For some reason, I was humming the old Jefferson Airplane song as I watched Alice try two of the pay phones in a row that were out of order. The third was in use. A big trucker was on a call, yet also checking out Alice as she went from phone to phone. Alice looks through the glass door of the occupied booth. She didn’t care that he was in a conversation. Before she could knock on the glass the big man opened it up while still keeping the handset to his ear. From my seat in the running car, I can see big tears rolling down Alice’s face. The trucker dropped the handset as he came out of the booth then around the rear of our car for me. I hit the electric door locks. Alice screamed something at him which made him stop and come back to her at the booth. As Alice took over the phone the big man glared at me as he went past the car towards the coffee shop. I turned my attention back to Alice. She wasn’t crying anymore.
I had a pretty good look at her through the glass as she would turn her head my way once in awhile as she read from a little book she took from her purse half way into her call. She wasn’t on the phone that long. As she walked past the front of the car, I noticed the trucker was still outside the coffee shop’s entrance. Alice gave him a kiss on his cheek and shook his hand. Once again the tears were flowing.
Back inside the car, it was back to business Alice, as she told me to pull over into a parking lot of another coffee shop across the road. I let her out front to save her a walk then parked and locked the car solo. Once inside the small coffee shop, I’m escorted to a booth by the only waitress. On the curve bench type seat was Alice’s jacket already tossed in the middle. I drank three mugs of coffee before Alice came out of the women’s room.
What the? She looked great! You had to look really hard to see the slight cut on her mouth or the swollen lips and eyes. In fact her now painted red lips looked even better then usual. As she sat down I almost made a joke. One glance and that idea went away. The glance said, ‘leave me alone’. I ordered hot turkey sandwiches. As I had figured, I ended up eating most of hers, as usual. She always ate like a bird, so I’d always order stuff I liked. As I ate, Alice stared out the window. While finishing the second sandwich, Alice asked me to tell her a story. I wondered if she wanted any particular story. She wanted a good one was all. I ended up telling her the story of the White Elephant. Since it was the last story I ever told while still clean and pure, I’ll retell it in the short version. It’s a true story so you can look it up if you want the longer version.
STORY: A Maharaja that controlled a large province in India made the mistake of granting one of his villages a pass on having to pay their annual tribute because of a baby elephant calf he spotted with one of their handlers. The calf was pure white. Enamored with it, he took the calf in trade for the taxes owed. As it grew it was deemed special and by an Imperial order proclaimed it was to do no work. Ever. Soon, every village in the province with a white elephant paid their taxes the same way. The Maharaja was going broke feeding and caring for his lazy herd. One of his older wives, who had long fallen out of favor, said she could relieve him of his foolish edict if she regained the number one spot again. He agreed. The British army landed not far from their province moving towards the Kyber pass. As a gift of friendship every regiment that passed through was given a royal banquet, and, a special white elephant to seal the deal. Not wanting to offend, the British put their new elephant with their own herd that carried their cannon and such. Once the regiments got together they found out they had been had. No phones in those days. It was weeks before the ruse came to light. Hence forth, in British slang, anything that was big, costly to keep, and impossible to sell was known as a ‘White Elephant’.
Alice stared at me after I finished the story, but said nothing. Fine. I went back to counting cars getting on and off the highway just past us. It was now dark. The cars pulling into our lot shot their headlights into the glass next to us so I would check the occupants out as they left their cars to come inside. The sun still has some kick in it, but the fog and mist, plus its going down, was making dark take over even faster then usual in the narrow pass. When Alice slid over and got up I started to follow her lead. Nope. She pointed at my coffee mug letting me know what I would be doing for the next few minutes. A big black Suburban had caught her eye and she was heading outside to meet whomever was driving it. The side door opened and Alice was inside and out of sight in one second.
As the waitress poured another cup of coffee for me she said an unfriendly, “Was that from you?” I asked her what was from me. Staring at me like she wanted to toss the hot coffee in my face she leaned closer to me while saying, “The beating. Did you beat her?” I shook my head in a negative while professing no violence in my makeup. Let alone a woman. She headed over to another table. Women notice things men miss all the time.
Alice never came back inside. Someone else did though. A man walked over to my table who looked like he could tell George Foreman his mom was a pig and get away with it. Grabbing the check off the table he said a matter of fact, “Lets take a ride buddy!” That was it. He tossed some money to the gal at the register and kept right on walking. I followed right behind him.
As we left the coffee shop, I watch the Black Suburban get onto the highway. We headed for the Caddy, still parked where I had left it. The big man waited by the passenger door while I hit the locks and climbed in. Guess I’m driving. Before starting the car, I turn to look at the man who had climbed into the back seat, then, sitting right behind me. Nodding at me he said a polite sounding, “We would like to see the horses my friend!” I try and sound laid back and answer with a pleasant, “You got it!” I checked the gas gauge and pulled into an empty slot at the gas station next door and filled up. Not knowing what it ran on, I filled it with premium. With a full tank, we headed up the now even foggier road.
With the sun gone, it was as if we were in another world. I had to creep at five miles an hour in some spots. Using the high beams blinded us even worse. I end up using the parking lights most of the time. After what seemed like hours, I discover I had passed our destination. The dead end clued me in. I turn around and drive even slower back down, trying to spot our road from a different direction. I end up parking and walking on foot using a small flashlight from the glove box. I finally find the driveway from some blurry lights from the farm house. It was a bit closer to the road then the steel barn. The gravel made me feel confident I had the right place. I return with the news. My two companions get out of the car. Both have some sort of weapon under their big coats. I led the way. Off below us, you could make out the shape of the barn. The barn was pitch black. At a brick path leading to the house, up on a small rise, the flashlight is taken from me by the smaller man. All of us had walked slowly and carefully so as not to slip in the loose gravel near the steps.
Before getting out of the car on my return with the news that I had found the place, I gave them a rundown on everything that had transpired. Including the men that I knew were there. I had never been in the house so I didn’t know about people that might be inside it. I’m told to shut up and go quietly back to the car and to stay at the wheel. I nod in the glow of the small flashlight held close to the shorter man’s chest and head back up the steep drive. I have to walk like the mummy with no light. The pavement clued me in to find the car up the road a bit. The fog seemed to be lightening a little as I peered out the windshield into the gloom. I could see a knocked down, bent gate once in awhile from the house light’s glow off to my right.
Some loud ‘BOOM’s make me look through the fog even harder as I sat straight up. I check the keys to make sure they’re in the ignition. My mouth is dry and my heart is pounding. I’m scared half out of my mind. Suddenly I’m not cold anymore. Some more, fainter booms, and all is quiet. I can hear someone coming up the driveway. Their moving fast. I put my hand on the keys. It’s not a man. It’s a horse. Then another and another. One after the other, they’re running in the fog, half mad. One starts screaming in pain as a couple more can be heard crashing through thick brush way off in the dark. I can hear the sounds of wire being stretched. It must have ran into some barbed wire across the road. The snorting and whinny sounds stop, and I hear it heading down the road again. It must have gotten free, or maybe just hit some chain link; it was impossible to see. Now I can hear heavy breathing and men’s footsteps coming up the gravel. I don’t know what to do. I just sit and await my fate like an idiot. I’m told to start the car and turn the low beams on. It’s my new pal with the flashlight. His companion is right behind him.
In the headlights, the two men strip off their outer garments. As they undress, smoke and an orange glow tells me the house in on fire. They seem totally unconcerned. Putting all of their outer clothing into some black trash bags like they’ve done it a hundred times before. I can see them breaking down some shotguns with really short barrels. One looked to be an auto loader. The other was a double barrel for sure. I then watch them dividing some items on the hood of the car using the flashlight to keep count. I lean forward and try to make out what they’re sharing. They looked sort of like little lumps of gold. Huh? Then it dawns on me. Their teeth. Now I’m really scared. Sure I can act tough and full of moxie. In reality, I’m just barely twenty. This is way over my head. My right leg starts jumping all on its own. It at least has the sense to want to run far, far from this place.
As they climbed into the car, the interior light showed me their new looks. They looked like guys who had just went golfing. Slacks and nice jackets. Shoes shiny and polished. Can’t see any weapons at all. The big trash bag is shoved on the floor behind the seat of the large man sitting next to me. The man next to me looks like an oversized dog that has just been on a fun run in the woods and now wants a fire place to lay down in front of. Saying a calm, “Let’s roll!” I do as I’m told and start the car then head slowly down the still foggy road. No one saying a word.
We hadn’t gone but a mile or so when I was told to pull over. Once again I do as I’m told and almost piss my pants. I figure I’m next. I’m told to leave the engine running but to shut off the lights. I wait for the blast. If I could have whipped up some tears I would have. Once again, real life is not like the stupid movies. The man in the back says a calm, “I can’t see a damn thing!” The big man agrees. The man in back slaps me in the back of my head letting me know its time to roll.
We stop in Castaic to toss the trash bag into a bin behind a closed hardware store. I’m told to shove it down good and put some other trash on top. I do as I’m told. They ask me if I can get next to the lake. I take them down a side road where you can see the lake past a chain link fence. Looking all around, the big man gets out, tosses his gun parts over the fence into the water, then does the same for his partners pieces. Once this is done, they seem to lighten up. Stopping at a gas station just before the on ramp I’m told to get some brews and chips. Bottles if they have ‘em. I come back out with some Cokes. The clerk had asked for my I.D. I was carded into my thirties. The big man laughed and went inside for the beers. When he came out, he tossed us both some big beef jerky sticks. Getting on the freeway, I’m handed a cold beer. With the thick fog behind us my spirits perked up. A big paw squeezes my neck as the big man says a friendly, “Hey kid, tell us this story about the Elephants Alice was telling us about!” I stretched this telling until we hit the Gower exit…