The Gray Rabbit And The Green Tortoise
by Loya (Channeled by Zero)
(Actually written by Ramón Sender Barayón, and "mostly" based on a trip he took in the Green Tortoise in 1975)

Mid-June and The Green Tortoise was hauling ass for San Francisco to begin her first cross-country transit of the summer. Gardner was at the wheel, clean-shaven and pony-tailed for the journey, The Green Tortoise's owner. Also the purported father of Lyle and Heather -- the two orangutans disguised as children trampolining on the foam rubber mattresses behind me. Loya -- that was me -- the alternate driver, pert and sassy, a no-nonsense sister who could drive this rig as well as he, that was for sure! This would be my seventh trip and his thirty- second. Never lost a passenger or blown an engine yet!

We arrived in the city ten minutes late, dropped the kids in front of at a laundromat and parked in front of a Mission Street taco joint. Twenty or so passengers already waited on the sidewalk, some seated on their sleeping bags and knapsacks, a large percentage mothers with their children. No dogs in sight, thank God! We've been monstrously overdogged on other trips until we finally had to discourage people from bringing them. Otherwise the crossing became one extended Walt Disney special. In a pinch, we'll still take them if they're well behaved, but now we charge half-fare. Please, oh please, leave dear sweet Spot at home!

The Tortoise -- actually The Tortoise Number Two -- was in good trim, a 1956 diesel Trailways type with the GMC engine that 'won World War II' according to Gardner. He bought her at an auction from the Utah-Texas interstate line and fitted her out with wall-to-wall mattresses and webbed navy bunks that folded down from the ceiling. At seventy-five bucks a head -- half price for kids and other life forms -- we hoped to make enough money to lay back at the ranch next winter.

San Francisco took first prize as the coldest city in the nation this time of year -- fog-conditioned -- and the passengers were bundled up in jackets, a little blue around the edges. I was circulating among them checking off names when a battered cab rolled up and two black-bereted Spanish gentlemen emerged, one thin and wiry and the other grey-haired, stocky, his belongings in a black plastic garbage bag. They hovered at the edge of the group as if maybe they had gotten off at the wrong reality. I smiled and moved towards them but just then Heather and Lyle turned the corner, staggering under the mattress covers, fresh from the laundromat's dryer. I had washed them at the ranch and dried them in yesterday's peek-a-boo sunshine but they had needed a final blast of heat to crisp them up. "Okay, everybody!" I shouted. "One more minute and we'll be ready to load!"

Gardner cranked open the side panels to stow the luggage. In his white coveralls, he looked like a Native American, dark and handsome, instead of the A- flat Bostonian he is. He was a hot-shot mechanic and an ex-lover of mine to boot. We lived together for over a year, but now were giving each other more space. You can't be lovers and business partners at the same time. At least I can't. And I liked it better this way. Otherwise it got too incestuous, living and working together-- that was too much for any two people I know! Heather and Lyle were going East to liven things up for their grand-parents this summer. Gardner had a serious talk with them on the way down about keeping their cool on the trip. We would both have our hands full just with the bus and passengers. Besides, Heather was old enough to start helping out. Her main job would be sitting on Lyle to keep him from setting off stink bombs or falling out windows.

Gardner began jig-sawing people's things into The Tortoise's belly while I collected the fares. Some friends of ours were coming, Zero and Omaha from Gresham's Ranch next door, Judy with little Amen and Eden, really sweet children! Zero talked to the Spanish gentlemen in fractured Spanish. The thin one was seeing off his friend Señor Numa Albornoz in the double-breasted suit with no tie. I hoped he wasn't too blown out by it all. Another mother arrived with a little blond boy -- God! His hair reached halfway down his back! Beautiful!

"Luggage underneath!" I shouted. "Let's keep the inside uncluttered. We'll need every inch of room!"

"How about my accordion?" a thin-faced, hollow-eyed young woman named Jean asked. "I'll be playing a lot."

"Okay, find a corner for it," I said. Music was a good way to pass the time.

People started to find their spaces and The Tortoise filled up. Funny how the interior didn't look like much empty, but fill it with people and it took on a cozy atmosphere. Time for the rap, I decided, watching Gardner climb aboard. He glanced at me and nodded.

"Hello, everybody!" I yelled. "Welcome aboard The Green Tortoise! In case anybody asks, we've charted this bus to go camping. We stop twice a day in towns for breakfast and lunch. Buy something to cook at our supper stop. We always pick a nice spot to swim and eat. There's a 'no tobacco-smoking' rule and we have an emergency pee funnel up here by the door if you can't wait to go. The stairwell affords some privacy and even women can use it." I grinned at my sisters. "However I won't demonstrate it at this time."

I wound down with some comments about how to make the most of our limited space. Gardner closed the door and began to slide behind the wheel.

"Whoa there, partner," I said. "Who drew the first shift?"

"Aw, Loya," he complained. "You can take over in an hour."

I shook my head firmly. "Nope. We flipped and I won. Fair's fair!"

I had to stick to my guns or my rights got eroded, so I pushed by him with an elbow in his ribs and took over the driver's seat. Just then a shadow loomed up beside the window -- The Grey Rabbit, our biggest competitor, an older bus but with a faster diesel. Charlie hugged the wheel, thin and lean as a March Hare, a kindly snarl on his scraggly face.

"Pulling out, huh?" He leered at me, his eyes sliding down to my breasts.

"I'm loading in an hour. Race yuh to Manhattan!"

"C'mon, Charles, cut it out!" I yelled. "You know we do things different, you big blob of overdone machismo!"

"Scenic and slow, that's us!" Gardner shouted across me.

Speed maniac Charlie tried for three-and-a-half-day crossings with half- hour truckstop meals and lots of No-Doz, a Vietnam vet a mite short on common sense. We aimed for five-and-a half days complete with cook-outs and a hot springs stop.

"Afraid you'll lose?" he sneered around a pair of buckteeth.

I shook my head. "We take our time and see the countryside. You probably think the USA's a three-thousand-mile-wide asphalt blur!"

"A gentleperson's wager!" he shouted over the taxi beeping behind him. "A hundred bucks! You've got a two-hour head start!"

Gardner grinned and waved him on. "See ya!"

We were aimed for Davis up by Sacramento to pick up three more riders and another mother and child in Truckee. Omaha came up to sit beside me on the buddy seat. It hinged down into the aisle to let a person cozy up beside the driver. Jean was already playing funky blues riffs on the accordion in one of the six double-seats Gardner had kept when he installed the mattresses.

"How many are we?" Omaha asked, a tiny, well-proportioned sister with brown curls and a zany sense of humor.

"Thirty adults and ten kids by the time we reach Nevada." The semi up ahead was groaning up the grade in low so I moved into the passing lane. "Looks like a mellow group." She grabbed my seat back while I swung into the slow lane again, blinking 'thank-you' with my lights. Truckers' etiquette.

"She's slow on long uphills," I explained. "Geared for desert highways."

After the Davis stop, I took her over the Donner Summit and we arrived in Truckee just after midnight. The bus was quiet, most everyone asleep, heads out and feet in like sardines in a can. At the filling station, a hysterical woman in a blonde bouffant and heavy make-up was waiting for us along with a teenage daughter in a pants suit.

"Where were you?" she gasped. "I've been here since ten-thirty!"

"We phoned we'd be late," Gardner replied. "I left a message with your husband."

"He's flipped out about us leaving," she said. "He knows I'm going for good." She tugged at a huge satchel, wedging it in the door. Gardner lifted a hand. "Wait! We'll stow it underneath."

He got out to crank open a panel. I could hear him rearranging things with strange underground thuds. All the while she stood in the doorway fiddling nervously with her shoulder strap, looking like she had to pee. "Oh God!" she muttered. "Let's get outta here before he comes back!"

"What?" Gardner asked from behind her.

"My husband, my husband!" she jittered. "He went to get my mother-in- law! They're trying to keep us from leaving."

Gardner ushered her inside. "Let's go," he said.

Just then a customized Blazer roared up, horn blaring, a 30-30 racked against the back window. God, that tore it! Now everyone was awake! It screeched to a stop and a red-faced, pudgy man jumped out and ran over. He leaped up the entryway and grabbed the blonde in the aisle.

"Puh-leeze, Lindy!" he gasped.

"Get your paws of me, Jesse!" Lindy shouted. "Just leave me alone!" From the stairs, Jesse called over his shoulder to the blue-rinsed grandma in the Blazer's cab. "Ma -- tell her it weren't my fault!"

Lindy yanked her arm away and started down the aisle. Her daughter was huddled in back, close to tears.

"We've got to go, mister," Gardner explained. "We're already behind schedule." Faces were peering at them from sleeping bags and one of the kids started to wail.


She whirled to face him. "Let me go, Jesse," she said, voice as cold as a Frosty-Freeze.

"Mother! Say sumthin'!" Jesse screamed to the old lady. "He's a good boy, Lindy!" Mother wheedled, leaning out the window. "He loves you! He jes' cain't help carryin' on like that! His father was much worse!"

Gardner tried to smooth things out. "Everyone needs a vacation," he said. "Give her a break." "I'll write," Lindy promised.

"But Lassie's like my own daughter!" Jesse whined.

Lindy's eyes blazed. "That's why I've got to get her away from you -- you -- you -- "

"Let her go, the slut!" Mother screeched, waving a knobby fist.

Lassie started blubbering. Gardner took advantage of Jesse's exit to confer with Mother to close the door. Jesse whirled and pounded on it with both fists. I started her up in a hurry and headed for the highway. The Blazer came right behind us, horn blatting, bashing against our bumper. That tore it!

"Pull over," Gardner said, rolling up his sleeves. "Nobody hits The Tortoise."

I swung over on the shoulder and Gardner jumped out to meet Jesse's charge with a right and a left that laid him out. He reentered to cheers and handclaps, nursing skinned knuckles. I got The Tortoise up to speed, but suddenly the Blazer loomed alongside, this time old Mom behind the wheel. Mouth distorted, she held the rifle in one hand, its muzzle propped on the open window. The bullet whizzed across our windshield, the kick knocking her against the driver's door. She lost control and the truck bounced off the guardrail twice before spinning to face the oncoming traffic.

"Jumpin' Jehosaphat!" Gardner muttered. "

That was the last we saw of her, thank goodness! Lindy soothed Lassie while the other passengers rearranged themselves to make room on the mattress. Things finally quieted down, and I traded the wheel with Gardner on a long down- grade, slipping out of the seat while he slid in. I tiptoed my way across bodies to the driver's rear bunk over the engine, curtained off for us as a little oasis of sanity. I woke up around two a.m. to hear the engine sputter, cough and die.

Gardner coasted along on the downhill run into Nevada, downshifting gears, looking for a place to pull over. I knew his mind was reeling off possibilities -- loose wire, clogged fuel filter. When he stopped, I trekked back towards the door over sleeping shapes. He was already outside with Zero and the odd couple on board -- Jean and her friend Pam. Jean hailed from the New York Gay scene while Pam, younger, seemed unsure of herself or where she was headed. They had kept apart from the rest and made up a bed on top of the plywood cooler behind the driver. I could tell Jean felt paranoid about the predominantly straight group, sort of a typical East Coast self-consciousness.

Gardner had the engine flap up and his head inside. A dark, cool desert night pulsated to one side of us, the roar of Route 80 on the other.

"What?" I asked.

"I dunno." He spotlit the carburetor with his flashlight. "Go back in and crank her over a few times."

I turned the ignition key. The starter chattered but nothing happened. With a sigh I retraced my steps outdoors.

"No fuel at the carburetor," Gardner said.

"You think that redneck bashed in something?"

"Fuel pump?" Zero suggested.

"Maybe no fuel," I said. "How classic!"

"I thought we had enough to make Winnemucca," Gardner replied, scratching his head in dismay. "Maybe I was wrong."

"What do we -- " I began, but Gardner's face turned towards approaching headlights and the throb of an engine.

"It's The Grey Rabbit!" he yelled. "I'd know that diesel anywhere!" He waved his flashlight up and down.

The blue-and-gold bus flashed by followed by the scream of brakes. It skidded to a stop a hundred yards ahead. Gardner met Charlie halfway. "Trouble?" Charlie asked, flashing his penlight towards us.

"Out of gas," Gardner said. "It's got to be that."

"A genius like you?" Charlie jeered.

"The gauge doesn't work but I figured we had forty gallons. Maybe the new jets I installed are guzzling fuel."

"Let's put in a gallon and see if she fires."

Even though we were competitors, an on-the-road chivalry made for sister- brotherhood in tight spots. We would have done the same the other way around. On more than one occasion Gardner had helped The Rabbit out with tools and parts.

Of course The Tortoise revived the minute she had something in her tummy. Charlie ran back and siphoned another ten gallons to get us to Lovelock, trailing us into town just to make sure. Naturally there was no diesel pump open and he gave us another ten to see us through 'til morning.

"Wanna reconsider that bet?" he asked, raising one corner of his upper lip.

Gardner looked at him in the glow of the streetlight and grinned. "You're on," he said and they shook on it.

"What did you do that for?" I scolded when we were back on the road. "You just blew a hundred bucks!"

Gardner smiled sheepishly. "He saved us that much in time and trouble. What could I do? Our ass was in a sling and he unslung it."

"Macho games," I muttered. "That hundred comes out of your share."

But he wasn't listening. "It's the hare and tortoise at it again," he chuckled. "I won't clip our schedule, but you'll see. Our bus is fresh while Charlie's needs work. We've got an even chance."

"He's already out of sight," I replied with sarcasm, heading towards the bunk. If I didn't get some sleep, I wouldn't be worth a damn in the morning.

We tanked up at the breakfast stop and came highballing through Utah. The passengers were settling in fine. Señor Albornoz had found himself a corner of the mattress behind the right front wheel, the mommies had taken over the rear except for Zero and Omaha who for some reason were up next to the engine -- a hot spot in summertime. Jean and Pam were carrying on a heavy psychological discussion about their relationship. Lindy had settled down and Lassie was eyeing the young men speculatively. We roared over the salt flats in the late afternoon and started up the grade into the Logan Mountains east of Salt Lake City before peeling off at Echo Lake for our first cook-out, a beautiful reservoir which lay like a chunk of fallen sky in the barren landscape. We were charcoaling some chickens when I caught sight of a familiar blue- and-gold streak on Route 80 across the lake.

"It's The Rabbit!" I shouted.

Gardner shaded his eyes and squinted. He had reworked his ponytail into two braids and looked like a cigar store Indian. "Got behind us somehow," he said and smiled at everyone. "We've got a good chance!"

Zero strapped Jean's accordion to his chest and struck up 'Keep On Truckin, Mama!' while everybody cheered. Word of the bet had made the rounds.

"Hey, he's good!" I said to Omaha. "I didn't know he played."

"Me neither," Omaha replied, frowning. "Will Zero's wonders never cease?"

Gardner flipped a chicken breast off the coals. "I don't think Charlie saw us," he said. "We'll keep him guessing." After supper everyone scampered back on board, perhaps because of The Rabbit's lead. Lyle had found a disgusting raven's carcass he insisted on keeping -- ugh! I yelled at him to throw the smelly thing away but he put on his stubborn look. Gardner finally snapped off the bleached skull and Lyle pocketed it with a satisfied expression.

"I'm gonna wear it on a string," he announced. "'Round my neck."

That night we made good time and arrived at the hot springs near the Medicine Bow National Forest just after sunrise. The original owner had willed it to the town with the stipulation it remained free to all. Everyone jumped in the pool naked except Señor Albornoz who wore a two-piece swimsuit. Lindy and Lassie modestly sat out this adventure beside the bus while Gardner kept one eye open for local earlybirds who might find nudity unappealing. A branch of the Platte River flowed by ten yards from the pool and the hardier types used it as a cold dip after. The first oldtimer was creaking down the steps in his bathrobe to join us when there was a yell from the riverbank. Jean had waded in up by the railroad bridge and cut her foot badly on some glass. We dropped her at the hospital before taking everyone downtown for breakfast. When we picked them up an hour later, Pam had received twelve stitches plus a tetanus shot and was hobbling around on crutches. It didn't improve her mood any. although everyone went out of their way to be nice to her. She made a pretty demanding patient and Pam was unraveling around the edges. We continued on our way without any sign of The Rabbit.

Through Wyoming we headed and into Nebraska. Beautiful, this big, open country! I could be happy living out there with a couple of horses and a little cabin in a pine-filled canyon. We were behind schedule and decided against our usual second night picnic spot. Instead drove on to the far side of Lake McConaughy over the Kingsley Dam for our swim and cook-out. The site on the hard-packed, sandy beach was surrounded by picturesque cottonwoods and the water sure felt good after the highway heat! Zero stood in for glum Jean on the stomach Steinway, pumping away shit-kickin', country-style blues. Jean finally cheered up enough to pull a pennywhistle from her pack. Hey, a real virtuoso! Thunderheads were piling up over us while we ate. Passing motorboaters slowed down to stare. Were we that strange-looking? I guess so! Skinny-Dippers International on a nation-wide tour!

After dark we doused the fires and climbed back on board just ahead of the rain. Gardner swung The Tortoise onto the beach to turn her around. He had checked out the sand and it seemed firm but he hadn't counted on the layer of soft clay under it. Both rear double-wheels spun under the ten-ton weight and we all emerged into the steady drizzle to try to dig her out, borrowing a second shovel from some fishermen camped across the bluff. Lightning flashes lit up the scene, the storm closing in. But The Tortoise wouldn't budge. After a few more tries in compound low gear, her fanny sat flat on the sand. "Just like a turtle," Omaha commented, beads of sweat rolling down her face from her turn at the shovel. "There she sits, squatting at the water's edge to lay her eggs."

"Gardner's the one who laid an egg," I said. He prided himself on thinking things through before he did them but this time he really loused up.

"I blew it like some tenderfoot tourist in a rented Winnebago!" he moaned.

The storm began in earnest with a downpour and everyone clambered back aboard while Gardner tried to raise someone on his pieced-together CB. Nothing.

The fishermen who had meandered over to watch the hippie action offered us the use of theirs. So Gardner went off to their camp with them and returned a half-hour later in triumph.

"Got the sheriff first," he reported. "Sort of a paranoid flash. But he raised someone at a truck repair place and they're coming right out."

And by God, here they came! An antique-looking wrecker was backing down onto the sand in the light of its own spots. A lean, cowboy type got out to set chocks under his wheels and a chain on his winch. It was still raining but the lightning had moved off west. Gardner gunned the engine, the winch whined and we came unstuck! Relief! We figured the bill would run around a hundredand twenty but the guy only charged us sixty. All in all, our luck was holding -- an 'educational experience.' Just outside Des Moines the following morning, we caught The Rabbit lazing at a roadside stop beside three brand-new double-decker buses with 'San Jose Drum And Bugle Corps' painted on their sides in patriotic colors. Teenagers were scattered everywhere, some sort of marching band on its way to play at a White House reception. Charlie was holding hands with a thirteen-year-old drum majorette when I pulled up beside him.

"Piss stop!" Gardner yelled. Such a forthright individual!

Charlie waved and broke into his sneery grin but I could tell he was impressed.

"We had to put in for a carburetor overhaul in Rawlins so I figgered you out ahead of me," he said. "When I didn't catch you on the road, I knew you'd either taken a side trip or grown wings."

"We saw you go by at Echo Lake," Gardner told him. "Had a nice swim and cook-out." He didn't mention the Kingsley Dam fiasco.

Charlie glanced at us lop-sided and tugged an earlobe. "Didn't slow you down none. Hey, we need a finish line!"

Gardner stroked his stubbly chin. "How about the first one across the Washington Bridge?"

"Whooee! All right!" Charlie dashed for his bus, arms aflap. With an ear- splitting whistle on his fingers he corralled his passengers and burned rubber down the highway.

"Who's his other driver?" I asked. "He can't be driving by himself!"

Gardner stared at the receding Rabbit. "Darned if I know," he muttered. "His valves are chattering."

That evening, by common consent, we pulled into a truckstop and porked it up like funky Rabbiteers. By now everyone itched to get East and we were four hours off schedule. The kids were holding up fine. Heather helped shop for us every day and Lyle hung in like a real trooper. Not a single tantrum so far! The younger children used the upper bunks for a jungle gym -- cute little rascals. Their mothers seemed unfrazzled and a romance of sorts was budding between Lassie and the teenage son of the Davis mother. Señor Albornoz had begun sitting with the shy Japanese girl and seemed to enjoy the role of token grandpa.

Across the Mississippi, the distances seemed shorter because now we began crossing more than one state a day. By suppertime of the following evening we were in the outskirts of Cleveland and Gardner headed for a little shoreside park next to one of Lake Erie's fancier suburbs. It's one-block area already was playing host to a neighborhood church picnic. We set up not far away, unrolling the volleyball net and posts to make our last supper together a memorable event. We cleaned out the cooler and made a huge communal salad. The group had jelled nicely into a tribal unit. Funny how it only took three days for everyone to become friends on these crossings. Even Jean had been included as the community qvetch, and just being accepted for what she was had mellowed her out considerably.

That night we pushed on through Pennsylvania. The Tortoise had done magnificently. Weeks of preventative maintenance at the ranch had paid off with a trouble-free trip -- at least mechanically. You have to expect one or two little adventures in this game.

Delaware Water Gap for breakfast and no sign of The Rabbit. Beautiful, all the greenery after the parched western landscapes. Zero was blasting away on Jean's squeezebox up front and people were singing along. I took the wheel when we crossed the toll bridge into New Jersey and was winding down into Mt. Harmon when -- there they were! The Rabbit was over on the shoulder, Charlie wrestling with a rear tire. Guess he had a flat. We beeped the horn and waved, but Gardner asked me not to stop. "It would be bye-bye to a hundred bucks if we did," he said. "In a straight- out race from here, he'd still beat us."

"Wouldn't dream of stopping," I muttered, giving her the gas.

We trundled down the highway cheering and yelling, everyone excited that we were in the lead at last. Out around Paterson someone let out a scream in the back.

"I see them!" Omaha shouted.

Heads popped out all the windows -- God only knew what the other drivers made of us! Sure enough, The Rabbit was on our tail, half a mile back and closing fast. I floored the accelerator and we whizzed through Hackensack and Teaneck, The Rabbit gaining in spite of our speedometer hovering around seventy. The morning commuter traffic had thickened and Charlie couldn't find the space to open her up. At Englewood the highway looped north and The Rabbit gained until just two cars and an empty flatbed separated us. A gap opened in the passing lane and Charlie swung out to take his last chance to beat us to the toll plaza. When the traffic slowed, he pulled a fast one, passing and then bulling his way into the truck lane beeping his horn. We all shrieked and yelled. Now he was one Mayflower van ahead!

He made it onto the bridge before we shook free of the tollbooth. Damn! He had a half-minute's lead! I pushed The Tortoise from zero to fifty faster than I thought possible and grabbed the passing lane. Here we went, over the Hudson! The Rabbit copied our maneuver, two cars ahead, and a groan arose from the cheering section.

"Hey!" Jean screamed, peering out the front window. "His rear wheel's wobbling!"

I stared and sure enough, his right rear was shimmying so badly he had to pull back into the slow lane. I saw our chance at center span and took it, putting us almost side-by-side. Charlie was frowning, cutting his speed while his passengers tore their hair and stuck out their tongues at us. Now we had gained half a bus-length and were pulling away, The Rabbit limping badly. I careened down the off-ramp a mite speedier than legal and coasted to a stop around the corner from the bus terminal. Pandemonium! We had won, just seconds ahead of The Rabbit!

Both busloads emptied. We stood around to laugh and congratulate each other. Everyone shook my hand and pounded me on the back while the side panels were opened and the bags sorted out.

"I didn't cinch down that spare tight enough," Charlie moaned. "When you passed me, I just finished up fast and got going."

"You've got to tighten the lugs 'til they squeak, " Gardner said, his chest puffed out. "Tell you what. I owe you at least ten for the fuel you gave us. Call it eighty and we're quits." Charlie didn't argue. Four twenties changed hands and we all got busy unloading. Addresses were exchanged. Señor Albornoz was met by a matronly Mediterranean woman whose plucked eyebrows climbed when she viewed our motley crew. Jean hobbled into a waiting VW bug, waving and smiling, Pam waiting patiently for her to get settled. Lindy and Lassie came up to us, mother in fresh make-up, daughter looking embarrassed.

"Just want to tell you we both had a wonderful time," Lindy said, pressing five dollars into Gardner's paw. "Just to make up for that scene with my husband."

"We specialize in quick get-aways," Gardner replied with a wink. "Boston passengers! Be here by two o'clock!" He turned to Heather and Lyle. "C'mon, kids, help me close up and we'll go blow eighty-five big ones on the Big Apple!" He glanced over at me, slightly sheepish. "Thanks, Loya. Here --" He held out two twenties. "You're one terrific driver -- and partners always go halves."

I admit I took the money. When all was said and done, Gardner was really okay. It had been a good first crossing of the season and set a good tone for the summer. Funny about the way it worked out, us winning and all.

Charlie ambled over while we locked up, pretending there was nothing on his seething mind. "When d'you start back?" he asked me.

"Not for a week," I replied. "Why?"

He wagged his eyebrows and stared innocently down the street. "Oh, I dunno. Thought you might care to place a small wager. First one 'cross the Bay Bridge?" He bared his buckteeth at me and laughed.