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The Challenger, Chapter 3: His Story

Copyright 2014, J Jackson Bentley

“Can you give me a lift to the airport, please?” the young man asked as he handed me the keys.

“What? You’re leaving me the car? Why?”

“Because it’s yours, and always was. I can explain while we drive if you wish.”

I certainly did wish, and so I climbed into the car and set the seat and mirrors. I turned on the engine to the familiar rumble and listened as it greedily guzzled the gas and rewarded me with a throaty roar. I turned on the radio, and heard Glenn Campbell singing Rhinestone Cowboy. I believe I teared up.

“We found a compilation tape in the glove box, and so we had the cassette player serviced and repaired.” Grant smiled at my reaction.
As we drove along Memorial Highway and off towards the George W Bush airport, young Mr Schiller told me a story to match my own, a sequel for want of a better expression.


“Lonnie Schiller had been out of control since the age of ten. His parents couldn’t cope, and he ended up living with his grandfather at the family lake house way out in the sticks. He hated the countryside and as soon as he could he signed up to join the Marines.

He decided to spend his last night of freedom with his friends in the city. They drank, caroused, chased women, and spent every penny they had. They even missed their movie. With no means of getting home, Lonnie had an idea. A slick-haired youngster was walking home carrying a violin case and wearing a red silk bow tie. Lonnie and his friends gratefully accepted the tie as a donation, and allowed the boy on his way unharmed. Lonnie removed his jacket, put on the bow tie and waited for an easy victim.

A middle aged man pulled up outside Rasketts Night Club and looked around blearily. Lonnie ran up.

“Can I park your car, sir? It’s $10 for valet service.” The man gave the keys to his car and accepted a torn in half cinema ticket in return.

The friends all drove the hundred or so miles home, and Lonnie had the wherewithal to hide the car in the barn. The next day a military charter bus arrived, and Lonnie was gone, without a word about the car. He left a long rambling note for his grandfather, my great-grandfather, explaining what had happened and explaining that the keys were in the glove box.

Lonnie died in Cambodia on his first tour, and my great grandfather didn’t know what to do. Probably suffering from dementia, or something similar, he would take the car out of the barn every week, start the engine, keep it tuned and clean and then cover it with a tarpaulin for the next week. He was afraid that he would go to jail if anyone discovered the stolen car, and so he harboured thoughts of keeping it nice until the owner came for it.

When he died, and eventually grandpa died too, my father cleared out the Lake House and discovered the car. Assuming it to be Lonnie’s as it was largely unused, and because it was in such great condition for a twenty five year old car, he thought it would be a waste to sell it. The family used it whenever we went to the lake and I was always told when I got to 21 it would be mine.

I celebrated my 21st birthday whilst I was at university in the city and I had no need of the car, and so I left it in storage at the lake house, polishing and caring for it when I visited. Then when Dad retired to the Lake House with Mom, they asked me to remove it so that they could use the barn for storage. That was earlier this month. When I went to collect it, Dad was ashen faced and Mom had been crying.

In amongst the family papers they were clearing out of the Lake House they found Great Grandpa’s old box of memories. In it were the letter from Lonnie, the car manual and an old Polaroid photo of a young girl. They were worried that the owner would sue them and their retirement would be ruined.

I told them that I would take care of it.”

“But how did you find me? I have lived in nine homes in six states since I owned that car?”

“It was hard work, but we did it eventually. We had the original sales invoice and registration. It had been raised in your name with your social security number. After that it was a case of sitting back waiting for the organs of state to move slowly into position. They got back to me last week.

I immediately took the car to Custom Dodge of Utah, and they took care of a few minor issues, new tyres, brakes etc. but everything else is original. The car has only ever done a few thousand miles, and fifteen hundred of those were me bringing it here.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. We arrived at the terminal building and Grant Schiller took a bag from the backseat.

“Sorry, man, I did what I could, but I appreciate you have a sound legal case against the family.” He grinned.

“Do you know, Grant, those toe-rags at the insurance company never paid me a cent. So I guess the car is mine outright.” I paused. “Grant, wish your parents all the best in their retirement, and good luck to you. Call in if you are ever in Houston and we’ll go for a ride.” I could see his eyes glistening. “And don’t worry about me. I’m just pleased to have my car back.”

Grant handed me his business card and said, “If you need to get in touch, just call.” Then he turned and went into the terminal.

I looked at the card. It read: ‘Det. Sgt. Grant Schiller, Ogden Police, Investigations.’

I laughed out loud as I gunned the engine, and listened to the roar as I drove along the empty airport road. As I drove I kissed my fingers and touched the Polaroid photo Grant and I had taped to the dashboard.

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