The crackle of car tires on the gravel driveway and a high-pitched squeak of disc brakes explained why Lewis had been anxiously peering out the window for the last few minutes. He always knew when Hannah was about to arrive. It was a trait Griffin and Jacob had come to rely on, especially when they waited to the last minute to finish doing something she had asked them to do before she came home. Hannah exited the squad car and scooted her backside onto the hood directly over the front wheel.
Of the three boys that shared a home with her, Lewis was the first out the door to greet her. He sprang to his hind legs, putting his front paws on her shins. He did a combination stretch and tail wag as he arched his back.
“How’s my boy? Were you a good little man?” she asked as she scratched the nape of his neck.
“He has been a weird little man.” A voice came from behind her. Griffin stepped off of the porch and took a seat next to her on the hood.
“What do you mean, ‘weird’?”
“Watch.” Griffin turned his attention to Lewis.
“Hey, buddy . . . “
Before he could utter another word, Lewis had catapulted himself into Griffin’s lap. His tail wagged frenetically as his tongue painted Griffin’s face with saliva.
“Look at you two, finally becoming friends!” Hannah sighed.
“Oh, this is nothing. I can’t shake him. He’s underfoot wherever I go. He doesn’t just like me. He’s a groupie!”
“I think it’s nice that you’re pals.”
“He’s more like a candy wrapper that I can’t keep from clinging to my finger. He’s like a balloon someone rubbed in their hair and stuck to my sweater. He’s like a . . .”
“I get it!” Hannah interrupted.” Oh, he’s here.”
Hannah jumped down off of the hood of the car as a flatbed tow truck reached the end of the driveway. She jogged over to the driver’s side and through an animated series of hand gestures directed the driver as to the best way to maneuver into the driveway. The truck pulled past the apron and swung a hard right to align the bed between the culverts on either side of the drive. Hannah walked backward leading the truck like she was guiding a 747 into its arrival gate. As she stepped to the side, Griffin saw it. The saw-toothed grille of the vehicle his forehead had met a few days earlier. He watched his own reflection shimmy across the side of the vintage truck as is glided past him. A twinge of pain traveled through his forehead as he glimpsed the indentation it had made in the tailgate. He jumped down from the hood and joined Hannah.
“What is this thing doing here?”
“Due to circumstances well within my control I am happy to say, it is yours.” Hannah produced a set of keys from her pocket and pushed them into Griffin’s palm.
“I don’t know what to say!”
“You can start with ‘Thank you’ and work from there.”
“There is still something odd about the people and events surrounding this vehicle, but I can’t see a reason to let a great old truck like this go to waste.”
“Something inside urged me to say car.”
“Well, whatever it is, it is yours. Give ol’ Gus a hand while I go powder my nose. It’s been a long drive.”
Hannah turned toward the house.
“C’mon, Lewis!” She called, but the dog remained at Griffin’s heel.
He looked at her and shrugged. “I told you he’s being weird.”
Griffin walked around to the back of the truck where ol’ Gus, the tow truck driver, was rearranging the positions of the ball-topped levers that controlled the angle of the flatbed. The bright aluminum tread plate ramp kissed the edge of the asphalt patch that skirted the side of the winemaking shed, a spot usually reserved for the squad car. A second series of lever-flipping actuated the winch that controlled the cables hooked to the underside of the El Camino. It slowly rolled forward under its own weight. Gus killed the power to the winch as the rear tires touched the pavement. He motioned to Griffin.
“Hop on in and put it in park.”
Griffin obliged. The interior of the car was just as immaculate as the exterior. Everything was either original to the vehicle or fabricated to be a perfect replacement part, including the radio. The one thing that seemed out of place was the well-worn blanket on the passenger’s seat that was covered with black dog hairs. The face of the gargantuan beast that played a part in his unfortunate accident flashed through his mind and sent a shiver down his spine. He rolled the blanket into a tight bundle and took it with him as he exited the car.
Gus’ legs extended beyond the rear bumper as the rest of Gus unhooked the cables from the underside of the El Camino. Griffin offered him an arm up as he scooted from beneath the car. Gus untangled the silver braided cables and wiped the hooks at their ends clean. He walked to the control panel and flipped the lever to retract them.
“Not to be nosy, but did I see what I thought I saw in there?” he said, nodding toward the shed.
“If you thought you saw a giant copper woman with porthole boobs and moonshine coursing through her veins you would be correct.”
“Mind if I take a closer look? My Pee-paw used to make a little home brew.”
“Right this way!” Griffin was always eager to show off his handiwork and chat about moonshining. He tossed the old blanket into the corner. Lewis immediately circled it a few times and claimed it as a new bed.
Gus walked slowly around the still, running his hand along the lady’s curves, tracing the flow of the fermenting liquids from boiler to boiler. He nodded as he paused at key elements.
“Thump keg?” He pointed.
“Yep.” Griffin stood like a proud papa, arms folded across his chest.
“What ‘cha got cookin’?”
“Technically we’re turning homemade wine into brandy. It’s kind of an acquired taste. It has a healthy burnt finishing note.”
“We used to use Pee-paw’s hooch to clean carburetors. God help ya if you were the first one to start up that engine!” Gus chuckled.
Griffin walked over to the set of bottles under the dripping fingers of the goddess. He pulled out the closest bottle to him but knocked over one of the back bottles in the process. It clinked loudly against the pavement but did not shatter. It slowly rolled toward the back of the shed pouring a crimson trail as it went.
“There goes twelve bucks down the drain!” Griffin shoved a cork into the top of the bottle he was holding then handed it to Gus.
“A little something for later. From one distiller to another.”
“Thank you, kindly. I’ll raise a glass to you and Pee-paw when my truck is back in the garage and my ass is in my easy chair!” Gus tipped the neck of the bottle toward Griffin in a motion meant to be an equivalent to a handshake. ”Better hit the road if I want to get home by supper. “
Griffin and his new canine companion watched the tow truck exit the driveway. Griffin gathered the remaining bottles, corked them and filled three of the four quadrants of a segmented cardboard box while Lewis sampled from the nearby puddle. He retrieved the drained bottle from the corner of the shed, wiped off the spilled wine and placed it in the vacant quadrant. Griffin repeatedly tried to shoo Lewis away, to no avail. Preferring not to find out what it was like to deal with a drunken corgi, he used a few buckets of rain water to chase the red splatter across the floor and out the back of the shed where it ran in little rivulets down the bank of the creek and swirled between the rocks in the cool clear water.