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Carlos strode into the garage. George walked alongside him, while
Laramie and Phil followed at a few paces. The professor stooped to pick
up the .45 handgun and a loose clip that had belonged to the flattened
former police officer, stowing it in a loop in his belt, and inspected
the vehicle on the lift. A quick appraisal confirmed that it was a Dodge
one-ton 4WD Power Wagon, with the oversized wheels and beefed-up
suspension of a custom off-road rig and a crew cab that was not standard
for the model. The grill marked it as a '61, having an iconic
early-sixties shape vaguely like the face of a longhorn bull and a mesh
pattern throughout that was retired after a single year. The stakebed
rear and a railroad tie bumper added a touch of redneck engineering.
"It's one of a kind, far as we can tell," Phil said. "The engine under
the hood is a diesel. The guy gave it to us to have an electric
transmission installed, like yours. I heard he was a regular customer
back in old Pete's days, maybe a friend. Except, I got the feeling old
Pete didn't like him... maybe got scared of him, by the end."
"One of a kind," Carlos said. "...We'll take it anyway."
strode out the back, into the rear lot. There were a dozen cars in
view. The lot ended at a line of outbuildings and a wooden fence that
clearly enclosed a much larger junk yard. At least a score of trailers
and motor homes poked above the fence right at the front, in addition to
the edge of a gabled roof that was presumably Pete's place. Ranks and
files of many more tall trailers and vehicles receded into the distance,
and who knew what entirely out of view.
Carlos looked over the
cars first, twirling his hammer thoughtfully. His eyes lit on a VW Bus
crewcab pickup, which had the V-shaped front and split windshield of the
original line. "We want that," he said. His eyes turned next to a van
of similar vintage which was fairly generic except for the grill that
marked it as a Jeep. "Damn. The FC passenger van variant. We spent years
lookin' for one of these."
"Ah... we got it running well enough, but the engine's a bit off," Phil said. "Rattles, squeals, you know..."
Carlos ignored him, sizing up a tiny Subaru that looked more like a golf cart. "We'll take that one, too."
ah, that's the 360, ah, sir. It received one of the worst ratings ever
for safety in a collision..." Carlos gave him a cool glance, and he fell
silent. Carlos went down the line, and stopped at a GMC pickup,
slapping the hammer against the palm of his hands. "Well, sit, now that
is a fine vehicle. I notice you already have a GMC van, so I'm sure you
already know, they're among the best..." Only then did he see the
coldness ell, the engines can be a bit labor intensive. And they can get
rusty, though it's not a problem in this climate. But rest assured,
nothing on the road is more durable than a GMC, especially the..."
took several long paces back and drew the .45 from his belt. Four out
of seven shots perforated the hood, with the others hitting the
windshield, an unsuspecting trailer and the sky. He loaded the other
clip and and an extra cartridge, pointed the gun sideways at a headlamp
and fired eight shots in rabid succession before the gun clicked empty.
The bullets fell in a wide but level grouping that took out the right
blinker, the left headlamp, and the "M" in GMC. He put the pistol back,
took a few more paces, and drew the 20-gauge. The first two blasts
sprang the latch of the hood and made a geyser out of the radiator. He
unfolded the stock and blew out the front tires, and then shot off the
driver's side mirror for good measure. Then he stowed his weapon and
closed in with the hammer.
The first swing put the blunt end of
the head straight through the windshield. Carlos yanked it back out and
struck again with the point, gouging sideways through the fractured
safety glass. After three more blows, the windshield was as broken and
crumpled as a peeled egg shell. He smashed the remaining windows, and
turned his attention to the remaining headlamp. One phenomenal blow
drove the point of the hammer all the way through the reflector. A
wrenching, crunching twist and a hard tug wrenched the entire headlamp
out like a gouged eyeball, complete with wires that held it dangling at
the level of the bumper. Two more blows did not so much knock the
headlamp loose as completely pulverize it. Finally, Carlos wrenched a
hubcap off one of the front wheels and heaved it skyward. At the peak of
its trajectory, he drew his 12-gauge and let fly with both barrels,
"Looks like you're losing your touch," Laramie said.
runnin', and we'll test the hypothesis," Carlos answered with a grin.
He turned to Phil. "For the record... I love a good Jeep, and I'd stake
my life on a four-by-four Dodge. VW's pretty good, and Ford isn't bad.
I'll even give a Chevy a chance. But I hate GMC's."
enough, there were two Dodge Travco motor homes just inside the gate,
both definitely late-'60s vintage. Though it was Winnebago that had put
the RV on the map of commerce and popular consciousness in the late
1960s, mass-produced Travco motorhomes had hit the market about five
years earlier, and the line had remained successful until higher powers
at Chrysler shut the division down. Early in the history of the
enterprise, Travco had introduced a major innovation that set their
product apart from the motley and costly one-off truck conversions that
had been available before that time, and still made them instantly
recognizable: The resources of the automotive giant had been put to work
to produce purpose-built, ovoid fiberglass bodies, in lengths ranging
from 21 to a tremendous 32 feet, almost always white and usually with a
broad, straight stripe from the headlamps to the tail lights. Many
compared it to a "Silly Putty" container; Carlos would have compared it
to a submarine. The red-striped 32-footer before him, however, called to
mind a beached whale. "Ah, bloody 'ell," he said, his shoulders
sagging, "even a GMC deserves better'n that..."
"And we thought
Flipper was bad," Carradine added. Though the rear of the body extended
well past the rear wheels, the front sagged so low that, if the bumper
was not touching the ground, then the distance was indiscernible to the
naked eye. The hull listed visibly to starboard as well. Clearly, the
suspension was not simply overloaded, but in a state of collapse. The
rest did not look much better. Despite the dry climate, rust was rampant
on the exposed metal parts, and even the plasticized body had
conspicuous yellow and orange stains. The tires were bald, the
windshield broken, but Carlos took an especially hard look at the fine
cracks in the rubber lining of the window. He also sniffed at a
distinctly foul smell.
"This is what I've been telling you about,"
he said to Carradine. "Check the window gaskets first. If they're in
bad shape, chances are the hoses inside will be worse. You know what
happens if they go bad: Water damage at least, maybe sewage
contamination, and worst case scenario, propane or even petrol spills. I
don't like that smell, neither. Normally, I could put it down to an
overfull black water tank, but these things are supposed to burn fecal
matter. Best guess, either the Destroilet backed up, or else there've
been animals nesting in there... This thing's not just a wreck, we're
lookin' at fire an' flat-out biohazard. We don't even go in there if we
don't have to."
The other specimen certainly looked more
promising. It was only 21 feet, but in every other respect it would have
presented itself as a superior specimen even if both had been like new.
The wheels and suspension were not only in good condition but better
than factory standard. The body was all but Teutonic in its straight and
level pose, with just enough wear and weathering to confirm that the
vehicle had spent the better part of its years in regular use rather
than taking up space with other trophies of someone's midlife crisis.
Carlos took an especially long look at the wheels. "I wouldn't swear to
it," he said, "but this sure looks like a four-wheel-drive rig."
quick examination of the cab, with assistance from Phil, confirmed it.
Laramie came forward from the rear with a smile. "Doc, you wouldn't
believe how sweet this is," he said. "They got a full-size fridge,
heating and AC, and what we're pretty sure is a filtration system."
said Carlos. "The only thing left to check is the propane tank..." He
hurried outside, leaving the others to continue admiring the interior.
After a few minutes, Dr. Carradine came out to investigate the long
Carlos had opened an access panel that covered a propane
tank. He was still standing, staring as if in horror that battled sheer
incredulity. Carradine looked over his shoulder with definite concern.
Laramie and Phil followed to see what was the matter. They saw a propane
tank, in good condition, hooked in to the RV's systems with a hose... a
garden hose. Not to mention generous applications of duct tape, some of
which had been applied to the middle of the hose. "Well," Laramie said,
"at least they patched the hose."
"Twice," Phil added. "Ah... at least."
turned aside, grimly. "All right, we have a great rig, with one flaw,"
Carradine said. "We can fix it. Put in a new hose, hell, a whole new
tank. We've done it with worse."
"Sure we've done it," Carlos said. "Enough to know it's never `just one thing'.
By now, we might as well do a chart, like the kids did for the stupid
things the stupid people do in those stupid old monster movies. We find a
rig that looks great, except one thing that somebody let by with a
subpar patch. So we fix it, and drive off. Only after a few weeks, or
days, or hours on the road, something else turns up, the kind of thing
even a good crew could miss it. So we fix that, only it's more work, we
have to tear things up a bit, and while we're at it we find something
else and fix that. And then, if it didn't happen already, the
first fix we did goes wrong, and when we redo it we figure out it was
worse than we thought, and like as not we actually made it worse. And we
can repeat with variations until something finally gets bad enough that
we have to tear down to the chassis just to get at it, which is right
about the time we find the big problem that makes everything else look
like termites on a sinking ship. O' course, then there was the time we
actually had termites..."
Even as he spoke, he was
clearly trying to convince himself as much as the others. "C'mon, we've
seen the same thing with rigs that looked better'n this! For cryin' out
loud, the last owner thought it was a good idea to replace a propane
line with a garden hose and duck tape!"
"All right, what's the
alternative?" Carradine asked, not quite rhetorically. "Nothing's
perfect. What else can we do, besides leaving it here to rust?"
said Laramie. "We tear it apart. We put those shocks in Flipper, and
the water filter wherever we can fit it, use anything else we can, and
if there's any left over we're sure will work, we take it for later."
shook his head. "We've tried that, too. Swapped-out parts never work as
well. And putting those shocks in Flipper is like headlining Richard
Kiley in the Podunk Community Theater production o' Oklahoma.
The real problem with Flipper is that we put it together without a clue
what we were doing, and we got too invested in it to admit it was time
to give up. Sure, the suspension was junk, but we all know, even shocks
as good as those would go just as bad, an' sooner than later. No matter
what we do, assumin' nothing else goes first, it's gonna end up..." He
jerked a thumb at the 32-foot write-off.
"Yeah, but as long as we keep it going, we save on gas," Laramie said. "Or we would if we didn't keep Monstro around."
"If we could get that running," Carradine said, pointing to the four-wheel RV, "it wouldn't use any more gas than Monstro."
bonfire wouldn't use up gas much faster'n Monstro," Carlos snapped
back. He pondered. "All right... We give this thing a shot, after we
take out this whole atrocity and patch a new tank in proper. An' if this
rig even starts to give us trouble, then we take it apart and use
whatever we can for Flipper."
"Okay," Laramie said indifferently. Carlos couldn't hide a flinch at the sound as his student lit another cigarette.