Bob Harris again gave a disgusted look to the silent engine of the Ford and then shifted his gaze - just as disgustedly - to his watch. Then, in a way completely uncharacteristic for him, he vented his feelings with a single, loud expletive. "Shit!" The sudden profanity seemed to bring him back to his surroundings, but did nothing to alleviate his turmoil. Four o'clock! In another hour he was supposed to be in a town another hundred and fifty miles along the road. And that was with this short cut. Short cut! Yeah, on the map it had looked almost forty miles shorter to take this state road through the New Hampshire mountains.
When he had left Boston that morning, heading towards Montreal, he had been a little late, and this route had looked like a good idea. And he had to admit that the drive had been beautiful. It was Friday, the eleventh of October, 1968, and the color of the changing woods was spectacular. The sky was an unrelenting blue, the air cool, but not cold, and the sun painted the land with golden light. Along these byways, the war in Nam, the unrest at home, all seemed like something distant, a description in a book about happenings long ago or in some fictional place. Of course, he admitted to himself, he had only occasionally looked at the lovely scenery, spending most of his time and concentration on the sales presentation he was supposed to make at nine the next morning. A "must sell" client. If he could get a buy tomorrow, he would open an entirely new market in Canada. He looked up and down the deserted highway, vainly hoping for sight of another car. Not that that was likely. He had been here for an hour and a half already and only one vehicle had passed in all that time. He looked away from the ribbon of asphalt across the mountainsides of red and yellow and orange without really seeing them and then back once more at the car and then his watch. Once again, but this time just to himself, he said, "Shit!"
Bob Harris was twenty-four years old, two years out of college, with a degree in mechanical engineering. Unlike most of his class, he had never worked in actual engineering, but upon graduation had immediately taken a job in engineering sales. He did not have the driving urge to tinker with things, as did most of the other graduates, and had gone into engineering for the very practical reason that it paid well. With the Apollo program, the Supersonic Transport, the war, and a boom in technology in general, the demand for engineers was high, but the highest income was reserved for those who "went over to the other side" and spent their lives selling the products the "real" engineers produced. Bob didn't mind the jibes from those on the technical side - he had a goal of being VP of Engineering before he was thirty and in the two years he had worked for AMMANCO he had set himself well along the way towards that goal. He had been promoted twice and brought in more business than any three of the other sales engineers combined. Of course, that had it's price. Seventy hour weeks, no vacations, little in the way of outside relationships. This was supposed to be the time of the Free Love Generation, but Bob had only dated four or five women since graduation and slept with only one of them. Family and co-workers reminded him frequently to "take time to smell the roses," but he always thought he would have time for that when he had made VP. Until then every minute went towards that goal.
His car, only two years old, had never given him any trouble until this afternoon. Suddenly, as he swung around a curve in the mountain road, the engine began to miss. At first he thought he must have gotten some bad gas, but this didn't act quite like that. It would run smoothly for some seconds and then suddenly skip. It got worse. If he tried to accelerate, the engine skipped more and soon died. It restarted, but as soon as he tried to move, he lost power and the engine died again. He restarted the car a dozen times, each time moving only a hundred yards or so before it stalled. Finally it would no longer even start.
He was on a downhill stretch and was able to let the car roll to where there was a cleared area along the shoulder where he let it coast to a stop under a large maple. Bob was a mechanical engineer, after all, and he did know something about cars. He checked the carburetor and found it unclogged and delivering gas. He pulled a spark plug and found it clean and the engine compressing nicely when he turned it over. He got a spark when he held a spark plug wire near the block. Gas, air, spark. If an engine had that it should run. Unless it was timing. There was nothing he could do to check that, so he finally got out a map and tried to see how far it was to the nearest town. He thought it was about ten or twelve miles, but he couldn't be sure, because he hadn't really been keeping track of exactly where he was. Still, he was pretty sure it was too far to walk and still have enough time to get the Ford fixed. His best bet would be to hope for a lift from a passing car.
He looked again at his watch. Four ten. Even if he found a ride and a repair shop, it was getting less and less likely he was going to be able to make his nine AM Friday meeting in Montreal. And they had made special arrangements to have several of their key people in town in the morning just for him. Again, unbidden, the thought came: "Shit!"
As he continued to look disgustedly at the motionless vehicle, a sound began to penetrate his mind. A car! He quickly stepped into the road and looked back towards the top of the hill down which he had rolled earlier. A jeep, top down, suddenly appeared, rising above the crest and starting down the road towards him. Bob began to wave his arms and as the jeep approached, the driver began to slow.
As the oncoming vehicle neared, Bob could see that the driver was a young woman. She pulled the car off beside his own and came to a halt. "Having trouble?" she asked.
"No kidding," he answered. "I seem to have a timing problem or something and I have to be in Montreal tomorrow morning. Can you tell me where I can find a garage around here?"
The girl smiled at him. He noticed, but his mind didn't really register, that she was about his own age, maybe a little younger. Her blonde hair, long and straight, fell half way down her back in the current "in" style, and her eyes were a dark, indigo blue. Her face was quite pretty even though she wore no makeup. She had on jeans and a bulky sweater which hid her figure, but she looked slim. She turned off the jeep engine and stepped out of the car. The jeans fit her like a second skin and Bob saw that her legs were long and tapered. As she turned and closed the car door, he noticed that the jeans fit her rounded buttocks even more closely.
She walked over to peer into the engine compartment of the Ford for a second and then she looked around at the deserted countryside and said, "Around here? No, but Frank Arrons runs one in Oakwood. That's about a dozen miles down the road. Are you sure it's not just flooded or something?"
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," he answered. "I've already checked the easy stuff and I'm pretty sure it's either the valve or spark timing."
"Well, I can offer you a lift into town. How's that sound?"
"That would be wonderful! The best thing that's happened all afternoon." He reached back into the car and pulled out a leather briefcase before climbing into the right side of the jeep. As the girl got into the driver's side he said, "I'm Bob Harris."
She replied, "I'm Susan Martin." She put out her hand and he took it, receiving a firm, warm shake in return. She started the car and pulled back out onto the highway. "So, what are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere anyway?"
Bob told her about the short cut and his meeting in Montreal the next morning. He found himself telling her about the company he worked for and his sales job. Suddenly he realized he had been running on - probably just because of the relief of seeing another car and the renewed chance of still completing his trip - but he forced himself to stop and instead asked her, "Do you live around here?"
Susan nodded her head. "Sort of. I'm in grad school over at the college." She jerked her head behind her in the direction of the college town Bob had driven though a couple of hours earlier. I don't have any Friday classes so I decided to come back to Oakwood for the weekend. I have a house - or rather my parents have a house - just outside of town. It's their house," she added, "but they don't live there any more. Moved south where it doesn't get so cold."
In twenty minutes they pulled into a small New England village. Bob could see a central square with an open green, a couple of churches with tall steeples, and a number of older buildings. As they pulled into town, he noticed a sign: OAKWOOD, Pop. 340. Susan swung a quarter of the way around the square and another block down a side street before pulling up in front of an older brick building with a large garage door and a pair of gas pumps out in front. A sign proclaimed "Frank's Standard Service."
She shut off the engine and got out along with Bob. As they started towards the door, the sound of a compressor suddenly stopped and a few seconds later the lights went off in the service area. A man, about forty, came out of a small door, wiping his hands on a red rag. He stopped when he saw Susan and said, "Hi, Susan. Back in town for the weekend?"
"That's right, Frank, and I've brought along someone who needs your help. Bob, here, has his car stuck off the side just below the pass on Greentop."
Frank looked over at Bob. "Stuck?" he asked.
.... There is more of this story ...