"Now what happens?" Emily asked KC. "I've never had a car towed, either."
"The driver will want to see your insurance card; you tell him where you want the car taken -- and with that slide on its belly, I recommend your dealership or a repair shop rather than home -- and usually you ride along, get the paperwork taken care of, and then have a taxi take you home. Come on, I'll go with you." She climbed out of the car into the freezing rain, looking like an authority in spite of the mud. Emily scrambled out after her, trying to stand as straight.
The driver of the tow truck (Mr. Help Towing - 24 Hr Service) swung down from the cab, carrying a metal box with a paper pad of forms attached to the top with a clip. He looked at KC's car, its four-ways still blinking. "You ran out of gas or what?"
"No," Emily said, feeling brave, "not that car. Mine. The one there in the ditch."
"Shit," said the driver. "Uh, pardon my French." He walked to the edge of the road and looked down.
KC had stepped closer to the tow truck and its open door. She sniffed a little, quietly. She nudged Emily, and nodded toward the truck's cab. Emily looked in, frowned, and raised her eyebrows at KC. "What?" she whispered.
"Grass," said KC in a soft voice. "He's stoned."
"Oh, that's just great. Are you sure?" Emily looked skyward into the icy drizzle as KC nodded. Can the Powers That Be cut me just one stinking break this week?
"I can't get that car out of there tonight," said the towing driver. "You'll have to call again in the morning."
Emily was at a loss, and took a step backward in confusion and indecision.
"Cut the crap," said KC. "If you can't get it out by yourself, call for backup. Or I can call the police right now, and notify them that you can't get the car out. Otherwise we risk getting a ticket for an abandoned vehicle." She whipped her phone out of her pants-pocket.
The driver's eyes widened. "Take it easy, there, Ma'am. Let me check with a flashlight." He returned to his truck, and scuffled around in a storage compartment, and came up with a big light, which he flicked on and then walked again to the edge of the road to play it upon the Lexus in the ditch.
"How do you know this stuff?" hissed Emily. My God, I'm such an infant.
"I wrecked my father's Porsche when I was seventeen. We didn't have cell phones then, and I hitched a ride back into Denver. Dad got a ticket, and I got the shit beat out of me to send the lesson home, even though the police waived the fine when they found out why the car was stuck in a snowbank along the road."
The cold rain felt like slime on Emily's face. She brushed her cheek with one hand and was surprised to feel a sludge of ice as well as flakes of mud come away. "For having an accident?" she asked.
"For not knowing the ramifications of my actions," replied KC, and followed the driver of the tow truck to the edge of the road.
The ramifications of my actions. What a phrase. Daddy never punished me when I made a mistake; he and Mom just sat down and talked me through my consequences. She pattered after KC to see what the tow truck man saw.
"Okay," said the semi-shaven driver, "I can maybe get your car out of there. But it's going to take some hits on account of it's on its side, just so you understand that."
"As long as you don't take any more hits before you get it out," KC said evenly. The driver looked at her with alarm for a moment, but then went to his truck and took out flares.
"So I need to keep an eye on him while he messes with my car?" Emily asked KC, in a whisper.
"Yeah, this goober needs a mahout sitting on his head to make sure he gets the job done," replied KC.
"I guess I can do that," Emily said. "So you can get back to your schedule for the evening."
KC looked at her watch, which told her nothing in the darkness and icy rain, looked at the tow-truck man setting flares, and then back at Emily. "Please be frank. Do you want me to leave?"
"NO!" Emily cried. "But I don't want to inconvenience you any more than I have already! I'm a grown woman -- my God, I'm almost a senior citizen, I should be able to take care of myself! You have things to do!"
"So you think I should leave you to deal with a stoner while he tries to evade his work, and trust you to ride with a person who's smoked so much dope his cab smells like a burning haystack? How can I take off and say, 'Oh, she'll be fine' when I wouldn't trust this joker to find his way back to down town? It's not a case of being weak to have someone keep you company -- it's just what people can do for each other to make life a little easier." She handed the phone to Emily. "Speaking of which, here, keep an eye on Ol' Smokey; if he falls down and knocks himself out you can call 9-1-1." She walked back to her car and opened the trunk.
Emily watched the man from the tow truck lower himself carefully down the muddy slope, lighting his way with a huge flashlight. He wrapped a clanking chain around the back of the left front wheel of the Lexus, and then pulled himself back up the chain, puffing clouds of steam in the cold air. "Here's where he buys you a new Lexus," KC said, reappearing wearing a baseball cap and offering one to Emily. "This will keep the sleet off your face."
"What do you mean, a new Lexus?"
"If he tries to pull the car out by the wheel like that, he's going to do enough damage to the front end to make it a totaled Lexus for your insurance company to replace."
"I'll cross my fingers!"
They backed away a little as the man started the winch. The car in the ditch tilted, then fell back onto four wheels. The front driver's side leading, the car moved slowly up the small hill. Halfway up, the right rear tire snagged on a cement culvert that stuck out from the earth a little way. The tow man looked up from lighting a cigarette, saw that the car had stopped moving, and increased the power to the winch. The tire tore away from the rim and as it cleared the lip of the culvert, the rear of the wheel well and the back bumper ripped loose and clattered back to the bottom of the gully. "Aw, ya shithead bastard," said the man.
"Takes one to know one," whispered KC out the side of her mouth.
Emily covered her mouth quickly and pretended to cough. Really, I'm having way too much fun here. But she's terrific. Instead of me weeping and worrying, I'm laughing my ass off.
Two cars came down the road from the university campus and stopped by the flares. The first one began to blink its four-ways and a figure got out and walked over to KC and Emily. "Are you all right?" asked a youthful voice.
"Yes, I braked for a coyote and spun into the ditch," said Emily, not waiting for KC to speak for her. "I'm fine. Dirty, but fine. The truck will be out of the way in just a couple minutes, I'm sure." She indicated the Lexus being pulled onto the roadway.
"Okay, ladies. If you need anything, just let me know." He walked quickly back to his car.
The towing man undid the chain from the wheel, which no longer faced in the same direction as the right wheel, and was bent out on the top to the point where the car rested on the sidewall of the tire instead of the tread.
"See that? Told you," KC said.
The tower opened the driver's side door, and pulled the keys out of the ignition. He walked to the rear of the car and opened the trunk to retrieve the tow hook from the spare tire compartment, roughly shoving Emily's bags of coats to the side. He slammed the trunk shut, but it popped open again immediately. "Goddamn it," he muttered. From a tool box on the side of the truck, he pulled a length of rope to tie the trunk closed. Finally he screwed the tow hook into the front bumper and re-attached the winch. In a matter of moments the car was secured on the back of the truck. "Gonna move my truck," he shouted.
"KC, why don't you go sit in the car and turn on the heater? I've got this heavy coat, and all I have to do is make sure he picks up the parts down there, sign his paper, and tell him to take the car to the Lexus dealer, right? I can do that -- you don't have to stand here in the cold."
She nodded. "Okay. I've got a six-pack of soda in the trunk, will you want one when you're done?"
"That sounds great! Thank you!" Something sweet sounded good to her, even if it wasn't a sweet hot chocolate. Suddenly Emily realized she was ravenous.
The driver parked his truck in such a way that he only obstructed one lane of traffic, and the cars were freed to move around it, some with occupants waving encouragingly from opened windows. Emily waved back, watching Smokey slide back down the bank to loop chain around the pieces of car that had been ripped off. When he brought his metal clipboard for Emily to sign, she saw that he had written in a charge of fifty dollars for the towing.
"My policy doesn't have a deductible for towing," Emily told him.
"Hey, I just go by what the dispatcher says," Smokey said sullenly.
"Well, I just go by what my insurance premiums say," she countered. "What is your name?"
"Ed ... Ed Powelly. Why?"
Emily wrote his name with the pen on the inside of her arm, where it was relatively dry, having been protected by her coat. "May I see some form of ID, please?"
"What's going on here?"
"All right, here! Goddamn it, all you need to do is sign the papers."
"'Anson Edward Madison?' That's not what you just told me." She wrote the new name under the other, along with his driver's license number. "Mr. Madison, if fifty dollars is deducted from my credit card account, my attorney will want to know who received it. I'll be asking everyone's names. Now let me see the invoice." Now what? If I sign the thing, I'm agreeing to the terms of the invoice, aren't I? Which I don't. How do I let them know that? She took the clipboard and wrote firmly across the front of the quadruplicate form, "Policy number 16-887-55YP-03 does not have any deductible towing charges. -- ESF." She handed the clipboard back to him. "You just hand that in, Mr. Madison, and I will make sure that things are all straightened out, I promise you." As she took her copy of the form from his hands, she said, "We'll follow you to Harbor Toyota. See you there."