(Last week Chartan, Brazil and Elisa hit upon the idea of a road trip.)
Chartan gripped the steering wheel of a 1966 Chevelle, his eyes riveted on the grayish two lane road ahead. The pine trees on either side became a greenish blur as he stepped on the gas pedal. Elisa’s face appeared to be pressed against the front passenger window. He knew Brazil was spread out in the back seat, head propped up by a pillow– he could see the top of the combat veteran’s gray wavy hair in the rear view mirror
”Thanks for letting me drive your car,” said Chartan.
Brazil responded, “You’ve got Chevy’s best engine—a 283 tuned to perfection. Just watch the speed limit unless you like to collect traffic tickets.”
They were climbing I-80 near Donner Pass at 90 mph—Chartan eased off the gas until he reached 75 mph.
“When should we discuss our first destination?” asked Chartan, expecting Brazil to answer, but Elisa said her first words since they had left Sacramento over an hour ago.
“I want a steak—it’ll be my treat.”
Brazil interjected: “I know this casino outside of Reno—about 60 miles from here. The steaks are great.”
Chartan thought to himself: I am without expectations. We are three strangers to each other. I have no anxiety over our purpose if there is one. Tomorrow I’ll worry about money. For now I hope this casino serves fish.
When Chartan checked the rear view mirror, he was greeted by a flashing red light. The speedometer needle pointed to 90 mph.
“Dinner will be delayed.”
“License and registration.”
Chartan noted the officer didn’t say “please,” and he couldn’t see his eyes behind the aviator sunglasses.
“Yes, license and registration,” replied Chartan as he struggled to remove the wallet from his pants pocket. He didn’t see the officer gripping the service revolver in his holster.
“The registration is in the glove compartment,” said Brazil. Chartan retrieved it and handed it to the officer along with his driver’s license.
“Mr. Chartan, you have the same last name as the first name?”
“This car is registered to Skyler Brazil. Who is that?”
Brazil leaned forward. “That’s me, sir.”
“Ma’am, what is your name?”
Elisa didn’t answer.
“Ma’am, may I see your license?”
“I wasn’t driving.”
“Mr. Chartan, what is your destination?”
“That’s a loaded question,” replied Chartan.
“Stay here,” said the officer who returned to his cruiser.
“Have any outstanding tickets?” asked Brazil.
“I have a chauffer’s license with an impeccable record.”
“Not anymore,” said Elisa.
Chartan turned to the woman he didn’t understand. Why was she with them? He wanted her to go away and they’d only gone 90 miles. He eyed the side view mirror. The cruiser’s driver’s door was wide open with the officer standing behind it. He appeared to be talking.
“He’s on the phone, “said Brazil who was looking through the rear window.
Elisa kept her eyes on the road as if the car were moving.
“Shit,” yelled Brazil as two cruisers with blue lights flashing skidded to stop in front of their car.
Elisa didn’t look at Chartan and Brazil as she was led away in handcuffs. During the traffic stop the police discovered a warrant had been issued for her failure to appear in court to answer charges that she had brandished a gun in a public place.
After the patrol cars were out of sight, Brazil grunted, “Let’s drive.”
With Brazil at the wheel, they continued towards Reno until Chartan said he’d rather hike than eat a casino steak. Brazil eventually left the interstate and parked the car on a side road with trail access.
They said little to each other as they trudged up the dusty path winding past manzanita shrubs and pine trees. They were breathing heavily by the time they reached the peak. Chartan pointed to a giant boulder. Once on it they had a sweeping view of the Tahoe basin in the fading light—the sun had dropped below the horizon.
“All great conversations take place on a mountain top,” said Chartan, sitting down.
“I’m overdue for a brain dump,” replied Brazil, positioning himself a few feet away.
“Well put. Tell me why you took my class.”
“I need answers–I’m tired of running from what I did once.”
“It’s whatever they call 40 years of condensing a few seconds into this endless loop of images. Funny, the light was low like it is now. I squeezed the trigger because a shadow moved.”
“And you wish you hadn’t?”
“It was the only time when I was unsure.”
“I found a boy next to a thatched hut. The shell went right through his chest. I left him there and ran. I never saw his face clearly. But these days I see him all the time. I live with him. Like you said, no one deserves to die.”
(To Be Continued Next Sunday)