Monday, December 28, 2009

On the Toad With George

Travels with a teddy bear.
On the Road With George

George and I have traveled together for years. George is a pleasant roadpartner, an easy companion. He is never critical of my driving, and doesnot have a lot to say. Oh, he gets a bit cheeky at times. I plunk a hat onhis head, tie a silk scarf around his neck and belt him into the passengerseat. George is a “Bear of Very Little Brain”*. We headed west on Highway 2, early morning sun at our backs, air crisp andfull of pungent autumn. Traffic was light. Blackbirds cross-hatched thesky, flocked for departure to warmer climes. By the time we reached Shelbyan intermittent-wiper rain splashed the windshield. I noticed George sulking. “George, what’s wrong? Seatbelt too tight?” “Iwant shades.” “ Sunglasses? I don’t wear them. Why should you? Besides, it’s raining.” George turned his face toward the passenger window and sulked all the way over Marias Pass. He didn’t beg for his usual huckleberry ice-cream cone in Hungry Horse. I stopped for the night in Bonner’s Ferry. The proprietor of the inn whereI often stay picks huckleberries every year. I bought a pint for Georgeto munch for supper. I asked Jim to reserve a couple gallons for my return in December. I’ll make jelly for Christmas gifts. George, face stained with berryjuice, said, “This is great. But I still want shades.” The next morning, just past the little town of Priest River , George asked for a story. He had nearly finished his jar of honey and was getting sleepy. Storytelling on the road is easy. Everything along the way can be woven into the tale. I looked around. The river coursed on our left. Steep rock cliffs defined the right side of thehighway. “See that quarry? Too bad about the brothers who owned it,” I said. “They never did find the body. Of the older brother. The younger brother is in jail. He’s the prime suspect.” I had George’s full attention. “It was on the news for weeks. The brothers owned mountains and land and timber and mines and banks and hunting lodges and politicians. They had the Midas touch.” I looked around for another clue to further the story. “I think theauthorities have it all wrong. About the motive, I mean. Couldn’t have beenmoney. Both brothers had piles and goodles of money and knew how to makemore. No, I don’t think that was the motive. And I am not sure the youngerbrother committed the crime, if there was a crime, there being no corpus.”
Across the river and up the hillside in the trees loomed a monstermansion with decks and gables and crenellations galore. “That’s their house, George. The brothers lived in separate wings. Who knows what went on behind closed doors. But there were rumors.” We passed a ’57 Chevy Coupe stopped along the verge of the road. It was turquoise and white, gleaming with chrome and totally restored down to the fuzzy dice dangling from the rearview mirror. Next to the car stood a striking blonde, poised with camera. “Beautiful,” George said. “Um hmmm,” I agreed. We were commenting on different aspects of the same scene. “Speaking of women, George, last year when I drove through here, shortly after the older brother disappeared, I heard that the boys, and I quote, ‘red-blooded healthyAmerican patriots’, liked to party and fool around with women. Yep, I thinkwomen figure into the motive.” George nodded. “Course, there is no body, sowe don’t rightly know for sure there was a crime.”
George licked the last vestiges of honey from the fur around his mouth and started to toss the jar out the window. I lunged and caught it. “The roadside is not a garbage dump, George.” George growled. We crossed the river from Old Town into Newport . We passed a movie theatreon the main street. I read the marquee, a double feature. Halloween was fast approaching. The movies featured blood and gore. I turned to George, “The newspaper said the scene of the crime looked like a slaughter house. Gore all over. Blood trailed out the front door, down the walkway and disappeared at the river.” I heard whuffling. George, hat askew, leaned his head against the windowand gently snored. He slept through Spokane and all the way to Cle Elum. I stopped for gas. George woke up. We pulled back onto the freeway and headed up Snoqualmie Pass. “Red,”George said. “The blood?” I asked. “No, the frames. I want my shades with redframes.”
*Apologies to A.A. MilneSondra Ashton: Home Again, Havre Daily News
Published December 17, 2009

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