A Cartwright in the 21st Century story . . . as told by Adam.
Rated K Word Count: 3200
21st Century Cartwrights Series:
Within the Circle
With a Two-edged Sword
With The Best Intentions
The Art of Weaseling
With All Deliberate Purpose
Death Walked This Way Today
Is This Normal?
Withholding the Dream
The Fine Art of Weaseling
Weasel (pronounced we’z’l) vi. (1) To connive and/or conspire in secret to attain one’s goals. Usually in a surreptitious manner. (2) To take advantage of a situation in order to advance one’s cause.
Some people, no matter what or who they are, never change. Take my youngest brother for example and what he pulled off recently. I know that I should have been paying closer attention. I understand that’s hindsight and therefore always twenty-twenty vision. How he managed, I can see now but while he was at it, I thought nothing of it.
It all started back in late winter. Because he had wrecked two new Jeeps in less than a year – okay, he truly wasn’t at fault either time – I had presented him with a used Volkswagen Beetle as his company vehicle. Surprisingly, he had taken the gentle reproof in good humor and, to show his understanding, had actually been driving it. Sure, it was winter and the little car didn’t have a heater but Joe, every morning, would pick up his travel mug full of boiling hot coffee and his blanket and head for the door-all with far more cheerfulness than he should have had. My father had tried to convince me to give in but I wouldn’t. I was determined that I was going to at least embarrass him into better behavior when behind the steering wheel. The insurance premiums for Cartwright and Sons Construction were climbing at an alarming rate and I was determined to put a halt to that escalation. The easiest way, I saw, was to hold down on the vehicular impact. Since Joe put the greatest number of miles – and dents- on company transportation, his was the logical place to start economizing. The VW, bought for next to nothing, was therefore insured for the bare minimum.
The bare minimum. Funny that I should phrase it that way since that was about all there was to the car. It was a late sixties model, or at least that was when some of it had been manufactured. The fenders had rusted away at some point and been replaced by a pair that weren’t quite a pair colorwise. They also didn’t match the original beige either. Nor was the hood original but the lock still worked so it stayed down as Joe drove. Of course, he couldn’t get it unlocked but he kept a piece of oak two-by-four lumber for a jack along with the spare tire in the back seat so why did he need to get into the trunk? He had wired the passenger’s door closed because otherwise, going around a curve it would fly open, spewing bits and pieces of the carpeting (among other things) onto the highway. There was only one problem concerning this repair.
With the wire in place, he couldn’t roll the window all the way up but he said the bracing wind blowing in kept him from falling asleep. How he could have fallen asleep, I have no idea since the muffler barely qualified as one. The little car’s oil consumption – or burning, I should say- made it useless in any case. Why, he even joked about dickering direct with OPEC so he could get a better price on his oil. All this was based on the assumption that every morning when he went out to the garage that the car would start.
Being a good brother, I had helped him a time or two to get the little beast started. On cold mornings even hot jumping it – attaching another battery to it via jumper cables- didn’t help. We would have to kick-start it. That meant that we would have to shove it out of the garage, twisting it around until it was headed out; then, pushing and running behind it, we would go until we hit the top of the lane. Just before gravity would pull it down the slope, Joe would jump into the driver’s seat and pop it into gear. Then the car would lurch, wobble, cough and careen down the lane until the engine caught. In a plume of blue smoke, it would slide over any new snow until it got to the end of the lane then stagger out without stopping -the brakes were poor- onto the main road. I dreaded the thought of what would happen if it didn’t start before it got to the main road. There were nightmarish visions of hauling the thing back uphill to try it again. Still, I only helped a time or two before Joe got the hang of doing it himself. He did it so well that I didn’t even worry about him leaving the office of an evening. There was, after all, a steep slope on B Street he could use in a pinch. My concern there would have been the brakes since B Street ends rather abruptly but in an up direction.
So, until he whined and bitched about it, Joe would drive the VW, I had decided. Pa had commented that it certainly didn’t seem like a good idea for one of the company cars to look so bad. Calmly, I had pointed out that the Beetle bore no outward sign claiming that it belonged to Cartwright and Sons.
“What about who’s driving it?” he asked rather bluntly. I could have told him that bundled up the way Joe normally was, few people would recognize him as a Cartwright. Wisely, though, I held my tongue.
By the first of April, I began to get a queer, niggling feeling. You know the one, don’t you? That feeling when you think the hairs on the back of your neck should be standing up but a hand there says they aren’t? That’s the one.
Claiming he wanted to get in some late season skiing, Joe said he was taking the week off from work. I had no thoughts one way or the other. Everyone needs a vacation now and then and he was no different. His dinner time conversations would always include something about how great this ski run or that downhill was so I thought nothing of it. Looking back, I only remember one odd night. Joe asked Hoss if he could borrow his pickup the next day as he had a few things to do in town. I thought it odd simply because Joe would have normally driven the VW in. Still, I made no comment that night.
How did I miss the signs? Well, let me first claim that I was working rather long and tiring hours. Secondly, in the garage there was no additional light – just sunlight or moonlight. Each of us had our own parking slot and we didn’t swap. Mine was, and still is, between Pa’s Lincoln and Hoss’ outsized pickup truck. Joe’s spot is at the far end – as far away from my Jag as I can get him and still have him in the same county. Do you sense that I don’t trust my little brother when it comes to automobiles?
It was just at the tail end of Joe’s vacation when I broke my pattern of long hours and came home from work early. As I pulled into the yard, I decided that we must have company because sitting there in the driveway was a Corvette. So taken was I by the appearance of the machine that I almost bumped the back of the garage with the Grape. I said almost. Getting out, I strolled over to the ‘Vette, intent on checking it over.
It was black. So black, in fact, that it seemed to swallow the light. The windows were darkly tinted as well so that I couldn’t see directly into it. I lightly rested my hand on the T-top and marveled at the closely joined seams there. Once the T’s were retracted, the car would be a sleek and sporty convertible, bound to turn heads wherever it went. Catching the angle of light on the window just right, I saw that the door was unlocked. I checked around to see if anyone was watching then slowly opened the driver’s door. Thankfully, no alarms sounded or I would have been mortified.
The smell of new leather wafted by my nose and I couldn’t help but smile. The car was new and nothing has the same scent as a new car. I touched the seat back and found butter soft leather under my hand. Black, like the exterior, and supple. Again, I looked around then slipped into it, grasping the steering wheel in what can only be described as near-orgasmic delight. The dash called out, moaning, wanting to be stroked so I did. The center console beneath my elbow was cushiony soft and my hand just naturally fell to the gearshift.
“Good, a stick shift. One, two, three, four forward and reverse. Oh, can I hear the engine singing? Got to be the big V-eight under the hood. No use in buying something like this without getting all the muscle you can to move it!” By then, somehow, my hands had gripped the steering wheel as though I was driving it, my shoulders instinctively raised.
There was but one problem. The seat was pulled too far forward so I found the lever and let the seat slide back some. It was also tilted wrong so I adjusted that too. As I pressed my body back into the soft leather, I moaned with pleasure for it did more than support me. It cradled me, luring me deeper and deeper into its folds. I went with a deep and contented sigh. I found that I could stretch out all of my six-foot plus frame and still have room. A quick glance over my shoulder showed me that the back seat, while there, needn’t have been since there was so little of it. While looking back, I noted that the front door to the house was closed so no one seemed concerned about any noise from the yard.
I checked the slant of the rearview mirror then the outside mirrors. “Hmm, adjusts when you adjust the seat, huh? Pretty classy. And would you look at that? They heat up to keep frost from forming on them. How sweet!” I chuckled, comparing it to the wind blowing up my sleeve as I wiped snow from my Jag’s outside mirror.
Again, I checked the dash and decided, by seeing the blank glass, that it was digital and would need the key turned on. Since the key was in the ignition, I turned it one click and the gauges appeared. The sound system also rose but softly muted. I paid attention to it. “Multiple CDs? What? A changer in the trunk, most likely; AM/FM.” I checked around. “Six speakers surround sound.” It was all I could do not to pant lustfully.
Laying on the passenger’s seat was the only personal object in the car: a portfolio, black leather. My fingers itched to flip it open, hoping to find out who owned the car. While I kept my eyes glued to the view out the windshield, my hand dropped off the console and flipped open the cover. Only then did I look. Right on top of the neatly stacked pages was the sort of price sticker you normally see on the car window. Immediately, my eye tracked down the list, landing with a thud on the bottom line. I had to take a deep breath and hold it for a second, look away, then look back at the figure. I was sitting in a brand new Corvette, delivery price of fifty-four thousand dollars and change. Taxes and DMV fees not included.
“Even Pa’s Lincoln was less than that! Hoss’ truck wasn’t even close,” I raged softly, my eyes taking in the fact that, in the garage, there was an empty hole down at one end. “No, Joe’s out skiing. Besides, he couldn’t afford this!”
I looked at the price tag again and reaffirmed that my brother couldn’t even swing the down payment. The only one who could would be Pa and he…My shoulders slumped. I heard again my father’s gentle grievances concerning Joe and the VW. With it came the knowledge that Joe would soon have a birthday. “No, Pa wouldn’t…he…wouldn’t, would he?” I shook my head, telling myself once more that our father, while a kind and caring man, was also practical. And the ‘Vette was a long way from practical. Joe, however, had a way about him that beat all comers. Hoss and I had even used his wily ways ourselves when we were younger and wanted Pa to do something. It had been so easy to send in Joe to weasel it out of him. So much so that the boy had finally started threatening to charge us for services rendered. “But he couldn’t get Pa to…no, not even…no,” I tried to convince myself, muttering darkly.
The sound of an approaching motor pulled me back to the yard. Quickly, and guiltily, I got out of the car. As I stood beside it, a blue sedan pulled up and parked beside the Corvette. I recognized Bruce Tanner behind the wheel. Bruce was one of the salesmen down at the new car dealership where I was sure the black beauty behind me had sprung from. Like all good salesmen, he popped out of the car with his hand extended and a smile on his face.
“Nice car, ain’t it?” He abused my eardrums with his loud voice as we shook hands.
“That it is,” was all I could think to say.
Behind me, I heard the door open and footsteps clatter across the wooden porch. Turning, I saw the president of that same car dealership, James Simplelot, shrugging into his coat. At his side was a little brother of mine, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh, hi, Adam,” Simplelot greeted but I could tell that he was more interested in Joe than me. “Thanks, Joe. Always a pleasure to do business with you Cartwrights.”
Then the two salesmen were gone. They left in the blue sedan. They left the Corvette sitting in the yard, sucking down all the light, as seductive as a movie starlet, silently pleading for…
“Excuse me, brother. Need to put this baby in the garage,” Joe smirked, his nose wrinkling as he slipped by me and into the ‘Vette’s driver’s seat. “See someone moved the seat. No problem. Let’s see, yep! Here’s that switch.” As I stood there watching, dumbfounded, the seat slid back into its original configuration, which, I noticed, fit my brother to a ‘T’.
I stood there and watched, befuddled and bewildered, as Joe swung the sports car dream into his space in the garage. I was still there as he came back towards me, the ignition key swinging from one finger, possessively. Too possessively, I thought.
“How?” I asked, one hand out to stop him.
He tried playing dumb but we both knew what I was after. How had he managed to come up with the down payment at the very least? He certainly wasn’t going to pull it out of a bank account unless it wasn’t his. Joe was a lot of things but a penny-pincher? Penny-pitcher is more like it.
I repeated my single word question, holding his arm to keep him where I could see his face as he answered me.
“Don’t worry, brother,” he chirped and tried his best to get away from me but I held on tight.
“How?” I asked for the third time and that was without any cheerfulness.
“I sold the VW,” Joe admitted, that ear-to-ear grin on him again.
I was beyond mystified. My face must have proven it if not my slack jaw.
“You mean to tell me you didn’t notice it gone?”
“You couldn’t have sold it because the paperwork is-”
“In the name of Cartwright and Sons Construction. Of which, I am one of the vice presidents and can therefore sign legal documents,” Joe interrupted and explained.
“You still couldn’t have gotten enough from that rattle-trap piece of junk for the down payment on that!” My finger went from the end of his nose towards the rear end of the Corvette. “It wasn’t worth a hundred dollars on a good day and there hasn’t been any good days for it in a long while!”
“Got a little over seven grand.” Did I say that my brother was smug? As he stood there, his arms crossed over his chest and his head cocked to one side, grinning…he was beyond smug but I don’t know what that would be.
“How?” I was beginning to sound like a broken record.
“I sold it in parts over E-bay. Guy in California needed the right fender. ‘Nother guy in Nebraska wanted the engine cover. Sold the transmission, such as it was, to a guy up in Seattle. Did you know there was a market for car seats? And another one for mirrors? Yes sir, all totaled it came to seven grand, minus expenses, of course.”
That was the only lifeline he threw out and I grabbed it like any sensible drowning man. “Joe, my dear brother, you are going to spend that much in freight.” I tried to make myself sound conciliatory.
“No, they pay the freight. They also all wired me the dough so I got all of it this morning. My expenses ran about thirty dollars for strapping tape. Had to buy a few boxes and I gave Hoss ten bucks for the gas I used in his truck when I went to the UPS terminal to drop the stuff off. So I took that seven G’s and went down to Simplelot’s and bought me-”
“A set of wheels that is going to run you a fortune in maintenance and insurance,” I protested but the longer I stood there, the more I felt myself to be standing on shaky ground.
Joe looked from me to the ‘Vette then back to me again. Slowly, his face went blank but there was something shifty about his eyes. “Think so?” he whispered and I felt the ground firm up under my feet and a superior attitude strengthen my spine.
“Most likely. Joe, your best bet is to take it back tomorrow morning to Simplelot. Tell him you have changed your mind about buying a new car. Much as I hate to say it, I’ll help you out. We’ll get another Jeep for you.”
“You serious?” Joe brightened up considerably.
I took a deep breath and let sanity take over once more (it seemed to have fled as soon as I had sat down in that leather-bound interior). “Yes,” I crooned, “and the company will pay for it.”
“And the seven thousand from the VW? I get to keep that?”
“Only if you put it in the bank and save it.”
“Good,” he purred and clasped both my arms, smiling up at me. “‘Cause I didn’t buy the ‘Vette. I just borrowed it until my new Jeep comes in.”
See what I mean? Once a weasel, always a weasel.
But at least he’s my family’s weasel.
The Tahoe Ladies
Next in the 21st Century Cartwrights Series: