UNITED STATES—He was starting to nod off on the freeway. A taillight and ghost tree whose branches twisted half a mile down the road, fused into a solid three-dimensional object he jerked the wheel to avoid. Now and then he blinked and lost seconds of roadway. He weaved, the bumps on the lane divider trembled and shook the car’s suspension and the artist shook awake.

There was the turnoff to San Miguel Road and then Prunedale. Because of the lights he feared he had missed it while eyelids were closed, but then there it was, he had panicked prematurely. After getting off the freeway and onto the three-covered road, he picked the nearest wide shoulder and stopped the car.

“Here we stop to close our eyes,” said the artist to his dog. He was uniquely at peace. At the bottom of his suitcase was the final manuscript, the result of superhuman patience, through seasons, and years living in different countries, through despair and frustration to distill the town and its people in a way that would infiltrate the parallel reality of books and the town would exist fully as it had not existed before.

Quickly, sleep drifted in behind his tired eyeballs, relaxed the limbs of his wired body. Then he started away, unaware even of the sound that must have waken him. There was a man at the window.

“Open the window. Can you open the window,” he said.

Archer saw only a windbreaker zipped to the collar. A small flashlight illuminated the edges. The clothes were bled of color in the deep night. Archer wasn’t ready to open the window to the strange man, unsure that he might have criminal motive.

“Can you roll down the window?”

After a moment he rolled it down a crack. And the strange man identified himself via the following question, “Do you have anything illegal in the car?”

After a pause, in which he could only think of his manuscript–that somehow it must be dangerous in a profounder way than controlled substances, he said, “No.” The young lawman shined the too-bright light into the artist’s eyes and commented, “Your pupils are too small for an area with this degree of darkness. Have you taken any illegal substances? Have you had any alcohol?”

“A beer back in Santa Barbara. I drove all the way up here to visit my mom in Watsonville. I stopped here to sleep after I started nodding off.”

“Come back here with us. Leave the dog in the car on his leash. Walk to the car and stop at the bumper.”

To Archer bumper meant rear bumper and he kept walking. To have to be told to walk back to the front added more weight to the suspicion that he was in a drugged state, under the influence. He was under the influence of Borges, Steinbeck, Garcia-Marquez and Hemingway and Ring Lardner. He was told to put his feet together and patted down, wrists held together firmly.

“Can you take the contents out of that pocket? Put it on the hood. I cannot ascertain from that bulge whether you might have a concealed weapon.”

It was exactly as Archer had said: wallet, cellphone, money and receipts, but there is the point, when suspicions accrue that the officer could cease to listen to Archer. Distrustfully he took out his wallet, money and telephone and bric-a-brac of receipts. It was a lot to leave out in the open on the police car hood on the side of the road in the night.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady Miller grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon). His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)