Past the small sleeping town of Galena, Kansas, Mallory departed from a street marked by signs as Historic Route 66. She turned right to travel down a narrow road that cut through countryside and crop fields. Watching her trip monitor, she counted off the miles to her next turn: ten, eleven, almost there. Over the distance of green flatlands, she could see the silhouette of the autobody shop, a garage described as “-the size and shape of an airplane hangar.” And the letter went on to tell her that this place did a round-the-clock business with three full-time crews, and “-old Ray was always up before dawn.”
She turned onto a long dirt driveway, then stopped to select Led Zeppelin music to orchestrate her entrance. Moving forward again, she played it at top volume. “Black Dog” was reported to be Ray Adler’s secret theme song. Mallory roared into the lot, revved her engine and honked her horn to add to the noise of the band. The song was switched off and the visor lowered to hide her face. She sat very still in the shadows of the car, her back to the rising sun.
A man in his fifties came to the door of the garage and stood there squinting into the morning light. And now came the look of recognition- the song and the car. He was running across the lot, grinning and yelling, “You old son of a bitch, is that you?” The man’s e yes were still half blinded by sunrise. “I knew you’d come back.” He all but ripped off the driver’s s ide door in his haste to open it. He bent down to look at her face, and now he wore an expression of dumbfounded surprise. Though he had expected to see someone else behind the wheel, his smile spread wider.
“Even better,” he said, standing back a pace to stare at her. “You’re Peyton’s kid, all right. You got his weird green eyes. Not another pair like ’em. And you got your mama’s pretty face. But this ain’t your daddy’s c ar. We ll, damn. Let’s see what you got, girl.” He started toward the front where the engine ought to be on this recent model, and then he stopped, saying, “No, don’t t e ll me.” He turned around and headed for the trunk, and she obligingly pulled the release lever to open it for him.
“Oh, damn, that’s beautiful!”
She left the car to stand beside him as he admired the Porsche engine.
“You outdid old Peyton, girl. His Porsche was old when he bought it, and that was before you were born. What a damn wreck that car was. Not a bit of the body that wasn’t d e nted or crushed. He got it for a dollar and a promise not to sue the drunk who totaled his Volkswagen. Happened back down the road not twenty miles. God, how Peyton loved that old VW. That would’ve been the Bug’s tenth run down Route 66. Well, your dad was determined to finish the trip the way he started out. When he pulled in here, he was driving the Porsche and towing the Bug. But we couldn’t s plice ’ em together. And I wasn’t about to waste all the best parts of that sports car. So you can see, can’t you-just using the Porsche’s engine was out. Now Peyton once put a V- 8 in another Bug. But that’s another story. So we used the old car’s c o nvertible top-all we could salvage-and we put it on a prefab shell a lot like this one here. Big as a Beetle, and maybe a little longer. Same paint job, too. Now, silver to go with that black ragtop, that was my idea. Back then, there wasn’t another car like it on the road.”
Mallory already knew the history of the other car, but never lost patience with this man’s retelling of the story. She had yet to say a word, and Ray Adler was only now realizing this. His face turned beet red.
“I talk too much. My wife, rest her soul, used to tell me that all the time. Never give folks a chance to get a word in.” He smiled at her, not able to get enough of her green eyes, the eyes of Peyton Hale. “So tell me, how’s your dad and his pretty bride?”
“I never met the man,” said Mallory. “My mother died when I was six, and she was never married.”