Mike Williams and I hitch hiked from Seattle to Los Angeles and back. after I met Mike at a clinic where I spent time with my friend from the army, Rick Cate. Mike was one of the many teens that frequented the drug abuse clinic. When I got the notion to hitch to Los Angeles, the idea was to go alone and further make discoveries about myself and my world. Having left my first and only relationship to go to Seattle to be with someone I knew for ten days while in the military, was as logical and consistent as my decision to leave Seattle to travel to Los Angeles by myself. Logic never entered my mind, not much entered my mind in those days.
It was a crazy time in my life. I gave up the job of four years that paid me union wages plus commission to find out who I was. Having concluded that my love affair was going no where, any where seemed like a better place to be. Seattle was a pit stop. It was a time to renew a tentative friendship at best, but also a time to find out what was going on in the world. California had been calling to me since childhood, and being in Seattle was too close to resist investigating my California dreaming.
Rick dropped me at Centralia, Washington on Route 5. The pine trees reached into the sky along the road. It was an unusually warm and dry winter for the northwest. I wore a light jacket and tennis shoes which demonstrated my inexperience with the road. My first ride took me into Oregon, and before night fall, I was deep in logging country. Traffic was light, and no one seemed to want to be bothered with picking up a lonely hitch hiker. As the dark set in a Volkswagen bus moved onto the shoulder and waited for me to run up. It was lime green and lacked the flare and imagination of the hippie bus that flower children were making famous as the vehicle of choice.
It lumbered along at below supersonic speed as I fell asleep from the hours of standing and walking. I awoke to the herky jerky motion of a Volkswagen chugging to a stop. I watched with my head leaning against the door jam and my half awake and sleepy eyes denying what my brain was processing. The Volkswagen went silent and it rolled without enthusiasm onto the broad black shoulder. The driver bent forward and leaned over top of the steering wheel. He turned his head toward me in slow motion.
"Sorry! End of the line."
"Are you out of gas. I could walk to the next station."
"No. I've got gas. I think it's in the fuel system somewhere."
"I'll walk and if I cross a gas station I'll let them know you are out here," I said, as I stepped out of the bus and took a breath of fresh crisp air.
"Watch out for bears. The woods are full of them," he said, as I moved away from the vehicle.
A slight shiver ran up my spine. There was no reason to leave the vehicle. The police would stumble on him sooner or later, but the draw was always south. I wanted to keep moving. There was no traffic and not a sound. The black on the sides of the road went on forever. Only directly above me could I see light from the stars. There was no moon and luckily no bears at least none that made their presence known.
I walked for an hour and thought it was four or five miles from where I started. A big sedan rolled past me and then slowed and stopped a hundred yards ahead. He didn't bother to pull onto the shoulder. I ran toward the car and slid into the passenger seat. The middle aged man didn't look at me as he started moving again.
"I'm only going twenty miles, but I figure where I drop you will be better than being in the middle of no where. It is the closest town. There is a diner if you want to get a cup of coffee."
He dropped me at the front of the diner and I watched him drive away. I decided to spend a little of the few dollars I had for a cup of coffee to keep me going. I stopped at the gas station and told them about the bus. They told me the police would stop and find out what the guy wanted to do. My conscience was clear and when I went into the diner I got a real surprise. There sitting at a booth in the rear was Mike Williams and Keith. Both I knew from the clinic. Their eyes brightened when they saw that I recognized them. I was over three hundred miles from the clinic and never expected that I would run into two of the maybe twenty people I knew from Seattle. I tried to measure the odds as I approached them and realized I was too tired to care.
When I sat down they both expressed relief to meet someone they knew. It seems that they had both decided to run away to San Francisco and they got scared being out on the highway. Someone had picked them up and wanted to give them more than a ride. When they finally got out of the car they saw the diner and decided to wait until they were sure the guy was gone. I wasn't enthusiastic about my new companions and I didn't want to hitch with them. Three guys weren't ever going to catch a ride, especially at night. Then I remembered the clinic and Rick and figured it was my duty to make sure they got where they were going safely. It turned out to be a good decision. I found out I needed them as much as they needed me, or at least Mike Williams. I would be forever grateful for his companionship.
Keith was tall, thin, and immature. He was also a royal pain in the butt. His needs were paramount and everything was right now and sooner when possible. Mike on the other hand was more intelligent than his seventeen years. He insulated me from Keith and babied him when I wouldn't. We hit the road after I had enough coffee to last me. Mike paid the bill and we were back on the shoulder of the road. We got a ride into Redding, California in the back of a pickup truck. It was bright and sunny, and my first look at California included the view of Mt. Shasta and that was one of the most awesome sights ever. The snow seemed far too close, but the air temperature was warm and pleasant, and the sun was delightful on my skin.
We got two more rides before late afternoon and ended up north of Sacramento on a side road. We worried that we should have stayed on the interstate, but when three guys hitch together, you take what you can get. As the sun was sinking in the sky we were thinking we would not get out of the sticks. For the second time in less than twenty four hours a Volkswagen bus rolled to a stop. As the door slid to the side to allow us to enter the middle of the bus, a cloud of acrid smoke floated past my nose. There was no doubt about the smell, and Sergeant Peppers blasted from the stereo to complete the image. These were heads, hippies, flower children. There was a guy and his "chick" in the front and a "dude" leaning back on some pillows to the rear of the vehicle. As we climbed in a pipe was handed to us. Keith, then Mike, and then I took a toke as everyone laughed and got introduced. There was Weasel and Bouquet in the front and Randy in the rear. We joined the party as the bus moved forward at less than supersonic speed. I tried to avoid the pipe that kept passing me, but from time to time I took an obligatory mouthful of smoke and tried not to choke. Smoking wasn't my thing and drugs gave me a feeling I little liked. There was enough smoke in the back of the van that you didn't need to puff on the pipe to get high. The music banged and the party rolled.
Weasel asked us where we were going and we told him San Francisco. He told us that Randy was going to Fresno and they were taking him there. When he dropped him off he would then take us to San Francisco. It seems that Weasel's grandmother had died and left Weasel some money. He now drove around the countryside picking up hitch hikers and taking them where ever they were going. That was his chosen profession. He was a bus driver only it was his bus. He and Bouquet were nice people and it was well after dark when we dropped Randy off and Bouquet checked the map and advised Weasel of how best to get us to San Francisco. They insisted on dropping us at the door where Tommy, a friend of Rick's, lived. They drove off in a cloud of smoke and a cacophony of music blasting from the windows as they waved.
Tommy was expecting me and it turned out us. We called to let him know to let someone know that Mike and Keith were fine. He said he would pass the word as a third hand communication and advisory. He would not say whom the information came from. Keith and Mike were still safe. Tommy and his "woman" were going to Big Sir the next morning and we decided to go along and head for Los Angeles. It was rainy and cool in San Francisco and we didn't want to be on the street in that weather. We were bedded in the living room and woke to fantastic smells of breakfast foods, biscuits and coffee. We were all up and ready to roll after filling our empty bellies.
As we moved through the countryside Tommy pointed out points of interest and took us across the Golden Gate Bridge before we started south on Highway 101. We stopped in Monterrey and looked around after having a late lunch. As we headed for Big Sur, the sun started to set into the Pacific. Everyone said we would be disappointed and the clouds would hide the final sunset, but our luck held and the sun set without the marine layer hiding so much as a minute. It was the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean and my first sunset into same.
We slept at a commune where Tommy and Beth spent a lot of their time. We were taken out on the highway the next morning and given a five dollar bill from Tommy. He said it was from Rick and would buy us a meal. We were off down through the winding wooded roads heading for Los Angeles. I knew someone there and it was much warmer in L.A. We all thought it was the best place to go. The day was a mixture of clouds and sunshine interrupted by one quick shower. The day was chilly but not unpleasant. Once again as night crept up on us we were suspicious that we might spend the night on the side of the long lonesome highway. About eight p.m. a station wagon came around the curve and rolled to a stop. The three of us hopped into the back seat and little did we know we were in for the ride of our lives.
The 56 Chevy wagon was all black and the three men in the front seat were all drunk. The car weave from shoulder to shoulder as it headed east toward Route 5. After ten minutes I wasn't sure I we would make it there. The guys laughed and drank from a Jack Daniel's bottle. The radio blasted and I tried to get their attention to ask to get out. The car weave as the driver was preoccupied with his friends and his liquor. Several times we became dangerously close to trees bordering the road.
When I asked to get out, they laughed. They thought it was funny I wanted to live. Both Mike and Keith were cringing in the back seat and we all three knew we were likely to end up in the woods. Our luck held however and the lights from the police car broke into the reverie of the three men. My heart was pounding as first the driver and then the passengers were removed. We still sat shaking in the back seat and developed a story for the consumption of natural habitated law enforcement officers.
Immediately when the attention turned to the passengers in the back seat the officer that approached us realized we weren't with them. He could see the fear and the fact we weren't drunk or showed any signs of even having a drink.
"What's your story?" He asked.
We agreed I should speak for the group and I said, "These are my brothers. We are hitching to my grandparents near Los Angeles. We got in with these guys a few minutes ago and I saw my life flashing before my eyes."
This amused the cop and he announced to his partner that we weren't with them. He apologized that he couldn't fit us into the highway patrol car but that we weren't far from the road that would take us to Route 5. He wished us luck and left us standing on the side of the road without ever questioning the story I gave them. The three of us relaxed and thought we would stick with that story if anything came up.
We walked for several hours before getting another ride. It was near midnight by the time we got to Route 5. We were just over one set of mountains from Los Angeles, but the night was cold and clear and the wind was knifing through our jackets and tennis shoes. Only Mike had a heavy coat, and he was still cold. We stood at the side of the highway shivering and ran into another highway patrolman a lot sooner than we wanted. First he passed going the other way and yelled over his speakers,
"Get off the interstate. It is illegal for pedestrians to be on the interstate."
We watched as he disappeared going north and we walked toward the ramp knowing we were going to stick our thumbs out if a car passed. No one had passed to that point but there was always a chance. We didn't hear him as he came up behind us and we were talking and carrying on too cold to turn around until the blue light started flashing on us. We were busted.
He got us all in the back of his car and I gave him the story. The other two just nodded when he asked if that was the case. He said he wasn't going to give us a ticket. We shivered for him and he said he would take us to the ramp so we could warm up. The next thing we knew he was out on the highway and going supersonic speed toward Los Angeles. The radio crackled meaningless messages and codes. The officer looked eerie in the light illuminating him from the dash. He never took his eyes off the road or spoke, and much too soon we were on the top of the mountain outside of Los Angeles.
He stopped at the bottom of the ramp and said, "This is as far as I go. You get out here on the ramp and don't let me catch you out on the highway again. There is a twenty four hour restaurant over on the other side if you want to go get coffee and wait until morning. Just don't let me catch you on the highway."
We got out and watched as he went under the interstate and back in the other direction. We went to the restaurant and sucked down coffee for several hours and decided it was time to hitchhike. The two inches of snow made it particularly bad on my feet, which were encased in tennis shoes. We stood on the ramp and waited, and waited and waited.
It was dawn by the time we walked up onto the highway. We agreed we could freeze to death before anyone stopped for us. We started walking off the mountain and hoped we didn't meet our third highway patrolman that night. We walked until the sun was high in the sky and then a gray Mercury Monterrey pulled to the shoulder. We raced on numb feet to jump into his back seat. He was a pleasant black man and said he didn't pick up hitchhikers but we looked so cold he couldn't pass us by. Our gratitude was obvious and we flushed in our appreciation for the ride and the warmth.
He was a salesman and was heading for Los Angeles. He agreed to take us in to where my friends lived. When we got off the hill he stopped at a donut shop and treated us to donuts and the biggest cup of coffee I had ever seen. It was almost seventy degrees where we ate. It was below freezing when we started walking just thirty miles away. It was a contrast hard not to appreciate. The man dropped us at a phone on Colorado Blvd. He was gracious to the end.
Los Angeles was friendly and especially warm. Tim and I met while he visited Washington D.C., and he invited me to visit him. I was surprised that he had no trouble with Mike and Keith staying over as well. We really didn't know each other that well, but it was a different time and we were all housed and fed like old friends. On my first day out we walked through Pasadena and I saw someone that was my lovers double down to a birthmark. I steered clear until I couldn't resist another look, but it was too late and he was gone when I returned.
It was warm and beautiful and I liked the area. The weather stayed in the sixties and seventies and after being there a week Mike started getting antsy. Keith decided to stay on and was talking about calling his mother for bus fare home. Keith was a complainer. I would not miss him. Mike was a comedian and all around good guy. We went everywhere together while Keith went his own way. Kenny drove us to the freeway and we decided to take Highway 101 toward Santa Barbara. It was another pleasant day and we caught several rides that took us up along the coast. It was spectacular. We waited an hour at a time for the next ride, but it was easier than when we were three.
It took us to the next afternoon to reach San Francisco and Tommy's. We were once more bedded in the living room, and Tommy wasn't quite as glad to see us this time. His wife was pregnant and having a great deal of discomfort. Mike and I stayed scarce, but we were worn out and asked to say a few nights. Tommy agreed and his wife said nothing. We didn't ask them to feed us, but we were running desperately low on funds.
On our second day in Frisco a man approached us on the street. Mike immediately took up a position directly behind me so he could look over my right shoulder. The man was dressed in a nice three piece suit and tie. He asked us if we wanted a job.
"What kind of job?" Mike asked suspicious of the approach.
"Window washing. $50.00 a day."
Mike stepped around me and became interested. He repeated the amount. The man nodded. Mike wanted to know where we would be washing windows. The man looked up at a building across the street from where we stood. There at the top was a platform that was lowered down the side of the forty story building. Mike just stared before having sense enough to ask.
"What happened to the guys that were washing the windows?"
"The platform broke. They got scared and quit."
"Broke how?" Mike said.
"One end dropped down five feet lower than the other end. It took a couple of hours to get them up. They were too scared to go back down to finish."
"Yeah! I guess," Mike said, "Good luck, Jack. See you around."
Mike started up the street. I smiled and followed. I was glad he had enough sense to say no.
Mike decided we needed to panhandle to eat. I told him I just couldn't do that. I wasn't about to beg for money. He said he didn't ask me. He was willing to do the panhandling and share the proceeds. Why this was acceptable to me I don't know, but I knew I wasn't begging for money. By noon we had enough to get some sandwiches and cokes. We started checking restaurants to see if they needed dish washers. The answer was always no until we came to an Italian restaurant. The owner was standing outside and Mike bounced up smiling.
"Need a dish washer. Me number one dish washer."
The man looked Mike up and down. He was wearing his outrageous large fur coat that looked something like the kind of coats they wore back in the twenties to football games. He did not change his expression or speak.
"Well, man, you got a job or what?"
"Can you come back in a few hours?"
"Sure! I can come back. What time?"
"Four. Come around to the kitchen at four."
We didn't talk about the prospects and walked down to the Fisherman's Wharf area and rode the cable cars back up the hill. We went through the alley and came up to the back of the restaurant and Mike yelled through the door. The owner must have been in the kitchen and he stepped out to speak to Mike.
"My dish washer showed up. We have a hard time keeping them. If you want to keep checking each afternoon, I'll be able to use you."
"I'll only be in town for a few more days," Mike said.
"Why do you want a job for a few days?" he asked.
"Eat. I like to eat."
"Oh!" the man thought.
"Come in. I'll feed you. You asked for a job, and I respect that. You come through town and you are always good for a meal. One meal. No more."
"I am really starved for some real food, but my buddy and I travel together. If I eat, he eats. I can't take a meal without him being fed."
"No problem. You come in and eat. Both of you."
The man guided us through the door with a hand on each of our shoulder. I was surprised by Mike's willingness to turn down a good meal if I didn't get fed. It was the first time I realized we had become friends. We had spent some time together, twenty four hours a day. His sentiment made me warm than all that delicious food. We got plates with a little bit of everything and all the coke we could drink. We ate long past when we were full. The food was outstanding.
As we left the owner escorted us back to the alley.
"One meal. Both of you are welcome for a single meal when ever you come through town. If you want to work I'll try to find something for you to do. Only one though," he repeated.
Mike and I were so full it hurt to stand up and walk. It was well after six when we got finished and washed our dishes and set them with the rest to dry. The main was cordial and without a motive past seeing we were fed. I found this pretty amazing. I tried to count the times someone had treated us to food without asking anything in return. It was amazing to me that so many nice people existed.
When we returned to Tommy's, he wanted to go get some beer. He took us to a downstairs bar up on Powell Street. The entertainment consisted of guitar players and poets. It was unique from anything I had ever experienced. We all drank several beers. Tommy kept ordering another round each time he wanted another. After six beers and two past my absolute limit, Tommy suggested we go out and try to get on the cable cars. His idea was we would make a charge for the steps and if all three of us didn't get on we had to go back to have another beer. I remember missing the first three cars. I don't know if it was on purpose or because I was so looped the steps kept moving around. After three, I have no memory of the cable cars. I woke up the following morning at Tommy's and with my head as big as all out doors. Mike explained that he had to carry me from the trolley line. I passed out on him.
I wasn't much of a drinker and didn't like drugs. I accepted his account of the previous evening. He told me he was smart enough not to keep drinking the beers because Tommy kept ordering them. I knew Mike was pretty intelligent. I wasn't smart enough to just not drink the beer bought for me. I thought it was my obligation to drink it if someone thought enough to buy it for me. Even after I was aware I had enough I kept drinking until I wasn't aware of anything. Mike didn't seem to have any ill feelings at my lack of judgment. I thanked him for getting me home.
"You're my brother, man. I couldn't just leave you. It's what brothers do."
Mike had a way of making me feel like we were brothers. I had never known anyone quite like him. I remembered when I was seventeen and marveled that I was able to sit up and take nourishment. Mike was not only smart but well adjusted. He was just an easy guy to like. It was then I was sure glad I hadn't left him and Keith in that diner in Oregon. It would have been a lot tougher trip without him.
It took us to the end of the week to decide to head back to Seattle. Mike was from Tacoma and wanted to let his parents know he was okay. He was a pianist and an honor roll student and he just got fed up with the constant pressure. He told me he ran away to get away from the constant pressure in his life. He spent some time around the clinic in Seattle before he and Keith split for California.
Early the next morning we said good bye to Tommy and walked across the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a grand sight and the song and all the movies flashed through my mind as we walked across the span. We caught a ride almost immediately and were in Santa Rosa by early afternoon. We stopped there and Mike panhandled enough money for each of us to get a burger and we were back on 101. We walked quite a ways before catching another ride and it was getting onto dark when we got out. We were in Cloverland and the night was cool and damp, but not rainy.
A four door sedan pulled to the side of the road and we told them we were heading toward Seattle. Oddly enough a guy got out of the front seat to let Mike in and a guy got out of the back to let me in. We ended up in the middle of each seat. The guys were all mid twenties or so and talked with heavy Mexican accents. They said only hello in English and asked where we were headed. They went to speaking Spanish and except for four or five complimentary words, that left me out.
I felt uncomfortable being separated from Mike. Actually I felt uncomfortable being in between two strangers that exuded no friendliness that I could detect. The four continued a conversation in Spanish and Mike and I were tired and sat silent. Mike looked over his shoulder at me a couple of times and I sensed he felt a bit uncomfortable as well.
The driver said in English that they were headed out to the Eureka and would let us out just north of there. It wasn't far from Oregon. That sounded good to us. We just wanted to keep going. After several hours and after passing through Eureka they started speaking in English.
"You know, man," one said, "You guys should be real careful out on this highway."
"Why's that?" Mike asked.
"Well, man, lots of trouble on thees highway, man. People been kilt out here, man. Two last month."
"Yeah!" the other guy in the front seat said. "They say it is a car full of Mexicans picking up white boys. They take them out in the middle of no where and cut off their heads. All of them, zip. Heads cut clean off. I guess five or six of them last year, huh, Jose?"
"Yeah! Six for sure. Just say it's a car full of Mexican guys going it. You guys should be more careful with who you get in with, man," the driver continued.
"Five or six any way. Mexican guys doing white guys. You should be careful who you get in with."
Mike looked over his shoulder as the passenger in the front seat put his arm across the back of the seat and the guys in the back seat looked at me with a lean and hungry look in their eyes. Needless to say I was becoming alarmed at our circumstances when the driver broke in again.
"Hey, man, this is where we turn off. Oregon's that way," He pointed straight ahead of us. "you guys be more careful who you get in with. Watch those Mexicans. You wouldn't look so hot without your heads, man."
The car screeched to a stop and the two passenger side doors sprang open and we found ourselves on the side of the road watching the car go out of sight down on the right.
"Damn. I thought our asses were grass, dude. They scared shit out of me. Let's get off this road until daylight. I don't want to take no rides in the dark," Mike said.
There was a driveway like affair directly ahead of us and to the left. We walked up the dirt hill and into a mist that grew increasingly thick. Mike kept lighting his lighter and lit a piece of paper from his pocket. It was so dark we couldn't see anything. We walked about a half a mile until we reached a level piece of ground.
"I'm tired man. I can hardly keep my eyes open," Mike said.
Mike had a fire going in what looked like the middle of someone's driveway. About ten feet from us was a house. The front windows were out and the door was only on one hinge. Mike took wood from the front of the house and tossed it into the fire until it raged up into the mist and fog. There were trees on the other side of the driveway and the house. Mike had to explore it.
We walked to the front door and Mike threw pieces of wood back for the fire. The porch was missing large sections and the area in the house we could see was bare. There were holes in the walls and no furniture or signs that anyone ever lived there. We walked back ten or fifteen feet and it was black again. We agreed we would be better off sleeping out by the fire. If we tried to sleep in the house a fire might torch the entire place. We weren't interested in an arson charge or breaking and entering. We went back out and left the front door about the way we found it. Mike poured more wood onto the fire and it was as bright as day until the fog got too dense for the fire to penetrate.
We slept there beside each other on the ground wrapped up in Mikes mink coat. The heat from the fire was intense, but the side that was away from the fire was right chilly. I woke a couple of times and the fire got progressively smaller and smaller until I saw only embers one time when I woke up. I fell back to sleep exhausted from the long day and miles of walking and riding. Mike snored lightly and was never awake when I was.
"Boom! Boom! Boom!" the sounds shook the ground we were sleeping on. "Boom! Boom!" the thunder rolled along the ground and the noise was so loud we couldn't hear each other talk. The ground continued to tremble and the sound echoed into an even more dense fog. Mike stoked the fire and the ground shook and the noise continued in a rhythm of sorts.
Mike ever so carefully worked his way onto the front porch. He held the doorway as he peered into the dark house. I followed him as he moved through the front door and we waited for our eyes adjust. The sound continued and the vibration of the floor shaking was even worse than the ground shaking. The loud pounding noise was growing louder and matched the shaking of the house. Mike kicked the front door all the way open and the haze and mist was clear inside the house. It just hung there in the back half of the room. We could see boards and parts of walls hanging and every few seconds everything vibrated and shook around us. We took each step individually and waited before taking the next. As our eyes adjusted we looked directly out of the back of the house into nothingness. There was only fog. We took our next step holding on to each other and Mike screamed out,
"Sweet Jesus, back up. Don't go any further. The fucking house is falling into the ocean. That's the fucking Pacific Ocean down there."
Mike backed up four steps as he spoke the words. He knelt down. I followed his lead. We crawled forward toward where the floor disappeared into the Pacific Ocean. Finally there was enough light to see the waves crashing up under the ground the house was setting on. There was nothing but rocks and water below the floor where it had fallen off into the ocean. We back tracked and when we were on more solid ground we ran out of the house to the fire.
"This entire piece of ground is going to fall in the ocean. No wonder no one is around here. The ocean is up under us right here. I bet this place will be in the ocean in a week or less," Mike said as he started jogging toward the road that we could barely follow the driveway through the mist and fog. The sound of the ocean died away and the ground became more solid under out feet.
When we reached the end of the driveway, Mike through his arms around me and hugged me, and we both became hysterical. What we found so funny I don't know, but suddenly we couldn't stop laughing.
"Man. We could have fallen into the freakin Pacific Ocean, man. I'm still shaking."
He was, and I was as well. We had spent the entire night on top of the ocean on a piece of ground that could have fallen in at any time. We were just lucky that way I guess. We found the road as the daylight broke through the fog on it. We started walking north and had no idea where we were. The further we walked the more dense the forest became. First daylight lightened everything, and then we slowly lost all the light as the trees seemed higher and higher until we could not find the sky. We walked and we walked and we walked some more and after two or three hours we started getting worried.
"You realize we've been walking for maybe ten miles and we haven't seen a car or a building of any kind."
"No. I hadn't thought about it, but now that you've told me what are we going to do."
"Let's keep walking," Mike said. "I don't think I want to live here."
My stomach was growling and we walked on. It was almost ten o'clock when we finally came to a small cafe. Between Mike and I, we had seventeen cents in assets. That and Mike's raccoon coat were about our entire wealth at the time. We decided to ask for water at the cafe.
There was one of those annoying bells on the door when we entered. The place was empty. There were no cars in the parking area. The trees towered over the cafe and the brush had grown up within several feet of the sides and rear. Only the front was recognizable as a building. An elderly woman came through the door from the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. She wore a pleasant smile that accented her pure white hair nicely.
"What can I do for you boys?" she said.
"We were wondering," I said. "We were wondering if we could…."
"Water. Could we get some water," Mike finally explained at length.
"Water. My goodness. You boys look like you been walking all night."
"Since sun up. Haven't see a car or a living thing until we found this place," Mike said, looking around. "How far to civilization anyway?"
The woman brought back two huge glasses of ice water. We drained them in one gulp and set the glasses back down.
"You want more?" she asked.
"Yes, maim. If it isn't any trouble."
"No trouble. You boys look hungry. You sure you don't want something to eat."
"No, maim. We are out of money and trying to get back home to Seattle. We got on these back roads, and well, we just haven't made any time at all and no roads back to the Interstate," Mike said.
"You boys sit down over there. You look worn out. Just take your time. It isn't like you are running off any business. It's really nice to have someone to talk to," the woman said as she worked behind the counter.
We sat by the window and noticed the view for the first time. It would have been a lovely spot at a different time. Having the weight off my feet was just about next to heaven.
"How long you been here?" I asked.
"Oh! Ben and I bought the place in twenty seven. The loggers ran this road then. No logging now. The tourists are out at different times, but two three people a day is all I get these days. Forty years. My son has a farm not far up the road. That way I have someone if I need them. Ben's been gone almost twenty years now."
"It must get lonely," Mike said.
"No. I like it. I can't do a lot. A few people a day to break the boredom, and that's all it takes."
The woman stepped out from behind the counter with two cups of coffee and a tray full of donuts. Mike's eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw the tray.
"Oh, maim. We don't have any money," I reminded.
"Didn't ask you for none. You boys need to eat something. These donuts will get in the trash by tonight. Do me good to see they don't get wasted to day. You boys eat up."
Before she finished Mike had finished three donuts and his coffee. She laughed and filled the cup for him again. She disappeared into the kitchen and we could hear her banging and clanging.
"You need any help, maim. I can do any lifting or carrying you might need. It's the least I can do," Mike said.
"You boys rest. You look a sight. You can't tell when you'll get to rest again. Better enjoy it while you can. I'm going to call my boy. Think he said he was a goin to Grants Pass today. If he is, I can have him take you boys. You just eat them donuts and rest up."
Mike and I smiled and dove back into the donuts. I was still shocked by the kindness of strangers. There was no way to count the number of people that had helped us along the way and never asking for anything in return. The trip was a success in that area. I was impressed by the people we had met. My distrust of people in general was hard to maintain.
Dolores we came to know as we waited for her son to pick us up. She brought us eggs, bacon, fresh biscuits and gravy and pancakes. Mike was beside himself with Joy. It was the best meal we had since the Italian restaurant meal. This was a whole lot more appreciated and we certainly needed it more. After filling our cups one more time she sat and drank a cup of coffee and watched us gobble down the food.
"Does my heart good to see two boys appreciate my cooking this way. Most people pick so at their food. Good to see such fine appetites."
"We certainly appreciate your kindness, maim. You don't know how badly we needed to eat."
"Oh! I think I knew. You boys were on your last legs when you came in here. Looked like a couple a sick pups to me."
The door swung open and Tim Tall Trees came in. He was seven foot tall and three hundred pounds. A bigger man I had never seen up close. He wore a lumber jacks shirt and thick lined coat that made him wider than he was.
"Hi, junior. This is Mike and Rick. They need a ride to Grants. You make sure you get them up on the highway there now. They've been walking all morning."
"Yes, mama. You boys load up. I got to be gettin in there. This is ten miles in the wrong direction. You boys grab what you can take and come on."The man leaned over and hugged the tiny slip of a woman. You could hardly see her in his arms, but he was a gentle as could be. "Got to go mama, I'll be by this afternoon. Come on boys. Bus is a leaving."
We followed the man carrying our coats and yelled back our thanks and appreciation to Dolores.
She waved as we pulled out and we were gone. Later I told Mike we were going to stop back by there and bring her some flowers for her kindness. She feed us, quenched our thirst, let us rest, and arranged to get us two hundred miles up the road and back to the Interstate we knew we should have never left. We did have another adventure to mark up, but it wasn't without cost.
The heat ran hard into my face and I leaned against the cool window trying to stay cool. I could hardly keep my eyes open and my stomach was just now trying to deal with two pounds of food after more than a day with no pounds of food. I wrote it off to too little and then too much. The trip took until almost two o'clock. Tim dropped us on an Interstate ramp and said hitch hiking is legal in Oregon. Have at it boys, and he wished us luck.
Rides were slow even on the Interstate. We got a ride to Roseville and it was well after dark when we got out. The next ride took us to Eugene, and it was after nine in the evening. My stomach flipped, flopped, and flipped again. I was burning up and freezing at the same time. I finally tossed my cookies all over highway five.
"You okay or what dude?"
"I don't know. I don't feel so hot. I haven't felt good since we left the restaurant. Maybe I'm catching cold or something."
Mike took off his cloth gloves and placed his hand on my forehead, "Sweet Jesus. You're burning up, man. We got to get you out of the cold for you catch pneumonia." Mike guided me toward some lights off the ramp where we stood. The further we went the less able I was to go until most of my weight was across Mike's shoulders. He took a step at a time and the ground seemed to be somewhere else. I couldn't feel it under me. My head was spinning, my stomach had gone sour, and I felt like death warmed over.
There was an all night restaurant under the lights. Mike helped me into the area between the entrance and the outside there was a ten foot glassed in area. Each time someone came or went the cold air blew on me making me more dizzy if that was possible. I stepped out and tossed more cookies, but there wasn't much left. Mike held me and patted my back and tried to comfort me. He helped me back inside.
It was after midnight when Pam came out. She was one of the night waitresses.
"You boys come on in here. The boss is gone. You can sit in the closed section until I get off. You can't stand out in this doorway all night. Can't allow that," she explained.
Pam sat us in the last booth in a section that was closed. There were no lights on and there was no way to even see we were there. In five minutes she had brought us coffee and more donuts. I almost lost it again. Mike took me in the employee bathroom and cleaned me and my clothes off enough to make me look like I was human. I did drink coffee and it did warm me up, but it did awful things to my stomach. The restaurant was pleasant and I slept on and off. I woke to see Pam sitting next to Mike a couple of times. I drifted back off.
At 6a.m. Pam got off. She offered to take us to her place, but Mike said he had to get me home. He didn't think I would last on the road another day. I managed to walk up to the Route 5 and a big black sedan rolled to a stop before we got our thumbs out. We were lost in the big backseat. The two antique dealers found the tale of our journey fascinating, but my worsening illness concerned them. They were going to Seattle and Mike had them talked into dropping us off near the house before we were in Oregon. They seemed like pretty nice fellows, and they could see I wasn't motoring too well.
Luckily when we did arrive home Rick was there. If we had to stay out over the garage, it was ten degrees cooler because it was shaded, but Rick let us in and stood back when he saw Mike carrying me up the last stairs.
"What the hells wrong with him?" He asked.
"Sick. Got sick yesterday down in California. He's bad. Can't keep anything down. Fever is high. I'm not sure he doesn't have pneumonia. His breathing is awful bad."
"Well, I got to get back to the clinic. Can you take care of him until I can get someone to cover me."
"I can take care of him. Don't worry about it. Go to work. I'll try to get something down him, and keep him warm. He should come around."
"I'll be okay," I said. "Don't worry about me. I been sick before. I'll be sick again.
Mike put me down on our my sleeping bag that was still against the wall in the living room. He stripped me out of my smelly clothes and brought back water and soap and washed me up. I tried to object but kept falling asleep. When I woke up I was in Mikes thick wool shirt inside the sleeping bag with Mike's coat over top of me. I was burning up and freezing at the same time. I shivered and sweat at the same time. I was a bit out of sorts and Mike brought me tomato soup and after two teaspoons full, I deposited the contents of my stomach onto the coat, the shirt and the sleeping bag. He cleaned me up again and let me drink some water. I guess it stayed down. I don't remember it coming up.
As a matter of fact it became the lost weekend for the next week. I have no recollection of anything but Mike. Day or night, when I woke up, he was beside me. He would help me drink and try to feed me. A few times he was sponging me off. I can't remember being hot, or cold, or hungry or sick for that matter. I just have some pictures in my head of Mike by my side whenever I was awake which wasn't often.
I came around after that week and started feeling better. Mike would disappear for an hour or so from time to time, and the next thing I knew we would be eating fresh veggies and soup or something a bit more thrilling after my stomach settled down. When I was getting back on my feet again, Rick told me he had never seen anyone more devoted. He said he nursed me, stole food to cook for me, cleaned me and kept washing everything I kept dirtying. It was when Mike was leaving to go back home that I asked him why he did so much for me.
"I know you better than anyone I've ever known," he told me. "You are like my brother. Closer than a brother. I don't think I would care this much for a brother. We traveled together, ate together, starved together. I've never been closer to anyone. You would have done the same for me. I had to stay and make sure you were okay. That's all. I'll be gone for a few days. Just don't leave without me. Where ever you go, I want to go with you."
That was Mike's only request. It was all he ever asked of me the entire time I knew him. I know what he felt about getting to know someone. I had never been so close to anyone in such a short period of time. I guess adversity has a way of bringing people together. I don't think I ever cared for anyone more than I cared for Mike, but when I left Seattle, I left alone before Mike returned. It was what I had to do, but I do regret leaving before seeing Mike again.
* * * * * * * * *
Hitchhiking is an activity which can lead to unexpected risk. When you step onto a highway and stick out your thumb you enter the world of the unknown. When a potential ride stops at the side of the road, there are two options. You can either accept the beckoning door, or you can turn it down. Once in the car, your destiny has changed. Some times the change isn't perceptible. You get a ride, you get out and go on with your life. Then there are the other times. Your life becomes altered because you accepted this particular ride and became part of someone else's reality.
There may be no hint or clue past your hair rising a little on the back of your neck as you first lay eyes on him. It is so subtle, you might not even notice it, or you might simply brush it off because you really are tired of waiting for a ride. You don't want to listen to the subtle warning that might keep you safe. Once the car drives away, your future is in the hands of a complete stranger.
I wasn't much of a hitchhiker. An occasional experience when I had a flat or a break down. Then there was the time Mike Williams and I ended up hitching from Seattle to Los Angeles and back. Being with someone else made me feel safer, though I always wondered where the cars picking us up came from and where they disappeared to. Like the hair on the back of my neck, I didn't notice much past that in the two dozen rides we'd accepted in the month we were on the road. Mike and I were having a great time. We seemed to be lucky with rides all but a couple of times when we had a little delay in picking up the next ride. That was on the way down to Los Angeles.
Mike was running away from his piano, and I was simply going to the golden state for my first visit. He was experienced at getting rides and the kind of help you need when you are on the road. At seventeen he was a bright and happy guy tired of too many hours of practice and too much time spent at a keyboard. I was glad to have his company. He made my first hitchhiking adventure fun.
When we were heading back after almost a month, we decided we'd stay close to the coast. We wanted to go the scenic route not realizing how this would thin out the available rides. Since it was my first trip to California, I wanted to get the full experience. The rides on Route 5 came easy with little time between. On highway 101 we went up the coast in short rides. We didn't realize how tired we were until we started to walk hoping to find some place to lay over for the night. My legs felt like lead and my feet hurt.
We were both dragging as the dark sedan stopped for us. Mike laughed and said, "See. I knew we'd get another ride. Knew it all the time."
As we ran up to the car, a man got out of the front seat, and another one got out of the back seat. I shook off the uneasy feeling I got when I was being separated from Mike. I thought it peculiar they wanted him to sit in the middle in the front seat as I sat in the middle in the back. Having a big man on either side of me, and two big men flanking Mike, didn't seem all that odd, not if you didn't want to think about it. I was too tired, and I was just glad to get off my feet and onto my seat. We rode in silence the first few miles. I'd gone against my instincts and was about to regret it.
The driver said something in Spanish, and the guy on my right side answered him in Spanish. This started a conversation between the four of them. The driver talked to each guy, and each guy answered him. My Spanish skills hadn't been honed, so I brushed this off as simply being four guys that spoke no better English than I spoke Spanish.
When the car turned off to the left, I became alarmed.
"You can let us out right over here," I said, leaning up to the back of the seat knowing we were still just off the highway and there was time to stop without the driver seeming rude.
"No, amigo, I can't do that. You see, this highway is far too dangerous to be out this late. I would feel terrible if I let you out and something then happened to you. Haven't you heard about all the murders along this exact stretch of road?"
"No," I said, "But we're going north. We need to stay on 101."
"You see, amigo," the man beside me said, "There is a car load of Mexican's going around picking up white boys. They leave them on back roads with their throats cut. That's why we can't just drop you on the side of the road. We feel responsible for gringos that come onto our turf. We are four humble Mexican's driving in our car. You see our responsibility here. You see why we can't just put you out."
"Yeah!" the guy beside Mike said, "How'd we feel tomorrow they find you with your throats cut. We'd feel awfully bad. You wouldn't want us feeling bad now would you. How would you feel in that case?"
"Look," Mike said, "You've scared us. Were really amused by your sense of humor. Now, let us out of the fucking car. Now!" He demanded.
"Oh, amigo, you do not appreciate our concerns for you. This is not good for you, amigo. I don't think you want us to be letting you off out here. We are only trying to help. Trust me, amigo. I only mean to save your lives."
"Let me out," Mike said, "Now!"
The car pulled to the shoulder of the road. It was too narrow to get the wheels off the pavement. The four men talked Spanish as we sat in the car going nowhere. No one moved or offered to let us out. Mike was trying to get to the door handle, but the man in the passenger seat kept knocking his hand away as he reached for the handle. The guy beside me stared at the driver and spoke to him covering a lot of ground in only a minute.
The two right side doors opened at about the same time. As the guy in the front seat got out, Mike shot out past him running around the rear door and across to the other side of the road. The driver jumped out and chased Mike. The guy beside me stood up to look and see where he was running. I bolted past him pushing him down a small embankment before rounding the rear of the car going in the same direction as Mike. I stayed on the opposite side of the road from the driver and Mike, but ran in the direction they went.. The driver turned trying to grab me as he heard me coming up from behind him. I saw the knife in his hand as I dodged around his outstretched arms. One of the other guys was yelling as he ran after us. The other two had stayed near the car.
My heart felt as though it would burst in my chest. I'd never known real fear until that instant. I'd been afraid I might screw something up on the job. I'd feared being rejected by this person or that, but this put all those incidental fears into perspective. There had been times when my life bumped up against unpleasantness I found uncomfortable and perhaps I feared them, but I'd never come face to face with an evil that left me with no other option than to run if I wanted to survive.
"Rick. Up here," I heard, as my lungs burned from my sprint. I'd gone about as far as I could run, and I heard the car turning around to come after us. It was Mike's voice. I looked over my shoulder as someone grabbed my arm pulling me into some shrubs. I didn't have time to see how close my pursuer was. I started to say something, but Mike covered my mouth with his hand. We lie there in a ditch hidden by some short bushes. I could hear my heart in my ear. There were footsteps that didn't quite come to where we were lying. There was the sound of the car idling close behind.
"Where'd they go," a voice said in perfect English.
"Down the hill toward the highway. They don't know how quiet the road is this time of night. We'll find them."
"They can identify us, Jose. We can't let that happen. They'll grab us for the other killings. They'll fry us."
"It won't. Where can they go? The Ocean's there. Too steep to get to it. The road is the only way they can get to 101. We'll drive the car down there and work our way back. We'll find them. We always do. This is the fun part. The hunt is always better than the kill."
The footsteps disappeared back up the street. I lay there shaking and trying to figure out who these guys were. Why would they want to hurt us? It made no sense. We'd never even seen them before. We'd never been in the area before.
"Come on. Before they come back," Mike said. "There are mailboxes here. There has to be houses up this dirt road."
"Looks more like a driveway," I said.
"We'll find a house. Call the cops. Come on before they come back."
I followed Mike up the hill regretting the crunch of the gravel under our feet. There was a cold chill in the air. I shivered as the darkness hid all but a shadow presence of my companion. I could hear him breathing as we got to the top of the sharp rise.
"Here's a driveway. Let's go this way. There's got to be a house up here."
As we walked up the narrow dirt and gravel drive, a mist filters through the trees into our path. It felt damp and was moving down the small hill fast enough to see it moving. It almost lit the air with its whiteness. I could still barely see Mike, but I sure could see that mist.
"We must be getting close to the ocean," Mike said, "Let's go toward the fog. It's getting thicker. They'll never find us. There should be a house up here some place."
"What do you think they wanted?" I asked.
"Let's just find a place to hide. I don't want to think about them. We can stay up here until daylight. They'll never find us in this soup."
The road turned as the trees thinned out. We broke through into a clearing, there was a house directly in front of us. It was a two story white house and seemed to almost glow against the misty night.
"Shit. No one is home," Mike said.
"Maybe they're in bed. Knock on the door. We've got to wake them up."
"No car," he said. "No ones here. Shit."
"Knock on the door. They may be asleep. Someone has to be in there."
Mike pounded on the door with loud thumps. I thought if anyone is in there, they'll be going for their gun.
"It's unlocked," he said, with the doorknob in his hand he turned to look at me for my approval.
"Let's go in. We can hide. Those jerks won't risk going into someone's house."
"Neither will I. I don't want to go to jail," Mike said.
"Jail! Jail! They're going to kill us. You better hope all that happens to us is jail."
I pushed past him and stepped into the entryway hoping the house had an alarm system that was now alerting the local police.
"Damn it's dark. Find a light."
"Right! Let's shoot up a flare so those assholes will find us without wasting their entire night looking for us. Hey, anybody home? Your door is unlocked. We need help. Anybody."
"There's no one here," Mike said.
He was right. I don't know how I knew it, but there was no one in that house. It gave me an eerie feeling, but it wasn't the kind of feeling you get when other people are close at hand, there was an emptiness to it, and yet it looked like any other house. I guess a light would have come on, or a sound would have come from someone moving around if there was someone there, but there was no sound, and I knew there wouldn't be one.
"Lock the door," I said.
"What if the people lost their key and can't get in. That's why they left the door unlocked."
"Get real, Mike. Lost their key? Those guys come up here, they aren't going to be looking for a key. We'll find a place to hide just in case. I bet this is someone's weekend house. I bet they come up here from the city. I bet no one is living here."
"I hope," Mike said.
It was very hard to see anything. There was no moon and no starlight. The fog seemed to cover everything when we looked out of the window.
"We'll go upstairs so we can see out of the front window. We'll see them if they come up here."
"Can't see anything," he said. "How we going to see them?"
"It's better than sitting here by the door for them to bust in. If we see them, we can go out back and hide. They'll think there is no one around. Just make sure the door is locked.."
I took first watch while Mike slept on what must have been the daughter's bed judging by the frilly doodads that covered it. It was the first time I noticed he snored. He also tossed and turned. I had to take my coat off because it got so hot in the house. I watched for any sign of light coming up the drive. I didn't know if I wanted the people that owned the house to come home or not. I found a phone, but it was dead. I knew that meant we didn't have to worry about anyone coming home. I sat back at the window staring into the night.
I must have fallen asleep. It just became impossible to keep my eyes open. Then, the car lights were lighting up the treetops. The fog became super lighted and glowed as the tires crunched on the gravel as they slowly made their way up the driveway.
"What?" he said, not being totally awake and for just an instant not remembering where he was.
"What is it," he said alarmed, sitting straight up in the bed.
"Out front. There's a car."
"I told you the people would come home."
"I don't think so. I found a phone. It is dead."
"Shit! Let's go out the back way."
"It's too late. There are two of them standing out in front. I don't see the others. They're just looking at the house."
Two of the men stood in-between the headlights talking. One went around back. The other one went up to the front door. He tried the handle and backed up to look up at the widows.
"No one back there, Jose."
"Front doors locked. Let's go further up. We can't let them get away. They've seen us. They can identify us. We've got to do something about that."
His eyes seemed to penetrate the house. I leaned back shying away from the window as he looked at it. I could hear him trying the door again before backing up and looking at the window where I hid.
"Hey! Jorge, we done this house?"
"We been here before, man. I've been here before. I know this house. If we haven't done it, we'll come back to do it after we catch our gringo friends."
"You were here without me, dude. I've never been here before. We've never done this place," Jorge answered.
"Maybe not. Maybe not. I think so. I could swear. I think so."
He walked toward the front of the car looking once over his shoulder at the house. He pointed up and down toward the lane as he talked to the other guys. Two stood at opposite sides of the car as Jorge and Jose stood in front talking. Mike sat motionless in the bed. The car lights finally flashed across the front of the house as they backed up and left.
"I think so. It's too dark to see if anyone stayed behind. The one guy was awful curious about the front of this house. Thought he'd been here before."
"Let's get out of here before they come back when they don't find us."
I turned around sitting on the floor looking at Mike.
"Where do we go?" I asked. "They're looking for us. We go down on the road and they'll find us. We don't know the area or how far it is to some civilization. I think that's why they picked this area to kill us."
"You think they were really going to kill us? Maybe it's just a hoax. You know, trying to scare the hitchhikers game?"
"Why look for us? Why come up here? We were scared enough to run and leave our stuff. Why keep on with it if it is just a hoax, unless they want to scare us to death. We go out there and we risk walking right into them. They've been here already. They might not come back. They checked all the doors and seemed satisfied. This is probably the safest place for us."
"And they might come back," Mike said.
I must have dozed off again as we sat silently while the darkness closed in on us. When I woke up, the entire house seemed to be shaking. There was a thundering that seemed to surround us. Mike woke at the same time. The sound seemed to echo through the house.
"What is it? What's going on?" Mike asked.
"I don't know. Maybe an earthquake. Let's get the hell out of here. The whole house is shaking."
The stairs seemed to be moving out from under me as I took them three and four at a time. I had trouble getting the front door open. As soon as I got out into the yard, I could feel the ground moving under my feel. Mike came charging out of the house running past me down the driveway. I followed him to the access lane, and back to the road that led to Route 101. I continued to run until I couldn't run any more. Mike was waiting for me in sight of the main highway. He leaned with his hands on his knees looking every bit as trashed as I felt. It had been a difficult night.
"What the fuck was it?" Mike asked.
"I don't know," I said. "The ground was shaking, and it sounded like thunder. Listen. Hear it?"
"What? I don't hear anything but my heart beating."
"Exactly. No noise. No shaking. Whatever it was, we outran it. Whatever it was is back at that house."
"I hope you're right."
We walked down to Route 101 crossing it and then walked north. The first morning light had started to appear between the trees. After about a half an hour, a car stopped to take us to the first town. We went to the sheriffs department. We described what had happened to us and told them about the guys that accosted us taking our belongings. They wrote it up as a simple robbery, but I protested, and Mike added his disagreement to the mix. We were escorted into a conference room when we told them about the threats and the knife.
We were very reluctant to tell them about being in the house, but finally Mike said we ought to tell them everything just in case. We didn't want to go to jail for burglary, and since we didn't do anything but sit in a bedroom, well, how much trouble could we be in. The deputy sat and listened to us. He took notes, and seemed indifferent. I don't think he took us too seriously.
"Look you two, we are a small department. We cover a lot of territory. Give us some evidence showing that something took place last night, and we'll be glad to act on it. A tag number. Anything. These guys will say they gave you a ride and you left your bags. Their word against yours. I doubt you are going to ever see your things again. Why not just call it a day, and head on up the road. Those guys are long gone, and you don't have anything to give us. Hitchhiking is dangerous. You're lucky you only lost your clothes."
"These guys are looking to kill someone. You better take notice. When you find a couple of bodies around here with their throats cut, that's when your going to sit up and take notice," I said.
"Who are they," a voice said from a speaker hanging over a mirror on the wall.
"Robbery chief. They say some guys gave them a ride. Threatened them. They think they saw a knife. They don't have much to give us."
"Let's back up to these couple of bodies with their throats cut," the speaker said.
"That's what they said they were going to do. I saw a knife," I said to the mirror.
"What'd they steal?"
"Everything they owned, chief."
"They threatened to kill us. Cut our throats."
"Did they?" The speaker asked.
"I'm telling you these guys were going to kill us if we hadn't gotten away from them."
"They just said, we're going to cut your throat. That it?" the Chief asked, "Then they just let you go?"
"Not exactly. They told us a story about four guys cutting the throats of hitchhikers and leaving them on the sides of deserted roads up along here."
"They said that was happening, but did they say they were the cutters and they were going to cut you."
"No, sir. I got the point of the story," I said. "They were telling us what they were going to do to us. They got their rocks off by scaring shit out of us."
"You sure they weren't stopping to let you out. Rattled your chain a little. Let you out, scared but none the worse for wear."
"They chased us. That's when we found the house."
"After you got out of the car, then they chased you?"
"Awful careless of them letting both of you get away. I think someone is pulling your legs."
"They came looking for us. We hid in a house up off 101. They came looking for us. We just lucked out. We locked the door, and they didn't think we could have gotten in."
"Let me get this straight, you broke into someone's house?"
"Not exactly," Mike said, "I turned the knob. The door was unlocked. They were coming after us. It wasn't like there were a lot of options at the time."
"Could you show me the house? We have to investigate that. If it checks out, well, under the circumstances we can probably forget about it. That's if nothing is damaged or missing."
"Yes, sir. I think I can find it," Mike answered.
"You boys have anything to eat?"
"No, sir," we both answered at the same time.
The Chief of Police loaded us into his car and took us to a restaurant at the end of town. He ordered us hot cakes and milk. After eating we ended up driving south on Route 101. We weren't sure how far we'd come after being picked up, but described the way the road went off on an angle to the left a few minutes before we ran from the car.
The Chief questioned us as we rode. He was particularly interested in the knife I saw, and what was said that made us think these men were going to kill us. He seemed most interested in why we thought they meant to cut our throats. He kept coming back to questions about the knife.
"Here," Mike said. "That's it. Isn't it, Rick?"
"It could be. Go down and come back up from the other way. That's the way we were traveling. It will be easier to see if it's the same."
The Chief followed our instructions as we found our way back up the road where we had been terrorized the night before.
"Stop here. That's the driveway leading to the house," Mike said.
The Chief seemed surprised as he put the car into reverse and backed up past the mailboxes before turning toward the left.
"I think it was the first driveway on this lane. Damn fog still hiding everything. It was the same last night. The closer we got to the house the foggier it got," Mike said.
"It's the ocean. Always like this in the mornings this time of year. You sure where you are taking me?"
"Yes, sir. This is the place," I said.
The fog was so thick you could only see for about ten feet. The car rolled slowly along until we told him to turn once again. He pulled into the narrow drive and stopped putting his car into reverse immediately before driving us immediately back to the police station. We were once again taken into the little room. This time the chief came in with two cans of coke.
"What's your game? You didn't break into any house along that road. What's the story here? I don't like little boys playing with my head."
"We told you the truth. We told you just what happened. Don't you want to let those people know we were in their house. They'll see we didn't bother anything. Just sat up in the corner bedroom until they left. We woke up with the ground shaking and split. That's it. We've told you everything we know."
"You're going to stick to that story?"
"Now, I'm going to tell you what I think. You boys read about the killings that took place here a few years ago. You decided you were going to come down here to have a little fun with the locals. You invented this story, but you should have checked a little closer. There is no house up the drive you had me on. You screwed up. You should have done a little more research. You know you've filled an illegal report here. Making false statements on an official investigation is against the law. Now, I haven't got time to play with you boys. I want you to get your ass up and march out of this station and out of my town. This nonsense stops here."
"What's your problem. We picked the wrong driveway. That's all. It's the next one, or the one after that. You saw the fog. It was the same way last night. It just rolled in over everything. There could have been a driveway we missed."
"All those houses up that road went into the Pacific during a storm over eleven years ago. There are no houses left up there."
Mike and I looked at each other. We knew what we saw, and we knew where we had been. We thought that was the spot but knew we could be wrong.
"It was the wrong road then," Mike said. "There's another road that looks like that one."
"No. Not like that. Not with houses that close to the ocean," the Chief said. "You got it all right down to that. That's where you screwed up."
"How far did we go off 101 before Jose pulled over, Mike."
"I don't know. I was too busy yelling I wanted out of the car. I don't know how long. Seemed like forever. Couldn't have been more than a minute or two or three before he pulled over."
"Jose?" the Chief said.
"That's what they called him. They were talking in Spanish, but the guy in the backseat called him Jose. I'm sure of that."
"He did. I heard the name," I said. "Later on. At the house, I heard Jose call one of the other guys Jorge. They were right under the window where I was watching."
"You guys sit tight. I'll be right back."
The chief disappeared and returned about ten minutes later. He put a book in the middle of the table and opened it to the middle.
"I want you guys to turn the pages and check out all the pictures on each page. I want you to tell me if any of the guys in that car from last night are in this book. Start at the page I've turned it to."
"Jesus," Mike said, "There must be a thousand pictures here."
We looked at the page the Chief opened to us and agreed there was no one on the page we recognized. We turned the page.
"Him," Mike said, "That's Jose. That's the son-of-a-bitch."
"It's him. That's the driver of the car."
"A 1985 four door Caprice. Shitty looking green color?" The Chief said.
"Yeah! Could have been. It was green with four doors," Mike said.
The chief flipped through several more pages. Each time we picked out a man within a minute. The chief closed the book and took it out of the room. A few minutes later he returned.
"What's the story, boys. I want the truth. You've been here before. Read about our town. Heard stories. Someone you know lived here?"
"I don't know what you are talking about. I've never been here before, and I can guarantee you I'll never be here again. We've told you what happened to us. We've told you the truth. I don't know what your fucking problem is."
"I find that hard to believe," the Chief said.
"You've got the book. Pick these guys up. They're going to kill someone. We can identify them for you. They might still have our stuff," I said. "At least you could try to do something."
"You went down that road and you went into a house?"
"That road. One like it. That's what happened."
"Come on boys. We're going to end this little game right now."
The Chief didn't say anything else about knives or the four guys we picked out or even where the house might be. He drove back south on 101 until we turned up the road that slanted off the highway where we were taken the night before. This time he went to the driveway where we thought we'd been the night before. This time he drove up over the hump, and there in the fog was the thick house just like we'd told him.
"See. Told you. There. There it is. It was there all the time," Mike said. "Who's wrong now?"
"That thundering. What the fuck is that," I said, as I could feel the car shaking.
"That's the Pacific Ocean. It undermined this section of the coast a few years back. We're right on the edge of where it undermines this cliff."
"You going to leave a note for these people," Mike said. "We didn't take anything."
"You went into this house. You went upstairs, and you stayed in the front bedroom? Point to it so I know what you're telling me."
"Yes, sir. That window right there. That's where we watched them stop right where you are parked now."
I could feel the ground shaking when I got out of the car. The thundering roar was even louder than when it woke me that morning. The chief leaned on the front of the car as we stood by the porch.
"See anything funny about this house?" he asked.
"No," Mike said, looking at the chief and me.
"Go open the front door for me. Just like you did last night. I want you to go upstairs and wave at me from that bedroom window. I want you to show me where you watched those boys from."
Mike walked into the fog. We followed him as he stepped up on the porch.
"Looks a little different in the daylight," he said. "Looks older. More worn out," he said, as he turned the handle and threw the door open. Mike started to step through the door and moved back quick. "Fuck. What in hell happened to the house?"
I moved up behind him and looked ten feet inside the door where I could see the Pacific Ocean fifty feet below crashing up under us. We stood there looking at each other.
"Still think you were in here last night," the Chief said. "Still think you were upstairs. I think you'd have to go down there to find any stairs."
"We were. I thought we were. This is the house. When did this happen?"
"January 23rd, eleven years ago last night. Four houses went in that same night. Hellacious storm."
"How is that possible?" Mike said, looking at me.
"Not! Not at all. Neither could those four boys have picked you up last night."
"What?" Mike said.
"Those four pictures you picked out were pictures of four petty thieves that plagued this county for ten years. Little punky stuff. The night of January 23rd, eleven years ago, they broke into this house to rob it. You see, the houses had been evacuated that morning when they were declared unsafe after days of rain. These boys figured they'd come up here and make a nice score. Hit the houses back off the road. Who would ever know."
"What happened?" I asked.
"They were in the house when it went into the ocean. They figured everything but the fact they evacuated them for a good reason. End of story. Only when this happened, we had a series of homicides along this stretch of highway. All hitchhikers. All found dead on deserted sections of road. All of them had their throats cut. Strangely enough, that string of murders stopped about the time those boys went into the ocean with this house. I never gave it a thought. I sure never tied those petty thieves to all those murders. They were punks. No violence on any of them."
"You're jacking us around, right!" Mike said. "You decided you don't believe a thing we're saying, and now it's payback time. I'm not buying it. You're making this crap up."
"Jose Morales, Jorge Cassio, Thomasino Cruz, and John Ramos died in this house eleven years ago. None of my department was here during the murders or when the houses went in. The case was widely publicized at the time. The murders went on for several years. There were nine bodies found within 10 or 12 miles of the town. When they stopped, everyone agreed the murderer either moved on, died, or went to prison for some other unrelated crime.
"We've tried to forget it. No one that remembers it talks about it. Then you boys show up with this story of yours. The only thing that makes any sense is that those four boys did the killings. That's why the killings stopped the night they died. We'd never have known the truth if you hadn't come along. That's the reason I'm going to drop you off on the far side of my town, and you're going to keep moving on up the road."
"This makes no sense," I said, "What you're saying isn't possible."
"I'm not saying anything. You've done all the saying. I've just told you about the history of our town, this house, and four of our less than leading citizens. You're telling me that you were picked up by four dead guys, and you hid from them in a house that isn't there.
"Damn if I know what it means, but I advise you boys to take your looses, and get the hell out of here, before you stir up anymore of our restless dead. If I were you, I wouldn't be here after dark. That's all I'm saying."
He didn't need to say anymore.
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