at each other before I spoke.

“She wasn't kidnapped. She's running away and came willingly. This is all a huge mistake.”

“What are you talking about?” The taller policeman stared at me, bewildered.

“He's right. He didn't kidnap me. I asked him to take me with him. My mom got it all wrong. This is a huge mistake. I wasn't kidnapped.”

The taller policeman glanced at me and then at Carla.“Why didn't you call her and tell her you weren't kidnapped. The report said someone called and said you were taken against your will.”

“That was Dustin. I left my truck there. He's not a nice man. He must have told my grandfather what he saw and then my mom called the police. I asked Josh to take me with him. I wasn't kidnapped.”

They were both quiet and looked at us then at each other. I noticed the small policeman had a scar next to his mouth. He took a deep breath. “Are you sure you weren't brainwashed by him—that happens.”

“I'm not brainwashed. This is not his fault. I asked him to take me. Please believe me. He's not a kidnapper.”

“If I was a kidnapper, do you think I'd come over to you? I'm trying to end this nightmare.”

I saw the taller policeman narrow his eyes and step towards me. “Listen, I can't let you go. She could be brainwashed.”

The other policeman grabbed my arm. “Come with us. We're taking you in.”

I let go of Carla's hand and tried shaking his arm loose, but he suddenly grabbed my other arm, turned me around and snapped handcuffs on my wrists and told me my rights.

“Hey! This is a mistake.”

“Let him go,” Carla shouted.

“God damn it Carla, call your mom, now.”

“Let him go. He didn't kidnap me.”

Suddenly, while I was being shoved into the police car, a crowd gathered around us.

“That's the kidnapper,” someone shouted.

“No, he's not,” Carla shouted back.

“Call your mom,” I yelled as I was being pushed into the backseat of the car.

“Come with us, Miss,” the other policeman said after speaking into the small phone on his shoulder.

“Bastard!” someone yelled at me.

“Pervert!” another voice shouted.

Another police car pulled up and Carla was put into the backseat.

“He's not a kidnapper,” Carla yelled at the crowd. “He didn't kidnap me.”

When we drove away, I looked at the trailer and realized it was open and that my tools were in the back of my truck. I glanced back and saw Carla sitting in the back of the other car. She looked frightened, but so was I. I had never been arrested before.

When we arrived at police headquarters, I was led into a small room with a table in the center. I was still handcuffed and angry. A few minutes later, Carla came in. I saw her eyes were red. When she came over to me and put her arms around me, I stiffened and felt the handcuffs pulling at my wrists.

“I'm so sorry. I didn't want this to happen.”

She hugged me and I could feel her anguish, but I also wanted the handcuffs off of me and to be released.

“Carla, you have to call your mom. This should not have happened. You have to talk to her and tell her the truth.”

“You're right. I know I should have talked to her before. I was afraid.”

“Well, stop being afraid, goddamn it!”

The two policemen were standing by the table, listening when the door opened and a tall, chubby, bald headed man came in. He wore a white shirt with the collar opened and a loose tie. I noticed a badge on his belt and a small gun on his hip. He had a folder which he threw on the table. He looked like a character from an old TV show.

“I'm Sargent Marshall. Now, tell me what the hell's going on here? He sat down and looked up at Carla with her arms around me.

“He didn't kidnap me. This is all my fault. I can explain.” Carla took a deep breath.

“I hope so. The police in five states have been looking for you.”

One of the policemen took the handcuffs off and I took a deep breath.

“Thanks, man.”I rubbed my wrists and turned to the detective. “All I did was take her with me when she asked. She's got problems at home. I didn't fucking kidnap her.”

I was angry and just wanted to be on my way. I thought about Carla's problems at home, but at the moment I didn't care and suddenly wasn't sure whether I wanted Carla to come with me or not. Her reluctance to confront her mother created this mess. All I wanted was to be left alone without hassles and to get as far away as I could with or without her.

I turned to Carla.“I told you I was a loner.”

“I know you did.”

Carla reached for my hand which I pulled away. I was confused and couldn't look at her. She was the reason I was in this mess. Why did I agree to to take her? Why the fuck was I so stupid when I just wanted to get on with my life? Why didn't I just tell her to get over it and call her mom?

Even though she didn't know Dustin would take my license number and give it to the police, or realize her running away would result in a massive manhunt, still, she hid her truck there and when her mom called, she could have said something, but didn't. I tried to understand and accept her fear of confronting her mother, but in hindsight I was angry at myself for being so understanding. Why am I such an idiot?

She turned to the detective. “He didn't kidnap me. This is my fault.”

“So you're running away...is that what you're doing?”

“Yes. It's a long story, but yes. We just met at my grandfather's ranch a little over a week ago and I saw my chance to get away. I had to get away. He's helping me. This is all a big mistake.”

“That's the truth. Now can I get out of here and be on my way?”

When I said that, I didn't look at Carla. I couldn't. I just wanted to be out of there and free. I had my own problems, I didn't need hers.

I knew I left a wife in Maine. Her parents thought I was a bum and my parents wanted me to see a shrink. I was just as trapped in expectations as Carla. I was unhappy and lost. I needed space. I needed to be alone, but when she begged me to take her, why did I say yes? Was it lust or love that motivated me? I didn't know. She was beautiful and sexy and needed me, so I said yes when I should have said no. Sometimes the line between lust and love is thin and one thing leads to another. Sometimes, the real reasons we do things are the ones we are least conscious of. Maybe we're all selfish and self absorbed and pretend we're not. Who knows? All I knew was I was angry and wanted to be out of there and knew she felt my coldness.

“I'm so sorry,” Carla said and took my hand.

I could hear the tremble in her voice and wanted to resist the anguish I heard. I was being torn apart.

“I'm so sorry,” she repeated.

Her words were like a dagger and I felt cruel not facing her.

“I love you.” She touched my arm, urging me to turn around, but I stiffened and didn't budge. I felt myself hardening and becoming protective of my life and sinking back into my shell like a clam.

I glanced at the detective standing in front of me and then at the two policemen. I couldn't believe this was actually happening. This is like some movie.

“Can I go?”

“Not yet. We have to check and see if her mother will drop the charges.”

“Why? Carla already told you the story. She's the so-called victim.”

“I'll call my mom and tell her what's happening and make her drop the charges.”

I turned to her and yelled. “I wish you had done that before. You could have saved us a lot of grief. This whole mess is nuts. Why the fuck didn't you call her.”

I knew I was being brutal by suddenly attacking her and recognized my passive aggressive tendencies from other relationships that caused blowups.

Carla looked away, then took the cell phone out of her shirt pocket and made the call. She was crying and the tears on her cheeks broke my heart. I was surprised she would talk to her mother in front of the police and realized it didn't matter. I was glad she was finally calling and hoped this would be the end of this mess, but I was also wondering if I should end this relationship, put her on a bus and go back to being a loner. I was confused and angry. Who needs this? Why am I doing this?

I watched Carla hold the phone to her ear and close her eyes as if she was praying for strength. She gripped the phone, then opened her eyes when she heard her mother's voice. She glanced at me as if wanting my approval and support, then took a deep swallow of air before speaking.

“Mom, it's me...yes, it's me, Carla. I'm in California at a police station. Calm down, Mom. I'm fine. I wasn't kidnapped. I know I should have called, but I couldn't. I'm really sorry.”

She nodded and listened then closed her eyes and I knew she was being lectured.

“Mom you have to listen to me. I'm not coming home. I can't. You have to drop the charges. I'll let you speak to the detective here.”

Carla glanced at me then turned away. “Please, mom, for once in my life will you listen to me. How can I make you understand...I have to do this and you have to talk to the detective and drop the charges and end this nightmare...I'm giving my phone to him, now tell him. Please!”

When she handed the phone to Detective Marshall, she took a deep breath and placed her hand on her heart. “That was so hard.”

“Carla, I'm glad you spoke to your mom, but I'm not sure this is going to work.”

“What are you saying?”

“I'm saying I think I made a mistake taking you with me.”

She was stunned and I knew I took the breath out of her.

“But we're free now. The charges will be dropped. We can go to Bolinas.”

Detective Marshall handed Carla the phone. “Okay, you two are free to go. I'll get the word out that the charges have been dropped, but your troubles aren't over.”

“Why? What do you mean?” I asked.

“I can drop the charges but this is a big story. You're in all of the newspapers and on television. Everyone's going to want to know about you two.”

When he said that, I turned to Carla, “I'm out of here. I don't want this.”

“Wait. Please, I want to go with you.”

“I want to be alone. That's why I left. I feel trapped. I don't want to be a big story.”

“You can't just leave me here.”

I didn't respond and realized I needed a ride back to my truck and trailer.

“Can I get a lift back to my truck so I can get going.”

“Follow me,” the smaller policeman said. “We'll take you back.”

“Thanks,” I said and started towards the door.

“Are you coming, Miss?” The taller policeman asked.

“I don't know,” she answered then looked at me. “Am I?”

Her question broke my heart. I looked at her standing in front of the table. I wasn't sure what to say, but knew I couldn't leave her stranded at the police station and she had her stuff in the trailer.

“Yes, come on Carla then we'll figure out what's next.”

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