Brad had no idea where he was, when the dude pulled off Highway 101, somewhere in Mendo County, and told him that this was the end of the line, and unless he had some coke with him, the line being over, he had to get out of the Jeep. And the dude went, straight up that road, that Brad was now standing on, leaving him feeling just a tad disconcerted, not to mention awfully lonely. He didn’t figure he had too much chance of being picked up in the middle of the night, even if someone should actually come along.
It was approaching midnight and he'd had no plan, just sort of hoping that he would end up somewhere he could crash for the night. As it was, he had infinity; all he had to do was pick a spot, and lie down. Only problem was, it was colder than a witch’s tit, and just as inviting.
He had seen a sign a few minutes before they stopped, indicating it was still more than ten miles until he got to the next town, some dump called Laytonville. According to the green road sign, he was standing on Bell Springs Road, so maybe he would just head up this road, until he got to Bell Springs, itself. Maybe there was some semblance of civilization. He could sure do with a drink.
He began trudging up the asphalt road for all of a couple hundred feet, before it turned to gravel. He didn’t figure he was likely to encounter accommodations, up a dirt road. He thought about retracing his footsteps back to the 101, but he could see in either direction, and as far as he could see, there were no headlights. If there were no headlights to begin with, he figured he could make book on the fact that he was not getting a ride tonight.
He could stand by the side of the dirt road, and freeze, or he could walk along, and freeze at a slower pace. He had half a joint, that he had been saving for when he got situated for the night, but since that was becoming less and less likely, he was beginning to think more about taking a couple of hits, just to keep the old spirits up. He held off.
He made it up to the first hairpin curve, and figured that nothing was going to be happening on that first stretch anyway, so he might as well keep moving along, at least until maybe the road leveled off. It was faulty logic, but faulty logic was better than no logic. He was still waxing forth eloquently, when rounding a bend in the road, he beheld a vision of grandeur, beyond his wildest imagination, a VW bus, curtains and all.
The back engine compartment cover was propped open, and it seemed evident that the old bus was down [once again]. Van down! Brad just didn’t know what to think about this development, so he didn’t think about it at all. He made his way over to the iconic hippie roadster, chortling in glee to himself, that his bed and breakfast has just pulled up.
It took him a little more than two minutes to gain entry to the vehicle, and he waited until he was under a layer of blankets and old bedspreads, which were heaped on the cot sized mattress, before he took stock of his situation. He got out his joint and fired that puppy up. The bus had compartments the length of one side with the mattress occupying the center, and a little ice chest/mini-sink just behind the passenger seat. Apparently, a guy could just live here if he wanted.
There was nothing strewn about, so it wasn’t immediately obvious, but he figured if a guy were going to abandon his vehicle, even if only to go to town, he probably would not leave anything of value behind. Or would he? Who would ever think that an old hippie bus would have anything of value in it? The way Brad saw it, he wouldn’t know one way or the other, unless he took a look-see, and if he was going to look around, he was going to do a proper job of it.
He found what he thought he was looking for, in a side compartment, right at the back end of the bus, mixed in with a tool box, a “VW Manual for the Complete Idiot,” and and assortment of chemicals and cleaners. Sandwiched between the VW manual, and a Chilton’s book on specs, was a thick manilla envelop, that was taped securely shut. On the outside of this envelope, was taped a bright red and white Campbell’s Soup label, with the words, “One thousand labels!” next to it, with an exclamation point. Under this, it said, “Miss Prescott’s Fourth grade Class.”
“Just my luck,” he thought, “soup labels,” and it was right then that he realized that there was a vehicle bearing down on him, the headlights appearing on the inside wall of the bus, through a slit in the curtains. He'd eased back inside by now, and was waiting for the lights to pass, when again, he had to pull his mind back to the present, to realize that the lights had stopped moving, and that they had shifted in the direction of the VW bus.
“Uh oh. What now?” He could see two shapes moving, and the beam of a penlight, stabbing at the darkness. “Shit. Is this the owner? In the middle of the night? Not likely. Slicky boys, no doubt. Better exit the building.” He slipped out the side, still clutching the manilla envelope, and almost backed into one of those shapes. In jumping about a foot, he let out a squawk, and when he had regained his footing, he was off like a rabbit, a wounded one, because he realized that the dude he had just encountered, had ahold of his field jacket, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
His mind was a little discombobulated from any one of a number of issues, including the joint, the cold, his exhaustion, the unknown arrivals and the fact that he hadn’t eaten for a week, or at least since lunch, now twelve hours ago.
“What the fuck? Let GO of me.” Brad gave it a good struggle, but he was dwarfed by this opponent; he was sure there was at least one other dude, and he sure as shit did not want to get the crap beat out of him for some Campbell’s Soup labels. “Here, take these. I’m sure this is what you are looking for,” and he thrust the envelope right into the face of the shape, knocking him upside the nose, causing it to bleed, and making this guy go ballistic.
The shape let out a bellow, and without hesitating, he sent a roundhouse directly at Brad’s left ear, connecting with a crunching thud. As Brad absorbed the blow, for the first time he thought idly to himself, that maybe he ought to have just kept on the gold old 101. Too late now.
With no other thought than to escape the vice-like hands, Brad tried one last maneuver, which involved stomping on the big guy’s toe, and again the shape let out a bellow. This time the fist that found Brad’s face, was laced with savage anger, and as Brad slammed to the ground, his head made ominous contact with both the side of the VW’s external oil cooler, and a chunk of granite on the ground.
The other shape approached, took it all in, including the Campbell’s Soup Labels envelope, and held out his hand. Silently the big shape handed it to him, and watched as he tore the end of the envelope off, and took out the big ziplock stuffed to the gills with those thousand soup labels. Disgustedly, he tossed it aside. He looked once at Brad on the ground, gestured towards the still waiting headlights, and they left. Brad did not leave.
The news was on KWNE, at 7:00 the following morning, with Justin Briggs reporting: “In response to an anonymous early morning phone call, a Mendocino County Sheriff responded to the report of a body located at the 1.02 mile post sign, on Bell Springs Road. There he found an as-of-yet-unidentified body, dead of an apparent blow to the head, along with a smattering of Campbell’s Soup labels, of all things, and a substantial amount of cash. This is Justin Briggs, reporting for KWNE, Ukiah.