He would go to any city within reason to get that car. Finally, he spotted it on Craig’s List. It was in North Carolina with just ninety thousand miles on it, a 1994 wood-paneled Buick Roadmaster. That was the last year of the wood-paneling. It was booking at four thousand dollars, and the guy would sell it to him for a mere thirty-seven hundred.
He could fly to Charlotte, stay at Kerry’s place, and the two of them would drive out to see the Roadmaster, and if it checked out, he’d buy it and drive it back to Gainesville.
He would get a one-way ticket. Crazily, he worried for a moment that he would look like a drug runner, carrying a wad of thirty-seven hundred dollars in cash. But he would look like a drug runner, wouldn’t he?
The shoes, it started with the shoes. They we’re like saddle shoes without the saddle. Bucks. White Bucks. He had to have them. These were some really nice shoes. He liked them. And they only cost four bucks. Four bucks for a pair of white bucks.
But then when he really looked at them, he could see that the heel was just a little loose on the right shoe. But still, four bucks for a pair of white bucks and he could easily repair the heel. Didn’t he have some really good glue at home, some carpenter’s glue?
But then he went to pay for them and started thinking: four bucks for a pair of broken shoes. So he said to the cashier: “You know these shoes are broken?”
“See? The heel on this one is broken.”
“I didn’t notice it till now.”
“You don’t want em, don’t buy em,” the man said.
They both studied the shoes for a while.
“I suppose I could fix it.”
So. He walked out of the thrift shop into the sunshine. He had just got a pair of beautiful white bucks for two bucks, and he walked home to his studio and he glued the heel back on the right shoe with his carpenter’s glue, and then he put a heavy duty clamp on the shoe, and he set his shoe in the oven to dry on low heat, and he thought: I am cool, everything is good. My shoe is glued, it’s drying. He is thinking: This is good.
Thinking of the shoes he began to build his way up to how he should dress for the trip. He should have some really comfortable pants to wear on the plane. They had to be light and they had to be comfortable.
He took his shoe out of the oven. It was fine. They were fine. The next day he wore them back to the thrift store to look for some pants.
Sometimes you can find a pair of lightweight pants in the women’s section and nobody can really tell the difference. There’s just something different about the zipper maybe, but he was going to wear his shirt outside his pants anyway, to be comfortable, that was the main idea, to be comfortable.
Perfect comfort. He was going to sit on that plane in perfect comfort.
And there was the perfect pair of pants, a light shade of tan. Light, lightweight. Comfortable.
Seventy-five cents, and the only thing was the zipper was a little weird, it didn’t go down as far, and on the side pockets – you know how on jeans you have the little pocket that goes with the pocket, well, it had two of those, the little pockets, instead of real pockets—but that was the only thing. Seventy-five cents.
He would pay for the car in cash. He went to the bank and withdrew the money into a neat stack of thirty-seven hundred dollar bills.
And then when he began seriously to get ready for the trip, he thought: Where am I going to put all of this money?
He had to keep the hundreds separate from his wallet. What if someone robbed him— grabbed his rucksack? He had to put the money somewhere else. He would think of it. He thought of everything else, didn’t he?
He couldn’t take all the credit. Caroline was going to help him.
“I want to be part of your adventure,” she said.
Caroline was going to drive him to the airport in Jacksonville six hours before his flight, plenty of time. It would be fine. They would have dinner together. He would be all packed, his rucksack, his comfortable clothes, ready for the plane, the car deal, seeing it all through till he was back in his studio at the end of the garden path and his Roadmaster was parked out front, and he was painting.
But at dinner, Caroline started to get chills. She had a fever. He could’t make her drive him all the way to Jax. It was starting to rain.
“But I want to drive you,” Caroline said. “I want to be part of your adventure.”
He couldn’t make her do it. So he took Caroline home, and went back to his studio to figure things out. There was still time. The trip could be salvaged. He just had to get himself to Jax in the next, what, five hours. No, four, but he could still do it. He looked at his painting. There was something wrong with it, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.
It was after midnight now. It was pouring outside, worst storm of the summer. But all he had to do was drive his truck to Jax. And park it at the airport. He hated to do that though. Because then he’d have to get someone, Caroline probably, to drive him back over to get his truck, and whether he got the Roadmaster or not, he’d have to pay to park it at the airport for three days.
Poor Caroline. All he had to do was drive himself over to Jax. It was selfish of him to ask her in the first place. But, still, he didn’t want to leave his truck there and have the first thing to do when he got home with the Roadmaster be to get himself back to Jax to get his truck. To be home and back in his studio and to have to leave again, right away, he would hate that!
Maybe, do you think, maybe there was a shuttle, you think? Shuttle from Gainesville to Jax in the middle of the night? There was a shuttle, he knew that, and he looked up the number. It was almost 2A.M., but what the Hell? And somebody answered!
“Is this the shuttle service?”
“Yes it is.”
“I was wondering: Is there a shuttle from Gainesville to Jacksonville today?”
“There’s one at three and another at seven.”
“A.M.? You mean . . . tonight?”
Two oh six, the clock said. Just enough time, if he walked fast.
The address of the shuttle stop was on the southeast side of town, near the power plant, a bad part of town where you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of the night with thirty-seven hundred dollar bills.
Where was he going to put them? Not in the rucksack – that would be the first thing they’d take if he got robbed.
He was looking at the painting and trying to figure out what was wrong with it when he looked down and saw that he was taping the envelope full of money around his bare leg under the rolled-up pants leg of the lightweight, comfortable pants he’d found for seventy-five cents. He still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the painting, but that was pretty smart, he thought. He would keep two twenties in his little lady’s hip pocket, and if anybody robbed him, that would be his Sacrifice Money. They could have the two twenties.
It was nice out. It was two-thirty in the morning and there was no one on the street, not a soul, and there was a light breeze. It felt good. So he started to jog, and within half a block he was dripping with sweat, his shirt was sticking to him, soaked through, and he thought, what the Hell, it was nearly a quarter to three, not a living soul in sight, so he took his shirt off, rung it out, and put it in his rucksack. As soon as he got the chance he would let it dry out and it would be as good as new.
There was nothing and nobody at the corner to indicate that this was the shuttle stop. There was no one anywhere. He waited and took his shirt out and let it dry on the back of his rucksack. It wasn’t dry but someone was coming up the street toward him, so he put his shirt back on. It was an old black man in a dirty white t-shirt, smelling of booze, and he walked up the street and came and stood next to him. He just stood there. What did he want?
“Are you waiting for the shuttle?”
“Am I what?”
“Waiting for the shuttle?”
“The shuttle to Jax?”
And then the man said something he couldn’t understand, but because he couldn’t understand what the man had said, he thought for some reason maybe that he hadn’t made himself understood, so he tried again: “They told me this is where the shuttle stops and picks up…”
The man cut him off and said something short, and again he couldn’t make out what it was.
“They told me the shuttle comes here.”
“They lalalala” is what it sounded like the man said, and he walked off.
It was nearly twenty minutes after three now. Maybe the shuttle comes at three-thirty, not three. But the man on the phone had said three. And then he realized what the black man was saying when he walked away.
“They lalalala” = “They lied to you.”
They lied to you. They had lied to him. It was a lie. There was no shuttle. What an idiot he was. But they wouldn’t lie to him, would they? Why would they lie to him?
He waited, alone now. He would wait till three-thirty, because maybe the shuttle came at three-thirty, not three, even though they told him three, but they wouldn’t lie to him, would they?
Fuck it. It was almost twenty to four now, and either the shuttle wasn’t coming or this wasn’t the stop, so fuck it, he was going home. And by the time he got there it was going to be too late to drive to the airport, anyway, he would never make it, so fuck.
Unless he ran. So he started running, and it started raining. Soaked to the skin. Again.
He must have been a block and a half away, on the way home, when he saw the headlights. He hadn’t seen a car all night. But he had this feeling, so he looked back, and he could see the lights go around the corner, and then the car followed and it was long… Fuck! It was the shuttle. No way he was going to make it, but out of anger and frustration he started sprinting as hard as he could.
Rain was pouring down. It was a quarter to four in the morning, and what must have happened is this:
The envelope full of money, once it got soaked, disintegrated and all the tape came loose and all the thirty-seven hundred dollar bills slid down his pants leg and out onto the sidewalk and he didn’t realize it at first of course, but just kept running.
So really, it was the shoes that saved him, because if the heel hadn’t come off his right shoe just then, he never would’ve have slowed down to notice, but the funny thing was then the heel came off the left shoe too.
Right away he perceived that if he tried to yank the bills off the sidewalk they would tear. There was nothing else to do but get down on your knees and try to roll them up into little balls, which is what he did, so he could pick them up and stuff them in his shirt, and then run on to see that, incredibly, the driver was waiting for him. Probably because he was curious.
“The shuttle, right?”
“I’ve got the fare right here.” And he did, secreted in one of his lady’s tiny hip pockets, the bills folded into thumb size. He unfolded them and handed them over and climbed into the back seat with his rucksack and he couldn’t believe it but they drove off and he was in the back seat of the shuttle, the only passenger, and he began to un-ball the balled-up hundred dollar bills to see if there were thirty-seven of them, and the driver was watching him in the rear view mirror.
Shamrock McShane lives with his wife and sons in Gainesville, Florida.