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Thursday, June 7, 2018—Burbank, California

The dramatic/comedy series, The Streets Of Winslow, on which I am the lead writer, made it through two seasons and ABC picked up their option for 2018/19, so everybody at PWP—Pacific West Productions—was on the gravy train for another year. That was the good news. The bad news was our well-deserved respite between seasons was over and it was time to get back to work.

Toward that end, I was struggling to get a banker's box of scripts from the passenger seat of my '63 Split Window in the Warner Bros. parking lot. The SUV next to my reserved spot was crooked in its parking place and taking up room I needed to get the Vette's door open far enough to remove the cardboard box.


That's when Lauren Campbell stopped, took a look at my predicament, and said, "That's a beautiful car, Ben, but not too practical for hauling boxes. Can I help?"

"Yeah, go show the owner of this glorified Honda, here, how to park straight."

Lauren laughed. "Sorry, Ben, but as my grandfather used to say, 'That's above my pay grade.'"


Actually, what Lauren's grandfather used to say still carries a good deal of weight around here. Her grandfather was Jeffrey S. Campbell, the most successful writer/producer on network TV from the 1970s into the 1990s.

In fairness, I must add Lauren has made it a point to base her career on her own accomplishments, not her grandfather's name. That, and the strong impression she has no interest in her fellow toilers in the vineyard, romantic or otherwise, is the sum total of my knowledge about the aloof Ms Lauren Campbell. That was about to change.

Anyway, with Lauren making sure my passenger door didn't bang into  the badly parked SUV, I finally got the box of scripts out of the Vette. Then, with her running ahead to get the doors, we successfully transported our cargo to my office on the top floor of WB's TV office building.


Once there, I dumped the box on the sofa and thanked Lauren for her help. With a big smile, she said, "You're welcome, Ben. Now I want to ask you a favor."

Figuring she needed some help with the production schedule or some such thing, I said, "Sure, whatcha need?"

Reaching into her tote bag, Lauren threw me a curve. "You're into old cars, so I hope you can tell me about this." She handed me an owners' manual for, of all things, a 1937 Cord.


The booklet looked almost too pristine to be an original from 1937, but on close examination, I could see the manual was the real McCoy. "Say, you've got yourself quite a treasure here. Too bad you don't have the car to go with it."

"I do."

I looked up from the manual. "You do what?"

"Have the car to go with that manual."

"You're kidding!"

"No. I found it under a cover while I was cleaning accumulated junk out of the garage at my great great grandmother's home. It was left to me in my grandfather's will and I decided to clean it out so I can figure out what to do with it. Strangely, I'm finding I like the old place so much, I might even move into it.

"Well, I hope the garage has a good sturdy lock on the door."

Lauren tilted her head and gave me a look of curiosity. "Not really. Why?"

"Because, depending on condition, that Cord you found could be worth a hundred grand, maybe even two hundred."

Her jaw dropped. "That much?"

"That much, but for if to bring that kind of money, all the parts would have to be there and restorable."

"Ben, this car looks like it just rolled out the dealer's showroom. The mileage thing only shows three thousand one hundred and fifty miles. I haven't tried starting it, but . . . ."

"Good! It's possible your Cord will run like new, but there are procedures for starting an engine that hasn't been run in a long time. If they aren't followed, trying to start the engine could destroy it."

She gave me a sly look. "I suspected something like that. Ben, are you doing anything this weekend?"

I knew what her next question would be, so I gave her a two-for-one answer. "What am I doing this weekend? Probably trying to start a 1937 Cord 812 Roadster."

Saturday, June 9, 2018—Simi Valley, California

Lauren's great great grandmother—Emma Baker—must have really been into privacy. Her large hacienda-style house sits on a rocky hillside at the decidedly unpopulated east end of the Simi Valley near the old Corriganville movie ranch. For those who don't know southern California, Simi Valley is a rapidly growing suburb about forty miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.


I negotiated a steep driveway and parked my bright red '57 Chevy stepside in front of an old three-car garage with overlapping sliding doors. My truck was loaded with tools and batteries, along with a  variety of lubricants and other chemicals—hopefully, everything I would need to coax Lauren's Cord back to life.


Lauren, in jeans and a black top, was waiting for me in front of the garage and proved herself an excellent hostess by handing me a mug of black coffee as she greeted me. "Good morning, Ben. Do you always work on cars at this ungodly hour?"


I couldn't help laughing. "Ungodly hour? Heck, all the early birds caught their worms and left hours ago."

With a smile that was anything but aloof. "Sure they did. Come on, I'll show you my hundred grand treasure."

The garage wasn't just three cars wide, it was also two cars deep. Despite the roominess of the space, though, we had to run an obstacle course through a variety of junk—old lawnmowers, a rusted out water heater, and other items that were beyond description.

Then I got my first look at the Cord. Its axles were up on blocks, but otherwise the car looked as if we could jump in and drive away. Admiring the car's modern styling, I said, "Geneva Blue."


"Is that what they called this color?"

"Yup, I looked at a Cord color chart for 1937 on the Internet last night. The interior color is Burgundy."

Lauren said, "This car reminds me of cars in the old Buck Rogers comic books my granddad collected. It's nothing like other 1930s cars I've seen."

"That's what led to the Cord's success . . . and its demise. People were attracted to the futuristic design, but the car had to be built on a budget that wasn't quite big enough to work out all the bugs in it's innovations, and the thirty-seven Cord had a bunch of innovations.

It was the first car to have practical front-engine/front wheel drive. The cord also had an electric transmission shifter, hidden headlights, a horn ring on the steering wheel, and the list goes on and on."

Judging by her expression, Lauren was developing an appreciation for her newfound treasure. "Gosh, Bluesy was quite a guy in his day."

"Bluesy?"

"Yeah. That's the name Grandmother Emma gave the car."

"Oh? How do you know that?"

"It's in the owner's manual. Inside the front cover she printed, 'Bluesy's Book.'"

To make a long and sweaty story short, we spent the morning getting things moved around so we could work on the car without tripping over stuff. By noon we had the Cord off the blocks, rolling on four questionable tires, and pushed to a space we cleared just inside one of the three sliding garage doors.

Having gotten that far, we took a brief break, lunching on homemade tuna salad sandwiches and corn chips. While enjoying a very tasty sandwich, I raised the Cord's hood for a look.

Craftsmanship was evident throughout the engine compartment. Everything on the Lycoming 170 horsepower supercharged V8 engine was in its proper place and there were factory brackets, straps, and bolts to keep it there. E. L. Cord ran a tight ship.


After lunch, Lauren handed me tools and kept track of loose parts while I removed the engine's oil sump drain plug and its eight sparkplugs. When the sump was empty, I refilled it with light detergent oil and squirted a little more oil into each of the sparkplug holes.

The next step was using a breaker bar to turn the crankshaft one full turn, thus distributing the oil in the cylinders more thoroughly. After that, I siphoned the fuel tank dry and left the cap off to let the lingering fumes from the prehistoric gasoline evaporate. Finally, I drained the radiator into a bucket and refilled it with hundred percent Prestone Dex-Cool Antifreeze.

By the time I completed those chores and chased a few spiders out of the carburetor, the shadows were getting long. "Well, lady, I think were almost ready for phase two of the starting process, but we need to let Bluesy sit like he is overnight so the fluids we put in can do their jobs."

Lauren nodded her understanding. "Ben, I hate for you to drive all the way back to civilization and then turn around and drive all the way back in the morning. Grandmother Emma had a couple of comfortable guest rooms for visitors. You're welcome to use one of them tonight."

In truth, I never had any intention of driving thirty-some miles home just to retrace my steps in the morning. The intention I did have was to spend the night at a Holiday Inn Express up on Highway One-Eighteen. That was why I had a bag with me, which made accepting Lauren's offer of a guest room an easy decision.

Taking advantage of each other's company Lauren and I had a great evening. We started out with dinner at a classy steak and seafood place called Barton's, where the food was as good as it gets in this part of the world.


After dinner, Lauren climbed into the driver's seat of my pickup and had fun cruising it around town while showing me the sights. Once we got the seat adjusted so Lauren could reach the pedals, she handled the four-speed and Blue-Flame six like a pro.

Finally, we went back to Grandmother Emma's to study some procedures in the Cord manual. I told her I was pretty sure we could get the engine running, and that meant she needed to know how to drive the car, which was trickier than it sounds.

Bluesy had an entire owner's manual full of idiosyncrasies. We covered them all, from the little hand cranks on the dashboard that opened the headlight covers to the operation of the nifty gearshift pre-selector.

By the time we trotted off to our separate bedrooms, I was certain Lauren could drive the Cord with the best of them. Not too surprisingly, Lauren wandered in and out of my dreams Saturday night.

Sunday, June 10, 2018—Simi Valley, California

I thought I was getting up with the sun Sunday morning, but Lauren beat me. She already had the coffee made and handed me a mug as she asked, "How did you sleep, Ben?"

Accepting the coffee, I said, "Great, thank you. It's very quiet and restful up here."

"That's one of the reasons I've been thinking about moving in rather than selling the house."

"If it wasn't for the commute, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

Lauren's eyes studied me for a long moment over the top of her coffee mug before she said, "That's what I've been thinking. It might even be worth the commute."


On that note we went out and got back to work. After replacing the cleaning oil in the sump with oil of the recommended viscosity, I poured two gallons of fresh gasoline from my jerry can into the tank, gapped and screwed eight fresh sparkplugs into the heads, and dragged a six-volt battery with jumper cables out of my truck and set them near the Cord's engine compartment.

"Well, Ms Campbell, I believe the moment of truth has arrived. Do you remember the starting procedure we read in the book last night?"

Lauren nodded enthusiastically. "Move that cute little transmission pre-selector to the neutral position, set the throttle and choke to their start positions, turn the ignition key on, and step on the clutch pedal, which activates the starter. Right?"


"Perfect, except we're going to do it just a little differently the first time."

With a mock frown on her face, Lauren said, "Don't you confuse me!"

I grinned at her. "This isn't too tricky. We'll leave the throttle and choke closed to begin with. That's because it takes the fuel pump a few cranks to get gas up into the carburetor. If we open the throttle too soon, we could get a backfire that would make us both jump a foot. Okay?"

"Got it."

Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, Lauren climbed in behind the wheel and looked at me for the go-ahead to crank the starter. I connected the battery and gave her a nod. The Lycoming's starter motor began cranking for all it was worth. I gestured for Lauren to keep going. After about a minute, I said, "Okay. That's good."

"Are we ready to really start it?"

"We're going to give it a try. If it . . . . No, when, it starts adjust the hand-throttle in small increments so the tach stays just under one thousand RPM. As the engine warms up, we can open the choke gradually until the carburetor is breathing all the air it wants. Ready?"

"Yes!"

"Give it a go."

Again the starter motor cranked, and after a few seconds the Lycoming gave a healthy cough. That was a good sign and I wasn't smelling strong gas fumes, so the fuel system was doing its job.

"Crank it again."

This time the Lycoming coughed three times and sprang to life. Over the engine noise, I heard Lauren scream, "It's running, it's running!"

I moved to the open driver side door. "Okay, foot off the clutch and watch the tachometer."

I watched as Lauren gradually adjusted the throttle. "Good. The revs are just right." I pointed to the water temperature gauge. "Keep an eye on this one, too. The red liquid should begin moving up the scale as the engine coolant warms up just like a regular thermometer. The concern is that it doesn't go up into the red numbers."


At first the Lycoming's idle was a little rough, surging and falling off. As the engine continued to run, though, the idle gradually smoothed out. After ten minutes or so, the Lycoming was fully warmed up and humming along like a fine watch.

I said, "Okay, let's shut it off and check a few things."

Lauren reached for the ignition key and looked back at me, almost as if she was afraid to shut the engine off. I smiled at her. "Don't worry, it will start up again. Oh, and be sure the pre-selector is in the neutral position. That's important every time you shut the engine off."

In a leap of faith, Lauren turned the ignition key to the OFF position and the Lycoming stopped without any dieseling or backfires. Lauren sat there for a minute with her hands on the steering wheel and I got the idea she was imagining what it would be like to actually drive Bluesy.

Suddenly, she jumped to the ground and threw her arms around my neck. "You did it, Ben! You're a genius! You got Bluesy working again after seventy years!" Lauren followed the hug with a kiss right on the lips.


After that, though, she backed away a little as if afraid she'd crossed a boundary into forbidden territory. To show her it wasn't forbidden territory by my rules, I reached out and gave her a hug around her slim waist. "You know, Lauren, you're wrong about that."

She looked confused. "Wrong about what?"

"I didn't get Bluesy working again, WE did. In fact, I think he kind of likes you. I bet if it had been my foot on the clutch he wouldn't have been so anxious to run.

Eyes sparkling, Lauren shook her head. "I think it's you she likes. Hey, maybe Bluesy is a girl car and she's fallen in love with you!"

"I doubt that. Come on, we need to button some things up here so we can take HER out for a ride."

Fortunately, the new Optima Yellow Top six-volt battery I brought fit into the Cord's battery box. I tightened the hold-down bracket, and then attached the battery cables.


Next, I examined the tires. They'd held air overnight, but I wasn't counting on that condition lasting much longer. Closing the hood, I said, "Okay, next step: Are you ready to drive Bluesy to a gas station?"

Lauren was sitting sideways in the driver's seat with her legs dangling through the open door. She sat up straight. "Can we?"

"I hope so, 'cuz Dominoes doesn't deliver gasoline, but we'll have to make it a short trip. I don't have much faith in these tires and we don't have a spare."

"Okay, maybe you'd better drive."

"Hell, no. This is your eighty-one-year-old car. I'm just here as a consultant."

I didn't have to twist her arm. Lauren swiveled around to face the wheel and I closed the driver-side door. When I climbed in the passenger seat I discovered the Cord's size was deceiving. As big as it seemed from the outside, the front seat was a snug fit for two average size adults.

Resting my arm on the seatback behind Lauren's head, I said, "You'll have to reserve rides in Bluesy for your closest friends. It's kind of cozy in here."

She gave me a grin. "I'm already doing that. Shall I start her up?"

"Have at it."

Thankfully for Lauren's opinion of my mechanic skills, the Lycoming sprang to life again. She looked at me again. "I guess I should ask where we're going."

"To the nearest gas station. Just go easy on the corners. Those tires aren't going to last much longer."

Turned out it was quite a ways to the nearest gas station, which was a Union 78 station in the little town of Santa Susanna to the south. Of course, the Cord got everybody's attention when we pulled into the station. While I filled the seventeen-gallon tank with eighty-seven octane fuel, several people came over to question us about Bluesy.

When we finally got headed back, I said, "Get used to that, Lauren. The lookie-lous will drive you nuts."

Lauren grinned her engaging grin again. "Hey, those aren't lookie-lous. They're Bluesy's fans. She's a natural born celebrity."

A little later, as we passed a large park with three baseball fields, Lauren looked at the place and said, "That's new. I wonder when they built that."

Now, that isn't a particularly unusual thing for someone to say . . . except during our drive the previous night Lauren spent several minutes telling me all about the very same park.


I looked over at her and saw a faraway look in her eyes. "I thought you me told about that park last night."

Lauren got a puzzled expression on her face and looked at me as if I was the one who was saying strange stuff. Then she blinked and said, "I'm sorry, Ben, what did you say?"

Her mind had obviously been somewhere else. Seeing no reason to make an issue of it, I changed the subject. "You know, we need to talk about finishing Bluesy's resurrection. Aside from a little spit and polish, the major things she still needs are some fresh tires and a new roadster top."

Back with me now, Lauren said, "I think there's an America's Tire Store on First Street. Should I take her in there for tires?"

I smiled. "Nope. Bluesy needs original equipment tires to keep her historically correct. I'll order the right ones from Coker Tires and have them rush the delivery."

"Coker? I never heard of them."

"Coker is an outfit in Tennessee that specializes in original equipment tires for vintage cars. I'll call 'em tomorrow, and they should be able to get what we need shipped here by next weekend."


"What about a replacement top?"

"I know a place in Burbank that does first class work. I'll talk to them tomorrow, too. Maybe they can make the top from a pre-existing pattern so all we have to do is bring Bluesy in to have it installed. Otherwise, she might have to be in their shop for a week."

When we made it back to Grandmother Emma's, Lauren carefully pulled Bluesy into the garage spot we cleared for her and shut the engine off. She turned in the seat to look at me and said, "Ben, you're being awfully generous with your time. I had no idea there was so much involved, but you know what?"

"What?"

Her big smile was back. "A few minutes ago you said WE would do something. Hearing that made me feel kind of. . .  different."

"Did I say that? I didn't realize it. I'm sorry if I . . . ."

"Ben, I meant I felt different in a good way. All my life I've been on my own. Now, for the first time in a long while, I feel part of something important because you make me feel like I'm really contributing to Bluesy's restoration. I like it . . . a lot."

"Well, I hope I'm not taking too much for granted about how much help you wanted."

She looked deeply into my eyes. "Sometimes I think you aren't taking enough for granted." Lauren looked at me a few more seconds as if she was waiting for me to say something. When I didn't, she said, "Look, darn it, I really want to kiss you right now, but I can't tell how you feel about that. Will you PLEASE give me a hint?"


I pulled her closer and gave her a hint. It was the second time we'd kissed, only this time it had nothing to do with celebrating the restarting of an 81 year old automobile.

Back at WB on Monday, Lauren and I didn't have much time for chatting. We had our hands full with our shares of the chores we needed to accomplish before The Streets Of Winslow could begin shooting.

Instead, we talked via telephone every night. We did, that is, until Thursday night.

Thursday, June 14, 2018—Stone Canyon, Los Angeles County, California

I sat in my home office and stared at the cell phone on my desk. Lauren left the office at lunch time to run a personal errand and I couldn't find anyone who'd seen her since. Now, after calling her condo in Toluca Lake three times without getting an answer or a call back, I was becoming concerned. Disappearing wasn't a normal behavior for Lauren.

Just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring, however, was not making me any less worried, so I decided on a long shot. I pointed the Vette toward Simi Valley. I had no reason to think Lauren was there, but it was the only place other than her condo I knew of to look for her. I also thought about how silly I was going to feel if she returned my call when I was all the way out in Simi.


I felt immediate relief when I saw Lauren's Subaru Outback parked at the top of the driveway by the garage, but that relief only lasted about ten seconds. That's how long it took me to realize the garage door where we'd parked the Cord was open and there was no sign of the Cord.

Surely she hadn't driven up here just to take a ride in the Cord, especially after I'd warned her about the tires. She wouldn't do that, would she? A moment later I knew she would.

Trying to cover all the bases, I knocked on the front door. While I was standing there waiting for no one to answer my knock, I read the note that explained how I knew no one was going to answer my knock. Stuck to the door with an old green metal thumbtack was a piece of paper with six words and a signature on it. In a flowery script I couldn't imagine Lauren using, the note said:

I AM GONE TO THE MARKET, EMMA

It would have been perfectly natural for a note from Emma Baker to be tacked to the front door of her own home, except Emma had been dead for six or seven decades. That was when my mind flashed back to the park we passed returning from the gas station last Sunday and Lauren's reaction to it. It was time to get some professionals involved in finding a missing woman who recently became an important part of my life.

Thursday, June 21, 2018—Warner Bros., Burbank, California

Lauren has now been missing for a week and I'm resigning myself to never seeing her again. The Ventura County Sheriff's deputies have put their hearts and souls into finding Lauren, but the only clues they came up with had to do with clothes. They found the clothes she wore to work last Thursday on the bed in the room Lauren used the night I stayed with her.

The deputies' second clothing clue came from a neighbor a few houses down Clear Springs Road from Emma Baker's old house. The neighbor said she saw Lauren drive by in an old fashioned blue convertible car. The neighbor thought Lauren might be going to a costume event of some kind because she was wearing a fancy hat and a fur stole like wealthy women wore in the 1930s.

Those clues meant little to the deputies, but to me they explained why I was certain I would never see Lauren again. It was an incredible story from the paranormal world I didn't want to believe but had to because, despite its improbability, it was the only explanation that fit all the pieces of the puzzle.

In a nutshell that story involved the spirit of Emma Baker, for whom I unknowingly created a time machine she used to take herself back to her own heyday. Apparently her scheme also required Lauren's participation, but probably not her permission.

I was making myself miserable by looking at a handful of cellphone photos I made of Lauren and the Cord while we were restoring the car. Thinking I might want to look at them again one day, I decided to print a couple of the images. I sent one of the Cord images I made to the laser printer in my office.

When I looked at the print, I was shocked into the realization Lauren, or at least her spirit, was still with me. To the space around me, I quietly said, "Thanks, kiddo. I miss you more than I can say. Please take good care of yourself and give my regards to Bluesy."


THE END

Story and design,Warner Bros., Corvette, and Cord images © Steve Eitzen
Header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Character images © 123RF used by license
Chevrolet truck image © Fastlane Classic Cars
Simi Valley image modified from a Google Maps street view
Barton's dining room image © Barton's Restaurant
Optima battery image © Johnson Controls
Coker website image © Coker Tire
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

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