Just the facts, ma'am. All the names in the following story have been changed to protect the guilty.
The Patio drive-in was packed when we got there. The smell of hamburgers and fries was in the air. WTMA was blasting away from the glassed in booth on the Patio's roof. I parked beside the old rusting Ford and switched off the engine.
"Has anybody heard from Tod?" I asked through the open passenger's window.
Frank looked over raised his beer and said, "Nope. He was supposed to get in touch but hasn't."
Dang it, I thought, he was supposed to call. A few days before he'd told me that he had a surprise for us, that he'd get back in touch when it was all set up. That was two days ago.
"You know him," said Casanova leaning out the back seat window of the Ford of many grey tones. Old Casa N. had earned the reputation for being a ladies' man. Tall and lanky with a shock of black hair spilling over his eyes seemed to be just what the girls wanted. "He'll call when he wants a ride."
He was right about that. Tod lived so far out in the boonies that nothing was there, just pines and oaks and the occasional gas station. The trip to his house took over an hour. It was a long lonely drive to that little community.
The curb waitress walked up to my window and asked for my order. "Hamburger basket," I said looking at the three undone buttons on her blouse. Her gum popping jerked my eyes to hers. She smiled, stuck her pencil in her ear, turned and sashayed back to the kitchen.
"Nice swing on that back porch," I muttered to myself. Number thirteen drove up during my distraction. As part of the football team he'd acquired jersey number thirteen. He never had a bad day in high school with girls surrounding him down the breezeway. Lucky was his name until Jersey thirteen was thrown his way. From then on he was "Number Thirteen."
"Hey, You guys heard from Tod?" he yelled through the window.
"No," we all said.
"Maybe someone should call him."
"Yeah, maybe they should. Gotta dime? I'll hit the pay phone." Frank flipped me a dime as I closed my door.
The dime clinked into the phone giving me a dial tone. I dragged the rotary dial around seven times. Tod's phone began to whir in the ear piece.
His dad answered.
"Can I speak to Tod?" I asked.
His dad called him to the phone.
"Tod? What's happ'nin', man? You never called."
"I got it man! You need to come over now and get it."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can't say over the phone. Just get over here as fast as you can. The sooner you get it out of here the better for me."
He hung up.
Casanova saw my puzzled look. He stopped long enough to ask, "What' wrong?"
"I don't know. Tod sounded kinda frantic. Wants us to come up there now."
"This time a night? That's almost like driving to Columbia and back." He shook his head and entered the men's room.
Back at the cars I told everyone what Tod said. The waitress returned with my order. I sat in the car while she waited then placed the tray on the window.
"Pay up, honey." Her request brought my eyes up to hers. "Like what ya see?" Her smile said the joke was on me.
I paid her and watched the swing return. She put extra sash in her shay.
"So, are you going?"
"I don't want to go alone. It's a long drive."
Casanova opened the passenger door and got in. "I'll go with you. Let's get started."
"I got a hamburger here," I said starting on a bite.
"You can't drive and eat. Give it here." I took the basket off the tray handing it to him. I dropped the tray on the ground and cranked it up.
"I'm really hungry," I said drooling.
"Have a fry," he said. A quarter of the burger disappeared in one bite. "Here. Habba pry."
Wiping the burger bits off my face I began the trek into the night.
When we arrived Tod was waiting outside in the chill air.
"Man, I thought you'd never get here. Turn The Bird around and back in. Open that trunk and hurry."
I turned her around and popped the trunk. Tod ran out of the wash room carrying a heavily weighed down white crocheted sack. He was straining as he gingerly placed it in the back. It settled with several clinks of glass. Tod slammed the trunk shut looking around with frightened eyes.
"OK. Get out of here and don't stop for anybody!"
"Aren't you coming with us?"
"No! Just get movin'."
We started to ask why but he blurted out, "Go! Get going! I'll tell you later. Just go!"
We slipped into the front seat and slammed the doors shut. A quick crank and we were off. Tod was waving us on in the rear view. It was getting late. His not coming was a good thing since I would have had to make the trip again to get him home.
We ended up at the Patio as usual. I parked where there was some light.
"Come on over y'all!" I yelled. They started over as I raised the lid to the trunk. Inside the sack had opened and a brown bottle was exposed. The label read Candadian Club.
"It's booze!" Spreading the sack's opening we saw 10 or 12 bottles of all different brands of alcohol. Rum, Bourbon, Irish, Gin, Drambuie--Drambuie? What the hell's that?--it was a smorgasbord of fine liquors.
"What the...?" We all stared into the trunk. I slammed it shut.
"It has to be stolen!"
"A bonanza! Wow! Where'd Tod get all this?" It was Number Thirteen speaking with visions of Sugar Rums dancing in his head.
"What are we gonna do with it all?" was my first question.
"Drink it! What the hell!" exclaimed Frank.
"Hell Yeah!" we all shouted.
"We gotta hide it. I can't carry it around in my trunk."
We all mulled over this predicament. Then I remembered the tree in the lot next to my house.
"There's a tree next door to the house. It has a hollow spot that might just be big enough for it all."
"Let's go see!" We piled into the Bird and sped over to the island and the hollow tree.
I slipped down the drive as quietly as I could. The folks were watching TV since the light in that room was still on.
I opened the trunk, took out the flashlight and handed it to Casanova. Frank took a couple of bottles. So did Number Thirteen. I grabbed my two and we fit them into the space in the trunk. With a velvet touch we placed all of them except one.
"I'll take it." said Frank.
"OK," I said. "Let's get out of here. I'll take you back to the Patio. We all gotta get back home. And don't tell anyone."
"Man are we gonna have a great Senior-Junior or what?" said Number Thirteen a smile spreading across his face.
Frank just held onto his bottle with a look of delite on his.
"Don't guess you'd get another burger basket would you?" asked Casanova looking at me with a big grin sloping across his face.
We split up after arriving at the patio. Doors slammed, engines turned over and tires screeched onto the highway home. We were set. Our Senior-Junior was going to be a blast.
That was our only venture into the underworld of crime. Over time the bottles were removed individually. My dad came upon them one day but never said a word to me until much later in life. The hollow proved to be a death sentence to the tree and it was removed long after our booty had been drunk. I think the statute of limitations is over now. Fifty years is a long time for the law to hold a grudge. But, then, who knows if I'm telling the truth?