Seeing, Learning, Doing — More Than Ever Before
— or —
The Art of the Con
Doug III instantly regretted offering Ptar and his daughter, Sephie, a ride. An awkward silence filled the cab of his ‘67 Chevrolet converted pickup. At least it was awkward for Doug III. Ptar’s entire life had been filled with awkward silences, so this was nothing new for him. And Sephie was enjoying her first ride in a motor vehicle, loving how the air swirled in the pickup’s cab, whipping her long, black hair ever which way. She was very much interested in, and trying her best to understand, the mechanics and operations of the pickup, watching as Doug III jostled the loose manual transmission’s gearshift between second and third gears, those being the only two gears that weren’t completely stripped. Doug III was really the only person, after much patience and practice, that could ever get the finicky clutch not to slip and kill the engine, all of which added up to him purchasing the pickup from its disgruntled previous owner for a whisper. More often than not, Doug III himself would grind the hell out of the third gear as he tried to finesse the pickup into going there. Sephie slowly started to begin to understand the workings of the pickup, her mind being quick and logical, much more than her age or experience should have allowed.
“Say, Donkey,” Doug III said, breaking the awkward silence for the first time, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take you all the way to The Capital.”
Ptar looked over at Doug III, knowing he’d just been spoken to but was unable to make out what was said, the wind from the pickup’s open window drowned out all of Doug III’s words.
“Take us as far as you can and we’ll be most grateful,” Sephie said, speaking for her father.
“It’s just I have a stop or two to make, that’s all, you know?”
“We understand, Doug III.”
Doug III smiled over at Sephie as a sort of apology. Sephie smiled back, and despite her slight hair-lip, her smile charmed Doug III.
“I’ll take you as far as I can,” he said, being somewhat sorry for something, exactly what, escaped him.
Ptar, still unable to hear any of the conversation going on next to him, put his head out the window and let the wind run over his face and through his hair. It was hot and humid, and even more so inside the confines of the pickup, but he found the wind rushing past him to be quite refreshing. He laughed out loud and kept his mouth open to trap the wind inside, until a bug flew in his mouth, choking him. He coughed and gagged for a good fifteen minutes after that.
As Ptar coughed, they drove on, their speed hovering around 30 miles per hour, when they suddenly came upon a group of gypsies camped along the side of the road. It was late evening now and the gypsies — a large family of eight or nine — had pulled their mule drawn cart over to the side of the road. The men sat on wooden stools next to the small cooking fire as the women busied themselves, preparing the evening meal. Doug III eased the pickup into neutral as he came upon them. He passed by slowly. Each of the gypsies’ eyes were drawn to the odd sight of the converted pickup, watching as it idled past and eventually came to a complete stop thirty yards or so down the road.
Doug III killed the engine. “You all wait here,” he said. “I’m going to go and see if I can get us a little gas money.”
Then it occurred to him to ask if Ptar or Sephie had any gas money.
“What’s gas money?” Ptar asked.
“Forget it,” Doug III said. “Just wait here.”
Doug III rubbed his palms on his thighs a few times and said to himself, “Game time, boyo.”
And with that Doug III got out of the pickup, leaving Ptar and Sephie alone in the cab. Ptar tried to see what was going on behind them by spying via the passenger-side mirror, but the camper Doug III had attached to the bed of the pickup blocked his view.
Sephie too wanted to see what Doug III was doing behind them, so she scooted over to the driver’s side and she could see more because Doug III had wisely extended that mirror further than the passenger-side mirror. She watched as what appeared to be the eldest male introduce himself to Doug III and then as he introduced Doug III to each of the other males, their heads nodding in sequential order.
Sephie reported all these goings-on to her father. Ptar listened, at least at first, but soon grew uninterested in the happenings of Doug III and this gypsy family, so he put his head against passenger-side door and quickly fell asleep, this already having been the most eventful and trying days of his life.
Sephie continued to watch through the side mirror as Doug III interacted with gypsies. The eldest male had sat back down on his wooden stool and Doug III was squatting down, all his weight on the balls of his feet, his legs coiled, his arms rested casually on his knees, his hands gesticulating constantly for, what Sephie could only assume, emphasis of whatever he was telling them. And the entire family watched Doug III intently — even the women had quit their work and were now standing behind the men drying their hands on their aprons and listening to what Doug III was saying. Periodically the entire group would smile or give a gentle laugh and nod their heads in agreement to whatever witty thing Doug III must have said.
Suddenly the general mirth of the meeting broke, all of them, including Doug III, solemnly bowed their heads for a moment. Then out of nowhere Doug III produced a stick and began to draw something in the dirt in front of him. The eldest male stood and looked on with great interest. He turned his head and seemed to be relating back to the rest of the family what Doug III was drawing. Doug III finished and eldest male sat back down again, smiling and gently nodding his head. He seemed to greatly approve of whatever Doug III had drawn in the dirt.
Ptar began to snore, gently at first, but with each breath his snores were becoming more pronounced. “Father — hush,” Sephie urged, to no avail. She reached over and poked her father in the lower ribs — a technique she had seen her mother use on more than one occasion to varying degrees of success — but this also didn’t work. So Sephie pressed as far as she could against the driver-side door and put her hands over her ears to stifle her father’s rumblings.
Something had occurred behind the pickup in the time Sephie had been away from the side-view mirror. Something bad. Doug III was now standing with his hands in the air as he took small, shuffling steps backward. The entire gypsy family was now standing as well, the eldest male in front holding a large knife pointing maliciously at Doug III.
Sephie reached over and poked her father again, this time much harder, and said, “Come, Father, Doug III needs us.” And with that, Sephie opened the pickup door and slammed it shut behind her. The slamming pickup door was what awoke Ptar. Still groggy and discombobulated and finding himself alone, he too exited the pickup to see what was going on.
Sephie approached the gypsies quietly and carefully and slowly. For some reason, she made her pronounced limp more pronounced, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
Doug III continued to back away from the gypsies, his attention completely focused on the large knife in the hands of the eldest male. He was relieved when they all stopped moving toward him, taking this to be a good time to finally and completely make his exit.
Just then, Sephie limped up to Doug III. “Ah, hello there, Stephie,” he said.
“Sephie,” she corrected him.
“That’s what I said,” he said. “You may want to run along now,” he advised.
The gypsy family’s attention turned to Sephie and her odd looks and dramatic limp.
“Go on,” Doug III said to her. “Let’s get out of here.”
The eldest male turned from Sephie and took a step toward Doug III, raising his knife again, but before he could strike it down deep into the heart of Doug III, which was his intent, Ptar came along staggering from the around the other side of the pickup, catching his hip on the bumper, tailspinning him into the dirt. All eyes were now on Ptar as he clumsily tried to stand up. But he was weary from his long and trying day, and he was suffering from an enormous headache — a headache that can only come to those who are used to drinking overly potent rice wine all day long but haven’t had a drop in several hours. Plus the smoke from the gypsies’ fire, wafted by a gentle breeze, went directly into Ptar’s eyes, blinding him. After he clumsily got back up on his feet, he was still disoriented and took one step forward and did a header into the haphazardly attached camper on the back of the pickup, which knocked him flat back into the dirt. Ptar was now completely exhausted, blind, and his head was throbbing for multiple reasons, so he decided to simply stay lying on his back and didn’t move from the spot where he fell.
After all this, Doug III, never one to miss an opportunity, said out of the side of his mouth to Sephie, “Get in the pickup.”
But Sephie continued to stand there dumbstruck by the spectacular pratfall her father had just taken. The gypsies also stood dumbstruck. The eldest male now looked at the large knife in his hand and quickly, and with much embarrassment, put it behind his back. A woman — most likely the eldest male’s wife — came up and discreetly took the knife away from him.
Doug III said to the gypsies, “It’s okay. We’ll just be on our way.” Out of the side of his mouth, he again said to Sephie, “Get in the pickup.”
“No, wait,” the eldest male said.
“Sure, sure,” Doug III said, although he continued taking small steps backward.
The eldest male turned and went to the back of the mule-drawn cart. Doug III took this opportunity to take flight. He turned and ran, but in doing so, he ran into the still-dumbstruck Sephie, nearly knocking her down. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “Get. In. The. Pickup,” he said, spitting a little bit in her face with each word, which was enough to bring her out of her trance. She blinked twice, wiped Doug III’s spittle off her face with her sleeve, nodded, turned around and quickly got back into the pickup. Doug III went to follow her but was stopped by the strong grip of the now returned eldest male’s hand on his shoulder. The eldest male turned Doug III around with a gentle pull of his shoulder and Doug III instinctively closed his eyes and braced himself for a stabbing in the heart.
Inside the pickup, Sephie grew anxious when Doug III did not follow her into the cab. Her father hadn’t returned either. And she couldn’t see what was happening behind the pickup in either of the rearview mirrors. Eventually, Doug III came back, elated and with a wad of cash — mostly bills of small denominations — in one hand and a fistful of coins in the other. He handed the handfuls of money to Sephie and started the pickup.
“That was perfect,” he said. “Perfect. You and the Old Donkey were perfect. I don’t know exactly what happened back there…they didn’t seem to be in the most generous of moods, that is until they got a look at you and Donkey.” Doug III looked over at Sephie and smiled. Sephie blushed and covered her own smile with her hand. Doug III then busied himself with finessing the pickup into second gear as he said, “When Donkey did that spin and acted blind and then that killer fall onto his back — pitch perfect. Couldn’t have asked for more.” Doug III looked over to the empty passenger seat. “Where is the Old Donkey?”
Sephie looked over to the empty seat too. She had forgotten all about her father, being so consumed with Doug III’s elation and all.
Both Doug III and Sephie looked at each other, remembering at the same time where they had left Ptar. “Shit,” Doug III said, “I’ll go get him.”
Doug III left the cab and came back momentarily, helping the still woozy and blinded Ptar into the passenger seat. Doug III was even more elated. Once he got Ptar situated in his seat, he threw another handful of money onto Sephie’s lap. “They scrounged around and found even more. Can you believe that?”
“No, I can’t,” Sephie said.
Doug III patted Ptar on the head. “Great work, Donkey, old boy. When you play a part, you play a part.” Doug III closed the pickup’s door and ran around the front and got back behind the wheel.
The pickup went into second gear and they drove slowly down the dirt road. Doug III periodically slapped the steering wheel and kept saying, “Money for nothing.”
After each hand slap and exclamation from Doug III, Ptar would groan.
“Oh, sorry about that, old boy,” Doug III would say. He would remain silent for a while, until he’d lose himself in his jubilation and slap the steering wheel again and say, “Money for nothing.”
Eventually, they rolled over a small hill and Doug III could no longer see the gypsies’ fire in the rearview mirror. He let the pickup roll down to the bottom of hill, the pickup stopped and then Doug III opened his door, leaned out, and vomited profusely.
Once purged, he closed the door, got the pickup back into gear, and continued on down the road. “I have kind of queasy stomach,” he explained. Ptar put his head out the window again, enjoying the fresh air, that is until another bug flew into his mouth, causing another fifteen minute coughing attack. After that he kept his head inside the cab of the pickup. Sephie stared at the bills and coins in her lap. This was the first time she had ever seen money in any form and she wondered what the big deal was.