Sharp edges of sawgrass raked my fingers as I parted the long
fronds. A brightness winked in the center of the clump. My breath
caught on the sudden lump in my throat as I reached for it. My
finger tip had almost touched the shiny thing when a half-second
burst of police siren split the humid air and I jerked back. I leaned back over the grass, but the glint of metal had disappeared. I leaped to my feet and shook my fist at the blue and white cruiser. The driver’s side door was open and Detective Sloan’s long frame unfolded as he stepped to the ground. He stood with arms folded across his chest.
“Find something, Cora?”
“Why’d you blow that damn siren? You made me lose it.” I didn’t
give him time to answer, just stooped back down, yanking at the
“Give it up, Cora, you won’t find that key.”
“What else do I have to do? I’ll find it.” I kept pulling grass
clumps apart. Something in there had reflected the hot Florida
sunlight. But a dark bank of clouds had moved over the sun and a
stiff breeze was beginning to whip the grass and palmetto fronds.
Damn Sloan and his siren.
“Come on, Cora. I’ll give you a lift back to the trailer park. A
I looked up at the sky again. The stacked storm clouds in the
western sky bore out his words. I pulled a green painted dowel
from my backpack and stuck it in the sand next to the clump of
grass where I’d seen something shining. When I walked toward
the police car, Sloan was staring across the canal, like he
hadn’t seen me put the dowel in the ground. Illegal to put
anything in the median, but Sloan always looked the other way.
The downpour started before he dropped me at the Golden Years
Mobile Home Park, a tacky mid‑Florida retirement community. My
double‑wide occupied a narrow, noisy lot on the street side. The
place was a far cry from the neat frame bungalow I’d shared with
Duke back in Stonesboro, Tennessee. God, was it just over a year
ago Duke died? The truck motor he was working on fell and crushed
his chest when the hoist failed. Left me nothin but the bungalow,
a beat up Honda, and his antique ’57 Chevy.
I hung my wet clothes over the shower curtain in the bath room
and pulled on a blue flower print cotton muu muu. On the coffee
table in the living room, my unfinished Solitaire game waited. I
sat on the couch and turned over a card. Queen of Diamonds, yeah,
that’s me. Till I sold my five carat diamond ring to buy this
dump. Jack of Clubs. That’d be Kinny, stole my fortune, slitherin
snake in the grass. Shoulda been more careful. Shoulda suspected
he was up to something. Watchin, pretendin to be glad for me. I
coulda been sittin pretty if I used a little common sense.
It started in South Carolina, first time I entered the ’57 Chevy
in a show. I’d tracked down Kinny Loest, Duke’s old mechanic and
rollback driver, to transport the Chevy. Didn’t even place, but
it was fun. Leaving Columbia I stopped in a convenience store for
a beer. When I saw the lottery logo, I thought what the heck, why
not contribute a few bucks to South Carolina kids’ education.
Needed some more numbers, already done anniversaries, phone
numbers, birthdays. I happened to have the paper I wrote the
Chevy’s mileage on after the show, used those numbers.
Damn if that ticket didn’t win me two hundred grand a couple
nights later. I was sittin on the sofa back home when them
numbers come down and I about peed my pants. Next day I
hightailed it over the mountain on I‑26 and back down to Columbia
to pick up the check.
With that windfall I figured maybe I should enter the car in
another show or two. So I hired Kinny to take the ’57 to Little
Rock to the Razorback Road Show.
I followed the rollback west along I‑40, catching glimpses of
country roads between wide green horse pastures. The white paint
on their connecting fences glowed in the sunlight. Between
Nashville and Memphis, my Honda began running a little hot, so I
signaled Kinny and pulled off at the next exit. Paying for the
antifreeze, I picked up a few lottery tickets, using the same
odometer numbers I’d used before for one of them. That damn
ticket didn’t win a dime. Of course, none of the others I bought
at the same time did either.
The car placed 2nd in the Razorback though, with a $1000 prize,
so I got my expenses back. By now, I was kinda hooked on car
shows. So I signed up for the West Virginia Mountain Vintage Show
scheduled for the next month.
I used the next four weeks to clean and rub ten coats of high
gloss on that old car and polished the chrome till it gleamed
like lights was glowing through it. Even found an original rear
view mirror to replace the reproduction piece Duke had put on
My Honda’s engine blew a gasket the day before the Mountain
Vintage so I rode up with Kinny in the cab of the rollback. US 23
took us through the mountainous corner of Kentucky this time,
then we hit the West Virginia Turnpike. Whoever dreamed up the
idea of running a freeway along the tops of mountains must’ve
been crazy. But the view over treetops and ridges folded against
each other was spectacular.
After we exited the turnpike it was a different story. The last
few miles was on a curving state road with some mean switchbacks.
I was scared the ’57 was gonna come right off that rollback.
“Just think, Kinny. That turnpike didn’t exist when the Chevy was
built and folks drove ’em in these mountains. Reckon it would
still do it?”
“Hell, yeah. You gonna let me drive her this time, Cora?”
“No way. In these shows I’m Cinderella and that sharp, black ’57
is my coach with silver triangles on the sides.”
“Antique cars is a man’s game.”
“Says who? This baby belongs to me now. I’m drivin her.”
Men. Duke Muler never let me even ride with him in the ’57. After all the mending and gluing I done, not to mention calling all over the country to find original parts.
Kinny scowled at the steering wheel and jerked us around a
vicious zigzag in the road. Was the damn fool trying to lose my
Chevy? He moped along for the next twenty miles without a word.
“Okay.” I finally told him. “You can ride with me down the
winner’s strip. If I win anything.”
“You will.” He brightened a little.
Next morning we settled in them original leather seats I’d
sweated over with special cleaners and softeners. I’d put a big
towel on the passenger side to make sure Kinny didn’t get no
grease stain on the leather. We tooled along that hilly
Parkersburg street after taking second place again. The judges
claimed the tires wasn’t just right. I wrote the specs down after
I collected my prize money and left the show office.
Noticing a State Lottery billboard, I remembered I hadn’t bought
any tickets. I walked across the street to where the rollback was
parked at a Shell service center/food shop. I climbed up to get
the mileage off the ’57’s odometer. Kinny came around the end of
the rollback bed as I stepped down to the asphalt.
“Just checkin the chains.” I waved and went on to the store
entrance and inside.
We didn’t plan on going back to Tennessee til next day, so I
watched the balls drop on the TV in my motel room. At midnight, I
became a millionairess. My ticket with the odometer numbers took
the three million dollar West Virginia State Lottery jackpot. I
beat my pillow and put my face in it and whooped and hollered. I
didn’t get much sleep.
After that win I had my sights set on some really big money, the
Southeast MultiCombo. Ten southern states participated in it and
the pot was up to 30 million dollars. If nobody hit it this week
or next it would probably hit 50 million. I’d just have to cross
my fingers and hope nobody took that pile of dough in the next
fourteen days. I’d entered the ’57 in the Suwanee River Classic
in Florida two weeks after the Mountain Vintage.
I was beginning to get an idea how this odometer deal worked.
When I used the numbers before a show, the ticket didn’t win. But
when I used the reading after I drove the ’57 in a winners’
rally, the ticket won. Only trouble was, the MultiCombo drawing
was the same day as the car show. And the show organizers didn’t
announce the show winners until late in the afternoon. I’d have
to hustle to buy my ticket before ticket sales were closed.
Assuming, of course, that my car would be in the winners’ parade
on that palm lined Suwanee Main Street.
Next morning, Sunday, we sailed through the clouds along the
Turnpike again, but I was flying even higher. Kinny looked over
at me. “Man, Cora. Taking second place again was good, but you’re
acting plumb intense. What’s going on?”
“Winning even second place excites me, Kinny.”
“You act like you won the lottery.” I could tell he didn’t
believe that, but his forehead was all screwed up like he was
trying to figure something out. “You did have a hand full of
tickets when you come out of the store last night.”
“Easy come, easy go.” I decided I better try to come down to
earth a little. Kinny’d probably claim he deserved a part of my
winnings since he brought me and the car to West Virginia.
Monday I rented a car, drove myself back to Parkersburg, and
presented my winning ticket. The TV and other reporters was
covering it, of course, so I knew Kinny would know about my
riches before long.
Afterward I went on a shopping spree. First stop was the best
jewelry store in town. Duke never even bought me a gold wedding
band when I married him. The owner pulled out an estate five
carat marquise diamond ring and I had to have it. Then to the
local BMW dealership. I bought a sporty red convertible on the
spot. Kinny’s rollback cruised across them Turnpike mountain
tops, but that little red car soared all the way back to
Satellites beam electrons even faster and news of my good fortune
got home before I did. Cops, Kinny, and about half the population
of Stonesboro was in front of my house when I drove up.
Kinny and the cops helped me push through and get one of the
double garage doors up and the BMW inside. The ’57 Chevy, canvas
covered, occupied half of the garage, good thing the Honda was in
the shop. We went in the kitchen. I dropped in a chair, laid my
hands on the table, and tried to catch my breath.
Kinny leaned against the door, arms folded, glaring at me. “You
coulda told me.”
I ignored his tone. “There’s a bottle of Jack in the car. If
you’ll get it, we’ll celebrate.”
“Liquor, cars, and rings. You tryin to spend it all at once?”
“Mine to spend. Okay, I’ll get the Jack.” I started to get up,
but he pushed away from the door and opened it.
I hadn’t eat anything since breakfast and I don’t drink much plus
I’d just driven four hundred miles so the Jack hit me good.
Either Kinny could hold his liquor, or he wasn’t matching my
shots. He seemed cold sober as we toasted my luck and I gabbed
about what I could do with all that money.
“Gone win that Su‑Suwaneeeee car show in Florida.” I raised my
“God, Cora. You must be drunk. Thinkin about enterin more car
“Got ta win ‑ ” My words trailed off and my memory with them.
He must have guided me to the couch when I passed out. When I
woke up, fully clothed, thank God, he was gone and my head felt
like maybe my new convertible was sitting on top of it. What had
I told him? I knew I talked about the car show in Suwanee. Did I
tell him how I got the winning numbers? About the MultiCombo? Why
did I have to act like a damn fool?
I managed to get to the bathroom before my stomach decided it
didn’t want the Jack anymore. I laid on the bed for hours with a
wet washrag on my head. When the phone wouldn’t stop, I cut the
ringer off. Late in the afternoon as I was finally gettin some
tomato juice to stay down, somebody banged on the door.
“Cora? Cora? You all right?” Kinny hollered through the little
I opened the door. People were still hanging around outside so I
pulled him inside and closed it. “Yeah. Am I supposed to thank
you for not taking advantage of me when I was drunk?”
The look on his face before he turned away didn’t flatter me, but
I let it pass. I needed to know what I’d told him last night.
I led the way to the kitchen. “Coffee?”
I got down a mug. “So what did I babble about while I was in my
“Ah, you said something about you was still gonna drive the ’57
in the Suwanee show. I figured it was the Jack.”
“Nope. I am goin’ down for the show. Can’t let a little money
change my life.” I tried for a real serious look.
“Guess you’ll be gettin’ somebody with a fancy car hauler to take
the car down though.” He gave me a hard look, then seemed to
remember he ought to look disappointed and his expression
“I said I couldn’t let a little money change my life. Sure I
still want you to haul my car, Kinny.” If I’d been half smart I
would have done just what he said.
We touched up and polished every inch of the ’57, including
underneath, for the next couple of weeks. I held my breath each
time the MultiCombo numbers were drawn. Nobody won. The week of
the show, it had reached sixty‑six million dollars.
The day before the show, we left Stonesboro, cut across the
Carolinas and hit I‑95. I had the top down on my BMW, a silk
scarf holding my new frosted hair out of my eyes. I tried to
decide if I needed an Infiniti more than the most expensive
Winnebago. Ah, I’d just get both. Kinny was a few miles behind me
with the ’57 Chevy, my passport to any cars, condos, and cruises
Signs beckoned as I passed exits to resort cities I’d never seen,
Charleston, Hilton Head, Kiowa Island. I could almost smell the
salt water breeze off the ocean and taste the shrimp cocktails. I
promised myself I’d return to sample all the delights each place
offered. Savannah I promised to come back to for a month or more.
Finally I crossed into Florida and then reached I‑10, turning
west. I checked with Kinny on the cell phone and he was still
Traffic thickened as I‑10 approached the north‑south corridor of
I‑75. I hoped Kinny was taking no chances with the rollback and
my ’57. Finally reaching Suwanee I pulled into our motel parking
lot. The heat and humidity were fierce so I waited in the lobby
and watched the street.
Thirty minutes later, to my relief, Kinny pulled the rollback
through to the truck parking area. Several newer model trucks,
some with open rollback beds and some attached to closed
trailers, already occupied the lot.
I had to keep Kinny thinking the well‑being of the ’57 was my
main concern, so I walked out to check under its canvas cover.
“We checked in yet? My damn air conditioner quit working a
hundred miles back.”
I handed him the key to his room. “I’m goin’ to the show office.
Call your room when I get back.”
I registered, signed the credit card slip for the entry fee, and
got the Chevy’s spot location for the show. For once I wished the
show was over so I could buy my MultiCombo ticket. Win, lose, or
draw in the car show, I knew I would soon possess more wealth
than I could ever have dreamed.
After we took the ’57 over to the show site, I took Kinny to
dinner in the motel restaurant, then both went to our rooms. A
long relaxing bath soaked out the muscle stiffness from my long
drive. I dried off, pulled on soft linen pajamas, and wandered to
the window. Kinny had moved the rollback to the space where he’d
first parked, right next to the exit. Another truck occupied it
when we came back from the show site and he swore. He must have
watched and when the other truck was moved, he went out and
shifted the rollback to the space again. Funny.
Fixated on the millions I already considered mine, I hardly heard
when the show MC announced my ’57 Chevy took the Suwanee Classic
Grand Prize next day. I drove it at the head of the parade of
winners and wondered why Kinny hadn’t insisted on being there.
Arriving back at the show grounds, the promoters posed with us
for pictures, then swept me into the office for more PR crap. A
little while later I caught sight of a clock, seven‑thirty.
MultiCombo ticket sales stopped at nine o’clock. I broke away and
hurried to my car’s show slot. It was empty.
“Where the hell is my car?” Participants and fans milling around
nearby cars jerked their heads up.
“I said, where the hell is my car?” I glared around the circle of
“Uh, uh. Your rollback driver just picked it up and drove off.” A
woman standing next to a purple ’49 Ford Coupe spoke up.
“Why didn’t somebody stop him?” I yelled.
“He was your driver. Figured you knew.” The woman seemed to be
the only one willing, or brave enough, to answer me.
By then more people were crowding around. A news photographer
came out of the office and started snapping more pictures.
Somebody drove me to the motel. Neither Kinny’s truck or my ’57
Chevy was in the parking lot. No one had seen him or the truck
“Guess you better call the police.” The young desk clerk didn’t
sound too happy about the prospect.
I looked at my watch. Nearly eight o’clock. What chance was there
the police could find my car before nine o’clock? Slim to none, I
figured. How could Kinny do this to me? Why? He couldn’t show the
car or sell it. Especially now, after it was the Grand Prize
winner in this show.
That fact also puzzled Police Detective Sloan, who had dark half
moons under his brown eyes. But he put out an APB on Kinny and
the car. “He won’t get far. Maybe he’s pulling a prank on you.”
I gave him a picture of Kinny, the rollback, and my ’57 Chevy,
then went up to my room and sat cross‑legged on my bed. Night
darkened the window, then sporadic lightning flashes lit it. When
my bladder insisted on a trip to the bathroom I turned on the
bedside lamp. I saw the time on my travel clock, nearly midnight.
Picking up the remote, I turned on the television set as the
MultiCombo balls started dropping into their slots. I jabbed the
TV off and threw the remote across the room.
After a sleepless night, I called the police at six am. There was
no word on my car. All day I paced my room and called down
tribulation and torment on Kinny. Around noon the desk clerk, an
older graying woman, brought coffee and a stale cinnamon roll on
a paper plate. She also brought management’s regrets and hoped I
wouldn’t blame them, since my car had not been stolen while on
A long day and night later, and still no sleep, I tripped over
the covers trailing on the floor as I left my bed . A
complimentary newspaper was halfway under the door. The picture
on the front page told me all I needed to know. It showed Kinny
standing with the Florida Lottery Commission Chairman. Each held
one end of a blown up image of a check in the amount of forty
million dollars. The s.o.b. took the cash option, just like I had
intended to do.
“I’ll find you, Kinny. I will find you.”
But he dropped out of sight, along with my ’57 Chevy, after
making financial arrangements with the lottery commission. A year
passed and the police didn’t find him. Neither did the army of
private detectives I hired using my West Virginia lottery
winnings, the five thousand dollar grand prize money, and finally
funds from the sale of my Stonesboro house.
I still had my diamond ring and BMW. I decided to sell them and
buy this double wide and stay in Florida. I had nothing left back
in Tennessee anyway.
My doorbell rang one day, interrupting my Solitaire game as I
laid down the Ace of Spades. I went to open the door. Detective
Sloan stood on my front step.
“Good to see you, Cora.” He stooped as he came through the
“Detective. Have you found my car? Chop shop?” I wasn’t about to
get my hopes up. I got over that sudden riches dream months ago.
Swore off buying lottery tickets forever.
“Not a chop shop.” He waited until I went back to the sofa before
he took a seat.
I picked up my Solitaire cards and shuffled. “Well?”
“We found Kinny. And your car.”
In spite of myself, my breathing quickened. “And?”
“He drove the ’57 down the Tamiani. Fast.”
“Fool. He knew it wasn’t built for turnpike speeds.” I slammed
the cards down on the table.
“Yes.” Sloan said. “He’s done other reckless things in the last
year, we learned. Bungee jumped into shark infested water. Drugs.
He lost control, crossed the median, car rolled several times.
Dead at the scene.”
I tried to find some regret, not much there. “My car?”
“Pretty much totaled. There was a letter to you in his pocket.”
He handed the envelope to me. It had a dark stain on one end. I
tried not to think what it might be. I pulled out a piece of
paper with Kinny’s all but illegible handwriting on one side.
With some effort I read it.
Cora, I’m sorry I took your car. The magic didn’t work for me.
I’ll give it back after this one ride down the Trail. I want you
to know I had a lawyer write me a will. There’s still a lot of
the money left. If anything happens to me, it goes to you. The
will and bank papers is in a safe deposit box. The box key will
be in the car. Kinny
My heart slammed against my chest wall. I raised my head and
looked a question at Sloan.
He shook his head. “We didn’t find the key.”
“You looked for it?” I could hardly get the words out.
“Yes. It must have fallen out of his pocket or the car when it
rolled. If it was really there. Probably never be found.”
“Tell me exactly where he rolled my car. I’ll find that key,
however long it takes.”
He told me it wasn’t possible, said the State Police would arrest
me if they caught me walking in the median. But I’ve been going
over that quarter mile of sand, sawgrass, and palmetto bushes for
two months now. In his spare time, Sloan checks out banks,
showing Kinny’s picture. I’ll find the key and Sloan will find
the right bank, then I’ll have the riches that Kinny stole from