The amount of money Daniel inherited from his father’s estate was the subject of constant speculation in his absence.
“Well, when my dad died, the government started sending us social security checks. That’s where my sister and I get our spending money. I bet that alone is seven hundred a month.” Steven speculated from inside his van’s open door.
“They sold the house, how much you think it was worth?” Del asked.
“Shit, I bet it was worth a quarter million,” said Ken.
Del and Gray each whistled at the number. Jeb just puffed his cigarette.
“How do you think they sold the house so quick?” Jeb finally spoke.
I knew the answer to this one, “Sandy and Jason priced it real low, and the guy who owns that development company, the one who built those town homes there, they bought the lot. Sandy called and offered it to em.”
“And they bought it?” Del asked.
“I think they had a check that day. Charlie had been refusing to sell for years, that’s why they built up all around him.” I answered.
We were gathered at the produce stand. Everyone had received excited messages from Daniel earlier in the evening. He had something to show us.
The makeup of our group had changed considerably. Del and Gray always seemed to be around. They came to every group gathering, no matter where we met or who was there. Ken and Alicia only seemed to come around when Daniel was with us.
“I mean, what would he buy though?” Gray asked.
“Shit, you know he bought a car,” Del answered. “That’s why we’re all here. To look at his new car.”
“I know he’s been talkin’ a lot to Mr. Lewis.” I answered
“The health teacher? Big Bob Lewis?” Ken lifted his eyes from where he was digging a trench in the dirt with his feet.
“Mr. Lewis always drives that old F-150. It’s a good lookin’ truck, but Daniel wouldn’t be buying that,” Del said.
“Well,” Jeb took another drag from his cigarette, “he’s got a Firebird.”
“That’s right, he only drives it like once a year. Black, LS1, with T-tops. I saw it once. But that was a few years ago.” Gray said.
“Way to go there detective. You ruined the surprise.” Del smacked his brother.
“Goddamnit, what’re you hittin’ me for?” Gray punched Del in the shoulder. “I’m gonna kick your ass one of these days.”
“Sure you will. Have to catch me first.” Del patted Gray on his small pot belly.
“That’ll be a step up from the Camaro.”
“Yea, Blue Bomber is only a V-6.”
“He’ll probably sell it off.
“Could trade it in.”
“Nah,” I shook my head. “He’d got that big stereo, custom exhaust, rims.” I counted off on my fingers. “He’s gonna want all that stuff for his new car. He’ll sell it for the money.”
“Probably sell cheap. He just inherited a shitload. Not like he needs the money.” Jeb laughed.
“Wonder if he’d sell it to one of us?” Ken said to no one in particular. He quickly shook the daydream, remembering that he was loyal to Ford. “I got the Mustang, though. You should buy it Mikey.” Ken pointed to where the my Easter egg shaped car sat apart from the sports cars and trucks driven by everyone else. “I bet he’d give you a deal on it.”
It wasn’t a bad idea. “It’d be a step up for me anyway,” I laughed.
“Oh, I don’t know, I’ll bet you’ll miss havin’ to get out and push it uphill,” Jeb prodded.
“That’s how I got my exercise,” I frowned and then laughed, “Gotta do something to keep this physique,” I half-heartedly flexed.
A deep, throaty, rumble bounced off either side of the mountain valley, and a black Firebird rounded the corner.
“Told you all,” Gray pointed and then clapped his hands in perceived victory.
“Another case solved,” Del grinned.
Daniel drifted carefully into the gravel lot, making an effort to stir up no more dust than necessary. I could feel the thump of the custom stereo in my chest, and it made the bed of Jeb’s truck resonate and vibrate underneath of where I leaned against the fender. Daniel’s smile threatened to split his face as he shut off the car.
Daniel’s weight, combined with the low profile of the car and the reclining drivers seat made the climb from the bucket seat a careful maneuver for Daniel. The Firebird had handles above the doors like the Camaro. We called them “geezer bars” and joked that they were added to the cars so fat old men in the midst of a mid life crisis could pull themselves up and out. Daniel refused to use the handles, even though he needed to. Getting out of the Firebird was an ordeal. He swung both legs out and put both feet on the ground, before grabbing the door handle, and the start of the rear quarter panel. He jumped forward and pulled with both hands to raise himself to standing. The car’s suspension flexed with the effort of the shifting weight before equalizing. Daniel’s smile darkened for just a moment when he emerged and realized we were watching him.
“What do you think?” He walked around the car.
“Is that Big Bob’s car?” Gray asked.
“Yep,” Daniel leaned against the front fender. “It’s in great shape. He only drove it to and from school. Car’s ten years old, only has a few thousand miles on it. He had all the receipts for oil changes going back to when he bought it new.”
“What’d you give for it?” Jeb said.
“Not too much. He was real worried about selling it. We went round and round. He would say he wanted to sell it and then when I showed up with money, he got cold feet. Like he didn’t think I could afford it.”
“He kept real good care of it,” Jeb replied, stepping closer to eye the car. “Not hardly a scratch on her.”
Daniel patted the roof of the car like it were alive, “It was kept covered in his garage. Tires were a little rotten, but I don’t think he ever drove it over twenty miles an hour.”
Steven had been quiet, but he jumped from where he sat with his legs hanging out of the side of his minivan and slammed the door, “well, I’ve heard enough. Can I take her out for a test drive?”
Each of us in turn looked toward Daniel who shrugged his shoulders slightly, thought for a moment and then nodded his head.
“Huh,” Jeb wondered, “never thought that’d happen.”
Steven climbed in the car and we listened to Daniel walk him through how to start it. The car had a manual transmission, and Steven was familiar only with the theory of how such a machine operated. “Push in the clutch, make sure the car isn’t in gear, just incase, then turn the key,” Daniel instructed and Steven followed. All at once, the car shook with life. The exhaust rumbled and spit water droplets, creating a pattern of dark spots on the dry gravel. The stereo thumped before Daniel spun the knob to quiet it.
The car jumped in an irregular pattern and the RPM’s dropped as Steven let the clutch out. The wheels gripped unevenly and scattered dust and gravel, before stalling near the road.
We saw Daniel, through the rear glass, reach across the middle of the car and grab the keys from the ignition. Daniel and Steven switched places. “That was fun to watch while it lasted,” Gray giggled through a cloud of cigarette smoke. Daniel flopped into the driver seat, and Steven took a stroll of shame to the passenger seat. Each of the spectators shouted, “way to go,” and “learn to drive,” even though more than half of us couldn’t drive a stick any better.
The car left the parking lot and sped down the road. It was an impressive machine. Intimidating to look at and listen to, it was fast, disappearing from sight far before it could no longer be heard.
Del broke the silence after the rumble faded into the valley. “Didn’t think he would let Steven drive it. Daniel was protective of that Camaro.”
“I would guess it’s because he didn’t have the money to replace it,” Ken said in reply but to no one in particular. He looked out into space. Thinking. “Wonder if he’d let me drive it?”
“Before tonight, I’d of said never. Now I’m not certain.” I told him.
“I’m gonna ask.” Ken said.
“Me too,” Del and Gray said at the same time.
“What about you Jeb?”
“I’m fine with my truck, thanks. I never had money, so not really impressed by it.”
“You don’t like the car?”
“It ain’t that I don’t like it. I just don’t like it more than what’s mine. Don’t feel the need to drive it.”
Everyone stopped talking and turned to the south when the thunder of the Firebird was once again faint in the distance.
“Here they come now.” Grey grumbled.
Ken stood up and walked out to the road, “I don’t even see headlights. Crazy how loud that damn thing is.”
Del peaked around behind Ken’s back and tossed a wink in my direction, “Hey Kenny, where’s your old lady tonight?”
“Alicia?” Ken was distracted. He continued staring down the road.
Del’s eyebrows pinched in the middle, “you got more than one old lady?”
Ken’s trance broke at the question, “fuck no, hard enough having only one woman disappointed in you.” He laughed at his own joke, “no, she’s workin’ tonight at 7/11.”
“Oh yeah? When’d she get that job?” I asked.
“You all are missing the more important consideration here?” Jeb interrupted. Speaking in the manner of a country lawyer, he looped his thumb through the straps on his bib-overalls. “The real question is, can she sell us booze?”
Ken put his hands on his hips and shook his head, “well, I was gonna surprise you all with it.” Kenny flipped open his phone and handed it to Gray. “Pass it around.”
Gray squinted and put the phone close to his face. Del laughed at him, “goddamnit Gray, I told you to get readin’ glasses.”
Gray lowered the phone, “and I told you I need regular glasses.” Gray returned to deciphering the image on the tiny screen, “who’s got money for glasses anyway.”
“Ya know Gray,” I said, “If I told you that I could make you see better for about a hundred and sixty dollars, what would you say?”
“I’d try to whittle you down to about fifty bucks.”
“You gonna pass that phone over here blind man?” Del prodded.
“I’d be passin’ it a lot quicker if you all would quit botherin’ me.”
“Why fifty?” I wondered.
Gray sighed and passed the phone to his brother, “cause that’s all I got in my wallet.”
“Did you get that picture figured out buddy?” Jeb grinned.
“Fuck you Jeb. Between bad eyes and worse friends, I got no chance.”
“What is it Del?” I asked.
“Well, appears to be cases of liquor my good sir.”
Ken smiled, “Yep. Cases.”
“How did you get your sticky fingers on cases of booze?”
“Stole em didn’t ya?” Del hypothesized. “Stole em from the old lady’s workplace.”
“Shit. You better be careful Kenny. This isn’t ripping off DVDs from Wal-Mart. This is close to home, like next door to you,” Jeb warned.
Ken was a prodigious shop lifter. Kenny couldn’t hold down a job for more than a week, but he made up for his lack of gainful employment through theft. One of Del’s favorite stories to tell was about Kenny stealing an expensive flat screen from Circuit City’s going out of business sale. “He just put it on a cart, put it in his car and drove off. I couldn’t believe the balls that took. An eight hundred dollar TV for nothin’.” Kenny also kept the group supplied with fresh DVDs. He would carry a few DVDs at a time into the quietest corner of the Wal-Mart, and use a razor hidden up his sleeve to open the cases. The plastic wrapper was tucked away in the back of the nearest shelf. The disc went in a jacket pocket and the cases went back on the shelf. He stole them dozens at a time and had been doing it for years without incident.
“This fucker’s got no fear. Ole Kenny’s a master thief.” Del was always trying to stir up an argument over matters of pride. Even when there wasn’t anything at stake. “Did I ever tell ya’ll about how he stole that Playstation from that hospital?”
“Huh?” Jeb cocked his head in Kenny’s direction. “You stole a video game from a hospital?”
Kenny chuckled, “Yeah I did.”
“That’s fucked up Kenny,” I shook my head. “Bet you that was for sick kids to play on.”
“Stealing from sick kids ain’t right Ken,” Gray mumbled softly.
“Well, it’s too late now isn’t it?” Kenny crossed his arms and put his head down. “Not like I could take it back.”
The Firebird appeared around the corner and Daniel downshifted. The RPMs rose and fell and the car came to rest. The headlights cast hard-angled rays through the swirling and suspended dust. Steven fled the car with unrestrained excitement.
“Holy shit you guys!” Steven was panting. “That car is so fast!”
Daniel was a little longer extricating himself from the drivers seat. He was working at being nonchalant, but it wasn’t working. “What’re you guys up to?”
“Think I could take it for a drive?” Kenny asked.
“Sure.” Daniel didn’t hesitate.
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it. Such an impressive car, all that power, not even a day old to Daniel, and he was going to let someone else rip and tear in it.
“You really oughta know something about this guy.” Del pointed at Ken. “He robbed a children’s hospital.”
“Fuck you Del.”
“No, it’s true.” Jeb stifled laughter. “He was just saying somethin’ along the lines of ‘fuck those kids, I stole their Playstation. They don’t need it.’ That sound about right Kenny?”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Steven put his hands on his hips. “You stole a Playstation from a children’s hospital?”
“Technically,” Ken sighed, “it wasn’t a children’s hospital.”
“But it was a hospital? One with children in it?”
“And you stole the hospital’s Playstation?”
Steven shrugged and smiled. “You guys, I don’t really see the problem here.”
“Really?” Ken looked up at him.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s done now. Not like you could take it back.”
“That’s what I was saying!” Kenny unfolded his arms.
“You definitely couldn’t be like ‘hey you guys, sorry I stole your Playstation. I feel really bad about all those poor bored cancer kids.'” Steven pushed his belly out and slouched his shoulders during his imitation. “That would make you seem like a real asshole there Kenny.”
Everyone laughed. Kenny frowned until Daniel asked tossed him the keys to the Firebird.