“There’s just one problem, Bo. We don’t know how to get there.”
“We’ll head east and stop to get a map.”
“Oh good. So you have some money.”
She didn’t wait to hear my answer, which would have been that I had two dollars and fifteen cents. Starting the engine and having no other guiding lights, she pointed the nose of the car away from the setting sun and toward the gathering darkness on the eastern horizon.
At the first gas station we saw, I jumped out while the car was still moving, and she waited with the car idling in back. A young man my same age was standing behind the counter in greasy blue overalls chewing gum and slowly polishing a wrench in a rag. His red ball cap was on backwards, and he said “evenin’ ” significantly, as if to imply the obvious question, the elephant in the room. I knew a mechanic would have instantly noticed the Lancia even if he couldn’t immediately identify it. But there was no choice.
I picked up maps for Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. The kid seemed astonished at my normalcy, at the incongruity that had just walked into his shop.
Road maps were free back then but I felt I should buy something. I put some coins on the counter. “A pack of gum please.”
“That’s some car,” he said, cautious not to be nosy and impolite, at a loss for a more cogent gas station banter.
I gave an embarrassed smile and mumbled “thanks,” and hustled out the door to where Dimity was waiting, and we were away. The whole thing took thirty seconds.
The road was two lanes with no signs, no shoulder, and no stripe down the middle. Fortunately the road was almost straight all the way to the Pennsylvania border, interrupted only by small towns with the exception of Youngstown, and we took farm road detours to avoid it.
The only other vehicles on the road were occasional tractors and sometimes a Country Squire station wagon full of wide-eyed children looking at us as we passed. Dimity leap-frogged each vehicle, swinging wide into the left lane at double their speed.
At least the sky was clear; a deceptive calm enveloped us in every direction, jarred continuously by the frenetic din of our engine. The landscape changed to wide green acreages with small white houses every half mile, clotheslines billowing with sheets, and in front of every house a solicitous white mailbox perched on a post. The subtlest of undulations rocked us gently up and down as we sailed across the terrain crossing streams where trees crowded the banks and cedar fences ran parallel for miles.
Many small townships had only one single crossroad. Occasionally a town had a stoplight which Dimity sailed right through regardless of the signal. She figured what’s the point stopping an illegal automobile at a stoplight? The locals all froze slack-jawed when they heard our engine coming from a distance.
Churches were the other edifices we passed with odd frequency considering how sparsely populated the countryside was, each church a plain white pier-and-beam crackerbox with an outsize steeple tacked on top just begging for a tornado to fling it crashing in the next county. Black and white signage sternly announced their names taken mostly from obscure Old Testament references: Old Rehoboth, Shiloh Baptist, Gilead Evangelical, Friends of the Rose of Sharon.
Our sense of peril and urgency waned in the cool, cloudless gloaming, and Dimity decided to stop at one of the churches. She pulled into the driveway of Mt. Carmel Episcopalian and parked at the back, as concealed from the road as possible.
“What are we doing here?”
“At a church?”
As she fetchingly tugged the fingers of her gloves and prepared to climb out, too splendid of a creature to argue with, the baritone sound of the Bugatti approached, that famous blue straight-8, a Type 251. We instinctively crouched, grabbed each other’s right hands and put the left over each other’s mouth. The Bugatti got closer, closer, flew past—and then another one right behind! And then another! Our eyes flew open—there were three Bugattis buzzing around the farm roads of Ohio? Looking for us? Our troubles, it seemed, were not behind us. But I reasoned,
“They’ll have to quit soon for the night.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“The Bugatti 251 doesn’t have headlights like the Lancia does. They can’t move around in the dark.” She was impressed and, sensing her position, a little condescending.
“Aren’t you a clever boy.” I still wasn’t clear why we’d stopped. She pushed my nose like a button. “Now, I need a bloody loo as the pommies say.” I sighed, another one of her Aussie colloquialisms.
“You know, Brits.”
“You call English people pommies?”
The back door of the church was unlocked. We crept in under moonlight beams tilting down through windows. First was a screened-in mudroom with a janitor’s closet, gardening tools, and sink. Beyond the mudroom, we came into the more spacious sacristy. The priest’s robes were hung in a small wardrobe, silver cups and plates, and numerous half-consumed candles lay on a central worktable. Three plush, high-backed chairs were in a far corner surrounding a tea table with dirty dishes and stale biscuit crumbs. She looked at me with lips pressed, and with a little shrug she slipped into a little lavatory nearby and closed the door.
I wandered down a short hallway toward the sanctuary, floorboards creaking and the breeze outside rattling the windowpanes, periodic moonbeams exposing me like searchlights. Looking through the threshold into the sanctuary, I froze. By the organ, a single lamp for the music stand was turned on. I heard a hissing sound coming from the organ—it was powered on. I saw no one in the sanctuary, but I was still getting spooked. I went back into the sacristy.
The sound of a toilet flushing seemed gigantic, then water from a sink, the squeaking of a towel on a ring, her Mary Janes scrabbling about on the floor. Too many seconds passed, and I whispered at the door.
“Mitts! We need to go!”
She emerged with a strange, happy, confident look on her face.
“What,” I whispered. “It’s just a piss.”
She held up three tiny cork-stoppered bottles in one hand, and in the other a crucifix—a little wooden cross with a pewter Jesus attached. Conserving words, I gave a shrug and head shake that expressed my sense that whatever she had in mind, it was silly and probably entailed needless hooliganism. Pilfering trinkets from a priest’s crapper? The very idea.
She said in a low tone, “for Ringo?” It seemed likely that one of the bottles was probably holy water. The other, obviously more viscous, could be anointing oil. I opened my mouth and paused a second to consider a response when a feisty soprano burst in from the sanctuary all aprattle.
“Hey! What are you kids doing here? Hey now, you don’t belong in here! Get on out. Git! Hey!”
The church organist, a tragically full-bosomed woman, filled the lower half of the doorway. We hustled back out the door and jumped in the car with her jabbering all the way behind us. “I heard that noisy car of yours! Ha! Some burglars you are! How’d you think to sneak in here with all that racket?”
Seeing the Lancia momentarily shut her up. “Hey—” was all he could say as we raced away.