I was about to downshift.
The motor of the old 911 purred only inches behind my ears, its tenor pulse as familiar to me as the treble of my wife's laugh. I couldn't be a hundred percent sure, but I thought I'd also sensed the telltale progression of airy metallic pings that would be the sign that my first true love was coming down with a little valve clatter.
She'd been prone to it her entire life, but still, damn.
It didn't take long for reality --- my peculiar reality --- to descend and for damn to morph into it doesn't really matter.
The car and I were old lovers; I'd owned her, or she'd owned me, for almost a third of my forty-two years. Neither of us was a virgin when we got together. She'd been assembled by others' hands way back in 1988 and I didn't fondle her wheel or feather her pedals for the first time until 1993, just shy of my thirtieth birthday.
The Porsche and I were gobbling up concrete in the fast lane of Colorado's Interstate 70 right where it begins to climb dramatically into the Rocky Mountain foothills from the table plateaus below Morrison. After an initial long rising straightaway and then a gentle, almost ninety-degree arc that completes a surgical slice through the spine of a Front Range hogback, the freeway suddenly stops messing around and shouts at drivers to take notice, that they've really, truly entered some legendary hills.
Fat bends in the road hug the contour of the soaring mountain and as those curves begin to meld into an ever sharper incline, under-endowed cars struggle to maintain their speed. Fully laden big rigs drift over toward the right shoulder where they fight the steep rise in elevation with the resolve of tortoises. They're slowing not because they want to, but because the gravitational reality of Colorado's main route into the Rocky Mountains offers them no alternative.
I was coming up on that first long right-angle curve, the one just before the highway transects the hogback. That's the spot where I was about to downshift.
A man standing on the bluff above the Morrison exit near Red Rocks caught my eye. Why? Probably because of all the recent news about the sniper. But this guy was too obvious to seem dangerous, and I didn't see a rifle in his hands. He was a man wearing a baseball cap and a fleece jacket, alone on the side of the road. He was leaning forward and gazing over the westbound lanes, his elbows resting on a fence, his right hand pressing a mobile phone to his ear. For the second or two that I spotted him above me he didn't seem to move a muscle. He was staring down at the traffic, seemingly mesmerized by us all.
He was, I decided, probably a plainclothes cop doing surveillance for the damn I-70 sniper.
I downshifted into third as I zoomed past him and shot toward the upcoming climb with a fresh boost of torque and enough raw power and confidence to soar past anybody or anything that might be blocking my path on the curving ascent ahead.
The interstate flattens out for a prolonged stretch prior to the brash incline of Floyd Hill. Buffalo Bill's grave and the Chief Hosa campground come and go. Exits weave off toward the mountain suburbs of Genesee and Evergreen. As I passed those landmarks my wheeled love held eighty, and joyfully toyed with ninety. For me and the German girl with the perfect body and the motor to match, the mountain curves and passes were mere playthings. And that moment, that day, I was trying to let it all be about the driving; I barely noticed any of the scenery flying by. In fact, the only reason I recalled seeing the Evergreen exit at all was because on the overpass I spotted another man standing with yet another cell phone to his ear.
More law enforcement? I wondered. Odd.
For half an eye blink, just before I flashed below him, I could have sworn the man was pointing at my car or gesturing toward me with his free hand, but I wiped the image out of my consciousness by letting myself be consumed for an instant with the juvenile fantasy that the bridge was the finish line and I was an Earnhardt cousin raising a fist skyward at the checkered flag at Daytona.
A third man. A third cell phone.
No overpass the third time.
This man was a little farther down the road, near the top of the hill where Highway 65 joins up with the freeway. A white Escalade was parked on the right shoulder, hood up in the air, emergency blinkers pulsing. The man I spotted --- I was looking for guys near the road by then --- stood at the rear of the SUV, and he, of course, had a cell phone to his ear. As I passed by I could see him talking, and nodding. His eyes, I thought, seemed to be tracking my red Porsche's progress as his neck rotated to follow me down the road.
First? A simple, huh? Followed by an uh-oh.
Then came the damn.
Could this be it?
I've never known what the next section of I-70, the one just west of El Rancho, is called, but I always figured that it had to have a name. It's the kind of stretch of road that over the years should have earned a nefarious handle. Something like the "Death Drop" would have been appropriate.
The girl from Stuttgart and I were cresting the El Rancho hill above that long, steep downhill section of highway. The lanes that stretch out below teeter on the edge of an almost straight ridge as it descends at an acute angle into the rocky canyons along Clear Creek. To the right, off the downhill shoulder of the road, is a cliff. How high is the cliff? Too high. Lots of air. From the concrete lanes drivers can't even see how far they'd soar if they misjudged their way on that side of the interstate.
It's just as well. It isn't a survivable fall.
Experienced truckers find low gears in order to spare their brakes on this stretch of 70, and their crawling rigs almost always clog the right two lanes on the downhill side. The slope is steep enough that inexperienced mountain drivers, and even some experienced ones, see their carefully modulated seventy miles per hour become eighty-five or ninety or even ninety-five before they figure out exactly what effect gravity is having on their control of their cars. I knew from dozens --- hell, hundreds --- of prior journeys along the route that I could count on a stream of red brake lights flashing on in front of me as drivers fought to harness the sudden increase in speed foisted upon them during their descent.
I also knew that at the bottom of the long downhill a constellation of geographic features and design complications conspired to further confound the drivers who were already struggling with the gravitational challenges of the cruel section of road. Within the space of a few hundred yards at the bottom of the hill, the posted speed limit was suddenly reduced from seventy-five to fifty, Highway 6 merged into I-70, the number of westbound lanes decreased from four to three and then suddenly to two, and --- and --- a not-so-subtle wall of rough granite a few hundred feet high insisted that the roadway make an abrupt change in course almost ninety degrees to the west. For the half mile or so that came next, the narrowed path hugged the radically curving outlines of Clear Creek. Towering granite walls loomed overhead on both sides.
Despite the upcoming hazards I wasn't foreseeing a need to tap my girl's brakes on the downhill. History told me that the Porsche and I could dodge the trucks and weave past the slower cars regardless of how many lanes were available. The Carrera and I only needed one lane for ourselves, we didn't need all of it, and we needed it only briefly. The posted speed limit was inconsequential to me; taking a highway curve at eighty miles an hour that pedestrian cars took at fifty meant nothing to me and my little fräulein.
We were both designed for it, regardless of what the highway engineers and the Colorado State Patrol might think to the contrary.
I first noticed the flatbed truck when I was in the fast lane about a quarter of the way down the hill below El Rancho. The rig --- it had a tall cab and an extended, stake-lined open bed that was filled with neat rows of fifty-gallon metal drums --- was in front of me a couple of lanes over, nearing the halfway point of the long descent. It appeared to me that the driver of the truck was making a rookie mistake, moving into the lane adjacent to mine to try to pass a couple of tractor-trailers crawling hub-to-hub in the two far-right lanes. The computer in my head immediately organized the equation: The eighteen-wheelers were in low gear going, maybe, twenty miles per hour. I was doing eighty-five, ninety. The open-bed truck had accelerated to something in the vicinity of thirty-five or forty to pass the bigger trucks. In the left two lanes in front of me, five or six smaller vehicles dotted the highway between me and the converging rigs.
The cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks were cruising downhill at various speeds between sixty and eighty.
The skill of the drivers? I decided that the safest thing for me was to assume that the other drivers sucked.
The algebra wasn't complicated: Would the flatbed truck with the oil drums finish passing the tractor-trailers and vacate its current lane before the cluster of cars and pickups in front of me were forced to squeeze together into the fast lane --- the one smack in front of me --- to avoid the temporary blockade caused by the three big trucks descending in consort down below?
It was going to be close, I decided.
Without any further deliberation my right foot shifted slightly at the ankle, the base of my big toe prepared to find purchase on the brake pedal, my left foot lifted up off the floor and hovered above the pad of the clutch, and the base of the palm of my right hand found the trailing edge of the gear shift, readying for the motion necessary to flick the smooth knob from fourth gear back down into third.
As I eased off on the accelerator and the rpm wound down, I once again heard the unwelcome melody of tinny clatter from the valves.
Got to tune you, baby girl. Got to tune you up.
It's the thinking that we don't try to do but that our magical brains do anyway that distinguishes the human animal from the machines we build. We can teach our machines to solve problems and even to ponder the value of various innovative solutions, but we haven't yet figured out how to teach the machines to recognize novel problems that will ultimately require us to use other machines to help us find solutions. For now, at least, that's still the stuff of humanity.
Unbidden by me, that's exactly what my mind was busy doing in the next few milliseconds as it changed effortlessly from the consideration of the algebra of gravity, variable speeds, crappy drivers, available lanes, and currently present vehicles, into the consideration of the calculus of a problem set that included an entirely novel set of variables: three men on cell phones watching traffic at three different locations on the same small stretch of Colorado interstate, constricted flow on a historically dangerous downhill section of highway, and an open-bed truck that was lined with seemingly innocuous big black drums.
My brain's assessment of those facts was confounded by one brand-new piece of information that it threw into the problem set: Big, rectangular red lights were beaming on each side of the back of the flatbed truck that was transporting the big metal drums.
The truck driver was hitting his brakes.
I reached an instant, terrifying conclusion: The truck wasn't accelerating to pass the two tractor-trailers. It was braking to stay even with them.
My mind chose to take the developing conundrum one step further, instinctively including a seemingly extraneous variable in its calculation: the y variable, the variable that I'd been consciously adding into almost every novel problem set that had crossed my path over the past few days.
The y variable was the small matter of the standing commitment from the Death Angels.
How to precisely weight the y variable had been proving to be a tough thing for me to figure, primarily because the people charged with implementing the y variable had proven to be an imaginative bunch. Before I was even consciously aware that I actually had the acute new problem --- the driving-down-this-hill and surviving this apparent Death Angels assault problem --- I was actively struggling with the chronic dilemma I'd had since Adam left Providence, which was the whole general Death Angel survival problem.
The novel problem? The current assault? I read it this way: Over the last ten minutes or so I had apparently been driving past a series of predetermined checkpoints manned by men with mobile phones who were sending along news of my progress to the driver of the flatbed with the black drums on the back so he could precisely time his descent on this treacherous downhill stretch of Interstate 70.
But why? What do they have planned?
My brain was ready with the answer.
Instantaneously, the whole scenario made such perfect sense that I wasn't even surprised when the first shiny black barrel somehow slid uphill off the truck bed and bounced hard off the concrete ribbon of highway.
Instantly, left foot: clutch.
Right foot: brake.
Right hand: downshift. Fourth to third.
The tach needle jumped. The rpm soared close to the red zone. The 911 flexed and she readied. She knew me well, and she knew I wouldn't have done what I'd done to her unless something important was up.
The second and third barrels seemed to fly off the truck simultaneously a fraction of a second later. A pickup truck a couple of hundred yards in front of me swerved right --- too hard --- to avoid one of the drums. He overcompensated to the left before severely overcompensating once more back to the right. By then he was up precariously on two wheels, and a split second later the crew-cab Dodge slid left until it careened into the air, launched by the sloped Jersey barrier that separated the uphill lanes from the down. I heard and felt the resulting crash as the flying truck exploded into the vehicle of some unsuspecting driver in the uphill lanes, but I was beyond the conflagration before my eyes could make any sense of it.
I didn't dare take my eyes from the road to check the mirror and the carnage.
Left foot: clutch.
Right foot: brake.
Right hand: downshift. This time into second.
The old girl's engine screamed in protest at the back pressure I was insisting she endure. I wasn't worried about her, though; she wouldn't let me down. She never had.
And hey, there was no valve clatter at those rpm.
In front of me --- and not very far in front of me --- the barrels continued to tumble off the flatbed in twos and threes. The first ones off were bouncing past me on the highway just as the latest ones were tumbling from the bed of the truck.
A Lexus SUV, desperate to avoid a collision with a flying drum, sideswiped a Nissan sedan fifty yards ahead. Together they kept weaving into and away from each other, their dance completely filling the little space that remained between the three side-by-side trucks and the center highway barricade, effectively obliterating my only easy avenue to escape the tumbling drums.
The barrel that I knew was the one that was destined to hit me --- the one that figuratively had my name on it --- slid solo off the truck's flatbed, bouncing once, only once, before hanging back up in the air as though it were a guided missile waiting for me to drive into position beneath it.
Which, of course, I was about to do.
That is apparently what fate required of me at that moment.
And that's precisely what I was doing.
Where to start with this guy? This shrink?
Eventually, maybe. Soon, hopefully.
Not the first day, though. Certainly not the first hour.
Not with a stranger. The stakes were way too high.
The first day? The first day --- it was a fine autumn day --- he'd have to settle for the truth.
Not the whole truth, not nothing-but-the-truth. But the truth.
We'd both have to settle for that.
"You ever get massages?" I asked him.
Yes, that's how I started the first session with him. Un-frigging-believable.
What the hell? I thought. Where on earth did that come from?
"You ever get massages?" Did I really ask him that? I certainly hadn't planned to start out that way, but that's exactly what came dribbling out of my mouth, even before I'd sat down in the chair across from Dr. Alan Gregory.
His eyes narrowed a little in response to my question. Maybe he raised his right shoulder enough that I could have considered it a shrug. Maybe not. I took the combined movements to mean "sure," but they could just as easily have meant "what difference does it make?" Most likely the gestures constituted a vague editorial about the peculiar manner that I'd chosen to begin the first psychotherapy session of my life.
"I find that they help," I said. "Massages. I've been getting a couple a week." As an afterthought, I tagged the word "lately" onto the end of the sentence.
Help with what? He could have asked me, maybe should have asked me. But he didn't. He sat silently, waiting for something. Was he demonstrating patience, or indifference? Time would tell. Time, though, was something I didn't have in abundance. At that moment I was feeling neither patience nor indifference. Were our roles reversed, I know I would have asked the "help-you-with-what" question.
No doubt about it. I would have asked. Yep.
If he had asked I would have told him I meant help with the fact that I was dying, though I wouldn't have told him yet exactly how complicated my dying was turning out to be.
Honesty, not quite yet.
"The massage therapist I see? Her name is Cinda. She's good. Very good. Little-known fact: Some massage therapists do the bulk of their work one-handed. They do; it's not like with a baseball pitcher, or a cook, though. A painter, whatever. The dominant hand changes depending on what she's working on, where she's standing. Sometimes it's left, sometimes it's right. But what makes Cinda so good at what she does --- truly special --- is what she does with the other hand, the one that's not doing the heavy lifting."
I felt suddenly exhausted. The lassitude came on in an instant and floored me, like I'd been idiotic enough to turn my back to the ocean and had ended up getting flattened by a twelve-foot curl of breaking indolence. If this guy in front of me had been an analytic shrink with a cracked-leather Sigmund chaise and was sitting in front of me dripping old Viennese attitude, I might have stretched out and rolled over onto my side to be contrary. But he was a pedestrian Colorado Ph.D. in a pedestrian old Victorian in downtown Boulder and it was apparent that he'd organized the furniture in his office so that our time together was going to be face-to-face.
I asked, "Do you mind if I put my feet up?"
What was he going to do? Be a jerk, say no? He opened his hands in a be-my-guest gesture. What is this guy, I wondered, a mime? I lifted my heavy legs and rested my beat-up sneakers on the scratched wood of a table that said old, not antique. The change in posture eased my fatigue a little. Every little bit helped.
The dramatic increase in fatigue I was feeling was a new thing. The doctors couldn't explain it. I was still adjusting to it.
Other than his brief introduction in the tiny waiting room --- "Hello, I'm Alan Gregory. Please come in" ––he finally spoke his first words to me. He said, "The other hand?"
I'll give him credit for something: He made the short phrase sound somewhat consequential.
And he let me know he'd been paying attention.
"I actually think of it as her ‘off hand,' not her other hand," I said. "The working hand is the reason we're there, of course. It's the business hand, and she knows her business. Cinda's intuitive --- she finds tightness I don't even know I have. She kneads it. Traces it. Stretches it. Finds the origin of a muscle like she's an explorer looking for the headwater of a river. Then nine times out of ten, she gets the tension to release. What I'm saying is she does the job that needs doing, but she does it mostly with one strong hand at a time. Sometimes the off hand helps --- does some of the same work --- but most of the time ... no, not. It's one working hand, and one off hand."
How did he reply to that little speech? His eyes invited me to go on. That was all. It was a subtle thing, but to me the invitation was as clear as if a calligrapher had penned it on good linen paper, sealed it with wax, and had it handed to me by a liveried messenger.
Thea could do that, too --- talk to me in complete sentences using only her eyes.
He and I would talk about Thea later.
Why, I wondered, was I babbling on with this guy about my massage therapist's hands? I still didn't have an answer to that one, but I went with the momentum, mostly because fighting it and doing something else would have required stamina I didn't have.
"Despite how good her working hand does its job, her off hand is the reason I go back to her."
He sent me another invitation with his eyes. Or he repeated the same invitation. I wasn't totally sure which.
The rhythm of the therapy dance was becoming clear: I would appear to lead. He would appear to follow. The reality would, of course, probably turn out to be something altogether different. I reminded myself that I'd decided to be honest with him. Otherwise, what was the point?
I said, "Sometimes she'll just rest it a few inches from where she's working with her business hand. If she's doing my lower back, she might rest her off hand on my hip. If she's working my shoulder, she might rest it on my neck. No real pressure. That's not true, maybe some pressure. A light stroke, a gentle squeeze. But no real work. The other hand is doing the work. Most of the time her off hand doesn't join in --- it's not there for that. It's there for ..."
Could he think I'm talking about sex? "I'm not talking about sex. In case you're wondering. When I talk about sex, I'll talk about sex. That's not one of my things --- discomfort with sex. This is about something else entirely." I glanced at his left hand. He wore a ring. "You married?"
He grazed the ring with the soft pad of his thumb. Involuntary? Maybe. He didn't answer me. Or maybe he did. If he did, I missed it.
"I am," I said. "Sometimes --- maybe most of the time --- when my wife does things for me they're part of the deal, the marriage deal. She does x, I do y. She makes dinner; I make money. But sometimes she does something for me and I know it's meant to be a gift, something special. Something that's not part of the deal. That's what Cinda's off hand does during the massage; it's the one that says that whatever's going on at that moment isn't just a job, isn't only part of the deal, that she cares a little, that I'm not just another blob of flesh on her table, that it's not all about my muscles yielding to her fingers. That we're not only trading my money for her time."
I inhaled and exhaled before he replied. He said, "That's important to you?"
His words stopped me. Isn't that a universal truth? Wouldn't it be important to anybody? "Of course," I said.
"Her off hand provides ... tenderness?" he said. "Is that a good word for what you're describing?"
I crossed one ankle over the other, and the change in posture offered some temporary relief. "I think about it more as a caress, but ‘tenderness' is a good word for it. Yes."
"And it's the reason you go back to her?"
"Cinda's good at what she does, but plenty of people are good at what they do. Yeah, I guess the truth is that the reason I keep go-ing back to her is because of how she manages her off hand. For the kindness, the tenderness. It's important. Essential even." I tacked on, "For me."
The shrink was silent for most of a minute. At first I thought he was waiting for me to start up again, but I saw something in his face that told me that maybe he was working on something. So I waited, too. Finally, he seemed to find whatever he'd been seeking. He said, "And ... you're wondering whether you'll get it here? The tenderness? Whether I'm going to turn out to be all business, or whether I have an off hand, too?"
Actually, that wasn't what I'd been thinking at all.
What I'd been wondering was what it was about this bland little room, and about this unfamiliar, relatively bland man, that had somehow got me babbling about Cinda and the seductiveness of her off hand.
"Maybe," I said.
He let me digest my response. When he thought I'd had enough time, he added a coda. "You told me your massage therapist's name, but not your wife's."
It wasn't a question.
Not at all.
I hadn't told him much on the phone when I set up the appointment.
My last name, as common as dirt, revealed nothing. I'd introduced myself using the nickname my oldest friends had hung on me decades before. I'd told Alan Gregory, Ph.D., that I'd gotten the referral to him from a business associate, which was only a bit of a stretch, that I had some things going on in my life that I was eager to discuss --- that part was absolutely the truth --- and that on the first day I wanted to see him twice, with some time in between. One session --- or appointment, or whatever the hell he called it --- in the morning, one more mid-afternoon on the same day. That would be ideal.
He initially balked at my request for dual appointments, but relented when I explained that my schedule was in a "difficult phase." We worked out the times we would meet. Ten in the morning. Then again at two-thirty the same afternoon.
I didn't tell him I'd be flying into the nearby Jefferson County Airport solely for the purpose of seeing him, nor did I tell him that I'd be flying back out the same day as soon as we were done. I didn't moan that it would have been much more convenient to use the Boulder Airport, but that my plane needed just a little bit more runway than the Boulder field had to offer.
Nor did I tell him the two appointments could be considered an audition. In my mind, when you meet somebody new it's always an audition. You don't always know which one of you is auditioning, or for what. But every introduction is an audition.
If this shrink had earned even half his doctorate, I figured he already knew that.
I left his office after the first session that morning without revealing that I'd made a decision that I thought I could work with him. I was worried that if I'd told him he'd passed the test, he would have asked me what the test was.
I didn't know the answer. I only knew he'd passed.
Or he'd have asked why I needed a test.
I didn't know the answer to that, either.
Therapy was already turning out to be more complicated than I'd anticipated.
In between my two appointments with Dr. Gregory, I took a taxi across Boulder to the local Toyota dealership, asked the cabbie to wait a few minutes, and managed --- as I knew I would --- to get accosted by a salesman before I made it all the way to the front door.
All fake friendliness, the salesman --- I pegged him as an ex-frat boy who liked beer more than he liked just about anything else --- thrust out his hand and said, "I'm Chuck Richter, and you are ..."
Not in the fucking mood.
His handshake was too firm by half, too robust by a factor of three.
I considered retracing my steps to the waiting cab, sighed, and steeled myself with a promise that this experience would soon be over.
"Chuck?" I said with my most ingratiating smile plastered across my face --- the smile I used to use when, before I had more money than I needed, I would be trying to finagle or seduce a first-class upgrade from a clerk at the check-in counter at the airport. Chuck and I made good eye contact, and he reflexively matched my smile with a grin that registered like a fingernail on a chalkboard in my soul.
"Yeah?" he said.
"I need to be out of here in fifteen minutes, thirty tops. When I leave, I want to drive away in a new Prius, any new Prius. 2006? 2007? Doesn't matter. Color? I don't care. Equipment? Whatever you got. Demo? Fine. Here's what I'd like to happen next, right now even. You go to your sales manager and get me a number. If I like the number, I pay cash for the car and I'm on my way in my new Prius in time to make my lunch appointment.
"If you're not back here with a number for me in five minutes, or if the number you bring back makes me think you and your sales manager are trying to take a lot of advantage of me, rather than just a little advantage of me, I'm going to get back into that taxi over there and go to the Honda dealership on Arapahoe and make some salesman just like you the exact same offer on one of their hybrids. You have a single chance to do this deal. No negotiating. Are we clear? You and I? A hundred percent clear?"
Chuck nodded in little narrow jerks. His eyes were wide at the challenge, as though I was a stranger in a bar who'd walked up to him and offered to buy him and his buddies beers and shooters all night long if he'd simply munch down a fresh habanero.
I thought he was wondering if he could pull it off. But maybe, just maybe, I'd misread him and he had more balls than I was giving him credit for and he was wondering how to play things to his advantage with his sales manager.
He nodded again --- those same quick little jerks of his wide chin --- his eyes still big as nickels.
"I'm not screwing with you. One chance to get this right."
"Don't screw with me."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Yes, you would. But don't."
It took the various players thirty-five minutes to get the paperwork together and finally to give up trying to sell me all the extra crap --- extended warranty? You've got to be kidding --- that car dealers hawk to pad their profits. While I waited for this form and that form to be prepared, I strolled out and sent the taxi on its way.
When I returned, Chuck actually asked me if I had anything I wanted to trade.
I told him I had plenty of cars, but nothing I wanted to sell. I was just making conversation to keep him at bay.
"You a collector? Old cars?" he asked. It was either a lucky guess, or Chuck had the inborn Doppler radar of a born salesman.
"No. I have an old Porsche, but I still drive it. An eighty-eight 911."
"Wow. What color? Red?"
"Yeah, red." Two good guesses for Chuck.
"The coup, not the Cabriolet, right?" he said.
I nodded. Chuck was three for three. Note to self: Don't play poker with Chuck. "I bought it in 1993."
"Shit," Chuck said. "This Prius ain't no Carrera."
"More honest words have never been spoken by a car salesman," I replied.
To get away from Chuck I strolled over to the parts department and picked out a car cover for my new 2006 Prius --- the 2007 models hadn't arrived yet. When I got back to Chuck's desk, he was ready for my money. He led me down the hall and I sat obediently in the designated mark's chair in the finance manager's prison cell of an office while I called my banker on my mobile phone and authorized a wire.
In order to pry the keys out of the clutch of Chuck's fist, I actually had to convince him that I didn't want his personal, extra-special new-car orientation any more than I wanted a colonoscopy without anesthesia.
A few minutes later I drove away in the new hybrid and found my way back across downtown Boulder to a flat that was on the second floor of a lovely old house on Pine Street just east of the Hotel Boulderado. I parked the Prius in back, and let myself inside with a key I'd begged from the friend who kept the apartment as a pied-à-terre for the rare occasions he was in Colorado. He owned a company in Boulder with which I'd done a lot of business over the years, and I could tell --- when I had asked him if I could use his apartment occasionally --- that he thought I had something going on the side. I let him believe it. As long as he didn't gossip about it, his suspicions were fine with me.
I collapsed onto the bed in the flat's only bedroom and fell asleep wondering if I'd live long enough to figure out what the fun graphic display meant on the little screen in the middle of my new car's dash.