The Legend of The JATO-Powered Rocket Car




So there you go. That’s the whole story of the Rocket Car, or at least the part that I was involved with. I never went back to the mine, and as far as I know, neither did Jimmy. We discussed what we’d do about the wreckage while driving back to town, but nothing we came up with seemed to make a lot of sense. The road running past the mine wasn’t very well-travelled, but we knew that the only reason we hadn’t been spotted was because the whole thing happened so early in the morning. If we went back to the site later that day, there was a fair chance we’d be spotted. Of course we’d taken that chance before, especially during the brake test the day before. But then we had the option of rolling the car into the mine shaft and getting out of there if anyone seemed curious. And at the very worst, we’d get nailed for putting train wheels on a Chevy, then sticking it on an abandoned track. I’m pretty sure there’s no law against that.

But now there was a very obvious piece of forbidden military hardware in plain view, and no easy way to get it out of there. The thing that kept repeating over and over in my head as I drove back to town was that paragraph in my Dad’s auction paperwork. The one dealing with possession of controlled military hardware. Specifically, the part detailing prison sentences and outrageous fines. It was then that I started to think that the best way to handle the whole thing would be to not handle it at all. Pretend it never happened, and hope nobody connected the car wreck to us.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Actually, timing and nature lent a hand. The following day was Easter Sunday, and there was no way Jimmy or I were going to avoid spending it with our families. And even if we wanted to, it wasn’t a good day to be screwing around out in the desert. Late Saturday night a windstorm kicked up, strong enough to make the local TV stations interrupt programming with traveler’s advisories in our area. Nothing very odd about that, not in our area in the springtime. Actually it was a pretty common occurrence. But this time I was thrilled to hear the reports. High winds and blowing sand could only serve to obscure the signs of what we’d been doing in the desert that morning, and the fewer signs, the better. When I got up on Easter morning, I saw patches of sand that had blown around on the street in front of the house, and was encouraged by the sight. If sand was blowing across the streets in the middle of town, it must’ve really been kicking ass in the desert. Later that morning I saw Jimmy at church, and even though we weren’t alone long enough to talk about anything, we exchanged several Significant Looks.

And the next day, Jimmy went back to college.

I went back to work at the scrapyard, and I have no idea what Beck and Sal did. I just spent the next few days trying to act as normal as possible, expecting a police car to show up at the yard any minute. But curiosity finally got the best of me, and I called Beck on Wednesday. We met that night at the same bar where we’d discussed brakes for the Rocket Car, and Beck told me he had been out to the mine, actually a couple of times. Once he even brought a camera and took a few pictures, because what he saw was so damned funny.


I couldn’t figure out what he could think was funny about the whole thing, since I was there when it happened. But he explained it to me, and afterwards I had to agree, it was kind of funny. The storm that blew through the area on Saturday night had indeed eliminated most of the signs of what we’d been doing near the mine over the past few days. The tire tracks made by his Dad’s pickup were completely eliminated, and the railroad tracks themselves were almost re-buried. But the Rocket Car was still exactly the same as it was when we left, ass end hanging out of a pile of rubble with a rocket sticking out of it. I’d hoped Beck was going to tell me that drifting sand had covered the remains of the car, but it hadn’t.

I was waiting for the funny part, but it didn’t seem to be coming.

Finally Beck reminded me of what the scene looked like to a person driving toward the crash site. I had to visualize it, since I’d never actually seen it. You drive down the stretch of road, toward a butte that used to have a mine entrance in the side of it. But now there is no mine shaft, just the rear end of a car sticking out of the side of the butte.

And, of course, the twin skidmarks on the highway where Beck’s truck leaped onto the roadway. Skidmarks pointing directly at the Rocket Car. Just like you’d see in a Roadrunner cartoon.

Next: “Aftermyth”

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